+ Real Crusades History +

+ Real Crusades History +

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jerusalem Fights Back


In early June 1189, the survivors of the catastrophe at Hattin — with the architect of that disaster conspicuously absent — took to the field in an offensive operation to re-take the lost Christian territory of Sidon. The German crusade under Friedrich Barbarossa had just set out, but was more than a year away from reaching the Holy Land — even if all had gone well. Henry II of England was fighting with Philip II of France (and his son Richard), and neither king was preparing for a crusade at all. Guy de Lusignan was in Antioch after swearing an oath never to take up arms against the Saracens again. Saladin, on the other hand, was not only in complete control of all the cities of the former Kingdom of Jerusalem except Tyre, he had recently taken the defiant Christian castles of Safed, Belvoir, Montreal and Kerak. Taking the offensive at this time was therefore a remarkable demonstration of defiance and spirit on the part of the men concentrated in Tyre.

Unfortunately, we know very little about this operation. The leadership is unnamed in surviving sources, but was almost certainly Reginald de Sidon and Balian d’Ibelin. Both barons had fought their way off the field at Hattin and been engaged in military operations since: Sidon in a futile attempt to defend his inland castle of Belfort (sometimes called Beaufort), and Ibelin at Jerusalem. Not only were both barons in Tyre at this time, but both had an interest in recapturing the important coastal city of Sidon. The Lord of Sidon obviously wanted his barony back, while Ibelin had betrothed his eldest daughter to Sidon, so that he too had a vested interest in the return of Sidon to his furture son-in-law’s control. While it is possible that Conrad de Montferrat also took part in the expedition, there is no mention of this, and he had little reason to undertake an adventure of this sort. A bird in the hand, as the saying goes, is worth two in the bush and Tyre was his; to take part in the expedition was to risk losing his grip on Tyre (or his life) for an objective that would fall to another, namely the Lord of Sidon. 

As for the troops involved, although individual crusaders were starting to trickle into Tyre, no large contingents had yet arrived.  Therefore, the men who set out to re-take Sidon on June 3, 1189 were predominantly men from Outremer, mostly survivors of Hattin. The bulk of these men would have been the Turcopoles and sergeants that broke out of the encirclement at Hattin with Sidon and Ibelin. They would have been cooped up in Tyre almost two years, and would have survived two sieges from Saladin since. The remainder would have been the remnants of the garrisons of other Christian cities, who had been given a safe-conduct to Tyre in exchange for surrendering the cities they had been left to guard. Most of these men would have left families behind in the now-lost cities, towns and villages of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Most would have had no knowledge of what had become of their wives and children. These were men who had already lost everything, but were not prepared to crawl away in despair; they wanted to fight back.

While Sidon and Ibelin’s personal interest in Sidon may have inspired them to action, the operation was far from a personal or selfish one. It had the clear strategic goal of extending Frankish control in the direction of the remaining remnants of the other two crusader states: the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch. The capture of Sidon would have been a first step toward the re-capture of Beirut, and the re-establishment of contiguous Frankish control of the coastline of the northern Levant. In addition, the territory between Tyre and Sidon is very fertile and firm Frankish control of the cities at both ends would have enabled cultivation of the coastal plane, something vitally important to support the population of Tyre, which was flooded with refuges from the rest of the kingdom.


Last but not least, Sidon had been a major ship-building port for centuries.  The survivors of Hattin were more dependent on communication and trade with the Western world than ever before. Having a native ship-building industry would have been an important asset.

In short, the assault on Sidon makes more strategic sense than the siege of Acre which Guy de Lusignan started a few months later.  To be sure, Acre was the larger, better and more prosperous port. Lusignan may have been motivated by the desire to reward his followers with various monopolies and “money fiefs” after taking Acre. Yet re-establishing solid lines of communication and supply to Tripoli and Antioch is a much more compelling military argument for the assault on Sidon. Notably, Richard the Lionheart planned a similar attempt after it became clear that Jerusalem and Cairo were beyond his grasp.

Due to the paucity of sources, we know almost nothing about the course of the campaign beyond the fact that ten days later the Frankish forces were back in Tyre having been forced to withdraw. That is notably not the same thing as being routed or chased back to Tyre with their tails between their legs. There is no indication of significant casualties; certainly Sidon and Ibelin were healthy and hearty on their return based on their continued activities. All of this sounds suspiciously as if the Franks did not engage in a battle at all, but rather prudently withdrew when confronted with overwhelming (or at any rate insurmountable) opposition.

Because of the lack of either success or spectacular failure, the incident has been all but forgotten. Yet it deserves remembering because it is poignant evidence of the fighting spirit of the men of Outremer.  Later crusaders were all too ready to report about their own courageous feats at arms, belittling the prowess, courage and, indeed, manliness, of the natives of Outremer. The legend arouse of the weak, effeminate, decadent “poulains” (Franks born in the crusader states) and the heroic crusaders. It is a legend we should not to perpetuate, as the evidence points to the opposite: the “poulains” were fierce and canny fighting men, more than ready and willing to fight for their homeland. They simply tempered that valor with discretion learned from being perpetually outnumbered by their foes.

The campaign to retake Sidon is described in fictionalized form in the third book of my Balian d'Ibelin trilogy, "Envoy of Jerusalem."


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Muslims in the Crusader States - Living under Sharia Law

One of the most popular misconceptions the crusader kingdoms is that the crusaders were a tiny Christian elite ruling over predominantly Muslim population. It is time we stopped perpetuating this (among other) myths. The Muslims in the crusader states were a minority -- and they lived according to Sharia Law.


But first, lets go back to the basics. We should not, in an excess of politically correctness, forget that Christ was born in Bethlehem in what was to become the Kingdom of Jerusalem, that he lived and worked in Nazareth (in the Kingdom of Jerusalem) and that he was crucified in Jerusalem. Christ did not dream about going to heaven from Jerusalem; his death in the city is historical fact. Jesus, son of Joseph, actually lived, worked, preached and converted many to his new religion during his own lifetime in what came to be called the “Holy Land” and was later the heart of the crusader kingdoms. St. Paul established the first Christian community in Antioch in roughly 50 AD. In short, the territories conquered by the crusaders encompassed the very oldest Christian territory on earth. There were Christians in these lands for almost 600 years before Mohammad was even born.

Furthermore, the territories that later formed the crusader states, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, had all be part of the Roman Empire and Christianized in the 4th century AD. From being a minority religion, Christianity became the state and majority religion in 325 under the reign of Emperor Constantine, who rebuilt Jerusalem between 325 and 330.

The territories that later became the crusader states of Jerusalem and Tripoli remained Christian until they were conquered by Muslim invaders almost exactly 300 years later. Although Muslim rule was not broken for three hundred years (in the case of Antioch) and four hundred twenty years in the case of Tripoli and Jerusalem, that “Muslim” rule was not a single block of continuous lordship but, rather, three distinctly separate epochs. The Arab-dominated, Sunni elite which had conquered Syria and Palestine in the 7th century was defeated and driven out of the Levant in the tenth century by the Shiia Fatimid dynasty, which had taken control of Egypt in 905.  At the same time, the Byzantine Empire struck back and reconquered Antioch. Then in 1040 the Seljuk Turks, recent converts to Islam, started expanding eastward, and reached Jerusalem, driving out the Fatimids.

The fact that the territory had been conquered and was ruled by Muslim elites, is not the same thing as mass conversion of the population. There are to this day significant Christian and Jewish populations in countries such as Egypt and Syria that have been continuously Muslim for 1400 years. Professor Rodney Stark notes: “It was a very long time before the conquered areas were truly Muslim in anything but name. The reality was that very small Muslim elites long ruled over non-Muslim (mostly Christian) populations in the conquered areas.” (God’s Battalions, Harper Collin, 2009, p. 29.) Andrew Jotischky sites research that argues “for a much more even proportion of indigenous Christians to Muslims than most historians have previously allowed — perhaps even a 1:1 ratio.” (Crusading and the Crusader States, Pearson Longman, 2004, p. 132)

In short, the crusaders conquered territories in which roughly half the population was still Christian. They then opened these territories to settlers from the West — and the settlers came.  Bernard Hamilton estimates that as many as 140,000 “Franks” (i.e. Western Christians following the Latin rites) had immigrated to the Kingdom of Jerusalem by the second half of the 12th century (The Leper King, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 47). According to Professor Hamilton, the total population of the Kingdom was roughly 600,000 at this time. Thus, Christians (230,000 native Orthodox Christians plus 140,000 Latin Christian settlers) would have made up roughly 60% of the population of the crusader states.

Even if the Muslim population was a minority — not the overwhelming majority so often assumed in popular literature and film — it was still a sizable minority and would have posed a serious threat to fragile crusader rule if that population had been rebellious. Far from being rebellious, Muslim visitors such as Ibn Jubair, who visited the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1183 from Grenada, noted that the Muslim peasants he saw in Galilee “seemed more prosperous and content than those living under Islamic rule outside the Kingdom of Jeusalem.” (Jotischky, p. 129) 

This was because, as Hamilton puts it, “once their rule had been established the Franks proved remarkably tolerant in their treatment of non-Christian subjects.” He notes that “the Franks allowed complete religious freedom to all their subjects.” (Hamilton, p. 49.) While Hamilton stresses that Jewish synagogues and rabbinic schools existed in many of their towns, contemporary Muslim sources noted with surprise that mosques were allowed to function in the crusader states (albeit not in Jerusalem itself), and Muslim subjects were even allowed to participate in the haj. This was because, as Jotischky notes, “the First Crusade was a war of liberation and conquest; it was not a war for the extermination or conversion of Muslims.”  Far from being forced to convert, the Muslim villagers were run by a council of elders who in turn appointed  a “rayse” to represent the community to the Christian lord, while all spiritual and social matters were regulated by the imams in the community in accordance with Sharia law! (Jonathan Riley-Smith, Atlas of the Crusades, Swanston Publishing Ltd, 1191, p. 16 among others.)

Muslims are shown living in overall harmony with the Christians majority in my three-part biography of Balian Baron of Ibelin.




 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                         Buy now!

Friday, July 7, 2017

King Henry's Treasure

Henry II of England is one of England’s most colorful, fascinating and controversial kings.  He is usually remembered for forging the Angevin Empire, for his tempestuous relationship with his strong-willed and powerful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for the murder of Thomas Becket, and – among more serious scholars – for laying the foundations of English Common Law. But he is not remembered as a crusader.

Henry II's Effigy on his Tomb at Frontevralt.
Although Henry II took crusader vows, he never actually went to the Holy Land. Indeed, most historians credit Henry II with disdaining crusading in preference to building an empire at home. Certainly, his refusal to accept the keys of the Holy Sepulchre from the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, reflected a preference for holding on to what he had over seeking glory and salvation “beyond the sea” in “Outremer.”
Yet a focus on Henry’s legacy in the West obscures the fact that his ties to the Holy Land were much closer than is commonly remembered. First of all, his grandfather, Fulk d’Anjou, had turned over his inheritance to his son Geoffrey in order to go to the Holy Land and marry the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Melisende. Geoffrey d’Anjou was thus the half-brother of Kings Baldwin III (reigned 1143 – 1162) and Amalaric I (1162-1174) of Jerusalem. This made Henry II first cousin to the ill-fated Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. 
The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
Baldwin IV suffered from leprosy and could not sire an heir. As his condition worsened and the armies of Saladin drew stronger, he looked desperately for a successor capable of defending his inheritance. He did not see this either in his five year old nephew, or in the husbands of his sisters. It is before this incipient succession crisis, with Saladin beating the drums of jihad at his doorstep, that the mission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller of 1185 must be seen. Baldwin IV sent these emissaries to offer the keys to the Holy Sepulchre and the Tower of David first to Philip II of France and then to Henry II of England. By all accounts, Baldwin’s real hopes lay with Henry II – a powerful monarch, who had proved his abilities on the battlefield again and again. The Patriarch’s plea was for Henry II – or one of his sons – to come to Jerusalem and, implicitly, take the crown itself. Baldwin IV, many historians believe, wanted Henry II to end the succession crisis and restore the House of Anjou in the East.
The Tower of David in Jerusalem, Seat of the Kings of Jerusalem
Henry II, as I noted above, declined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and surrender his hereditary lands for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But he was far from indifferent to the fate of his cousin or the Holy Land. As early as 1172, when Henry II had become reconciled with the Church for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket, he had taken the cross and started accumulating “large sums” of money in Jerusalem. This money, historian Malcolm Barber writes in The Crusader States, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012) was “intended for use when he eventually traveled to the East.” In 1182, Henry II made a will which left an additional 5,000 marks silver to both the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller for the defense of the Holy Land, and another 5,000 marks was bequeathed for the general “defense of the Holy Land.” That is a total of 15,000 marks silver, an enormous sum, which he intended for the defense of the Holy Land.

Manuscript Illustration of a 12th Century King
Since he did not die in 1182, this money never reached the crusader kingdom, but three years later, although Henry felt he dare not leave his kingdom (at a time when the French King and his sons were trying to tear it apart), he did agree to a special tax (often referred to as the “Saladin Tax”) the proceeds of which were also to go to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Finally, when the news reached him in 1187 of the fall of Jerusalem and the desperate straits of the Kingdom, Henry II again took a crusader vow. While many historians (and even more novelists) disparage this as a ploy, it is just as possible that he was sincere – so long as those who coveted his kingdom and threatened his crown, Philip II of France and his son Richard – went on crusade with him! We will never know how sincere his intentions were because he died before the Third Crusade got underway.

Meanwhile, however, his treasure had already played a crucial role in the history of Jerusalem. There are no figures for just how large King Henry’s treasure was, but it was undoubtedly more than the 15,000 silver marks mentioned in his will of 1182 because there had been money deposited prior to this, and the “Saladin Tax” that came afterwards. Significantly, the money had been entrusted to the militant orders for safe keeping. This means that the money could be deposited in London, and paid out in Jerusalem through the networks of the Templars and Hospitallers. Furthermore, based on the testament of 1182, it would appear that Henry carefully distributed the funds between the two militant orders, rather than favoring one over the other. This, unintentionally, resulted in his treasure having two very different uses.
In 1187, as Saladin prepared to launch an all-out offensive against the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem, King Guy had little choice but to call-up a levee en masse to put the largest force possible in the way of the invaders. Against a force of 45,000 including some 12,000 cavalry, King Guy could muster only about 1,000 knights, 4,000 light horse and some 15,000 infantry. In light of this, the Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard de Ridefort, handed over King Henry’s treasure to finance more fighting men. It is unclear from the sources whether these were mercenaries, light troops, or, as some say, the outfitting of 200 additional knights. In any case, Henry II’s money helped contribute to the army that marched out to meet Saladin – and was destroyed on the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187.

There are even some historians who postulate that it was because the Templar Grand Master had taken King Henry's money without authorization that made the Master so urge King Guy to advance toward Tiberias rather than wait at the Springs of Sephorie. The reasoning is that if the Frankish army just waited at Sephorie, the Grand Master would find it difficult to justify his illegal misappropriation of funds, but if there was a glorious victory over Saladin, Henry II would either forgive him or not dare to criticize. It this thesis is correct, than it could be said that the theft of King Henry's funds by Gerard de Ridefort led to the disaster at Hattin. 
Leaving that speculation aside and turning to the second half of Henry's treasure, the Grand Master of the Hospitallers, however, did not release King Henry’s treasure in advance of the Battle of Hattin. The money Henry II had deposited with the Hospitallers for the Holy Land was still in Jerusalem when the city surrendered to Saladin in October 1187. The terms of the surrender allowed the residents 40 days to raise a ransom of 10 dinars per man, 5 dinars per woman and 2 dinars per child. Those who failed to pay the ransom, became slaves by right of conquest at the end of the 40 days.
At the time these terms were negotiated, the Christian defender of Jerusalem, Balian d’Ibelin, knew that there were some 40,000 (some sources say 100,000) Latin Christian refugees in the city.  He knew that many of these were destitute, having lost all they owned to Saladin already. They were in no position to pay their ransom. Ibelin therefore negotiated the release of 18,000 poor for a lump sum of 30,000 dinars. 

Sources differ, however, on where this money came from. Some suggest that it came from King Henry’s treasure, but others suggest the initial sum was paid from the treasury of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but that it soon became evident that there were many more poor in the city than Ibelin had estimated – or had the resources to ransom. (He’d lost all his lands to Saladin already too.) It was at this juncture, they say, that the Hospitallers handed over King Henry’s treasure to ransom as many of the poor as they could. In the end, even King Henry’s treasure was not enough and some 15,000 Christians were sold into slavery. Nevertheless, King Henry of England played an important role in ransoming thousands of Christians trapped in Jerusalem, minimizing the number sold into slavery. His son, of course, played an even greater role in rescuing the Kingdom from complete obliteration, but that is another story….

Saturday, July 1, 2017

REVIEW: "Downfall of the Crusader Kingdom: The Battle of Hattin and the Loss of Jerusalem" by W.B. Bartlett

At the start of each month + Real Crusades History + brings you a review of a book relevant to the crusades or the crusader states. Since this month marks the 840th anniversary of the Battle of Hattin, we thought a book on the events leading to that fateful battle would be a good topic.


Bartlett’s "Downfall of the Crusader Kingdom: The Battle of Hattin and the Loss of Jerusalem" is a first rate account of the events leading up to the fall of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.  Bartlett has clearly based his account on the sources, Christian and Muslim, and he has a firm and balanced grasp of the history, yet he writes in a fluid and comprehensible prose. 

One great strength of this book is its comprehensive approach. Bartlett explains the critical importance of Byzantium’s waning strength upon the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He reminds the reader of developments in Western Europe that impacted crusading enthusiasm and so the resources of the kingdom. He touches on economic factors of importance, and provides succinct and useful descriptions of the comparative arms, armor and tactics of the antagonists.  He is careful to stress the ethnic and religious diversity of both the Christian kingdom and Saladin’s vast empire, for neither the Christian Kingdom nor Saladin’s empire were monolithic but rather fractured by many internal divisions.

Bartlett is particularly adept — unlike far too many academics — at putting himself into the shoes of his subjects and examining possible explanations of known behavior and their motives. In consequence, Bartlett avoids making demons and saints out of any of the actors.  Saladin’s military achievements and famed chivalry are duly noted and praised — but so are his mistakes, ruthlessness and occasional acts of barbarism.  Guy de Lusignan is rightly castigated for his indecisiveness and weakness, but Bartlett also highlights his difficult situation.  The very complex character of Raymond de Tripoli is thoughtfully analyzed and both his apologists and detractors given their say, enabling a balanced analysis of his actions. Balian d’Ibelin’s significant role as a voice of reason, a mediator and an effective defender of Jerusalem is likewise highlighted.  Only in the case of Reynald de Chatillion and Gerard de Rideford does Bartlett’s objectivity break-down somewhat.

One small weakness with the book is that Bartlett appears unfamiliar with Bernard Hamilton’s well-argued thesis about the strategic utility of Chatillon’s acts of aggression. Likewise, Bartlett seems to have confused the period at which Isabella was forcibly separated from her mother (from the age of 8 to 11), and so blithely glosses over this brutal act of power politics on the part of Agnes de Courtney as a mere “mother-daughter spat.” He also did not benefit from more recent studies on leprosy in the Middle Ages and so inaccurately suggests that leprosy was seen as a punishment for sin when, particularly in the Latin East, it was more often seen as a sign of God’s grace. Yet these are very minor flaws in an otherwise excellent historical account written for the public rather than the academic community.

While Malcolm Barber’s The Crusader States is the more valuable reference book to the student of Christian Jerusalem, Bartlett is far and above the better read.  For anyone who is not — and does not want to be — a specialist in the subject, Bartlett’s book provides a rapid, comprehensive and on the whole accurate introduction to the main issues and personalities of this fascinating period.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Crusader Horses


Horses were an absolutely essential — indeed defining — component of a knight’s equipment. The German word for knight (ritter) derives directly from the word for rider (reiter), while the French and Spanish terms, chevalier and caballero, derive from the word for horse (cheval and caballo respectively). While a knight might temporarily be without a mount, without a horse a knight could not fulfill his fundamental function as a cavalryman. Indeed, the symbol of knighthood was not the sword (infantrymen had those as well) or even the lance (they were throw away pieces of equipment), but the (golden) spurs tied to a knight's heels during the dubbing ceremony. Richard Barber notes in his seminal work The Knight and Chivalry that being financially in a position to outfit oneself with arms and horses was crucial to knightly status. David Edge and John Miles Paddock argue in their comprehensive work Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight that “[a knight’s horse] was the most effective and significant weapon the knight had; the basis of his pre-eminent position in society and on the battlefield.”


In short, knights needed horses — significantly not just one horse but several.  This short post provides a overview of a knight's equine needs.

The warhorse or destrier, is the most obvious of a knight’s horses. This was the horse a knight rode into battle, joust or tournament. This horse was his fighting platform. It was trained to endure the shock and noise of combat. In later years, destriers were sometimes also trained to lash out at enemies with teeth and hooves thereby becoming, as Edge and Paddock note, a weapon as well as a fighting platform. Knights rode stallions, not mares or geldings. This was in part because stallions were considered more aggressive, but also because riding a mare or a gelding detracted from a knight’s image as a virile warrior.

Destriers had to be strong because they needed to support a fully armored knight and because they had to withstand the press of horseflesh in a charge and endure uninjured the impact of charges by other horses. They particularly had to have powerful haunches to absorb the shock of frontal collisions with enemy cavalry or in a joust. This does not mean, however, that destriers were massive, heavy horses similar to modern draft horses. Archeological and artistic evidence suggests that the warhorses of crusader knights were no more than 14-15 hands high (a hand is four inches and horses are measured at the withers, the bone over the shoulders at the base of the neck).  Furthermore, they had to be very responsive to their riders, and that means sensitive and agile. They can best be compared to modern quarter horses.


Destriers were not a specific breed of horse, so arguably the defining characteristic of a destrier was simply its function — and price. If a knight thought a horse had what it took to be a fine destrier, he was willing to pay a large premium for that — and anyone in possession of a horse with the necessary qualities was going to ask a commensurate price for it as well.  In short, destriers were outrageously expensive. They cost 4 to 8 times the price of lesser or ordinary horses. They cost as much as the armor a knight wore. They could cost as much as the annual knight’s fee — in short roughly the annual income of the gentry.  The equivalent is the price of a top-line a BMW or Mercedes today.

Like any horse, destriers were vulnerable to colic and injury, however, which meant a knight was well advised to have more than one of them— if he could afford it.  Even if he could and did, however, he was likely to have a favorite. The destriers of knights in contemporary romance and legend all have names: Baucent, Folatise, Babieca etc., but perhaps no description is more famous that the Dauphin’s praise for his horse before Agincourt in Shakespeare’s Henry V. “When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots on air; the earth sings when he touches it…. It is a beast for Perseus: he is pure air and fire….”
For all their value and importance, however, a knight spent far less time mounted on his prized destrier than on his palfrey(s). Palfreys were riding horses, transportation not weapons, the means of getting from point A to point B. Since medieval knights rode everywhere -- to oversea their estates, to visit neighbors, when hunting or hawking, to attend court or to go courting. In short, a knight spent literally countless hours with his palfrey(s). Palfreys were bred not for strength and fierceness but for smooth gates, endurance and common sense. They were probably much the same size as destriers, but lighter — marathon runners rather than sprinters, wrestlers more than boxers. 


Since these horses were just as likely to get colic or injured, the need for more than one palfrey was just as compelling as with destriers, but given the substantially lower price of palfreys the possession of more than one was considerably more common. Knights would normally have possessed at least two and wealthy nobles likely had stables of horses at their disposal for transport purposes.

The last and lowliest of a knight’s horses was his sumpter or packhorse. These were essential for transporting equipment, notably armor when it wasn't being worn.  A knight did not travel light. He needed a tent for camping out, a bedroll for sleeping on, basic utensils for cleaning, grooming and cooking, a change or two of clothes, supplies of food and — in more arid climates — water as well. Depending on the purpose and duration of travel, a knight might even take with him simple furnishings to ensure comfort while on campaign or traveling long distances. All that was carried on pack animals, either sumpter horses, mules or donkeys. We know little about these poor beasts of burden beyond that they were common and cheap. They were “hacks” largely interchangeable, nameless, and unloved. 


Horses play a role in all my crusader books:



Friday, June 23, 2017

Economic Revival of the Levant under Crusader Rule

The establishment of the crusader kingdoms along the coast of the Levant resulted in an economic revival of the region as pilgrims, merchants and settlers flooded into the territories re-captured for Christianity.  What had been an unimportant backwater to the Ayyubid and Fatamid caliphates, whose religious, administrative and economic centers lay in Damascus and Cairo respectively, had suddenly become the spiritual heart of the Latin-Christian world.  In consequence, not only did existing cities undergo an economic boom, but ancient cities gone to ruin, such as Caesarea and Ramla were revived, and entire new towns and villages were built.


An estimated 140,000 settlers from Western Europe immigrated to the Holy Land in the first century after the First Crusade, eventually accounting for between twenty and twenty-five percent of the population of the crusader states. These numbers were swelled annually during the “sailing season,” roughly from April to October, with tens of thousands of pilgrims who came to see the holy sites as “tourists.” 


To serve the pilgrims, the mercantile city-states of Venice, Genoa and Pisa built fleets and established communities in the ports of the crusader states to cater to residents, pilgrims and home markets. In addition to passengers, the Italian merchant fleets transported a variety of goods: timber, horses, arms and armor from the West; sugar, olive oil, silk, and spices from the east.




But not everything used in the crusader states were imports and not all exports were commodities. The crusader states also developed indigenous crafts both for every day and ceremonial use. These included, of course, metal-working and wood-working, leather goods, ceramics, textiles, and glass. Most of these products were produced by native craftsmen, who continued to use the same techniques as before the Latin conquest, but the motifs shifted to include crosses, fishes and other Christian symbols. The styles were also influenced by the taste of customers and exposure to products imported from the West. The native craftsmen, however, had developed their crafts over the centuries, heavily influenced by earlier waves of invaders from the Romans and Byzantines to the Saracens. Thus their work inevitably reflected these layers of past influence now combined with Western European influences to form distinctly crusader crafts.

Because of its durability, we know that crusader metal-working was of a very high standards as surviving objects from several of the key churches attest. Objects included metal screens or grilles, candle sticks and candelabra, brass bowls and bells, as well as magnificent silver and gold work in reliquaries and jewelry. Jerusalem had an entire street known as the Street of the Goldsmiths, attesting to the quantity and popularity of gold work produced in the Holy City. Many (if not most) of the products from these workshops probably ended up in the West, as pilgrims took them home as keep-sakes and gifts. Many may not yet have been identified as originating in the crusader states. At the lower end of the scale, there were many blacksmiths in the Holy Land, both native and settlers, and most earned their living producing articles needed for daily life from horseshoes, plowshares, hammers and shovels, to maces and battle axes, although it appears that most swords were imported either from Damascus (famous for its steel) or the important weapons centers in Italy and Germany.

Wood, leather and textile goods have largely been lost, but some cloth fragments are witness to the use of wool, cotton, linen and silk in cloth manufacture in the crusader states. Interestingly, evidence of mixed fabrics — silk warp with wool, linen or cotton weft — have been found.  Fragments of both dyed and undyed fabrics have been found, as well as patterned fabrics created by woodblock printing.  In addition, there is evidence that cloth, particularly silk, was decorated with silk or gold embroidery and brocading. The colors that have survived in the few finds of textiles from the crusader period ranged from ivory, yellow and gold to red and various shades of blue. However, purple was the imperial color of Byzantium and would have been available at least as in import for the upper classes, and it is reasonable to assume that green tones could also be produced and would have been available.

Pottery from the crusader period has survived in much larger quantities and demonstrates that while some pottery was imported from Egypt and Syria, the vast majority of pottery objects in use in the crusader states was produced locally and was often of very high quality. Pottery was used for the production of cooking pots and pans, storage jars and jugs, basins, bowls, plates and cups. It was often decorated with incisions in the unfired clay, and designs were painted either beneath a transparent glaze or with colored glazes. The most common color scheme was red or brown painting on a white backdrop, although blue and black designs on white were also known. Cream and pale green glazes were also popular. Popular motifs included ancient geometric designs, foliage, birds and animals, but human figures, crosses and fishes — i.e. Christian symbols — were also used. One distinctive feature of much local pottery that made it popular with pilgrims was the use of transparent glaze on the inside of pots and pans to create an early kind of “Teflon” — stick-free cooking.


Perhaps the more sophisticated and beautiful craft of the Holy Land was glass-making. Glass was used in windows in the crusader period, both stained and painted glass for churches, and round and plate panes for windows in secular buildings. Green plate glass from the crusader period, for example, was found at a farmhouse less than five miles from Jerusalem; it would probably have graced the manor of a local lord.  Glass was also used for the drinking vessels, both beakers and goblets, and for bowls and bottles.  Bottles with long necks for perfumes and the scented oils produced in the Holy Land were probably popular among pilgrims as gifts for those left behind. Glass was also used for storage jars and for oil lamps, a continuation of Byzantine and Arab traditions. Glass of the crusader period was often dyed and/or decorated. The colors of crusader glass found to date include yellow, red and light brown, emerald and light greens, turquoise, shades of blue as well as light and dark purple. Decorations included geometric designs and heraldry, foliage, birds, animals as well as saints and religious motifs. Some glass objects also have inscriptions. Tyre was particularly known for its glass-making industry and the glass produced was reputedly particularly transparent. But glass-making was also carried out in other crusader cities, including Acre and Beirut; the latter was famous of its red glass.



In short, the crusader kingdoms had a lively, diverse and comparatively sophisticated craft industry capable of producing not only articles for everyday use, but beautiful and valuable objects. This reflects a high level of civilization typical of a society with extensive trading ties and elites with sufficient income to support quality craftsmanship. Particularly interesting in crusader crafts is the synthesis of Arab/Egyptian, Byzantine and Western influences to produce a unique and distinctive “crusader style” in a variety of objects.

Note: I could find no pictures in the public domain of objects made in the crusader states. The photos are simply examples of objects from the 12th and 13th century, although the pottery is similar to pottery I saw on Cyprus from the crusader period.

Recommended further reading:

Boas, Adrian J., Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East, Routledge, London & New York, 1999.

My novel set in crusader Jerusalem depicts the high level of civilization reflected above.


 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                         Buy now