Post-classical history

Frankish Outremer


The Foundation of Christian Outremer

On 15 July 1149, fifty years to the day after the Christian capture of Jerusalem, a service was held in the southern corner of the compound of the church of the Holy Sepulchre to dedicate a complex of newly constructed chapels encasing the rock designated as Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion. To mark the event, an inscription was erected near the spot that began:

This place is holy, sanctified by the blood of Christ.
By our consecration we add nothing to its holiness.1

The formal pious humility of this sentiment concealed the revolution in the religious and political affairs of the church, city and region and in the attitudes and habits of all those elsewhere in Latin Christendom interested in their fate that had characterized the previous half-century. In the aftermath of a great, if unproductive, incursion of western help, now known as the Second Crusade, and on the eve of a major reconstruction of the church of the Holy Sepulchre itself, Patriarch Fulk of Jerusalem and his colleagues cannot have been unaware of the reconfiguration of western culture caused by the occupation of the Holy Land. Fulk himself, a pious, dogged ecclesiastical second-rater, had abandoned the awkward political compromises of an Angoulême religious house for the escapism, exoticism and opportunism of colonial Palestine. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem had become almost an obligation, certainly a mass habit, for the faithful of Europe, the image of the Holy Sepulchre a new model in art as much as for public and private devotion. Replicas proliferated across western Europe as well as symbolic representations in chapels attached to parish churches and cathedrals that played an important part in Easter rituals and liturgies.2 The holiness mentioned in the Calvary inscription had irradiated the west through the flood of relics that streamed from Palestine in the aftermath of 1099, in the process accelerating a trend towards a greater universality of cults and a closer concentration on the historicity of the Bible and hence the humanity of Christ. The traditional rhetoric and Gregorian standard of just and holy warfare were transfigured by the memory of the first Jerusalemites, fighting for the church in Spain, the Baltic, even within Christendom itself, now being assessed and rewarded in terms of the remission of sins gained on the first journey to Jerusalem. The glory of the victors of 1099 clung to them in name and fame, their deeds cited as periods in the lives and affairs of onlookers not themselves veterans. Just as in early twenty-first-century British conversation ‘the war’ invariably refers to the global conflict that had ended in 1945, so the ‘journey to Jerusalem’ for western Europeans of the early twelfth century meant only one thing. Beyond providing a benchmark of honour and service, ‘those men who obeyed the command of the pope, who left so many and so much and who, as loyal knights (boni homines), captured Jerusalem by arms and assault’, the Anglo-Norman baron Brian Fitz-Count recalled in the early 1140s, ‘established Godfrey, a good and legitimate king’.3

Heavenly Jerusalem may have been brought closer by the Christian liberation of the Holy Places, but the terrestrial Holy Land needed its walls defending, its fields tending and its ports to thrive. The new Christian land overseas, Outremer, provided a fresh field for ambition, endeavour and settlement. In contradiction of the hindsight of history, those gathered around the rock called Calvary did not imagine the political enterprise as any more doomed than the religious. Although nervous westerners seeking to buy property in Palestine in mid-century might prefer land ‘around Jerusalem not near the border with the Turks’, appreciation of the providential nature of the 1099 victory, the ‘greatest event since the resurrection’ as one enthusiast had proclaimed it, imposed its own confidence and anticipation of permanence.4

Obligation, adventure, status, profit, piety and confidence sustained the maintenance and expansion of the bridgeheads established in Syria and Palestine in 1097–9. Not all western visitors to Outremer came to fight or to pray; many arrived to settle, trade or seek preferment. In contrast to Spain, Sicily or the Baltic, as a region for western European political, social and economic colonization, Outremer was more remote. Given a mismatch of climate and cultural behaviour, notably in hygiene and diet, it faced a constant threat of demographic deficit, with high death rates, especially in infant mortality. It also had to accommodate the needs of transient pilgrims, adventurers and sightseers as well as settlers. The fate of lordships, including the very highest, could be determined by the vagaries of western politics and dynasticism. The requirements of tourism imposed particular constraints: in 1112, Arnulf of Chocques was hurriedly reappointed patriarch of Jerusalem so that there would be somebody to preside over Holy Week ceremonies for the expectant hordes of pilgrims. Pilgrims contributed to the local economy, through taxes paid at the port of entry or the flourishing trade in souvenirs: opposite the Holy Sepulchre ran the Rue des Paumiers, Palmers’ Street, where the pilgrims bought the palm leaves to show they had accomplished their vows (and saving them a trip down to Jericho, where the palms grew). By mid-century, a local Frank – as all the western settlers were called by the indigenous and immigrant communities alike – Rorgo Fretel of Nazareth, had produced a convenient guide book to the now carefully managed holy geography, which had been meticulously established since 1099.5

Not all pilgrims ignored the military dimension of protecting this greatest of all Christian relics, many following their devotions at Jerusalem and the other Holy Sites with temporary service in the armies of the king. More lastingly, the needs of visiting pilgrims as much as local defence produced Outremer’s distinctive contribution to the Latin church, the military orders. The Order of the Hospital of St John, the Hospitallers, recognized by the pope in 1113, while acquiring martial functions, never lost its duty of care for the infirm and sick, mostly visitors; the Order of the Temple of Solomon, the Templars, began c.1120 as a fraternity devoted to guarding the pilgrim routes from Jaffa to Jerusalem. While civilian settlement followed patterns familiar to other frontiers of Christendom, the exigencies of defence, demography and devotion lent Outremer inherently distinctive characteristics. The modest level of western settlement compared with indigenous communities contrasted with the ideological imperative that drew westerners to the Holy Land in the first place. Whatever accommodations were reached with native peoples and powers, the inspiration and justification for western rule was not social or economic or even conventionally political. Christian Outremer could never completely lose its quality of a garrison created to protect the Holy Places of its faith.


A recurrent complaint voiced by combatants throughout the campaign of 1097–9 attacked backsliding crucesignati for failing to fulfil their vows. The army of God’s need for reinforcements always appeared urgent as massive casualties left the enterprise emaciated and vulnerable. Without reinforcements, the crusade would have failed, at Antioch as at Jerusalem. In the west preaching and recruitment had not stopped, the narrative neatness of later accounts concealing that the so-called Princes’ Crusade of 1096–9 formed part of a process that slowly gathered momentum, stimulated in part by letters and news from the front. In April 1099, perhaps in response to the crusade leaders’ letter to him from Antioch of September 1098 calling for the despatch of all remainingcrucesignati, Urban II authorized a fresh preaching campaign in Lombardy, conducted by Archbishop Anselm of Milan with considerable success, for what was soon regarded by a contemporary Norman chronicler as a distinct, second expedition to Jerusalem.6

The modern fashion of regarding the military expeditions to the east of 1100–1101 as part of the First Crusade not only challenges twelfth-century and later historiography, it also appears to misrepresent the understanding and intentions of those concerned. While there continued to be a steady stream of westerners heading east, not least from the maritime cities of Italy, another Genoese fleet embarking in 1100, the 1101 expedition constituted a separate operation. Recruitment occurred in the clear knowledge that Jerusalem was in Christian hands. Even where many involved had taken the cross some time before, the armies only coalesced after a new call to arms by Urban II’s successor, Paschal II, in December 1099, followed by a series of special councils in the spring and autumn of 1100 and a preaching tour of France by papal legates, efforts supplemented by letters from the Holy Land. The various contingents led by princes and prelates only began to march from September 1100, some not until the following spring. All the main groups crossed into Asia from the European shore of the Bosporus between April and July 1101. These campaigns constituted a self-consciously fresh initiative by the pope, his legates and local diocesans, comparable in numbers of recruits with the efforts of Urban II and his agents in 1095–6. The one difference with its predecessor was the disastrous result, fortuitously highlighting the remarkable achievement of 1099.

Recruitment in 1100–1101 appeared more regulated than in 1095–6, although this may reflect the evidence rather than the process: contemporaries were more alert to what was happening than five years before. Moreover, clear precedents had been set, to which was added the whip of unfulfilled vows. Paschal II’s threat to excommunicate defaulters in December 1099 was repeated by a synod of bishops led by the archbishop of Lyons at Anse the following spring. For those crucesignati who had never embarked and still more for those, like Stephen of Blois, who had deserted, official strictures lent weight to social and domestic peer pressure to redeem both vows and reputations. Victory in the east in 1099 made joining up attractive for new recruits and morally imperative for defaulters. Two papal legates reinforced the message in a tour of south-western France, in the footsteps of Urban II five years earlier, visiting Valence, Limoges and Poitiers in the autumn of 1100. The embrace of the recruiting drive stretched to Burgundy and into Germany. The speed of assembly and journeys to Constantinople; the substantial quantity of money, transports and war materials assembled; and firm command structures suggested tight organization. The bishop of Nevers later complained that some of his men had been forced to go by Count William II of Nevers.7 The enterprise was dominated by princes of church and state. Archbishop Hugh of Lyons, a veteran papal diplomat, went as the pope’s chief legate along with at least eleven other archbishops and bishops. The parade of secular rulers at least equalled that of 1096, including the embarrassed veterans Stephen of Blois and Hugh of Vermandois; William IX, duke of Aquitaine; the count of Nevers; Duke Odo and Count Stephen of Burgundy; Welf IV, duke of Bavaria; and Conrad, constable to Emperor Henry IV of Germany.

Motives appeared varied as much as before. Former deserters had experienced widespread public and private abuse. Most notoriously, Stephen of Blois’s strong-willed wife, Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, waged an incessant campaign of bullying and moral blackmail, her nagging extending to their bedroom, where, before intercourse, she would urge her disgraced husband to consider his reputation and return to the Holy Land.8 Adela’s preference for being a hero’s widow rather than a coward’s wife cannot have been unique. Elsewhere, relatives of deserters attempted to expiate the family shame by joining up. With the deserters and vow-defaulters went those seeking penance, either with specific crimes to expunge, such as William of Nevers who had burnt the village of Molesme, or from a more general sense of the burden of sin. Eagerness to become associated with this new glorious enterprise combined with piety and devotion. As well as authorizing prayers and preaching to celebrate the new Christian enclave at Jerusalem, Archbishop Manasses of Rheims circulated copies of the letters he had received from Anselm of Ribemont in 1098 with their powerful evocation of spiritual excitement and martial achievement.9 Fame spurred the enthusiasm of William of Aquitaine. The cause of Jerusalem transcended the political divide of the Investiture Contest, in posthumous tribute to Urban II’s triumph. The disparate incentives were subsumed in ceremonies of taking the cross, now unequivocally associated with the notion of pilgrimage, which again provided the focal points of propaganda, commitment and recruitment. The earlier expedition had evidently failed to exhaust the supply of enthusiasts even in areas heavily represented in 1096, such as Aquitaine, although Burgundy, Lombardy and southern Germany loomed larger than before. Unfortunately for them, numbers and enthusiasm proved insufficient.

The Lombard army left Milan on 13 September 1100, before some other leaders such as William of Aquitaine had even taken the cross. Reaching Constantinople around the end of February or the beginning of March, the later stages of their overland journey were marked by the sort of extravagant foraging that easily slipped into pillage and casual atrocities against locals. Further trouble erupted during the Lombards’ two-month stay outside Constantinople, suggesting that the leadership lacked a firm hold on their followers. In late April, the Emperor Alexius managed to ship the Lombards across the Bosporous to Nicomedia to await further western contingents. Alexius’s response to this new wave of western armies was equivocal. Unlike five years before, he does not seem to have solicited fresh western aid, although his position in Asia Minor remained precarious. In his experience of the intervening years was conceived the fear and distrust of what he later described to his son as ‘the commotion coming from the West’ that threatened ‘the high majesty of the New Rome and the prestige of the Imperial throne’.10 According to his daughter’s apologia much later, Alexius adopted an indulgent but exasperated pose in 1101, keen to avoid armed confrontation near the capital, nervous of his own security, eager to influence the westerners’ strategy but prepared to subsidize their efforts by money, advice and men, and reluctantly acquiescing in their plans. As in 1097, he extracted promises that conquests in Asia Minor would be restored to Byzantine sovereignty and obtained from William of Aquitaine’s party, at least, oaths of fealty. Apart from logistic help, Alexius could also offer the new crusaders a veteran commander in Raymond of Toulouse, who had been the emperor’s guest since the summer of 1100, welcomed as an ally against the increasingly vexatious Norman rulers of Antioch. Raymond helped mediate agreement between Alexius and the unruly Lombards before joining the expedition itself on the arrival of his former comrade Stephen of Blois with the forces from northern France and Burgundy. Together with the small German following of the constable Conrad and a contingent of Turcopoles supplied by Alexius, the crusader army gathered at Nicomedia in early June 1101.

It was later claimed that Alexius had advised against a new assault on the Turks of Asia Minor, urging the westerners to follow the coast road through Byzantine territory to Cilicia and thence to the Holy Land. Western sources describe a fierce debate within the crusader camp, with the veterans Raymond’s and Stephen of Blois’s argument for a march in the footsteps of the 1097 campaign being overruled by the Lombards, who determined to attempt the rescue of Bohemond, captured by the Danishmends the year before and now held at Niksar, in the north-east of Asia Minor. There were even rumours that the Lombards planned a descent into Iraq to attack Baghdad.11 Such grandiose schemes, fuelled by an incomprehension of geography or distance and an optimistic reliance on divine favour, however ludicrous in retrospect, were hardly more extravagant than the conquest of Jerusalem may have seemed in 1097, except that now the Turks understood their enemy better. They avoided battles and presented a more united front, the Danishmends being joined by troops from Aleppo and Harran in northern Iraq. However, the Lombard decision to free Bohemund, while offering the prospect of the release of the finest field commander of his generation, opened the prospect of reigniting the feud with Count Raymond. Yet, paradoxically, Raymond may have gone along with the plan, hoping to negotiate a favourable deal in Syria with a grateful and obligated Bohemund.

This western force, declining to await the other armies even then arriving at Constantinople, left Nicomedia around 3 June, carrying with them the Milanese relics of St Ambrose and Raymond’s Holy Lance from Antioch. After capturing Ankara on 23 June, the crusaders headed north-east to Chankiri, which proved too strong to take. Thereafter, constantly harried by troops of the Seljuk sultan Kilij Arslan, the westerners fought on painfully until they encountered the main Turkish army of Danishmends and their allies near Merzifon early in August. After days of fierce fighting, Turkish pressure proved too much, panic causing the Christian army to disintegrate. Only a few of the leaders, including Raymond of Toulouse, Stephen of Blois and the archbishop of Milan and their military entourages, escaped to limp back to Constantinople; the infantry, the women and civilians and many knights were massacred.

The other armies fared no better. William of Aquitaine, who had left home in March, joined forces en route to Constantinople with Welf of Bavaria arriving at the Byzantine capital just as the Lombards were leaving Nicomedia in early June. A few days later they were joined by William of Nevers, who, for unknown reasons, decided to try to catch up with the Lombard army. By the time the Nivernais force reached Ankara, William abandoned the pursuit, turning south towards Konya and the main route to Syria. After fighting off Turks, presumably of Kilij Arslan, William reached Konya in mid-August. Finding his force insufficient to capture or intimidate the city, and too vulnerable to await the Aquitainians and Bavarians, William decided on a dash for Cilicia, pressing on to Ereghli, where his army was surrounded and destroyed. Once again the cavalry abandoned the infantry and non-combatants to their fate; once again the leaders escaped, ultimately finding their way, destitute, to Antioch.

Hard on the Nivernais’ heels came the large army of William of Aquitaine and Welf of Bavaria, which included Hugh of Vermandois and, more exotically, Ida, dowager margravine of Austria. At Constantinople, rumours about the Lombards’ fate persuaded some nervous Germans sensibly but expensively to embark by sea for the Holy Land; according to one them, the chronicler Ekkehard abbot of Aura, they reached Jaffa in six weeks.12 Their comrades who chose the land route set out in mid-July along the route of the First Crusade from Nicaea, to Dorylaeum, Philomelium and Konya. Despite careful and extensive preparations, once they were out of Byzantine territory food quickly ran out, and Turkish attacks intensified. Reaching Ereghli at the beginning of September, the Christians were surprised by Kilij Arslan’s army and routed. Many of the leaders, equipped with finer horses and loyal servants, escaped with their lives if not their dignity or possessions. Hugh of Vermandois died of his wounds at Tarsus; Archbishop Thiemo of Salzburg was captured and later, according to popular legend, martyred; and Ida of Austria disappeared, most likely killed but later rumoured to have ended her days in a Muslim prince’s harem, the medieval west being almost as obsessed by titillating images of Muslim sexual pred-atoriness and licence as by their blasphemy, stories of miscegenation proving especially popular. The survivors of the Ereghli disaster, including William of Aquitaine, struggled through to Cilicia and thence to Antioch. Once in Syria, having helped Raymond of Toulouse capture the port of Tortosa, the aristocratic remnants of the three armies fulfilled their vows as pilgrims. Many returned home bankrupt in pocket and reputation. A few stayed to assist the new king of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, sharing in his mauling by the Egyptians at Ramla in May 1102, and, like the hapless Stephen of Blois, finding a martyr’s crown or, like Arpin, viscount of Bourges, a Fatimid prison.

If nothing was gained by the 1101 expeditions, thousands of lives and livres were lost together with the westerners’ local reputation for invincibility and further trust of the Greeks, who were glibly cast as scapegoats for the failure alongside the sins of the participants. Yet the campaigns possessed a wider significance. While establishing a topos of theologically explicable failure in terms of the moral deficiencies of those involved, in practical terms it imposed limits on eastern ambitions. The Lombards had envisaged capturing Baghdad; Urban II had allegedly encouraged the Milanese to think of conquering Egypt. Such dreams of a Christian conquest of the Near East died in the hills above Merzifon and the marshes around Ereghli. The enterprise of the Holy Land remained thereafter practically confined to securing Syria and Palestine; larger schemes were devised in the twelfth and later centuries, especially involving the power on the Nile, but the events of 1101 showed that Urban II’s revolution of history could turn only so far.


The Holy Land the westerners sought to control and defend possessed geographic but not political definition. The territory that at various times came under Latin rulers in the century after 1097 stretched some 600 miles from the Gulf of Alexandretta and Cilicia in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea in the south. Dominating the region is a chain of mountains running from the tall Amanus and Nosairi ranges, rising to 9,000 feet, in the north, through the parallel Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains flanking the Biqa valley in the centre, to the hills of Samaria and Judea in the south, which, though lower, still rise in places to over 3,000 feet. To the west stretches a narrow, fertile coastal plain, occasionally interrupted by tongues of hill country, as along the Lebanese shore and at Haifa, irrigated by the released winter rainfall brought to the highlands by the prevailing westerly winds. To the east the mountains are bounded by a deep depression carrying the valleys of the Orontes, the Litani and the Jordan, which, except where the Anti-Lebanon rises beyond the Biqa, gives way to a plateau, fertile in places such as eastern Galilee, before the landscape merges with treeless scrub bordering the desert that stands to the east and south. In southern Palestine, where the coastal plain is wider, the hills descend gently to meet the formidable Negev desert. There were few roads from the coast to the interior, the chief routes leading from St Symeon via Antioch to Aleppo; from Tripoli to Homs; from Tyre to the Biqa; and from Acre to Galilee and on to Damascus. Although both the hills and plains were more forested than in later centuries, and many areas were agriculturally fertile and productive, particularly the coastal strip, the Orontes valley and Galilee, the climate, especially in the south, was unforgiving when compared with the areas many of the western settlers had left behind, with scorching dry summers and, as Stephen of Blois had discovered to his surprise, cool, wet winters.13 Summer in Jerusalem, high in the Judean hills, could see midday temperatures daily reach the 90s F (mid-30s C), with an average in July and August of over 75 F (25 C), but in mid-winter see average temperatures in the mid-40s F (c.8 C) with frost at night. The coast, although milder in winter, experiences considerable humidity in summer, while the rift valley at Jericho and the Dead Sea, well over 1,000 feet below sea level, is stifling in summer, with temperatures well above 100 degrees F.

The physical context exerted a profound influence on power and settlement. It was a relatively small space that the westerners came to occupy, in area comparable with England or a medium-sized state in the USA, such as New York or Alabama. Even in the twelfth century, when summer military campaigns in Europe could cover hundreds of miles, Outremer was a narrow region. Warfare was intimate, witnessed by the long succession of captured Frankish commanders who languished sometimes for years in Muslim prisons. (Whether from Frankish charity, violence, incompetence or chance, few if any Muslim generals suffered similar indignities in return.) The western obsession with the region created its own imaginary space of boundless extent, a liminal world of religious contest, aliens and otherness in which usually level-headed eyewitnesses such as Fulcher of Chartres, a Jerusalem resident for over a quarter of a century, felt compelled to locate marvellous fantastical beasts against the evidence of his own eyes: basilisks, Capricorns, chimeras, dragons, etc.14 The mundane reality determined a costive high politics at once sensitive, vulnerable and dependent on intruders from outside. Cities were crowded except where, as in Jerusalem, religion and strategy dictated social exclusion. Yet, despite the smallness of scale, and the absence of any directed policy of immigration from the west (in contrast to other areas of western conquest in Spain, the Baltic or Sicily), previous depopulation and some Muslim emigration allowed for limited but not negligible western colonization.

In terms of agricultural opportunities, while Antioch and Galilee were prosperous, the rural economy of Palestine scarcely matched that of the north and western Mediterranean, where many settlers came from. However, exploitation of the natural resources sustained an economy centred on towns, cities and trade with a prominent role for money. Power followed wealth, the fragmentation of Fatimid and Seljuk control over the region re-emphasizing the importance of the sea-ports – Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut – and the linked commercial emporia of the interior, such as Aleppo and Damascus. For centuries rule had been exercised by foreign interlopers with little or no interest in creating new structures of government. Despite the political chaos of the later eleventh century, the continuity imposed by geography and economics was reflected in an underlying administrative organization left largely undisturbed by successive conquerors: the Byzantine district (civitas) of Caesarea of the seventh century lay behind the twelfth-century lordship of Caesarea; the Roman province of Palaestina Secunda corresponded with the Palestinian boundaries of the principality of Galilee.15 Socially, economically and religiously, village life, outside war zones, remained largely undisturbed. Nevertheless, to enjoy the benefits of dominion, the new invaders, like their predecessors, needed to master the strongpoints, the markets and the trade routes. This required manpower, precisely what the newcomers lacked.

When most of the surviving first crusaders left Syria in the late summer of 1099, western conquests comprised the county of Edessa, the remote Franco-Armenian condominium ruled by Baldwin of Boulogne straddling the upper Euphrates; Bohemund’s principality in northern Syria, based on Antioch and the lower Orontes valley but with ostensible interests in Cilicia; and a narrow stretch of land in Judea and Samaria running along the west bank of the river Jordan from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, including Tiberias, Nablus, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron, which was linked to the sea by a neck of territory surrounding the road down from the Holy City to the port of Jaffa, the nascent kingdom of Jerusalem ruled by Godfrey of Bouillon, assisted by Tancred of Lecce. In addition there remained elements of the Provençal army with Count Raymond, desperate for his own sovereign conquest; a large Pisan war fleet that had brought the new papal legate Daimbert of Pisa; and detachments of Greek troops, such as the garrison at Lattakiah, trying to make good Alexius’s broken-backed policy of imposing his own overlordship in the wake of the Christian invasion of Syria. While Bohemund’s military establishment appeared capable of sustained aggression, Baldwin of Edessa relied on his small, perforce tight-knit entourage of knights supported by successful diplomacy and local alliances. Together, on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem at Christmas 1099, Bohemund and Baldwin were apparently able to muster an impressive company, of hundreds perhaps even thousands, but only because it was greatly swelled by the Italians accompanying Archbishop Daimbert. In Jerusalem, Duke Godfrey had been left with as few as 300 knights and 2,000 infantry, the westerners occupying barely more than one street in the devastated city outside the manned fortifications. Manpower was insufficient to clear away all the corpses from the July massacre; the carcasses and stench of putrefaction remained evident to visitors over five months later. For some years later, visiting pilgrims noted the remains of corpses littering the roads, the devastation around Jerusalem and the constant fear of Muslim attack.16 Although, as Tancred showed by annexing Galilee in the summer of 1099, some said with little more than a score of knights, small bands could operate effectively in the chaotic political conditions of ill-defended rural Palestine, protection of the Christian enclaves, especially Jerusalem, let alone securing their stability by extending their frontiers to stronger natural boundaries, depended on help from outside, particularly from the west. Generations successfully maintaining and expanding their holdings failed to obscure the central strategic fact. Militarily, Outremer was never entirely self-sufficient, its survival relying initially on transient western soldiers, sailors and pilgrims; then settlers from Europe; later new military orders, recruited and funded from the west, and western investment in the form of western endowments for Holy Land religious houses; and, throughout, Christian fleets, notably from north Italian maritime cities. Just as the early conquests along the Levantine coast relied on Italian sea-power and often pilgrims’ muscle, so the army that faced Saladin in the final crisis of the twelfth-century kingdom of Jerusalem in July 1187 contained visiting crusaders, troops of the Templars and Hospitallers funded from Europe and local mercenaries paid with money deposited in Jerusalem by sympathetic western rulers.

Nowhere was this dependence on the west more obvious than in the conquest of the coast between 1099 and 1124, where the capture of ports relied on foreign maritime assistance as allies or mercenaries: Jaffa in 1099 (Pisa); Haifa in 1100 (Venice); Arsuf and Caesarea in 1101 (Genoa); Tortosa and Jubail in 1102 (Genoa); Lattakiah in 1103 (Genoa); Acre in 1104 (Genoa); Tripoli in 1109 (Genoa and Provence); Beirut in 1110 (Genoa and Pisa); Sidon in 1110 (Norwegian); Tyre in 1124 (Venice). Without a fleet, as at Tyre in 1111, or where a fleet was repulsed, as at Sidon in 1108, land attacks failed. The crucial importance of the maritime cities in the establishment of the Frankish principalities on the Levant coast was reflected in the privileges afforded them in the conquered cities, such as the Genoese at Antioch (1098), Jubail (1102) and Acre (1104) or the Venetians at Tyre in 1124, where they were rewarded with a third of the city and its territory. Along with the Pisans, the Genoese and Venetians gained privileged access to ports and markets, received extensive property and rights of jurisdiction over their own nationals, which allowed them to create more or less immune quarters in chosen maritime cities in which visiting merchants could stay and from which they could trade. Such was the importance of the Genoese in the creation of the kingdom of Jerusalem under its first king, Baldwin I, that later in the century they were able to make good a spurious claim that their contributions had been commemorated by an inscription erected in the church of the Holy Sepulchre.17

The conquest of the coast did not immediately lead to the peaceful occupation of the hinterland; the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, the slopes of Mt Carmel and the Lebanon remained unsafe for a generation and more. Banditry, from both sides of the frontier, persisted, as did raids by neighbouring rulers. However, with the occupation of the coastal ports came security of the lifelines with the west and control of the main trade routes with the interior. Although until late in the century return on commerce probably disappointed the Italian investors, without such a hold the settlements could not have survived financially, economically or demographically. Strategically, each port gained reduced the scope of Egyptian fleets; the loss of Tyre prevented the Fatimids from threatening the trade and pilgrim routes between the Holy Land, Cyprus, Byzantium and western Europe.

It is often argued that the Italian involvement in the Holy Land venture reveals sordid materialism, even nascent capitalism at odds with devotion to the crusading ideal. This is nonsense. The typology of a conflict between ‘medieval’ faith and ‘modern’ commercialism is meaningless; faith is as much a feature of the modern world as materialism was of the medieval. At best such generalizations are literary conventions; at worst a form of condescending historical snobbery. Either way, such views belie the evidence. Writers such as the twelfth-century Genoese Caffaro suggest civic patriotism, but his Liberation of the East (De Liberatione Civitatum Orientis) and most of the other evidence available point to a mix of religious idealism and perceived self-interest familiar in many other crusaders.18 The Italian presence in the east predated 1095; there was an Amalfitan hospital in Jerusalem in the early 1070s. The involvement of the maritime cities formed part of a process whereby the eastern Mediterranean was opened to western interests, a process that embraced the military, colonial and pious as well, the Italian merchant and the crusader playing complementary, related roles. The investment in fleets was great; the chance of disaster strong; the financial risks huge; the returns uncertain. With the resulting profits hardly matching expectations until late in the century, the Genoese privatized their holdings in Lattakiah, Jubail, Antioch and Acre to the Embriaco family, while the Venetians made over their rural possessions around Tyre to the Contarini.19 The accusation that the privileges granted the Italians constituted them as states within a state, apparent in the thirteenth century, cannot be sustained for periods of strong secular rule in the twelfth. The commitment of these cities and their citizens to the Holy Land was neither more nor less idealistic than their fellow Latin Christians. The idea that enthusiasm for the cross failed to penetrate these bastions of early capital is inherently unlikely, based on a flawed model of human behaviour and contradicted by the evidence.

The conquest of the coast formed part of an often desperate struggle to maintain the initial conquests in Syria and Palestine from a plethora of enemies: Byzantium; the Seljuks of Iraq; the Turks of Mosul, Aleppo and Damascus; and the Fatimids of Egypt. Well might one of the settlers, Baldwin I’s chaplain Fulcher of Chartres, recall in pious wonder: ‘why did they not, as innumerable locusts in a little field, so completely devour and destroy us?’, a vivid image from one who witnessed in his time in Jerusalem at least three serious plagues of locusts (1114, 1117, 1120).20 Across the political and religious divide, the issue appeared the same. While contemporary Muslim poets satisfied themselves with extravagant lamentations on the violence and devastation wreaked by the Franks in successive massacres of civilian populations in the cities captured from 1098 onwards, the Damascene lawyer al-Sulami, writing c.1105, shrewdly noted their weakness: ‘the small amount of cavalry and equipment they have at their disposal and the distance from which their reinforcements come’. He concluded that this presented ‘an opportunity which must be seized at once’.21 The Muslim rulers of Syria and Palestine needed little encouragement, less out of religious zeal promoted by the heightened rhetoric of fear and outrage, often generated by refugees from the conquered areas, than from motives of political and commercial self-interest. Although the Frankish policy of massacre and exclusion of Muslims from the cities they captured up to 1110 differed from customary behaviour, politically they were treated less exceptionally. The impression left by the twelfth-century chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi of Damascus, a centre for Palestinian refugees, is of the Franks as one of many fractious groups in a region of competing princelings, each jockeying for advantage. Ironically, the western interlopers immediately offered an additional diplomatic and military option for many Muslim rulers eager for allies, especially in the chronic rivalries between Mosul, Aleppo and Damascus. The creation of Christian Outremer, therefore, revolved around military security, but not just its own.


6. Syria in the Twelfth Century


7. Palestine and Egypt in the Twelfth Century

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