The Embriaci (Embriachi) were a Genoese noble family that probably around 1125 moved to Syria, entered the ranks of the Frankish nobility of Outremer, and established at Gibelet (mod. Jubail, Lebanon) one of the most powerful lordships in the county of Tripoli.
It is unlikely that William Embriacus (also known as William Caputmallei), who commanded the large fleet sent by the commune of Genoa to the East in the summer of 1100, was a member of this family; he thus cannot be considered as the ancestor of the later lords of Gibelet. The material basis for the later position of the Embriaci among the aristocracy of Outremer was established by William I Embriaco and his brother Nicholas, who around 1125 leased the entire property of the commune of Genoa within the principality of Antioch and the county of Tripoli.
Since neither William I nor his nephew Oberto had direct heirs, the entire inheritance passed to Nicolas’s son Hugo I and his descendants: William II, Hugo II, and Nicholas II. William II succeeded his father around 1135, and in addition to the Genoese quarter of Laodikeia in Syria, he controlled the entire town of Gibelet, which had belonged to Genoa since 1109. By 1142 at the latest, William II became a vassal of the count of Tripoli, but continued to fulfill his obligations as lessor to Genoa.
William II and his brothers were able to avoid relinquishing their holdings on the expiry of the contract of lease (1145). A few years later (1154), in exchange for a large advance payment, the three brothers William II, Hugo II, and Nicholas II secured for themselves for twenty-nine years the use of all Genoa’s possessions and rights in Outremer, that is to say, in Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey), Laodikeia in Syria (mod. Al-Lathqiyah, Syria), Gibelet, and now, additionally, in Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel). They refused to consent to Genoa’s attempts to abrogate this lease (1155), and when it expired in 1183, Genoa was no longer able to reassert its rights.
In contrast to his brothers, William II not only became a member of the Frankish nobility, but the ancestor of several lines of the Embriaco family. His son and successor Hugo II (1162/1163-1179) unilaterally brought about a complete separation from Genoa by terminating the lease payments, and he restricted his connections with the republic to concessions for Genoese trade in the district of Gibelet. The Embriaci concluded marriage alliances with many leading families in the Latin East, not least with the princely dynasty of Antioch. Their advocacy of the rights of the Staufen family, namely the claims to the throne of Jerusalem by Emperor Frederick II and his grandson Conradin, set them at odds with the anti-Staufen party among the magnates, including their own lords, the counts of Tripoli. The Embriaci intervention on the side of Genoa during the War of St. Sabas intensified the tension between them and the counts of Tripoli, which climaxed in an unsuccessful rebellion by the last lord of Gibelet against Count Bohemund VII, and the death of the rebels.
The memory of the Genoese roots of the Embriaci was still significant in 1289 when a member of the family acted as spokesman of the newly established commune of Tripoli, asking Genoa for help against the heiress of Tripoli and her regent, and also playing a decisive role in concluding a treaty with the Genoese admiral Benedetto Zaccaria. The Embriaci survived the capture of Gibelet by the Mamlūks (1289); they emigrated to Cyprus, where a branch of the family had settled shortly after the Third Crusade (1189-1192), and to which one of the murderers of King Peter I of Cyprus (1369) belonged.