The Defence of Outremer

SINCE THE DEATH of King Fulk in 1143, his wife and co-ruler, Melisende, had been ruling the kingdom of Jerusalem both in her own right and as regent for their son Baldwin III. In this she had the support of the Templars, owing to the boy’s age, but in 1150, by when he had long since achieved his majority, Baldwin demanded the right to rule as joint monarch with his mother. Tensions grew during the next two years as factions of the nobility backed Baldwin or Melisende, and there were fears of civil war, but the matter was decided in 1152, when Baldwin made a convincing show of force and his mother was retired to Nablus. There is evidence that suggests the Templars may have supported Melisende to the last, but if so, they suffered no breach with Baldwin; although answerable to no one but the pope, the Templars were always strong supporters of whoever wore the crown at Jerusalem. In any case two years later, in 1152, Melisende and Baldwin were reconciled and, although still ensconced at Nablus, which she had been allowed to hold for life, Melisende continued to exercise influence at court, where her experience was valued and she also acted as Baldwin’s regent when he was away on campaigns.

Baldwin III’s first major campaign was against Ascalon, to which he laid siege in January 1153. Garrisoned by the Fatimids of Egypt, Ascalon was the last Muslim outpost along the Palestinian coast and had served as a base for raids against the kingdom of Jerusalem and acts of piracy at sea. But although Fatimid Egypt had been weakening, Ascalon was powerfully fortified, and the siege wore on well into the summer, the city finally falling only in August. The booty was enormous, and the Christian recovery of Palestine was complete. The Templars played a prominent part in this triumph, for they were first into the breach when a section of the walls came down, yet William of Tyre was predictable in turning this against them when he claimed in his chronicle that their eagerness was due to their greed for spoils, a theme he was to develop and which was taken up by others. William of Tyre’s resentment towards the Templars arose from their independence, as an order responsible only to the pope and otherwise operating outside all jurisdiction of church or state. As a churchman himself, and frustrated in his ambition to become patriarch of Jerusalem, he rarely failed to find low motives underlying the Templars’ successes, a view that in time would find broader support. In fact, at Ascalon there was no Templar greed, rather a great sacrifice; they lost forty or so knights in the attack, and their Grand Master lost his life.

Baldwin’s siege of Ascalon would prove to have a price. Almost immediately after the failed siege of Damascus by the Second Crusade, its atabeg, Muin al-Din Unur, renewed his old alliance with Jerusalem; it was a matter of practical politics in the face of his greater enemy Nur al-Din. But in 1149 Muin al-Din Unur died; under his successor Mujin al-Din Ibn al-Sufi, Damascus suffered several attacks and sieges by Nur al-Din. In a desperate effort to maintain the independence of the city, Mujin al-Din on the one hand recognised the suzerainty of Nur al-Din but on the other hand maintained the alliance with Jerusalem. Meanwhile Nur al-Din’s jihad propaganda was having an effect on the Muslims of the city. Christians had remained the majority at Damascus until at least the tenth century and maybe into the eleventh,1 and even now in the mid-twelfth century their numbers approached half the population. But faced with Nur al-Din’s incessant intimidation coupled with his propaganda – and with Baldwin’s forces recently tied up at Ascalon and the kingdom of Jerusalem lacking the resources to come to the aid of Damascus – in April 1154 an element of the Muslim population opened the city’s gates to Nur al-Din.

Immediately after his occupation of Damascus, Nur al-Din applied the same programme of exciting popular religious feeling as he had done at Aleppo, founding new madrasas and mosques to preach jihad – and just as at Aleppo, he directed the energy of its people not against the Franks but against Muslim states elsewhere in Syria and beyond which still resisted submission to his authority. In fact, he renewed the peace treaty with Jerusalem and even agreed to pay a tribute to the Franks, meanwhile subjugating Muslim-held Baalbek and snatching lands from the Seljuks in Asia Minor. Never for the rest of his life did Nur al-Din pursue jihad against the Franks. But he did now possess Syria’s greatest city, and beyond it to the south lay Egypt.

Baldwin III fell ill and died in February 1163; he had no children and before his death he named his younger brother Amalric his successor. But there were some among the nobility and the Church who objected to Amalric taking the throne on the grounds of incest – arguing that he and his wife, Agnes of Courtenay, were third cousins (they shared the same great great grandfather) and were therefore too closely related. Agnes was the daughter of Joscelin II of Edessa, but after the destruction of the city of her birth she came to Jerusalem; there she married Amalric and bore him three children. But now in order to assume the throne Amalric agreed to an annulment of his marriage provided his children were considered legitimate; two would eventually rule, his son as Baldwin IV, the ‘leper king’, and his daughter Sibylla becoming queen on her brother’s death. During his reign Amalric commissioned William of Tyre, who became a close friend, to write a history of Outremer.

Within months of becoming king, Amalric was challenged by the deteriorating situation in Egypt. The Fatimid regime in Cairo had grown weak and unstable, with two viziers vying with one another for control over the enfeebled caliphate. Each of the viziers reached outside Egypt for support, drawing Amalric at Jerusalem and Nur al-Din at Damascus into their quarrel. For the Franks the prize was potentially enormous: by installing a friendly government in Cairo the kingdom of Jerusalem would not only gain access to the vast resources of Egypt but would also protect its southern flank. But the prize was no less great for Nur al-Din: not only would his acquisition of Egypt give him control over the trade route from Damascus that terminated in Cairo, but he would entirely surround the Christian states. The Fatimid garrison at Ascalon had stood astride the route into the Nile Delta and to Cairo, the same line of attack taken by the Arabs when they invaded Egypt in 640 after their conquest of Syria and Palestine. Baldwin’s capture of Ascalon with Templar help in 1153 likewise opened the door to Egypt for the Franks, and now in 1164, and later in 1167 and again in 1168, Amalric entered Egypt to prevent it falling to Nur al-Din.

Nur al-Din moved first when he sent his Kurdish general Shirkuh into Egypt to install the vizier Shawar in power. But Shawar soon resented Shirkuh’s heavy hand, and with the prospect of open warfare breaking out between the two, Shawar sent to Amalric for help. In 1164 Amalric led a Frankish army, including a large contingent of Templars, into Egypt, besieging Shirkuh at Bilbeis in the eastern Delta. After three months, with Bilbeis about to fall, Shirkuh’s desperate situation was relieved by Nur al-Din, who laid siege to Harim, between Antioch and Aleppo; when Harim fell in August, the heads of its defending Christians were sent to Bilbeis with instructions to Shirkuh to display them on the walls to frighten his besiegers. The worst of it was that, in attempting to relieve Harim, a Frankish army was defeated by Nur al-Din, and its leaders, Bohemond III of Antioch and Raymond III of Tripoli, as well as several others, were captured and held for ransom; Bohemond was released a year later, Raymond not until 1173. To meet the emergency in the north of Outremer, Amalric agreed to withdraw from Egypt if Shirkuh would do the same, leaving the question of the failing Fatimid caliphate unresolved.

But as the Templars immediately understood, the adventure had exposed the vulnerability of Outremer. Bertrand of Blancfort, the Grand Master of the Temple, addressing himself in November 1164 to King Louis VII of France, wrote:

        Although our King Amalric is great and magnificent, thanks to God, he cannot organise a fourfold army to defend Antioch, Tripoli, Jerusalem and Babylon [as Fustat, the original Arab capital of Egypt, adjacent to Fatimid Cairo, was called in the Middle Ages].2 [. . .] But Nur al-Din can attack all four at one and the same time if he so desires, so great is the number of his dogs.3

By sheer force of numbers the Turks threatened to overwhelm Outremer.

Nor were the Turks fighting alone. Under Nur al-Din their numbers were augmented by the Kurds, a mountain people inhabiting parts of the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, Persia and eastern Asia Minor; Nur al-Din’s generals Shirkuh and his brother Ayyub were Kurds, and their prominence in Nur al-Din’s army attracted large numbers of their fellow-countrymen. In contrast, Arabs played little or no role in Nur al-Din’s campaigns; instead, for fear that they would revolt against their Turkish overlords, they were actively suppressed. The Kurds were Sunni Muslims, like the Turks, and fitted in well with Nur al-Din’s object of conquering Fatimid Egypt. The Fatimids were not only Arabs but also Ismailis, an offshoot of Shia Islam, a heresy as far as the Sunni were concerned, and their rivals for universal domination. Although two centuries of Fatimid rule meant that Shia influences were strong among the Muslims of Egypt, Nur al-Din was determined to use the argument of jihad to bring Egypt to orthodoxy and under his control.

The rivalry between Sunni and Shia was to Amalric’s advantage; the Shia had brought him into Egypt in defence against the Sunni. But Amalric had another advantage too. The Muslim ruling elite was concentrated in Cairo and the port city of Alexandria; ‘elsewhere, Egypt’s indigenous Coptic Christian population predominated’4 – five hundred years after the Arab conquest Egypt was still a substantially Christian country. Indeed Christians still formed an absolute majority in Egypt, as recent research by the Egyptian historian Tamer el Leithy ‘discredits the notion of large-scale conversion before the thirteenth century’.5

For five years the contest to control Egypt was waged between Amalric and Nur al-Din’s general Shirkuh. As each side understood, Egypt’s geography, resources and manpower would prove decisive for whoever gained control.

Again Nur al-Din was the first to act; in 1167 he sent Shirkuh into Egypt, and Amalric once again went to the assistance of Shawar. This time the vizier paid handsomely for the king’s services; in a treaty probably drafted by Geoffrey Fulcher, a senior Templar, Shawar agreed to pay an annual tribute in addition to 400,000 gold bezants, half of it at once, on the Frankish pledge that they would destroy Shirkuh and his army or drive them out of Egypt. With Amalric standing in Cairo, Shirkuh withdrew southwards towards Minya, where the Franks, in a desert battle at al-Babayn, cost the Turks fifteen hundred lives against a hundred of their own. Nur al-Din’s forces made a last attempt to hold on, barricading themselves within the walls of Alexandria; their commander was a young Kurd, Shirkuh’s nephew Salah al-Din, better known in the West as Saladin, who, after two or three months of mounting hunger in the town, surrendered to the Franks, who escorted them out of the city for their own safety as the population would have torn Saladin and his men to pieces for the misery they had made them endure. As the army of Amalric, together with the Templars, marched through the streets of the city of St Mark, their triumph meant the liberation of the last of the great patriarchal sees; and from the top of what remained of the Pharos, the ancient lighthouse that had been a wonder of the world when Alexandria had been the cultural capital of Western civilisation, they flew the banner of Jerusalem. To ensure that Nur al-Din’s forces would not return, Amalric installed a garrison in Cairo and Frankish commissioners in the caliphal palace itself. Effectively Egypt was now a protectorate. And then Amalric and his army returned home.

But the fundamental weakness of the Fatimid regime remained, and it was only a matter of time before Nur al-Din or Amalric would strike the coup de grâce. In August 1167, just after his return from Egypt, Amalric married Maria Comnena, the great grandniece of Manuel Comnenus, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Over the following months a plan was developed for a joint Frankish–Byzantine military expedition to conquer, divide and annex Egypt, the Franks taking the interior, the Byzantines the coast. Amalric’s friend and adviser the historian William, who had recently been appointed archdeacon of Tyre, drew up a formal treaty of alliance and was sent to Manuel with full power to ratify the agreement in the emperor’s presence. But before William of Tyre could return to Jerusalem, Amalric had struck; in October 1168 he marched into Egypt. Shawar had refused to pay the tribute as agreed, and rumours reached Jerusalem that the vizier had once again turned to Nur al-Din, this time to rid himself of the Frankish garrison and commissioners in Cairo. But why Amalric would not wait for his Byzantine allies is not clear. The argument has been made that Amalric or his barons believed they could take Egypt for themselves without having to share the country with the Byzantines. Also that Amalric was goaded by the Hospitallers. Whatever Amalric’s reasons, the Templars were opposed and refused to join the expedition.

If urgency was the need behind Amalric’s sudden decision to invade, he was subsequently criticised by none other than William of Tyre for failing to pursue the conquest with purpose and energy. First, the Frankish army captured Bilbais in the Delta and ran amok, slaughtering many of its inhabitants, including numerous Christians. Then siege was laid to Cairo, where, after the example of Bilbeis, Shawar was determined to defend his city to the end while denying Fustat to the Franks by burning it to the ground, a conflagration that lasted fifty-four days. Throughout all this while Amalric and Shawar haggled over tribute, and as money was handed over in stages so Amalric, apparently as part of the deal, withdrew somewhat from Cairo. But now Nur al-Din’s general Shirkuh appeared in the Delta, and in January 1169, after slipping round Amalric’s army, he entered Cairo unopposed, promptly decapitated Shawar and installed himself as vizier. His rule was not long; Shirkuh died in March and was succeeded as vizier by his nephew Saladin.

The capture of Egypt by Nur al-Din’s forces was a strategic calamity for the Franks. Their protectorate over Egypt was at an end, the strategic and economic advantages it had brought were lost, and Syria and Egypt were now effectively united under an alien Turkish hand. The final encirclement of Outremer had begun.

And why had the Templars refused to participate in so critical a venture? The question has been a matter of speculation and debate ever since. William of Tyre, who was commissioned by Amalric to write his history of the kingdom of Jerusalem, might have been expected fiercely to condemn the Templars. Yet William himself disapproved of the campaign and said that the Templars objected on moral grounds; ‘it seemed against their conscience’6 to break the treaty they had helped negotiate with Shawar in 1167. Moreover, for all the strategic importance of Egypt, there were other strategic considerations that the Templars would reasonably have taken into account. In 1164, when the bulk of Templar forces had been with Amalric on campaign in Egypt, Nur al-Din had taken advantage by striking in the north, inflicting heavy losses against the army of the prince of Antioch. ‘There is no one to check their savagery’, Geoffrey Fulcher, the preceptor of the Temple, wrote to Louis VII in September that year; ‘of the six hundred knights and twelve thousand foot soldiers scarcely any are known to have escaped.’7 Numbered among these captives and casualties were sixty Templar knights, all of them dead, and numerous more sergeants and Turcopoles who had met the same fate, precisely in the region of the Amanus mountains where the Templars bore responsibility for manning strategically sited castles that were part of the ultimate defence of Outremer. The experience may have impressed on the Templars the need to husband their resources and concentrate them where they were most needed.

Nevertheless William of Tyre could not let pass the opportunity to criticise the Templars. Apart from other reasons they may have had, the Templars had jibbed at the 1168 Egyptian campaign, he suggested, because they may have been jealous of the Hospitallers, who had taken the lead in urging Amalric to undertake the expedition and had already claimed Pelusium on the edge of the Egyptian Delta for themselves. The perpetual rivalry between the two orders was a problem; it was seldom that they could be induced to campaign together, and each followed its own line regardless of the official policy of the kingdom of Jerusalem. In fact, the Hospitallers could be no less independent of secular authority, but their image was softened by the alms and care they lavished on pilgrims, whereas the image of the Templars rested more exclusively on their military prowess, and then there was their involvement in financial activities. The independence of the orders was liable to provoke resentment, and in the case of the Templars it led increasingly to criticism that the order was primarily concerned with advancing and protecting its own interests.

As well as the usual monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, every entrant to the Order of the Knights Templar swore ‘to conserve what is acquired in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and to conquer what is not yet acquired’.8 To meet their obligations an iron discipline was required; its effect made a forceful impression on an unknown pilgrim visiting Jerusalem some time after the middle of the twelfth century.

        The Templars are most excellent soldiers. They wear white mantles with a red cross, and when they go to the wars a standard of two colours called balzaus is borne before them.9 They go in silence. Their first attack is the most terrible. In going they are the first, in returning the last. They await the orders of their Master. When they think fit to make war and the trumpet has sounded, they sing in chorus the Psalm of David, ‘Not unto us, O Lord’,10 kneeling on the blood and necks of the enemy, unless they have forced the troops of the enemy to retire altogether, or utterly broken them to pieces. Should any of them for any reason turn his back to the enemy, or come forth alive [from a defeat], or bear arms against the Christians, he is severely punished; the white mantle with the red cross, which is the sign of his knighthood, is taken away with ignominy, he is cast from the society of brethren, and eats his food on the floor without a napkin for the space of one year. If the dogs molest him, he does not dare to drive them away. But at the end of the year, if the Master and brethren think his penance to have been sufficient, they restore him the belt of his former knighthood. These Templars live under a strict religious rule, obeying humbly, having no private property, eating sparingly, dressing meanly, and dwelling in tents.11

All this was in accordance with the Templar Rule, which stated that, if any brother leaves the field of battle without permission,

        severe punishment will be given, and he cannot keep the habit. [. . .] Nor should he leave the squadron because of cuts or wounds without permission; and if he is so badly hurt that he cannot obtain permission, he should send another brother to get it for him. And if it happens that the Christians are defeated, from which God save them, no brother should leave the field to return to the garrison, while there is a piebald banner raised aloft; for if he leaves he will be expelled from the house for ever.12

Every Templar was a highly trained and expensive mounted knight. Such a knight in the second half of twelfth-century France required 750 acres to equip and maintain himself as a mounted warrior, and a century later that cost had quintupled to 3,750 acres.

For a Templar knight operating overseas the costs were even greater, as much had to be imported to Outremer, not least horses. Each Templar knight had three horses, and because they fell victim to warfare and disease, and had a lifespan of only twenty years, they needed to be renewed at a rate greater than local breeding allowed. The cost of horses rose six-fold from the twelfth to the thirteenth centuries. Moreover, horses consumed five or six times as much as a man and required feeding whether or not they were in use. A bad harvest in the East, and urgent food supplies had to be shipped in for men and horses alike.

Each Templar also had a squire to help look after the horses. And in addition there were sergeants, more lightly armed than knights, who each had a horse but acted as their own squires. Sergeants were often locally recruited and wore a brown or black tunic instead of white. In fact, for every Templar knight there were about nine others serving in support, whether as squires, sergeants or other forms of help. This is not much different from modern warfare, in which every frontline soldier is backed up by four or five who never see combat, not to mention the many thousands of civilians producing weapons and equipment and providing clothing, food and transport.

Growing responsibilities increased Templar costs immensely. As secular lords found themselves unable to maintain and defend their castles and their fiefs, they handed these responsibilities over to the military orders. Only their vast holdings in Outremer and, more especially, in the West permitted the Templars to operate on such a scale and recover after losses and setbacks to continue the defence of the Holy Land.

Until the 1160s the Franks possessed military superiority on the battlefield and pursued a strategy of offensive warfare. Although the Turks could assemble large armies of light cavalry and archers, their forces presented little threat to even lightly defended castles, provided that the Franks could come to their defence within a few days. The arrival of a Frankish force, even the report of its approach, was usually enough for the Turks to break off their siege. Moreover, when the Franks attacked fortified Muslim positions, they had the craftsmen and engineers to transport heavy wooden beams and other materials to the site and build siege engines on the spot. Antioch, Jerusalem, Tyre, Ascalon and many other cities had fallen to the Franks in this way. But a shift became evident during the Egyptian expeditions; while Amalric was tied up at Cairo, Alexandria or the Delta, he was unable to come speedily to the rescue of cities and castles in Outremer that were attacked by Nur al-Din. The farther the Franks advanced in one direction, the more exposed they became elsewhere; and meanwhile the number of Turks was increasing all the time, a vast migration comparable to the barbarian invasions that had destroyed the Roman Empire in the West centuries before. The Turks were also learning siegecraft from the Franks.

The Frankish answer was to alter radically their military architecture, to build more powerful castles which could withstand sieges for longer periods of time. This meant building higher walls, introducing round towers, creating posterns for sorties, digging deeper and wider moats and constructing glacis – that is, smooth sloping surfaces of stone that deterred the scaling of fortifications and exposed attackers to fire. Also the Franks now built their castles with vast chambers for storing quantities of food and water capable of lasting months, even years. But above all, and most characteristic of Frankish castles in the East, they added outer defensive walls, a ring or several rings of walls round the central keep, creating great concentric castles such as Saphet, Beaufort, Margat, Chastel Blanc, Krak des Chevaliers.

Castles were never just military outposts, nor did they necessarily serve a primarily military purpose. As in Europe, castles served as core developments for new settlements and as centres of production and administration – battlemented country houses, containing corn mills and olive presses, and surrounded by gardens, vineyards, orchards and fields. Their lands in some cases encompassed hundreds of villages and a peasantry numbering tens of thousands. Wood to Egypt, herbs, spices and sugar to Europe, were important exports; indeed throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Europe’s entire supply of sugar came from the Latin East.

But from the 1160s, as the Franks found themselves increasingly on the defensive, the military nature of castles became more important. Often large and elaborate, and continuously improved by the latest innovations in military science, the Franks built over fifty castles in Outremer, many of them standing sentinel at strategic locations along the frontiers. The crusader states were long and narrow, lacking defence in depth. The principality of Antioch, the county of Tripoli and the kingdom of Jerusalem stretched 450 miles from north to south, yet rarely were they more than 50 to 75 miles broad, the county of Tripoli perilously constricting to the width of the coastal plain, only a few miles broad, between Tortosa (present-day Tartus) and Jeble. The inland cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus had all been captured by the Turks, who now occupied Egypt too. The mountains were a natural defensive line for the Franks, and they built many of their greatest castles to secure the passes.

Increasingly the cost of building or remodelling these castles and garrisoning them outstripped the wherewithal of local feudal lords. In this situation the military orders came into their own. They had the resources, the independence, the dedication – the elements of their growing power. After the Second Crusade both the Hospitallers and the Templars came to provide the backbone of resistance to the Muslims, and in due course the military orders were put in possession of the great castles, a task for which they were perfectly suited. The frontier castles could be remote, isolated and lonely places; they did not appeal to the secular knighthood of Outremer. But the monastic vows of the military orders suited them to the dour life of castles, where the innermost fortifications served as monasteries for the brothers. Their members were celibate, which made them easy to control, and they had no outside private interests. Superbly trained and highly disciplined, the Hospitallers and the Templars were led by commanders of considerable military ability; the capabilities of the orders generally stood in marked contrast to those of the lay institutions of Outremer.

When the First Crusade marched into the Middle East, it came over the Belen Pass, about 16 miles north of Antioch. In 1136 the task of policing the pass was given to the Templars. Their key fortress was Baghras, built high above the pass itself, and the Templars built several others in the Amanus mountains. As the danger from Zengi and Nur al-Din grew, these castles formed a defensive screen across the northern frontier where the Templars ruled as virtually autonomous border lords, effectively independent of the principality of Antioch.

The Templars also took charge of the kingdom of Jerusalem’s southern frontier with Egypt when they were made responsible for Gaza during the winter of 1149–50. Gaza was uninhabited and ruinous at this time, but the Templars rebuilt a fortress atop a low hill and slowly the Franks revived the city around it. This was the first major castle in the kingdom of Jerusalem that the Templars are recorded as receiving, and its purpose was to complete the blockade of Ascalon 10 miles to the north, that troublesome Fatimid outpost on the Mediterranean, which thanks to a bold Templar assault fell to King Baldwin III in 1153.

Another vital strategic site as well as an important spot for pilgrims was Tortosa on the Syrian coast, said to be the place where the apostle Paul gave his first Mass. A chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built there in the third century, long before Christianity was officially tolerated within the Roman Empire, and it contained an icon of the Virgin said to have been painted by St Luke. To help the pilgrims who came to pray, the Franks built on this history with the construction of Our Lady of Tortosa in 1123, an elegant cathedral that architecturally marks the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic. But in 1152 Nur al-Din captured and burned the city, leaving it deserted and destroyed; and as the county of Tripoli lacked the means for its restoration, Tortosa was placed in the care of the Templars, who greatly improved its defences, building a massive keep and halls within a triple circuit of tower-studded walls, and with a postern in the seawall enabling the city to be supplied from the sea.

The strategic significance of Tortosa was that it stood at the seaward end of an opening in the range of coastal mountains that runs back into the interior towards the Muslim city of Homs. Towards the eastern end of this Homs gap, as it is called, and towering high above the route between the interior and the sea, is the great concentric castle of Krak des Chevaliers gained by the Hospitallers in 1144, while in the mountains between Krak and Tortosa is the castle of Chastel Blanc, now known as Safita, already in the hands of the Templars some time before 1152. From the roof of the massive keep at Chastel Blanc, round which the pattern of streets and houses is the only trace of its concentric fortifications, can be seen both Krak des Chevaliers to the east and the Templar castle of al-Arimah to the west on the Mediterranean coast just south of Tortosa. In short, the Templars, together with the Hospitallers, entirely controlled the one important route between the interior of Syria and the sea. Moreover, they did so with sovereign rights within their territories, having been granted full lordship over the population of their estates, the right to share in the spoils of battle, and the freedom to have independent dealings with neighbouring Muslim powers.

In the 1160s the Templars took over further castles, this time across the River Jordan at Ahamant (present-day Amman), and in Galilee at Saphet (also called Safad), to which was added Chastellet, better known as Jacob’s Ford (Vadum Iacob) in 1178, all of these granted to the Templars by the kings of Jerusalem. Gaza, Ahamant, Saphet and Jacob’s Ford were all within the kingdom of Jerusalem but close to its borders, where they served defensive purposes. Jacob’s Ford was the northernmost crossing point of the River Jordan, a weak point where Saladin would come down out of Damascus and make easy raids against the Christians. So alarmed was Saladin when the Templars installed themselves at Jacob’s Ford that he immediately attacked, failing in his first attempt in June 1179 but two months later storming the castle and taking seven hundred prisoners, whom he then slaughtered, although the Templar commander threw himself to his death to avoid capture.

More centrally placed was La Feve, at the crossroads of the route between Jerusalem and Acre via Galilee. Acquired by the Templars in about 1170, it served as a major depot for arms, tools and food, and it housed a large garrison. It was later the launching point for the expedition that led to the disastrous defeat at the Springs of Cresson on 1 May 1187, a foreboding of the catastrophe at Hattin.

As well as fighting in the defence of the kingdom of Jerusalem, the Templars continued to fulfil their original role of protecting pilgrims coming up to the holy sites at Jerusalem from the ports of Acre, Haifa and Jaffa, or going down from Jerusalem to the River Jordan. One of the duties of the Templar commander in Jerusalem was to keep ten knights in reserve to accompany pilgrims to the Jordan and to provide a string of pack animals to carry food and exhausted travellers. The Templars had a castle overlooking the site at the River Jordan where Jesus had been baptised, to protect not only pilgrims but also the local monks after six of them were gratuitously murdered by Zengi.

The acquisition of castles was accompanied by lands which helped to support them, especially round Baghras, Tortosa and Saphet. In these areas the Templars held many villages, mills and much agricultural land. The details are lacking because of the destruction of the Templar archives on Cyprus by the Ottoman Turks in the sixteenth century. But from what can be pieced together it seems that the orders between them, the Hospitallers and the Templars, may have held nearly a fifth of the lands in Outremer by the middle of the century, and by 1187, the year of the battle of Hattin, something like a third.

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