Imad-ed-din Zangi

The council at Jerusalem decides to attack Damascus. After the First Crusade in 1096 AD set up Christian kingdoms all along the coast of Israel and Lebanon, of course the Fatimid caliphs who had ruled that area before were very upset. By 1144, a Mamluk general, Imad-ed-din Zangi, had managed to unite enough Turks and Arabs in his army to attack the Christian kingdoms. Zangi did not take Jerusalem, but he did take the Syrian city of Edessa nearby.

In Europe, people were very upset to learn that the Turks had taken Edessa. The Pope ordered Bernard of Clairvaux (in France) to preach a second crusade to take it back and defeat Zangi. The young king of France, Louis VII, agreed to go, along with the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. So did Conrad III of Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor. At this time Louis was 23 years old and Eleanor was 22. Conrad was 51 years old.

From beginning to end, though, this crusade was not successful. Most of Conrad’s soldiers were killed as they marched through Turkey. When Louis and Conrad reached Jerusalem, they decided to attack Damascus, which would have made up for the loss of Edessa. But their attack on Damascus failed, and the kings and queens went home in disgust.

The Turkish atabeg (Prince Father) Imad al-Din Zangi became ruler of Aleppo and Mosul in 1128 following the murder of his predecessor by the Assassin sect. Zangi was in all respects a remarkable leader. He was a gifted soldier, not unusual for Turkish princes of the day, but also a gifted politician. He kept his troops and their commanders under a severe discipline, and in the field, lived under the same conditions. Zangi led his troops from the front, in the tradition of the Turkish warrior caste. He was among the first Turkish rulers in Syria to attempt real government—his predecessors had been mere warlords who treated their Syrian lands to looting and rapine.

Zangi ruled in the midst of internecine Muslim warfare. His early years saw a series of confusing and vicious struggles as he sought to consolidate power in Syria. He dared not challenge the Christians at this time, but so remarkable was his character, that in 1130, Alix, the daughter of Bohemund II, king of Jerusalem, offered him an alliance against her own father! This he declined, as it would have made an impossible alliance for him, and he had too many concerns in his own lands.

During a Seljuq quarrel for the succession of the throne in 1133, Zangi marched on Baghdad. Ambushed en route, he was assisted by an enemy— a Kurdish officer named Ayyub. In years to come, Zangi would remember this noble gesture and help Ayyub’s son to his first position of authority. This man would become the scourge of the crusader kingdoms—Saladin. In 1135, Zangi was nearly made ruler of Damascus, the principal city of Syria, but intrigues continued to hold him back. In 1137, he marched on Homs in central Syria, intending to take it as a steppingstone to Damascus. Caliph Unar, who ruled the city, craftily called upon the Knights Templar to aid him in his defense and then, as the Christian army approached, offered to assist Zangi in the destruction of the infidels. This Zangi did. In June 1137, the Templar army was trapped in the fortress of Barin by Zangi’s forces and forced to surrender. After the battle, however, Unar renounced his allegiance and Zangi besieged Homs, which he could not take because a combined crusader-Byzantine army was besieging his city of Shayzar. Fearing the loss of this vital city, he withdrew his army and broke the siege.

This Byzantine-crusader alliance could have been serious to the Muslim-dominated Middle East. It was, in fact, the only time that the crusaders acted as the pawns of the old empire, and had the Frankish vitality been combined with the empire’s organization, the results for Syria could have been fatal. Zangi responded with propaganda to tear the two allies apart—warning the Byzantines of the huge army that he was gathering and warning the Franks of Byzantine designs against their own newly conquered lands. He swept the enemy away, more with guile than arms, but this victory made him the preeminent man of Syria. In May 1138, he was offered a wedding alliance to princess Zumurrud of Damascus and received Homs as her dowry. It was supposed that her son Mahmud would then turn Damascus over to his new father-in-law. However, despite the agreement, Mahmud refused to turn the city over to Zangi. In July 1139 Mahmud was murdered, but before Zangi could take control of the city, the old Caliph Unar—Zangi’s ally and enemy at Homs—seized control and began plotting a new alliance with the crusaders. Thus Zangi was stalled again, more by the clever old Caliph Unar, a master of the political game, than by the crusaders.

Unable to cement his control of Syria, Zangi turned his attention north and in 1144 retook the kingdom of Edessa, the first of the crusader states to be captured and the first to fall. It was also Zangi’s last great achievement, for a servant murdered him in 1146. His kingdom fell apart, and his son Nur-al-Din was left with only Aleppo.

Zangi’s life was not dedicated to the destruction of the crusaders, but to the acquisition of personal power. At his death, his realms dissolved into the hands of various strongmen, and his son was left with a sliver of his father’s power. But Nur-al-Din, a man very different from his father, would decisively change the balance of power in the Middle East. An austere man, more at home in the library than on the battlefield, the new ruler of Aleppo would fight the Franks with his own wisdom, and others’ swords.

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Malta and the Order

Aleccio, Matteo Perez d’; The Siege of Malta: Siege and Bombardment of Saint Elmo, 27 May 1565; National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-siege-of-malta-siege-and-bombardment-of-saint-elmo-27-may-1565-172495

This island state is strategically located in the middle of the Mediterranean. As such, it was successively part of several ancient Mediterranean empires, including the Phoenician, Greek (ancient and Byzantine), Carthaginian, Roman, and Arab. The Normans conquered Malta in the late 11th century. It was a base for Christian armies and pilgrims heading for the ‘‘Holy Land’’ during the Crusades. When the Crusaders lost Jerusalem, and then Acre, the defeated Hospitallers retreated to Cyprus, then Rhodes. Eight years after Rhodes fell to the Ottomans (1522), Charles V resettled the Hospitallers on Malta, where they were known as the ‘‘Knights of Malta.’’ From 1564 to 1565, some 9,000 knights and retainers resisted a siege by 20,000 of Suleiman I’s assault troops, later doubled to 40,000. The fortress of St. Elmo fell but Valletta held out until disease and hunger wore down the Ottomans. Most of the defenders were also killed, with just 500 or so knights surviving. In later decades the Maltese Knights lived as pirates operating slave galleys. Styling themselves ‘‘Armies of the Religion on the Sea’’ they preyed on Muslim trade and cut Muslim throats under banners of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, and the famous red cross of their Order. They even acquired three island colonies in the Caribbean (Tortuga, St. Barthélemy, and St. Croix). The Grand Master was made a prince of the Empire in 1607 and in 1630 he gained rank in Rome equivalent to a Cardinal Deacon. The Knights remained in Malta until expelled by Napoleon in 1798 as he stopped off on the way to Alexandria.

Treaty of Osnabrück, (October 24, 1648).

The second of the major treaties of the Peace of Westphalia which, together with the Treaty of Münster signed on the same day, brought peace to Germany and most of Europe and ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). Osnabrück was a heavily detailed agreement which resolved hundreds of long-standing religious and territorial disputes within Germany. For instance, it clarified the legal standing of the Protestant branch—Johannitterorden—of the Knights of St. John, as distinct from the still-Catholic Order of Malta, and returned five commanderies to the Maltese. More generally, it clarified the titles and claims of various German princes and bishops, reformed the election provisions of the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, and confirmed as sovereign some 300 political entities in greater Germany. In that it carried forward recognition of the German Estates agreed in the Imperial Diet at Regensburg in 1641. It also granted Sweden an indemnity of five million Taler that was crucial to Sweden agreeing to withdraw its unpaid army from Germany.

Map of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights 1466

‘‘Domus hospitalis sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum’’ (‘‘Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons’’). An order of hospitaller knights set up in 1127 in Jerusalem. In 1198 they were transformed into a Military Order (‘‘Ritter des Deutschordens’’) after the failed Third Crusade. They had three classes of brethren: knights, priests, and sergeants. All were required to be of German birth and noble blood. Some of their hospitals admitted nursing women. On their shields and chests the Teutonic Knights bore the Crusader symbol of the order: the black and silver ‘‘Iron Cross’’ that ordained, in both senses, German warriors and military equipment into the 21st century. Their fighting doctrine was, ‘‘Who fights the Order, fights Jesus Christ!’’ Their rallying cry was, ‘‘Gott mit Uns!’’ (‘‘God is with us!’’). They slept with their swords, initially their only permitted possession, practiced self-flagellation and extreme fasting and monkish devotions, and kept silent in camp and on the march. Many wore mail directly against their flesh to mortify it. They were at their worst Christian Taliban: gruesome holy warriors who welcomed martyrdom, willing killers for ‘‘The Christ.’’

Out of the Ashes

Unable to compete with other Military Orders in Syria, the Teutonic Knights fought in Armenia instead. In 1210 nearly the whole order was killed, leaving just 20 knights. Hermann von Salza essentially refounded the order in 1226, aided by Emperor Friedrich II (‘‘Barbarossa’’). They were given lands in Sicily and eastern Europe, a transaction approved by the pope in the Golden Bull of Rimini (1223). They now wore white tunics, an honor granted over the strong objection of the rival Knights Templar. They fought in behalf of the Hungarian king in Transylvania before moving into Prussia, which the Knights in the Service of God in Prussia had failed to conquer. The first two Knights of the order settled in Prussia in 1229; the next year 20 more arrived, along with 200 sergeants. The Brethren thereafter acted as commanders and officers in larger armies of converted Prussians who served them as auxiliaries. In battle the Knights were the panzer tip of a crusading invasion of the pagan lands of the Baltic. They ravaged and conquered Courland and Prussia and parts of Poland and western Russia, waging ruthless campaigns against ‘‘the northern Saracens.’’ They settled in conquered lands as the new aristocracy, enserfing native populations. Their own vassalage shifted among the Empire, the king of Poland, and distant but powerless popes. The legacy of the ‘‘Drang nach Osten’’ (‘‘Drive to the East’’) of the ‘‘Sword Brethren’’ was the Christianization and enfeoffment of Prussia by force of arms and merciless war with Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, and Muscovy. The northern crusades, especially the long forest-ambush campaigns of the 14th century against animist Lithuanians, were among the most ferocious of the entire Middle Ages.

The military tools of the Brethren were advanced and powerful crossbows, mailed heavy cavalry, stone watchtowers and fortress fastnesses, huge torsion artillery (catapults and counterpoise trebuchets), and cogs that could carry 500 troops, which gave them mobile striking power along the Baltic coast. Their early opponents had almost none of these weapons. When Knights charged native infantry (‘‘Pruzzes’’) armed only with bows and axes, the panic and slaughter was terrible. The Brethren united with the Livonian Order, also comprised of German knights, from 1237 to 1525. To their new Ordensstaat (1238), the Sword Brothers brought German and Dutch colonists and peasants to secure the land, completing the most successful and brutal military colonization of the Middle Ages. Baltic cities within the Ordensstaat were permitted to join the Hanse, as did the Hochmeister.

The Brethren also fought constant border wars with Poland-Lithuania, a large condominium that dominated most of eastern Europe and western Russia. They were defeated by a Mongol horde at Liegnitz (April 1241), but thereafter held and expanded their territory. By 1250 the Lithuanians had adapted to new weapons and mounted tactics and under a new leader, Mindaugus, invaded the Ordensstaat. In 1254 some 60,000 Germans and Bohemians mobilized to rescue the Knights. Over the next two decades they faced war with Lithuania and a 13-year peasant revolt in Prussia, the ‘‘Great Apostasy.’’ By the late 1270s they were triumphant in the Baltic.

In 1291 the last resistance to the Muslim assault on Outremer collapsed and the German Hospital in Acre was lost. In 1309 the Order’s Grand Commandery was moved to Marienburg (Malbork) on the Vistula and its ties to the Holy Land faded into legend and dim memory. Marriage to natives was still forbidden because so many remained pagan and hostile: in 1343 peasants in Estonia rebelled and slaughtered 1,800 Germans in Reval. The Brethren hence had a narrow recruitment base: they boasted fewer than 500 full knights supported by 3,200 retainers, just under 6,000 sergeants, fewer than 2,000 garrison militia from six large towns, and 1,500 poor-quality conscripts who were peasant-tenants of various abbeys under control of the Brethren. The Order was reinforced by knights from across Europe when successive popes preached a new Baltic crusade against pagan Lithuania; many came for the blood sport. This was key, as Prussia’s population was savaged by the Black Death and Crusaders from Germany grew scarce after Lithuanians converted to Christianity. Still, between 1345 and 1377, over 100 expeditions were launched by the Brethren into Lithuania. To make up the shortfall in German recruits, baptized Prussians and Slavs were recruited from 1400, and large numbers of Czech mercenaries were hired whenever the Brethren fought.

The reforms did not help: the Teutonic Knights were beaten decisively and with huge losses by a Polish-Lithuanian army at Tannenberg ( July 15, 1410). That ended their Baltic crusade and accelerated a terminal military decline. Lands lay fallow, commanderies remained empty, castles were deserted. The Poles then raided into Prussia, but after the losses suffered at Tannenberg the Knights were loathe to offer battle. A full-scale Polish invasion occurred in 1422 and forced the Knights to cede territory. In 1440 the Preussische Bund was founded in opposition to the extant privileges of the Order. The end of political and military dominance by the Brethren came with the War of the Cities (1454–1466). The Knights fought well against the Poles at Chojnice (September 18, 1454), but the size of armies deployed by Poland and the Bund told against the Teutons and their mercenaries. Nor could the Brethren rely on their traditional Czech allies: Hussite armies, too, raided deep into the Ordensstaat. In 1455 virtually all Livonian knights were wiped out. When the purse of the remaining Brethren turned over empty, unpaid mercenaries handed over the capital and fortress of Marienburg to the Poles without even a token fight. The Teutonic Knights were reduced, humiliated, and split by the Second Treaty of Torun (1466). In 1498 they regained a measure of independence when they elected as Hochmeister the brother of Friedrich of Saxony, who renounced homage to Poland and demanded the return of ‘‘Royal Prussia.’’ From 1498 to 1503 the Order fought with Muscovy, surprisingly holding its own against a more numerous foe. In 1519 the Knights attacked Poland, burning and raiding along the frontier but avoiding set-piece battles.

What finally defeated the Order was the same thing that had led to its founding: an argument about God. In 1523 Martin Luther wrote to Hochmeister Albrecht of Brandenburg. They met at the Imperial Diet in 1524 and Albrecht converted to Luther’s views, as had the bishop of Straslund and many Brethren. The original Livonian Order broke away as a result of Albrecht’s conversion. (Catholic remnants survived in Germany until 1809, but only as a landless and powerless ceremonial shell.) On April 8, 1525, Albrecht signed the Treaty of Cracow converting Prussia into a hereditary duchy under the Polish monarchy. The last significant military action of the Brethren was to support Charles V during his war with the Schmalkaldic League (1546–1547). The Order lost its rich Venetian commandery in 1595, the same year 100 knights made a last crusade against the Ottomans in Hungary. In 1618 the Duchy of Prussia passed to the Hohenzollerns and the last knights became Prussian officers. In 1618 the Duchy of Prussia passed to the Hohenzollerns and the last knights became Prussian officers. In 1695 the Order itself was remade into a regiment, the ‘‘Hoch und Deutschmeister’’ of the Austrian Army. A key result of the slippage of the hold of the Teutonic Knights on the eastern Baltic was a rise in commercial and military competition for the succession to the Ordensstaat among Poland and Sweden, and later, also Russia.

Suggested Reading: E. Christiansen, The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100–1525 (1980); Desmond Seward, Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders (1972; 1995).

 

The Size of the Teutonic Order’s Field Army in the Levant

Arms and armour of the Teutonic Order , the late 13th century. Dariusz Bufnal

Historians have tended to be rather dismissive of the size of the Teutonic Order in the Levant. Prawer, comparing them to the Templars and Hospitallers, wrote, `smaller and poorer than their comrades-in-arms, the Teutonic Knights never played as important a part in the history of the kingdom. Riley-Smith, when discussing the 1258 agreement between the three major orders, wrote `The Teutonic Knights were, of course, the poorest of the orders in Syria. It is not the purpose of this work to fully contradict these statements about the size and importance of the Teutonic Knights. They were indeed less wealthy and less powerful than the Templars and Hospitallers in the Latin East. Even so, when reading statements of this kind, it is too easy to interpret them as implying that the Order was a negligible force. The difficulty when assessing the size of the Teutonic Knights’ field force in the Latin East, relative to the Templars and Hospitallers, is the lack of quantitative evidence – there are only two references which supply figures for the total force which the Order could deploy during any single engagement. The first of these can be found in the chronicle of Peter von Dusburg, which mentioned that in c. 1210 the Order could deploy only ten brother knights. 69 Naturally, the Order was at an early stage in its development at this time and this figure tallies well with other circumstantial evidence.

The second piece of evidence, which can be found in Salimbene of Adam’s chronicle, is a transcription of a letter written by Robert, patriarch of Jerusalem, which details the Christian defeat at La Forbie in 1244 and gives specific figures for the battlefield losses of the military orders. The size of the Teutonic Order’s force is described as follows: `From the house of the Germans none survived except for three brothers, all the others were killed, some 400 from the same house. This figure has been accepted by several historians, such as Richard and Jotischky, who have interpreted it to mean 400 brother knights. This has been rejected by Riley-Smith who claims that `it is very unlikely that the Teutonic Knights could raise 300 [400] brethren-at-arms’. Riley-Smith’s argument seems to be sensible because 400 knights would have given the Order a greater field force than that of either the Templars or Hospitallers, who could generally muster around 300 knights apiece. These older orders had both the military power to conduct independent campaigns in the Levant and a wider support network in Western Christendom, which concentrated its efforts almost solely upon the Latin East. Given that the Teutonic Order had neither such power nor such focused support this conclusion is accepted.

A different interpretation has been offered by Forey who suggests that the figure of 400 did not refer solely to brother knights but also to secular troops affiliated to the Order. This idea opens a new approach to this piece of evidence. Notably, within this letter, the patriarch gave two figures for each of the contingents of the Templars and Hospitallers. The Templars are said to have deployed 312 fratres milites and 324 turcopoles, whilst the Hospitallers supplied 325 fratres milites and 200 turcopoles. For the Teutonic Knights, the patriarch gives only one number for their total field force. It may be the case, therefore, that this figure referred collectively to knights, turcopoles, confratres and mercenaries. This interpretation feels more realistic because it suggests that the Teutonic Order possessed a total force of 400 troops compared to a total Hospitaller contingent of 525 and a Templar force of 626.

Certainly the evidence of this letter should not be lightly laid aside; Patriarch Robert of Jerusalem was an influential man who played a leading role in the events of 1244. He was present in Jerusalem when it fell and he is reported to have proclaimed the decision to march out against the Khwarazmians. He was also present at the battle. As such it is likely that he was aware of the size of the military orders’ contingents. Nevertheless, Riley- Smith has made further criticisms of the figures given in this letter, including the stated losses incurred by the Cypriot and Antiochene contingents (300 knights apiece) which he claimed were `obviously exaggerated’. These statistics certainly do seem to be unduly high and this naturally casts doubt on the other data in this letter. Despite this, some of the other numbers can be verified from other sources. For instance, the claim that there were three survivors from the Teutonic House is replicated in a separate contemporary letter written by the patriarch, and also in two further accounts. Admittedly these separate accounts do not state the size of the Teutonic Order’s main host, although the fact that some of the letter’s statistics can be found else- where speaks in favour of its general reliability.

To test further the veracity of the claim that the Order deployed 400 horsemen, a piece of qualitative evidence will now be reviewed. During the Barons’ Crusade, five years before La Forbie, a contingent of the army decided to advance towards Egypt. At Gaza, a column led by a number of French lords detached itself to embark upon a raiding expedition. This force of around 600 knights was eventually trapped and forced to flee by the Egyptian army. The main body of the Christian army then became aware of this disaster and hurried to support the refugees who were fleeing from the Muslim onslaught. The first to arrive at the battlefield were the Teutonic Knights who advanced unaided against the oncoming Egyptian army. This `powerful contingent’ (grant route) alone is said to have been sufficient to deter the advancing Muslim army and even to have cut down a number of the Muslim vanguard. Given that the Egyptian army had already destroyed a force of 600 knights, it is implausible that the Teutonic Order could have acted in this way without a sizeable field force. They must have possessed sufficient cavalry to face down the oncoming Muslim forces. In these circumstances a force of around 400 horsemen would probably have been the minimum necessary to achieve this feat. To conclude, although it is impossible to state with any degree of certainty the precise size of the force which the Teutonic Knights were able to commit to the defence of the East, the figure of 400 horsemen at La Forbie chimes well with the available evidence.

The Military Orders

The Warrior-Monks

Crusading was originally a temporary action undertaken for a specified goal. With the establishment of the military religious orders in the twelfth century, that “temporary act of devotion became warfare as a devotional way of life.”

The development of these religious orders, whose members took a vow to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience with the added vow of military service for Christ and the Church, can be traced to those warriors who came to the Holy Land after the First Crusade. The founding of their orders, like the founding of most religious orders throughout Church history, was not a planned event; rather it “was the completely spontaneous response of some Christians to the problems facing them in the Holy Land. The pilgrims had to be protected and the sick and needy among them cared for, and above all else, the safety of the captured holy places had to be assured.”

Over time, four main groups of warrior-monks developed: the Hospitallers, the Templars, the Teutonic Knights, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. Believing that “fighting was a charitable activity,” members of these orders “said the office and then rode out to kill their enemies.” Some questioned whether these orders were in keeping with the dictates of the gospel of Christ, but the reality of life in the twelfth century was such that “if the mendicant brothers preached the gospel, the military brethren defended it.”

The emergence of two religious orders combining the ideals of knighthood and monasticism played a vital role in buttressing the Frankish Levant. In about 1119, a small band of knights, led by a French nobleman named Hugh of Payns, dedicated themselves to the charitable task of protecting Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. In practical terms, at first this meant patrolling the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, but Hugh’s group quickly gained wider recognition and patronage. The Latin patriarch soon acknowledged their status as a spiritual order, while the king himself gave them quarters in Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque, known to the Franks as the Temple of Solomon, and from this site they gained their name: the Order of the Temple of Solomon, or the Templars. Like monks, they made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but, rather than dedicate themselves to lives of sheltered devotion in isolated communities, they took up sword, shield and armour to fight for Christendom and the defence of the Holy Land.

As the Templars’ leader (or master), Hugh of Payns travelled to Europe in 1127 in search of validation and endorsement for his new order. Formal recognition by the Latin Church came in January 1129, at a major ecclesiastical council held at Troyes (Champagne, France). In the years to come, this official seal of approval was further garlanded by papal support and extensive privileges and immunities. The Templars also earned the endorsement of one of the Latin world’s great religious luminaries, Bernard of Clairvaux. As abbot of a Cistercian monastery, Bernard was renowned for his wisdom and trusted as an adviser in all the courts of the West. The combination of political and ecclesiastical power that he wielded was unprecedented, but in physical terms Bernard was a wreck, forced to have an open latrine trench dug next to his pew in church so that he could relieve the symptoms of an appalling chronic intestinal affliction.

Around 1130 Bernard composed a treatise–titled In Praise of the New Knighthood–extolling the virtues of the Templars’ way of life. The abbot declared the order to be ‘most worthy of total admiration’, lauding its brethren as ‘true knights of Christ fight[ing] the battles of their Lord’, assured of glorious martyrdom should they die. This lyrical exhortation played a central role in popularising the Templar movement across Latin Europe, garnering acceptance for a revolutionary offshoot of crusade ideology that in many ways was the ultimate distillation and expression of Christian holy war.

The example set by the Templars encouraged another charitable religious movement founded by Latins in the Near East to embrace militarisation. Since the late eleventh century, Jerusalem’s Christian quarter had contained a hospital, funded by Italian merchants and devoted to the care of pilgrims and the sick. With the Holy City’s conquest by the First Crusaders and the associated influx of pilgrim traffic, this institution, dedicated to John the Baptist and so known as the Hospital of St John, grew in power and importance. Recognised as an order by the pope in 1113, the Hospitallers, as they came to be known, began to attract widespread international patronage. Under the guidance of its master, Raymond of Le Puy (1120–60), the movement appended a martial element to its ongoing medical functions, emerging by the mid-twelfth century as the second Military Order.

Over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Templars and Hospitallers stood at the heart of crusading history, playing leading roles in the war for the Holy Land. In the central Middle Ages, Latin lay nobles commonly sought to affirm their devotion to God by giving alms to religious movements, often in the form of title to land or rights to its revenue. The mercurial popularity of the Military Orders therefore brought them rich donations in Outremer and across Europe. Despite their relatively humble origins–immortalised in the Templars’ case by their seal, depicting two impoverished knights riding a single horse–both were soon endowed with enormous wealth. They also attracted a steady stream of recruits, many of whom became highly trained, well-equipped warrior-monks (as knights or lower-ranking sergeants). Most medieval European war bands were startlingly amateurish, accustomed only to fighting in short seasonal campaigns and predominantly composed of poorly drilled, lightly armed irregulars. The Templars and Hospitallers, by contrast, could levy expert full-time standing forces: in effect, Latin Christendom’s first professional armies.

The Military Orders became supranational movements. Primarily focused on the protection of the crusader states, they nonetheless developed an array of other European military, ecclesiastical and financial interests, including a prominent role in the Iberian frontier wars against Islam. In the Levant their unprecedented military and economic might brought them a concomitant degree of political influence. Both orders enjoyed papal patronage, gaining independence from local secular and ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and so had the potential to destabilise the Latin East’s sovereign polities. As rogue powers, they might question or even countermand crown authority, or ignore patriarchal edicts and episcopal instruction. For now, though, this danger was more than balanced by the transformative benefits of their involvement in Outremer’s defence.

Together, the Templars and Hospitallers brought a desperately needed influx of manpower and martial expertise to crusader states starved of military resources. Crucially, they also possessed the wealth to maintain, and in time extend, Outremer’s network of forts and castles. From the 1130s onwards, the lay lords of the Latin East began ceding control of fortified sites to the orders, often allowing them to develop semi-independent enclaves in border zones. Command of the castle of Baghras gave the Templars a dominant position in the northern reaches of the Antiochene principality. Rights to Safad in Galilee and to Gaza in southern Palestine brought the order similar rights and responsibilities. The Hospitallers, meanwhile, gained centres at Krak des Chevaliers, perched above the Bouqia valley between Antioch and Tripoli, and at Bethgibelin, one of three strongholds built in southern Palestine to defend Jerusalem and exert military pressure upon Muslim-held Ascalon.

Knights of the Holy Sepulchre

Godfrey de Bouillon, the hero of the First Crusade, founded the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in 1099 as the military guard for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1138 Pope Innocent II (r. 1130–1143) approved their religious charism as canons of the Church embracing the evangelical counsels. The order also contained knights living a secular life who vowed to defend the tomb of Christ. Operating so closely with the kings of Jerusalem initially made the order a powerful institution, but it steadily became a ceremonial and service organization. In 1847, the order was reconstituted, reorganized, and modernized by Pope Bl. Pius IX, who took on the role of grand master. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre continue to serve the Church through their spiritual devotion to the Holy City and their assistance to Christians in the Holy Land.

The Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights of St. Mary’s Hospital of Jerusalem originated through the actions of German merchants at the siege of Acre in 1190, during the Third Crusade. They began by simply establishing a hospital in the Crusader camp to care for the sick, wounded, and dying combatants, but within a decade their focus shifted to military matters. Like the other military religious orders, they bound themselves in service to Christ and the Church. They embraced a personal identification with the Savior, evidenced by the adoption of the motto, “Who fights us, fights Jesus Christ.”

Although never influential in the Holy Land, the Teutonic Knights became a powerful political and military force in Eastern Europe. In spite of this, they were decisively defeated by Polish forces at the Battle of Tannenberg on July 15, 1410. The devastation wrought by this defeat severely limited their influence and effectiveness. Although their numbers dwindled through the centuries, they continued to exist as a small order of nobility centered in Austria. Already limited in activity, they suffered even greater loss when twelve knights were hanged in 1944 by the Nazi German government for their role in the assassination plot against Adolf Hitler.

Military Orders and the Church

The modern Catholic may wonder why the Church recognized and supported the creation of religious orders whose members lived the evangelical counsels but also fought in combat. The same question was also raised by some Catholics during the twelfth century, but the Church rightly emphasized the difference between killing an innocent person and an enemy soldier. St. Bernard used the term “malecide”—the killing of evil; it was “the extermination of injustice rather than of the unjust, and therefore desirable.”

The military religious orders were a unique spiritual innovation in the life of the Church. While the Crusades gave the medieval warriors of Christendom a temporary outlet for spiritual benefits through the use of their martial skill, the military orders provided a permanent place for the knight in monastic life: “The warrior, a strong man, taking pride in his strength, was asked to use this strength and his sword in the service of the weak, to step out of his own world and become a monk, yet keep his sword by his side and his lance in his hand.”

 

Frankish Greece

Frankish Greece, 1204–61

Following the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, a substantial new Frankish presence was added to those in Syria, the Holy Land and Cyprus. Rule was established by those crusaders who remained in Constantinople over the city and adjoining territories, and those areas that had still been under the control of the Byzantine government – Thrace, Greece and the extreme northwest of Asia Minor, together with the Aegean and Ionian islands.

The new emperor was elected by a council comprising six Venetians and six Frankish crusaders. The choice of Baldwin, count of Flanders, rather than Boniface of Montferrat, was a genuine surprise, at least to Boniface, but may be explained by Baldwin’s more conciliatory approach to the Byzantines (Lock 1995: 43–5). Another committee decided upon the division of spoils. The Venetians retained one-eighth of the city of Constantinople, the Adriatic coast, the Ionian and Aegean islands (the latter of which were to become the Duchy of the Archipelago), Euboea (Negroponte) and Crete. They established a genuinely colonial maritime empire, ruled through a podestà by the Republic of Venice itself. Most of these possessions were lost to the Ottomans in the fifteenth century, though Crete remained in Venetian hands until 1669. The emperor received the rest of the city of Constantinople, together with Thrace, the northwest region of Asia Minor and the islands of Chios, Lesbos and Samos. He soon found, however, that he had exchanged his strongly centralised county in the West for little more than a glamorous title. Although the partition of fiefs was probably based on recent Byzantine tax registers (Oikonomides 1976: 3–28), Baldwin had little say in the distribution, which meant that he had little opportunity to establish a dynastic base in support of his title. In recognition of his family’s claim to titles held by his brother Renier before 1185, Boniface was granted the barony of Thessalonika. Central Greece and the Peloponnese were carved up between the Frankish crusaders, and eventually settled into the two main power bases of the Principality of Achaia and the Duchy of Athens.

A narrative account of the fortunes of the Latin Empire makes unedifying reading. The Empire faced enemies on three fronts: in east and west, the two rival Byzantine successor states of Nicaea, ruled by the Lascarids (who also swallowed up the Komnenos state of Trebizond) and the Despotate of Epiros, ruled by the Angeloi; and the Bulgar kingdom to the north. Baldwin and Boniface were both killed fighting the Bulgars, in 1205 and 1207 respectively. Had the Franks been prepared to recognise the Bulgar kingdom, they might have been able to count on their help against their Byzantine rivals, but Emperor seems to have been deluded by his title into a false sense of his power. In 1208, his successor, Henry II (1206–16) married the daughter of the Bulgar tsar Kalojan, which gave him breathing space to concentrate on defending his empire against the Lascarids. In 1211 he won a victory in Asia Minor that secured his Asian possessions, and when he died in 1216 the Latin Empire was probably at its height.

The 1220s, however, proved disastrous. The ‘kingdom’ of Thessalonika, a Montferrat dynastic possession, fell to the Despotate of Epiros in 1224, despite the launch of a crusade from the West by William IV of Montferrat to save it. In 1225 the Nicene Emperor John III Vatatzes (1222–54) drove the Franks out of Asia Minor and was prevented from reconquering Constantinople itself only by the opposition of Epiros. A further stay of execution came in 1230 when Epiros itself was destroyed by the Bulgar tsar John II Asen (1218–41). The Empire had a minor, Baldwin II (1228–61) at its helm, and even the appointment of the experienced former king of Jerusalem, John of Brienne to the position of co-emperor in 1229 could not turn the tide. When John died in 1237, after an adventurous career that had included the captaincy of papal armies in Italy, marriage to the heiresses of Jerusalem and Armenia and the leadership of a crusade, the Latin Empire consisted of little more than the city of Constantinople itself. The end came only in 1261, when the Nicene Emperor Michael VIII Paleologus (1259–82) realised just how weak the Franks were. By that stage, the unfortunate Baldwin II had been reduced to selling or pawning anything of value, including the remaining relics, the lead from the palace roof, and even his own son.

One corner of Frankish Greece, however, provided a model of strong and successful feudal colonisation. The Villehardouin dynasty established itself in Morea (Peloponnese) and between 1209 and 1259 enjoyed secure and peaceful rule over the Principality of Achaia. William II of Villehardouin (1246–78) conquered the whole of Morea, and made himself overlord of Negroponte, the duchies of Athens and the Archipelago. The constant warfare that weakened the emperors in the north also acted as a screen to protect the more remote Morea, with the result that the Villehardouin princes were able to consolidate centralised feudal authority with little external threat. Alongside their Frankish fief-holders they also ruled over the remaining Byzantine archontes (landowners), using French feudal customs enshrined in a written code of law. After 1266, following the defeat of William II by the Lascarids in 1262, the Principality survived only as a vassal state of Charles of Anjou’s Sicilian kingdom. In the fourteenth century it disintegrated under the growing strength of the new Palaeologan regime in Constantinople, and as a consequence of the seizure of the duchy of Athens by the Catalan Company (1311), a group of mercenaries from northern Spain. During its zenith, however, under Geoffrey II (1229–46) and William II, the Frankish court of Achaia enjoyed a reputation as a centre of traditional chivalric culture. William II, who participated in Louis IX’s crusade in Egypt (1249–50), built a palace at Mistra whose grandeur can still be appreciated today.

The weakness of the Latin Empire must be seen in the context of wider collapse in the region. That the crusaders had triumphed in 1204 with a small army (about 20,000) over the defences of the largest city in Christendom says more about problems within the Byzantine imperial system than about Frankish military strength. The Byzantine Empire had suffered five changes in regime between 1182 and 1204; loyalty to the emperor was so loose by 1204 that the Greeks of Thrace were quite prepared to recognise a Latin as just another in a succession of emperors. The Franks never had sufficient military strength, nor could they mobilise western colonisation as the settlers in the Holy Land after 1099 had been able to. But if the Franks were hopelessly weak, their rivals were scarcely stronger. The Latin Empire was therefore ‘an additional element in the regional mosaic of princelings’ (Lock 1995: 55); they were distinguished only by their possession of the ‘queen of cities’ herself. The Latin Empire was a symptom of the breakdown in power in the northeast Mediterranean.

The Latin Empire may have been weak, but that does not mean it was unimportant in the political life of Europe. Popes until the mid-thirteenth century saw it as a vital component in the Crusader States. There is no reason to suppose that Innocent III’s reference to the Frankish settlers after 1204 as ‘pilgrims’ was simply conventional phrasing: like Gregory IX (1227–41), he was probably sincere in the belief that the best hope for the Holy Land lay in securing a bridgehead to control the passage from West to East. Thus Gregory saw a crusade against Nicaea (1237–9), which never in fact materialised, as part of the wider effort to protect the Crusader States. Here the papacy seems to have been out of step with western opinion (Barber 1989: 111–28). Although individual rulers such as Charles of Anjou (1266–85) were prepared to invest in Frankish Greece, the cause of the Latin Empire had little resonance among potential crusaders. Richard, earl of Cornwall, for example, resisted papal pressure to commute his vow for the Holy Land to the Aegean in 1239. The failure of the Latin Empire to appeal to western crusading instincts can also be seen in the large numbers of Franks who took service in the Byzantine armies of Nicaea or the Despotate of Epiros after 1204. Frankish mercenaries were prepared to commit horrifying acts of violence against the ruling Franks on behalf of their employers, as for example in 1210 when Adamée de Pofoy and a group of his knights were crucified in Thessaly by western knights fighting for the Despotate. Papal policy changed, perhaps to conform to public opinion, under Innocent IV (1243–54). Seeing that there would never be sufficient western interest in propping up the failing régime in Constantinople, he recognised the legitimacy of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople in exile, and initiated a more conciliatory policy towards Orthodox Christendom in general. This change in papal policy surely contributed to the revival of Byzantine authority and the eventual downfall of the Latin Empire.

Relations between Franks and the indigenous Greek population were, as may be supposed, often strained. Yet it may have been the confrontation with unfamiliar and – according to the Byzantine view – erroneous religious customs that proved most offensive to the Greeks. As in the Crusader States in the Levant, Orthodox monasteries and the parochial system continued to function. The difference between the twelfth-century Crusader States and the situation in Frankish Greece and Cyprus in the thirteenth century, as well as in Syria and the Holy Land, was the more intensive level of papal oversight. In part, this may have been caused by the suspicion that Greek monasteries were collaborating with the rival régimes of Nicaea and Epiros (Lock 1995: 227), but on the whole this changed situation reflected new directions in papal policy under Innocent III and his successors. Where the Latin Church in the twelfth-century Crusader States seems to have made little trouble over the observance of Orthodox customs that ran contrary to Latin norms, in Frankish Greece there was less tolerance of difference in customs relating to fasting, the Eucharist, consecration and holy orders. Latin oversight was aided by the arrival of new religious orders, notably the Franciscans and Dominicans, who were valuable agents on behalf of papal policy. A dozen Cistercian monasteries and nunneries were also founded in Frankish Greece, reflecting the involvement of the order in the Fourth Crusade (Brown 1958: 63–120; Panagopoulos 1979). Nevertheless, the number of Franks was always small compared with Greeks, and consequently there was little attempt outside Constantinople and Thessalonika to impose a Latin parochial system on conquered territory. This meant that there must often have been little alternative for isolated Frankish communities to sharing churches or even attending Orthodox services, and even in the early years of the settlement Pope Innocent III worried about Franks adopting Orthodox religious customs. By the fourteenth century, Venetians in Crete who ‘went native’ were a serious concern for the papacy. It is probably going too far to describe the Frankish settlement as a process of acculturation. As one historian has observed, the occupation was too brief and too limited geographically to be ‘anything other than a curdling, rather than a true intermingling’ (Lock 1995: 266). Because Frankish and Greek communities lived largely separate different existences, however, it does not follow that they were necessarily hostile to each other. Although historians, naturally enough, dwell on violent incidents such as the anti-Latin riots of 1182, and examine the polemical discourse against Latins in the Orthodox tradition, there is a danger in overplaying this type of evidence. There was little anti-Latin resistance in Frankish Greece in the thirteenth century, and although polemical writing continued to be produced in monasteries and schools, it was not representative of how the societies interacted. Once ‘a caricature became a person with a face and a name, cooperation, friendship and conjugal fidelity were thought possible’ (Lock 1995: 274).

We may even question the extent to which 1204 really marks a cataclysm in Byzantine history. For one thing, creeping ‘westernisation’ during the twelfth century had accustomed cosmopolitan Byzantines to the sight, sound and customs of Franks. It has been estimated that before the last quarter of the twelfth century there were between ten and twenty thousand western merchants and their families in Constantinople; marriage between Italian merchants and Byzantine women was, moreover, encouraged by imperial policy (Magdalino 1993: 27–108). At the middle and lower levels of society in particular, the Latin conquest offered possibilities of social and professional advancement, and it may be in this largely undocumented hinterland that something like a hybrid society developed. Even for those Greeks who were unwilling to cooperate actively, or in the provinces where Franks were thinly spread, the resentment against them may have been no greater than that felt for any ruling élite. In the provinces, land was redistributed, but the impact of this was greater for the pre-1204 élites than for those who actually worked on the land. The Frankish effect on institutional life was minimal. Although some French feudal terminology crept into the everyday speech, few place-names seem to have been changed. Debates over whether the Franks introduced feudal landholding arrangements have been inconclusive. The age-old Byzantine system of pronoia – a grant of land or privilege in return for services to the grantor – looks on the surface rather like western feudalism anyway, with the exception that the grant was typically for the lifetime of the recipient and not hereditary. After 1261, Emperor Michael VIII seems to have made some grants of pronoia hereditary, which may indicate residual Frankish influence. Even this, however, may simply have been a stage in the process of westernisation that can be seen in the twelfth century, in Emperor Manuel Komnenos’ adoption of chivalric concepts such as the tournament and dubbing to knighthood. The Frankish occupation of Greece, therefore, may be seen as a stage in a process, rather than as the sole cause of the eventual decline of the Byzantine Empire.

 

 

Hospitaller Ships and Transportation across the Mediterranean

Crusader vessel – medieval cog

The main functions of the Order of St John, after its militarization, were the maintenance of Christian rule in the Holy Land and caring for the pilgrims and the poor. The priories in the West, especially in present-day France and in the Kingdom of Sicily, supported the Convent in the Levant with resources of cash, manpower, military equipment, horses, mules, fodder, grain, other foodstuffs, and some additional commodities. Maritime transportation was vital for the operation of the Order, since it ensured the eastward flow of reinforcements and supplies, as well as communication between its houses across the Mediterranean. Surprisingly, the Order’s involvement in maritime transportation has so far been addressed in passing only, and not always accurately. Several issues regarding that involvement warrant a thorough investigation. Three of them are examined here: since when did the Hospitallers own ships, the functions of these vessels, and the development of the Order’s fleet until the fall of the Frankish states in 1291. In view of space limitations, the focus of this study is on the role of Marseilles in relation to these issues, a role that is fairly well documented.

The earliest extant record of a Hospitaller ship appears in the business account of a Genoese merchant who returned home in 1156. Considering the oriental commodities he handled, among them spices, it is likely that the ship had visited Acre. Marseilles was presumably its final destination, rather than Genoa, which never served as a base for Hospitaller vessels. In 1161 another Genoese merchant was due to sail, on a large vessel that had formerly belonged to the Order. The reason for its sale cannot be established.

Interestingly, Hospitaller and Templar ships were carrying pilgrims from Narbonne around that time, as is revealed by that city’s treaty of 1166 with Genoa. In 1178 the Hospitallers obtained from Bertrand of Marseilles and his nephews William le Gros and Raymond Barral, joint viscounts of Marseilles, tax exemption for the transit, sale or purchase of their vessels and marketable goods in the harbour adjoining the sector of the city and other territories under their rule. In 1190 King Richard I of England transferred a ship to the Hospitallers. It is likely that it transported men and provisions of the Order to the vicinity of Acre, which was then besieged by Christian forces participating in the Third Crusade.

Shortly after the death of Emperor Henry VI of Hohenstaufen on 28 September 1197 his widow, Empress Constance, granted the Hospitallers in the Kingdom of Sicily the right to export goods to support the Convent in the Holy Land without paying taxes. In addition, they were allowed to carry peregrini on their ships without having to transfer a portion of the fare collected from them to the royal court. The term peregrini covered both pilgrims and crusaders, as is evidenced, for instance, with respect to the passengers of the ship St Victor in 1250. Occasionally, though, the former were distinguished from the latter, called milites peregrini or peregrini crucesignati. Peregrini sailing with their horses were obviously crusaders. The Hospitallers’ request from Empress Constance was apparently related to their wish to participate in the transportation of German crusaders from southern Italy to Acre, which had been proceeding since March 1197. It is doubtful, however, that the Order was regularly carrying pilgrims or crusaders from the Kingdom of Sicily to the Levant by that time. Significantly, in 1211 Otto IV confirmed the Order’s taxation privileges in the Kingdom of Sicily without referring to ships, and Frederick II acted likewise in 1209, 1215, 1216 and 1224.

The evidence regarding Hospitaller vessels becomes more abundant from the early thirteenth century onwards. In 1210 King Hugh I of Cyprus granted tax exemption throughout the island for the Order’s trade in its own goods, the purchase of commodities for its own needs, and free anchorage in Cypriot ports for its ships carrying them. However, the Order could not fully ensure the transportation of its men and provisions. Two years later, in 1212, Guy, lord of Gibelet (Jubail in presentday Lebanon) granted the Hospitallers tax exemption for trade in the city and the territory of his lordship, as well as for any ship visiting Gibelet for provisioning. He did not directly refer to the Order’s own ships and clearly alluded to chartered vessels.

In March 1216 Hugh I of Baux and his wife Baralle granted the Hospitallers the right to build or anchor in the port and territory of Marseilles any type or number of ships that would sail to the Frankish Levant, Spain, or any other region to defend Christendom. The transport of their own goods, pilgrims, crusaders, merchants and the latter’s money on these ships, whether for fare and freight or without payment, was to be tax exempt. The concession also covered the operation of ships chartered by the Order for its own needs. This grant of shipping privileges to the Order in Marseilles was not the first of its kind, but rather the confirmation of an earlier concession. A shorter version of the privileges enjoyed by the Hospitallers and the Templars appears in a charter of 1233, which reveals that they had been jointly bestowed by the five viscounts of Marseilles holding portions of the seigniorial rights in the city, namely, Hugh I of Baux, Raymond of Baux and Giraud Adhémar and their respective wives, in addition to Roncelin and Raymond-Geoffrey of Trets. It is likely that the concession to the two Orders was made while the five viscounts held all the seigniorial rights in their sector of Marseilles. Raymond-Geoffrey of Trets and his sister Alasacie, married to Raymond of Baux, inherited portions of the viscounts’ rights from their father, Hugh Geoffrey, at some unknown date before the last days of March 1213. The former sold some of his rights to the commune of Marseilles on the 28th of that month, Roncelin acted likewise two days later, and a third sale, by Raymond of Baux, took place on 2 April. It follows that the Hospitallers and the Templars obtained their shipping privileges before late March 1213.

The sales of seigniorial rights to the commune of Marseilles in March and April 1213 and a further sale negotiated by Raymond-Geoffrey of Trets in March 1216 must have seriously worried the Hospitallers. In addition, after the death of viscount Roncelin on 21 December 1215 the abbey of St Victor of Marseilles claimed his entire portion of seigniorial rights. The Hospitallers obviously feared that the commune and the abbey would refuse to uphold their shipping privileges. In March 1216, therefore, they requested confirmation of the original concession from Hugh I of Baux, who had retained his portion of the viscounts’ rights. The charter he jointly issued with his wife, Baralle, mentioned above, appears to reflect faithfully the wording of that concession. In addition, the Order turned to Pope Honorius III, who on 20 December 1216 confirmed the original shipping privileges obtained from the five viscounts of Marseilles.

The pope also ordered, again in response to the Hospitallers’ request, that the archbishop of Arles and his suffragans should prevent churchmen and laymen from taxing the Order for the transit of timber assigned for shipbuilding, as well as for goods intended for the assistance of the Holy Land. The wording of Honorius III implies that the timber did not necessarily originate from the Order’s estates, yet was clearly intended for ships it commissioned. The request was motivated by the location of Arles and several cities within the bishopric along waterways that enabled the floating of timber to shipyards in Marseilles. It has been suggested that the timber was to be sent to Acre for shipbuilding in the Hospitaller’s darsana or shipyard, presumably located in the Cale dou Marquis just north of the suburb of Montmusard. This construct is not plausible for several reasons.

First, the transfer of timber to Acre would have been costly and contrary to economic rationale, since ships could be built in Marseilles. Secondly, the darsana of the Hospitallers attested in 1250 was clearly situated in the Old City of Acre, because it was contiguous to a Genoese garden and close to other houses of the Order. The presence of houses of the Order north of the city walls is excluded. Finally, the darsana was located at some distance from the shore. Therefore, it must have been a workshop for an undisclosed activity rather than a shipyard. In any event, the recently excavated shipyard in Acre, which on fourteenth-century maps appears as arsenal to the east of the Venetian quarter, was only suitable for the building and repair of small and medium-sized vessels, whereas the Order was using large vessels by 1250.

It is noteworthy that the Templars obtained from the five viscounts of Marseilles the same shipping concessions as the Hospitallers, presumably at the same date as the latter, and faced the same problems. They, too, appear to have been troubled by the viscounts’ sales of seigniorial rights to the commune of Marseilles and by the death of Roncelin. However, instead of turning, like the Hospitallers, to Pope Honorius III to strengthen their privileges, they asked Frederick II to confirm them. In September 1216 he issued a charter to that effect, mentioning the five viscounts. It is noteworthy that a vessel of the Templars was about to leave Constantinople for Acre in April 1207. Apparently the same or another ship of that Order, the name of which is garbled, sailed from Constantinople to Venice in the spring of 1210.

The evidence surveyed so far warrants several observations. The Hospitallers already owned one or several transport ships crossing the Mediterranean around the mid-twelfth century. However, the Order also relied on private carriers or chartered whole ships. The loss of numerous estates in the Levant in 1187 substantially reduced its self-supply and revenues in that region, as well as the income from the sale of its produce, such as sugar, despite the temporary recovery of some lands until the midthirteenth century. As a result, the Hospitallers in the Levant were compelled to rely, far more than before 1187, on supplies from the West. The papacy assisted them by prohibiting the imposition of taxes on the movement of their goods. The frequent transfer of reinforcements, and especially of supplies, across the Mediterranean after 1191 induced the Hospitallers to purchase ships or commission their construction on a much larger scale than before, as implied by the shipping privileges they obtained in Marseilles before late March 1213. As noted above, these included a sweeping tax exemption both on the operation and on the building of vessels. All these considerations also applied to the Templars.

The acquisition and operation of ships by the two Orders was primarily aimed at cutting transportation costs. As noted above, they also enabled profit-generating maritime activities consisting in the transportation of merchants, private cargo, crusaders and pilgrims on ships not filled to capacity with the Orders’ own men and goods. Some of these services are already attested by 1156, possibly also by 1197 in the Kingdom of Sicily, if we may rely on the charter issued by Empress Constance, and in any event by the second decade of the thirteenth century. The Hospitallers and the Templars offered these services until the fall of the Frankish states in 1291. Three factors account for the intrusion of the two Orders into the highly competitive business of pilgrim transportation. There was a large demand for that service after 1191, closely related to greater geographic mobility in the West. Ships of increasing carrying capacity were being built from the second half of the twelfth century. And the sailing across the high seas from the late twelfth century onward shortened trans-Mediterranean voyages, reduced their cost, and further enhanced the profitability of pilgrim transportation. It is likely that the two Orders expected and encouraged the pilgrims sailing to Acre on their ships to be particularly generous towards their respective houses in that city, both of which owned a number of relics.

The development of the Hospitallers’ fleet.
The Order operated barks and small vessels for short-distance transportation, as in the Dead Sea and between Acre and its sugar-cane plantations along the river Na’aman flowing into the Bay of Acre. It used small or medium-sized craft, not exclusively its own, to concentrate goods in specific ports from where they were shipped on larger vessels to the Levant. This practice is attested, for instance, in 1273 for the port of Bari, to where products were brought from the Order’s estates in the region, and was most likely the rule with respect to Marseilles, as suggested by the various tax exemptions the Hospitallers obtained for river navigation to the Mediterranean. Sound economic considerations induced them to acquire large ships capable of ensuring long-distance transportation, a costly service when using private vessels, especially since the Order had to maintain regular shipping to the Levant. Clearly, its transport vessels were based in Western ports from where reinforcements and supplies were sent. However, since the Order could not always fill them to capacity, it occasionally embarked merchants, goods and pilgrims to reduce sailing expenses. The problem was particularly acute on return voyages, when the Order’s reduced requirements left ample space on the ships. Instead of searching for passengers and cargo for a one-way voyage, it was sometimes more profitable to lease the entire ship to merchants who operated it on their own behalf, as in 1279.

The Hospitallers’ exclusive transportation of pilgrims on specific vessels practically ensured that the ships were filled to capacity on both the outward and the return journeys, although some pilgrims may have died on the way to or in the Holy Land, and others may have decided to stay there. This was a purely financial operation. While it prevented the loading of cargo, it must have yielded substantial revenue that could be spent on the purchase of ships, goods or services. Hospitaller ships carrying only pilgrims are attested in Marseilles until 1253, but we do not know how long this type of operation continued beyond that year. In view of the strong competition from Italian carriers, it is excluded that such ships sailed from Apulia and Sicily. On the other hand, it is likely that some of the Order’s vessels carried pilgrims together with merchants and cargo to Acre, although evidence of this is lacking.

The growth of the Hospitaller fleet in the thirteenth century appears to have been rather slow. There is no evidence of Hospitaller vessels transporting crusaders at the time of the Fifth Crusade, which lasted from 1218 to 1221, presumably because they only carried the Order’s own forces and supplies. Despite their having several ships in 1248, none appears to have transported pilgrims or crusaders during the crusade of Louis IX, which began in that year. The Falcon, first attested in 1238, had been sailing for at least ten years by 1248. The ships hired by King Louis IX in 1246 were to be less than six years old. A Venetian maritime statute of 1233 refers to the loading of ships of that age. Another Venetian statute, dated 1255, deals with the maximum cargo a ship of 94 metric tons or more, travelling outside the Adriatic, was allowed to carry, and imposes a reduction after five years of sailing and a further one after two additional years. In 1248 the priory of St Gilles had ready cash, which it invested in the enlargement of its property. However, it appears to have been reluctant to finance the replacement of the Falcon at that time. It has been noted that the Hospitallers failed to participate in the evacuation of Acre’s population in the last months before the city’s fall to the Muslims, although the Templars’ Falcon did participate in the operation. This was clearly not owing to a lack of Hospitaller ships. Rather, it is likely that the Order’s vessels carrying pilgrims and supplies stopped on the way to Acre when news of that city’s siege reached them.

The Hospitallers resorted to four options for conveying their men, provisions and messages across the Mediterranean. They took advantage of private ships engaging in commercial sailings, hired whole vessels, purchased them, or commissioned their construction. The simultaneous resorting to these options, which apparently continued until 1291, implies that the Order was never capable of ensuring on its own the volume of maritime transportation that it needed, despite increasing investment in ocean-going ships after 1191. It also contradicts the common belief, expressed again recently, yet never documented, that the Order owned a considerable number of vessels in the thirteenth century. All the ships mentioned above were naves. In 1288 the Hospitallers in Acre equipped a saitie, an elongated oared vessel capable of swift sailing, yet no galleys of the Order are attested until 1291.This distinguishes the Hospitaller fleet before that year from the one operating later from Cyprus, which included a naval force of galleys.

The war against pagan Lithuania

The war against pagan Lithuania has been described as a war of attrition, but this gives little idea of how it was conducted. Since it lasted for more than a hundred years, during which both combatants grew, steadily richer and more powerful, neither the Order nor the heathen can be said to have achieved the aim of a war of attrition. There was some kind of fighting almost every year from 1283 to 1406, vast expenditure of labour and money, and a continuous record of atrocities and devastation: both war-machines were effective enough to conserve an economically viable homeland, but ineffective enough to leave the enemy’s resources undestroyed.

To explain this paradox, it is necessary to look at the geography of the region. At this period, most of it was covered by a dense deciduous forest, reaching from the Baltic coast to the Beresina, and from the Pripet marshes to the Dvina. In the middle of this area, on the upper Niemen, Viliya, and upper Dvina, the Lithuanians and their Russian tributaries had cleared enough land to support sizable populations; but this still left a belt of uncleared land, almost 100 miles wide, between them and the Order’s settled zones in Prussia and Livonia. Within this belt, the going was very tough: not only trees, undergrowth and the thickets left as hege or barriers all round Samogitia, but also marsh, bog, lake and the innumerable tributaries of the great rivers, presented problems of logistics and transport which medieval armies were ill equipped to solve. There survives a compilation of routes between Prussia and Lithuania (Die Littauischen Wegeberichte, made 1384-1402) which gives a clear picture of the difficulties. For example, if you had got to Betygala, near the upper Dubysa, which flows into the Niemen from Samogitia, and you wanted to proceed to Vandziogala, north of Kaunas, twenty-one miles as the crow flies, thirty-five by modern by-roads, the following route (twenty seven miles) was offered: first there was a damerow, or patch of scrubland, with a track; then a great wood where you had to clear your way (rumen); then there was a heath; then another wood, ‘the length of a crossbow shot, and there you have to clear your way too’; then a heath; then another wood (more trail-blazing for over three miles). That was on the edge of the true Wiltnisse: the route from the Prussian lowlands to the upper Niemen crossed the middle of it. One way which was found by a native Prussian scout was described in a letter that was copied into the Wegeberichte, and dated from lnsterburg (Chernyakhovsk) on the Pregolya. It begins,

Dear Lord Marshal,

Take notice in your wisdom that by God’s grace Gedutte and his company have got back in safety and have completed everything yousent us to carry out and have marked the w. ay so far as 4! miles this side of the Niemen, along a route that crosses the Niemen and leads straight into the country.

They had travelled a distance of less than seventy miles as the crow flies, in nine stages, each marked by a ‘night-camp’ at the end of a day’s journey; and these were experienced rangers, carrying out a mission as quickly as possible. They reported that they had ‘found a lot of peoples and a lot of houses in the waste’, and alternative routes listed in the Wegeberichte suggest that there was no lack of ‘good and secret’ tracks, if only people knew where they were; but nothing like a public road that could be used by armies and merchants. Knights who left the track, or failed to travel in parties, were sure to be killed or die of starvation; armies were constantly getting lost or failing to make contact with the enemy. A good day’s journey through the Wiltnisse was about twelve miles; it took a week to get from Kaunas to Vilnius (fifty-five miles apart as the crow flies), four days from Merkine to Trakai (forty-three miles), six days from Trakai to Traby (fifty-two miles). Only the Niemen and the Dvina provided sure methods of bulk transport through these forest zones, and both rivers were often used in support of military operations- for bringing up supplies, bricks, siege-machines, horses, reinforcements- but there were still problems. The upper Dvina is a fairly rapid river in places, running between steep banks, and therefore river-borne armies had a hard pull upstream: only once did the Livonians get to Polotsk by water. The southern tributaries that flowed from Lithuania were short and shallow. The Niemen is remarkably placid and winding. So extravagant were its meanders that it was said in the fifteenth century that boatmen could spend a day going round one of these bends and light their evening fire by walking a short distance over to the embers left in yesterday’s camp. Progress this slow would not matter when there was a castle to be built, or when, as before 1283, the enemy was only a few miles away, but it became a severe handicap when a campaign had to be fought a long way up – or downriver; and weather conditions made speed essential. Both Prussians and Lithuanians kept prams and longboats on the Niemen, and sometimes they raided and fought in them; they were essential for keeping the Order’s castles above Tilsit (Sovetsk) supplied; but it was not practicable to float large invasion forces to the mouth or headwaters of the river within the ‘real time’ available to summer campaigners. Short cuts were sometimes found: thus in 1376 the commander of Balga had six-man boats built on the banks of the Niemen when he got there by the overland route, and in 1393 the marshal carried his boats thirty-six miles on waggons. But these stratagems were only ways of cutting down a marginal difference between two very slow and cumbersome ways of travelling. On the whole, the mounted expedition guided by expert woodsmen (Leitzlute) remained the only effective way of getting into enemy territory where there were tracks; while, where there were none, one could only go on toot.

The climate placed further restrictions on such expeditions. Then as now, the region was liable to heavy rains and heavy snowfalls, and, since there were no roads, the effect of either was to make movement impossible. Sheer cold made it impossible for the Order to invade Lithuania in the winter of 1322-3; the common soldiers fell dead on the march, and many of the fruit-trees that had been planted in Livonia and Prussia never recovered. In February 1376 the snow was so deep that a Livonian expedition had to ride out in single file, and that March the Lithuanians lost a thousand horses from hardship. In other years, as in 1387, the snow lay so thick that no one attempted to get through. But a ‘weak winter’ was even worse: unless the ground froze – 120 days of frost is the modern average-it would not support men or horses, and there could be no fighting. The rain swelled the rivers and soaked the soil. When the snow melted, and the ice broke up on the rivers (any time during March and April), communications were again impossible, and autumn rainfall could be intolerably heavy. However eager the enemies were to fight each other, they were always apt to be kept apart by the weather. Thus in 1394 Duke Philip of Burgundy wrote to the grand master asking whether there would be a reysa the following year, and Conrad von Jungingen had to write back,

we cannot offer any consolation or certain hope in a matter of this kind to the glorious lord himself, or to any man living, because it is impossible to provide a truthful forecast of future contingencies, especially since on our expeditions we are obliged to go across great waters and vast solitudes by dangerous ways … on account of which they frequently depend on God’s will and disposition, and also on the weather.

There were only two sets of weather conditions which would allow serious campaigning, and neither could be expected to last for more than two months at the outside. One was a ‘hard’ or ‘good’ winter: not too cold for a man to relieve himself in the open air, or too snowy for riding, but just sharp enough to congeal the bogs, harden the ground and freeze over the rivers. As in 1364, for example: ‘This year winter was hard, and it lasted three months, so that we had several good reysen … .’ The other set of favourable conditions was provided by a hot sun and drying winds, so that land and water transport could be used in combination. This could happen any time from April to October, or not at all, and was unlikely to last for more than a month. In both cases, a sudden change in the weather could prove disastrous. Floods in summer or thawing ice in winter could trap an army without hope of relief, as when King Wladyslaw III of Poland was caught between two swollen lakes on the frontier of Chelmno in August 1332, or when the thawing of the Strawen made it impossible for the fleeing Lithuanians to escape from Marshal von Kniprode in February 1348. The effect of these risks was to confine all large-scale operations to areas along the Niemen and Dvina, where there were tried and tested escape routes, and where warfare took the form of siege and castle-building. It was also prudent, when more ambitious invasions were attempted, to split up the invading army into detachments so as to reduce the chances of disaster. This was grasped from an early date by the Order, which had fewer men to lose.

Different weathers and seasons imposed different types of campaign on the belligerents. The winter-reysa had to be a rapid foray of some 200 – 2000 men, carrying both rations and fodder at the back of their saddles; the object was to loot, devastate and depopulate a given area as quickly as possible. On reaching enemy territory, they would put up simple cabins, or maia, to store their provisions and plunder, then spread out and do all the damage they could without taking or building forts, or spending long enough to invite a serious counter-attack. After each day’s plunder they would return to headquarters and camp for the night, moving on the next day. A good winter-reysa had to arrive without warning, and retire before the enemy could mobilise or the weather changed. Hermann of Wartberg records one such success in 1378: the Livonians went into Lithuania in February, stayed there for nine suwalky (overnight camps) and came back with 531 head of cattle and 723 horses. Meanwhile the Prussians also had una bona reisa, according to Wigand of Marburg, and returned with a 100 prisoners. There were usually two winter-reysen, one in December, one in January or February, leaving a gap for the Christmas festivities, when the seven hour day left too little time for raiding. This, at any rate, was the custom of the Teutonic Knights, who appear to have campaigned in winter more regularly than the Lithuanians, perhaps because their bases were nearer the Baltic coast and less snow-bound than the Lithuanian heart lands. The Lithuanians did make great winter incursions, notably in 1322-3, when the cold was too great for the Order to attack Lithuania, and in 11356, 1370 and 1382 under Kenstutis, but for the most part they seem to have calculated that their frontier garrisons were likely to do more harm to the raiders than they would inflict on the Order by going out themselves. Like Nicholas I, they put their trust in generals Janvier and Fevrier.

The sommer-reysa was usually a bigger affair, when the masters of Prussia and Livonia mobilised all their resources for a full hervart (offensive expedition), and the grand-prince set out with a karias (large army) of boyars, castellans and their levies. It was usually intended to secure new ground by destroying an enemy fort or building a new one in enemy territory, but it always involved devastation, plunder and harassment as well, and was sometimes preceded by smaller incursions intended to ‘soften up’ and impoverish the area round the fort marked out for attack. The Order’s marshal appears to have collected reports on the enemy’s state of readiness, and to have made his plans accordingly; thus in the Wegeberichte there is information about places forty miles to the east of Grodno (Dubitshki, Vasilishki, Zheludok and Volkovisk), which ‘lie thirty-six, forty-five and fifty-four miles apart from each other, and are full of arable estates, and they report that no armed force has yet been to that part of the country.’ And, when von Kniprode went to besiege Kaunas in 1362, he was acting on the reports of a reconnaissance made the previous year.

Since there was always a wilderness to cross, the summer campaigners had to carry their food with them, as in winter, and in 1365 von Kniprode insisted on a full month’s supply for every man. However, they could expect to find grass for their horses on the march, and the routes marked by the leitzlute went through places where there was ‘good water and fodder’. Even if no forts were taken, there would always be hauls of people and animals; as in 1376, when Kenstutis returned from the Pregolya with fifty mares and sixty stallions from the stud farm at lnsterburg and 900 prisoners, and in 1378, when the commander of Ragnit carried off forty waggon-loads of spoil from Samogitia. However, the quest for plunder could sometimes go too far. In September 1314, Marshal Henry of Prussia pushed over 100 miles east of Grodno to Novogrudok, leaving his loaves and packhorses at maia along the return route, and discovered that the castellan of Grodno, Gediminas’s brother David, had swooped on them before he could reach them; his troops had to eat their own horses, and any herbs and roots they could find, on the way back to Prussia, and many died of starvation.

It was always safer to raid lands adjacent to the Dvina and the Niemen, within reach of river-boats, castles and bailey-bridges, and it was here that most of the fighting took place. Each side was trying to hold (in the case of the Dvina) or gain (in the case of the Niemen) a stretch of river that could be fortified and garrisoned so as to serve as a reliable entry into enemy country beyond the wilderness. This meant lavishing more and more resources on territory that had little intrinsic value and could not be properly settled or cleared for as long as hostilities lasted. Raids into fertile country, if successful, did something to replenish the supplies of men and material that were constantly being reduced by sieges and castle-building along the rivers and frontiers, but for most of the fourteenth century this served to prolong, rather than conclude, the fighting. It was only after von Kniprode had managed to win control of the Niemen up to the confluence at Kaunas that one side gained a definite advantage, and could begin continuous raiding with a view to winning and holding the homelands of the other; and even then the advantage was to some extent counterbalanced by the introduction of cannon. The process took so long- ninety-three years to advance from Ragnit to Kaunas, a distance of seventy-five miles as the crow flies- because the armies were wearing themselves out on the terrain, rather than annihilating each other, and were constantly drawing strength from expanding economies a long way behind the front.

The destructiveness of the raids is hard to assess, because estimates always come from chroniclers or advocates interested in blackening the enemy and emphasising the achievements of their own side. When the Order’s own annalist Wigand of Marburg records of a reysa in 1364 (which included English crusaders) that it attacked an unprepared territory, which they devastated inhumanly, it seems fair to conclude that the peasant population suffered more than usual. But those who lived in areas liable to attacks would naturally become skilled at hiding and escaping, and it was usually more profitable to take them prisoner, and drive them home over the wilderness, than simply to massacre them. It was the garrisons of outlying castles that were most likely to be killed to the last man, but, after King john of Bohemia had insisted on sparing the 6ooo Samogitians who surrendered in Medewage in 1329, this kind of slaughter became less common. No count was kept by the Order of the peasants killed on its reysen, however, and it can only be assumed that the death-toll was sufficiently high to deter settlers from the wilderness and balance losses inflicted by the Lithuanians. These lose nothing in the telling. According to the Order’s sources, the great raids of Prince David of Grodno in 1322-3 were responsible for the death or capture of 4000 in Estonia, 20,000 in Dobrzyn (of whom 8000 – 10,000 were killed) and 2000 in Mazovia. Kenstutis was supposed to have carried off over 2000 in 1352, 500 in 1353, 900 in 1376 – figures which are not incredible, even if they are unlikely to be accurate. On the whole, it seems that captivity was a much more likely fate than death for a peasant caught by invaders, simply because he was worth more alive than dead. Nevertheless, the Order was quite prepared to massacre as a way of bringing about political submission, as had been proved during the conquest of the Prussians, and again in the 1390s during the war for Samogitia. The lives of prisoners might very easily be sacrificed on the march. Thus in 1311 Commander Gebhard von Mansfeld slaughtered all his captives and cattle to prevent their falling into the hands of a Lithuanian army, and in 1377 the commander of Balga murdered 200 prisoners because it was too much trouble to take them back through an unexpected thaw – unlike the hundred horses and thousand steers with them. It would be wrong to deduce that this war was more inhumane than others fought at the same time in France and Spain; but the fact that the displacement of civilian populations was part of the strategy of both sides made it more likely that the innocent would die.