Book Review: Front Lines: Soldiers' Writing in the Early Modern Hispanic World

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by Miguel Martínez

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Pp. x, 320. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $59.95. ISBN: 0812248422

Soldierly Writings from Spain’s Golden Age

A specialist in Spanish language and literature, Martínez (Chicago), reviews the surprisingly voluminous literature produced by Spanish soldiers, sailors, and marines during Spain’s “Golden Age”, roughly from the end of the Reconquista and the “discovery” of America in 1492 to the mid-seventeenth century, when Spain became the first global superpower.

This literature has largely been overlooked by scholars, including Spanish one, yet these soldiers, sailors, and marines, veterans of numerous fights, who experienced the military life in the Philippines, the Americas, the Netherlands, Germany, North Africa, Italy, and elsewhere, produced a voluminous body of work, creating, as Martínez puts it a veritable “Republic of letters”.

A few of these authors attained some fame, such as Miguel de Cervantes (c. 1547-1616), of course, who gave us Don Quixote, the conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo (c. 1492-1584), who wrote of the conquest of Mexico, Alonso de Ercilla (1533-1594), author of the epic poem La Araucana, often favorably compared with Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, or Catalina de Erauso (1592-1650), a former nun who wrote an autobiography of her years soldiering for the Crown, initially disguised as a man and later openly as a woman, most of them are little remembered today. But most have largely been forgotten, despite the fact that the numerous histories, autobiographies, epic poems, memoirs, translations, and even fiction they produced often give us unique insights into the military service of the times, and also unique details about campaigns, battles, and sieges, many now long forgotten, or the tedious years of routine garrison duty in far flung outposts of empire.

Although only scratching the surface of these hitherto neglected documents, Front Lines, a volume in the Pennsylvania series “Material Texts”, is an essential read for those with an interest in the early modern European military experience.

Note: Front Lines is also available as an e-book, $59.95, ISBN 978-0-8122-9312-8.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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