In the early spring of 1101, close to Easter, a Genoese fleet and a Pisan fleet arrived in Jaffa. These sailors came to the Holy Land with the intention of helping King Baldwin defend and expand the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But they also wished to establish trading relations with Outremer (the Holy Land; also known to the Crusaders as the land beyond the sea) and Europe, namely Italy.
For Baldwin, their arrival in Palestine was very timely. Their presence would enable him to capture key port cities. It’s quite possible that Baldwin also saw their presence as a means to grow the kingdom’s economy. So, in exchange for their military aid, Baldwin offered the Italians and Genoese a third of all booty taken – should they successfully capture a city – and semi-independent living and trading quarters within the cities. Eager to earn a handsome profit, the Italians and Genoese accepted Baldwin’s generous offer.
Shortly after Easter, Baldwin decided to lay siege to Arsuf. The Muslim garrison at Arsuf had fiercely resisted a land-based assault by Godfrey in December 1099, but that was because Godfrey had no fleet to aid him. While Baldwin launched a land-based assault, the Genoese and Italians attacked from the sea, effectively cutting the Muslim inhabitants off from all help. Terrified, the Muslim garrison capitulated three days after being besieged. In the days following the brief siege, Baldwin provided all Muslim inhabitants safe passage from the city to Ascalon. They were allowed to carry as many of their belongings as they were able to take. Arsuf was restored to Christian rule without any Christian or Muslim blood being shed, a rare event in those days.
The Muslims at Caesarea were not nearly as lucky as their co-religionists were at Arsuf. But that was because they refused to surrender to the Franks.
Caesarea was an old Greco-Roman port city, situated about 20 miles north of Arsuf. At one time, Caesarea belonged to the Byzantines. Under Byzantine rule, Caesarea flourished economically. Its walls stood tall and strong and its streets were filled with merchants, eager to have a part in the trade with Constantinople. But since the Muslims had captured the city 400 years previous, Caesarea’s walls faded and its port deteriorated until all that remained was a shallow harbor.
Baldwin may not have known of Caesarea’s faltered infrastructure. In his mind, it was a large, wealthy port city and he was determined to have it. Baldwin sent a few messengers (or possibly a letter) to the Emir of Caesarea with the message: capitulate or be besieged. The Emir refused to do so because he was waiting for Egyptian re-enforcements to arrive in Palestine and crush the Latin threat once and for all. No doubt, that Emir believed the Egyptian army would arrive soon. In the meantime, he refused to hand Caesarea over to the enemy.
Outraged by the Emir’s response, Baldwin marched on Caesarea with as big of a force as he was able to muster. No doubt the Italian and Genoese fleets followed his force via sea. Baldwin’s troops bombarded Caesarea’s walls with mangonels, but the Muslim garrison put up a staunch resistance. The siege dragged on for fifteen agonizing days until the Franks breached the walls. At that point, a furious Baldwin showed no mercy to the Muslim inhabitants. His men mercilessly slaughtered Muslim men, enslaved women and children. They also discovered a vast amount of treasure which they took for themselves. “How much property of various kinds was found there it is impossible to say, but many of our men who had been poor became rich. I saw a great many of the Saracens who were killed there put in a pile and burned…these wretches were burned for the sake of finding the gold coins which some had swallowed,” wrote one chronicler (quoted in Asbridge, 123-4).
Following the clean-up of the city, Baldwin made good on his promise to the Genoese and the Italians. The booty and living quarters they received at Arsuf and at Caesarea gave those sailors and merchants reason enough to stay in the Holy Land and conduct business there. Not only would the Italians and the Genoese open up trade with Europe, they would in time, establish a flourishing economy in Outremer.