Post-classical history

The Latin East



The First Crusade established a Latin Christian presence on the eastern Mediterranean seaboard which lasted for almost 200 years. The expedition contained contingents from many areas of Europe, including Flanders, Normandy, Languedoc, and Lorraine. Notwithstanding their different origins, the crusaders who settled in the Levant were identified by the word ‘Franks’ by contemporary Muslims and Latins in the East. The capture of Cyprus in 1191 strengthened their community in the Levant and the island remained a Christian outpost long after the fall of the mainland settlements. Following the sack of Constantinople in 1204 the crusaders took control of most of the former Byzantine empire. The Greeks recovered much of their territory quite rapidly but Venetian Crete and the Latin principality of Achaea survived. Each of these western settlements had a distinctive identity. This chapter will examine their character and their impact on the conquered lands.

The Latin East, 1098-1187

Between 1098 and 1109 the Franks carved out four settlements in the eastern Mediterranean region: the county of Edessa, the principality of Antioch, the kingdom of Jerusalem, and the county of Tripoli. It is a controversial issue whether these territories were an early example of western European colonialism.

Some historians believe that the concept of colonialism carries too many emotive associations to be useful when discussing the history of the crusades because it tends to evoke images based upon episodes such as the British settlement of North America or the Spanish invasion of the New World. They maintain that traditional definitions suggest that a colony is politically directed by, or economically exploited for the benefit of, a homeland, or subject to really large-scale migration. These do not fit the Latin settlements in the Levant before 1291.

Guibert of Nogent, writing in c.1108, described the Frankish settlers as ‘Holy Christendom’s new colonists’. The thirteenth- century writer of L’estoire de Eracles, claimed, ‘When this land was conquered it was by no chief lord, but by a crusade and by the movement of pilgrims and assembled people.’ Conquest was undertaken to recover and assure the security of Christian control of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and therefore it may be worth putting forward the concept of religious colonization. The resulting ‘colony’ can be defined as territory captured and settled primarily for religious reasons, the inhabitants of which maintain close contact with their homeland principally on account of a shared faith, and their need for financial and military assistance.

After the capture of Jerusalem strategic and economic considerations dictated that the Franks’ main priority was to secure the coastal cities of the Levant. In 1101 Arsuf and Caesarea fell, in 1104 Haifa and Acre were taken, in 1110 Beirut and Sidon, and in 1124 Tyre. The only major port still to elude their control was Ascalon. This was particularly dangerous for the Franks because it acted as a base for the Egyptian fleet to raid the coast and it was the source of numerous incursions into the southern area of the kingdom of Jerusalem. King Fulk (1131-43) reduced the threat by constructing castles in the vicinity of Ascalon and this increased pressure on the city was the prelude to a successful siege in 1153. The establishment of Frankish authority over some inland regions was a slow process and the eastern spread of the Christian settlements was checked and sometimes countered by neighbouring Muslim powers; Antioch, for example, faced a series of attacks from the Seljuk

Turks between 1110 and 1115. The Franks had conquered parts of Cilicia during the First Crusade but their hold on the region was rarely secure; it was subject to Byzantine invasions, while the native Armenian princes also contested control and by the late 1130s had secured the upper hand over the Latins. Frankish expansion to the south and east of the Dead Sea was initiated by King Baldwin I and the lordship of Transjordan was established, based at the castle of al-Shaubak.

The settlers had conquered an area inhabited by a bewildering variety of races and creeds. There was a native Jewish population; Druzes; Zoroastrians; Christians such as Armenians, Maronites, Jacobites, and Nestorians, together with a sizeable Greek Orthodox community. There were also Muslims: both Sunni and Shi‘i. Some Europeans were familiar with the eastern Mediterranean on account of pilgrimage and commerce but because the crusaders wanted to capture and settle the Holy Land the relationship between the Franks and the indigenous population was very different to that in any of their previous encounters.

An important element in the process of settlement was the Latins’ treatment of the native inhabitants. The early years of the conquest were marked by a series of massacres, probably as a result of a policy whereby sites of religious or strategic significance were to be reserved to Christians. But it soon became apparent that this was counterproductive. The Franks had taken control of a large area of land; certainly too much for them to occupy with their own people. After the capture of Jerusalem many of the crusaders returned home. A second wave of crusaders arrived in 1101 but again relatively few remained in the Latin East. Although a steady flow of westerners came to settle, it was obvious that the Franks lacked sufficient manpower to rebuild and defend urban communities. In consequence their approach to the local population changed. At Sidon in 1110 the Muslims negotiated the opportunity to remain on their land and to cultivate it for the benefit of the Franks. Further north, Prince Tancred of Antioch was so concerned that native labourers should stay on his lands that he arranged for the wives of local workers to return from Aleppo where they had fled for safety. Such episodes did not mark a definitive turning point in the treatment of the indigenous population but it is evident that the Franks became aware of the need to form a modus vivendi with it. A growing sense of realism extended to relations between the Franks and their Muslim neighbours. Important activities such as trade could not take place without a high level of interaction between them and numerous truces were agreed because it was simply not possible to fight all the time. In some instances contact between Muslims and Christians developed further and on rare occasions there is evidence that close relationships formed. For example, Usamah ibn Munqidh, a contemporary Muslim commentator, was friendly with a group of Templars who protected him from harassment by an over-zealous westerner. This incident also demonstrates how the occasional crusader found it hard to understand the settlers’ ability to coexist with the Muslims at some times and to fight holy wars against them at others.

Because it was impractical for the Franks to drive out or persecute all those who did not observe the Latin rite, they adopted an attitude of relative tolerance towards other creeds, whether they were eastern Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. All were permitted to practise their faith, albeit under certain restrictions; for example, Muslims and Jews, who, as we shall see, had a status similar to Christians and Jews in Islamic states, could visit Jerusalem, but in theory were not allowed to reside in the holy city. Muslims and Jews formed the lowest level of society in the Latin East, at least when it was expressed in legal terms. Above them were the eastern Christians and at the top, the Catholic Franks. Of the native Christians, the monophysite Jacobites, Armenians, and Maronites (before 1181 when their Church joined with Rome) were allowed to preserve their religious autonomy, but in spite of being Christian their heretical beliefs meant that they were excluded from the precincts of the Holy Sepulchre. Religious differences notwithstanding, some intermarriage took place between them and the Franks, particularly in the county of Edessa where most of the population was Armenian. The native nobility were seen as worthy marriage partners for the westerners and the county became a Frankish-Armenian enclave. Society in the rest of the Latin East was more polyglot and probably less integrated than in Edessa.

The Greek Orthodox community formed an important element in the population, especially in the principality of Antioch. When the First Crusade set out it is likely that Pope Urban II and the crusaders themselves intended that the Greek Orthodox patriarchs of Jerusalem and Antioch would retain their canonical authority; but military necessity and worsening relations with the Greeks forced the leaders of the new settlements, who were anyway not sympathetic to Orthodoxy, to install their own Latin patriarchs and bishops.

News of the pogroms in the Rhineland caused the Jewish population in the Levant to fear the arrival of the First Crusade. Many chose to resist the invasion and fought and died alongside the Muslims in the early years of the conquest. Once the situation had calmed down, however, most opted to live in urban areas controlled by the Franks. Like all non-Catholics they could not hold fiefs, but many were farmers; others were involved in trades such as dyeing and glassmaking. On several counts the Jews in the Latin East were treated much better than their counterparts in western Europe. They could practise their religion in relative freedom and they were not subjected to crude dress regulations compelling them to wear badges or specially coloured clothing which advertised their faith and invited hostility and segregation. It is notable that no anti-Jewish pogroms took place in the Latin East, in contrast to the situation in the West.

The pattern of Frankish settlement was determined by the westerners’ lack of manpower. But while large numbers of settlers lived in urban areas, the traditional stereotype of most of the Franks living safely in their castles or cities is not entirely accurate. It now appears that a significant percentage of them occupied villages and manor houses. ‘New towns’ (villeneuves), in which free western peasants would be given land by a local lord in return for 10 per cent of the produce appear to have been quite common.

The coastal plains of the Levant were fertile areas capable of supporting a range of crops. Inland regions such as the district around the Sea of Galilee could also yield plentiful harvests. A favourable climate and the use of old Roman aqueducts and irrigation channels allowed the farmers to complement their main output of cereals with fast-growing summer crops such as millet and maize. Vines, olive groves, and orchards also played a significant part, and more specialized crops such as sugar and cotton were also cultivated, mainly for the export market. Small-scale industries might be found in rural areas, such as iron-ore mining in Edessa, but they contributed little to the economy as a whole. As far as the native peasantry were concerned, apart from the change in overlord, it appears that little had changed. After the initial brutality of the conquest the Franks usually treated the indigenous peasants well, principally on account of their economic importance. They had to pay revenue based on the traditional Islamic kharaj, which could be up to one-third of arable crops and one-half of the produce from vineyards and olive groves. In contrast to the West, very little land was held in demesne, the ‘home farm’ where villagers worked for their lord for a specified time each week.

While the basic functioning of agricultural life continued largely undisturbed the urban centres of the Levant—particularly those on the coast—developed dramatically. The ports of the Latin East became thriving commercial centres that attracted a substantial volume of international trade. Tyre and Acre were outlets for the trade routes of the Orient and the Frankish settlements’ position as a meeting point between East and West meant that the mercantile cities of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice took great interest in them. The Italians appreciated the settlers’ need for naval help to conquer the coastal strip and they extracted a price for their support. In return for their participation in the siege of Tyre the Venetians negotiated rights to one-third of the city and its territories, and numerous privileges regarding fiscal and judicial immunity. In consequence of arrangements concluded in other cities, the merchant communities usually occupied their own clearly demarcated districts. The Genoese quarter in Acre, for example, contained a central square bordered by the church of St Lawrence (Genoa’s patron saint) and a palace containing a law court. The district also had its own fortified gateways, as well as bakehouses, shops, and accommodation for visiting merchants. Occasionally the Italians’ commercial instincts overrode their religious affiliations—for instance in their willingness to ignore papal prohibitions about trading with Muslims in raw materials used for war—but Italian shipping was crucial to the Latin settlers because it provided a lifeline to the West. After the capture of Jerusalem the number of Europeans who wanted to travel to the East rose dramatically, and by transporting pilgrims to the Levant the Italians enabled large numbers of westerners to visit the holy places. The pilgrims also helped the economy, both by spending money on living expenses and by making donations to ecclesiastical institutions.

It was in commercial terms, however, that the Italian merchants provided most benefit to the settlers. The substantial flow of goods through the ports of the Levant generated a sizeable income for the Franks, especially in the first half of the thirteenth century, and in spite of the wide-ranging tax exemptions held by the western traders the sheer volume of commerce they encouraged was more than enough to compensate for the privileges given to them in the first instance. Traders from Byzantium, North Africa, Syria, and Iraq did not possess the same immunities as the Italians and had to pay taxes on sales and on goods arriving and leaving the ports. Many of these dues were Muslim in origin, showing how the settlers adopted local practices, particularly when they proved profitable. Acre was the busiest port in the Frankish East. The Muslim writer, Ibn Jubayr, described it in 1185: ‘Acre is . . . a port of call for all ships. It is the focus of ships and caravans, and the meeting place of Muslim and Christian merchants from all regions. Its roads and streets are choked by the press of men, so that it is hard to put foot to ground. It stinks and it is filthy, being full of refuse and excrement.’

Goods arriving by sea would be landed and transferred to one of the numerous markets that existed in the main ports. Smaller markets dealt in everyday items such as fish or vegetables, and others specialized in export products such as sugar. The chief source of prosperity was the spice trade: a considerable volume of goods from the Asiatic trade routes passed through the Frankish settlements bound for Byzantium and western Europe. Cloth was a common import from the West. Officials weighed the goods and items were taxed, mostly according to their value, but, in the case of bulk products such as wine, oil, and grain, according to quantity. The level of taxes varied from 4 per cent to 25 per cent. A king or lord would award an individual a proportion of the profits, sometimes in the form of a money-fief, from a particular tax. After these grants had been deducted by the market or port office concerned the remainder of the money would be paid to local and central treasuries.

The political development of the kingdom of Jerusalem demonstrates how the Franks reconciled familiar western customs with the need to adapt to the circumstances which faced them in the East. The great lordships resembled European-style marches where the nobles could run their own affairs with regard to the administration of justice and foreign policy. The inhabitants of these palatinates were, therefore, potentially outside royal control. Many lords also held money-fiefs, which were less common in the West, in addition to their landed property. These helped to ensure their financial survival in the face of territorial losses. As vassals of the king, however, military service was required from all of them, whereas in the West this might be commuted for money. The king held the wealthiest and most prestigious territory including the ports of Tyre and Acre and, of course, the city of Jerusalem. Although he lost various regalian rights during the twelfth century, such as the minting of coins and the right to shipwrecks, his status as anointed ruler, combined with his economic power-base, meant that as long as he was a capable individual it was rare for his vassals to challenge his authority successfully.

Although the chief court in the kingdom was the High Court, attended by the king’s own vassals, an occasional but significant forum for debating the political direction was a parlement attended by nobles, senior churchmen, leading members of the military orders, and sometimes the important townsmen. Parlements agreed to the levying of extraordinary general taxes to help pay the cost of warfare, as in 1166 and 1183, or they might debate the choice of a suitable husband—often a westerner—for an important heiress. They could also consider diplomatic matters. In 1171 an assembly discussed whom in the West to approach for military help: the nobles wanted to send envoys to Europe and were shocked when King Amalric revealed his intention to travel in person to Constantinople to seek the support of the Greeks: they protested vigorously but the king had sufficient authority to execute his plan.

Before the accession of the leper-king Baldwin IV in 1174 the rulers of Jerusalem generally had the upper hand in their relations with the nobility. They could impose their control either by legislation or through the manipulation of royal rights to dispose of land. An example of the former is King Amalric’s assise sur la ligece of c.1166, which laid down that all vassals of the tenants-in-chief—known as rear-vassals—should pay liege homage to the king. This created a direct link between the crown and most fief-holders, potentially bypassing the greater nobility. The king benefited from this arrangement because he could call on the support of the rear-vassals if their lord was in conflict with him. The rear-vassals gained because their oaths to the king meant that they could take complaints about their lord directly to him, whereas previously the independence of the great fiefs had allowed great lords to act with impunity towards them.

It was not in the king’s interest to allow the magnates to become too powerful and he could forestall this in a number of ways. When an individual died without heirs the lordship reverted to royal control. Given the high mortality rates in the Holy Land, this happened quite frequently and kings sometimes considered dividing up the territory into a number of small, and by definition less threatening, lordships. Another method of reducing the nobles’ power was to give them landholdings scattered within the boundaries of other lordships. Opponents would therefore find it more difficult to form a territorial powerbase. These practices might well have been successful in consolidating the strength of the crown, but in any case, from the 1140s onwards, the heavy costs of maintaining fortifications and sustaining losses caused by Muslim raids meant that the nobles were being forced to concede land and castles to religious houses and the military orders.

A noticeable feature of the ruling families of the Latin settlements during the twelfth century was the prominence of women. The daughters of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem (1118-31) were a particularly dynamic group. When the king died his eldest daughter, Melisende, her husband Fulk, formerly the count of Anjou, and their infant son, Baldwin, were crowned co-rulers. In spite of Fulk’s attempts to rule in his own right he could not command enough support to displace Melisende and he was forced to govern with the queen. When he died in 1143 his son, Baldwin III, was only 13 years old and Melisende acted as regent for him. Baldwin came of age in 1145 but his mother refused to hand over power and ruled for seven more years. In the context of twelfth-century society this was remarkable: for a woman to rule in her own right was extremely rare, as the opposition in England to the succession of Matilda demonstrated; indeed, outside the Latin East, Queen Urraca of Leon-Castile (1109-26) is, perhaps, the only figure comparable to Melisende. As the struggle in Jerusalem developed, mother and son formed their own separate administrations and issued charters in their own names. It was usually deemed necessary for a ruler to lead troops in battle, a requirement which was judged to rule out women, yet in the kingdom of Jerusalem—probably the most exposed region in Latin Christendom—Melisende held on to power. She appointed a military commander and evidently governed with sufficient authority to satisfy the leading men of the kingdom, because Baldwin could not gather enough support to displace her until 1152. Even when he finally gained the upper hand, Melisende continued to play an influential role in the government of Jerusalem; but these difficulties were as nothing compared to the upheaval caused by her younger sister, Princess Alice, who attempted to rule the principality of Antioch after the death of her husband in 1130. The princess was opposed by most of the local magnates and in her efforts to stay in control she sought the support of the Greeks, the Muslims of Aleppo, the counts of Tripoli and Edessa, and the patriarch of Antioch. A highly divisive episode ended after seven years when she was forced to concede power to Raymond of Poitiers, a westerner whom the local nobles had invited to marry her daughter.

Relations between the rulers of the Frankish settlements were generally quite good although occasionally tensions came to the surface. The Latin East consisted of four different territories. Each had a distinctive character and was capable of independent action, although it was obviously in the settlements’ interests to pull together against common enemies. Relations between Jerusalem and its smaller northern neighbour, the county of Tripoli, were usually close and the count was a vassal of the king. The counts of Edessa paid homage to Jerusalem, and by the 1130s they were also vassals of the prince of Antioch. The prince of Antioch owed no formal obligation to the king of Jerusalem but in theory was subject to the overlordship of the Greek emperor, as we shall see. None the less, the Antiochenes needed a strong relationship with those in the south because they were often forced to turn to Jerusalem for military help. On fifteen occasions between 1110 and 1137 the rulers of Jerusalem assisted their co-religionists in the north and for thirteen of those years the king acted as regent in the principality. The relationship was not entirely one-sided because men from Antioch fought on behalf of Jerusalem in 1113, 1129, and 1137, but it is plain that Antioch was the settlement which required more assistance. It is possible to discern a more competitive edge between the four settlements around the time of the Second Crusade. William of Tyre, a twelfth-century historian of the kingdom of Jerusalem, wrote that when King Louis VII of France arrived at Antioch in March 1148 representatives of each of the Latin territories visited him and tried to persuade him to base himself in his particular land, regardless of the needs of others.

In the 1140s the military situation took a turn for the worse. The first major setback to affect the Latin settlers came in December 1144 when Zangi, the Muslim atabak of Mosul, captured the city of Edessa. Although the march across Asia Minor of two large armies of the Second Crusade, led by Louis VII and King Conrad III of Germany, was a disaster, the combined force of crusaders and settlers attacked Damascus in July 1148. The siege broke down within a week. It seems likely now that fear of Muslim relief forces had compelled the Christians to make a tactical error, but this simple explanation did not satisfy the settlers and the crusaders, who accused each other of treachery. The westerners returned home, leaving the Franks to fend for themselves.

The northern settlers had always had the worst of the Muslim onslaught and their situation began to deteriorate further. William of Tyre wrote that the Christians were under such pressure that it was as if they were being ground between two millstones. Zangi’s successor, Nur al-Din of Aleppo, worked hard to draw together the disparate Muslim lordships of northern Syria. In 1149 he killed Prince Raymond of Antioch at the battle of Inab and Raymond’s head was sent to the caliph in Baghdad to mark Nur al-Din’s position as the Sunni Muslims’ leading warrior. His influence extended southwards and in 1154 he took control of Damascus, which meant that the Christians faced a united Muslim Syria for the first time. At this point the political situation was finely balanced; the Muslims were an increasing threat to the Franks, yet in Baldwin III of Jerusalem (1143-63) and his successor, Amalric (1163-74), the settlers had two strong kings who were prepared to confront their enemies.

The keystone of Amalric’s policy rested on the control of Egypt. The Shi‘i Fatimid caliphs were weak and with Nur al- Din in control of both Aleppo and Damascus it was essential to prevent him capturing Egypt and surrounding the settlers by land. Between 1163 and 1169 Amalric made no less than five attempts to conquer Egypt. But in order to defend themselves from growing Muslim hostility, let alone contemplate such ambitious schemes as the capture of Egypt, it was plain that the settlers themselves needed greater military resources. The first place they sought help from was western Europe. The raison d’etre of the Frankish states was to guard the holy places on behalf of Latin Christendom. The real affinities of the settlers were with their co-religionists in Europe, who they anticipated would help to defend Christ’s patrimony because in theory the welfare of the Holy Land was of concern to all Christians. The settlers also tried hard to exploit their family connections with western nobles to encourage people to take the cross.

From 1160 onwards they sent a series of letters and envoys to the leading men of western Europe asking for help. The papacy backed up these appeals by issuing letters which called for new crusades. Some financial assistance was sent to the Levant and, more importantly, a number of medium-sized crusades set out for the East led by men such as the counts of Flanders and Nevers. Short-term military assistance of this sort was, of course, welcome but what the settlers really wanted was a large- scale crusade. They focused particular attention on King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England, but the political differences between these two rulers frustrated their efforts.

The need for substantial military assistance remained. Where else could the settlers turn to? An answer was Byzantium. The Greeks had been involved in the affairs of the Latin East from the first, and they had been in conflict with Bohemond of Taranto until in the Treaty of Devol (1108) Bohemond had sworn fealty to the emperor and acknowledged him as overlord of Antioch. The presence of a substantial Orthodox population in northern Syria also encouraged Greek involvement in the region. King Baldwin III decided to form closer ties with Constantinople and in late 1150 he allowed the Greeks to secure a foothold in northern Syria by purchasing the remaining Frankish lands in Edessa. Relations between the Greeks and the Latins soon developed further. In 1158 Baldwin married a member of the Greek imperial family. Nine years later his successor, Amalric, did likewise. And in the interim the Emperor Manuel Comnenus wedded Maria of Antioch. These marriages enhanced the prospects for military co-operation. It was intended that the primary goal of the Frankish-Greek alliance would be Egypt, but in early 1169 Nur al-Din took the country before the Christians could implement their agreement. This latest Muslim success dramatically increased the threat to the kingdom of Jerusalem and in light of the continued lack of large- scale help from the West Amalric persisted with his pro-Greek policy. He travelled to Constantinople in 1171 where it is likely that he paid homage to Manuel. It was the first time that a king of Jerusalem had made such a journey and this dramatic gesture demonstrated how desperate he had become. Further Greek assistance arrived in the Levant in 1177, but the rapport between the two powers ended with Manuel’s death in 1180. The relationship had not been a great success, although on rare occasions the fear of Greek intervention had influenced the Muslims’ approach to the settlers. For example, after Nur al- Din had crushed a Frankish army in northern Syria in 1164, his lieutenants advised him to continue into the principality of Antioch and to destroy the remaining Franks, but Nur al-Din rejected the plan because he was convinced that Greek reprisals would result if he captured too much Christian territory.

The year 1174 marked a turning point for both the Franks and their enemies. In May Nur al-Din’s death presented the Franks with a golden opportunity and, by sheer good fortune, they had arranged for a Sicilian fleet to assist them in another attack on Egypt. Unfortunately for them, just as the Sicilians reached the Levant, King Amalric fell ill and died. The campaign failed and the Sicilians returned home. This disappointment was compounded by the fact that Amalric’s heir, Baldwin IV, was a leper, which meant that he was incapable of ruling effectively and could not father children. Baldwin struggled on until his death in 1185 but he presided over an increasingly divided kingdom. This was a period of intense feuding between two rival factions of nobles who sought to manipulate the unfortunate king to serve their own ends. The succession of his infant nephew, Baldwin V, changed little and the child died within a year. Yet as the Franks became more and more divided, the Muslim world began to recover its strength. Nur al-Din’s lieutenant in Egypt, Saladin, succeeded him and by 1186 had constructed a coalition of Muslim forces which, in the name of the jihad, he prepared to turn against the Franks. The Christians needed help urgently and a delegation led by the patriarch of Jerusalem and the masters of the military orders tried to persuade the rulers of western Europe to help defend the Holy Sepulchre; the settlers were so desperate that they even offered in vain the overlordship of the kingdom to Philip II of France and Henry II of England. They were left isolated. In 1187 Saladin invaded and on 4 July crushed the settlers’ forces led by Guy of Lusignan, who was the King-consort of Baldwin IV’s sister, at the battle of Hattin. The Franks’ lack of manpower was exposed and their settlements lay almost defenceless. In the succeeding months Saladin occupied Jerusalem and pushed the Latins back to the coast, leaving Tyre as the only Palestinian city in Christian hands; Tripoli and Antioch were less affected, although both lost territory on their eastern borders. As we have seen, the western response was the Third Crusade.


In May 1191 Richard I of England captured Cyprus from Isaac Comnenus, a renegade member of the Greek imperial family. Richard was sailing towards the Holy Land when part of his fleet—including the ship carrying his sister and his fiancée—had to shelter off the island during a storm. Isaac’s hostile reaction prompted Richard to use force and his troops soon compelled the Cypriots to surrender. In spite of his status as a crusader Richard had not hesitated to take land from a Christian ruler, although it is clear that he had acquired the territory on his own behalf. The seizure of Cyprus was hardly an act of religious colonization, yet the island formed a very close relationship with the other Latin Christian settlements in the eastern Mediterranean and came to play an integral role in the defence of the Holy Land. Given favourable winds the journey from Cyprus to the Syrian coastline could be accomplished in a day. Its location meant that it was an obvious supply base for crusading expeditions. This was most apparent during the first crusade of King Louis IX of France. On reaching the eastern Mediterranean Louis spent eight months on the island and he was accompanied by King Henry I and leading Cypriot nobles when he invaded Egypt in June 1249. The Frankish Cypriots were not always so keen to help such expeditions and during the Lord Edward of England’s crusade in 1271-2 some of them tried to argue that they should not perform military service outside the island and that when they had assisted their king elsewhere in the past it had been in a purely voluntary capacity. They finally agreed to serve him abroad for only four months a year.

Richard sold the island to Guy of Lusignan, the former king of Jerusalem, whose brother and successor Aimery established a dynasty which ruled Cyprus for almost 300 years. Compared to the Latin settlements on the mainland, Cyprus was far less susceptible to Muslim raids, although fear of external attack caused Aimery of Lusignan to seek the overlordship of the western emperor Henry VI in 1195. Aimery, who was also granted a crown by the western emperor, became king-consort of Jerusalem in 1197 when he married the heiress to the throne, Isabella I. Although he spent more time in Acre than in Nicosia this did not mean that the two kingdoms merged. Their institutions remained separate and Aimery refused to allow the financial resources of Cyprus to be absorbed in the defence of Jerusalem. He was, however, prepared to consider deploying the islanders’ military strength on behalf of those on the mainland. His marriage to Isabella produced no children and on his death in 1205 the two kingdoms were ruled, for a time, by different dynasties.

In order to consolidate Frankish rule on Cyprus the early Lusignans granted hundreds of knights, mounted sergeants, and burgesses territory and rights, a policy which also helped to offset the recent territorial losses to Saladin on the mainland. There were no palatinates on Cyprus which meant that justice was more closely under royal control. The Lusignans were also prudent enough to ensure that no castles or walled towns were held by lay vassals, a practice that rulers elsewhere in the Latin East could not contemplate because of the threat of Muslim attack. Such factors prevented the nobles from building up regional power-bases and may help to explain the relative calm on the island, apart from an externally inspired civil war between 1229 and 1233. The only non-royal fortresses were probably those at Kolossi and Gastria which formed part of the extensive estates held by the Hospitallers and the Templars.

Fertile shore plains, terraced valleys, and the use of irrigation channels meant that Cyprus could produce substantial quantities of cereals, sugar, and olive oil for export. Wine was another important product although some varieties were so viscous that contemporaries reported they could be spread on bread like honey. Under Lusignan rule the Cypriot economy grew rapidly, with the city of Limassol the first centre of commercial activity. The island’s position as a natural stopping-off point for traders on their way to the mainland and the growing interest of the Italian merchant communities contributed to its prosperity. The Venetians had secured privileges during the period of Byzantine rule, but under the Lusignans the Genoese became increasingly prominent, particularly after the civil war of 1229 to 1233. King Henry I (1218-53) needed naval help and the Genoese assisted him in return for substantial commercial privileges. Pisan, Catalan, and Cilician Armenian merchants also entered into trading agreements with the Cypriots. Towards the end of the thirteenth century Famagusta began to overtake Limassol as the commercial capital of the island because it was fifty miles closer to the mainland and more convenient for the growing trade with Syria and Cilicia. After the fall of Acre in 1291 Europeans were prohibited from direct trade with the Muslims. Western merchants made use of Ayas in Christian Cilicia and Syrian Christians transported merchandise from the Levant to Famagusta to enable Europeans to purchase it. Cyprus became a key staging post on a major international trade route and the volume of commerce generated meant that Famagusta became a wealthy and cosmopolitan city.

One of the biggest changes brought about by the Frankish conquest was the establishment of the Latin Church. The majority of the native population was Greek Orthodox but a Latin archbishop became the senior churchman and the Greek bishops were required to subordinate themselves to their Catholic counterparts. The Orthodox were also compelled to acknowledge the primacy of the pope, a situation that their co-religionists on the mainland were not forced to accept. The Orthodox archbishop formally agreed to this in 1261, but the lower clergy were less prepared to accept Catholic jurisdiction. There were moments of crisis. One, following from the Greeks’ insistence on the use of leavened bread in the eucharist because it symbolized for them the resurrection, led to thirteen Orthodox believers being martyred, while numbers of their co-religionists were excommunicated. The injury to the Orthodox community was exacerbated by the Franks’ appropriation and use of property owned by the local Church. The quality of the surviving Latin cathedrals, churches, and monastic buildings testify to the dominant status of the Latin Church during this period.

For over half the period between 1205 and 1267 the government of the crown of Cyprus was marked by minorities and regencies. One consequence of this was the emergence of the Ibelin family, which was already well established in the kingdom of Jerusalem, as a powerful force in Cypriot affairs. In c.1218 Philip of Ibelin became regent for his nephew, the infant King Henry I. Philip had sufficient support to brush off a challenge to his authority from Henry’s mother, but the Emperor Frederick II, who arrived on the island in 1228, was determined to check the power of the Ibelins, led at this time by Philip’s brother, John. The emperor was furious that they had ignored his rights as overlord by crowning Henry without any reference to him. He claimed custody of the young king and the profits from royal properties. He invited John of Ibelin to a banquet, received him cordially and then had him surrounded by armed men and arrested. John was forced to hand over Henry before escaping to the castle of St Hilarion in the northern mountains. Shortly afterwards, Frederick left for the mainland and when a papal invasion of southern Italy compelled him to return home, he sold the regency of Cyprus to five imperial supporters. There followed four years of civil war as the Ibelins struggled to defeat the imperialists in Palestine as well as on Cyprus. Richard Filangieri, the imperial marshal, besieged their castle at Beirut and fomented opposition to them on Cyprus. John secured the backing of a Genoese fleet and the majority of the Cypriot population, and by 1233 he had routed imperial forces on the island. The overlordship of the emperor on Cyprus was ended in 1247 when Pope Innocent IV absolved King Henry of any oaths he had taken to Frederick and the kingdom came under the direct protection of the Holy See.

King Hugh III of Cyprus (1267-84) became ruler of Jerusalem as well in 1269. Christian Palestine was riven by faction-fighting and Hugh’s efforts to focus the Franks’ remaining strength against the Mamluk Sultan Baybars were unavailing, as we shall see. After the fall of Acre in 1291 Cyprus was flooded with refugees. The island moved into a new era in which it assumed a vital role as the remaining outpost of Latin Christianity in the north-eastern Mediterranean and the obvious point from which to try to re-establish a Christian presence on the mainland.

Frankish Greece

On 12 April 1204 the city of Constantinople fell to the Fourth Crusade. There followed three days of looting. In advance of the assault the crusaders had decided to elect a Latin emperor who would control one-quarter of the territory conquered from the Greeks and in May 1204 Count Baldwin of Flanders was crowned. The remaining three-quarters of the land was divided between the Venetians and the other crusaders. The occupation of the Byzantine empire by colonists was a direct consequence of the crusading movement, but there was nothing religious about it. It was a conquest driven primarily by the prospect of financial and territorial gain. In the case of Venetian Greece, the settlers’ close ties with Venice and the political and economic direction provided by the mother-city are facets of a relationship usually associated with a more conventional definition of colonialism. In fact, the prosperity and relative safety of Frankish Greece drained settlers from the Latin East and thereby weakened the ‘religious colonies’ of the Levant.

The impact of the Latin conquest varied widely, largely because the westerners themselves were from different backgrounds which were reflected in the methods of government they imposed upon the indigenous population. The Greeks were accustomed to a society in which all free men were subject to the same law, regardless of social or economic standing. The Latins introduced a highly stratified society with different laws for nobles, burgesses, and peasants. The land was divided up into fiefs and Greeks who remained loyal to the Orthodox faith were treated as villeins. Soon, however, the basic distinction between conquerors and subjects became blurred. The Franks needed to exploit the resources of their new territories and the simplest way to do this was to adapt the existing Byzantine fiscal structure. They utilized the archontes, former imperial landowners and officials, to penetrate the complexities of the tax system. The archontes were, in effect, the Greek nobility and although they remained religiously and culturally separate from the Franks, by the latter half of the thirteenth century they had begun to receive fiefs from the settlers. From 1262 there is evidence of Greek knights being dubbed, which demonstrates that the archontes were beginning to enter the Frankish hierarchy. This bound the locals’ interests to those of the settlers and helped to compensate for the Franks’ numerical weakness in the face of attacks from the hostile Bulgarian state to the north and the Greek exiles in Asia Minor and Epirus. As far as the archontes were concerned, movement into the Frankish feudal system was a way to improve their position and may help to explain why the Greeks in occupied areas rarely rebelled against their western overlords.

Venetian holdings included Crete, Modon and Coron in the southern Peloponnese, and the European coast of the Sea of Marmara. Crete was the most important of these because it was located at a key point on the trade routes between Egypt, Syria, and Constantinople. The Venetians impinged less on the Greeks than the other westerners did because they maintained a centralized bureaucracy, and imperial prerogatives, such as fiscal dues, were kept under a single authority and not distributed to individuals as occurred elsewhere in Frankish Greece. A podesta was elected to govern but his powers were limited by directions from Venice.

As elsewhere in the East the Franks did not try to impose the Catholic rite on their new subjects. The size of the Orthodox population would have made such a policy impractical anyway. The Franks did, however, elect a Latin as patriarch of Constantinople and replaced Orthodox bishops with Catholic ones. Catholic churchmen tended to live in urban areas and for the few westerners who lived in rural districts—often in fortified towers for reasons of security—it was hard to find a priest trained in the Latin rite. In consequence, isolated settlers might use local Greek priests to perform the sacraments for them and this led to a degree of hellenization. Culturally, however, the Franks remained separate from their subjects and on Venetian Crete intermarriage was banned, at least in theory.

The fertility of the Peloponnese peninsula and Crete encouraged economic expansion. Demand grew for the export of bulk products such as wheat, olive oil, wool, and wine, as well as luxury items such as silk, and the Franks grew wealthy. They were by no means safe, however. Emperor Henry I (1206-16) had managed to consolidate their hold on Thrace but within a decade the Greeks, ruled by an emperor in exile in Nicaea, had recovered almost all of the lands they had lost in Asia Minor. The threat of a Mongol invasion temporarily prevented the Nicaeans from finishing their work, but in July 1261 the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII reclaimed Constantinople for the Greeks. Other Frankish settlements enjoyed better fortune. Achaea was the most glamorous, and under the Villehardouin princes its court became regarded as one of the finest manifestations of chivalry in Christendom. The princely court at Andravidha was perceived as a finishing school for the flower of French knighthood, a view which reflected close cultural ties between the settlers and their homeland. A later writer remarked that the French spoken in Achaea was as good as that in Paris. Prince Geoffrey II (1229-46) demonstrated the style of the Achaeans as he rode through the Peloponnese accompanied by eighty knights with golden spurs. A period of peace allowed the nobles to entertain themselves with tournaments and hunting; fine frescoes adorned the walls of their palaces. Very little of this culture survives today.

In 1259, however, Geoffrey’s flamboyant successor Prince William II (1246-78) was captured by the Nicaeans in the battle of Pelagonia and before he was freed he was forced to swear an oath of fealty to his enemies. Achaea was to survive but it could no longer act independently.

Latin Palestine and Syria, 1187-1291

In July 1191, after the seizure of Cyprus, Richard I of England and Philip II of France achieved a notable success by helping the Frankish settlers regain the port of Acre. By the end of the Third Crusade the Christians had secured the coast from Tyre to Jaffa and a truce with Saladin permitted pilgrims to travel freely to Jerusalem, even if the primary aim of recapturing the holy city had not been achieved. Saladin’s death in 1193 afforded the Christians an opportunity to consolidate their recovery. The early decades of the thirteenth century were characterized by economic growth in the Frankish states, a series of succession crises, and a number of crusades to Egypt, the conquest of which was believed to be the best route to the reoccupation of Jerusalem.

The kingdom of Jerusalem’s economic survival was dependent on Christian control of Acre. For most of the twelfth century Alexandria had been the dominant commercial centre in the eastern Mediterranean, but around the 1180s the Asiatic trade routes began to focus on Acre as the prime outlet for their goods. The English chronicler, Matthew Paris, wrote that the royal revenues of Acre were worth 50,000 pounds of silver a year around 1240: this was more than the income of the king of England at that time. Even if the accuracy of the figures for Acre may be doubted, the kingdom of Jerusalem was certainly wealthy. The Italian mercantile communities increased their involvement. Pisa, Genoa, and Venice sent permanent officials to the Levant. The merchants profited from the increased volume in commerce and the king secured more revenue from taxes, but eventually the trading communities became so powerful that they began to exert a destabilizing influence on political life: in 1256 commercial rivalry between the Genoese and the Venetians led to the war of St Sabas in Acre, a destructive conflict which also involved the Frankish nobility and the military orders. In the meantime, the relative security of the coast meant a considerable rise in the population of Tyre and Acre. Jewish communities flourished in urban areas, partly attracted by the economic opportunities there, and swollen by migrants determined to settle in the Holy Land. Acre, in particular, contained a noted community of Jewish intellectuals.

Having taken the cross for the Fifth Crusade in 1215, the Emperor Frederick II was supposed to have joined the expedition but political problems in the West prevented him from departing. In 1225, however, he became closely involved in the affairs of Jerusalem when he married Isabella II, the heiress to the throne. The crown of Jerusalem carried considerable prestige and Frederick intended to enhance his position as Holy Roman Emperor through his involvement in the Holy Land. By 1227 he had assembled a sizeable crusading army but when he fell ill, delaying his own departure even further, Pope Gregory IX excommunicated him. The emperor finally set out for the East in June 1228. His actions on Cyprus have been outlined above and he encountered further difficulties on the mainland. Isabella had died during childbirth and he claimed and received the regency for his infant son, Conrad, who was in the West. He was determined to restore the power of the crown, which had suffered since the reign of Baldwin IV, but the leading nobles, who did not want their dominance challenged, were determined to resist him. One of their most important weapons in this struggle was their skill in legal affairs. An interesting development had been the emergence of a school of jurists, closely associated with, and including members of, the baronial families. The origins of this lay in a peculiarity of feudal service in the Latin East, the obligation of a vassal to give conseil, assistance in the presentation of a case in court, if called upon to do so. The prestige of vassals who were skilled in this way was enhanced by the fact that when Jerusalem had fallen, the laws of the kingdom, which had been written down and kept in a chest in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, had been lost. There could be no recourse to written law and in consequence memory and custom dictated judgements in the early decades of the thirteenth century, in direct contrast to developments in Europe where there was a growing reliance on written records rather than memory. There emerged a group of high-profile lawyers, skilled in the art of public pleading and, initially at least, dependent on their memory of past procedures. As the study of law blossomed, a number of important legal works were written, above all the Livre de Jean d’lbelin (c.1265), written by that count of Jaffa whom we have seen (p. 84) arriving with such panoply in Egypt. We must be wary of being dazzled by the jurists’ own sense of importance although it is undeniable that they played a prominent role in deciding who ruled the kingdom of Jerusalem at a time of absenteeism and minorities. The nobles exploited the legal training of some of their number when Frederick confronted them. They rejected his confiscation of Ibelin fiefs around Acre and opposed his attempts to advance the position of the Teutonic Knights ahead of the hereditary claimant to the lordship of Toron. The assise sur la ligece, which had been instituted in the twelfth century by King Amalric to strengthen the crown, was now, under very different circumstances, turned to the nobles’ advantage. Since the law had stated that a lord could not take action against a vassal without the formal decision of his court, the nobles insisted that this applied to the king as much as to any other lord; if justice was not forthcoming they maintained that they were entitled to use force to reoccupy any confiscated fiefs and could withdraw their services, in theory leaving the king powerless. The Ibelin fiefs were regained by force and in the case of the Teutonic Knights the prospect of losing military service compelled Frederick to back down. The outcome of this episode, however, was as much a reflection of the emperor’s weakness as an indication of the strength of the nobility.

Frederick enjoyed far better fortune in his dealings with the Muslims. The invasion of Egypt by the Fifth Crusade had perturbed the Egyptians and, fearing the consequences of Frederick’s expedition and politically weakened within the Ayyubid confederacy, the sultan al-Kamil agreed to surrender control of Jerusalem in February 1229, although the Muslims held on to the Temple area and would not allow the city to be fortified. A ten-year truce was agreed and Frederick promised to protect the sultan’s interests against all his enemies, Christian or Muslim. Frederick staged an imperial crown-wearing ceremony in the Holy Sepulchre, even though his status as an excommunicate resulted in the city being placed under an interdict by the patriarch of Jerusalem. He left the East in June 1229, pelted with offal by the local populace as he made his way to the port of Acre.

Frederick’s departure did not mean the end of imperial involvement in the Latin East: when in 1231 his lieutenant, Richard Filangieri, tried to take control of Beirut, the nobility, basing its opposition on a sworn confraternity at Acre, managed to frustrate him. None the less, Richard retained control of Tyre and the kingdom was split between the imperialists and their opponents, led by the Ibelins. Richard appropriated Venetian revenues in Tyre, which encouraged the merchants to side with his enemies. The Genoese were already hostile to the imperialists and representatives of the two Italian communities offered to betray Tyre to the Ibelin faction. In the summer of 1242 these forces combined to expel the imperialists from the city. This required a legal justification and the jurist, Philip of Novara (d. 1265), who was a client of the Ibelins and our principal source of information for this period, produced a fictional argument to justify the ending of Frederick’s regency. He maintained that once Conrad had come of age—which would not occur until April 1243—his father’s regency would end. Since Conrad had not come to the East to claim the throne, there was still need for a regent and his nearest relative in Palestine, Queen Alice of Cyprus, was appointed in Frederick’s place. The emperor’s supporters soon lost what little remained of their influence in the East.

The kingdom of Jerusalem was not the only settlement to be affected by political upheavals. In 1201 claimants from Armenia and Tripoli began to dispute the succession of Antioch and many years of conflict followed before Bohemond IV (1219-33) triumphed. He ruled over both Antioch and Tripoli, although the legal and administrative systems of the two settlements remained distinct. The prince chose to reside in Tripoli and in his absence Antioch was heavily influenced by its large Greek community. The politics of northern Syria were complicated further by the influence of the military orders which were based in powerful castles—Margat, Baghras, Tortosa, Crac des Chevaliers, and Chastel Blanc—and constituted semi-independent forces in the region, as we shall see.

The era of relative prosperity ended in the 1240s. The settlers broke a truce with the sultan of Egypt and discovered that they had stirred up a hornets’ nest when the Muslims allied with the Khorezmians, a displaced people forced into nomadism by the Mongols. Jerusalem was lost in August 1244 and two months later the Christian forces were crushed at the battle of La Forbie in which over 1000 knights were killed. New calls for help resulted in the first crusade of King Louis IX of France. After the disaster which befell it in Egypt, the French king remained in Palestine and organized, at great expense, the refortification of the defences of Acre, Sidon, Jaffa, and Caesarea.

Louis’s invasion of Egypt led, as we shall see, to the replacement of the Ayyubid dynasty by Mamluk government. Around the same time the Mongol armies appeared on the scene. In 1258 they sacked Baghdad and two years later attacked Aleppo. Bohemond VI of Antioch-Tripoli (1252-75) became their ally, but the leaders of Jerusalem, pincered between the Mongols and the Mamluks, allowed the Egyptians to pass through their territory before their victory over the Mongols at the battle of Ayn Jalut in 1260. The leadership of the Mamluks passed to the formidable Sultan Baybars, who soon imposed his authority in Syria.

The settlers’ lack of manpower dictated their military response. A strategy based on holding isolated strongpoints, often under the control of the military orders, was a key element in the defence of Frankish territory. The Christians had insufficient troops to form a field army and provide adequate garrisons for their fortified sites as well, although Louis IX’s innovation of establishing a permanent French regiment in the East was a positive development. Financed largely by the French monarchy, the force consisted of about 100 knights, along with crossbowmen, and mounted and foot sergeants. Unlike the military orders it was not tied to the defence of individual sites and therefore could be deployed in a more flexible fashion. It became customary for the captain to hold the position of seneschal of the kingdom of Jerusalem (the royal deputy in the High Court and the administrator of royal castles) which demonstrates the regiment’s standing in the East. Overall, however, the French regiment was a case of too little too late. The Franks’ offensive action was usually restricted to raiding, because with their limited resources they could hardly envisage permanent territorial gains, and pitched battles were generally avoided. Unless crusaders were in the East the Franks’ inferior numbers meant that the unpredictability of battle held far greater risks for them than their opponents. The Franks’ military problems were exploited by the brilliant generalship and careful strategy of Baybars, who methodically cut back the area under their control. Confined to a passive form of defence, the settlers could only watch as their lands were devastated. Even their increasingly sophisticated castles such as Margat and Crac des Chevaliers could not resist the huge enemy invasion forces. From time to time a city or fortress would fall and Christian-controlled territory would shrink even further. The Frankish economy began to decline too. The Mongol invasions of Iraq and north Syria had disrupted the trade routes and the Black Sea replaced the Levant as the terminus for much oriental commerce. All sections of society suffered financial strain. Hugh III of Cyprus found the kingdom of Jerusalem ungovernable in the face of a claim from Charles of Anjou, who had bought the crown from a pretender to the throne, and he decided to concentrate his attention on Cyprus. In 1286 his successor, King Henry II, regained Acre and was crowned amid great pageantry and splendour, but the Mamluks were closing the net on the remaining settlements. In 1287 Tripoli fell and on 5 April 1291 the final assault on Acre began. A vast army battered its way through the town walls. The king and his nobles escaped to Cyprus but many of the defenders perished. On 28 May the final resistance was crushed and within three months the Christian hold on the mainland had ended. The Latins in the eastern Mediterranean no longer ruled any land that had ever been occupied by Muslims: ironically, a movement which had originally expressed itself through religious colonization was now exploiting the resources of territories which had always been in Christian hands.

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