Castle, town, and seat of a lordship in southern Palestine, located on the coastal plain between Jerusalem and Jaffa.
A city had been established at Ramla by the Umayyads as a successor to Christian Lydda (mod. Lod, Israel) around 715, but it was deserted when the armies of the First Crusade (1096-1099) occupied it on 3 June 1099. The leaders of the crusade installed Robert of Rouen as bishop and lord of Ramla-Lydda, providing him with a small garrison to defend the place. Their intention seems to have been to create an ecclesiastical lordship, as they had previously done at Albara in northern Syria. Indeed, until around 1160 bishops of Lydda continued to style themselves bishops of Ramla. By May 1102, however, the city and its territory had been incorporated into the royal domain; a castle had been built in a part of the walled city and a castellan appointed. The strategic importance of the site is illustrated by the fact that three major battles against invading Egyptian forces took place in its vicinity, in September 1101, May 1102, and August 1105. After his defeat at the second of these, King Baldwin I of Jerusalem took refuge in the principal tower of the castle, escaping the following day just before it was burned and undermined by the Muslims.
From October 1106 onward, the castellan was Baldwin of Ramla, who later became a vassal of Hugh, count of Jaffa. Following Hugh’s revolt against King Fulk in 1134, however, the county was divided, and Baldwin was subsequently made lord of Ramla. Around 1138, the lordship passed to his daughter, Helvis, who was assisted in running it by her husband, Balian, former castellan of Jaffa. When Helvis’s younger brother, Renier, came of age around 1143-1144, the lordship passed to him, and it was possibly in anticipation of this that King Fulk granted Balian in 1141 the new castle of Ibelin (mod. Yavne, Israel). In 1146-1148, however, Renier died, and Helvis and Balian resumed control of Ramla. When Balian died in 1150, Helvis married Manasses of Hierges, who supported Queen Melisende against her son Baldwin III. As a result, in 1152, Baldwin captured Man- asses in his castle of Mirabel and banished him, leaving Helvis to continue to administer Ramla with the help of her son Hugh, lord of Ibelin. On Helvis’s death (1158-1160), Hugh became lord of Ramla, but in or soon after 1169 he departed for Santiago de Compostela. By 1171 he was dead, and Ramla was in the hands of his brother, Baldwin, who had been lord of Mirabel from around 1162. In 1186, Baldwin refused homage to the new king, Guy of Lusignan, and departed to Antioch, leaving his fief to another brother, Balian the Younger, husband of the dowager queen, Maria Komnene, and self-styled lord of Nablus. Balian led the defense of the city of Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187 and is last mentioned in 1193.
In the twelfth century, a small unwalled settlement of Franks and indigenous Christians developed outside the castle. The existence of a burgess court is attested by the jurist John of Jaffa. In 1177, the town was attacked and burned by the Muslims, having already been deserted by its inhabitants. It fell to Saladin in July or August 1187. The castle was destroyed in 1191, but the parish church was spared, possibly because it had already been converted into a mosque. By the Treaty of Jaffa (1192), the city was divided between the Franks and Muslims. In 1211-1212, the pilgrim Wilbrand of Oldenburg found it mostly destroyed, though it is unlikely to have been completely deserted. Although ceded to Emperor Frederick II in 1229, it would have been lost again in 1244. The Mamlik sultan Baybars I took Ramla in 1266 and completed the rebuilding of the White Mosque, which had been started by Saladin. In 1395 the Franciscans established a hospice for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem.
Tower of the Forty Martyrs, Ramla. (Library of Congress)