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Friday, September 29, 2017

Dragomen, Scribes and Ra’is: The Administrative Backbone of a Kingdom

Battles may win (and lose) kingdoms, but no kingdom can survive without an administrative apparatus that ensures taxes and customs dues are collected, coins are minted, weights and measures standardized, borders controlled, trade fostered, resources regulated, laws enforced and criminals brought to justice. Today Dr. Schrader takes a closer look at some of the unseen but vital servants of "good governance" in the crusader states.

The construction of great cities and a flourishing in crafts, industry and art is rarely (if ever) possible without a sophisticated administrative structure that allows raw materials materials and labor to be obtained, transported, and paid for, for example. Feudal kingdoms were no exception, and the twelfth and thirteen centuries were periods in which stronger, more centralized governments with more sophisticated royal administration were evolving in both England and France.  

In Western Europe the rise of centralized government generally entailed a strengthening of the crown at the expense of the feudal vassals. (Although Magna Charta and the Oxford Provisions provide examples of how the tensions between crown and vassals could be used to strengthen institutions of consultative government.) Because the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the twelfth century was characterized by absentee kings (two in succession never once set foot in their kingdom) and strong, independent barons, it is often assumed that the Kingdom of Jerusalem lacked sophisticated administration.

In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. 

It could, indeed, be argued that the baronial movement, which fought off all attempts by the Holy Roman Emperor to impose autocratic Imperial government, was only possible because the administrative apparatus in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was so sophisticated. How else could barons holding fiefs in two different kingdoms have had the time to engage in a protracted struggle with their overlord, defend their fiefs against the enemy, take part in crusades, and still find time to write legal tracts and other scholarly works? The mere fact of being dependent on income from two geographically dispersed realms, made it essential for the leading men of both  kingdoms to have institutionalized deputies capable of acting in their absence and in their interests. Furthermore, warfare is expensive, and so impossible at a national -- or baronial -- level without a means of maintaining sources of income. 

Giving credit where it is due: the Franks possessed such sophisticated means of raising money and administering their fiefs as absentee landlords largely because they were able to take over existing structures left to them by their Arab and Greek predecessors. The Holy Land had, after all, been administrated by the ultimate bureaucracy, the Byzantine Empire, for over three hundred years! Arguably, few of the institutions that served the crusader states so well were their own, but the Franks must be given credit for adapting the legacy of their predecessors to their needs so effectively. 

Turning first to the sources of income, the Franks like their predecessors enriched their treasury by the following means:

·       Rents on land, i.e. tenant farmers paying to the lord rent for the right to work the land and retain three-quarters to two-thirds of the harvest;

·       Mills for grinding grain into flower;

·       Olive and wine presses;

·       Sugar factories;

·       Ovens (which were usually communal as it took a great deal of wood to heat one and it was more efficient to do this for large quantities of bread;

·       Taxes on garden produce and orchards;

·       Bath-houses;

·       Tolls on roads and at gates;

·       Import and export duties at the ports;

·       Anchorage and harbor fees;

·       Rights of salvage;

·       Rents for store-frontage;

·       Fees assess by the courts on people found guilty of crimes and misdemeanors;

·       And more.

As this list demonstrates, there were many more ways of making money than “taxing peasants,” and rents of one quarter to one third of the harvest (or the monetary equivalent) was not excessive, particularly since it was not the practice in Outremer to require labor on the lord’s own domain as in the West. Merchants bore a higher burden ― and could well afford to because they were making money hand over fist selling high-value, luxury products like spices, silk, ivory, pharmaceuticals, glass, sugar, wine and olive-oil in the markets of the West at many times the cost for those products in Outremer.

To collect all those revenues, however, the kings and their vassals required a veritable army of lessor officials, who represented them, enforced their laws, and collected their fees, duties and taxes.

At the village level there was a local and resident “Head Man” known as the ra’is (also rays). He was a tenant, usually with a bigger house and somewhat more profitable land, e.g. olive orchards or vineyards, and he spoke the same language and shared the religion of the other inhabitants of the village because he was the descendant of the ra’is, who had been there before the Franks came. In new Frankish settlements, the function of the ra’is was performed by the lord’s agent, referred to variously as dispensator or locator.  The ra’is was an intermediary between the lord and his tenants and represented the interests of the community to the lord.

On the other side the lord employed a dragoman and a scribe to represent his interests and enforce his laws in the community. The dragoman was similar to the English sheriff or modern police chief, responsible for law and order, capturing outlaws/criminals, and carrying out the sentence of the responsible court. The scribe, far from being a mere note-taker, was responsible for collecting taxes, rents, duties etc. and recording their collection so that no one could be taxed twice etc. Both of these positions were usually held by Franks of the “sergeant” class (free burghers), but there are records of natives holding these offices. Since many native Christians at this time spoke Arabic and used Arabic names, however, we cannot know if the individuals entrusted with these important offices were Muslim, Orthodox Christians or converts to Catholicism. Notably, these men of the sergeant class also clearly needed to be literate to carry out their duties.

In addition to these officers who lived in the domain or territory (some scribes and dragomen served multiple villages) for which they were responsible, the king and the greater lords had household officials, who managed their affairs centrally. These officials oversaw the dragomen and scribes, kept central records, and the lord’s treasury. Various titles were used but common terms were “chancellors” for keeping charters and legal records, seneschals for maintaining financial records (CFO), and constables for military affairs assisted by the marshal for maintaining the vital horses. 

Finally, in the urban centers and ports, there large customs houses staffed by a bevy of customs officials who kept an eye on and records of all the ships and their cargoes moving in and out of the port. There were customs officials at the gates to the city as well. Other officials were responsible for monitoring and checking on the weights and measures used in the markets. Others oversaw the removal of refuse and the rules of the wells, bakeries, and bath-houses. There were men who patrolled the streets to keep order, especially at night. All of these individuals were part of the sophisticated administrative system which enabled the Kingdom of Jerusalem to survive -- and relied heavily on the support of the native Christians, who had the greatest institutional memory. They are indicative of a well-functioning state, and particularly impressive when one considers just how weak the crown was in light of its near perpetual absenteeism.

Recommended Reading: Riley Smith, Jonathan, The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174 – 1277, MacMillan, 1973.

Dr Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is the author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction, including a three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin.

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

Dr. 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.

Dr Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is the author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction, including a three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin.

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


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