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Thursday, January 23, 2020

The House of Ibelin

First Hollywood and now Sharon Kay Penmen have devoted a film and a novel  to Balian d'Ibelin respectively. Yet, historically, Balian was only one -- and by no means the most important -- member of the House of Ibelin. In the weeks ahead, Dr. Schrader will be reviewing the history of the Ibelins -- a topic to which she will also devote a chapter in her forthcoming book "Beyond the Seas: The Story of the Crusader States."


Sons of the House of Ibelin held many noble titles over time: Lords of Ibelin, Ramla and Mirabel, Caymont, Beirut, Arsur, and Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, the last traditionally a royal domain and title of the heirs to the throne.  The daughters of Ibelin married into the royal families of Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus, and Armenia. Ibelins served as regents of Jerusalem and Cyprus on multiple occasions and they led revolts against what they viewed as over-reaching royal authority, most notably taking on the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II in 1229-1233.  They were respected as scholars. One translated Arab poetry into French, another (John of Jaffa) wrote a legal treatise that is not only a goldmine of information about the laws of the crusader kingdoms but is admired for the elegance of its style and the sophistication of its analysis.  The Ibelins also built magnificent palaces, whose mosaic courtyards, fountains, gardens, and polychrome marble excited admiration. 

The Ibelins exemplified the Latin East in many ways. They were rich, luxury-loving, patrons of the arts, yet they were also fighting men who could hold their own against Saracens, Mamlukes or their fellow knights. They were highly-educated and multi-lingual. Their whose diplomatic skills won the admiration of Saladin and Richard the Lionheart; their legal reasoning confounded the "Wonder of the World," Emperor Frederick II. 

During the 7th crusade led by St. Louis, the head of the Ibelin family attracted the the amazement of the French Seneschal Jean de Joinville who wrote:

[Ibelin’s] galley came to shore painted all over above and below the water with armorial bearings, or a cross paté gules. He had full three hundred oarsmen in the galley, and each man had a shield bearing his arms, and with each shield was a pennon with his arms sewn in gold. (Joinville’s “Life of St. Louis,” Chapter 4: Landing in Egypt.)

A splashier display of wealth was hardly imaginable in the midst of battle and seems a  microcosm of the wealthy, luxury-loving yet militant crusader states. 
Yet the Ibelins also exemplified the crusader states in another way: the origins of the family are completely obscure, and the first Ibelin was almost certainly an adventurer, a man of knightly-rank but without land or title in whatever country he originated.

 Members of the House of Ibelin are the protagonists in six of published novels and two novels yet to come by Helena P. Schrader
For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.



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Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Spark that Flared into Civil War

 Emperor Frederick first vowed to liberate Jerusalem at his coronation as "King of the Romans" (Germans) in December 1212, yet when he finally arrived in Outremer on July 21, 1228, the first thing he did was to alienate one of his most powerful vassals by a trick more worthy of a pirate king and a crude attempt at extortion.  His actions were so astonishing that not even his admirers attempt to justify them, but prefer to simply ignore them altogether. It all started with a sinister banquet...


In July 1228, when Emperor Frederick finally arrived on his long-awaited crusade, his first port of call was Limassol in the Kingdom of Cyprus.  This King of Cyprus was at this time an eleven-year-old boy, Henry, not yet old enough to rule for himself. In accordance with the laws of Cyprus, the High Court of Jerusalem had recognized Henry's mother Alice as his regent, but because she chose not to exercise that office, the High Court had elected a "baillie" to act in her stead. In 1228 this was John d'Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut.

On his arrival in LImassol, Frederick sent a very pleasant letter to the Lord of Beirut, the text of which was recorded in contemporary accounts. This letter addressed Beirut as "my lord and honored uncle," and explained that "we desire to have the satisfaction of seeing you with the king and your children, all our dear and well-beloved cousins, that we may have the pleasure of embracing you and knowing you personally."(1) The Emperor closed the letter with "Your very affectionate nephew, Frederick Emperor."(2) (Beirut was an uncle of the Emperor's late Empress, Yolanda of Jerusalem.)

Despite the outward tone of the letter, Beirut's friends and council smelled a rat. Whether they had intelligence from other sources or simply mistrusted the Emperor generally, Beirut's council unanimously advised him not to attend upon the emperor. Beirut insisted on going, saying explicitly that he would rather be arrested or killed than have it said that he by his refusal to work with the emperor had ruined a chance of recovering Jerusalem. This underlines the fact that despite the emperor's words, Beirut knew that he was out of favor. He was not taken in by the emperors words of friendship, but rather determined to do all in his power to patch over their differences in order to increase the prospects of a successful crusade. Ibelin pointedly and consciously put the liberation of Jerusalem ahead of his personal security and status.

So Beirut took King Henry to Limassol, accompanied by the entire Cypriot army, both knights and sergeants, and also his three adult sons, Balian, Baldwin and Hugh. On arrival in Limassol, the Emperor welcomed them with the appearance of great joy, and they dutifully submitted to the Emperor's leadership, pledging their bodies and worldly goods in his service in the impending crusade. The Emperor further begged that they set aside the mourning they were wearing for Beirut's brother and predecessor Philip, and instead accept robes of scarlet from him. He also personally invited them to attend a great banquet he would hold for them the next day. Beirut, his sons and vassals readily agreed.

Yet, on the same night as the invitation, "the Emperor caused to enter secretly by night three thousand men-at-arms or more, sergeants, arbelesters, and sailors, so that nearly all the fighting men of his fleet were there; and they were disposed throughout the stables and rooms."(3)

On the next day, the guests came unarmed in the lavish robes the Emperor had given them and insisted that they wear. The Emperor sat at a high table flanked only by the Lord of Beirut and his brother-in-law the Lord of Caesarea. Furthermore, as a mark of "favor," Beirut's eldest sons were designated to serve the Emperor, "one with the cup , the other with the bowl, while the young lord of Caesarea and Sir Anceau de Brie should carve before him."(4)


When the last course was brought in, "armed men came out from those places where they had been posted and they took possession of the palace...some holding the hilts of swords and others daggers."(5) Only after his armed men had surrounded the unarmed Cypriots did the Emperor show his true colors. Now he turned to the Lord of Beirut and demanded that he 1) surrender the revenues he had stolen from Cyprus during his own and his deceased brother's terms as baillie of Cyprus, and 2) that he surrender his title and lordship of Beirut.

Beirut first tried to dismiss the claims as a "poor joke" and suggest the Emperor had been listening to evil gossip, but the Emperor insisted that he would have Beirut's lordship and allegedly ill-gotten gains or he would arrest him. Despite being unarmed and surrounded by the Emperor's troops, Beirut replied that he has received his lordship legally from his half-sister Queen Isabella and had made a full accounting for the revenues of Cyprus. Nevertheless, he asserted he would be happy to put his case before the respective High Courts. He would not surrender either lordship or revenue, however, without a judgement of the appropriate court. The Emperor grew more enraged, declaring: "I shall show you that your wit and subtlety and your words will avail naught against my force." (6)

Apologists for Frederich Hohenstaufen are quick to point out that the Lord of Beirut and his brother before him had been tenacious and used dubious legal tricks to remain in the position of "baillie" of Cyprus after their falling-out with Queen Alice. They suggest that Beirut very probably did have something to hide. Possibly.  Yet no one has ever been able to come up with even a shadow of an explanation of why he should not have been entitled to the Lordship of Beirut, a lordship he ,built up at great expense after it had been devastated by years of Saracen occupation and a violent re-capture by German crusaders.

Yet, even if Beirut was guilty of one of the "crimes" -- which is far from proven simply because historians think it possible -- that hardly justifies the Emperor's action. The Emperor, allegedly the protector of law and justice, baldly stated that he didn't give a damn about the law and courts; he declared bluntly that "might was right." He did not offer counter-arguments, nor agree to put the case before a court of law, but simply threatened the use of force like the most illiterate and rapacious robber baron. 

Undoubtedly, the Hohenstaufen's defenders would argue that as Emperor he could not subject himself to any court. But he didn't have to -- he only had to allow Beirut to defend himself before his peers in accordance with the laws of the kingdoms in which the crimes had allegedly been committed. By refusing to allow Beirut to defend himself in accordance with the laws of the kingdoms, the Emperor -- allegedly the source of all justice --- was denying justice to one of his most important, and up to this point completely loyal, vassals. 

Beirut refused to be intimidated by the Emperor's threats. He said he would accept the fate Christ decreed, but he would surrender nothing without due process and a judgement of the High Court. 


At this point the many lords of the Church present tried to mediate. The best they could negotiate, however, was that Beirut would surrender 20 hostages as surety that he would submit himself to the judgement of the respective High Courts. The Emperor demanded that Beirut's eldest sons be among the hostages. The Emperor noted to Beirut as he made the demand, "I well know that Balian is your very heart and that so long as I have him I shall have you."(7)

It is hardly surprising that an Emperor who felt he had the right to simply take away fiefs and demand bribes (for demanding the "repayment" of revenues that have not been stolen in the first place is extortion) at the point of a sword did not keep his word about "honoring" his hostages either. Although not even Emperor had accused the hostages of wrong-doing, Beirut's sons were "put in pillories, large and exceedingly cruel; there was a cross iron to which they were bound so that they were able to move neither their arms nor their legs, and at night the other men were put in irons with them."(8)

The actions of an "enlightened," "modern" and "tolerant" monarch? Not in my opinion!

1) Novare, Philip De. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus. Trans. John La Mont, Columbia University Press,1936, p. 74f.
2) Ibid. 
3) Ibid, pp. 76-77.
4) Ibid, p. 77.
5) Ibid. 
6) Ibid, p. 79
7) Ibid, p. 81
8) Ibid. 

The consequences of this fateful banquet are described in my current series starting with:

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Crusader States -- or Colonies?

 Many people today believe that the crusader states were like early colonies -- alien foreign enclaves, ruled by segregationist elites for the benefit of Europe rather than the local residents. It's not surprising. That's what historians have been telling them for about 150 years. Yet modern scholarship -- particularly archaeology -- has exposed the fallacies in this image and interpretation. Below is a short summary and analysis of "colonial" interpretation of the crusader states.

The “Colonialist” interpretation of the Crusader States first emerged in the early 19th century — when Colonialism was at its height. It originated in France, which at that time was expanding its sphere of influence in the Middle East. Specifically, in 1860 riots in Jerusalem highlighted the degree to which local Christians were oppressed under the Ottomans. “To the French, it seemed that the age-old circumstances which 750 years earlier had led to the oppression of Oriental Christianity by the ‘Turks’, and were the cause of the Crusades, were now being re-enacted before their very eyes.” [1]


Soon French scholars were seeing other parallels as well. The French historian Emmanuel Guillaume Rey, who made multiple trips to the Holy Land and conducted archaeological studies of crusader sites, is credited with “creating the “French colonialist justification of the crusades.” [2] His successors praised what they viewed as a unique French talent for fair administration of local populations and the acclimatization of Western elites in an Oriental setting.



The French were not alone. The contemporary British historian Claude Condor also interpreted the crusader states as proto-Colonial entities in which the more developed Westerners brought enlightenment to the backward Middle East. Condor used this scheme to explain the decline of Palestine since the fall of the crusader states, and to advocate for new waves of settlement by industrious people capable of developing a modern state. Although Condor died in 1910, his theories clearly provided an additional justification for Zionist immigration.


Soon Arab nationalists were also conflating the crusader states with colonialism — with a new twist. The crusader states, after all, had been eradicated by the Mamluks. Thus the crusader states were failed colonies. For the first time in hundreds of years, Arab and Muslim interest in the crusades and crusader states developed, but only because these represented the perfect model and inspiration for the defeat of 20th Century colonial empires. Arab independence movements made generous use of role models from the crusades, particularly Salah al-Din, in order to stress the vulnerability of the West and inevitability of Muslim/Arab victory.

Statue of Saladin in modern Damascus
By the mid-20th century, Colonialism was out of favor in the West as well. In the post-Colonial era, Colonialism had become THE great evil. It was blamed for poverty, injustice, dictatorships, corruption and all other difficulties confronting former colonials states, particularly in Africa. Yet by now, the habit of viewing the crusader states as early or proto-colonial adventures had become so ingrained that no one bothered to question the model or seriously examine the assumption.


The apogee of this trend was reached in the late 20th century when the Israeli historian Joshua Prawer propagated an extreme position which drew parallels between the Franks in Outremer and white elites in South Africa. He did not shy from alleging that the Franks in Outremer engaged in what he called “apartheid.” Frankish society in the Holy Land was depicted as a decadent urban elite, collecting rents from oppressed native farmers. Allegedly, the Franks were afraid to venture into the hostile environment of the countryside, not only because of an “ever-present” Saracen threat but also because they were hated by their own tenants and subjects.




Prawer’s thesis, however, has been almost completely discredited by more recent research, particularly meticulous studies and archaeological surveys conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This research revealed that Frankish rural settlement was much more widespread than had been previously assumed ― without evidence. The Franks, the survey proved, built large numbers of smaller towns and villages, often without walls or fortifications of any kind ― a clear indication that they did not feel threatened as historians hypothesized.


In contrast to the assumptions of earlier historians, the backbone of the Frankish army was composed of rural knights, who drew their income from agriculture not urban “money fiefs.” The knights of Outremer, far from being the decadent pro-Colonial, city-dwellers of legend, were countrymen and farmers, just as they were in Western Europe. Equally significant, the Frankish settlers did not displace the local inhabitants, expelling them from their land and houses. They did not deprive them of either their land or their status. On the contrary, the documentary evidence proves that the Franks were punctilious in recording and respecting the rights of the Syrian inhabitants. Rather than displacing the locals, they built villages and towns in previously unsettled areas or, more commonly, built beside existing towns. Far from exploiting the natives as in 19th and 20th-century colonialism, the Franks co-existed in harmony with the native population.


And who were these settlers? Based on nearly complete records for a sampling of settlements it is possible to show that these settlers came from widely separated areas in the West. For example, in the town of Mahomeria 150 Frankish households were identified with heads-of-household originating in Burgundy, Poitiers, Lombardy, the Ile de France, Bourges, Provence, Gascony, Catalonia, the Auvergne, Tournai, Venice and eight other towns no longer clearly identifiable but apparently in France or Italy. The largest number of families coming from any one place was four.


This helps explain why, as Fulcher of Chartres claimed in his History, the settlers rapidly lost their ties to their “old country” and identified with their new residence. (“We who were Occidentals have now become Orientals. He who was a Roman or a Frank has in this land been made into a Galilean or Palestinian.” Fulcher of Chartres, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127, Book II.)


It also explains why the settlement of the crusader states cannot legitimately be conflated with colonialism. Colonies are established by a powerful entity (kingdom, state, city) in a distant, foreign environment for the purpose of enriching the metropolitan center. French colonies were exploited for the benefit of France; British colonies were maintained to make England richer, etc. Settlers and administrators in the colonies came from the “home country,” continued to identify with it, and enforced policies that benefited not the local region/community/population but the distant metropolis.



The crusader states, in contrast, had no “metropolis;” the leaders of the crusades came all across Europe. Nor did settlers come predominantly from a single region. More important, however, the crusader states were independent political entities, represented by independent rulers. Not until the mid-13th century, did absentee Western rulers attempt to impose their will upon the crusader states by sending administrators out to the crumbling kingdom of Jerusalem. Yet even then, they made these claims as Kings of Jerusalem, not as kings of some Western nation.


Significantly, taxes did not flow out of the crusader states into the coffers of distant European kingdoms. No one in the crusader states paid a “stamp tax” or any other duty to a European ruler. The taxes on goods passing through the crusader kingdoms, import and export duties, anchorage, salvage and all the various forms of taxation by which governments gain the revenues necessary to maintain borders, order and justice accrued to NO “Colonial Power” — but to crusader states themselves.



Indeed, for the most part, the fabled wealth of Outremer remained in Outremer, enriching the local population and elites — with the possible exception of the trading fortunes made by the Italian maritime cities. Nor were the crusader states viewed by Europeans as “under-developed” or “backward,” as 19th and 20th-century colonies were viewed. On the contrary, for nearly two hundred years, crusaders and pilgrims from the West were awed by and envied the superior standards of living enjoyed by the residents of the crusader states.


In short, while the debate continues and some historians cling to the old notion of the crusader states as “colonies,” the case for this paradigm is weak and largely obsolete. Indeed, using the term “colonies” and attempts to find — or refute — parallels undermines objective research. Rather than looking for artificial similarities, we would do better to focus on fundamental research and original analysis.


[1] Ellenblum, Ronnie, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 44.

[2] Ellenblum, 44.

The war against Emperor Frederick II was very much about local elites resisting the attempt of a European monarch to turn them into a kind of "colony" governed by alien laws (the laws of the Holy Roman Empire or Sicily). Read more in Dr. Schrader's novels set in this important conflict:


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Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Maritime Powers and the Crusader States

From the first decade of the crusader states to their fall the Italian maritime cities had a unique and distinctive role and place in the society of Outremer. Today Dr. Schrader provides a short summary of the role of the Pisans, Genoese, and Venetians in Outremer.



The First Crusade went tortuously overland and contained no notable maritime component. No sooner had Jerusalem been taken, however, than the need to establish permanent control over the coast of the Levant – or at least key cities that gave access to Jerusalem such as Acre and Jaffa ― became apparent. Capture and control of coastal cities, in turn, required naval forces that could, at a minimum, blockade a city held by the enemy so that a landward siege could be effective ― or, in some cases called for an assault from the sea.

The problem immediately faced by the Franks ― hanging on by their fingernails to the land captured in the First Crusade ― was that they were all, whether lords, knights or sergeants ― landlubbers. None of them was remotely prepared to or capable of undertaking maritime operations.  In the age of sail, designing, building and operating sea-going vessels required highly specialized knowledge and skills. These were, furthermore, complex skills requiring years of apprenticeship and experience.  There was no quick and easy way to turn a soldier into a sailor or a knight into a marine officer.

Fortunately, there were professional Christian seaman willing to support the efforts to re-establish Christian control over the Holy Land. As early as December 1099, a large Pisan fleet arrived at Jaffa to aid the beleaguered Franks in Outremer (it was too soon to speak of a kingdom).  They failed to do much at this time and sailed for home after Easter, but they were replaced by some 200 Venetian ships. In the years to come, the great Italian maritime cities repeatedly “lent” their fleets to the Frankish forces in Outremer.


Malcolm Barber notes in his seminal work The Crusader States that the treaty negotiated with the Venetians in 1000 “set the pattern for future agreements with the maritime cities and, in that sense, began the process of establishing the Italian communes in the East….”[i] This agreement granted to Venice a church, market, and one-third of the booty of any city captured by the Franks in the Holy Land, as well as the city of Tripoli in its entirety, if captured in the period between June 24 and August 15, 1000. I.e. anything the Franks captured during the period in which their fleet was engaged in operations against the Saracens.

In the event, all that was captured in 1000 was Haifa, but it set a precedent. The arrival of the Genoese fleet in Jaffa in time for the summer campaigning season in 1101 enabled the Franks to seize control of both Arsuf and Caesarea. In 1102, the Genoese contributed to the fall of Tortosa, and two years later assisted in the capture of Giblet, and ― most important ― Acre.  In 1109, Tripoli itself surrendered, and the Genoese were granted a full third of the city. 

Meanwhile, the Venetians had returned and assisted in the capture of Sidon and, notably, Tyre ― a city that had resisted capture by the Franks for a quarter-century before falling in 1124. For this service, the Venetians received “a church, street, square and oven in every royal and baronial city in the kingdom….Lawsuits between Venetians and against Venetians by outside parties were to be settled in Venetian courts…Property left by Venetians who died…would be under Venetian control. Finally, the Venetians would have a third part of the cities of Tyre and Ascalon.”[ii]

The rapaciousness so often attributed to all crusaders, many of whom in fact indebted themselves to undertake the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, would appear to have been very prominent among the Italian maritime powers. Joshua Prawer argues in his article about the Italian communes[iii] that the Italians were concerned less about the Holy Land than about “dominating the lines of communication and commerce between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and Europe.” This set them apart from the other residents, both native and immigrant, because they never fully identified with the crusader states, but rather remained in heart and mind citizens of their cities of origin.


Certainly, the Italian communes retained their aloofness from the rest of crusader society. The right to their own courts was fiercely defended, as were their other privileges, particularly the immunity from royal taxes and service. They remained enclaves of foreigners, rather like diplomatic or colonial enclaves in later centuries, living by their own laws, speaking their own language, and retaining their rivalries. As Prawer puts it, “they might have been regarded by everyone else in the kingdom as a class apart, but they were a class composed of bitter rivals.”[iv]

In the early years, they were little more than trading outposts with communal lodgings and warehouses. The so-called “palazzos” of the Italian merchant communes were in fact composed of warehouse space on the ground floor (that could be rented out by individual merchants by the square foot), and lodgings on the upper floors, rented out by the week or month. In between were the offices, courts, and reception rooms for the commune’s administrative bodies. In short, the large, multi-storied buildings occupying roughly a city block were not grand residences, but the practical consolidation of functional space needed by a transient population of sailors and sea captains, merchants, and agents. These men came only briefly to conduct business and returned “home” ― to Pisa, Genoa, or Venice ― as soon as possible. Their families remained in the home city. 


Only gradually did some of the less prominent members of that transient community start to stay longer in the East. Only very exceptionally, such as in the case of the Embriachi family of Genoa, did prominent, aristocratic families establish a permanent presence in Outremer. Yet men of lesser standing at home sometimes found it advantageous to settle, marry and acquire personal property in Outremer.

Although by the 13th century, there were some members of the Italian Communes who were third or fourth-generation residents of Outremer, they remained legally and emotionally the subjects of their home cities rather than the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This found expression, for example, in the way the communes took sides in the civil war between the barons of Outremer and the Hohenstaufen Emperors along the same lines as their home cities ― the Venetians and Genoese opposing Frederick II and the Pisans supporting him. 

Tragically, the Italian cities as commercial rivals came to view each other as the greater enemy than the surrounding Saracens with whom they all traded. This resulted in open warfare played out with assassinations, attacks and fighting in the streets of Acre and Tyre particularly. This war was bloody, costing as many as 20,000 lives according to some sources.[v] Yet far more tragic was that the local barons and military orders took sides in this war so that what started as commercial rivalry soon tore the Kingdom of Jerusalem apart. It also paralyzed trade, and so weakened the kingdom economically ― at a time when the Mamlukes were on the rise.  It is therefore fair to say that the commercial rivalries of the Italian communes contributed materially to the demise and fall of the crusader states in the second half of the 13th century.




[i] Baber, Malcolm. The Crusader States. Yale University Press, 2012, p. 60.
[ii] Barber, p. 140
[iii] Prawer, Joshua. “Social Classes in the Crusader States: the ‘Minorities.’ Zacour, Norman and Harry W. Hazard, editors. A History of the Crusades Volume Five: The Impact of the Crusades on the Near East. University of Wisconsin Press, 1985, p.174
[iv] Prawer, p. 177.
[v] La Monte, John. Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 100 to 1291. Medieval Academy of America, 1932, p. 241.



There is a Genoese subplot in Dr. Schraders novels set in 13th century Outremer:

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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Worshiping Christ in Frankish Cyprus

During the last century, the assumption was that during the reign of the Lusignans the Latin elite oppressed and despised the Greek Orthodox majority. However, historians of the 21st century have uncovered a wealth of evidence that suggests rather than tensions or mere tolerance, the dominant feature of religious life in Frankish Cyprus was mutual respect and joint worship. 


The key to understanding the religious situation on Cyprus is to recognize that the Catholic Church in the 12th and 13th centuries did not view Greek Orthodoxy as either heretical or schismatic. Throughout the period of Frankish rule in Cyprus, a succession of popes confirmed that the differences between the churches were ones of "rites" (i.e. practice) rather than doctrine.   

The tensions that misled historians of the last century into hypothesizing hostility and oppression, were -- on closer examination -- competition between the clergy of the respective churches, not tensions between the believers of either church. Rather than dogma and theology, the two issues that agitated the Latin Church were access to Greek Orthodox lands and other sources of income and the primacy of the pope. The resident Greek clergy, on the other hand, was primarily concerned about retaining control over the lives of their flock and autonomy from Rome. 

The Latin church hierarchy on Cyprus incessantly nagged the crown and Latin nobles for more land and more income sources not from greed alone. It was also a reflection of the fact that the Greek church had, contrary to popular assumptions, suffered very few expropriations in the course of the conquest.  Furthermore, the land that was taken away was never that on which churches or monasteries stood, but rather the productive estates that had generated income for those institutions. The beneficiary of those land-grabs, however, was not the Latin Church but rather secular lords during the first decade of Lusignan rule. 

The Greek Orthodox Church was undoubtedly impoverished by the exodus of wealthy Greek aristocrats who had been it's most lavish patrons. It lost some of its economic land-holdings as well, but it retained all its churches and the tithes of the Orthodox population. The Latin Church, in contrast, had a very small population of Latins which it could tithe and otherwise had to live from donations. Notably, the secular lords of Cyprus repeatedly backed the Orthodox Church in stopping the Latin Church from claiming the lands of the Greeks -- in large part to protect their own properties!


The other principal point of tension, the primacy of the pope, was superficially doctrinal, but in practice an issue of prestige. Initially, the Cypriot clergy steadfastly refused to take an oath of fealty to the pope in Rome. Eventually, after a series of negotiations, the Cypriot clergy opted to swear fealty in exchange for effective autonomy. Professor Schabel summarized the deal as follows: 
Greek Orthodoxy survived the Frankish period not so much because of a successful national struggle against complete absorption as because the Greeks always remained the majority and neither the Franks nor the Latin Church ever attempted any Latinization. The Latin Church required what it thought was the bare minimum from the Greek clergy -- nothing from the Greek laymen -- and the Greek clergy gave the Latin Church what it required, including by the end of the thirteeth century, an oath of obedience from the bishops and an end to active opposition concerning unleavened bread. Almost all other particulars of the Greek rite, what we now call Greek Orthodoxy, were allowed to remain the same. [Chris Schabel, "Religion" in Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191 - 1374, editor Angel Nicolaou-Konnari and Chris Schabel, 201; italics addded by HPS]
The drawn-out struggle between the Latin and Greek clergies, however, had very little impact on daily life or popular attitudes. Only on three occasions in the history of Frankish rule on the island did the inter-clerical disputes rise to the level of popular unrest. Two of these instances, both from the fourteenth century, were riots "lasting only a matter of hours and directed successfully at the actions of a single outsider." [Schabel, 207] The other incident was far more serious and shocking. It entailed the burning at the stake of thirteen Orthodox monks in the mid-13th century.


The execution of thirteen Orthodox monks dates to either 1231 or 1232 -- in either case to a period of "chaos" when King Henry I was not yet of age. Indeed, King Henry was very probably not even present in his kingdom as from February until June 1232 he was in Syria with his regent and all his barons. Furthermore, the Latin Archbishop of Nicosia was also absent from the kingdom much of 1231 and early 1232. Most significantly, from May to mid-June, the Kingdom of Cyprus was occupied by the forces of the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri. 

In short, Cyprus was effectively without its legal rulers either secular or ecclesiastical for this critical period.  It appears that this fact was exploited by outsiders with no history of peaceful co-existence. At the urgings of a certain Dominican friar -- the Order of the Inquisition and possibly fresh from fighting the Alibigensians -- the Greek Orthodox monks were condemned to die a heretic's death. Yet, as the documents prove, they were not condemned because they used leavened bread, but rather "because for years they refused to stop calling the Latins heretics for using unleavened bread." Schabel suggests that despite knowing that the pope did not consider the use of leavened bread heretical, the Dominicans could "not tolerate the Greek accusation that they were heretics for their practice." (Schabel, 196). 

Sadly, these images of intolerance and violence, isolated and unrepresentative as they were, have dominated the popular image of the relationship between the churches on Cyprus. In fact, Frankish rule was characterized not only by tolerance but by patronage that fostered an expansion of Orthodox building. 


For example, the Frankish period saw a flourishing of Greek Orthodox monastic activity on the island. The number of monasteries on Cyprus more than doubled from 40 under Byzantine rule to over 100 by 1363. While a number of these monasteries were Latin (the Hospitallers, Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Cistercians, and Augustinians all had three to four houses on Cyprus), Orthodox monasteries undoubtedly made up the vast majority of these religious houses. Furthermore, Orthodox parish churches, even in rural areas, also experienced an influx of donations that enabled renovations and redecoration. Far from languishing in oppression, the Orthodox church flourished under the Lusignans.

There were a number of reasons for this. First and foremost, the Lusignans viewed themselves as the kings of all Cypriots, not just the Latin Cypriots. The Lusignans and their (often Ibelin) wives regularly made generous donations to Greek Orthodox institutions. The nobility also made significant gifts to Greek Orthodox institutions, and there are recorded instances of Italian merchants doing the same. Indeed, by the fourteenth century at the latest, Latin prelates were complaining about "the noble and plebeian women" frequenting the churches of the Greeks, while their husbands "barons, knights, and burgesses" preferred to attend mass in private chapels. 

This situation arose primarily because of the large number of marriages between Latins and Greeks. With the Greek population so dominant, many immigrants found their wives among the local Greek population. The Italians, notoriously, left their wives at home, and one wonders how many took local "wives." Meanwhile, the rising Greek middle class that dominated the bureaucracy and increasingly merged into the gentry made good matches for younger daughters of poorer knights.

Another factor in the gradual slide toward Orthodoxy on the part of the Frankish population was the sheer lack of Latin parish churches. Even in Nicosia, the capital and heart of Frankish Cyprus, the Latin Cathedral was the only parish church. The suffragan bishops also had their cathedrals, but for Franks living outside the main cities, those living on their estates, there were no Latin churches at all. As a result, we have instances of Latin knights and ladies buried in Orthodox churches. The assumption must be that during their lives they also regularly attended mass at these churches, confessed their sins to the Orthodox priests, and possibly married and baptized children there as well. 


Even those Latins who remained true to their traditions gradually absorbed elements of Greek religious culture into their lives and churches. Cypriot saints such as Barnabas, Hilarion, and Epiphanios were worshiped in Latin as well as Orthodox churches. Latin patrons developed a taste for icons, particularly the vita icons that surrounded a portrait of the saint with scenes from his/her life. Frankish artisans became adept at producing icons. Indeed, icons have been found with labeling in the same hand in both Greek and Latin, suggesting that they hung in churches used by both Greek and Latin congregations.


In short, despite the bickering between the Latin and Greek clergy over hierarchy and income, for the average Cypriot, whether Greek and Latin, the shared belief in Christianity was paramount. Rather than hostility or tensions, the people of Cyprus worshiped Christ and his saints together evolving a distinctive form of almost ecumenical sacred architecture and other art forms. 

For more on the disputes between the Cypriot clergy and the pope as well as the evolution of unique art forms see: Nicolaou-Konnari, Angel and Chris Schabel (eds). Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191 - 1374 (London: Brill, 2005).


Dr. Schrader's novels set in medieval Cyprus reflect this atmosphere of inter-faith cooperation punctuated by clashes between the clergy:


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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Thursday, December 19, 2019

An Economic Powerhouse: Cyprus under the Lusignans


The importance of Cyprus to the crusader states can hardly be overstated. Cyprus protected the sea lanes to the Levant. It provided a staging ground for offensive action and a place of refuge in defeat. It provided many of the lords and knights of Outremer with the rural estates so important to raising and training both men and horses for medieval warfare. Yet first and foremost it was the wealth of Cyprus, the resources it could put at the disposal of the mainland crusader states, that made it such a valuable addition to the Latin East. Today I look more closely at the components of its economy.



Ruins of a 13th century Sugar Factory at Kolossi; sugar was an immensely lucrative cash crop throughout the Lusignan period from the start of the 13th century to the end of the 14th.
Cyprus is roughly 3,500 square miles in size, 225 miles long and 95 miles wide, with a coastline 400 miles long. At the time of Richard the Lionheart's invasion (see: http://www.crusaderkingdoms.com/conquest-of-cyprus-i.html), historians estimate the population was at most 100,000 strong. Of that, the vast majority of the population were Greek peasants, with a very small ruling elite of Greek aristocrats, bureaucrats, and clergy.  There were also small communities of foreigners, mostly Armenians, Maronites, Syrian Christians, and Jews. A province of only secondary or tertiary importance to the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople, the economic base of Byzantine Cyprus was agriculture with small quantities of commodity exports. 

Richard the Lionheart's conquest leading to the establishment of the Lusignan dynasty on Cyprus two years later initially had little or no impact on the economy. The conquest neither dislocated large numbers of people nor altered the structure of land tenure nor the means of production. For the vast majority of the Cypriot rural population, the change in regime meant only that the landlords changed. Where once the landlords had been (often absentee) Greek aristocrats, after the establishment of Lusignan rule they were Latin noblemen, also often absentee, predominantly from the crusader states. These landlords now held their estates as feudal fiefs with obligations to the crown, but for the peasant little changed. Likewise, Imperial lands became part of the royal domain, but the duties and dues remained the same for the tenants. 


What changed was the explosion in commercial activity. Arguably, this would have happened even without the change in regime. The loss of the interior of the Kingdom of Jerusalem combined with the recovery of the Levantine coast for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem meant that the Christian cities on the mainland were no longer self-sufficient in food and other products. They were dependent on imports, most of which Cyprus was readily able to provide. Whether this development was inevitable or not, commerce became the face of Lusignan Cyprus and contributed to dramatic economic growth that made the Lusignan period one of the most prosperous in Cypriot history.

Furthermore, the demands of trade triggered a diversification of the Cypriot economy. In addition to its traditional agricultural products of wheat, barley and pulses, Cyprus began to produce -- and export -- carobs, fish, meat, flax, cotton, onions and rice. Minor exports of saffron, nutmeg, pepper, and other spices were also recorded. Last but not least, Cyprus exported salt, a highly lucrative commodity -- so lucrative in fact that the Lusignans maintained a royal monopoly on its extraction. 


More important economically, however, was the move away from the export of raw products toward greater agricultural processing. As a rule, the more refined a product is, the greater the value and so the profit that can be derived from its sale. Cyprus under the Lusignans produced and exported a variety of processed agricultural goods such as wine, olive oil, wax, honey, soap, cheese and above all sugar. Indeed, the production of sugar on an industrial scale became one of Cyprus most important sources of revenue. 

Furthermore, under the Lusignans, Cyprus developed entire new industries. The manufacturing of pottery flourished at Paphos, Lemba, Lapithos, and Engomi. Textile production also developed from the mid-thirteenth century onwards including the production of samite, camlets, and silk, and the textiles were often dyed locally, increasing the value-added captured on the island. Other examples of high-value products were the production and export of icons and manuscripts. 


Notably, excavations show that Cyprus employed the cutting-edge technology of the age, notably highly sophisticated waterworks to power its mills and then reuse the water to irrigate surrounding fields. Leading crusades scholar Nicholas Coureas writes further:
The sophistication of Cypriot agriculture is best seen in the Lusignan plantations around Potamia south of Nicosia. The recently excavated system of wells, waterwheels, canals and mills irrigated the fields and processed produce of the royal estate. ("Economy" in Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191 - 1374, editors Angel Nicolaou-Konnari and Christ Schabel [London: Brill, 2005] 113.)

It is no coincidence that this splendid example of first-rate agricultural practices was found on a royal estate. Coureas estimates that as much as one-third of Cyprus' arable land was held in the royal domain. Nor did Lusignan control end there. The Lusignans were more Byzantine than Western in their tight control over the Cypriot economy, building on a system of centralized administration that they inherited from the Byzantines -- including the personnel! 

In contrast to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the kings of Cyprus maintained a monopoly on minting coins and also established kingdom-wide standards for a variety of wares. They instituted some price controls (notably on bread) and maintained control of public highways. Perhaps most important, they granted far fewer privileges to the Italian city-states than did the crusader states on the mainland.

Last but not least, Cyprus was home to a shipbuilding industry and banking, two of the most important economic sectors of the age. The former was concentrated in Famagusta and grew up mostly after the fall of the shipbuilding centers on the Syrian coast, banking was centered in Nicosia, which became a major center for money lending. So much so, in fact, that it attracted the outrage of the Church by the introduction of a variety of shady measures designed to evade laws against usury. Coureas notes that despite the de facto high interest charged, customers were clearly prepared to borrow anyway, a strong indication of just how lucrative commercial activities on Cyprus were in the thirteenth-century. 


This positive picture is marred by the fact that Cyprus clung to Byzantine traditions in another, less admirable, way as well: slavery was practiced on the island. While in the 12th and 13th century most slaves were Muslim war captives, as the influence of the Italian city-states grew so did the number of slaves procured from other regions.  This was because the Italian city-states were the principle slave-traders of the age, engaged primarily in bringing slaves from northeastern Europe to the voracious slave-markets of the Arab world. After the fall of the mainland crusader states, a major slave market developed on Cyprus itself, a fact that evidently encouraged the purchase and employment of slaves directly on Cyprus particularly in labor-intensive industries such as sugarcane production and viticulture as well as for domestic work. 

In retrospect, the first two hundred years of Lusignan rule was a "golden age" for Cyprus,  characterized by independent government and economic prosperity. Neither Venetian nor Ottoman rule delivered so many benefits nor high standards of living for the population at large -- including peasants but not slaves -- as did the centuries of Lusignan rule.


 Dr. Schrader's most recent novels are all set in medieval Cyprus:


                                                    Best Christian Historical Fiction 2019
                                                                   
         Buy Now!                                                   Buy Now!                                             Buy Now!


Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com