Post-classical history


A city in Liguria on the northwestern coast of Italy, which together with its hinterland formed an important maritime republic for most of the crusading period.

The crusade movement came into existence shortly before the beginning of communal government in Genoa and well before the commune finally supplanted episcopal rule in the city. Initially only a few Genoese decided to support the crusaders in 1097, and it was only some years later, after the successes of the First Crusade (1096-1099), that support was given to the crusade movement by the association known as the Compagna Communis. The Compagna was originally a voluntary, exclusive, and initially temporary association of citizens who were opponents of the existing town authorities. It was made up of very active Genoese merchants, as well as members of noble families who had emigrated from Genoa’s hinterland (It. contado) to the city and invested their wealth in merchant ventures there. The Compagna developed into a commune, or public corporation, and thenceforth determined the political and economic course of the city. The result was that in Genoa there was both private involvement of individual citizens, as well as a more official public engagement in the crusades.

Genoa's Involvement in the Crusade Movement

Those Genoese who became involved in the First Crusade on their own initiative did business not only in supplying the crusaders with food, but also actively participated in the sieges and conquest of cities such Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) in 1098 and Jerusalem in 1099, using their ships to bring supplies and providing siege equipment constructed from ships’ timber. In doing so Genoese crusaders did not lose sight of either their own business dealings or the wider economic interests of Genoa itself. As the price of their assistance they obtained for themselves and their fellow citizens concessions for future trade at centers of potential economic interest, such as the city of Antioch (1098).

By the time that the survivors of this group returned to Genoa (1099/1100) the Compagna had been established, and this association subsequently took over the organization of almost all the Genoese assistance for the new Frankish states that were still establishing themselves in Syria and Palestine. The communal government decided on the size of nearly all the fleets that were sent to the East after the capture of Jerusalem (1099) in order to provide support for the Franks and also to secure an advantageous position for Genoese commerce. Only on one occasion did Genoese entrepreneurs equip a fleet at their own expense, after the fashion of the Genoese expedition of July 1097: this was a squadron of 17 ships that set sail for Syria in August 1101. Once there, they participated in the conquest of the coastal town of Tortosa (mod. Tartûs, Syria) in February 1102, but had to return home in the autumn of 1102 without any further significant military success and—more importantly—without any of the material benefits they had evidently hoped to gain.

More impressive than these private efforts was the willingness of the commune to make a military and financial commitment to the consolidation of the Frankish states in the East, which lasted for almost a decade after the capture of Jerusalem. Between 1100 and 1109, Genoa sent a total of four fleets, amounting to at least 150 galleys and countless other ships, to Outremer in 1100-1101, 1103-1104, 1108-1109, and 1109-1110. The largest of these consisted of 60 galleys and transported an army from Provence under Count Bertrand of Saint-Gilles to the area of the future county of Tripoli in the autumn of 1108. At most half as large as this was the so-called Caesarea fleet (30 ships, including 26 galleys), with whose help King Baldwin I of Jerusalem captured the cities of Caesarea (mod. Har Qesari, Israel) and Arsuf (near mod. Herzliyya, Israel) in the spring of 1101.

A squadron of 40 galleys made a significant contribution to the conquest of Gibelet (mod. Jubail, Lebanon) and Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) in the spring of 1104. The smallest fleet was the squadron of around 22 galleys whose crews took part in the conquest of the inland city of Mamistra (mod. Misis, Turkey) during a layover on the Cilician coast in the autumn of 1109 and whose ships also afforded valuable support to King Baldwin I during the siege of the coastal city of Beirut in the spring of 1110.

It was not only the hope of spiritual benefits that motivated Genoa and its citizens in these military and financial endeavors. Just as important was the expectation of material reward, whether in the form of plunder or of trading concessions in a region where up to that time Genoese merchants had not been active. In some cases the Genoese had to be satisfied with a part of the spoils; in others the Frankish rulers, whose early conquests were largely dependent on naval assistance, granted what the Genoese requested: trading quarters along with legal and economic privileges. With the conquest of Beirut, the military cooperation between Genoa and the Frankish states ceased for a long time. After 1110, Genoa endeavored to consolidate its trade with Outremer and to assert the privileges acquired during the period of conquest. In retrospect, the extent of these privileges often seemed to have been much too generous to some of the Frankish rulers, and particularly intense conflicts flared up over this issue from the middle of the twelfth century in the kingdom of Jerusalem and the county of Tripoli.

Areas of Genoese crusading and commercial activity in the period of the Crusades

Areas of Genoese crusading and commercial activity in the period of the Crusades

It was only after the collapse of the Frankish states after 1187 that Genoese assistance was sought to defend those areas still in Christian hands and to reconquer those occupied by the Muslims. During Genoa’s participation in the Third Crusade (1189-1192), religious zeal and crusading ardor were of secondary importance. The Genoese were unwilling to endanger without good reason the trade relations they had built up in the course of the twelfth century with the Islamic world, above all with Egypt. When the commune took the decision to support the Third Crusade, it did so because it saw an opportunity to assert many of its older claims to privileges and property that rulers in Outremer, such as the kings of Jerusalem and the counts of Tripoli, had refused to recognize up to that point. The trading interests of the commune and of those families with the greatest political and economic power (such as the Embriaci, who were particularly active in Syria) were the motivating force behind the activities of Genoa in support of the Third Crusade. The Genoese were particularly keen to regain their trading bases in those coastal cities that had fallen into Muslim hands from 1187 onward.

In 1189, much later than the Pisans and Venetians, Genoa sent a fleet to the East under the command of Consul Guido Spinola. It carried many Genoese pilgrims, including many crusaders from the city’s leading families, and was intended to take part in the siege of Muslim-held Acre. At the same time, the commune was keen to maximize the financial advantage that could be gained from the capacity of Genoa’s dockyards and the skills of its sailors. In February 1190 the city concluded a contract of charter with Philip II Augustus, king of France, and within a few months equipped a fleet for the transport of 650 knights, 1,300 squires, 1,300 horses, gear for men and animals, and supplies of food, wine, and fodder. For this, the Genoese demanded not only a large cash payment, but also the assurance of extensive privileges in any areas that were reconquered; these effectively corresponded to the privileges that Genoa had previously claimed, largely without success, from the Frankish princes. The exact size of the fleet chartered by the French that sailed for Outremer under Genoese command in the late summer of 1190 is not known. Both the charter fleet and that which had left in 1189 arrived somewhat late in the East, but the Genoese took part in the siege of Acre until its capture in July 1191; their commitment was no less than that of their Pisan rivals. The fate of these two Genoese war fleets thereafter is unknown.

Genoese participation in the crusades of the thirteenth century was determined by economic considerations to a far greater extent than in the twelfth century. It is true that the hire of ships, particularly to French crusaders, and the transport of crusade armies to the main theater of war on the Egyptian coast brought in a sizable income. Yet the city government and individual citizens were only willing to support crusades in these ways as long as they had the impression that trade relations with a Christian-ruled Egypt would be significantly more advantageous for Genoese merchants than if the country remained under Islamic rule. The Genoese, who after the Third Crusade immediately resumed and intensified trade with Egypt and also expanded their trade relations with North Africa (notably with Ceuta and Tunis), were not willing to put their existing commercial ties at risk by premature participation in any crusade that seemed doomed to failure from the outset. Genoa did not participate at all in the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), which was originally intended to attack Egypt; participants in this expedition did not find a war fleet awaiting them in Genoa, although they did find Genoese transports to take them to Acre in the kingdom of Jerusalem.

The overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the resulting dominant position of Venice in the newly established Latin Empire of Constantinople brought about the loss of all the possessions and commercial privileges that had been granted to Genoa by Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in 1170 and renewed by Alexios III Angelos in 1201. The piratical activities of Genoa and its allies against Venetian shipping in the Aegean Sea could not prevent the exclusion of Genoese merchants from Constantinople, the Aegean Sea, and the Black Sea until peace was concluded in 1218. This treaty readmitted the Genoese to trade in the Latin Empire on the basis of the privileges of 1201, and also restored their former possessions in the Venetian territories of the empire.

The crusading abstinence of the Genoese ended after the general call to crusade made at the Fourth Lateran Council (December 1215). The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) met with a positive response from Genoa, which concluded a contract with delegates of the French crusaders for the hire of Genoese ships to take them to the East in the summer of 1218. A year later Genoa equipped 10 galleys at its own expense, which put to sea at the end of July with Genoese crusaders on board, bound to join the crusader army in the siege of the Egyptian port of Damietta. They gained part of the spoils after the capture of Damietta in November 1219, but the subsequent failure of the crusade in the summer of 1221 dashed their hopes of improving the conditions for Genoese trade. For various reasons, the Genoese could expect no assistance from Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily: these reasons included the rivalry between the Genoese and Sicilian merchants in the trade with North Africa, Genoa’s refusal to recognize the emperor as its lord, and the city’s membership of the antiimperialist Lombard League.

It may have been with the hope of an improvement in their position in Egypt that the Genoese began negotiations in 1246 to provide ships to transport the crusade army of King Louis IX of France via Cyprus to the Egyptian coast at Damietta. In 1248 Genoa delivered 12 very large transports completely equipped for war, along with 4 smaller sailing ships, which formed a substantial part of the fleet commissioned by the king. Two Genoese employed as admirals of the French Crown supervised the construction and equipping of the ships. Bankers from Genoa assumed organization of the necessary financial transactions. However, with the failure of the Crusade of Louis IX to the East (1248-1254), the second major crusade undertaken against Egypt, Genoa’s dreams of better conditions for its own trade with Egypt evaporated.

Yet the interest of the Genoese in commercial relations with the main trade centers in Egypt was so great that twenty years later they took advantage of the opportunity to earn money by providing and equipping ships to transport the army of the second crusade of Louis IX (1270). After negotiations in October 1268, Louis IX ordered part of the fleet he required from the city government and several Genoese shipowners: a squadron consisting of a few very large transports together with smaller sailing ships, which would set out together with the French-built transports from the port of Aigues-Mortes. Contrary to the usual practice of the time, they would not be under the command of a Genoese, but of a French admiral. A further contrast to King Louis’s first crusade was that in 1270 many Genoese crusaders (infantrymen and crossbowmen) joined the pre-dominantly French crusader army. Yet contrary to Genoese expectations, the fleet sailed not to Egypt, but to Tunis on the coast of North Africa. This change of plan was not at all to Genoa’s liking, since many of its citizens were involved in trade with Tunis.

Thereafter the Genoese, who in 1283 decisively defeated their Pisan rivals in a naval battle off the island of Meloria, thus effectively eliminating them as competitors, could not be recruited for any new crusade enterprises, whether by papal appeals or any other means. It was only the prospect of realizing its political and commercial aims that caused Genoa to intervene once more in the internal affairs of the county of Tripoli in the 1280s, shortly before it was finally overrun by the Mamlūks.

Genoa and the Frankish States of Outremer

The assistance provided by Genoese fleets during the First and Third Crusades, as well as the numerous other occasions when they brought support to the rulers of Outremer, came at a price. Both the Genoese government and those individuals acting on their own initiative demanded privileges in exchange for their naval and military support. These privileges usually involved the transfer of urban property for the establishment of trading quarters (often provided with their own churches), the grant of legal privileges of varying dimensions, and financial advantages. During the phase of conquest between 1098 and 1110 many privileges were obtained from the Frankish rulers. Thus, options were secured with respect to the future development of trade in the most important coastal cities of the Levant: in the principality of Antioch (in the cities of Antioch and Laodikeia in Syria), in the kingdom of Jerusalem (Arsuf, Caesarea, and Acre), and in the county of Tripoli (Gibelet and the city of Tripoli).

The extent of the privileges secured by the Genoese during the conquest phase, and documented in written charters, has long been overestimated. This misinterpretation is the result of some unconventional methods, not to mention uncritical and contradictory arguments, of Genoese historians, who have concentrated their attention exclusively on conditions in the kingdom of Jerusalem. A tradition that arose in the mid-twelfth century in Genoa itself, and that was consciously created as a propaganda weapon in disputes with the kingdom of Jerusalem and the county of Tripoli over the extent of Genoese privileges, has been used as an argument for the existence of a magnificent inscription in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem dating from the beginning of the twelfth century, which supposedly commemorated the contribution of Genoa to the conquest of the Holy Land. Despite the results of a critical study of all the charters granted to Genoa and its citizens by the rulers of Jerusalem, Tripoli, and Antioch in the first half of the twelfth century, Genoese scholarship has largely accepted as credible the authenticity of a document supposedly mentioned in the inscription, which has been identified with a charter issued in the name of King Baldwin I of Jerusalem (and preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Genoa). Although this document lends support to a Genoese claim to a third of the city of Acre, it is undoubtedly a forgery, whose existence is connected with the beginning of the historiographical tradition regarding this “golden inscription.”

With one exception (Antioch 1098), the early privileges for Genoa from the principality of Antioch and the county of Tripoli only survive in the form of forged versions. In fact the Genoese received far more modest concessions in the Frankish states of Syria and Palestine up to 1109 than the wording of the surviving privileges would suggest. Not least through comparisons with the exorbitant concessions granted to Venice, in particular in Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) by the Pactum Warmundi (1123), and the restrictive treatment of their own legal claims, the Genoese realized with hindsight that the original privileges granted them so little that they made “improvements” to the documents in question and thus started a protracted conflict with the rulers of Jerusalem and Tripoli.

Genoa provided fleets and other forms of military assistance during the Third Crusade and the parallel struggle for the throne of Jerusalem only in exchange for complete or at least far-reaching recognition of their claims to privileges in the coastal trading centers of Outremer. However, they were unable to obtain complete recognition of their claims in any of the Frankish states even after the Third Crusade. As Genoese commercial interests gradually shifted to the Islamic world (Egypt and North Africa) and the territory of the former Byzantine Empire (Constantinople, the Black Sea, the Aegean Islands, and the Empire of Nicaea), the ports of Outremer declined in importance from a Genoese perspective.

Nevertheless, as a result of the weakness of Frankish rule in the thirteenth century and thanks to their own relative strength in internal political conflicts, the Genoese became sought-after coalition partners. They followed their own interests in the Latin East without regard to the wider concerns of the Frankish states, and, just like the other Western trading nations, they were not afraid to indulge in open conflict with their opponents. An example of this was the War of St. Sabas, the first great colonial conflict between Genoa and Venice in the Levant. The war broke out over the long- running legal dispute concerning property of the monastery of St. Sabas in Acre, which was claimed by both republics. The dispute escalated as both sides sought allies among the other Western trading nations, the military orders, and the Frankish aristocracy. In the course of the fighting, the Genoese quarter in Acre was severely damaged. After the defeat of a Genoese fleet off Acre and an unsuccessful attempt to capture the city by their ally Philip of Tyre (1258), fighting died down, only to flare up again whenever fleets arrived from the West. Hostilities ceased only with a truce concluded in 1261. The Genoese were now excluded from Acre, but found refuge in Tyre, where their ally Philip of Montfort had expelled the Venetians. In 1270 Venice recognized Genoa’s claims to its quarter in Acre, thus establishing the basis for a resumption of Genose trade there.

Genoa’s policies in Outremer and the conduct of its citizens there contributed, as did those of the other trading nations, to the weakening of Frankish rule. It is not without reason that the Genoese are held to a large degree responsible for the collapse of the Frankish states in 1291.

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