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Sunday, September 24, 2017

5 Facts About the Knights Templar

Fact #1:

The Knights Templar were an order of warrior monks founded in the Holy Land in the aftermath of the First Crusade. Although the Crusaders had conquered Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt, the surrounding territory was still perilous, and pilgrims faced the danger of Saracen raiders as they journeyed to the holy sites. To protect Christian travelers, a group of knights, led by Hugh of Payn and Godfrey of Saint-Omer, decided to form an order of brother knights in 1119. This order would take all the regular vows of a Christian monk – poverty, chastity, and obedience – but with an added vow: to protect the Christians of the Holy Land, and to defend the Holy Sepulcher – the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. The King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, granted Hugh and Godfrey’s order a base in his palace, located in Jerusalem to the south of the Temple of the Lord (the name given by the Crusaders to the Dome of the Rock). It is from their home base that these warrior monks take their name – Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, or the Knights Templar.

Fact #2:

The Knights Templar were incredibly effective and skilled warriors. They were highly trained, and their discipline made them a very cohesive and formidable fighting force. The Templars excelled at the heavy-cavalry tactics that dominated the Latin Christian military culture of that era.
At the Battle of Montgisard, for example, in 1177, the Templars were instrumental in defeating a much larger force under the powerful Muslim ruler Saladin.
The Templars could also be very valuable in a disaster, such as during the Second Crusade, during the Battle of Mount Cadmus in 1148, when the army of King Louis VII of France was badly defeated by the Seljuk Turks. In contrast to Louis’s poorly organized divisions, the Templars maintained strict discipline, and their good order resisted the Turks just enough to prevent what might have been a total annihilation of Louis’s army.
The Templars were involved in many other great victories as well, such as the Battle of Arsuf in 1191 during the Third Crusade, when the Templars commanded the vanguard, and their well-formed cavalry lines smashed Saladin’s troops.

Fact # 3:

There is no evidence that the Templars were ever involved in any sort of blasphemous secretive activity – such ideas arise purely from the realm of stories and fiction. All evidence points to the Templars having been a thoroughly Orthodox and devout order loyal to the Christian religion. Indeed, the very idea of the Templars as some mysterious secret society devoted to esoteric knowledge is not consistent with history. Rather, they were a very practical and straightforward organization, dedicated to military matters. They were, in many ways, the marines of their era.

Fact #4:

Throughout their history the Knights Templar were quite popular all over Christian Europe. Europeans so believed in the idea of defending the Holy Sepulcher that the Templars became a favorite recipient of donations and grants, so that by the mid twelfth century the order was incredible wealthy and powerful, with houses all across Europe, and robust military establishments on the frontiers of Christendom in the Holy Land and in Spain and Portugal.
            The Templars expanded their operations to help pilgrims, so that now they not only aided pilgrims as they arrived in Palestine, but in Europe they could help pilgrims to organize their journey. The Templars established a banking system in which pilgrims could deposit money with the Templars in Europe, then withdraw those funds for use when they arrived in the Holy Land. Thus the Templars invented key aspects of modern banking.
            The Templars became so renowned for their management of finance that some of Europe’s highest ranking members of society began to seek them out to manage their money – including kings and bishops.

Fact #5:

By the early years of the fourteenth century, the King of France, Philip IV, was heavily in debt, and looking for a source of cash. He began eying the wealth of the Templars. Thus, in 1307, Philip concocted a series of baseless, trumped-up charges against the Templars and had them arrested throughout his Kingdom and their assets seized. By this era, the King of France was considerably more powerful than the Pope, and so Philip was able to bully the Pope into disbanding the Templars as an order recognized by the Church. Outside of France the Templars were absorbed into other orders, but within France Philip had many Templars put to death by burning at the stake. The final Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, refused to give credence to Philip’s false charges, and went to his death calling on God to punish the King of France. Jacques’ final curse came to fruition: the same year that Jacques was burned alive – 1314 – King Philip IV suffered a cerebral stroke while out on a hunting trip. He lay in agony for weeks, finally dying on November 29th. The legend immediately sprang up that Philip’s death was the result of the Grand Master’s curse.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wound Treatment in the Crusader Era

Today Fermin Person provides us expert insight into injuries and their treatment during the crusader era.

A careful look at this medieval manuscript illustration shows a variety of battlefield injuries.

The most common types of injuries were fractures, cuts, puncture wounds, burns and head injuries. Below, is a look at their respective in the crusader era:

Evidently fractures were quite common during the medieval period in peacetime as well as in wartime. If a long bone of the human body, like the upper arm bone (Humerus) is broken it is important that the broken bone is adjusted in a position so that the bone can heal straight, without forming an angle. To fixate the broken limb in such a position the arm or leg was put into a splint made from several wood sticks or into a plaster made from flour and egg white. Apparently this was considered a simple procedure, since the Laws of the Kingdom of Jerusalem punished the improper use of splints or plaster resulting in the crippling of the patient.

Cuts/Blade injuries
Blade injuries were very common during the crusading age.  According to Arabic texts such as Albucasis and its translation into western languages, bleeding could be stopped by cauterisation or surgical sutures, however, it was not yet possible to suture fine structures like blood vessels. Afterwards bandages were applied. In some texts poultices soaked with wine and vinegar are also mentioned. 
In severe wounds or in case of infection, however, an amputation was considered necessary ― but only as a last resort. Albucasis describes a reasonable method. The limb was placed on a wooden block. Ligatures were placed above and under the site of the amputation. Afterwards the soft tissue was cut and the bleeding from the blood vessels was stopped. Thereafter the bone was sawn trough. Finally, the stump was bandaged and left to heal. There is no evidence regarding the length of time needed for amputation.

Spear or bow injuries
Individuals were often hit by several arrows during one engagement. Lances or spears could cause similar wounding patterns. If arrows could not be removed through their initial point of entry, it was recommended to push them through the tissue completing their way out. If the arrow could not be removed immediately, it was possible to wait some days until the swelling around the wound went down. A further complication resulted from parts of the armour being nailed to the bod by the arrow. After the missile had been removed, the wounds were cared for using bandages or poultices.

Burning was common in medieval warfare, particularly during sieges, and also due to accidents with fire, candles etc.. A source that was exceptional to the Middle East was Greek fire, which could not be extinguished by water, vinegar being needed. Medieval medical texts recommend keeping the wound from drying out by applying  oil, wax, fat or vinegar mixed with other ingredients such as opium or herbs. Additionally, to prevent blisters the application of oil, vinegar or rose oil was recommended.

Head injuries
Head injuries were common during medieval warfare. Medieval physicians were aware of seriousness of such wounds, and that many of the victims died. Still an adequate treatment was specified in the legal text of the Kingdom of Jerusalem Livre des Assis de la Cour des Bourgeois.  The phycisian/surgeon had to clean the head wound, search for bone fragments and remove them. From archaeological evidence, such as the skull finding in Jacobs Ford, we know that skull fractures were survived by some individuals.

Excurs: Was there exchange between medieval Arabic and Christian medicine during the crusades?

It is not clear to what extent knowledge was transferred between the Islamic world and the Christian west during the crusades in the Holy Land. We know, however, tha many Arab medical texts were translated into Latin in Sicily and Spain. In addition, several Greco-Roman works on medicine which had been lost in the West were re-discovered through translations into Arabic, which were then re-translated back into Latin. However, the actual impact on western medical practice is difficult to trace or record.

Regarding the standards of care there is also little knowledge, no survival rates are reported to compare the different health care standards. There are frequent stories in the literature of the time such as in the autobiography of Usama Ibn Munqidh. But these are often of allegoric nature and do not allow any certain conclusions. According to Edgington (1994), Eastern Roman, Muslim and Western Christian practitioners had a similar standard regarding the practical knowledge of surgery.


Mitchel, Piers D.  (2007) Medicine during the crusades, Cambridge University press

Tony Hunt (1999) The Medieval Surgery, Boydell & Brewer Inc

Edgington, S. (1994) Medical knowledge of the crusading armies: the evidence of Albert of Aachen and others. In M Barber, The Military Orders: Fighting for the Faith and caring for the Sick, (Aldershot, Ashgate)

Keda, B (1998) A twelfth century description of the Jerusalem Hospital, In H. Nicholson (ed.). The Military Orders. II Welfare and Warfare (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 3-26.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Saladin's Alliance with Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus

In this clip, Dr. Helena Schrader, Dr. Stephen Donnachie, J Stephen Roberts, and Scott Amis discuss Saladin's alliance with Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus during the Third Crusade. We also take a look at Isaac's attempts to lure Richard's sister, Joan of England, ashore when her ship moored off the coast of Cyprus.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Guy de Lusignan: Usurper and Destroyer of a Kingdom

Helena P. Schrader continues with her short biography and analysis of Guy de Lusignan with  "Usurper and Destroyer of a Kingdom."

The Hollywood Guy - Also despicable but largely for the wrong reasons

In early 1185, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the so-called “Leper King” succumbed to his debilitating illness and died. He was succeed by his nephew, a child of eight. Raymond de Tripoli was named regent, and the Count of Edessa was made the boy’s guardian.  The fact that Tripoli was made regent — with the consent of the High Court — and the Count of Edessa, the boy’s great uncle, was made the boy's guardian are both indications of the intensity of the animosity and suspicion the bishops and barons of Jerusalem harbored against Guy de Lusignan by this time. There was, after all, a precedent for a queen reigning for an under-aged son, Melisende had reigned in her own right for her son Baldwin III.

At the death of Baldwin V a little more than a year later, hostility to Guy had not abated. As was usual following the death of a king, the High Court was convened to elect the next monarch. Some modern historians have made much of the fact that Tripoli summoned the High Court to Nablus rather than convening in Jerusalem itself. This is interpreted as a sign of disloyalty, but there is nothing inherently disloyal about meeting in another city of the kingdom. High Courts also met in Acre and Tyre at various times.  Nablus was part of the royal domain, comparatively close to Jerusalem, and the Templars under their new Master, Gerard de Ridefort (surely the worst Master the Templars ever had), were said to have taken control of the gates and streets of Jerusalem. The Templars did not have a seat in the High Court, but they controlled 300 knights and the decision to hold the High Court in Nablus can better be explained as the legitimate desire to avoid Templar pressure than as disloyalty on the part of Tripoli.

In any case, while the bulk of the High Court was meeting in Nablus, Sibylla persuaded the Patriarch to crown her queen in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  In addition to the Patriarch (allegedly another former lover of her mother) and the Templars (whose Grand Master had a personal feud with Tripoli), Sibylla was supported by her uncle Joscelyn Count of Edessa and the colorful and controversial Reynald de Chatillon, Lord of Oultrejourdan by right of his wife.  We know of no other supporters by name, but we know that Reynald de Chatillon sought to increase Sibylla’s support by saying she would be queen in her own right without mentioning Guy.  Even Bernard Hamilton, one of Guy’s modern apologists, admits that: "Benjamin Kedar has rightly drawn attention to sources independent of the Eracles [e.g. Ernoul] and derived from informants on the whole favorable to Guy de Lusignan, which relate that Sibyl's supporters in 1186 required her to divorce Guy before they would agree to recognize her as queen.” (The Leper King and His Heirs, Cambridge University Press, 2000 p. 218). 

According to these sources, Sibylla promised to divorce Guy and choose another man for her husband as her consort. Instead, once she was crowned, she chose Guy as her consort — and crowned him herself when the Patriarch refused.  Once again, Sibylla had chosen Guy over not only the wishes of her subjects but in violation of an oath/promise she had made to her supporters (not her enemies, note, to her supporters).

  The Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Sibylla was Crowned

With this dual coronation, Sibylla and Guy had usurped the throne of Jerusalem, but without the Consent of the High Court they were just that — usurpers.  The High Court (or rather those members of it meeting at Nablus) was so outraged that, despite the acute risk posed by Salah-ad-Din, they considered electing and crowning Sibylla’s half-sister Isabella. To risk civil war when the country was effectively surrounded by a powerful and united enemy is almost incomprehensible — and highlights just how desperate the opposition to Guy de Lusignan was. In retrospect, it seems like madness that men would even consider fighting their fellow Christians when the forces of Islam were so powerful, threatening and well-led.

Then again, with the benefit of hind-sight, maybe it would have been better to depose of Guy de Lusignan before he could lead the country to utter ruin at Hattin?

In the event, Humphrey de Toron, Isabella’s young husband, didn’t have the backbone to confront Guy de Lusignan. In the dark of night he fled Nablus to go to Jerusalem in secret and pay homage to Guy. With this act, the High Court lost their alternative monarch and capitulated — except for Ramla and Tripoli, the most inveterate opponents of Lusignan.  Ramla preferred to quit the kingdom altogether, turning over his lucrative lordships to his younger brother and seeking his fortune in Antioch. (He disappears from history and we don’t know where or when he died.) Tripoli simply refused to recognize Guy as his king and made a separate peace with Salah-ad-Din — until he was reconciled after a tragic incident in May 1187.

Two months later, Guy de Lusignan proved that Ramla, Tripoli and the majority of the High Court had rightly assessed his character, capabilities and suitability to rule. Guy led the Christian kingdom to an unnecessary but devastating defeat which resulted in the loss of the holiest city in Christendom, Jerusalem, and indeed the entire kingdom save the city of Tyre. Only a new crusade would restore a fragment of the Kingdom and enable Christendom to hang on to the coastline for another century.

With all due respect to revisionism and the legitimate right of historians to question familiar and popular interpretations of events, it is also wise to remember that chronicles and other historical documents provide us with an imperfect and incomplete picture.  The actions and judgment of contemporaries, on the other hand, were based on much more comprehensive knowledge and information than is available to us today.  Based on the actions of Guy de Lusignan’s contemporaries, I believe the Ernoul’s portrayal of Guy de Lusignan is closer to the mark than the apologist image of modern historians.

Guy is a major character in both "Defender of Jerusalem" and "Envoy of Jerusalem." 


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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Women Captives During the Crusades

A discussion of the treatment of female captives during the era of the Crusades. Were there differences in how Crusaders and Saracens treated female captives?

Sources quoted in this podcast:

“Women and children together came to 8,000 and were quickly divided up among us, bringing a smile to Muslim faces at their lamentations. How many well-guarded women were profaned, how many queens were ruled, and nubile girls married, and noble women given away, and miserly women forced to yield themselves, and women who had been kept hidden stripped of their modesty, and serious women made ridiculous, and women kept in private now set in public, and free women occupied, and precious ones used for hard work, and pretty things put to the test, and virgins dishonoured and proud women deflowered, and lovely women’s red lips kissed, and dark women prostrated, and untamed ones tamed, and happy ones made to weep! How many noblemen took them as concubines! How many ardent men blazed for one of them, and celibates were satisfied by them, and thirsty men sated by them, and turbulent men able to give vent to their passion! How many lovely women were the exclusive property of one man! How many great ladies were sold at low prices, and close ones set at a distance, and lofty ones abased, and savage ones captured, and those accustomed to thrones dragged down!”
-Imad ad-Din, as quoted in Arab Historians of the Crusades, translated by Francesco Gabrieli (Barnes and Noble Books, 1993), p. 162-63.

“Those Turks who had good and swift horses escaped, but the stragglers were abandoned to the Franks. Many of these, especially the Saracen footmen, were taken. On the other hand few of our men were injured. In regard to the women found in the tents of the foe the Franks did them no evil but drove lances into their 
-Fulcher of Chartres, translated by Francis Rita Ryan, p. 106.

“Many of the Saracens who had climbed to the top of the Temple of Solomon in their flight were shot to death with arrows and fell headlong from the roof. Nearly ten thousand were beheaded in the Temple. If you had been there your feet would have been stained to the ankles in the blood of the slain. What shall I say? None of them were left alive. Neither women nor children were spared.”
-Fulcher of Chartres, p. 122.

“The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it, leaving it in ruins and taking prisoner all those who remained alive...The dead bodies were so many that they blocked the streets; one could not go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter the city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street in which I would not have to walk over the corpses; but that was impossible.”
-Sibt ibn al-Jawziin Norwich, John Julius (1991). Byzantium: The Apogee. New York: Viking. pp. 342–343. 

“[Saladin] performed his ablutions and prayed, before being brought fourteen Franks and a Frankish woman taken captive with them, who was the daughter of a distinguished knight. With her was a Muslim captive whom she had received. The Sultan freed the Muslim woman and the rest he herded into the armoury. They had been brought from Beirut, having been captured in a very numerous traveling party. They were put to death.”
–Baha ad-Din, 169-70. 

“The Muslims had thieves who would enter the enemy’s tents, steal from them, even taking individuals, and then make their way back. It came about that one night they took an unweaned infant three months old. They brought it to the Sultan’s tent and offered it to him. Everything they took they used to offer to him and he would reward and recompense them. When the mother missed the child she spent the whole duration of the night pleading for help with loud lamentations. Her case came to the notice of their princes, who said to her, ‘He has a merciful heart. We give you permission to go to him. Go and ask him for the child and he will restore it to you.’ So she went out to ask the Muslim advance guard for assistance, telling them of her troubles through a dragoman who translated for her. They did not detain her but sent her to the Sultan. She came to him when he was riding on the Tell al-Kharruba with me and a great crowd attending upon him. She wept copious tears and besmirched her face with soil. After he had asked about her case and it had been explained, he had compassion for her and, with tears in his eyes, he ordered the infant to be brought to him. People went and found that it had been sold in the market. The Sultan ordered the purchase price to be paid to the purchaser and the child taken from him. He himself stayed where he had halted until the infant was produced and then handed it over to the woman who took it, wept mightily, and hugged it to her bosom, while people watched and wept also. I was standing there amongst the gathering. She suckled the child for a while and then, on the orders of the Sultan, she was taken on horseback an restored to their camp with the infant.”
–Baha ad-Din 147-48.

“The king of Damascus [Toghtekin] now sent wise and discreet men as envoys to the chiefs of our army, namely, the Patriarch, the Doge of Venice, the Count of Tripoli, William Bures, and the other lords of the realm. They bore proposals of peace couched in conciliatory language. After much discussion and many disputes, an agreement was reached between the two parties: the city would be surrendered to the Christians on condition that those citizens who wished be allowed to depart freely with their wives and children and all their substance, while those who preferred to remain at Tyre should be granted permission to do so and their home and possession guaranteed them.”
–William of Tyre, vol II, p. 19.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Alfonso the Battler - Crusader King of Aragon

The triumph of the First Crusade greatly impacted the early-twelfth century Christian kingdoms of Iberia. Inspired by Pope Urban II’s message of holy war, the knights and clergy of Spain began to conceive of their centuries-long struggle against the Moors of al-Andalus as a Crusade that merited spiritual benefit for its participants. A pioneer in this movement was Alfonso I of Aragon (1104-1134), a tough warrior-king deeply moved by the concept of Christian struggle against the infidel, who viewed himself as a crusading monarch in the same vein as the Latin kings of Jerusalem in Outremer.

King Alfonso appealed to France for assistance in his first proposed crusade. His target was Zaragoza, a formerly independent Moorish city, which had in 1110 fallen to the powerful Almoravid Empire based in North Africa. In 1118, Alfonso sent Bishop Esteban of Huesca to the Council of Toulouse, where the French clergy confirmed “the way of Spain” as an avenue for Crusade. Several French nobles responded to Alfonso’s appeal, Gaston IV of Bearn (who had fought in the Holy Land), his brother Centulle of Bigorre, and Bernard Ato of Carcassone all took the cross to aid the King of Aragon, as did the Iberian nobles Diego Lopez de Haro, Lord of Vizcaya, and Count Ramon of Pallars. The coalition French-Aragonese army marched on Zaragoza, and the siege began May 22, 1118.

Alfonso I of Aragon 

Later that same year, Alfonso sent Bishop Pedro, already selected to rule the episcopate of Zaragoza, to meet with Pope Gelasius II, who was touring southern France. Gelasius made a definitive declaration on the Zaragozan Crusade: “If anyone receives penance for his sins and is killed in this expedition, we, by the merits of the saints and the whole Catholic Church absolve you from your sins.” -Reconquest and Crusade, p. 37. He also offered “remission and indulgence of their sins” to those laboring “in the service of the Lord,” confirming that anyone participating in Alfonso’s Crusade would gain the same spiritual benefits as if he’d fought in the Holy Land. The Pope also added a new innovation to this Crusade bull, granting an indulgence to anyone who aided in the construction of the churches in Zaragoza.

In response to Alfonso’s siege, the Almoravids dispatched a considerable army to relieve Zaragoza. Alfonso moved out with his troops to counter the Almoravid advance, and on December 6th the two forces met in battle. The result was an overwhelming victory for the Crusaders, in which the Almoravid host was shattered. This made the fall of Zaragoza inevitable: on December 18th, the Almoravid garrison surrendered. Mohammedan citizens wishing to depart were granted safe passage, while those opting to stay were free to do, provided they paid an annual tax to the King of Aragon. In early 1119, Alfonso granted privileges to Christians choosing to settle in Zaragoza. Over the next two years he captured the fortresses of Tudela, Tarazona, Borja, Calatayud, and Daroca, extending his frontier well south of the Ebro River.

In 1120 the Almoravids, eager to recover their losses, launched another army against Aragon. Alfonso met them at Cutanda, near Daroca, and once again the Christian army triumphed, with Alfonso’s cavalry smashing the Almoravid lines.

Alfonso before the defeated Almoravids at Cutanda, 1120

Inspired by the newly founded Knights Templar in Jerusalem, King Alfonso established his own order of warrior monks to defend his conquests. In 1122 he installed the brothers at Castle Belchite, some twenty-two miles south of Zaragoza. Described in the sources as a militia Christi – army of Christ, the order mirrored the Templars in most respects. The brothers took a monastic vow, with an additional oath to defend Christendom against her enemies. In 1124 Alfonso established another community of brother knights sixty miles south of Zaragoza at Monreal, a castle named after a frontier fortress in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In addition to charging these knights with the defense of Christian Aragon, Alfonso gave this order the extraordinary mission of eventually overcoming the Mohammedans of Africa and opening another route to Jerusalem. We can see how deeply Alfonso was oriented toward the concept of crusading, viewing his efforts in Iberia as working in concert with the Crusader states in Syria and Palestine.

Next Alfonso embarked on a bold campaign of raids deep into Almoravid territory. He ravaged from Valencia to Denia, Jativa to Murcia, and even threatened Granada. In March of 1126 he encountered an Almoravid army at Lucena, and there, in the heart of Moorish territory, won yet another major victory. Thousands of Christians living in Mohammedan lands rallied to Alfonso’s army, and traveled with him back to his kingdom, where they settled in the Ebro valley.


Alfonso then campaigned to capture the remaining Moorish castles in the Ebro valley. In 1133, carrying a relic of the true cross, his army seized Mequinenza some sixty miles south of Zaragoza. However, on July 19, 1134 he suffered his first and only defeat by the Moors at the Battle of Fraga. Despite this final disappointment, the long legacy of Alfonso’s many victories over the Moors had far reaching consequences. Most importantly, his conquest of Zaragoza resulted in that great city never again returning to Moorish control. Later that year, the great warrior King Alfonso the Battler died on September 7th. His efforts had established Aragon as a major power on the Iberian Peninsula. The famous chronicler Ordericus Vitalis described Alfonso and his knights as “Christi crucesignatos” – warriors signed with the cross of Christ – the medieval expression for crusaders. And rightly so, for Alfonso’s ideological commitment to crusading combined with his military successes helped solidify the Reconquista as an Iberian Crusade.

Indeed, Alfonso was so committed to the ideal of the Crusade, that in his will he bequeathed the whole of his Kingdom to the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Aragonese military orders he had established in his domain.