Friday, September 23, 2016

Hygiene in the Crusader States: Of Baths, Aquaducts and Sewers

One of the most persistent myths about the Middle Ages is that people did not bathe regularly and went around dirty and stinking. This is demonstratively not true. The have published a good and lengthy post on the topic (Bathing in the Middle Ages), which provides a great deal of documentation and detail (such as Paris having 32 public baths in the 13th century and King Edward III installing taps for hot and cold running water in his palace at Westminster.) This entry is not intended to recount or compete with that or other sources, but rather focus on the unique traditions of "Outremer" or the Crusader States.

All the Crusader States established in the course and subsequent to the First and Third Crusades were in locations that had been under Greek influence since Alexander the Great at the latest. They had also been part of the Ancient and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empires before coming under Arab and Turkish influence during the 8th and 9th centuries AD. This means that for the native population the predominant traditions with respect to personal hygiene came not from the Germanic tribes, Vikings or Celts, but from Greece, Rome, Egypt and Arabia.

Whereas bathing in Western Europe is usually depicted in small, wooden tubs with curtains over them...

..the baths of any Roman town were generally gracious, spacious and elegant, often open to the skies in a series of atriums surrounded by colonnades.  They were public spaces in which men conducted business and politics. The baths of Turkey and Arabia, while darker and more inward-looking, nevertheless were gracious with domed roofs and elegantly furnished with marble floors, benches and fountains. They were less important for business and politics but all the more important culturally because of the emphasis Islam places on personal cleanliness. Both the Greco-Roman and Arab/Turkish traditions shared the principle of having both hot rooms for steaming/sweating (like a sauna) and cold rooms for washing off. Both also integrated massages with fragrantly scented oils into the bathing experience.

When the crusaders arrived in Outremer they found a large number of functioning bath houses, particularly of the later (Turkish/Arab) type, already in place. Far from scorning, abandoning, dismantling or altering their function, the Frankish settlers adopted them readily -- rather like ducks to water, one might say.  Indeed, they started building their own, and archaeologists have identified a number of Frankish baths. These include baths in the Hospitaller and Templar headquarters in Jerusalem, at or near the monastery on Mt. Zion, at Atlit, a bathhouse on the Street of Jehoshephat near the convent of St. Anne, and another in the Patriarch's quarter. (For more details I recommend Adrian J. Boas' excellent works Jerusalem in the time of the Crusades and Crusader Archaeology.) 

The Frankish settlers in Outremer adopted some of the bathing customs as well. Thus, while men and women bathed jointly in Western Europe, they probably bathed separately (either in separate spaces or at different times) in Outremer, although this is not 100% certain. The crusaders certainly adopted the custom of massages with scented oils stored in lovely glass vessels produced locally.

It wasn't only the bath houses that the Frankish settlers of Outremer inherited from their predecessors. They also inherited Roman aqueducts and sewage systems. The Greeks and Romans (both Ancient and Byzantine) were famous for building very sophisticated and extensive networks for bringing fresh water to the public fountains of their cities, often from many miles away. The Franks followed this example and built a number of their own. Thus while cities dating from the Roman period or earlier had Roman aqueducts that the crusaders merely needed to maintain, the construction of new castles, new towns or water-intensive industry such as sugar plantations, brought forth new aqueducts that clearly date from the crusader period.

In crusader times, the city of Caesarea was served by no less than three Roman aqueducts.All photo copyrights:
Likewise, the ancient cities were served by extensive (and again very solid and sophisticated) sewage systems. These consisted both of stone faced drains and stone or pottery pipes. The Byzantines, for example, used pottery pipes to bring sewage down the outside of their residences from upper stories to underground sewage systems. Frankish castles had extensive latrines with sewers that emptied well below the level at which people lived. While roof top cisterns and tanks provided the means to flush out these latrines with water (as we know castles in England did a hundred and fifty years later), the archaeological evidence is insufficient to verify the practice in the Holy Land. Archaeological evidence of highly sophisticated drainage systems to divert underground streams, however, have been uncovered, and the level of engineering skills available to the Frankish settlers of Outremer should not, therefore, be under-estimated.

To conclude, there may be a direct link between the hygienic conditions in Outremer and the hot-and-cold running water of Edward III and the Black Prince. The bulk of the crusaders, including Richard the Lionheart and Edward I of England, returned home, and by the time they went home they had probably become fond of the higher standards of hygiene enjoyed by the Frankish settlers -- the very standards that had induced the crusaders to ridicule the native "poulains" initially. (See Clash of Cultures)  The large number of crusaders returning particularly to France, Germany and England may, in fact, explain the fact that Western Europe saw a flourishing of "bath house culture" in the 12th - 14th centuries. 

Throughout my "Jerusalem" trilogy I endeavor to depict the lifestyle of the characters as realistically as possible.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Jerusalem Forgotten? The Struggle for the Holy City before the First Crusade

Jerusalem fell to invading Muslim forces in 638 AD. It was conquered by force of arms, not by gentle persuasion and enlightened preaching (as some modern commentators suggest) after a year long siege. It would be 1099 AD or 461 years before it was returned to Christian hands. That over four hundred year gap between the Muslim conquest and the Christian liberation has led  many to argue that 1) Christianity didn't really care all that much about Jerusalem, 2) after so  much time it has become a Muslim city, and so 3) the First Crusade was not defensive or liberating but rather offensive and aggressive. It is, therefore, worthwhile to look at that "461 year gap" and see what happened between the Muslim conquest and the Christian re-conquest of Jerusalem.

But first, let us recall just how Christian Jerusalem was.  First and foremost, of course, it was the site of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, and a small Christian population lived in the city from the time of Christ onwards. Admittedly, it remained a predominantly Jewish city, despite the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, until the Romans expelled the entire Jewish population after renewed insurrection in 135. 

Jerusalem was then rebuilt by Hadrian, given a new name (Aelia Capitolina) and Roman temples were built on the site of the old Jewish Temple and on the sites sacred to Christians. The objective was to humiliate Jews and Christians alike and, in the case of the Christians, to wipe out the association with Christ's life and certain sites. Furthermore, both Jews and Christians were expelled from Jerusalem and persecuted. Aelia Capitolina was a pagan city, and as such it was nothing more than provincial backwater of little importance to the Roman Empire.

All that changed after the Emperor Constantine came to the Imperial throne. His mother, Helena, was Christian, and she persuaded him to end the persecution of Christians in 313 and to allow her to make a pilgrimage to Palestine. She is credited with locating the sites of Christ's nativity, execution and resurrection. Little more than a decade later, a massive construction project was undertaken to turn Jerusalem into a major Christian capital. In 326 work began on two magnificent basilica: one in Bethlehem over the site of the nativity and the other in Jerusalem over the site of Christ's grave (the Holy Sepulcher).

For nearly 300 years thereafter, Jerusalem was one of the most important cities of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although unable to compete with Constantinople and Alexandria in terms of trade and industry, it was revered for its sacred traditions. Pilgrims flooded to the sacred sites providing a strong economic base that was reflected in construction of churches, monasteries, shops, inns and residences. The inhabitants of this revitalized city were primarily Christian, although Jews were allowed to return as well. The population exceeded 60,000 -- a very substantial population for this period.

In 614 disaster struck. A Persian army surrounded Jerusalem and took it after a 21 day siege. Aided by Jewish allies, the Persians slaughtered an estimated 26,500 Christian inhabitants and enslaved an additional 35,000. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was raised to the ground. In an ironic twist, the Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem escaped destruction because the mosaic Adoration of the Magi over the portal depicted the Magi as Persian kings; the Persian troops stayed their hand out of respect for the "Persian" kings.

Thirteen years later in 627, Emperor Herakleios wrested control of Jerusalem back from the Persians after defeating them decisively at the Battle of Ninveh. The treaty following the battle required the Persians to withdraw from all conquered territories, including Palestine and so Jerusalem. Yet while Byzantine control over Jerusalem was thus restored, the destruction of the city's sacred monuments and the slaughter or enslavement of the inhabitants could not be so easily overcome. All the Emperor could do was start a rebuilding and resettlement program. In punishment for their role in the slaughter and destruction of the Christian population thirteen years earlier, however, the Jews were again expelled from Jerusalem and prohibited from entering.

Thus at the time of the Muslim conquest, the city was exclusively Christian. Furthermore, the fact that despite the terrible losses and destruction, the city held out for a whole year before surrendering to the armies of Caliph Omar I is a testimony to how vigorously the Christian defenders resisted the Muslim attack. In the end, they were too weak -- as was the entire Eastern Roman Empire. 

For the next three hundred years, Islam continued to expand -- by the sword. Indeed, within the next fifteen years alone Syria, Persia, Anatolia, Egypt and Libya fell. These loses crippled the economy of the Eastern Roman Empire, and in 655 the Byzantine navy was also effectively destroyed in a major engagement that left Constantinople incapable of providing support to the far-flung outposts of the Eastern Empire.  


The following year, however, the Shia-Sunni split led to the first civil war within the Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) lasting from 656-661. At roughly the same time, Arab invaders encountered serious resistance from the Berbers in North Africa.  

By 678, however, the forces of Islam were again so powerful that they launched an assault on Constantinople itself. The Byzantines fought off the assault with the aid of their massive walls and the use of a new weapon which became known as "Greek fire" - a napalm-based substance that was delivered in pottery vessels that broke on impact resulting in fires that could not be extinguished by water. The attacking Arabs suffered such severe losses that they agreed to a thirty year truce in the wake of defeat. Constantinople was temporarily saved, but the Eastern Roman Empire was in no position to defend its remaining Mediterranean territories, much less undertake an offensive to regain what had been lost. In 698, the mighty (Christian) city of Carthage fell to the advancing Muslim forces and by 700 Islam was ready to turn its violent tactics of "conversion" on Western Europe. 

A Crusade-Era container for "Greek Fire." Photographic credit: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority
Attacks on Sicily and Sardinia are recorded as early as 704 and Corsica fell in 713. More important, of course, the invasion of the Iberian peninsula began in 711. By 720 the Muslims had forced the Christian defenders into the mountains of the northwest and, dismissing them as a no longer viable fighting force, crossed the Pyrenees to start subjecting the land of the Franks

In 732, outside of Tours, a Frankish army decisively defeated the invading Muslims in a desperate defensive battle. The Franks furthermore continued fighting the invaders, finally driving them back across the Pyrenees a generation later in 769. By 795 Charlemange had taken his forces over the Pyranees to assist the Spanish Christians in regaining their territories as well. The Reconquista had begun. In short, in the 8th century Western Christians joined Eastern Christians in opposing the brutal invasions conducted against them in the name of Islam. 

Meanwhile, Constantinople as still fighting for its very survival. In 717 a new Muslim force by land and sea appeared outside of Constantinople and a year-long siege ensued. After a desperate fight, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire fought off the besiegers, but it remained mired in a struggle for survival. There could be no thought of freeing something as distant as Jerusalem when Anatolia was constantly raided and plundered. It was not until 740 that the Byzantine victory at Acroinon provided the Eastern Roman Empire with a degree of security in the Anatolian heartland. 

The Byzantine victory at Acroinon notably coincided with a general decline in the power and strength of the Umayyad dynasty, which was also beset with problems on its eastern frontiers. This allowed the Eastern Roman Empire to at last start a "reconquista" of its own. In 746, Constantinople regained control of Syria and Armenia, but already by 781 the Byzantines were again on the defensive. For the next half century, the Byzantine Empire was locked in yet another bitter struggle in Anatolia

Meanwhile Arab rule of the conquered Christian territories from Syria to Spain was characterized by brutality, oppression and humiliation for their majority Christian subjects.  (See The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.) The small Arab elite ruled initially over populations that were overwhelmingly Christian. Due to the burdensome taxes, humiliations and oppression, however, more and more people chose to abandon their faith for the sake of economic gain. Yet conversion is a far slower process than invasion and occupation. To this day, even after 1,400 years of Muslim rule, there are significant Christian minorities in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Historians estimate that after four hundred years of occupation the inhabitants of formerly Christian territories was still roughly half Christian.

The plight of the oppressed Christians population (whether majority or large minority) remained, therefore a motivation for the recovery of lost territory and by the mid-9th century, the Eastern Roman Empire had recovered sufficient strength to launch a sustained "reconquista." In 853 Constantinople sent a fleet to attack Damietta in the Nile Delta. Thereafter, despite some setbacks, the Byzantines continued to regain lost territory right through the middle of the next century. In 943 they liberated Mesopotamia with its overwhelmingly Christian Armenian population. In 961 they recovered Crete and in 965 Cyprus. In 969 Antioch was at last freed from Muslim rule and Aleppo offered tribute to Constantinople to avoid a similar fate. 

The recovery of Jerusalem now seemed possible, and Constantinople was determined to regain this most sacred of all Christian cities. A series of campaigns were launched that systematically recovered the coast of the Levant including Beirut, Sidon, Tiberias and Nazareth. Acre and even Caesarea were returned to the Eastern Empire, but Jerusalem remained just out of reach. As the tenth century came to a close, the Byzantines lost momentum and their attempt to regain their lost territories faltered.

What followed was the worst phase yet for subject Christians in Palestine. The new and powerful Shia Fatamid Caliphate pushed back their Sunni rivals and took control of Palestine, including Jerusalem. The Caliph al-Hakim, who ruled from 996-1021, persecuted Christians and Jews and destroyed what was left of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

In the West, however, the set-backs had started sooner. In 827 the Muslim conquest of Sicily commenced and although it would take until 902 to complete it would eventually be successful. Meanwhile, in 837 a Muslim army had landed on the Italian mainland, ironically at the request of the Duke of Napes who wanted help in his squabbles with his local enemies. Throughout the rest of the century, the various Italian cities remained divided among themselves and all too ready to accept Muslim assistance, which in turn opened the doorway to Muslim mercenaries sacking, pillaging and pirating from bases in Italy. In 846 Rome itself was attacked by a Muslim raiding force and the basilica of St. Peter was looted but not destroyed.  

When three years later a larger Muslim fleet set out to attack Rome again, however, it was met by a combined Christian fleet that defeated it. What followed, however, was not peace but rather a long struggle for control of the Italian mainland. Indeed, the Muslims succeeded in establishing a base for raiding on the coast of Provence at La Garde-Freinet in about 888. While neither the raids from Italy or the base in Provence were comparable to the great Muslim conquests of the 7th century, they posed a menace to travel and trade and kept Western Christendom on the defense.

This did not end until 915 when an alliance of Roman and Byzantine forces drove the last Muslim strongholds off the Italian mainland. For a time, however, the Muslims continued to raid the Italian coastal cities. In 934/35 Genoa was sacked, its male population massacred and the women and children carried off into slavery. Pisa beat off attacks in 1004, 1011, and 1012. Four years later, Salerno came under siege and was only rescued by a band of Normans -- notably on an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

It was only now, at the start of the 11th century, that the tide began to turn in favor of the Christians in the West. The Italian city states were gaining sufficient wealth to finance stronger defenses. In 1034, the Pisans launched an attack on Muslim North Africa. A generation later the Pisans again raided Muslim territory, this time Palermo in 1062 and 1063. Finally, in 1087, a combined force raised from Pisa, Genoa, Rome and Amalfi struck at the main base for many Muslim pirate attacks on Italian ships and cities: Mahdia in what is now Tunisia. The expedition was so successful that it enabled the victors to free prisoners, obtain huge reparations payments, and gain trading privileges. Most important, after the raid on Mahdia, Muslim attacks on Italy ceased almost entirely.

But just as the Western Christians were gaining strength again, the Eastern Roman Empire underwent a new crisis. The Seljuk Turks had converted to Islam and with the passion of the newly converted and the skills of nomadic warriors they set about establishing their domination over Syria and then turned on Armenia, Cilicia, and the Levant, driving the Byzantines out, before striking at Anatolia. The Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes assembled his forces and rushed to the defense of this vital heartland -- only to be decisively defeated on August 26, 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert. Shortly afterwards the embattled Byzantines started sending appeals for help to the apparently now stronger West. That aid would, a quarter century later, materialize in the form of what we have come to call the First Crusade.

In summary, Christendom did not "wait" four hundred years to respond to the loss of Jerusalem. On the contrary, throughout the four hundred years between the fall of Jerusalem in 638 and the First Crusade in 1095, Christendom had been fighting perpetually -- and often desperately -- for its very survival. The First Crusade was not "late" response to the fall of Jerusalem, but rather the first viable -- and even so highly risky and audacious -- attempt to retake the city of Christ's passion that had never, for a single day, been forgotten by Christendom.

Knowing the history of Jerusalem is useful in understanding the thinking and attitudes of people in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem -- the context of my "Jerusalem" trilogy.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Battle of Arsuf - September 7, 1191

The Battle of Arsuf was the first full-scale engagement of the Third Crusade and the first time Richard I of England and the Sultan Saladin met on the battlefield. While the outcome was clear, the significance is still debated to this day.

On August 25, the entire crusader army made up of men from every corner of Christendom set out from Acre under the overall command of King Richard of England. The eventual goal was an assault on Jerusalem, but Richard wisely chose to follow the coastal route as far as Jaffa (the closest port to Jerusalem) rather than striking inland. This meant that the crusaders had one flank "anchored" on the seaward side and only had to fear attack from landward. Furthermore, Richard's fleet could sail down the coast, keeping pace with the army as it advanced. The fleet carried food, fodder, supplies, and munition, while also offering a safe place for the wounded to receive rest and medical care. 
Although the crusaders were marching through what had been the heart of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and would pass through such important cities as Haifa and Caesarea, this region had been overrun by Saladin's forces in 1187. The inhabitants had been slaughtered, enslaved or driven off. No Saracen settlers had been sent to replace them. The fields lay fallow and the vineyards had been broken down, the gardens left to go to seed. In short, the crusader army was crossing fertile but unproductive countryside, which meant they were dependent on the food supplies they could carry with them by land or seaOn the other hand, the horses could obtain fodder in the fallow fields and abandoned pastures, and both wells and aqueducts were still serviceable (usually after modest repairs) as opposed to being completely destroyed. Apparently, expecting to take full control of the area later, the Saracens had abstained from destroying economically valuable structures.

The coastal plane is fertile where water is available.
On the other hand, the Sultan's forces controlled the entire interior of the country and could move and deploy at will, which meant they could attack at the time and the place of their choosing. As a result, the crusaders had to advance in battle formation, prepared to fight every foot of the way south. King Richard organized his forces using a variant of standard crusader tactics. Namely, he placed the baggage train on his right flank, next to the sea (which was controlled by his fleet), placed the knights to the east/left of the baggage train, and the infantry on the outside, eastern/left flank of the entire formation. The infantry could thus protect the vulnerable horses of the knights, while the entire formation advanced steadily at the pace of the infantry -- until the moment came for the knights to deliver a knock-out charge.

Richard's objective was to reach Jaffa, where he hoped to establish a defensible stronghold and bridgehead for the assault on Jerusalem. He had no interest in a full-scale battle with Saladin during the march from Acre to Jaffa because Saladin controlled the entire hinterland and could always withdraw, recuperate and regroup. Saladin, on the other hand, wanted to prevent the crusaders from gaining another city with strong walls and a good port. His objective was to bring the crusaders to battle while they were out in the open and use his superiority in numbers and his highly effective mobile archers to crush the Franks before they could entrench themselves in another fortress city. 

The pattern was set the very first day. Saladin's cavalry struck the moment the baggage train of the rear-guard became separated from the rest of the army. The vanguard and central divisions (those composed of Richard's vassals and the natives of Outremer) had moved too far too fast, while the French baggage train, at the very tail of the long column of march, failed to keep up with the French knights when going through a narrow defile.  The Saracens came close to splitting the French baggage off from the rest of the army, but the French knights turned back in time and drove the Saracens off. Thereafter, march discipline was increased and there was no repeat of this near disaster. Nevertheless, the army was harried by mounted archers almost continuously, which resulted in steady losses without a halt in the progress. The pace of advance was determined by the ability of the ships to keep pace and the imperative of camping where there were ample supplies of water. Richard of England was no Guy de Lusignan!

Caesarea - Ruins Again

On September 1, the crusaders passed through the ruins of Ceasarea, and on the following day the intensity of the Saracen attacks increased notably, but Richard doggedly pressed ahead rather than being drawn into a futile charge. Arab sources report that some crusaders kept marching despite having ten arrows embedded in their shields or armor itself. The Franks, however, had sufficient troops to regularly rotate troops between the exposed outer flank facing the enemy and the baggage train, inside the protection of the knights. Likewise, despite fears that Saladin would attack the crusaders while passing through the forest of Arsuf, it was only after the successful passage through the woods that Saladin made his move. 

On September 7, with the crusaders still a short day's march from the ruined city of Arsuf, Saladin drew up his forces en masse and the crusaders realized that they were about to face more than the harassing tactics of the previous days. Richard, however, remained determined to continue the march. He gave very clear orders for the knights not to charge the enemy until he gave a trumpet signal from the van, center and rear at the same time. He did not want the power of the Frankish charge dissipated in uncoordinated attacks by small forces, and he reserved the exclusive right to decide if and when it was right to loose the heavy cavalry that was the Frank's best offensive weapon.

The Sultan ordered the attack at 9 am, after the Franks had already been marching for several hours and he appears to have hoped he could break through the Frankish line, separating the van, led and commanded by the Templars, from the center, nominally under the command of Guy de Lusignan. In any case, as expected, the ferocity of the attacks this day exceeded all that the crusaders had experienced up to then. For the first time Saladin sent in massed infantry attacks composed of Nubians and Bedouins against the Franks. These troops pressed in closely, causing considerable casualties. When the Turkish cavalry that followed also pressed in more closely, the attacks became even more lethal. Particularly the horses of the crusaders, that did not have much armor, became casualties of the missiles hurled at close range.

The Frankish cavalry, however, did not respond to the provocation and by noon parts of the advance guard had reached the well-watered orchards north of Arsuf, the designated camping ground for that day of march. By now, however, the Saracens were focusing their attacks more upon the rear guard than the van and center, trying to slow it down enough to cut it off and annihilate it.  By mid-afternoon the situation in the rear-guard (which on this particular day was held by the Hospitallers) became desperate. More knights were walking than riding. The Master of the Hospital rode forward to Richard of England pleading for permission to attack before all the horses were slaughtered. Richard said 'no.'
Returning to the rear, the Master of the Hospitallers found that his men were now pressed so hotly that they were marching backwards. For a second time the Master of the Hospital rode forward to Richard to beg for permission to attack. The answer remained the same. 

Then, without warning and certainly without the sounding of trumpets, the Marshal of the Hospital broke out of the ranks of the crusaders charging at the Saracens shouting "St. George." He was promptly joined by a knight from Champagne, and then all along the line the cavalry broke through the infantry screen.

The Itinerarium (a pro-Richard account of the crusade) makes much of the fact that Richard had not ordered the attack and so it was mistimed. Other scholars have followed his argument that the decisive victory that might otherwise have been achieved  -- if only the undisciplined (!) Hospitallers had waited for Richard's signal -- slipped through the fingers of the crusaders.  

The Saracen eye-witness Baha ad-Din, on the other hand, describes the Frankish charge as superbly timed and well-coordinated. Certainly, claims that King Richard could have won a decisive victory here are ill-informed. Saladin's troops had complete freedom of movement and infinite space to withdraw and regroup. The terrain on the coastal plain of the Levant was not suitable for pinning down and trapping an enemy -- unless it was pinned against the sea -- and that was where the crusaders, not the Saracens, were. In other words, only Saladin had a very real chance to surround, overwhelm and push his opponents into the sea, eliminating them in a single crushing blow; the best the crusaders could hope to achieve was survival in tact as a fighting force.

This is exactly what they did achieve. The effect of the charge led by the Hospitaller Marshal and supported promptly by other (though not all) cavalry contingents of the crusader line was to throw the enemy back with very heavy losses. Indeed, the Muslim sources stress that the army fled in complete panic and was completely routed. King Richard, however, wisely stopped any pursuit by his Frankish knights, rallying the crusader cavalry to resume their position inside the infantry shield and proceed toward Arsuf

Significantly, at the moment of the Hospitaller Marshal's attack, many mounted Turkish archers had dismounted to improve their aim, evidently lulled into a sense of security by the apparent unwillingness of the Frankish knights to leave the protection of their infantry. Equally important, King Richard was at this point with the van of his army. In any battle, there are moments when a small unit commander close to the action senses what the strategic commander in a distant command post cannot. The fact that the charge was initiated not by a rash crusader fresh from the West but rather by the most senior military commander of the Hospitallers, a man with decades of experience in fighting the Saracens, suggests to me that the attack was no mistake. The Marshal of the Hospital didn't "lose his nerve" (as some accounts suggest), but rather realized that the time was right for the charge. The Marshal, not Richard, recognized this simply because Richard was, at that moment, too far away. 

Richard the Lionheart notoriously fought from the front (as many of my earlier entries emphasize), and I'm not suggesting that Richard was shirking or otherwise negligent of his duties. He was in the van, leading, and while he undoubtedly rode up and down his front, no man, not even Richard the Lionheart, can be in two places at once. I strongly suspect that while he was with the van, the Hospitaller Marshal noticed the Turkish archers starting to dismount and recognized that this was the moment to strikeThere was no time to send for permission -- and no doubt the Marshal didn't want to risk another "no" either. Instead, he charged, sweeping (as he no doubt expected) the bulk of Christian chivalry with him -- including Richard the Lionheart, who joined the fray with his household knights and, as usual, fought with elan and exceptional success.

The Battle of Arsuf was thus a significant Christian victory and a serious blow to Saladin's prestige. He had committed his whole army (Syrians, Egyptians, Turks, Kurds, Nubians and Bedouins were all engaged), and he had singularly failed to repeat the success of Hattin. He had neither crushed the crusading fighting forces nor halted their advance. In this sense, Arsuf was more a Saracen defeat than a Christian victory. 

But Saladin also notably rallied his troops and elite units were able to launch no less than two more attacks on the Christian rear even after main body of troops had been routed. While these attacks were also driven off by King Richard and his knights, they clearly demonstrate that Saracen morale had not broken. 

Nevertheless, the crusaders were able to camp in peace outside of Arsuf and to return to the field to collect their dead and plunder the enemy. Yet the crusade continued. For Saladin, arguably, the most important outcome of Arsuf was that he had learned the measure of King Richard. The cunning Saladin shied away from a direct confrontation with the English King thereafter.

The Battle of Arsuf is an important episode in “Envoy of Jerusalem.” Buy now in paperback or kindle!