King Baldwin I used his military prowess, leadership skills and Muslim disunity to the Kingdom’s greatest advantage. Between 1104 and 1110, the Franks captured all of the coastal cities except for Tyre and Ascalon. Given how small Baldwin’s force was, it’s quite possible he wouldn’t have been able to capture all those towns and cities on his own. Sizeable fleets from Genoa, Pisa and Scandinavia came to King Baldwin’s aid and besieged the Muslim-held cities by sea while Baldwin’s force attacked by land.
Sometime in 1110, Baldwin turned his attention to Petra, a town located east of the Jordan River, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Not far from Petra was the Muslim caravan route that ran from Mecca to Asia Minor. The caravans that passed through the region, laden with silks, spices, jewels and pack animals, posed to make the young kingdom very wealthy. That’s why Baldwin coveted Petra. So, in December 1110, he rode at the head of an expeditionary force to Petra. However, Petra wouldn’t be the first city Baldwin would capture.
In 1115, Baldwin captured the city of Aqaba, a city located on the northern shores of the Dead Sea, in what is known as the Transjordan region. That same year, he built at castle on top of a hill that overlooked Aqaba and the plan of Edom. The castle – named Montreal – overlooked the Muslim caravan route. This enabled Baldwin to control commerce by obliging Muslim merchants and pilgrims passing through the Transjordan region to pay a toll fee.
Until Reynald of Chatillon took control of the castle Montreal in the latter half of the 12th century, caravans passed through Transjordan unharmed. The addition of Transjordan (known then as Oultrejordain) to the Kingdom of Jerusalem geographically divided the Muslim world in half. Aqaba’s somewhat close proximity to Egypt allowed the Franks to conduct raids into Egyptian territory, actions that would keep the Fatimid threat at bay for decades.
Populating the Kingdom
In every city Baldwin conquered, the Muslims inhabitants either fled or they were slaughtered. That left the Franks with empty cities. So, within the first decade of the 12th century, Baldwin encouraged western warriors and pilgrims to settle in Outremer by offering them incentives. Such incentives included houses and shops for cheap rent and trading enclaves. Baldwin extended those same incentives to Greek and Syrian Christians living throughout the Kingdom.
These incentives would create a kingdom that was vastly different than Europe.
A new race of people was bred. Frankish warriors who came to defend the kingdom settled, married Greek and Syrian women and had litters of children. Moreover, western warriors, especially those who had stayed in the Holy Land after the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, adapted quite quickly to the new climate and culture of the region. They adopted the lighter, brighter clothing styles of the Orient and learnt how to speak Farsi – some even learnt how to speak Greek. The intermingling of Greeks, Syrians and Europeans made Outremer a multi-cultural kingdom.
In March 1118, Baldwin led an expedition to the delta of the Nile River to see what key towns he could capture. However, not long into the expedition, Baldwin fell seriously ill. Weary, unable to fight off his illness, Baldwin was carried on a litter back towards Jerusalem. Unfortunately he never made it back to the Holy City. He died at el-Arish, a frontier fort located just beyond the borders of the very kingdom he had expanded and consolidated. His body was brought back to Jerusalem where it was buried in the Holy Sepulcher beside his brother, Godfrey.
Native and Latin Christians alike grieved deeply over Baldwin’s passing. Even the Muslims lamented over his death. Baldwin I was a harsh king; his ambitions knew no limits and he used them aggressively to expand the kingdom geographically. Yet, he was a generous and just king. Baldwin also displayed immense courage and prowess on the battlefield. Everyone – even his enemies – greatly admired and respected him, so his death seemed untimely. Fortunately for the Franks and for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, there were courageous and seasoned warriors fit for the job as King.