Post-classical history

Magna Mahomeria

Magna Mahomeria (mod. al-Bira, West Bank) was a new town or village in southern Palestine some 16 kilometers (10 mi.) north of Jerusalem.

The town was established by the canons of the Holy Sepulchre for Frankish colonists, on or beside the site of an earlier settlement. The latter was one of twenty-one casalia (villages) granted to the Holy Sepulchre by Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Frankish ruler of Jerusalem (d. 1100). It was settled by 1124, when an Egyptian raid forced the old men, women, and children to seek refuge in a recently built tower. The new settlement was known in Latin as Mahomeria, probably after a mosque that stood there; from 1164 it was called Magna (“Great”) to distinguish it from another such settlement named Parva Mahomeria, established at al- Qubaiba a similar distance northeast of Jerusalem. Documents in the cartulary of the Holy Sepulchre show the canons offering the new settlers house plots, lands, and vines in return for the payment of tithes and a share of the produce. The settlement was administered by a steward (Lat. dispensator).

Ninety-two burgesses swore allegiance to the Holy Sepulchre in 1156 and a further fifty over the next thirty years, suggesting a total population of 500-700 people. They included emigrants from the south of France, Italy, and Spain. Although the economy was principally agricultural, the tradesmen among them included three smiths, three carpenters, a mason, a shoemaker, and a goldsmith. In 1170, sixty-five men from Magna Mahomeria, apparently representing part of the military service owed by the Holy Sepulchre, died defending the frontier town of Gaza against Saladin.

After the town itself fell to the Ayyûbids in 1187, it became for a while the seat of a Muslim governor. The site of Magna Mahomeria has been identified within the modern village of al-Bira, adjacent to Ramallah. The Frankish houses were barrel-vaulted structures, laid out along a principal north-south street, with the Church of St. Mary at the north end and the canons’ estate center (Lat. curia) incorporating an earlier tower, at the south. The documents also mention a hospital, the site of which is unknown.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!