Battle of Saulė in 1236

The most serious threat to the early Balts came from the west. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Catholic orders of knights seeking to Christianize the Baltic region began a series of crusades. The first of these crusading orders, the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, was defeated by the Lithuanians at the Battle of Saulė in 1236. Following that defeat, the Roman Catholic pope called for a renewed campaign to conquer and Christianize the pagan Lithuanians. The call was answered by a succession of crusading knights, the most formidable of which were the members of the Teutonic Order.

Lithuanians had yet to form a unified nation-state. The political organization consisted of a nobility composed of feudal dukes and princes ruling over fiefdoms and tribes. Had they chosen to fight the Teutonic Order separately, they would have been easily defeated. Therefore, the nobility formed an alliance, led by a noble called Mindaugas, to engage in the struggle. Despite the alliance, however, the united Lithuanian duchies were not able to stem the continued advances of the Teutonic Order. Recognizing the inevitability of defeat, Mindaugas submitted to the pope in 1251 and accepted Christianity. As a consequence he was crowned the king of Lithuania in 1253 by the pope, an act establishing the first Lithuanian state.

Mindaugas’s decision was not popular among the Lithuanian nobility, many of whom refused to be baptized. The population as well remained overwhelmingly pagan. Hence, the new state was a pagan one with a Christian king. The opposition of the population to Christianity led to the murder of King Mindaugas in 1263 and the renewal of the struggle against the Christian crusaders. Following the murder of Mindaugas, rule of Lithuania reverted to the various dukes and princes. However, in order to fight the Teutonic Order, they submitted to a grand duke, who ruled as first among equals. Thanks to their unity, this time they were able to establish Lithuanian dominance in the Baltic Sea region by the end of the thirteenth century. Nonetheless, the struggle against the Teutonic Order continued throughout most of the fourteenth century, forcing the country to allocate virtually all of its resources to defense; consequently, the country’s political system of the time is referred to by some as a military monarchy.

The concentration of resources permitted the Lithuanian state to become one of the greatest empires in Europe over the course of the next 150 years-the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Grand Duke Gediminas (1316-1341) began the long-term eastward expansion of the Lithuanians, assimilating Slavic territories, many of which willingly submitted to the Grand Duchy in order to escape having to pay tribute to the Mongols, who ruled most of the Russian lands in that era (having destroyed the Kievan state in the thirteenth century). Gediminas also sought to break out of the international isolation thrust upon the country by the continued struggle against the Catholic Church and the Teutonic Order. He established formal contacts between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the countries of Western Europe, engaged in regular correspondence with their rulers, and began a dynasty that intermarried with many of the ruling families of Europe. Much of this was done in an effort to create rifts within the Catholic Church and between the ruling houses of Europe. To further this strategy, Gediminas also invited Western merchants, artisans, and academics to the new capital that he founded at Vilnius. Among those responding were many Jews, who took advantage of the remarkable degree of religious tolerance that marked the Grand Duchy and established one of the great centers of Judaism in Vilnius.

During the mid-fourteenth century, Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-1377) continued the eastern expansion begun by Gediminas. Under his rule, the Grand Duchy’s Lithuanian subjects were gradually outnumbered by newly assimilated peoples. Algirdas was followed by Grand Duke Jogaila, who is much maligned in Lithuanian history for his decision in 1386 to marry the queen of Poland, thereby entering into an alliance with that state. Jogaila’s decision was motivated by a desire to ensure Lithuanian preeminence in an emerging contest with Moscow for the loyalties of eastern Slavic princes. While still under the Mongol yoke, Moscow was laying claim to the Russian lands, many of which had been assimilated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In addition, Moscow had been recognized by Byzantium as the seat of religious authority for Orthodox Christianity in the Slavic lands. The recognition brought with it significant legitimacy for the Russian claims over these lands. Given Lithuania’s status as the last pagan nation in Europe, it found itself isolated between a Catholic West and an Orthodox East, both of which claimed the divine right to rule over the territories of the Grand Duchy. A marriage with Poland thus offered the means to both reduce the threat from the West and lay claim to a religious title (that of representing Catholic Slavs, a title that Poland had acquired) competing for the loyalties of Slavic princes. Hence, Lithuania was baptized in 1387, and the last pagan state in Europe became Christian.

As a consequence of the marriage, the Grand Duchy entered a long period of decline, even though this would not be readily apparent for several centuries. By entering into marriage with the queen of Poland, Jogaila became the king of Poland, retaining his title as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. While in the short term this appeared highly beneficial to Lithuania, it meant that the Lithuanians faced the disadvantage of being far fewer in number than the Poles. In the long term, as Lithuania’s territorial holdings were reduced (in the face of continuing Russian expansion), it became the lesser of the two states in the union. However, the advantages of the marriage uniting the two countries appeared to outweigh any disadvantages at the time. Therefore, unlike the first christening, this one was not reversed.

The subsequent grand duke, Vytautas the Great, who ruled at the beginning of the fifteenth century, not only retained Lithuania’s commitment to Christianity, he took full advantage of the union with Poland to further the prosperity of the country. In fact, the reign of Vytautas the Great marks the zenith of Lithuania’s military and political fortunes. In one of the most significant battles of the Middle Ages, Vytautas, leading a joint Lithuanian-Polish army, decisively defeated the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grünwald (1410; the battle is known as the Battle of Žalgiris in Lithuania), bringing the final defeat of the order and ending the centuries-long threat from the west. In the east, Vytautas pursued a successful policy, annexing further territories in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, expanding the borders of the Grand Duchy from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and blocking Moscow’s further expansion westward into Europe.

Vytautas also took advantage of the union with Poland to lay the foundations for Lithuania’s full integration into Central Europe, something that its pagan identity had prevented it from achieving. In the 150 years after his death, Lithuania assimilated the political and cultural heritage of Western civilization. The country adopted the crop rotation system, adapted its social system to monarchism, experienced the rise of craft guilds, adopted a written language, and built a university system. Reflecting these changes, Lithuania’s first publishing house was founded in Vilnius in 1522; in addition, a legal code was written in 1529 and subsequently redrafted in 1566 and 1588. The 1588 code remained in force until the middle of the nineteenth century.

The Battle of Žalgiris

The Battle of forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland defeated the Teutonic Order, was one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages, let alone in East Central Europe. The defeat of the Teutonic Order, Žalgiris (also known as the Battle of Grünwald, or Tannenberg), in which the joint military an order of crusaders of the Catholic Church, on 15 July 1410, marked the end of the order’s expansion along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea eastward and the beginning of the decline of the order’s power.

The first German crusading orders came to Poland and the Baltic region in the thirteenth century. Two hundred years later, they had conquered most of the Baltic coastal region, including Latvia and Estonia. It is doubtless the case that they were intent on controlling Lithuania, Poland, and Russia as well. Had they succeeded, the Roman Catholic Church would have dominated the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.

Hoping to forcibly spread Christianity and acquire more territory, the focus of the Teutonic Order’s military activities in the fourteenth century was the pagan Lithuanian state. Even after Lithuania accepted Christianity in 1387, the Knights of the Teutonic Order did not cease their aggression against the country. It was obvious that diplomatic efforts would not be able to avert war with the Knights. Therefore, the only hope of defeating the order was if Lithuania and Poland united their military forces.

Hence, on 15 July 1410, a joint Lithuanian-Polish army, joined by Tatar, Bohemian, Russian, Moravian, and Moldavian soldiers, met the Teutonic Knights on the field of Žalgiris (located in the northeast of present-day Poland). The allied army was led by the grand duke of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, and the king of Poland, Jogaila. Although outnumbered (the Knights numbered 32,000, compared to more than 50,000 Poles, Lithuanians, and allies), the order enjoyed superiority in weaponry, experience, and battlefield leadership. Nonetheless, at the end of an entire day of fighting, the Teutonic Knights were defeated, a defeat from which they never recovered. On 1 February 1411, both sides signed a peace treaty, after which the Teutonic Order never again threatened Lithuania.

The Battle of Grünwald is the most important battle in the history of both Lithuania and Poland. As a consequence of the defeat of the Teutonic Order, Eastern Europe was not Germanized, and the emerging nations of Lithuania and Poland were able to develop their own cultures. For that reason, Vytautas the Great is honored in Lithuanian history as the savior of not only the nation of Lithuania, but all of Eastern Europe. Jogaila is awarded that position in Polish history.


Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade


20 July 802, the first elephant north of the Alps mentioned in a document since antiquity arrived as a gift from Harun al-Rashid at Charlemagne’s court in Aachen.

How do ideas change? The shift can be abrupt or gradual; it can affect one individual or a nation. Sometimes, an old idea is merely re-stated and presented in a new way, adapted to fit a new time. Sometimes, it is deliberately distorted and given meanings it was never intended to have. Deeply-held convictions, such as religious beliefs, are no exception. A change in religious outlook may begin with one individual and spread, slowly or rapidly to a larger group. Indeed, this is how most religions are born. Those religious ideas themselves will inevitably change in response to world events and outside influences; they may die out if they fail to do so. Sometimes the changes are so drastic as to seem totally at odds with the original intentions of the early days of a belief. The medieval Christian embrace of the preaching of war against unbelievers as a penitential and sanctified act is one of the more remarkable examples of this shift.

Western attitudes toward Islam began to change dramatically during the second half of the eleventh century and into the beginning of the twelfth. Prior to this time, there had been less consideration of Christendom’s rival, except at the frontiers where the two faiths met and interacted, particularly in Spain and Italy. Such events as the Spanish Martyrs’ Movement notwithstanding, the primary resistance to Islam by the West was military rather than theological, and in these cases there was seldom any attempt to justify such actions with religious reasons. Attempts at conversion and ideological debate were also minimal. It is even worth noting that the Carolingian kings had diplomatic relations with Islamic rulers in the East from the eighth century. Pippin the Short (d. 768) sent ambassadors to al-Mansur in 765, the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, and received them in return. His son Charlemagne was well known for massacring the pagan Saxons who refused to convert to Christianity, and yet was famed for his good relations with the fifth Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid (of Arabian Nights fame), who sent to Charlemagne, among many other fine gifts, and elephant named Abul-Abbas in 797. Charlemagne also discussed how to achieve peace with Moorish ambassadors from Spain, mindful of his grandfather’s military victory.

The common European name for Muslims used throughout the Middle Ages, “Saracen,” had an ancient history. Originally used by Greco-Roman writers to describe the peoples who lived in Arabia, it came to be synonymous in the medieval mind with those of the Islamic faith, and to have negative connotations. Its first western appearance was in the seventh century in the Merovingian Chronicle of Fredegar, which refers to the Saracens as being descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son via his wife’s maid Hagar; this is believed in Islamic tradition, as well, and shows that the Chronicle was taking some information from an accurate source. They are called both Agarenes (from Hagar), and Saracens. Medieval Christians, however, believed that the term was evidence of how the Arabs lied about themselves, desiring to be seen as children of Sarah, rather than as children of a slave, Hagar. As a label, it stuck, because it signified that they were people of a lie, and lived in deceit.

Initially, Islam was seen less as a unified religious threat to the West, and more as an impressive empire and potential military enemy. Even into the eleventh century, it was often ignored. However, when lands in Spain and Southern Italy began to be recovered from Islamic control through Christian military victories by the middle of that century, the idea gradually formulated that it could be possible to make similar gains of territories lost to Christianity in the Holy Land. This chapter will explore this development in some detail.

The concept coincided with the effects of the “Gregorian” Reform movement, a series of sweeping changes in Church structure and function which were to have repercussions for centuries. These reforms were officially begun under Pope Leo IX at the Council of Rheims in 1049, and ended during the papacy of Calixtus II at the First Lateran Council in 1123. The designation “Gregorian” derives from Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), its most enthusiastic supporter, and is now generally not used. Three of the main issues involved were the introduction of the concept of a “papal monarchy,” that is, Church unity through absolute adherence to the pope, even from the Holy Roman Emperor; the liberation of the Church from secular influence and control (a long-standing thorn in the side of Church officials); and the idea that the priesthood was separate from and superior to the laity in Christian society. All of these, of course, delivered tremendous political advantages and power to the Church.

The third issue led to the concept of the nature of Ecclesia, that is, “the Church,” being changed as well. It had first been developed by the Carolingians (eighth to tenth centuries) and was defined by the view that the emperor and the pope were the “supreme officials of two parallel hierarchies, one clerical and one lay.” The reformers altered this, assuming that Ecclesia would thereafter consist only of the clergy. The laity would have no leading role, but were still seen as a vital part of Christianitas, the Christian community. This was a clear sign of the developing new attitude; the Church and its officials wanted to remove themselves from the shackles of Imperial and secular power, while at the same time recognizing that theirs was in effect a symbiotic relationship. The Church needed the laity for many duties, even if it desired to assume more power over them. From this, new ideas developed that would allow for the papacy to achieve the powers it sought and yet not alienate the people.

The crusading movement that ended the eleventh century was one such means of achieving this aim. In fact, the notion of an armed pilgrimage was the perfect solution to the pressing social and spiritual needs of the age. It allowed for the goal of papal preeminence to be realized, united the whole of Europe against a common foe (thus ending many internal conflicts), and helped the laity feel that they were a part of the sweeping changes occurring at the time. It was not, however, a flawless or trouble-free transition. These reforming attitudes sparked off fierce debates about papal authority, absolution of oaths to secular rulers, and clerical positions being obtained through simony, among other issues. Gregory VII, in particular, was heavily criticized by some, and strongly supported by others for his many proposed changes.

The movement was tightly bound up with monasticism and the resurgence of monastic ideals that had begun in the tenth century. The Reform sought to promote monastic values, particularly celibacy, and to impose them on all of the clergy. At the same time, an identity crisis was developing in monastic communities. Many monasteries, most notably Cluny, had acquired vast amounts of wealth from generous benefactors, and in doing so had strayed away from their vows of poverty, a central feature of the monastic revival. New monastic movements began to arise, with the goal of returning to poverty and strict adherence to the Benedictine Rule.

It was from such a desire for reform that the Cistercian Order was created in the early twelfth century, its principal aim being to practice strict observance of the Rule. The Cistercians, under the spiritual leadership of Bernard of Clairvaux, were to have an enormous influence on papal policies in the twelfth century and beyond, especially in the area of crusading and the justification of violence by Christians, not only against non–Christians, but against other Christians as well. Indeed, this was arguably the most important shift in Church teaching that the Reform brought. The Cistercians will be discussed in detail in chapter four.

Another of the goals of the Reform movement went hand-in-hand with the concept of Christian unity within Europe. It sought to make friends of enemies in Europe by turning the attentions of warring factions to a common cause, namely the defense of the poor and oppressed, and of Christendom as a whole. Knights who had previously been engaged in factional and territorial disputes were now encouraged to set aside their differences and turn their swords against those who threatened Christians, first from within, and then more importantly, from without. Slowly, a theology of knighthood and war was developed and encouraged. For example, participation in the reconquest of Spain was justified on the grounds that it was in defense of Spanish Christians. However, the idea of the threat of Islam as a whole had not yet crystallized; the Moors were seen as a military and territorial threat rather than a spiritual one, a view that would soon change.

This new aggressive attitude necessarily posed a contradiction to traditional Christian thought. Indeed, well into the second half of the eleventh century, the Church viewed warfare (and the killing and maiming that came with it) as a severe sin, regardless of how legitimate it might be. It was a sin that required penance. William the Conqueror’s army, for instance, had to perform penance for the invasion of England in 1066, even though they had papal support. Despite this, Christian writings about warfare had already begun to change in the first decades of the eleventh century. Among the most important of the writers who expressed a new outlook was the Benedictine monk from Cluny, Rodulfus Glaber (ca. 980—ca. 1046), whose Historium Libri Quinque provides fascinating insight into the thought-world of the early eleventh century.

Glaber addresses the subject of war frequently, and more significantly, in the writing of Book I of his Historium, he becomes the first writer in Northern European history to discuss Islam. Glaber presents the contradiction that becomes evident in the writings of the later eleventh and twelfth centuries: the support of armed conflict in the cause of righteousness, namely the defense of Christendom, and scorn for the petty wars and rivalries that abounded among the secular knights, nobility and royalty. It is the same contradiction that Bernard of Clairvaux would employ over a century later as his prime justification for the Knights Templar.

In Book IV, for example, Glaber writes approvingly of the Peace of God movement of his time, begun at the Synod of Charroux (ca. 989), with a view to protecting pilgrims and calling a cessation to warfare at certain times of the year, entitling the opening of the section, De pace et habundantia anni millesimi a Passione Domini. In other sections, however, he gives tacit approval to the waging of war for the sake of restoring order.

Glaber’s discussion of Islam is of particular interest. Muslims are first mentioned in Book I, wherein he describes the capture of Mayol, abbot of Cluny (948–94) by the Saracens of La Garde-Freinet (near Saint-Tropez) in 971–2. In addition to the usual praises for Mayol’s sanctity and restraint that one would expect, Glaber relates a remarkable incident that is all the more unusual for its likely accuracy:

Another of the Saracens was smoothing down a piece of wood with a knife, when in his haste he placed his foot upon the man of God’s book; it was the Bible which he always carried with him. When he saw this the saintly man groaned aloud, and certain of the less ferocious Saracens who had seen the incident reprimanded their companion, saying that great prophets should not be so scorned that he should tread their words under his feet. For the Saracens read the Hebrew prophets (or rather, those of the Christians), claiming that what they foretold concerning Jesus Christ, Lord of all, is now fulfilled in the person of Muhammad, one of their people. To support them in their error, they have in their possession a genealogy of their own, similar to that found in the Gospel of St Matthew, […] But theirs says that “Ishmael beget Nebajoth,” and continues with an erroneous fiction, which in deviating from the holy catholic account, strays equally from the truth.

Glaber continues with an account of how the enraged Saracens cut off the foot of the transgressor, to teach him a lesson, and were thus inadvertently the agents of God’s vengeance. This story, while containing an understandable Christian bias and perspective, is notable for its efforts to mention the veneration of the Judeo-Christian prophets by Muslims. The account must therefore certainly be true, since it is of little use as Christian propaganda. The brutality of the punishment was effective in relaying the Saracens’ perceived savagery, but the religious context of the story shows Muslim belief to be much closer to that of Christianity than had been previously known by many. Glaber’s is a remarkably different account from those provided by his contemporaries, Odilo or Syrus, who recount the event with invective and religious propaganda in mind.

Glaber made the effort to relate other accurate and obscure facts concerning the Muslim world. For example, in his account of the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher by the mad Fatimid caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (996–1021), whom he refers to as the Ammirati Babilonis, the Emir of Cairo, Glaber correctly notes that his mother was a Christian woman, but incorrectly attributes the motivations that provoked the Caliph to a Jewish conspiracy. Glaber was also aware of the Aghlabid dynasty of Tunisia. The probable source for this interest and the accuracy of his accounts came from his encounter with a group of Spanish monks whom he met while he was living at Cluny in the early 1030s, dispatched by King Sancho the Great of Navarre. These monks came to the monastery of Cluny in 1032. Indeed, Glaber mentions Spain frequently in his work, such as the defeat of a certain “Motget,” most likely Mujahid ibn ‘Abdullah, king of Denia, whose loss resulted in booty being donated to Cluny.

Spain was to play a key role in the dissemination to Europe of knowledge about Islam, from the ninth to the twelfth centuries, as we shall see in chapter five. This knowledge, however, did not coincide with a desire to understand or tolerate the Muslim faith. Glaber, for example, felt that they must be fought and exterminated as enemies of the Roman Christian faith, and in this view he was no different from the later supporters of the crusade. He was also deeply anti–Jewish in tone, blaming the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher not on the Muslim caliph, but rather on a Jewish plot. According to Glaber, the Jews were the ones who prompted the caliph to persecute Eastern Christians. He said that they claimed that a large throng of Christian pilgrims were really an army coming to attack and take Jerusalem. Given the events of the First Crusade in the late eleventh century, this fiction proved to be astonishingly prophetic.

Glaber was not interested in objective history, and despite his even-handed account of the capture of Mayol, he wanted to promote views which were in support his Church. He was hostile to Islam, Judaism, and any foreign power or ideology which might threaten the Roman Catholic Church and Western Christendom. He equally disliked Byzantium (and by extension, Eastern Orthodoxy), which he blamed for bringing its woes upon itself. In his description of Christian armies liberating Jerusalem, he unknowingly became a predictor of future events; in his account, the army was a lie fabricated by Jews, but it would soon become very real.

Bearing that in mind, there has been considerable debate about the extent to which Glaber’s attitudes and writings “prepared” the latter part of his century for the idea of the crusade. Indeed, many theologians looked back to his writings and drew inspiration from the notion of war being acceptable in defense of the just, but not merely for its own sake. This seemed to be an adequate solution to the problem of how Christians should approach war, though it was not a new theology. St. Augustine had commented on the subject centuries before, which will be detailed in chapter three.

Glaber’s ideas do not seem to be completely representative of the general outlook of Cluny, however. Cluny was still primarily focused on the next life, that is, on the salvation of the soul, and the retreat from the concerns of this world. It was not involved in developing theologies of war and the duty to fight infidels, though it certainly gave its support to various Spanish efforts. It would be better to say that Glaber described several movements and attitudes of his time which later churchmen drew upon to justify their policies, rather than being the impetus for those policies himself. The critical link between war and pilgrimage had not yet been made in Glaber’s time, though things were changing.

A close contemporary of Glaber’s, was Adémar of Chabannes (ca. 989–1034), a monk associated with both St. Martial and Angoulême in central and south-west France. He was an early writer to connect Islam with heresy, believing like Glaber that Hakim’s destruction of the Holy Sepulcher had been part of a Jewish-Muslim conspiracy to destroy Christendom, but adding that this was a prelude to the last days (when in reality, it may have been due to his mental state, and a desire to “prove” his Muslim faith since his mother was a Christian). Adémar was aware of Islamic monotheism, but that made him spurn the faith all the more, because it rejected Trinitarian doctrine, and thus Church teaching. While he was obsessed with this potent mixture of heresy and apocalypse, and all of the dangers they represented, Adémar was also implicated in a rather elaborate forgery. He embraced and embellished popular stories of how the historical Martial had been one of Christ’s original apostles, forging a Life of the man, purportedly written by his successor. This may have been done in the hopes of increasing pilgrimage to St. Martial abbey, and the income it would bring. Eventually, his fraud was discovered, but he persisted, going so far as to invent a Church council proclaiming the truth of Martial’s apostolic identity. Amazingly, he seems to have escaped from all of this with little punishment; the polemicist and the forger existed side-by-side. He does stand as a remarkable early example of a Christian writer who understood Islam to be different than a pagan religion, but his concern was combating this heresy, not war or pilgrimage.

A few decades later, in 1053, Pope Leo IX made an unusual offer to German soldiers fighting under his command. If they would do battle against the Normans of southern Italy, he would grant them absolution for their sins. This was not a pilgrimage, but the experiences of actual pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land were beginning to foreshadow later events.

Indeed, an important episode in the history of eleventh-century pilgrimage can be found in an incident in 1065 involving a bishop named Gunther of Bamberg, who was traveling with a very large group of German pilgrims to the Holy Land. The group had faced harassment from the Turks at various points, at least according to the chronicler Lambert, of the abbey of Hersfeld near Thuringia, who wrote of the pilgrimage sometime after 1077. The affair shows an open hostility towards Muslims on the part of the pilgrims, and in this particular case, a willingness to depart from the normal pilgrim practice of non-violence. Despite its confrontational nature, it almost borders on the comic. There are different versions of events, of course, no doubt embellished like any good story. Lambert records a skirmish wherein the pilgrims were attacked by a group of Turkish marauders (probably Seljuks looking for a fight with the Egyptian Fatimids, testing their weaknesses, and such), and took refuge behind the walls of an old town near Rama in Palestine on Good Friday. For three days they held out against assault, and managed to take some prisoners, but they were low on supplies and were fast losing strength. They decided to buy their way out of it, and invited some of the Turkish soldiers in to discuss the matter, but the Turks had no intention of letting the pilgrims escape with their lives. Once inside, a skirmish broke out, and in the midst of it, an unusual event occurred:

During the fighting, one of the Saracen leaders seized the piece of cloth which he wore around his head after the custom of his race, and made it into a lasso which he threw around Bishop Gunther’s neck. The bishop was not prepared to put up with such a disgrace and gave his assailant a hefty blow in the face which sent him sprawling to the ground. As the man fell, the bishop shouted at him that he would pay him back for his impiety in having the audacity to raise his unclean, idolatrous hands against a priest of Christ.

This unexpected action inspired the rest of the Christians, who immediately seized the attacker and bound him tightly, and then fell upon the others and did the same. They threatened to kill them if the Turkish forces did not retreat, which they were now obliged to do, following the intervention of a small Egyptian Fatimid army (the enemies of the besiegers), who set to fighting them. After this, the pilgrims were able to continue their journey to Jerusalem.

This remarkable episode shows the readiness with which Christians were willing to use force to defend themselves, an action which by the strict Christian teaching contained in the Sermon on the Mount, was forbidden. Yet the monk Lambert extols them for their heroism, and at Jerusalem he records that they gave thanks to God for the victory and safe journey. There is no hint of repentance for the use of force here, or that their actions violated Christian teachings about non-violence. Furthermore, Lambert noted that Gunther “was a man of high moral and spiritual standing and well-endowed with worldly goods.”

This is an astonishing change of thought regarding the idea of pilgrimage. It was obvious that pilgrims anywhere, whether to Santiago, Rome, or Jerusalem, faced dangers from bandits, highwaymen, and other foes. The Church had sought to minimize this when it declared times of peace within Europe, but obviously that would have no bearing on the lands in the East, or on the criminally-minded. Indeed, the need to protect pilgrims would be offered as the chief reason for the creation of the Knights Templar in the early twelfth century.

Outremer in the Crusades


Outremer is Established

The first organized crusade, led by Raymond of St Gilles, count of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, his brother Baldwin, Hugh of Vermandois, Bohemond of Taranto and his nephew Tancred, set out in August 1096 by various routes, reaching Constantinople in April and May 1097. After swearing oaths of homage and fealty to Alexius, the Crusaders crossed the Bosphorus. The Byzantine troops accompanying them took Nicaea on 19 June and the first Frankish victory occurred at Dorylaeum on 1 July. The army then crossed Anatolia, taking Iconium (modern Konya), and arrived at the Taurus Mountains, where they divided into two groups; one led by Baldwin crossed the mountains and took Cilicia, while the other skirted around Anatolia to Caesarea and hence to Antioch.

The first major Frankish territorial gain and the establishment of the first Frankish state in the East came in March 1098 following the death of Thoros, prince of Edessa (Urfa), who after asking for Baldwin of Boulogne’s aid against the Seljuk attacks had adopted him as co-ruler and heir. With Thoros’ death during an uprising, timely from the point of view of Baldwin and perhaps instigated by him, Baldwin became count of Edessa. Prior to this, in the previous October, the Crusaders had gathered outside the walls of Antioch and a seven-month siege of the city began. Antioch was still protected by its remarkable fortifications built by Justinian and repaired in the tenth century. The long wall had over 400 well-placed towers. It surrounded not only the built-up area of the town but also its gardens and fields, and it climbed up Mount Silpius, making an effective siege almost impossible. Raymond of Toulouse was in favour of a direct attack on the walls. Such a strike might have succeeded, but instead a decision was made to try to encircle the city. In the end it was only through the treachery of one of the defenders, an Armenian named Firouz, that on 3 June 1098 Bohemond gained access to the city. With the capture of Antioch, the second Frankish state, the principality of Antioch, was established. After much delay, the march to Jerusalem commenced on 13 January 1099. Skirting the coastal towns, the Crusaders moved south to Jaffa and then turned inland to Lydda, Ramla and Nebi Samwil where on 7 June they encamped before the Holy City. After a six-week siege, on 15 July 1099 the wall was breached near the north-eastern corner by troops under the command of Godfrey of Bouillon. A week later Godfrey was elected ruler of the newly established kingdom of Jerusalem.


Siege of Jerusalem

During the reign of Baldwin I (1100–18) the kingdom of Jerusalem expanded as the coastal cities fell one by one to the Franks. Jaffa and Haifa had already been occupied in 1099. Caesarea and Arsuf fell in 1101, Akko in 1104, Sidon and Beirut in 1110, Tyre in 1124 and Ascalon in 1153. At its peak in the twelfth century, the kingdom occupied an area extending from slightly north of Beirut to Darum in the south on the Mediterranean coast, and inland to several kilometres east of the Jordan valley and the Arava Desert, down to the Gulf of Eilat.

The county of Tripoli, last of the mainland states, was founded by Raymond of Toulouse between 1102 and 1105, although the city of Tripoli itself fell to the Franks only in 1109. The northern principalities of Antioch, Tripoli and Edessa were essentially dependencies of the kingdom of Jerusalem, though they often acted independently. In 1191 Cyprus also came under Frankish rule.

Division amongst the Muslims enabled the Frankish states to maintain a degree of stability; but towards the middle of the twelfth century the Franks suffered a major blow when in 1144 Zangi, master of Aleppo and Mosul, took Edessa. This county, which had been the first territorial gain of the Crusades, now became its first major loss and Zangi became known by his followers as the leader of the Jihad (Holy War). After his death and following the humiliating failure of the Second Crusade which had attacked Damascus rather than Edessa, Zangi’s son Nur al-Din took Damascus. In order to strengthen his position Nur al-Din sent Shirkuh, a Kurdish general, together with Shirkuh’s nephew, Saladin, to occupy Egypt. Shirkuh took Cairo in January 1169 and on his death Saladin became vizier of Egypt. Although formally he was under the overlordship of Nur al-Din, Saladin was in practice sultan of Egypt. When Nur al-Din died in 1174, Saladin occupied Damascus and united Egypt and Syria, thereby establishing himself as the leader of the Jihad against the Franks.

At the time when Muslims were finding unity under Saladin, Frankish rule was falling apart. After the death of King Amalric in 1174, the 13-year-old Baldwin IV, who suffered from leprosy, ascended the throne of Jerusalem. Despite his youth and illness Baldwin proved to be an able ruler, but as his disease progressed it became clear that he would have to delegate rule to a regent until the coming of age of his heir, the future Baldwin V, who was the son of his sister Sibylla and William of Montferrat. The king reluctantly appointed as regent Guy of Lusignan, who had married the recently widowed Sibylla, but shortly thereafter replaced him with Raymond III of Tripoli. Baldwin IV died at the age of 24 in 1185, and Baldwin V died in the following year.

Whatever Raymond’s expectations may have been, it was Guy of Lusignan who became king. In the meantime Saladin had consolidated his hold over the region and in 1187 events came to a head. A truce which Saladin had signed with the Franks in 1181 was broken by Reynald of Châtillon, who even attempted to attack Mecca itself. A subsequent four-year truce signed in 1185 was broken two years later when Reynald attacked a caravan on its way to Mecca, capturing Saladin’s sister. Saladin prepared for war. A huge Muslim army that has been estimated at 30,000 with 12,000 cavalry prepared for battle. First Saladin attacked Reynald’s fortresses of Montreal and Kerak. Then in June 1187 he crossed the Jordan and on 2 July his troops laid siege to Tiberias. The Frankish army marched to Saffuriya (Tsipori) and on the morning of 4 July met the Muslims in battle at the Horns of Hattin. The Frankish army was encircled and destroyed.

Within a few months most of the castles and towns of the kingdom, including Jerusalem, fell to Saladin and by the end of 1189 only Tyre remained in their hands. Much of the territory to the north was also lost, though Antioch and the castles of Crac des Chevaliers, Margat (Marqab) and Qusair remained in Frankish hands, as did Tripoli. Even with the reoccupation of the coast by the Third Crusade (1189–92) and the short-lived recovery of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Toron and Sidon following a treaty reached in 1229, the Franks never really overcame this defeat. One of the few lasting consequences of the Third Crusade was the occupation of the island of Cyprus, which fell to Richard I of England in 1191. He sold it to the Templars and it was eventually granted to the deposed king of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan.


Outremer – Geography and climate

At their peak the Crusader states extended from Cilicia in the north to the northern edge of the Sinai Peninsula in the south; until the collapse that followed the Battle of Hattin, they included the whole of western Palestine and the eastern edge of Transjordan. After the Third Crusade the island of Cyprus also came under Frankish rule. Rarely are the blessings and curses of nature so heavily concentrated in one fairly small region, although the blessings perhaps outweigh the curses. In the north, from the Taurus Mountains to the east, the countryside is fertile and well watered. So too is the Lebanon and the coastal plain as far south as Rafiah. The Golan, and beyond it the Hauran, are highly fertile basaltic lands. To the south and east, however, aridity sets in, broken here and there by springs and oases. The climate varies over this region but generally falls into a pattern of an extended dry season commencing in April and continuing until late October, tempered only by occasional morning mists. It is followed by a wet season during which heavy but erratic showers occur, often of short duration but occasionally lasting for several days. Most of the towns are situated along the Mediterranean littoral. In the Crusader period these included Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Akko, Caesarea, Arsuf, Jaffa and Ascalon. Several secondary and some important towns lie inland: Antioch on the River Orontes, Tiberias and Nazareth in the lower Galilee, Sebaste, and Nablus in the Samaria Hills, Lydda and Ramla in the inland plain, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron in the Judean hills.

The island of Cyprus is physically little different from the mainland. It is often coarse, dry countryside with narrow, seasonal streams, but it is also remarkably fertile. The well-watered Troodos Mountains rise at the island’s centre to a height of over 1800 m. To the north is the lower, Kyrenia range (1067 m). Between them is an extensive plain, the Mesaoria, and to the south of the Troodos are the plains of Paphos and Limassol. The principal towns and districts are Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol, Famagusta, Paphos and Kyrenia. Under the Lusignans Cyprus was divided into twelve districts: Nicosia, Salines (Larnaca), Limassol, Famagusta, Paphos, Kyrenia, the Mesaoria, the Karpas Peninsula, the Masoto, Avdimou, Chrysokhou and Pendayia.

Outremer – The native population

The native population of the territories that came under Frankish rule included Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, Jews, Samaritans and a number of Christian sects: Armenians, Copts, Greek Orthodox (Melkites), Jacobites, Maronites and Nestorians. The early Frankish conquests were accompanied by widespread slaughter of the local urban population, Muslims, Jews and even the Eastern Christians, a policy which left the Franks facing a significant demographic problem. The population of Jerusalem dropped to a few hundred knights and footmen (Fulcher of Chartres 1913:2.6; William of Tyre 1986:9.19). Non- Christians were not allowed to return to Jerusalem, but this was not the case elsewhere. In general, after the initial slaughters and expulsions the Franks came to terms with the existence of the local communities, particularly once the majority of the Crusaders had returned to Europe. Except in the case of Jerusalem there was probably never any intention of entirely eliminating the non-Frankish population from the cities, and the Franks must have soon become aware of the need to rely on the local peasantry for food and many other necessities. Thus most of the rural population remained in place, retaining a near-serf status little different from that which they had held under the Fatimids. The depopulated capital was resettled, not with the remnants of the previous population but with Frankish and Eastern Christians. On the whole the Franks appear to have been reluctant to remain in Jerusalem. It became necessary to pass legislation aimed at making settlement in the city more attractive by easing the tax burdens: tariffs were removed from certain goods entering the city gates. In order to put an end to the widespread absentee landlordship, a law was passed whereby an estate whose owner was absent for a year and a day would become the property of the tenant. An additional means of increasing the city’s population was by the organized settlement of local Christians from Transjordan. They were housed in what had previously been the Jewish quarter, Juverie, in the north-east of the city.

Outremer – The Frankish settlers

‘Crusader’—the popular label used to describe anything or anyone connected to the Frankish presence in the East—is a somewhat misleading term. If we limit its use to people who participated in a Crusade we are on safe ground, but what about those who were born in the East and never took part in a Crusade? Strictly speaking, ‘Frank’ is not much better. A large part of the Western population settled in the East was certainly not of Frankish origin: Normans, Germans, Italians and other nations made up much of the permanent population. However, ‘Frank’ (Franj in Arabic) has a certain legitimacy in that it was the name used by the local population at the time to refer to Westerners, both new arrivals as well as pulani (those who were born in the East), whatever their ethnic origins. The Frankish population included a minority of nobles and a large class of burgesses consisting of shopkeepers and artisans, many of whom were probably of peasant origin.

In the countryside there seems to have occasionally been voluntary downward social mobility, when men who had previously been burgesses chose to become peasants. William of Tyre hints at this when he suggests that it was easier for men of limited means to make a living in these settlements than in the towns (William of Tyre 1986:20.19).

Frankish administration and institutions

Following a brief leadership contest during which Raymond of Toulouse was offered the title but in such a reluctant manner that he refused it, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected to rule over the newly established kingdom. For reasons of piety he refused the title of king, but to all intents and purposes that is what he was. He ruled until his untimely death on 18 July 1100, when his brother Baldwin of Edessa ascended the throne and took the title of king of Jerusalem. After its nominal establishment the kingdom of Jerusalem began to emerge as a physical reality. The conquest of inland areas coincided with the progressive occupation of the coastal cities. Command of the coast was vital to the survival of the kingdom and of the northern principalities. Despite the gains of the First Crusade, the overland route was not a viable alternative to the maritime connection with Europe, a fact that became particularly obvious when Zangi, the ruler of Mosul and Aleppo, retook Edessa in 1144. From the outset the coastal towns served as the only route of contact with the West. Thus their conquest was a priority that was dealt with immediately after the conquest of Jerusalem and the defeat of the Fatimid army at Ascalon in the summer of 1099.

The king of Jerusalem headed what was in theory an elective monarchy but in practice a hereditary one. Baldwin I’s successor, Baldwin de Burg was elected to the position by a council of clergy and nobles, but he was also the king’s nephew and, according to Albert of Aix, one of his choices as heir. On his deathbed Baldwin II had his eldest daughter Melisende married to the barons’ choice of his successor, Fulk of Anjou. On Fulk’s death Melisende, who ruled jointly with the king, was crowned together with her eldest son Baldwin. Thus in fact the monarchy had dropped its elective facade and openly become a hereditary one. Subsequently, with a few exceptions, the succession remained hereditary.

In the early years of the century the king was prepotent, his power stemming largely from the possession of extensive tracts of land in the interior and from the commercial revenues deriving from the port cities. His strength declined, however, as the royal domains diminished in the twelfth century and much of the port revenues were siphoned off by the Italian merchant communes. Displaying perhaps lack of foresight but clearly also lack of choice, the kings of Jerusalem granted extensive lordships from the royal lands in Judea, Samaria and the coastal plain. In this manner the king’s holdings were depleted until what remained consisted of little more than areas around the cities of Jerusalem, Akko, Tyre and Nazareth, and the region of Darum in the south. The increasingly independent class of nobles who received these land grants thereby acquired considerable political authority at the king’s expense and exercised an expanding role in the decision-making of the Haute Cour (High Court). By the later twelfth century the king was largely dependent on the barons.

In the other Frankish states the situation was rather different. The principality of Antioch was ruled by the prince, who was theoretically a vassal not of the king of Jerusalem but of the Byzantine emperor. However, Bohemund II of Antioch married the daughter of Baldwin II and after Bohemund’s death in 1130 Baldwin became guardian of Antioch and the principality became a dependency of Jerusalem. The count of Tripoli was vassal of the king of Jerusalem, while the count of Edessa was vassal of both the king of Jerusalem and the prince of Antioch. As for Cyprus, in 1192 Guy of Lusignan became ruler of the island but adopted the title dominus, rather than assuming the status of king. On his death two years later his brother Aimery (1194–1205) became the first of the Frankish kings of Cyprus. Although the new governing body, the High Court of Nicosia, was empowered to choose the king or if necessary regent; as in Jerusalem this was a hereditary kingdom. The position of the king in relation to the barons was much more advantageous than on the mainland. One reason for this was that in Cyprus, unlike the kingdom of Jerusalem, the hereditary fiefs received by the barons reverted to the Crown if there was no direct heir. Thus the king retained considerable landed property and there were no great baronies that could pose a threat to him. The seigneuries were generally limited to a few villages at the most. All the walled towns and castles were held by the king; the only exceptions were the fortresses of Kolossi and Gastria, which were held by the Hospitallers and Templars.

Outremer – The Roman Church

The Church


Although it did not achieve its expectations of establishing theocratic rule in the East, the Church maintained a certain influence throughout the two centuries of Frankish rule. The political strength of the patriarchate was never very great, and in comparison to its position in the West the Church in the Latin East was neither influential nor wealthy. However, individual ecclesiastical establishments did become important property owners. Notable amongst these were the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Convent of St Anne, St Mary of Mount Zion, and St Mary in Jehoshaphat in Jerusalem, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Abbey of St Lazarus in Bethany. Their holdings were varied; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for example, possessed houses in the major cities as well as in many of the smaller towns, whole villages (both those of the indigenous peasantry and the newly established villages of Frankish settlers), mills, bakeries and other institutions.

The military orders


The military order was a new and uniquely Crusader institution combining the concepts of knighthood and monasticism. The orders became an important element in Crusader society, the principal means of maintaining organized and well-equipped armed forces in the Latin East. The possession of numerous castles added to their weight in the defence of the Latin East. The Order of the Hospitallers or the Knights of St John, which had its beginnings in the monastery hospital of St Mary Latin in Jerusalem established around 1070, was recognized in 1113 by the pope and became a military order around 1130. Its principal aim was to care for the sick. The second military order was the Order of the Templars, so called because they had their headquarters in al-Aqsa Mosque, which was known to the Franks as the Templum Salomonis. It was founded in 1119–20 by a knight named Hugh of Payns with the aim of defending pilgrims on the roads. Both orders developed into huge organizations with vast holdings both in Outremer and in Europe. There were other military orders, notable amongst them the German Teutonic Order founded in 1190 which had its headquarters in Akko, the Order of St Lazarus and the Order of St Thomas.

The Crusades to the East in the Thirteenth Century



The implementation of what became known as the Fifth Crusade (1217–1221) fell to Innocent III’s successor, Honorius III. He was an able administrator, mature, somewhat cautious, but deeply dedicated to both the crusade and the reform of the church. Honorius moved quickly to keep the crusade on its schedule. He also made increasingly clear that he was looking to Frederick II to play a leading role in it. But Frederick continued to be preoccupied in Germany, where the supporters of Otto IV remained active. The crusaders from the Rhineland and the Low Countries were ready to leave in 1217, as were some of the English, but Frederick was not. Nor were many of the French crusaders. King Andrew II of Hungary and Duke Leopold VI of Austria moved east- ward in August 1217. Some of the Rhenish contingent delayed in Portugal to assist in the capture of Alcácer do Sal. The crusade armies were to meet at Acre in Palestine.

Andrew of Hungary arrived first and conducted a sweep through the area around Lake Tiberias before returning home. Other crusaders laid siege to the Muslim fortifications on Mount Tabor, southwest of Tiberias. They were not able to vanquish the Muslim forces, but after their withdrawal the Muslims left Mount Tabor and retired to Nablus. The crusaders also strengthened fortifications along the coast in Caesarea and Château Pelerin (‘Athlit). Although these operations have been criticized, they were probably necessary to ensure the security of the Frankish settlements while the crusade moved against its main objective, Egypt. Thus, the Fifth Crusade picked up on the task left undone by the Fourth Crusade.

As the main forces gathered, still without Frederick, the crusaders selected as their leader the king of Jerusalem, John of Brienne. They moved to the Damietta mouth of the Nile to begin the siege of this important port, the gateway to Egypt, as it was known. In September 1218 the papal legate, Cardinal Pelagius of Albano, arrived, followed by a large body of French crusaders. The attack on Damietta was made more difficult by a chain that stretched from the city wall to a tower near the opposite side of the river and blocked passage upriver. The historian Oliver of Paderborn planned and directed the building of siege machinery on two boats that enabled the crusaders to take the tower. The sultan of Egypt, al-Ādil, brother of Saladin, is said to have died of shock at the news. He was succeeded by his son al-Kãmil. The capture of the Chain Tower enabled the crusaders to cross the Nile and lay siege to Damietta, while the new sultan consolidated his position. The Egyptians offered to surrender Jerusalem and other sites in return for the end of the siege. The crusade leadership was divided, but Cardinal Pelagius and the heads of the military orders pointed out that Jerusalem was indefensible without the possession of key fortresses in Transjordan. Damietta fell on 4 November 1219, and by the end of the month, the crusaders con- trolled most of the eastern Nile Delta.

Still Frederick had not arrived. He sought postponements from the pope while negotiations regarding his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor dragged on. He was determined to secure his rights before embarking on the crusade. Pope Honorius granted the postponements in the interest of the crusade, but events began to outrun the pace of the negotiations. After Frederick was crowned in Rome in November 1220, he entered his kingdom of Sicily and began to put matters there back into order. He had been in Germany for almost eight years. Many have criticized Frederick for his failure to go on crusade and Honorius for his laxity in pressing Frederick to fulfill his vow. Yet the problems that detained Frederick were real and weighty from his point of view, and Honorius was anxious to secure full cooperation. Neither could have anticipated what would eventually happen in Egypt. In fact, both tried to forestall just that kind of outcome. But events on the ground in the East could hardly be expected to wait on decisions in the West. King John left the crusader camp to meet what he regarded as a threat to the Latin kingdom from Syria as well as to pursue a personal claim to the Armenian throne. Pelagius was placed in a difficult position as the demand for action by rank-and-file crusaders mounted, which increased with the arrival of substantial reinforcements with Duke Ludwig I of Bavaria, the official representative of Emperor Frederick. In an attempt to placate those who wanted action, Pelagius and the duke decided to order a limited advance. They were joined shortly afterward by King John. But once begun, the advance became victim to its own success and, against the advice of John, moved toward Mansurah (mod. El- Mansûra, Egypt) at the point where a canal entered the Nile from the East. The Egyptians, reinforced by al-Kãmil’s brothers, cut the crusaders’ line of retreat and forced their surrender. In return for the surrender of Damietta, the crusaders were permitted to withdraw from Egypt. The Fifth Crusade had failed.

The blame for this defeat was shared by Frederick and the pope. Cardinal Pelagius has come under fire as well. But the failure of the Fifth Crusade chiefly illustrates the problem of conducting large-scale land operations far removed from western Europe. The immediate result of this defeat, however, was the determination by the pope to persuade Frederick to fulfill his vow. A marriage was arranged between Frederick and the young heiress to the Latin kingdom, Isabella II, the daughter of John of Brienne and Maria la Marquise. Frederick renewed his pledge to go on crusade, but before he was able to depart, Honorius died, in March 1227. The new pope was Cardinal Hugolino of Ostia, who took the name Gregory IX. When Frederick finally set out from Brindisi for the East in August 1227, there was an expectation that things would be different. But illness forced the emperor to turn back almost immediately. Gregory imposed the sentence of excommunication that had been agreed to by Frederick as part of the Treaty of San Germano in 1225.

Frederick, however, was determined to go on crusade. He now had a vital stake in the East from the fact that he was, through marriage, king of Jerusalem. Moreover, he had hopes of securing a treaty from al-Kãmil that would return Jerusalem and other holy sites to the Christians. It was, in fact, very close to the agreement that had been offered and rejected during the Fifth Crusade. But al-Kãmil had his eye on Syria, ruled by his brother, al-Mu‘azzam. Even after al-Mu‘azzam’s death, Frederick continued to push for an agreement.

When Frederick crossed to the East in June 1228, he once again demonstrated his strong determination to ensure what he regarded as his rights. Despite having few men and little money, he was able to secure the treaty, and on 17 March he entered Jerusalem. The treaty was denounced by Gerold of Lausanne, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, on the grounds that it provided no security for the city and left the lands of the patriarch and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on which they depended for income, in Muslim hands. Frederick’s calculations were further upset by events in Italy, where Pope Gregory IX ordered an attack on the kingdom of Sicily, apparently in reprisal for the seizure of the March of Ancona by Rainald of Urslingen, duke of Spoleto, who had been a source of friction between the papacy and the emperor for some time. Frederick returned to Italy, where he defeated the papal forces. By the Treaty of Ceprano (1230), Frederick and the pope resolved their immediate differences. Frederick’s achievement by his crusade was accepted, even if not welcomed.

There followed almost a decade of cooperation between pope and emperor. During this period, Frederick’s representatives in the Latin kingdom attempted to dominate the politics that swirled around the various noble factions. Frederick himself was occupied with affairs in Sicily and Germany. In the East, Cypriot nobles led by John of Ibelin, the lord of Beirut, carried on a struggle against the imperial lieutenants that ended in the lieutenants’ defeat in 1233. Likewise, on the mainland imperial administrators acting for Frederick as guardian of his son Conrad IV fared no better, though they held out until 1243 (the War of the Lombards). The only significant crusade in this period was led by Count Thibaud IV of Champagne in 1240, but it ended with only minor gains. With the expiration of Frederick’s treaty with al-Kãmil, the Ayyûbids moved to occupy Jerusalem. With the loss of the city, the crusades entered a new phase.

Hopes for the recovery of Jerusalem were now vested in the king of France, Louis IX. The Capetian kings of France had a tradition of crusading, but they were also known as hardheaded and practical men of affairs. The leading French historian of Louis IX, Jean Richard, has argued that he did not make a decision to go on crusade without overcoming a certain reluctance on his own part as well as the opposition of his mother, Blanche of Castile. What decided him was a serious illness that nearly cost him his life. Once determined, he set himself to the task with great energy. He entrusted the government of the kingdom to his mother and devoted himself to raising the required funds and making the necessary preparations. Although he worked with the pope, Innocent IV, the entire initiative was in his hands. The thoroughness of his preparations is demonstrated by the fact that he improved the Mediterranean port of Aigues-Mortes to serve as a point of departure and made arrangements for supplies to be stored in Cyprus. His objective was Egypt, and specifically the same port of Damietta that had been attacked by the Fifth Crusade.

Although Louis’s crusade was preached in various countries, it remained a French enterprise. Louis’s army was not large, but it was quite respectable in medieval terms. Louis spent about six times his annual income on the crusade, but most of the money came from non-royal sources. He left for the East on 25 August and landed near Damietta on 5 October, meeting almost no opposition. The garrison of the city fled, leaving it open to him. He immediately took over the city and made preparations to move inland. Some thought was given to the capture of Alexandria, but this was rejected in favor of an attack aimed at Cairo. On 20 November Louis moved south along the east bank of the Nile toward Mansurah. There the army stalled, unable to cross the canal that lay in its path, until a secret crossing place was made known to them. The king’s brother Robert of Artois led an advance guard across the canal but rashly attacked the Muslim camp. Louis, who crossed to aid his brother with the bulk of the army, was stymied by the arrival of the Ayyûbid sultan with reinforcements. Forced to retreat, he suffered heavy losses and had to surrender. Louis was ransomed, but Damietta was once more returned to the Egyptians. Louis left for Acre, where he devoted himself to improving the coastal fortifications of the Latin kingdom.

Perhaps more than any previous crusade, Louis’s expedition showed the magnitude of the task confronting those who desired to liberate the Holy Land. When the king returned home in 1254, he had accomplished little more than repairing some of the damage resultant from his failure at Damietta. He had not, however, lost his sense of commitment to the crusade, which, if anything, had been reinforced by the increasing depth of his personal piety.

The second half of the thirteenth century continued the story of military decline in the Latin states of Outremer. There were various efforts to provide support. Among the most important efforts was King Louis IX’s second crusade, launched on 2 July 1270. It was an impressive force. Lord Edward—the future King Edward I and son of Henry III of England—was due to join Louis. Although the goal of the crusade was to aid the Latin East, Louis had decided first of all to land at Tunis in North Africa. This landing was not, as some have thought, part of a plot against Tunis by Charles I of Anjou, the king’s brother, but the result of Louis’s belief that the ruler of Tunis was prepared to accept the Christian faith. But soon after the landing, dysentery swept through the camp. The king was one of its prominent victims and died from its effects. Edward, who arrived just as the crusaders were preparing to leave, continued to the East, where he conducted a limited campaign.

The second crusade of Louis IX was the last major crusade of the thirteenth century. Pope Gregory X, who had been elected pope while in Acre, worked zealously to promote the crusade to the East. On his instructions, the Dominican master general Humbert of Romans conducted an extensive survey to determine the depth of support for the crusade. At the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, Gregory issued a crusade document that not only codified previous experience but drew on the materials gathered by Humbert and others. His efforts bore fruit when the leading rulers of Europe took the cross, but the projected crusade did not get off the ground before the pope died in 1276. Thereafter, despite a growing awareness of the perils facing Outremer, no major crusade was mounted prior to the fall of Acre in 1291 to the Mamlûks of Egypt. The Mamlûk victory at Acre was the culmination of a Muslim resurgence that had begun shortly after the First Crusade of King Louis IX, when the Mamlûks, military slaves who formed an elite guard in Egypt, overthrew the Ayyûbid sultan and took control of the government. The military state that they created directed its external energies against the Franks as part of its effort to prove its legitimacy. By August 1291 the Franks no longer had a toehold on the Palestinian mainland. Still, they were a power in the region by reason of their possession of the kingdom of Cyprus and the naval power of the Western maritime cities, as well as by virtue of the military and financial support afforded by the military orders.


The Recapture of Constantinople




The Latin Empire, Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus. The borders are very uncertain.

Between 1254 and 1261, the Latin Empire comes to an end, and the Byzantine Empire is restored

Half a century before, Byzantium had splintered into four mini-kingdoms and faded from sight. For a little less than a millennium, Constantinople had been a pivot point of international politics; now, like Kiev, or Braga, or Krakow, it was of vast importance to its immediate neighbors, but little more.

Constantinople now stood as the capital of the “Latin Empire,” a tiny and penniless realm. Immediately after the conquest of the city by the Fourth Crusade, the Latin Empire, under the Count of Flanders turned Emperor, had stretched from Constantinople into the south of Greece, across the Black Sea to encompass the coast of Asia Minor. But under the count’s nephew Baldwin II, who inherited the throne in 1228 at the age of eleven, the Latin Empire had shrunk. The Bulgarian empire, under the ambitious Ivan Asen, mounted constant attacks on its western border; the Empire of Nicaea, under the ruthless John Vatatzes, assaulted it from the east. Baldwin had few troops, and no money to hire mercenaries. A delegation of Franciscan and Dominican friars who visited the city in 1234 reported that city was “deprived of all protection,” the emperor a pauper: “All the paid knights departed. The ships of the Venetians, Pisans . . . and other nations were ready to leave, and some indeed had already left. When we saw that the land was abandoned, we feared danger because it was surrounded by enemies.”

Baldwin spent much of his reign out of Constantinople, traveling from court to court in Europe and begging each Christian king to help him protect the city that had once been Christianity’s crown jewel in the east. Both Louis IX of France and Henry III of England made small contributions to the Latin treasury, but in its king’s absence Constantinople itself grew shabbier and hungrier. By 1254, Baldwin could claim to rule only the land right around Constantinople’s walls. He had already sold most of the city’s treasures and sacred relics: a fragment of the True Cross, the napkin that Saint Veronica had used to wash the face of Christ as he walked towards Golgotha, the lance that pierced Christ’s side on the cross, the Crown of Thorns itself. (Louis IX bought most of them and built a special chapel in Paris to house the collection.) He had borrowed so much money from the Venetian merchants that he had been forced to send his son Philip to Venice as a hostage pending repayment; he had torn the copper roofs from Constantinople’s domes and melted them down into coins.

While the Latin Empire withered, the Empire of Nicaea grew. John Vatatzes, claiming to be the Byzantine emperor in exile, spent most of his thirty-three-year reign fighting: swallowing most of Constantinople’s land, seizing Thrace from Bulgaria and Thessalonica from the third of the mini-kingdoms, the Despotate of Epirus. (The fourth mini-kingdom, the Empire of Trebizond, never expanded very far away from the shoreline of the Black Sea.) By 1254, the Empire of Nicaea stretched from Asia Minor across to Greece and up north of the Aegean.

In February of that year, the sixty-year-old John Vatatzes suffered a massive epileptic seizure in his bedchamber. He slowly recovered, but seizures continued to plague him. “The attacks began to occur altogether more frequently,” writes the historian George Akropolites, who lived at the Nicaean court. “He had a wasting away of the flesh and . . . no respite from the affliction.” In November, the emperor died; his son Theodore, aged thirty-three, became emperor.

But Theodore II soon sickened with the same illness that had killed his father: “His entire body was reduced to a skeleton,” Akropolites says. He died before the end of his fourth year on the throne, leaving as heir his eight-year-old son John.

John’s rule was promptly co-opted by the ambitious Michael Palaeologus, a well-regarded soldier and aristocrat who was also the great-grandson of the Byzantine emperor Alexius III. With the support of most of the Nicaeans (“They did not think it proper,” says Akropolites, “for the . . . empire, being so great, to be governed by a fruit-picking and dice-playing infant”), Michael first declared himself to be regent and then, in 1259, promoted himself to co-emperor as Michael VIII.

From the moment he took the throne, Michael VIII intended to recover his great-grandfather’s city: “His every effort and whole aim was to rescue it from the hands of the Latins,” writes Akropolites. In the first two years of his reign, he prepared for the attack on Constantinople by making peace on his other borders; he concluded treaties with both Bulgaria and the nearby Il-khanate Mongols.

He also equipped himself with a new alliance. The merchants of Genoa had just suffered a commercial catastrophe. In 1256, they had quarreled sharply with the Venetians over the ownership of a waterfront parcel of land in Acre, the last surviving fragment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Whoever controlled it could block rival ships from the harbor of Acre, and both of the maritime republics wanted this advantage. “The Christians began to make shameful and wretched war on each other,” says the contemporary chronicle known as the Rothelin Continuation, “both sides being equally aggressive.” The first major sea battle in the war, between a thirty-nine-ship Venetian fleet (reinforced by ships from friendly Pisa) and a fifty-galley Genoan navy, had ended with an embarrassing Genoan loss. Between 1257 and 1258, the conflict ballooned until all of Acre was at war:

And all that year there were at least sixty engines, every one of them throwing down onto the city of Acre, onto houses, towers and turrets, and they smashed and laid level with the ground every building they touched, for ten of these engines could deliver rocks weighing as much as 1500 pounds. . . . [N]early all the towers and strong houses in Acre were destroyed . . . [and] twenty thousand men died in this war on one side or the other. . . . The city of Acre was as utterly devastated by this war as if it had been destroyed in warfare between Christians and Saracens.

The Genoans were the losers. By the end of 1258, they had been forced out of Acre completely; the old Genoese quarter in Acre was entirely pulled apart, and the Venetians and Pisans used the stones to rebuild their own trading posts.

Now Genoa needed another trading base in the eastern Mediterranean. Carefully guarded negotiations between the Genoese statesman Guglielmo Boccanegra and the emperor Michael VIII went on during the winter of 1260, and ended in July of 1261 with the signing of a major treaty: the Treaty of Nymphaion, which promised the Genoese their own tax-free trading quarters in Constantinople, should they help the ambitious emperor to conquer it.

The conquest itself was an anticlimax; Baldwin II was in no shape to resist, and the city was almost defenseless. As soon as the Treaty of Nymphaion was ratified, Michael sent a small detachment to Constantinople to issue a series of threats. The detachment discovered, to its surprise, that most of the remaining Latin army had been sent off to attack a Nicaean-held harbor island near the Bosphorus Strait. Under cover of thick dark, they climbed into the city, quickly overwhelmed the tiny remaining guard, and opened the gates. Baldwin himself, sleeping at the royal palace, woke up at the sounds of their shouts and managed to flee the city, leaving his crown behind him. The Latin Empire was no more.

Michael VIII himself was camped to the north of Thyateira at the time. When news of the capture arrived at his camp, his sister woke him up by shaking him and saying, “Rise up, emperor, for Christ has conferred Constantinople upon you!” According to Akropolites, he answered, “How? I did not even send a worthy army against it.”

Three weeks later, he arrived at the gates of Constantinople himself. He entered the city on August 14 as the first emperor of a restored Byzantium, and found a disastrous mess: “a plain of destruction, full of ruins and mounds.” The royal palace was so filthy and smoke-stained that it had to be scrubbed from top to bottom before he could take up residence in it.

The Genoese, claiming their reward, now had a trade monopoly in Byzantium and held the premier position in the Mediterranean Sea. Baldwin II ended up in Italy, still claiming to be the emperor of the Latins.

Michael’s co-emperor, young John, remained behind in Nicaea. Michael VIII intended to rule the restored Byzantium on his own, founder of a new royal dynasty, without challenge. Four months later, he ordered the boy blinded and imprisoned in a castle on an island in the Sea of Marmara. The sentence was carried out on Christmas Day, 1261, the boy’s eleventh birthday.

Martial Women of Medieval Europe and the Crusades


Eleanor of Aquitaine: (A.D. 1122?–1204) Romancers have placed her in the Second Crusade, clad in polished armor, plume dancing in the sun, dashing over the hillsides and killing Moors. The reality is hardly less impressive. On Easter Day, A.D. 1146, she offered the Abbé Bernard of Clairvaux, at Vézelay, her thousands of vassals, who formed the core of the Second Crusade. She intended to lead her legion personally and opinions vary as to how far she actually succeeded, although contemporary legend assumes the most. On the day of her army’s departure, Eleanor appeared in Vezelay riding a white horse, clad in armor, “with gilded buskins on her feet and plumes in her hair,” surrounded by other armored women, including Sybelle, Countess of Flanders, Mamille of Roucy, Florine of Bourgogne, Torqueri of Bouilon, and Faydide of Toulouse, all splendidly appointed. If it was a charade, she kept it up all along the route to the Holy Land. She met the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Komnenos and went from his court, by sea, to Syria, where her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, one of the most brilliant knights of the age, was ruler. She went thence to Jerusalem, where she was greeted by Queen Melisande, ruler of Christians during the Crusades. Melisande not only fought Moslems, but also her own son, refusing to give up her rule when he came of age.

Independent evidence from the Greek historian Nicetas describes European women in the Crusades, and names especially “the Lady of the Golden Boot,” whom we can reasonably assume to be the same Eleanor with gilded buskins who started out from Vézelay, though some historians believe Nicetas referred to a troop of women in the employ of the German Conrad. The Greek historian describes her elegant and martial bearing, and describes, as well, her armored ladies with spears and axes, mounted on fine chargers.

Eleanor had been inspired by Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and the character of Clorinda when she had armor specially made for herself and her ladies-in-waiting. Many historians today dismiss this event, and suggest that, at the first sign of trouble, she and her women turned around and headed home. Nicetas’ report strongly suggests otherwise. The Bull of the Third Crusade (1189) expressly forbade women to join the expeditions, although the First Crusade included equal numbers of men, women, and children, and the Second seems to have included numerous noblewomen inspired by Queen Eleanor after her spectacle at Vézelay, where she had ridden about the countryside calling for crusaders. Whether the Bull of the Third Crusade was obeyed seems unlikely, as too many of the warrior-monks were of denominations that included nun auxiliaries, and a great many mendicant-nuns were free to roam at will.


Medieval nuns were often members of wandering sects and traveled armed for self-defensive reasons. Others were adjunct to famous sects of fighting monks and accompanied them on the Crusades. Still others learned to fight for the protection of their lands and convents in a tumultuous age, as was the case with Philothéy Benizélos of Greece and Julienne du Guesdin of Brittainy. At the siege of Seville by Espartero, an anticleric, the nuns of Seville rose against him, so that his siege was repelled. There can be no question but that nuns and abbesses have had a great propensity for violence, as witness the stories of Chrodielde and Leubevére warring in the sixth century for control of an abbey, or Renée de Bourbon in the late 1400s in armed struggle for reforms. In the monk wars of early Christian Ireland, women were reported fighting amidst the clergy, undoubtedly nuns.

An eleventh-century nun’s marginalia in an illuminated manuscript shows a nun jousting with a monk on horseback and defeating him. This piece can be seen reproduced in Karen Peterson and J. J. Wilson’s Women Artists (1976). Some would say the artist was being satiric, but the reality of her age better upholds the conclusion that she was depicting actual military exercises practiced by monks and nuns. The ill-fated First Crusade led by Peter the Hermit was most assuredly made up of men, women, and children. Misson in Voyage d’Italie (1688) reported his personal inspection of an arsenal of the Palazzo-Real, which included cuirasses and helmets for women, which he was told were worn by Genoese ladies who fought Turks in 1301. Searching for confirmation, he uncovered three letters in the archives of Genoa, written by Pope Boniface VIII, discussing in detail the “warlike infatuation” of Genoese ladies who were Crusaders in 1383. As they are referred to as “ladies” rather than courtesans, and known to the pope, it is probable that they took vows before leaving for the East, in the manner of the monk-knights. If these women had not taken such vows, their troop would almost certainly have been referred to in a manner similar to that of the twelve hundred women-at-arms accompanying the duke of Alva in Flanders in the late 1500s, who were considered harlots for not taking vows.

An account survives, written by the sister of a monk (perhaps “sister” is not literal but a reference to her status as a nun), describing her experience during Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem: “I wore a helmet or at any rate walked on the ramparts wearing on my head a metal dish which did as well as a helmet. Woman though I was I had the appearance of a warrior. I slung stones at the enemy. I concealed my fears. It was hot and there was never a moment’s rest. Once a catapulted stone fell near me and I was injured by the fragments.”

Crusading women were romanticized in literature, plays, and songs, so that even Eleanor of Aquitaine was inspired to a women’s crusade and had armor made for her ladies-in-waiting. Among the queens of Europe whose valor in the Crusades is certain, we must count Florine of Denmark, Marguerite de Provence and Berengaria of Navarre. Additional indicators include the “troop of Amazons” that accompanied Emperor Conrad to Syria, and the women Crusaders in the ranks of William, Count of Poitiers, as reported by Guibert de Nogent in Gesta Dei per Francos (God’s Deeds of the Franks), book VII.

Of later periods, there are clear records regarding the unconventional activity of nuns. Le Lusca in Introduzione al Nouvellare was amused by the women of the Alpine convents who on certain days “were permitted to dress up as gentlemen, with velvet caps on their heads, tight-fitting hose, and having sword at side,” and come out of holy seclusion to partake, as gallants, in carnival society. Antonio Francesco Grazzini reports also of nuns who arrived at carnivals clad as cavaliers, swords at side, acting as gallants. Until reforms started by the Council of Trent, Italian convents were places of considerable liberty, with young patricians sporting in the gardens with the nuns, or, even more notoriously, the nuns “converting” maidens and widows by spending nights in their beds and taking them afterward to their convents. Novelists may seem to have exaggerated these propensities, yet the records show that in 1329 the nuns of Montefalco were excommunicated for such behavior; in 1447, several nuns were “reformed” by means of life imprisonment; and, in 1472, a Franciscan commissioner reported on the “irreligious and unbridled lives” of nuns. A 1403 law prohibited citizens of Bologna from any longer hanging about the convents or to converse and play music with the nuns.

Le President de Brosses, in Lettres familière écrites d’Italie, volume 1, was equally amused by Italian nuns, who as a rule carried stilettoes. These Lettres include an account of the abbess of Pomponne who fought a duel with a lady who wished to take over the abbey. Various popes found it necessary to declare the heretical nature of fighting women, in an attempt to minimize their participation. The centuries-old ban on women wearing armor would be the technicality upon which Joan of Arc was condemned to burn.


Florine: Betrothed to the king of Denmark, she accompanied him in A.D. 1097 on the ill-fated First Crusade, and died with him in battle.

Marguerite de Provence, Queen of France: (A.D. 1221–1295) Daughter of Raymond Berenger, she married Louis IX in 1254. She accompanied him on the Crusade and was in Damietta with him during a siege. At the height of the battle, she elicited a vow from an officer to behead her if the Moslems breached the walls. She behaved “with heroic entrepidity” when the king was captured.

There were many such women of the Crusades. They were “animated by the double enthusiasm of religion and valor,” and they “often performed the most incredible exploits on the field of battle, and died with arms in their hands at the side of their lovers.”

Berengaria of Navarre: (A.D. 1172?–1230?) Daughter of Sancho the Wise, King of Naples. She married Richard the Lionheart in 1191 and accompanied him to the Mideast, participating in the Crusade against Saladin. After the death of Richard, she founded an abbey and ruled its vast estates.

Chrodielde: A martial nun of the convent of Poitiers. Her bid to usurp Leubevére, abbess of Cheribert, in A.D. 590, began with political maneuvering and escalated to battle. Repulsed from the convent along with her partisans, Chrodielde withdrew to the fortified cathedral of St. Hilary and there raised an army of criminals and outcasts, who fought against the bishops seeking Chrodielde’s arrest. At the heart of Chrodielde’s popularity with the peasants was the greed of the landholding church authority, who were frankly no better than any other landlords then or now. It seems evident that nuns and midwives commonly filled the void of sympathetic leadership among the peasants of the medieval world, which is but one of the reasons for the massive witch burnings.

Childebert, King of France, sent his troops to put down the war between Chrodielde and Leubevére, “but Chrodielde and her banditti made such a valiant resistance that it was with difficulty the king’s orders were executed.” Chrodielde was ultimately excommunicated for leading peasants to rebellion.

Leubevére: Falsely accused of impious crimes by Chrodielde, Leubevére, abbess of St. Radegunde convent, repulsed her rival and afterward waged war against Chrodielde’s army of thieves, outcasts, and disenfranchised peasants. The convents and monasteries of A.D. 590 tended to be little more than the estates of wealthy landholders with forces to defend their rights and to manage troublesome serfs. The bishops called upon the king of France to quell these warrior-nuns. King Childebert sent forces that were hard put to suppress Chrodielde. Leubevére was later found innocent of Chrodielde’s charges, but was nonetheless dragged in the streets by her hair, then imprisoned, for leading nuns to battle.

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon


The formation of the Templars arose out of these conditions of insecurity on the roads and the murder, rape, enslavement and robbery of unarmed pilgrims. Only recently a group of nine French knights, most prominently Hugh of Payns, a knight from Champagne who had fought in the First Crusade, and Godfrey of Saint-Omer in Picardy, had proposed to the Patriarch of Jerusalem Warmund of Picquigny and King Baldwin II, who had succeeded his cousin in 1118, that for the salvation of their souls they form a lay community or perhaps even withdraw into the contemplative life of a monastery. Instead Baldwin, alive to the urgent dangers confronting travellers in his kingdom, persuaded Hugh of Payns and his companions to save their souls by protecting pilgrims on the roads, or as one chronicler put it, they were to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but were also ‘to defend pilgrims against brigands and rapists’. The Easter massacre along the road to the river Jordan persuasively drove home the King’s view, and on Christmas Day 1119 Hugh and his companions took their vows before the Patriarch in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, calling themselves in Latin the Pauperes commilitones Christi, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ.

The King and Patriarch probably saw the creation of a permanent guard for travellers as complementary to the work of the Hospitallers who were providing care for pilgrims arriving at Jerusalem. Already in 600 Pope Gregory the Great had commissioned the building of a hospital at Jerusalem to treat and care for pilgrims, and two hundred years later Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, enlarged it to include a hostel and a library, but in 1005 it was destroyed as part of the Fatimid caliph Hakim’s violent anti-Christian persecutions. In 1170 merchants from Amalfi obtained permission from the Fatimids to rebuild the hospital, which was run by Benedictine monks and dedicated to Saint John the Almsgiver, a charitable seventh-century patriarch of Alexandria. But after the First Crusade the hospital was released from Benedictine control and raised an order of its own, the Hospitallers of Saint John, which was recognised by the Pope in 1113 and came under his sole jurisdiction.

Official acceptance of the new order came at Nablus in January 1120 when the nine members of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ were formally introduced to an assembly of lay and spiritual leaders from throughout the lands of Outremer. In this year too they first attracted the attention of a powerful visitor to Outremer, Fulk V, count of Anjou, who on his return home granted them an annual revenue, an example that was soon followed by other French nobles, which added to the allowance they were already receiving from the canons of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Yet altogether these amounted to only a modest income, and individually the Poor Fellow-Soldiers were genuinely poor and dressed only in donated clothes, meaning they had no distinctive uniform–the white tunic emblazoned with a red cross came later. Their seal alludes to this brotherhood in poverty by depicting two knights, perhaps Hugh of Payns and Godfrey of Saint-Omer, having to share a single horse.

They were also given the use of another hand-me-down. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the King had made do with the al-Aqsa mosque for his palace, but now he had built a new palace to the west and he gave what had been the mosque to the Poor Fellow-Soldiers. They made it their headquarters, residing there and using it to store arms, clothing and food, while stabling their horses in a great underground vault at the southeast corner of the Temple Mount. As the vaults were thought to have been Solomon’s stables, and the al-Aqsa mosque was known as the mosque of the Templum Solomonis because it was believed to have been built on the site of Solomon’s Temple, it was not long before the knights had encompassed the association in their name. They became known as the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici–the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon; or, in a word, the Templars.


In the autumn of 1127 Baldwin II sent emissaries to the West in an effort to solve two fundamental problems facing the Kingdom of Jerusalem: its military weakness and his lack of a male heir. Baldwin had four daughters but no sons, and to secure the succession he and his barons had decided to offer the hand of Melisende, his oldest daughter, to Fulk V, count of Anjou. In the event the mission to Fulk was a complete success; the count agreed to return to Outremer and marry Melisende, securing the succession and strengthening the kingdom’s ties with the West.

Baldwin also sent Hugh of Payns, the Grand Master of the Templars, sailing westwards at the same time, his mission to solicit donations and to raise recruits. The King had prepared the ground for Hugh by writing to Bernard, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Clairvaux, explaining that the Templars were seeking approval of their order from the Pope, who they hoped would also initiate a subsidy that would help fund the battle against the enemies of the faith who were threatening the very existence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Baldwin knew his man: Bernard had already written to the Pope objecting to a proposal put forward by a fellow abbot to lead a mission of Cistercians to the East, saying that what the Holy Land really needed was ‘fighting knights not singing and wailing monks’.

Bernard of Clairvaux, who was made a saint within twenty-years of his death, was one of the most influential and charismatic figures of the medieval Church. A volatile and passionate young man of an aristocratic family, he deliberately sought out the Cistercian order, known for its austerity, and in 1113 joined its monastery at Citeaux. Three years later, at the age of twenty-six, he founded a new Cistercian house and became its abbot, calling the monastery Clairvaux, meaning the Valley of Light. By the time Pope Honorius II was elected in 1124, Bernard was already regarded as one of the most outstanding churchmen of France; he attended important ecclesiastical assemblies and his opinion was regularly sought by Papal legates.

Significantly Clairvaux was built on land given to Bernard by Hugh, the count of Champagne, whose vassal was Hugh of Payns, the future founding Grand Master of the Templars. By the time Hugh of Payns sailed westwards in 1127, Bernard was already well informed about the East and what was needed there; his mother’s brother was Andre of Montbard, one of the original nine Templars, and Bernard’s early patron the count of Champagne had three times gone on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and on the last occasion, in 1125, he too renounced his worldly possessions and joined the Templars.

Grants of land as well as silver, horses and armour were made to the Templars almost as soon as Hugh of Payns landed in France in the autumn of 1127. The following summer the Grand Master was in England where he was received with great honour by King Henry I, who donated gold and silver to the order. Hugh established the first Templar house in London, at the north end of Chancery Lane, and he was given several other sites around the country. More donations followed when Hugh travelled north to Scotland. In September Hugh of Payns had returned across the Channel where he was met by Godfrey of Saint-Omer and together they received further grants and treasures, all these given for the defence of the Holy Land and for the salvation of their donor’s souls.

The climax of Hugh of Payns’ tour came in January 1129 at Troyes, the capital of the counts of Champagne, where Theobold, Hugh of Champagne’s successor, hosted a convocation of Church leaders dominated by the presence of Bernard of Clairvaux. Hugh addressed the assembly and described the founding of the Templars and presented their Rule, adapted from the precepts followed by the canons of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This stipulated attendance at services together with the canons, communal meals, plain clothing, simple appearance and no contact with women. Because their duties carried them away from the church, they could replace attendance with the recitation of paternosters, and they were also allowed a horse and a small number of servants, and while the order was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Jerusalem they owed their individual obedience to the Grand Master. These regulations formed the raw material from which, after considerable discussion and scrutiny by the gathered churchmen, Bernard drew up the Latin Rule of seventy-two clauses.

Bernard’s Latin Rule enjoined the Templars to renounce their wills, to hold worldly matters cheap, and not be afraid to fight but always to be prepared for death and for the crown of salvation and eternal life. The knights were to dress in white, symbolising that they had put the dark life behind them and had entered a state of perpetual chastity. The hair on their heads was to be cut short, but all Templar knights wore beards as they were not permitted to shave. Foul language and displays of anger were forbidden, as were reminiscences about past sexual conquests. Property, casual discussion with outsiders, and letters and gifts given or received were subject to the approval of the master. Discipline was enforced by a system of penances with expulsion the punishment in extreme cases.

In all this the Templars were regulated like monks, but when it came to guidance in military matters Bernard offered few practical injunctions, though he did understand that in creating ‘a new type of Order in the holy places’, one that combined knighthood with religion, the Templars needed to possess land, buildings, serfs and tithes, and was entitled to legal protection against what the Latin Rule called ‘the innumerable persecutors of the holy Church’.


The Knights Templar would in time become one of the wealthiest and most powerful financial and military organisations in the medieval world, yet there are holes in the historical record about their origins, and there are contradictions too. When were they founded? How many were there? What accounts for their meteoric rise? Part of the problem in finding the answers to these questions lies in the nature of the sources themselves.

The earliest chronicler of Templar history was William, archbishop of Tyre. Born into a French or Italian family at Jerusalem in about 1130, he studied Latin and probably Greek and Arabic there before continuing his education from about 1146 to 1165 in France and Italy. After returning to Outremer he wrote, among other works, a twenty-three volume history of the Middle East from the conquest of Jerusalem by Umar. This Historia Rerum in Partibus Transmarinis Gestarum, or History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, was begun around 1175 and remained unfinished at the time of William of Tyre’s death in about 1186. Most of it concentrated on the First Crusade and subsequent political events within the Kingdom of Jerusalem–events from which William was not entirely detached, for he was involved in the highest affairs of both the kingdom and the Church, and as archbishop and contender for the office of Patriarch of Jerusalem he was naturally jealous of any diminution of ecclesiastical authority–and so resentful of the Templars’ independence and their rise to wealth and power.

Two other early chroniclers were Michael the Syrian, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, who died in 1199, and Walter Map, archdeacon of Oxford, who died in about 1209. But Michael was weak on matters outside his own experience and times, while Walter preferred a good story to sound historical inquiry, and moreover his prejudice against the Templars was fundamental, for he objected to the entire concept of an order of fighting monks. Despite his own bias against the Templars, William of Tyre is considered the most reliable of the three; he diligently sifted through sources to glean the facts about events that occurred before his time, and he made a point of interviewing surviving first-hand witnesses.

All the same, William of Tyre did not even begin writing his history until the mid-1170s, that is fifty-five years after the founding of the Templars, and there is no earlier source. The chroniclers of the First Crusade, men like Fulcher of Chartres, Baldric of Dol, Robert the Monk and Guibert de Nogent, had all completed their works within a decade of the reconquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and long before the foundation of the Templars in 1119–or was it 1118? According to William of Tyre it was the latter, but he was notoriously poor on dates even if careful in other things, and the balance of scholarly opinion has the Templars established in 1119. In whatever year it was, it does not seem to have occurred to anyone to write a first-hand account of the founding ceremony of the Templars in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Christmas Day–at the time it did not register as a significant event.

We do not even know how many founding members there really were. William of Tyre says that there were nine and names the two most prominent as Hugh of Payns and Godfrey of Saint-Omer. Other sources also name Archambaud of Saint-Aignan, Payen of Montdidier, Andre of Montbard, Geoffrey Bissot, a knight called Rossal or possibly Roland, another called Gondemar, and two more whose names have not survived. Moreover, William of Tyre maintains that even as late as the Council of Troyes in 1129 there were still only nine Knights Templar. But why would only nine men command such attention from the Council and the Pope, and why would Bernard of Clairvaux devote so much effort to praising their worth and propagating their fame? Indeed in this case Michael the Syrian seems to be more reliable, for he says there were thirty founding Templar knights, and most likely there were very many more a decade later.

Just as we owe it to William of Tyre that the Templars comprised only nine members right up to 1129, so we also owe to him the claim that they were a poor and simple order throughout the early decades of their foundation. Certainly the Templars looked back on themselves in this idealistic way, so that in 1167 when they were very rich indeed they adopted as their seal the two knights astride one horse, a self-image perhaps also derived from their ascetic Cistercian promoter in the West, Bernard of Clairvaux. Yet however humble the lives of the individual knights, the order itself was never indigent, not even at the start when already it was receiving an income from the canons of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as significant donations from powerful French barons.

But to portray the Templars as poor and humble and few in numbers in their early years gave William of Tyre a handy stick with which to beat them in his critical history. By the 1170s, according to William of Tyre, the Templars ‘are said to have immense possessions both here and overseas, so that there is now not a province in the Christian world which has not bestowed upon the aforesaid brothers a portion of its goods. It is said today that their wealth is equal to the treasures of kings.’ William contrasts this state of affairs with the Templars’ earlier simplicity, suggesting they have somehow betrayed themselves. But it seems that his real complaint is that their support in the West made them independent of any power in Outremer, particularly that of the Church as represented by William, the archbishop of Tyre, and would-be Patriarch of Jerusalem:

‘Although they maintained their establishment honourably for a long time and fulfiled their vocation with sufficient prudence, later, because of the neglect of humility, they withdrew from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, by whom their order was founded and from whom they received their first benefices and to whom they denied the obedience which their predecessors rendered. They have also taken away tithes and first fruits from God’s churches, have disturbed their possessions, and have made themselves exceedingly troublesome.’

This was the beginning of the criticism the Templars would receive from sources whose interests they crossed. Some would call them saviours of the East and defenders of all Christendom, others would find them ‘troublesome’ and accuse them of arrogance, greed, secrecy and deceit. Their destruction lay in their beginning; when there was no more East to save, the Templars would be doomed.