Kerak (mod. Karak, Jordan) was a castle and town in Transjordan, at first a stronghold of the Franks but later held by the Ayyûbids and Mamlûks.
The castle was built from 1142/1143 onward by Pagan the Butler, lord of Montréal, as the new seat of his lordship. It was constructed on a rocky spur, which extended south from a roughly triangular plateau, on which the twelfth-century town stood. At first the castle was roughly triangular in shape and detached from the town by a rock-cut ditch. The walls were strengthened by projecting rectangular towers. On the east side there appears to have been an outer ward or barbican. This occupied a lower terrace, overlooked by the inner ward and extending from the town ditch to a tower at the inner ward’s southernmost tip. Although essentially Mamlûk in its present form, the barbican appears to have replaced an earlier Frankish one. This is suggested by a charter of 1152, by which Pagan’s successor, Maurice, gave the Hospitallers a barbican, which is described as extending from the outer gate up to the tower of St. Mary. This seems to indicate that the main entrance into the castle lay at the western end of the north wall.
In 1167 the Franks revived the ancient bishopric of Petra, establishing a new Latin cathedral in Kerak. Guerric, a former canon of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, was appointed bishop. Kerak was besieged unsuccessfully by Nûr al-Din in 1170 and by Saladin in 1173. In 1177 Reynald of Châtillon became lord of Montréal on his marriage to Stephanie, daughter of Philip of Milly. Reynald’s aggressive policy against the Muslims was first directed against the caravans plying the desert route between Syria, Arabia, and Egypt. In 1181, he extended this activity by raiding the Hijaz, and during the winter of 1182—1183 he sent forces to attack Aila and the Arabian coast. In October 1183, Saladin retaliated by burning the town of Kerak and attacking the castle, into which the luckier of the townsfolk escaped. After six weeks, he abandoned the siege when a relieving force approached from Jerusalem. The following July, he made another attempt, bringing up fourteen trebuchets to replace the eight abandoned the year before; but the siege was lifted after only four weeks.
During the winter of 1186-1187, however, openly disregarding a truce that King Guy of Jerusalem had made with Saladin, Reynald attacked another caravan and disobeyed the king’s instructions to return the prisoners and booty. He paid for this with his life, following the battle of Hattin on 4 July 1187. Reynald’s widow, Stephanie, at first agreed to hand over the castle to Saladin in return for the release of her son, Humphrey IV of Toron; however, the garrison refused to surrender and was besieged from March until November 1188, when the Ayyûbid prince al-‘Adil finally took possession. Under al-‘Adil and his son, al-Mu‘azzam ‘īsa, the castle was repaired and became the administrative center of a province. In 1264, it was taken and further strengthened by the Mamlûksultan Baybars, who also walled the town. It is largely because of the Ayyûbid and Mamlûk refortifications that so much of the Frankish castle has survived.