Post-classical history

Acre, Siege of (1291)

The siege of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) by the Mamlûks of Egypt, lasting from 5/6 April to 28 May 1291, resulted in the Muslim conquest of the city and brought about the end of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem.

Following an attack by Italian crusaders on the Muslim population of Acre in August 1290, the Egyptian sultan Qalāwūn repealed a ten-year truce that had been concluded with the kingdom in 1283 and moved against Acre, but died shortly after he had left Cairo (10 October 1290). His son al-Ashraf Khalīl arrived before Acre on 5 April 1291 with a large army. Acre had 30,000-40,000 inhabitants, who were joined in the defense of the city by 700-1,200 knights and 14,000-18,000 infantry, including the Italian crusaders, members of the military orders, and 200-300 knights brought in later by Henry II, king of Cyprus and Jerusalem.

The Mamlûk forces were considerably larger, and had many siege machines of varying sizes.

The siege began on 6 April. On its western and southern side, Acre was protected by the sea, the Templar castle at the southwestern point, and the harbor fortifications. The northeastern walls around the suburb of Montmusard were guarded by Templars and Hospitallers. The northeastern point and the eastern walls were defended by the troops of the kingdom commanded by Henry’s brother Amalric of Lusignan, an English contingent led by Otto of Grandison, a French contingent under John of Grailly, and troops of Venice, Pisa, and the commune of Acre. The Mamlûks concentrated their attacks on the St. Anthony’s Gate complex linking Montmusard with the old city and on the northeastern point, which was fortified by a barbican (King Hugh’s Tower) and a tower (King Henry’s Tower) at the outer wall and another tower (the Accursed Tower) at the inner wall.

Sorties by the Templars and Hospitallers in mid-April failed, resulting in heavy Frankish casualties. King Henry arrived at Acre on 4 May with reinforcements and asked for a truce, which Khalīldeclined. On 8 May, King Hugh’s Tower had to be abandoned. King Henry’s Tower and parts of the outer wall collapsed on 15 May. The following day, as the Muslims attempted to storm the city, they were fended off by a sortie of the Hospitallers under the marshal Matthew of Clermont. On 18 May, the Mamlûks attacked the fortifications between St. Anthony’s Gate and the Accursed Tower with full force and managed to enter the city. There were insufficient vessels for the inhabitants to escape by sea. The Templar Roger Flor supposedly sold the space on a galley he had seized for outrageous sums of money. King Henry, his brother Amalric, Otto of Grandison, John of Grailly, and the Hospitaller master John of Villiers escaped to Cyprus. The patriarch of Jerusalem, Nicholas of Han- napes, drowned after he allowed so many refugees on his boat that it sank. The Templar master William of Beaujeu and the Hospitaller marshal were killed fighting against the onrushingMamlûks.

Those unable to escape found refuge in the Templar castle, and were offered unhindered retreat in exchange for its surrender. On 25 May, Muslim troops entered the castle to supervise the Franks’ departure, but as they supposedly molested the Frankish women and children, they were killed by the Templar garrison. When the marshal Peter of Sevrey went to Khalīl to explain the incident, he was seized and beheaded. Meanwhile, the Muslims had undermined the castle walls, which collapsed on 28 May, ending the siege. The fall of Acre marked the end of the Frankish states in Outremer. The Mamlûks’ systematic destruction of Acre and other coastal cities made any future return of the Frankish population unviable.

The main sources for the siege of Acre are the Gestes des Chiprois, the anonymous De excidio urbis Acconis, and the works of Thaddaeus of Naples, Marino Sanudo, Abu’l-Fidā‘, al-Jazarī, and al-Maqrīzī.

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