Clash of Queens: An Excerpt From Defender of Jerusalem

“Clash of Queens” is an excerpt from Helena Schrader’s latest work, Defender of Jerusalem, the sequel to Knight of Jerusalem. Defender of Jerusalem is set to be released in September 2015.

A page rushed ahead of the Dowager Queen to announce her, but she was too close on his heels for the Queen Mother or Princess Sibylla to do anything more than look up in astonishment. After all, she had lived in this palace seven years and she knew exactly where she was going, even if she had avoided it since the disastrous Easter court two years ago when Sibylla had married Guy de Lusignan. Certainly she had not set eyes on Agnes de Courtenay since the Queen Mother had connived to steal Isabella away from her.

Maria Comnena had no doubt whatever who had instigated the theft of her child. She knew that the King was not really the originator of the idea, and she was convinced that neither the King nor even Balian, good man that he was, fully understood what was at stake. They both saw in Isabella a potential contender for the throne of Jerusalem who needed to be “controlled,” but Maria Comnena recognized that to Agnes de Courtenay, Isabella was a threat to her children. While Maria Comnena was certain that Baldwin meant his half-sister no harm, she remained convinced that Agnes was plotting Isabella’s death behind her son’s back.

Maria Comnena had made no less than five trips to Kerak in the last two years, but on the last two occasions she had been told that Isabella was “away”—allegedly on pilgrimage in one case and at Montreal on the other. Maria Comnena believed none of it. If it hadn’t been for Dawit’s regular reports on Isabella’s physical health and fierce determination to survive her imprisonment, she would have been frantic enough to take desperate measures. What measures, she didn’t know, but she knew she was capable of doing things no one expected of her.

One of them was walking straight up to the King’s mother and sister and holding out her hand for them to kiss her coronation ring. It was a gesture so haughty that all the ladies in the garden gasped. Maria Comnena knew at some level that such gestures did not make her popular, but she was in no mood to seek the approval of others. This was the ring of Jerusalem that had been placed on her ring finger at her coronation. She was an anointed queen—something neither Agnes de Courtenay nor Sibylla were. Agnes was a baroness, Sibylla Countess of Jaffa; Maria Comnena outranked them both.

Flushing with fury, Agnes just stared at her, while Sibylla threatened, “I will tell my brother about this.”

“Please do!” Maria Comnena answered, turning to look at her coldly. “King Baldwin understands the significance of being an anointed monarch. He will not be pleased by your insult to his Crown.”

Agnes choked on something she wanted to say, and Sibylla leapt up and ran away from this woman, who always made her feel so inadequate, worthless, and small.

That suited Maria Comnena. She was now face to face with her hated rival. “So, Madame, whose child are you planning to steal today?” Maria Comnena asked. Agnes turned even redder but still could not seem to find her tongue. “If it is my niece’s child,” Maria Zoë continued with only the barest glance in Eschiva’s direction, “think again. Aimery de Lusignan is not as susceptible to your poisonous whispers as your poor, pious son. Oh, but then you must know that—since you knew Aimery so very well.”

“How dare you?” Agnes de Courtenay had found her tongue at last and jumped to her feet in outrage, her fists clenched.

“How dare I what, Madame? Draw attention to your morals? But they are common knowledge.” Maria Comnena made a gesture of innocence that included all the other ladies, who gawked at them in shock. Then she added in a voice as hard as steel, for all that it was barely more than a whisper: “Everyone knows you have as much virtue as a bitch in heat.”

Agnes tried to slap Maria Comnena across her face, but Maria was faster. She caught the Queen Mother’s arm before she could strike and held it, her fingers digging into her Agnes’ wrist until she whimpered in pain. “Let me go!”

Maria Comnena dropped Agnes’ arm, and they stared at one another. “Don’t think you have won,” Maria warned. “Isabella may be a child, but she has friends far more powerful than you and your vultures.”

“You can’t mean my ineffectual brother-in-law,” Agnes sneered.

“No, of course not,” Maria Comnena answered, refusing to be provoked. “We both know my husband is too honorable for the games you play.” Maria Zoë was bluffing about having powerful friends. Her great-uncle was dead, her relatives murdered or chased into exile, but she could see the fear that suddenly shot through Agnes’ eyes, and that was satisfying enough for the moment.

The fear, however, made Agnes bluster, “You are not welcome here. I order you to leave at once.”

“I’ll leave when I want to,” the Dowager Queen countered. “And don’t think your guards—your son’s guards—will lay a hand on me! They know the difference between an anointed Queen and a king’s whore—”

“Get out of here!” It was Sibylla who shrieked this, coming back to defend her mother at last.

“With pleasure,” Maria Zoë answered. “I do not like the company of sluts—or fools.” The latter was directed at Sibylla.

“Baldwin will hear of this!” Sibylla shrieked, louder than ever.

“I wonder whose side he’ll take?” Maria Comnena answered evenly. It was not so much that she seriously believed Baldwin would approve of her calling his mother a whore—much less a bitch in heat—but she was, in fact, so furious with him for letting his mother steal her child that she wanted to hurt him. And perhaps, just perhaps, if he learned what she had done, he would be shocked into understanding just how deeply she had been hurt and how dangerous a mother animal in fear for her young was. Maybe, just maybe, he’d begin to see that his mother was not his best adviser, and that engendering the hatred of those who had loved and served him best was at best stupid—and could be very dangerous as well.


Categories: Book Excerpt | 2 Comments

Crusaders Reconsidered: A Look at Who Called them Barbarous and Why

This is an article by co-contributor Helena Schrader.

It has become commonplace (not to say popular) to describe the Islamic states that governed the Holy Land as “civilized” and the crusaders as “barbarians.” This perception rests primarily on two facts: 1) the Greek historian Anna Comnena used the term to describe the participants of the First Crusade, and 2) the alleged atrocities committed by the crusaders when they took Jerusalem in 1099.

Now, it must be remembered that the Greeks used the term “barbarian” to refer to anyone who didn’t speak Greek. This included, in a different age, the highly civilized Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians etc. Second, the Greek Emperors considered themselves the descendants and heirs to the Roman Empire – and viewed the German, French, and Norman crusaders as the descendants of the “barbarian hoards” that had over-run the Western Empire. Because the Byzantine Empire preserved greater continuity with Rome, it also had a very sophisticated bureaucracy and hierarchy that left the Byzantines confused and offended by the lack of formalized command structures and, indeed, the absence of a supreme commander among the crusaders. Anna Comnena certainly saw the crusaders as barbarians. That does not mean that we should.

The sack of Jerusalem was unquestionably a barbaric act – from the modern perspective. It was hardly so in the eyes of contemporaries. The contemporary rules of war were very explicit: a city that surrendered could expect mercy, a city that did not could expect “to be put to the sword.” This had been the rule of war since the sack of Troy. Modern sensibilities are offended particularly by the fact that Christians, allegedly fighting in the name of a peaceful, forgiving and loving Christ, could commit this “atrocity. But it does not make the crusaders “barbarians” in the contemporary context, certainly not when it is clear that most apocalyptic descriptions of the sack are exaggerations on the part of later writers and that thousands of Jerusalem’s inhabitants survived the assault and subsequent sack.

The Arabs, after all, had taken the Holy Land by the sword, not with sweet words and persuasion. In 997 the Muslims sacked Santiago de Compostella, the most important pilgrimage church in the West. In 1009 the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Byzantines over three hundred years starting in the reign of Constantine the Great (306 – 337), was utterly destroyed. Meanwhile, however, the Muslims had divided into Shiites and Sunnis and engaged in bloody wars in which they murdered, raped, pillaged and burned rival Muslim cities. Zengi, atabeg of Mosul, for example, not only (according to a Muslim source) ordered the “pillaging, slaying, capturing, ravishing and looting” of Edessa, but was feared in Damascus because of “his exceptionally cruel and treacherous behavior” – to his co-religionists.

Attempts to depict the crusaders as illiterate brutes lacking in cultural accomplishments also miss the mark. The “unwashed masses” might not have been very cultivated – but nor were the peasants and common soldiers of the Byzantine Empire or the Turks.  The upper classes in 11th century Europe, on the other hand, had already started to develop arts and architecture to a high degree of sophistication as manuscripts, artifacts and the architectural record shows. Literacy was confined to an elite, and fostered mostly by the clergy – but that was true in the Byzantine and Muslim world as well.  It is fair to say that in certain fields, notably medicine, mathematics and astronomy the Muslim world was ahead of Western Europe. However, in other sciences notably agriculture and shipbuilding the West was far ahead of the East.  The differences are hardly so dramatic or so one sided as to justify calling one culture civilized and the other “barbaric.”

What then made the crusaders appear so “barbaric” to their contemporaries in the East? Two features of Western European feudal society set it apart from the societies in the East which the crusaders intruded upon so suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of the 11th century.

First was the decentralized system of government based on complex, feudal relationships. Both the Byzantine and the Muslim world in this period were intensely hierarchical societies in which the Emperor (in the one) and the Caliph (in the other) had supreme and absolute control over his subjects – at least in theory. True, reality looked different.  By the end of the tenth century the Abbasid Caliphs were virtual prisoners of the Persian Abuyid dynasty, and changed masters when the Seljuk Turks captured Bagdahd in 1040.  Thereafter they were puppets of the Selkjuk sultans, while the Fatimid Caliphs were at the mercy of their viziers.

But whether the theoretically absolute rulers wielded actual power or not, their powerful “protectors” always ruled in their name; they considered – and called themselves – slaves of their masters. Western feudalism, in which kings were little more than the “first among equals,” was utterly alien to the Eastern mentality, and so was the outspokenness and (from the Easter perspective) impudence of vassals. The Eastern elites saw the inherent dangers of such a fluid system and associated it with primitive tribal structures. Yet it was exactly these feudal kingdoms that gradually devolved power to ever wider segments of the population until (through a series of constitutional crises) they eventually developed into modern democracies. Meanwhile, the Eastern states remained mired in autocracy.

The other feature of Western European society that the Muslims (though not the Byzantines) found disgusting and incomprehensible was the presence of women in public life. The fact that women had names and faces that were known outside the family circle was viewed as immoral and dishonorable (much the way the Athenians viewed Spartan women) by the Muslims of the 12th and 13th centuries. The fact that women not only had names and faces, but a voice in affairs and could play a role in public life including controlling wealth and influencing politics was even more offensive. Yet modern development research shows a strong correlation between societies that empower and enfranchise women and economic growth and prosperity. Societies that insist on muzzling and oppressing half their population are nowadays considered less “civilized.”

Whether you view the crusaders or the Saracens as more civilized will therefore depend less on objective factors than on how you view democracy and women’s rights.

Categories: Fact or Myth | 1 Comment

King Baldwin’s Mistake

Even though the crusader states were united, they could not repel the threat posed by their Muslim neighbours. Maudud of Mosul was determined to oust the Franks from Syria. In the spring of 1113, he raised an army, marched across the Euphrates River and joined forces with Tughtegin, the Atabeg of Damascus, at the High Orontes. From there, the two Turkish leaders invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem via Galilee. They ravaged Galilee’s Christian inhabitants and took as much treasure and other provisions they were able to carry. No doubt they took Christian prisoners as well to be sold as slaves in Damascus later on.

When King Baldwin learnt of this latest Turkish invasion he sent an urgent appeal to Pons of Tripoli and Roger of Antioch for reinforcements. In the meantime, Baldwin assembled an army that included 700 knights and about 4,000 infantrymen (Rita Stark, 55). Baldwin then had a crucial decision to make: wait for the full Frankish alliance to gather or march on Galilee and confront the Turks. Baldwin would have been wise to wait for his compatriots to arrive with their combined force. Altogether, strong and united, the Franks would have beaten back the Turks, ending their attempts of invasion for the time being. Unfortunately Baldwin chose to march on Galilee with his small force and risk a crushing defeat like he had on the plains near Ramla in 1102. This was one decision that Baldwin was widely criticized for.

Once Baldwin arrived at Sinn el-Nabra on the southwest shores of Lake Tiberius, he set up camp. It was the end of June. Historian Thomas Asbridge suggests that King Baldwin did not realize that the enemy was close by. He also states that Baldwin had no intention of engaging the Turks in open battle. Asbridge underestimates King Baldwin’s capabilities as a military commander. There is no way Baldwin would have camped his forces within range of the Turkish army without knowing of their presence. Baldwin may not have intended to engage the Turks in a pitched battle, but he camped his army close to theirs just so he could intimidate them.

The Turks though weren’t always so easily intimidated and Baldwin, for the second time, misread the enemy. When Maudud and Tughtegin learnt of the Frankish presence nearby from their network of spies, they launched an assault, catching the Franks completely off guard. They slaughtered around 2,000 Franks and captured Baldwin’s tent and royal banner. Thanks to his swift moving horse, Gazelle, Baldwin was able to escape. He fled with what remained of his force to Mount Tabor. There, he was joined by Pons, Roger and their armies.

Humiliated, Baldwin had to apologize to all his compatriots for his mistake while the Turkish army continued to ravage the Jordan valley below. In efforts to make up for his mistake, Baldwin adopted a defensive strategy, keeping his forces in a holding position.

After four weeks passed with no fighting, Maudud and Tughtegin marched back to Damascus with their armies. It was no retreat for them. In fact, it was they who had gained the victory. According to an unnamed Muslim chronicler, Maudud and Tughtegin left “the enemy humbled, broken, defeated and dispirited,” (quoted in Asbridge, 156). To prove their triumph over the Franks, the allied Emirs sent Christian prisoners and the heads of Christian slain to the sultan in Baghdad.

As for King Baldwin, his mistake dealt a blow to his reputation. However, the Turkish victory was far from complete. The Franks had the largest army since the time of the First Crusade. Since it was nearly August, the Franks expected an Italian fleet to soon arrive in the Holy Land for their annual pilgrimage. They anticipated it to be a large fleet. It was enough for the Franks to regroup and reorganize as they had several times since they captured Jerusalem in 1099.

Categories: Baldwin I, The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

The Second Crusade: A Concise Overviw for Students

This is a Real Crusades History video. There will be an entire section dedicated to the Second Crusade on Crusades and Crusaders in the near future.



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Marriage Alliances: Strengthening the Bonds of Unity Between the Crusader States

Tancred’s death happened at a time when the balance of power in the Levant was shifting. This shift was brought on by dynastic succession and a series of marriage alliances, particularly in the Principalities of Antioch, Edessa and Tripoli. The Principality of Antioch was passed to Tancred’s nephew, Roger of Salerno, son of the First Crusader, Richard of Salerno (Asbridge, 154). Roger married Baldwin of le Bourcq’s sister while Joscelin de Courtenay took Roger’s sister as his wife.

To the south, Bertrand died in 1112, leaving his young son Pons in charge of the Principality of Tripoli. In fact, Tancred took Pons under his wing and mentored the young man. Shortly before his death, Tancred encouraged Pons to marry his wife, Cecillia of France. According to historian, Rita Stark, Pons allegedly admitted to Tancred that he greatly admired Cecillia (p. 54). Cecillia was a very wealthy young woman. Not only was she the daughter of the king of France, she possessed an Antiochene lordship in the Ruj Valley, including the Krak des Chevalier (not then called Krak des Chevalier). Whether Pons admired her for her status and wealth or because he genuinely loved her is unknown. Given that it was a time when marriage alliances were made to strengthen an individual’s power, prestige and wealth, no doubt Pons was moved more by political motivations than by love. Regardless, his marriage to Cecillia strengthened the bonds of unity between Tripoli and Antioch. At the same time, Joscelin de Courtenay’s marriage to Baldwin le Bourcq’s sister reconciled Edessa with Antioch.

Pons abandoned his father and grandfather’s policy of subservience to the Byzantine Emperor and instead, pledged his allegiance to Baldwin I. This ushered in a new era where all the ruling elite of Outremer would recognize the kings of Jerusalem as their overlord, thus strengthening the bonds of unity between the crusader states and the lords who ruled them.

Categories: The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

Tancred: True Founder of Antioch

Be what Tancred was, no one — not even his enemies — can deny the fact that he was the true founder of Antioch. In 1109 and 1110, he expanded Antioch’s frontiers, fighting ceaselessly and successfully subduing his Muslim neighbours.

By 1110, the Principality of Antioch stretched from the Belus Hills between Antioch and Aleppo and as far south as the Orontes River valley. In creating those boundaries between Antioch and Aleppo, Tancred had placed his principality in a very advantageous position. Geographically, those boundaries offered both Antioch and its Muslim neighbours an equal balance of power and security (Asbridge, 152).

Tancred could have chosen to foster cordial relations with the Muslims, an action that would have benefitted the Principality of Antioch and the Christian Kingdom at large. However, Tancred’s unquenchable thirst for material gain compelled him to choose the path of conquest. In October 1110, Tancred led an expedition east of the Belus Hills where he captured several settlements in the Jazr region, including al-Atharib and Zardana.

In the spring of 1111, Tancred turned his attention to the south of his principality’s border. He issued the construction of a fortress on a hill, overlooking Shaizar. That way, Tancred could force the Muslim rulers of Shaizar, the Munqidh clan, into submission (Asbridge, 152).

At first the Munqidh clan of Shaizar and Ridwan of Aleppo accepted Tancred as their overlord. They offered tribute payments “totalling 30,000 gold dinars in return for peace” (Asbridge, 152).
Their generous terms of peace was Tancred’s second chance of conquest via negotiation and peaceful co-existence. Instead of embracing that opportunity, Tancred continued to intimidate and exploit the Munqidh clan and Ridwan of Aleppo. Infuriated and resentful of their Frankish overlord, the Muslims decided to rise up against him. Sometime in the summer of 1111, the Munqidh clan allied with Maudud of Mosul and joined forces with his army when he prepared to invade Frankish Syria.

When Tancred learnt that Maudud had raised an army and was preparing to invade the Principality of Antioch, he assembled as large of a force he could muster. He also called upon Baldwin I, Baldwin le Bourcq and Bertrand of Toulouse for help. Despite their recent misgivings, King Baldwin, Baldwin le Bourcq and Bertrand rode to Tancred’s aid with a combined force that totalled 16,000 soldiers including sergeants and infantrymen (Rita Stark, 53).

The Christian force camped at Apamea, a city located near the Orontes River, while the Turkish army camped near the city of Shaizar, not far south of Apamea. From Apamea, the Franks were able to patrol enemy movement. This was where King Baldwin took control over the army. On his advice, the Franks held their position. So did the Turks. The two armies stayed put for two weeks, watching each other’s movements, without launching any kind of attack. Unable to lure the Franks into an ambush and terrified of how united and organized they were, Maudud retreated with his army.

Thanks to Baldwin I’s impeccable military and leadership skills, Tancred was able to save the Principality of Antioch from yet another invasion. The 1111 defensive campaign leant Baldwin I much credit because it demonstrated his role of “Chieftain and Confederate leader of the Frank Forces” (Rita Stark, 53). In essence, Baldwin I established a royal policy that the Levantine-Frankish Kings would adhere to until 1186.

As for Tancred, he had hoped to conquer Shaizar and Aleppo. Not only would those two cities have brought Antioch a significant amount of wealth, they would have severely weakened an already fractured Muslim realm. However, several years of near constant campaigning took its toll on his body. Tancred’s health failed him when he was only thirty-six years old and he died shortly after on 12 December 1112.

Matthew of Edessa, the 12th century Armenian Chronicler, hailed Tancred as a saintly and pious man. “He had a kind and compassionate nature, manifesting concern for all the Christian faithful; moreover he exhibited a tremendous amount of humility in his dealings with people” (quoted in Asbridge, 153). Clearly Matthew of Edessa held Tancred in the highest regard, placing the Norman prince on a pedestal while forgetting all of Tancred’s flaws. Kindness, compassion and humility were not Tancred’s forte. Tancred was moved by greed and he fought anyone who blocked his path to riches, including his fellow Christians. His actions throughout the First Crusade and towards Baldwin le Bourcq in 1108 demonstrated a gross lack of compassion and kindness.

At the same time, Tancred was bold, confident and fearless. He also had one character trait that his Uncle Bohemond did not have: perseverance. When the Principality of Antioch was almost overrun by Muslims after the ill-fated Battle of Harran in 1104, Bohemond fled Antioch determined to find success elsewhere. Tancred, though, faced adversity and fought it with an iron fist. That’s what made him a larger-than-life figure in history and that’s why Tancred deserves to be credited as the true founder of Antioch.

Categories: Setting up the Kingdom, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

A Crushing Defeat over Saladin: Montgisard

This is another guest article by Author Helena Schrader.

In in 1177, Salah-ad-Din (known in the West as Saladin) launched a full-scale invasion of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was less than ten years since Saladin had assassinated his way to power in the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo, and ruthlessly suppressed numerous rebellions to establish Sunni rule over the Shia and Coptic Christian population on the Nile. It was only three years since the coup d’etat in Damascus by which he had established himself in the heart of Syria but failed to take key cities such as Aleppo and Mosul. Saladin had thus largely united the Caliphates of Cairo and Baghdad for the first time in 200 years, but his hold on power was precarious. In Egypt his faced suspicion and opposition because he was Sunni, and in Syria he was viewed as a usurper and upstart because he was a Kurd and had stolen the Sultanate from the rightful Seljuk heir.

Saladin countered these internal doubts and dissatisfaction with his rule with the age-old device of focusing attention on an external enemy: the Christian states established by the crusaders along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. These states represented not merely a military threat to his lines of communication between Egypt and Syria, but had also five times in the 1160s invaded Egypt. These were not all outright wars of aggression, as the Shia Viziers had requested Christian help against their Sunni enemies in three of the campaigns, but the fact remained that army of Jerusalem, often aided by Byzantine fleets, had conducted campaigns on Egyptian territory and once come close to capturing Cairo.

But Saladin did not simply beat the drum of alarm concerning an external enemy in order to rally his subjects around him, he took up the cry of “jihad” — Holy War. This was a clear attempt to increase his stature vis-a-vis his remaining rivals in Syria. Salah-ad-Din means “righteousness of the faith,” and Salah-ad-Din throughout his career used campaigns against the Christian states as a means of rallying support.

Saladin had not invented jihad. The word itself appears multiple times in the Koran, but with varying meanings. It was also used as justification for the Muslim conquests of the 7th Century. It had, however, been largely forgotten or neglected until Nur ad-Din, the Seljuk ruler of Syria from 1146-1174, resurrected the concept. Most historians agree, however, that Nur ad-Din used jihad when it suited him but remained a fundamentally secular ruler. He had, however, unleased the jinni from the bottle and the concept of “Holy War” soon gained increasing support in the madrassas and mosques across the Seljuk territories of the Near East. By the time Saladin came to power there was a body of already radicalized youth eager to follow the call to jihad.

Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, King Amalaric, who had been so intent on conquering parts if not all of Egypt, had died. He had been succeeded by Baldwin IV, a youth suffering from leprosy. Consciousness of his own weakness and short life expectation, Baldwin IV sent to the West for aid, and in early August 1177, Count Philip of Flanders reached Acre with a large force of Western knights.

On the advice of the High Court, Baldwin IV offered Philip of Flanders the regency of his kingdom, whose armies were preparing yet another invasion of Egypt aided by a large Byzantine fleet. Flanders, however, insisted on being made king of any territories the joint Christian forces conquered. The idea did not sit well with either the King of Jerusalem or the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, both of whom were footing the bill and providing the bulk of the troops for the expedition. The result was that the entire expedition was called off, the Byzantine fleet withdrew and Philip of Flanders took his knights and half the barons of Jerusalem north to attack the Seljuk strongholds of Hama and Harim instead.

Saladin had gathered his forces in Egypt to repel the impending attack. He rapidly learned that not only had the invasion of Egypt been called off, the Byzantine fleet withdrawn, but the bulk of the fighting forces of Jerusalem moved north. It was a splendid opportunity to strike, and Saladin seized the opportunity. With a force estimated at 26,000 light horse — which leaves open the question of whether there were infantry with Saladin or not. The force also allegedly included some 1,000 mamluks of the Sultan’s personal body guard.

According to an anonymous Christian chronicler from northern Syria, the news of Saladin’s invasion plunged Jerusalem into despair. The king was just 16 years old, had no battle experience of his own, and his most experienced commanders (or many of them) were besieging Hama. The Constable of the Kingdom, the competent and wise Humphrey de Toron II, was gravely ill. But Baldwin rallied the forces he had — according to Archbishop William of Tyre, Baldwin’s former tutor now his chancellor and our best contemporary source — with just 375 knights made a dash to Ascalon.

Arriving there only shortly before Saladin himself on November 22, King Baldwin took control of the city, but could not risk open battle because of the imbalance of forces. His dash to Ascalon may have been heroic, but now, with just a fraction of his forces, Saladin had effectively trapped what few knights and barons were still in the kingdom inside Ascalon. Nothing now lay between Saladin and Jerusalem except scattered garrisons. Saladin left a force of undefined size to maintain the siege of Ascalon and moved off with the bulk of his troops.

The Sultan and his emirs were confident of victory that they took time to plunder the rich cities of the coastal plain, notably Ramla and Lydda, but also as far in land as Hebron. In Jerusalem, the terrified population sought refuge in the Citadel of David.

But Baldwin IV was not yet defeated. With the number of troops around Ascalon dramatically reduced he risked a sortie, rendezvoused with Templars from Gaza (although to this day no one knows how he got the message to them) and started to pursue Saladin’s now dispersed and no longer disciplined army. Meanwhile, he had already issued the arrière ban, a general call to arms that obligated every Christian to rally to the royal standard in defense of the realm, and infantry was streaming to join him.
On the afternoon of November 25, King Baldwin’s host of about 450 knights (375 secular knights and 84 Templars from Gaza), with their squires, Turcopoles and infantry in unspecified numbers caught up with the main body of Saladin’s troops at a place near Montgisard or Tell Jazar, near Ibelin (modern day Yavne). The Sultan, as he later admitted to Saracen chroniclers, was caught off-guard. Before he could properly deploy his troops, the main force of Christian knights led (depending on which source you believe) by Reynald de Chatillon or “the Ibelin brothers” had smashed into Saladin’s still disorganized troops, apparently while some were still crossing or watering their horses in a stream.

Although the battle was hard fought and there were Christian casualties, the Sultan’s forces were soon routed. Not only that, Saladin himself came very close to being killed or captured and allegedly escaped on the back of a pack-camel. But for the bulk of his army there was no escape. Those who were not slaughtered immediately on the field, found themselves scattered and virtually defenseless in enemy territory. Although they abandoned the plunder they had accumulated, it was still a long way home — and the rains had set in. Cold, wet, slowed down by the mud, no longer benefiting from the strength of numbers, they were easy prey for the ordinary citizens and settlers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The latter, after the sack of Lydda, Ramla and other lesser places, had good reason to crave revenge. Furthermore, even after escaping Christian territory, the Sultan’s troops still found no refuge because once in the desert the Bedouins took advantage of the situation to enslave as many men as they could catch in order to enrich themselves. Very few of the Sultan’s men made it home to safety in Egypt.

Saladin was badly shaken by this defeat. He had good reason to believe it would discredit him and initially feared it would trigger revolts against his rule. Later, he convinced himself that God had spared him for a purpose, and he was to learn from his defeat. He never again allowed himself to be duped by his own over-confidence and his subsequent campaigns against the crusader states were marked by much more caution. However, it was not until the crushing defeat of the Christian armies at Hattin in July 1187 — almost ten years later — that he had his revenge.

Categories: The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

Luxury Exports and Religious Tourists: The Urban Economy of the Crusader Kingdoms

This is a guest article by fellow writer, Helena Schrader.

It has been estimated that roughly 50% of the Frankish population in the crusader kingdoms was urban. That represents a much higher proportion than in Western Europe at this time, and particularly in the post-Hattin era, the majority of noblemen were dependent on non-agricultural income for their wealth. In short, the degree of urbanization in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, particularly the 13th century Kingdom, resembled the Italian city states more than the large western kingdoms such as England and France. To understand the crusader kingdoms, therefore, it is important to understand the urban economy.

The most obvious source of wealth was the control of the key ports along the coast of the Levant which meant the points at which the “riches of the Orient” were transshipped for export to the increasingly prosperous population of the West. It was in Beirut and Tyre, Acre and Caesarea, Jaffa and Ascalon that Damascus steel and Indian spices, Ethiopian incense and Nubian gold, Persian carpets and Chinese silk, African ivory and Egyptian papyrus were exported to the hungry markets of Italy, and from there onward to the Holy Roman Empire, France, Iberia and far off England and Scandinavia.

In addition to these transshipped items, the crusader kingdoms themselves had a number of export goods that were highly lucrative. While sugar was probably the most important bulk commodity, the export of Holy Relics and souvenirs should not be under-estimated. By some estimates, the population of Jerusalem doubled during the summer pilgrimage (tourist) season, and all of those pilgrims wanted to take some mementos home with them as well as gifts for family and friends, just like modern tourists today.

All those pilgrims also needed a place to stay and food to eat — and not just in Jerusalem. The pilgrimage sites included not just obvious sites such as Bethlehem and Nazareth, but also the site of every moment in Christ’s life as recorded in the Gospels, and places associated with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and other saints. There was hardly a place in the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem that could not lay claim to some biblical event of importance, and devout pilgrims, who ventured so far at such cost and risk, generally stayed until the fall sailing season, which meant spending roughly six months in the Holy Land. In short, the pilgrimage “service industry” was in proportion to the population of the time at least as important as tourism is to Israel today.

Last but not least, a large proportion of the Latin settlers were skilled craftsmen. Serfs could not legally leave their villages and lands (and most probably didn’t want to), so the pilgrims, whether armed and unarmed, were predominantly men of higher status: craftsmen, guildsmen, or merchants. They brought their skills with them, and established themselves in the cities and towns of the crusader kingdoms, where they worked side-by-side with native craftsmen. Here some of the most productive if most prosaic of inter-cultural exchanges took place in the development of dying and cloth-making, leatherworking, gold and silver workmanship, pottery, carpentry, masonry, glass-working, and all the countless other skills essential to survival and a high contemporary standard of living.

Based on the names of the streets alone, it is clear, for example, that Jerusalem had a high concentration of furriers and tanners, but also gold and silver smiths. Pottery from the region, glazed on the inside, is known to have been a particularly popular practical ware, (an early version of Teflon), and that glass-makers and glass-blowers were renowned. The massive construction projects undertaken primarily in the mid-12th century, ensured work for carpenters, masons and sculptors, and the remaining fragments of their work are testimony to the high quality of their workmanship.

At the high-end, Jerusalem also exported illustrated manuscripts from a scriptorium established by the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher. Books produced in such a sacred place had an added value beyond the high quality of the work, and undoubtedly represented one of the luxury goods with the highest margins exported from the crusader kingdoms — albeit, as with all truly valuable, custom made objects, only in very small quantities.

The crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, far from being a wasteland inhabited by barbarians, was a highly cultured, economically dynamic powerhouse.

For more information about crusader society and the crusader states see:

Principal sources:

Barber, Malcolm, The Crusader States, Yale University Press, 2012.

Hamilton, Bernard, The Leper King and His Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Riley-Smith (ed), The Atlas of the Crusades, Facts on File, 1990.

Conder, Claude Reignier, The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1099 to 1291, The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1897.

Categories: The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

Tancred’s Act of Treason

In 1110, for the first time since the Franks conquered Jerusalem, the Turks planned a counter-crusade. Their goal was to re-conquer Syria and oust the Franks for good. In the spring, Muhammad the Seljuk Sultan of Baghdad raised a large Mesopotamian army and placed it under the command of Maudud, aTurkish warlord who had recently come to power in Mosul (Asbridge, 150). Maudud’s first goal was to re-capture Edessa.

Unfortunately King Baldwin had been unable to unite Tancred and Baldwin le Bourcq: or, rather Tancred and Baldwin refused to reconcile. Tancred refused to go to Edessa’s relief, so Baldwin sent Joscelin de Courtenay to Jerusalem to request aid from King Baldwin. Within a couple of weeks, King Baldwin managed to assemble an army, a rather large one. According to historian Rita Stark, his army totalled around 15,000 soldiers. The king and his army then marched to relieve Edessa. When they arrived, they found the city under siege. However, the Turks had not anticipated to encounter such a large Frankish force. So, as they had time and again since the crusaders set foot in the Holy Land, the Turks panicked and retreated to Harran.

Fortunately for the kingdom, but especially for Tancred, Edessa was saved. Tancred’s unwillingness to to aid his fellow Christians against the enemy was considered treasonous. If Edessa had fallen to the Turks, Tancred would have faced severe repercussions. In any case, Baldwin was determined to unite all of the Franks. That involved putting Tancred in his place.

Baldwin held a council meeting in his tent where he obliged Tancred to explain why he had refused to defend Edessa against the Turks. “The city has always belonged to the Principality of Antioch,” (R Stark, 52). Tancred allegedly told the king in an attempt to exonerate himself and to reassert his authority over Edessa. If the County of Edessa had truly belonged to Tancred, he would have defended it. So, that careless and haughty response did nothing to exonerate himself. It just demonstrated to all his compatriots how much disdain he had for Baldwin le Bourcq. Understandably the other leading nobles at the council meeting — especially Baldwin le Bourcq’s allies — were not at all inclined to defend Tancred. In fact, they blamed him for allying with the Muslims and for inciting Maudud to attack Edessa (Asbridge, 151).

Albert d’Aix chronicled Baldwin’s following speech: “My dear Tancred, what you ask is not right…you must remember that, when we departed for the Holy Land, it was agreed that whoever conquered land from the Infidel could keep it for himself. For the rest you have elected a king to serve you as chief, guard and guide in the conservation and expansion of the conquest. That is why I am demanding from you in the name of the whole Christian community here represented a sincere reconciliation with Baldwin le Bourcq. Otherwise, if you prefer intrigues with the Turks, you can no longer be one of ours and we will fight you without mercy” (quoted in Rita Stark, 52).

With no other recourse, Tancred backed down and, from then on, he stopped demanding tribute payments from Edessa.

Categories: Setting up the Kingdom, The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

Coming Soon: Why Does the Heathen Rage? by J Stephen Roberts

This summer, Why Does the Heathen Rage?, a work of hisorical fiction, will be released by RCH Media, an exciting new press that will be established by J Stephen Roberts and Joseph Scott Amis. J Stephen Roberts, creator and host of the Real Crusades History podcast, is the author of Why Does the Heathen Rage?.

Why Does the Heathen Rage? is set during the Crusades, during the reign of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem.

In 1118, Baldwin II was named King of Jerusalem. Already in his fifties, he was advanced in years for a newly crowned king, but proved to be a militant and energetic monarch. He ruled an impressive swath of territory in western Syria and Palestine conquered by European Christian knights during the First Crusade (1096-1099). His lands were surrounded by Muslim enemies: Fatimid-held Egypt in the south, to the east Damascus under the Emir Toghtekin, and to the northeast the Ortoqid Turks, who reigned from the cities of Mardin, Harran, and Aleppo.

Barely was the crown on his head when Baldwin faced an invasion from the Ortoqids, then headed by the fierce Emir Ilghazi. With a great host of Turkish horsemen, Ilghazi swept down on the Principality of Antioch, governed by King Baldwin’s brother-in-law: the brawny, red-headed Norman, Roger of Salerno. The King gathered his army and set out for Antioch, but before he arrived Roger, with his own cavalry, chose to engage the enemy. Ilghazi triumphed, decimating nearly the whole of Antioch’s forces and slaying Roger in a battle that came to be known as Ager Sanguinis – the Field of Blood. King Baldwin, with the aid of his vassal Pons of Tripoli, gave Ilghazi no time to celebrate, attacking and defeating him at the Battle of Hab. The Turks retreated. Baldwin had saved Antioch, avenged Roger’s fallen knights, and become known as a king to be reckoned with.

With Roger dead, Antioch was without a ruler. The King spent months organizing Antioch’s administration, and finding husbands for the many widows created by the Battle of Ager Sanguinis. He turned the Principality’s government over to the head of the Antiochene church, the Patriarch Bernard.

In 1122 a new Ortoqid made his presence felt: Balak, Ilghazi’s nephew and lord of Khanzit. Young, ambitious, and warlike, Balak convinced his uncle to join him for an attack on the Christians. The Turks burned the fields of Zerdana and besieged the castle. Baldwin sent for the True Cross, a precious relic kept in Jerusalem and believed by the Christians to have been an actual piece of the wood on which Christ was crucified. With the Cross at the vanguard, the King moved in with his army. The Turks tried to lure him into a trap with a feigned retreat, but he kept his army in a solid formation before the castle. Once again, Baldwin’s wisdom paid off, and once again the Turks withdrew, having achieved nothing. Later that year, Ilghazi died, leaving Balak as the leading figure of the powerful Ortoqid house.

Before the True Cross had even been returned to Jerusalem, Baldwin received disturbing news. Balak had moved north and led his forces against Joscelin, Count of Edessa, one of Baldwin’s most important vassals. Joscelin held the northernmost Crusader territories, which stretched across part of Mesopotamia. With a force of his horsemen, Joscelin had suffered an ambush at Birejik, and Balak captured the Count of Edessa along with his knight Walrean. King Baldwin, who was at Antioch at the time, set out with a picked force for the County of Edessa, where he intended to reconnoiter the site of his vassal’s capture and protect the territory from further attack. There, Baldwin visited the County’s principal cities, Edessa and Turbessel, as well as its outlying castles. He next recaptured Birejik, which Balak had seized at the time of his defeat of Joscelin, then headed back toward Edessa, when he was surprised by Balak’s army.


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