Post-classical history


The name of the northern part of Palestine since the Herodean period, deriving from its Hebrew appellation Galil Hagoyyim, “the province of the Gentiles.” Due to its paleo-Christian reminiscences connected with Christ’s life, the name Galilee remained in constant use by Christians through the centuries thereafter.

In the summer of 1099, after his conquests in the region, Tancred, a Norman crusader from southern Italy, adopted the title of “prince of Galilee” and undertook a series of campaigns in order to extend his domination over its territory, from the Litani River in the north to the hills of Samaria in the south, as well as from the Terre de Suète (Arab. al-Sawād) and Golan in the northern Transjordan to the shores of the Mediterranean in the west. His attempt to extend his rule to Haifa (mod. Hefa, Israel) on the coast brought him in conflict with the new king of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, who appointed one of his vassals as lord of Haifa.

History of Galilee, 1101-1187

Tancred relinquished Galilee to the king on being called to the principality of Antioch to serve as its regent in 1101. In the following years Baldwin I implemented a new feudal organization of the province. Eastern Galilee became a new lordship based on the town of Tiberias (mod. Teverya, Israel), which was bestowed on one of Baldwin’s vassals, Hugh of Fauquembergues. Following the foundation of the Cluniac abbey on Mount Tabor in 1102, the neighboring villages were given to its abbot, forming an ecclesiastical lordship in the heart of the province. This was followed by the establishment of a lordship in the Bethsan Valley, whereas the port of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) and western Galilee became part of the royal demesne. In 1108, with the establishment of a Latin archbishopric in Nazareth (mod. Nazerat, Israel), the city and its surroundings were detached to form a further ecclesiastical seignory. Finally, the castle of Toron (mod. Tibnin, Lebanon), built by Hugh of Saint-Omer, became the seat of a lordship in northern Galilee.

Although these measures augmented the effective authority of the kingship, they weakened the local lords, who did not dispose of sufficient forces to check the attacks of the Turkish rulers of Damascus. Thus, in 1111 Tughtigin, the atabeg of Damascus, invaded Galilee, penetrating as far as Nablus. The kingdom was saved only due to internal conflicts of the Damascenes rulers, which obliged Tughtigin to retreat. A revolt of Muslim peasants during the invasion posed a serious threat to the food supplies of the Franks, who were not settled in the rural areas. They therefore erected small castles in order to dominate the villages. Frankish control was assisted by the conquest of Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) in 1123, the next major port of Galilee after Acre, and of Banyas (mod. Bâniyas, Syria) in 1129, which secured the sources of Jordan and the fertile valley of al-Huleh. Banyas was reconquered by the Muslims in 1132, although it was held by the Franks again between 1140 and 1168.

An important step in the Frankish domination of Galilee was the fortress-building campaign of King Fulk (d. 1143), who integrated the local fortifications in his strategic system of the defense of the kingdom. In the Galilee, this system was based on four lines of fortification, two in the east and two in the west. The eastern lines were based on castles built on the heights of the Golan, such as Qal‘at Namrud, established after the seizure of Banyas in 1140, and Cave de Suète (Habis Jaldak), dominating the Yarmuq Valley; they were connected with smaller castles, built by the lords of Tiberias. On the western bank of the Jordan, fortresses erected on the hills, beginning with Beaufort, which dominated the Litani River, through Château Neuf (Qal‘at Hunin) and Saphet (mod. Zefat, Israel), were connected with the fortified city of Tiberias and the fortress of Belvoir, which dominated the Jordan Valley south of Lake Tiberias. The western fortifications included a number of castles on the hills and the fortified cities of the Mediterranean shore, from Tyre to Haifa. Some of these fortresses were entrusted to the orders of the Temple and Hospital, which provided garrisons for them.

View of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). (Library of Congress)

View of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). (Library of Congress)

King Fulk’s achievement brought about a period of peace and economic prosperity in the region. Trade flourished along the protected routes of Galilee between Damascus, the outlet of oriental goods, and the coastal cities of Acre and Tyre, where the goods were loaded for shipping to the West. This brought about the emergence of a cosmopolitan society in the coastal cities where Jews, Byzantines, and Eastern Christians were active alongside the Franks. Merchants of various origins also settled in the towns of the interior, especially contributing to the growth of Nazareth.

The history of the province in the second half of the century was influenced by the new situation in the aftermath of the Second Crusade (1147-1149). It was characterized by the renewal of Muslim unity, first under Nûr al-Dīn, whose conquest of Damascus led to the union of Muslim Syria (1154), and then under Saladin, the ruler of Muslim Syria and Egypt. This situation caused a constant pressure on the Franks, who were now placed on the defensive, finally leading to the collapse of the Latin kingdom in 1187.

In 1157, Nûr al-Dīn attacked Banyas and the northern Jordan Valley; the Franks were compelled to mobilize all the forces of the kingdom under Baldwin III in order to check the Muslim attack and to secure Banyas. In 1163, a new offensive against Banyas resulted in the Muslim conquest of the city and of Qa‘lat Namrud, which led to the loss of control of the fertile valley of the Huleh and the sources of the Jordan. To prevent further invasions, a fortress, called Le Chastellet, was erected at Jacob’s Ford (1178-1179), south of Lake Huleh, controlling the caravan route from Damascus to Acre. But this measure proved to be only a temporary remedy. Profiting from the internal political disputes in the Latin kingdom, Saladin undertook repeated invasions of Galilee, destroying LeChastellet and Cave de Suète, which enabled his forces to penetrate and devastate the province.

Saladin’s final invasion of Galilee resulted in the defeat of the Franks at the Horns of Hattin (4 July 1187) and the collapse of the entire kingdom of Jerusalem. The Muslim peasants revolted, as did the Jewish villagers of Upper Galilee, and both attacked Frankish survivors in their flight to Tyre.

History of Galilee, 1187-1291

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) resulted in the Christian reconquest of Acre and the coastal area between Jaffa and Tyre as well as of a tiny hinterland in western Galilee, where some of the twelfth-century lordships were reestablished, notably Haifa, Casal Imbert, and Scandalion. The lords of the lost lordships and their heirs settled at Acre, retaining their titles and hoping to reconquer their possessions. Some of them emigrated to Cyprus and later to Frankish Greece. To provide a defense for Acre, the new capital of the kingdom after the loss of Jerusalem, the Franks built some new castles on the western Galilean hills; the most important was Montfort, given in 1227 to the Teutonic Order.

The Crusade of Emperor Frederick II managed to reopen Nazareth to pilgrimage (1229), but that of 1239-1241, led by Thibaud IV of Champagne, resulted in the temporary reconquest of the province. This was followed by the erection of a large castle by the Templars at Saphet in 1240, while the fortifications of Tiberias were restored by Odo of Montbéliard. The Khwârazmian invasion of 1244 caused the loss of eastern and central Galilee. Further unsuccessful attempts to recover the province were made by later crusade leaders, such as Louis IX, king of France, in 1254, whose campaign ended at Banyas.

After the victory of the Mamlûk sultanate over the Mongols at ‘Ayn Jâlût in 1261, the Mamlûk sultan Baybars undertook a series of campaigns against the last Frankish strongholds. In 1263 he conquered Nazareth and destroyed it; this was followed by the destruction of Haifa’s castle (1265) and the conquest of Toron and of Saphet (1266), which became the capital of Mamlûk Galilee. In 1271 Baybars conquered Montfort, depriving Acre of its hinterland. Finally, in 1291 the conquest of Acre by a Mamlûk army under al-Ashraf Khalīl marked the fall of the Frankish enterprise in the Levant.

Christian Traditions in the Frankish Period

Christian tradition considered Galilee as part of the Holy Land, second only to Jerusalem in importance. From late antiquity onward, pilgrims came to see and venerate sites associated with St. Anne at Sephorie, the Annunciation, Christ’s childhood and youth at Nazareth, the wedding at Cana, the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and Christ’s ministry around the Sea of Galilee. The crusader conquest of Galilee and the establishment of a logistic infrastructure by the Hospitallers facilitated the renewal of pilgrimage in the province. Churches and monasteries were built on the holy sites, attracting both Franks from Outremer and pilgrims from the West, particularly on the appropriate feast days in the church calendar. The most important monument built by the Franks was the romanesque fortified cathedral of Nazareth, completed just before Saladin’s conquest of 1187. Acre, where most pilgrims landed, was not considered part of the biblical Holy Land. However, from the mid-thirteenth century, when the loss of Jerusalem and the Galilean sites created difficulties for pilgrimage, new churches were erected there that became the scenes of processions symbolizing the rites of pilgrimage in the holy sites.

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