The lordship of Tiberias, also known as the principality of Galilee, was one of the major lordships of the kingdom of Jerusalem during the crusader period.
The lordship’s origins are to be found during the immediate aftermath of the First Crusade (1096-1099): in 1099 the Norman Tancred conquered much of Galilee and took the title of prince of Galilee. Under Muslim rule the town of Tiberias (mod. Teverya, Israel) had been the capital of Jund al-Urdunn (that is, “province of the Jordan”). Tancred fortified the northern part of the city; the other parts, including the famous thermal baths, had been devastated after the flight of its Muslim inhabitants and the murder of its Jewish ones. In 1100 Tancred extended his authority eastward across the Jordan into the Sawâd region (Fr. Terre de Suète) and the Golan Heights, becoming suzerain of its Arab lord, who was known as the Fat Peasant.
After Tancred’s departure to Antioch (1101), King Baldwin I of Jerusalem appointed Hugh of Fauquembergues as lord of Tiberias. Hugh dedicated his efforts to the eastern sector of the lordship, facing constant attacks from Damascus. As a defensive measure he built two castles: Toron, near the sources of the Jordan, and El-‘Al, on a hill east of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). Hugh was killed during one of these battles in 1105. As his successor Baldwin appointed an experienced warrior, Gervase of Bazoches, who was captured and killed by Tughtigin, atabeg of Damascus, in 1108. Thereupon the king appointed Tancred as titular prince, but the lordship was administered by royal officers until 1113, when it was bestowed on Joscelin I of Courtenay, who had come from Edessa after a conflict with its ruler, Baldwin II (of Bourcq). Joscelin dedicated his efforts to the consolidation of the lordship, increasing the number of vassals. Some of them were established in the sumptuous castle of Tiberias, while others were entrusted with lordships of villages. Joscelin built a small castle on a hill northeast of Lake Tiberias at Qasr Bardawil in order to control access to the heart of his lordship. Joscelin attempted to extend his authority into northern Transjordan, but with little success.
Upon the election of Baldwin of Bourcq as king of Jerusalem, Joscelin was made count of Edessa by the new king and left Galilee. In 1119 Baldwin II appointed William of Bures, who founded a dynasty at Tiberias. He played a significant role in the affairs of the kingdom. In 1123, during the king’s captivity, he became constable of the kingdom and led the attacks that resulted in the conquest of Muslim- held Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon); in 1128 Baldwin II sent him to France to find a suitable husband for Melisende, the heiress to the kingdom. By 1140 William of Bures was succeeded by his son, also called William, and later by his second son, Elinand.
Elinand’s rule in Tiberias was characterized by his faithful cooperation with Queen Melisende and her husband Fulk. After the building of the castle of Belvoir in 1136, which was given to the Hospitallers, Elinand carried out a reorganization of the lands of his vassals in the area. In 1144 he helped Melisende to establish her joint rule with her son, Baldwin III, and in 1148 he took part in the unsuccessful expedition of the Second Crusade (1147-1149) against Damascus. Elinand’s prestige in the Latin East grew, and as one of the most powerful princes of the kingdom, he increased it by his own marriage to Ermengarde of Ibelin and by that of his sister Agnes to Gerard, lord of Sidon. Under Elinand’s rule, the city of Tiberias grew and became a prosperous center of the realm. Its agricultural products (especially fruits) were shipped through Haifa (mod. Hefa, Israel) and Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) to western Europe and became a significant source of revenue for the principality. His sole daughter and heiress, Eschiva, was married to Walter of Saint-Omer (who may have been a grandson of Hugh of Fauquembergues). She bore four sons, who were still children at the premature death of Walter (by 1170).
As princess of Galilee and lady of Tiberias, related to the Ibelin and Sidon families and on friendly terms with the counts of Tripoli, Eschiva became a patron of cultural activities in Outremer. However, the campaigns of the Muslim leader Nûr al-Dīn were a real danger to the principality, and according to feudal custom Eschiva could not govern the fief on her own. In 1173 she married Raymond III, count of Tripoli, who thus became the most important baron of the kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1174, after the death of King Amalric I, Raymond served as regent of the kingdom of Jerusalem; under Baldwin IV he became the leader of those barons who supported a policy of compromise with the Muslims. Raymond and Eschiva established good terms with Saladin, who spared Tiberias during his incursions into Galilee. His stepsons were not associated with their administration, though they grew to maturity. In 1179 Eschiva’s eldest son, Hugh, was taken captive by the Muslims near Beaufort and was ransomed by his mother for 55,000 dinars. While Raymond spent most of his time either at the royal court or with the army, Eschiva dedicated her energy to the government of Tiberias, ordering the vassals to respect the truce concluded by Raymond with Saladin. During Saladin’s invasion in 1187 she held Tiberias in her husband’s absence until the aftermath of the battle of Hattin (4 July 1187), when she surrendered the city to Saladin, who allowed her to leave with her household to Tripoli. Raymond died there in the same year.
The history of the principality or lordship of Tiberias ends after the collapse of the kingdom at the battle of Hattin. Eschiva’s sons settled in Acre, hoping for a reconquest of Galilee. After the failure of one such attempt in 1197, Hugh of Tiberias, who had married Margaret, daughter of Balian of Ibelin and Maria Komnene, tried to organize another expedition. However, in 1204 he left Acre and took service with Baldwin of Flanders, the Latin emperor of Constantinople. Hugh’s brother William settled in Cyprus as titular prince of Galilee, holding one of the four main baronies of the kingdom of Cyprus. The third brother, Otto, left Acre in 1201 and settled in Cilicia, where he took service at the court of Leon I of Armenia. The youngest brother, Ralph of Tiberias, who was held in high repute for his legal training, remained in the kingdom of Jerusalem. He served the new ruler, Henry of Champagne, at Acre, and upon Henry’s death (1197) he was proposed by his brother Hugh as a husband for Henry’s widow, Queen Isabella I. The barons rejected his candidature on the ground that he was a younger son and therefore unsuited to her royal dignity. Instead, they chose the king of Cyprus, Aimery of Lusignan. Ralph agreed to serve his rival, advising him on legal questions. However, when he was suspected of a plot against the king, Ralph left the court and settled in Tripoli. There he compiled his main contribution to Frankish society, the draft of the Livre au Roi, an introduction to the Assizes of Jerusalem.