Post-classical history


Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) was a coastal town in southern Palestine, the center of a lordship in the kingdom of Jerusalem. It was held by the Fātimids at the time of the First Crusade (1096-1099), but rivalry between Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Saint-Gilles resulted in the crusaders failing to take the town in August 1099. The town was well supplied and garrisoned from Egypt and remained in Fātimid hands for over half a century, during which time the Franks erected a ring of fortresses around it. Ascalon finally surrendered to Baldwin III of Jerusalem on 19 August 1153 after a sustained siege of almost eight months. The following year it was granted to the king’s brother Amalric, along with the county of Jaffa, returning to the royal domain when Amalric became king in 1163. The county of Jaffa and Ascalon was subsequently held by William of Montferrat (1176), Guy of Lusignan (1180), and his brother Geoffrey of Lusignan (1191).

William of Tyre describes Ascalon at the time of its capture as having a semicircular form, with the sea representing the chord and double walls strengthened by towers and outworks extending landward. Four principal gates faced Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the sea respectively, while the towers included two especially massive ones, known as the Towers of the Hospital and of the Maidens (Burj al-Banat), located at the south end of the enceinte. An inscription testifies to Fātimid rebuilding of the walls in progress as late as 1151. Eleven churches are attested in Frankish Ascalon (three by surviving remains). Four of them had formerly been mosques, including the Church of St. Paul (formerly St. John), which from 1163 to 1168 served as pro-cathedral of the bishop of Bethlehem.

Ascalon remained Frankish until 4 September 1187, when it fell to Saladin after a two-week siege. In 1191 he dismantled its defenses and buildings and expelled its population. During the first three months of 1192, however, Richard I of England, assisted by Hugh III, duke of Burgundy, rebuilt the towers and gates and refurbished the defenses, work that is confirmed by archaeological analysis of the surviving structures and by the survival of an inscription referring to Richard and his clerk of the chamber, Philip of Poitiers. In August, however, both sides agreed to dismantle the defenses once more.

Ascalon lay derelict until November 1239, when it was reoccupied by Thibaud IV of Champagne. In 1240 Richard of Cornwall completed construction of a castle in the northern corner of the town, whose custody was granted to the Hospitallers by Emperor Frederick II in 1243. Although they held it successfully against the Egyptians after the battle of Forbie (1244), it was finally taken by Fakhr al-Dīn in October 1247. Sultan Baybars I completed its destruction in 1270.

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