Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Crushing Defeat over Saladin - The Battle of Montgisard

In in 1177, Salah-ad-Din (known in the West as Saladin) launched a full-scale invasion of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem.  It was less than ten years since Saladin had assassinated his way to power in the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo, and ruthlessly suppressed numerous rebellions to establish Sunni rule over the Shia and Coptic Christian population on the Nile. It was only three years since the coup d’etat in Damascus by which he had established himself in the heart of Syria but failed to take key cities such as Aleppo and Mosul that remained loyal to the son and legal successor of Nur ad Din. Saladin had thus largely united the Caliphates of Cairo and Baghdad for the first time in 200 years, but his hold on power was precarious. In Egypt his faced suspicion and opposition because he was Sunni, and in Syria he was viewed as a usurper and upstart because he was a Kurd and had stolen the Sultanate from the rightful heir.

A Contemporary Depiction of Salah-ad-Din from an Islamic Manuscript

Saladin countered these internal doubts and dissatisfaction with his rule with the age-old device of focusing attention on an external enemy: the Christian states established by the crusaders along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. These states represented not merely a military threat to his lines of communication between Egypt and Syria, but had also five times in the 1160s invaded Egypt. These were not all outright wars of aggression, as the Shia Viziers had requested Christian help against their Sunni enemies in three of the campaigns, but the fact remained that army of Jerusalem, often aided by Byzantine fleets, had conducted campaigns on Egyptian territory and once come close to capturing Cairo.

Saladin did not simply beat the drum of alarm concerning an external enemy in order to rally his subjects around him; he took up the cry of “jihad” — Holy War. This was a clear attempt to increase his stature vis-a-vis his remaining rivals in Syria. Salah-ad-Din means “righteousness of the faith,” and Salah-ad-Din throughout his career used campaigns against the Christian states as a means of rallying support.

Another depiction of Saladin; Source Unknown

Saladin had not invented jihad. The word itself appears multiple times in the Koran, but with varying meanings. It was also used as justification for the Muslim conquests of the 7th Century.  It had, however, been largely forgotten or neglected until Nur ad-Din, the Seljuk ruler of Syria from 1146-1174, resurrected the concept. Most historians agree, however, that Nur ad-Din used jihad when it suited him but remained a fundamentally secular ruler. He had, however, unleased the jinni from the bottle and the concept of “Holy War” soon gained increasing support in the madrassas and mosques across the Seljuk territories of the Near East. By the time Saladin came to power there was a body of already radicalized youth eager to follow the call to jihad.

Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, King Amalaric, who had been so intent on conquering parts if not all of Egypt, had died.  He had been succeeded by Baldwin IV, a youth suffering from leprosy. Conscious of his own weakness and immanent death, Baldwin IV sent to the West for aid, and in early August 1177, Count Philip of Flanders reached Acre with a large force of Western knights.

On the advice of the High Court, Baldwin IV offered Philip of Flanders the regency of his kingdom, whose armies were preparing yet another invasion of Egypt aided by a large Byzantine fleet. Flanders, however, insisted on being made king of any territories the joint Christian forces conquered. The idea did not sit well with either the King of Jerusalem or the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, both of whom were footing the bill and providing the bulk of the troops for the expedition. The result was that the entire expedition was called off, the Byzantine fleet withdrew while Philip of Flanders took his knights and half the barons of Jerusalem north to attack the Seljuk strongholds of Hama and Harim instead.

A Medieval depiction of a Crusading Host

Saladin had gathered his forces in Egypt to repel the impending attack. He rapidly learned that not only had the invasion of Egypt been called off, the Byzantine fleet had withdrawn and the bulk of the fighting forces of Jerusalem had moved north. It was a splendid opportunity to strike, and Saladin seized the opportunity with a force estimated at 26,000 light horse — which leaves open the question of whether there were infantry with Saladin or not. The force also allegedly included some 1,000 mamluks of the Sultan’s personal body guard.

According to an anonymous Christian chronicler from northern Syria, the news of Saladin’s invasion plunged Jerusalem into despair. The king was just 16 years old, had no battle experience of his own, and his most experienced commanders (or many of them) were besieging Hama. The Constable of the Kingdom, the competent and wise Humphrey de Toron II, was gravely ill. But Baldwin rallied the forces he had — according to Archbishop William of Tyre, Baldwin’s former tutor now his chancellor and our best contemporary source , and with just 376 knights made a dash to Ascalon.

Arriving there only shortly before Saladin himself on November 22, King Baldwin took control of the city, but could not risk open battle because of the imbalance of forces.  His dash to Ascalon may have been heroic, but as a result Saladin could bottle up the King and his knights inside Ascalon. This in turn meant that nothing lay between Saladin and Jerusalem except scattered garrisons. Saladin left a force of undefined size to maintain the siege of Ascalon and moved off with the bulk of his troops.

The Sultan and his emirs were so confident of victory that they took time to plunder the rich cities of the coastal plain, notably Ramla and Lydda, but also as far inland as Hebron. In Jerusalem, the terrified population sought refuge in the Citadel of David.

The Citadel of David as it appears today.

But Baldwin IV was not yet defeated. With the number of Saracen troops surrounding Ascalon dramatically reduced, he risked a sortie, rendezvoused with Templars from Gaza (although to this day no one knows how he got the message to them) and started to pursue Saladin’s now dispersed and no longer disciplined army. Meanwhile, he had already issued the arrière ban, a general call to arms that obligated every Christian to rally to the royal standard in defense of the realm. Infantry started streaming to join him.

On the afternoon of November 25, King Baldwin’s host of about 450 knights (375 secular knights and 84 Templars from Gaza), with their squires, Turcopoles and infantry in unspecified numbers caught up with the main body of Saladin’s troops at a place near Montgisard or Tell Jazar, near Ibelin (modern day Yavne).  The Sultan, as he later admitted to Saracen chroniclers, was caught off-guard. Before he could properly deploy his troops, the main force of Christian knights led (depending on which source you believe) by Reynald de Chatillon, “the Ibelin brothers” or the Templars smashed into Saladin’s still disorganized troops, apparently while some were still crossing or watering their horses in a stream.

A modern portrayal of the Battle of Montgisard by Mariusz Kozik

Although the battle was hard fought and there were Christian casualties, the Sultan’s forces were soon routed.  Not only that, Saladin himself came very close to being killed or captured and allegedly escaped on the back of a pack-camel. But for the bulk of his army there was no escape. Those who were not slaughtered immediately on the field, found themselves scattered and virtually defenseless in enemy territory. Although they abandoned the plunder they had accumulated, it was still a long way home — and the rains had set in.  Cold, wet, slowed down by the mud, no longer benefiting from the strength of numbers, they were easy prey for the Christian residents and settlers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  The latter, after the sack of Lydda, Ramla and other lesser places, had good reason to crave revenge. Furthermore, even after escaping Christian territory, the Sultan’s troops still found no refuge because once in the desert the Bedouins took advantage of the situation to enslave as many men as they could catch in order to enrich themselves. Very few of the Sultan’s men made it home to safety in Egypt.


Saladin was badly shaken by this defeat. He had good reason to believe it would discredit him and initially feared it would trigger revolts against his rule. Later, he convinced himself that God had spared him for a purpose, and he was to learn from his defeat. He never again allowed himself to be duped by his own over-confidence and his subsequent campaigns against the crusader states were marked by greater caution. However, it was not until the crushing defeat of the Christian armies at Hattin in July 1187 — almost ten years later — that he had his revenge.

The Battle of Montgisard is an important episode in Knight of Jerusalem, the first book in a three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin.


A landless knight, 
a leper king,
and the struggle for Jerusalem.





 A divided kingdom,
a united enemy,
and the struggle for Jerusalem
Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!                                                     Buy now!

Friday, November 21, 2014

"God’s Battalions" by Rodney Stark - A Review



This well-researched book with its profuse bibliography and copious notes is not a history of the crusades. Nor is it, as some reviewers suggest, an apology for the crusades. Rather this is an extended essay which refutes a number of common myths or outdated theories about the crusades and the crusader states. Stark is not a polemicist, but a professor at Baylor University, who has published extensively on religion and sociology.  In short, he is a scholar intent on paring away legend and prejudice to enable academic and popular discourse shaped by fact not fiction. Any serious scholar of the crusades and the crusader states should start with this book — and then get on with their actual research unencumbered with false notions.  Even more important, this ought to be required reading in all classes that touch on the topic of the crusades.

Stark systematically dissects and destroys the following notions about the crusades that still dominate public perceptions and debate.
  • The idea that the crusaders were aggressors, who fell upon peace-loving and tolerant Muslim states without provocation.
  • The equally anachronistic idea that the crusades were an early form of European colonialism.
  • The claim that Jerusalem was particularly “holy” to Muslims in the period before the Crusades.
  • The thesis that crusaders were primarily motivated by greed.
  • The portrayal of crusaders as uncultivated barbarians fighting a “higher” civilization in the Muslim east.
  • The assertion that the Christians conducted warfare in ways that were more brutal and cruel than their enemies.
  • The myth that the Muslim rulers were more tolerant of other religions — and their own heretics — than Christian rulers.
  • The thesis that Western/Latin crusaders fell upon Constantinople without provocation and “destroyed” the city without cause.
  • The notion that bitterness over the crusades persisted (despite the Muslim’s complete and utter victory over the Crusader States in the second half of the 13th century) to the present day.
A Medieval Depiction of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin
Stark starts by cataloguing the long list of Muslim conquests against Christian states and peoples from Syria and North Africa to Armenia, Spain and Southern France, but he also provides a chilling list of mass murders of Christian monks and pilgrims — each with dates and numbers: 70 Christian pilgrims executed in Caesura for refusing to convert to Islam and 60 crucified in Jerusalem in the early eighth century, the sack and slaughter of the monastery near Bethlehem in the later eighth century, the destruction of two nearby churches gradually escalating to multiple attacks on churches, convents and monasteries in and around Jerusalem including mass rapes in 808 and 813, a new wave of atrocities in 923, the destruction of an estimated 30,000 (yes, thirty-thousand) Christian churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009. So much for Muslim “tolerance.”


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher as we see it today is largely a crusader construction because the earlier Byzantine churches were destroyed.
Stark also brings considerable evidence that the alleged “superiority” of Muslim/Arab culture was largely based on accomplishments of Persian, Jewish, Indian and, indeed, Christian scholars living under Muslim rule.  Thus the alleged mathematical superiority of the Arabs came from the Hindus, the great libraries and legacy of learning came from the Greeks, Arab medicine was, Stark argues, “Nestorian Christian” in origin and so on. He then contends that the Christian west was anything but “backward” and the so-called “Dark Ages” is a misnomer that says more about the ignorance of historians than the state of civilization in the period between the fall of Rome and the First Crusade.  Stark points out that the military technology of the crusaders — from stirrups, horseshoes and crossbows to the devastatingly effective “Greek Fire” — was markedly superior to the military technology of their opponents. But it wasn’t just in military matters that the crusaders were ahead of the Saracens. In the fields of agriculture, land-transportation and nautical technology, Western technology also significantly out-stripped that of the Middle East. 

Stark is perhaps at his best in documenting the many times that Muslim victors slaughtered the garrisons and inhabitants of conquered cities — long before the first crusaders even set out from Europe. He points out the hyperbole in popular accounts of the fall of Jerusalem in the First Crusade as well. But he is most effective in countering the myth of Muslim chivalry is his account of the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the 13th Century, where time and again the Mamluk leaders broke their word and enslaved or massacred those to whom they had promised freedom and life. One quote from a primary, Muslim source about the sack of the great Roman city of Antioch should suffice to make this point. The source is a letter to the Prince of Antioch (who had not be present in his city to defend it) by none other than the Muslim Sultan himself. Sultan Baibars gloated: “You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate Mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the Patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes. You would have seen fire running through your palaces, your dead burned in this world before going down to the fires of the next.” Ah, yes, Saracen “chivalry” at its best indeed.




The book does have its weaknesses, of course. Stark is covering far too great a canvas to provide any analysis or detail.  His book is structured as a rebuttal to unfounded allegations and theses, but for the most part he does not provide alternative theses.  Certainly, he does not describe personalities and their impact on events except in some rare instances. His explanations of developments are often facile, and occasionally he falls into outright errors. (For example, he claims plate armor was so heavy a knight needed a crane to mount his horse; in reality it was much lighter than chainmail and a knight in his prime could vault onto his horse without use of a stirrup much less a crane.) But the bottom line is that this book does what it sets out to do: it destroys a whole series of insidious myths that turn the crusades into an excuse for all subsequent barbarity; it clears the way for a more productive debate based on fact rather than falsehood.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th Century.

A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin
Book I: Knight of Jerusalem was released in September 2014.

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,
                                    and the struggle for Jerusalem.

Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Destroyer of Jerusalem - Guy de Lusignan

Guy de Lusignan has the distinction of being the man who lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem by leading the Christian army to an unnecessary but utterly devastating defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187.  Such noted modern historians such as Malcolm Barber, Bernard Hamilton and W.B. Bartlett argue Lusignan’s disastrous decision to abandon the Springs of Sephoria and march to the relief of the garrison of Tiberius in July 1187 can be explained by the fact that he was criticized for not taking the offense in the campaign of 1183.  Guy they argue was in a difficult psychological position and had every reason to doubt the Count of Tripoli’s loyalty. They generally portray Guy more as a victim of circumstances than the cause of disaster.  Indeed, it has become popular to blame the “disloyalty” of other lords rather than Guy for the loss of his kingdom. Guy’s contemporaries saw it differently. 

So who has the right of it? A brief resume of Guy de Lusignan’s career.

Guy de Lusignan in Ridley Scott's Film "The Kingdom of Heaven"

Guy de Lusignan enters history with his marriage to Sibylla of Jerusalem, King Amalric’s first-born child and older sister too King Baldwin IV. Or does he?

In the spring of 1168, the Earl of Salisbury was escorting Queen Eleanor of England to Poitiers with a small escort when the party was ambushed by “the Lusignans.” The Lusignans had recently been dispossessed of their lands for rebelling against Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. They hoped by capturing Eleanor to gain a bargaining chip for the restoration of their fortunes. The Earl of Salisbury turned over his own horse, which was stronger and faster, to Eleanor so she could escape, but while he was remounting he was fatally pierced from behind by a lance. Salisbury’s nephew William Marshal (later famous as tutor of the Henry the Young King, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England) was in Salisbury’s entourage.  According to the 13th century biography of William Marshal, commissioned by his eldest son and based on the accounts of many of Marshal’s contemporaries, this ambush was led by Guy de Lusignan and his brother Geoffrey. Some sources claim that Guy himself wielded the murderous lance.  Allegedly, this act made Guy persona non grata in the courts of the Plantagenets and induced him to seek his fortune in Outremer. 

Maybe, but there was a gap of some 12 years, so maybe not. Nevertheless, when considering Guy de Lusignan’s later reputation, it is important to remember that he was accused of a profoundly unchivalrous murder by contemporaries — before he ever set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

A Blow from Behind -- Here with a Sword

Guy appears to have arrived in Jerusalem in late 1179 or early 1180 at the invitation of his elder brother Aimery. Aimery was making a career in Jerusalem, according to some, by sleeping with the Queen Mother Agnes de Courtney. At the time Guy arrived in the Holy Land, Baldwin IV was king — and clearly dying of leprosy. Since it was also clear that Baldwin IV would not sire heirs of his body, his nephew Baldwin was his heir apparent. This boy had been born to his elder sister Sibylla after the death of her first husband, William of Montferrat. Sibylla herself was thus a young (20 year old) widow. There were rumors, however, that she had pledged herself to the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. The rumors were widespread enough for Salah-ad-Din to demand a king’s ransom when Ramla was taken captive on the Litani in 1179 (apparently in anticipation of Ramla becoming King of Jerusalem) — and for the Byzantine Emperor to pay that exorbitant ransom (since Ramla could not possibly pay it from his own resources) in anticipation of the same event.

But suddenly at Easter of 1180, Sibylla married not Ramla (who was on his way back from Constantinople) but the virtually unknown and landless Guy de Lusignan.  The wedding was concluded in a hasty ceremony lacking preparation and pomp. According to the most reliable contemporary source, the Archbishop of Tyre (who was also Chancellor at the time and so an “insider,”) Baldwin rushed his sister into the marriage with the obscure, landless and discredited Guy because the Prince of Antioch, the Count of Tripoli and the Baron of Ramla were planning to depose him and place Ramla on the throne as Sibylla’s consort. 


Allegedly a Depiction of a Royal Wedding in Jerusalem

Perhaps, but there is no other evidence of Tripoli’s disloyalty, and Ramla’s hopes of marrying Sibylla had been known for a long time — and all the way to Damascus and Constantinople. Why did that marriage suddenly seem threatening to Baldwin IV?

Another contemporary source, Ernoul, suggests another reason for the hasty and unsuitable (for there is no way the third son of a Poitevin baron could be considered a suitable match for a Princess of Jerusalem) marriage: that Guy had seduced Sibylla. Aside from the fact that this had happened more than once in history, the greatest evidence for a love match is Sibylla’s steadfast — almost hysterical — attachment to Guy, as we shall see.  Meanwhile, however, the marriage alienated not only the jilted Baron of Ramla, but the Count of Tripoli as well. In short, it was not a very wise political move and thus hard to explain as a political decision.  Last but not least, even the Archbishop of Tyre admits the King soon regretted the decision. All these factors point to Ernoul’s explanation of a seduction, a scandal and an attempt to “put things right” by a King who was devoted to his sister.

Guy was named Count of Jaffa and Ascalon and appears to have been accepted by the Barons of Jerusalem as a fait accompli that could no longer be changed — until, in September 1183, King Baldwin became so ill that he named his brother-in-law Regent.  As such, Guy took command of the Christian forces during Salah-ad-Din’s fourth invasion of the Kingdom. What happened next is obscure. Although Saladin managed to burn some monasteries and there were some bitterly fought skirmishes, ultimately the Saracens were forced to withdraw; an apparent Christian victory (and certainly better than what happened four years later, the next time Guy was in command!)

Yet something more must have happened on this campaign because just two months later, when word reached Jerusalem that the vital castle of Kerak was besieged by Saladin, the barons of Jerusalem “unanimously” refused to follow Guy. They flat out refused to come to the relief of an important border fortress in which both royal princesses (Sibylla and Isabella), the Queen Mother and the Dowager Queen were all trapped (because of a wedding) until Guy was stripped of the regency. 

That is an incredibly strong statement.  The fact that the historical record is too patchy to enable us to explain it does not negate the importance of the event. The collective barons of Outremer were not dolts, cowards or fools.  They had accepted Guy’s command two months earlier. Even Tripoli and Ramla, who both detested him, had mustered under Guy’s command to face Salah-ad-Din in September, putting the welfare of the kingdom ahead of their personal feelings. But two months later even men who had previously shown no particular animosity toward Lusignan refused to accept his leadership. King Baldwin had no choice but to take back the reins of government, command of his army and have his nephew crowned as co-king. The latter was to reassure the barons that even if he died in the near term (as he expected), they would not have to pay homage to Guy.


After Kerak had been successfully relieved, Baldwin IV sought desperately to have his sister’s marriage to Guy annulled. This had nothing to do with personal grievances against Guy (although he had those too); it was necessary in order to find a long-term solution to the succession crisis. His nephew was a sickly boy, and the kingdom needed a vigorous and militarily competent leader. Baldwin’s efforts to replace the discredited Guy were thwarted by Sibylla, who refused to consider a divorce — something she is hardly likely to have done, if the marriage had been political in the first place. If Sibylla had married for reasons of state, she would have divorced for reasons of state.  Less than a decade later, her half-sister Isabella put the kingdom ahead of her affections when she divorced the ineffectual Humphrey de Toron to marry the man around whom the barons had rallied, Conrad de Montferrat.

Baldwin IV died in 1185 and was succeed by his nephew with Raymond de Tripoli as regent.  The fact that Tripoli was made regent — with the consent of the High Court — and the Count of Edessa was made the boy's guardian are both indications of the intensity of the animosity and suspicion the bishops and barons of Jerusalem still harbored for Guy de Lusignan. There was, after all, a precedent for a queen reigning for an under-aged son, Melisende a had reigned in their own right for her son Baldwin III.

At the death of Baldwin V roughly one year later, hostility to Guy had not substantially weakened. As was usual following the death of a king, the High Court was convened to elect the next monarch. Some modern historians have made much of the fact that Tripoli summoned the High Court to Nablus rather than convening in Jerusalem itself. This is interpreted as a sign of disloyalty, but there is nothing inherently disloyal about meeting in another city of the kingdom. High Courts also met in Acre and Tyre at various times.  Nablus was part of the royal domain, comparatively close to Jerusalem, and the Templars under their new Master, Gerard de Ridefort (surely the worst Master the Templars ever had), were said to have taken control of the gates and streets of Jerusalem. The Templars did not have a seat in the High Court, but they controlled 300 knights and the decision to hold the High Court in Nablus can better be explained as the legitimate desire to avoid Templar pressure as disloyalty on the part of Tripoli.

In any case, while the bulk of the High Court was meeting in Nablus, Sibylla persuaded the Patriarch to crown her queen in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  In addition to the Patriarch (allegedly another former lover of her mother) and the Templars (whose Grand Master had a personal feud with Tripoli), Sibylla was supported by her uncle Joscelyn Count of Edessa and the colorful and controversial Reynald de Chatillon, Lord of Oultrejourdan by right of his wife.  We know of no other supporters by name, but we know that Reynald de Chatillon sought to increase Sibylla’s support by saying she would be queen in her own right without mentioning Guy.  Even Bernard Hamilton, one of Guy’s modern apologists, admits that: "Benjamin Kedar has rightly drawn attention to sources independent of the Eracles [e.g. Ernoul] and derived from informants on the whole favorable to Guy de Lusignan, which relate that Sibyl's supporters in 1186 required her to divorce Guy before they would agree to recognize her as queen.” (The Leper King and His Heirs, Cambridge University Press, 2000 p. 218). 

According to these sources, Sibylla promised to divorce Guy and choose another man for her husband as her consort. Instead, once she was crowned, she chose Guy as her consort — and crowned him herself, when the Patriarch refused.  Once again, Sibylla had chosen Guy over not only the wishes of her subjects but in violation of an oath/promise she had made to her supporters (not her enemies, note, to her supporters). I repeat: this is not the behavior of a woman who had been forced in to a hasty and demeaning marriage by her brother out of political expediency; it is consistent with a woman who was passionately in love with the man who she had foisted upon her brother and her subjects against their wishes.
 The Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Sibylla was Crowned

With this dual coronation, Sibylla and Guy had usurped the throne of Jerusalem, but without the Consent of the High Court they were just that — usurpers.  The High Court (or rather those members of it meeting at Nablus) was so outraged that, despite the acute risk posed by Salah-ad-Din, they considered electing and crowning Sibylla’s half-sister Isabella. To risk civil war when the country was effectively surrounded by a powerful and united enemy is almost incomprehensible — and highlights just how desperate the opposition to Guy de Lusignan was. In retrospect, it seems like madness that men would even consider fighting their fellow Christians when the forces of Islam were so powerful, threatening and well-led.

Then again, with the benefit of hind-sight, maybe it would have been better to depose of Guy de Lusignan before he could lead the country to utter ruin at Hattin?

In the event, Humphrey de Toron, Isabella’s young husband, didn’t have the backbone to confront Guy de Lusignan. In the dark of night he fled Nablus to go to Jerusalem in secret to pay homage to Guy. With this act, the High Court lost their alternative monarch and capitulated — except for Ramla and Tripoli, the most inveterate opponents of Lusignan.  Ramla preferred to quit the kingdom altogether, turning over his lucrative lordships to his younger brother and seeking his fortune in Antioch. (He disappears from history and we don’t know where or when he died.) Tripoli simply refused to recognize Guy as his king and made a separate peace with Salah-ad-Din — until he was reconciled after a tragic incident in May 1187.

Two months latter, Guy de Lusignan proved that Ramla, Tripoli and the majority of the High Court had rightly assessed his character, capabilities and suitability to rule. Guy led the Christian kingdom to an unnecessary but devastating defeat which resulted in the loss of the holiest city in Christendom, Jerusalem, and indeed the entire kingdom save the city of Tyre. Only a new crusade would restore a fragment of the Kingdom and enable Christendom to hang on to the coastline for another century.


With all due respect to revisionism and the legitimate right of historians to question familiar and popular interpretations of events, it is also wise to remember that chronicles and other historical documents provide us with an imperfect and incomplete picture.  The actions and judgment of contemporaries, on the other hand, were based on much more comprehensive knowledge and information than is available to us today.  Based on the actions of Guy de Lusignan’s contemporaries, I believe the Ernoul’s portrayal of Guy de Lusignan is closer to the mark than the apologist image of modern historians.

Guy de Lusignan plays an important role in my three-part biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin. 




 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                         Buy now!

Learn more about Guy and the Kingdom of Jerusalem at: Balian d'Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Crusader Archaeology by Adrian Boas -- A Review

Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East by Adrian J. Boas is a well-organized and comprehensive summary of key archaeological finds from the crusader period in the Holy Land. It provides the layman with an overview of the archaeological evidence from the crusader states uncovered to date and the bibliography provides the reader with a large number of sources that can be consulted for greater detail about any specific topic. Boas writes in a fluid and clear style that makes his often highly specialized subject matter comprehensible even for those not familiar with archeological and architectural jargon. This is a good starting point for anyone interested in the archeology of the crusader states.

As Boas demonstrates, modern archeology increasingly provides evidence to challenge many presumptions and prejudices about crusader “barbarity” — or decadence. The exquisite quality of crusader sculpture, frescoes, manuscripts, and glass-work, the evidence of glass-panes in sacred and secular buildings, the bright and wide-range of colors of the textiles, paintings and glass are all evidence of a culture that was anything but primitive. Equally important, the artifacts that have come to light demonstrate the unique and distinctive nature of crusader arts, crafts and, indeed, lifestyle. As Boas underlines with respect to a variety of fields, far from simply adopting the allegedly more civilized life-style of their enemies or predecessors, the crusaders blended familiar styles, particularly Romanesque art and architecture, with Byzantine traditions in mosaics, wall-painting and sculpture. On a more mundane level, textiles in the crusader states were not simply made of the wide range of materials from goat’s and sheep’s wool and linen to cotton and silk, they also included hybrid fabrics using silk and one of the other kinds of thread. 


For the historical novelist, this is a gold-mine of useful information! Boas provides photos, sketches and descriptions that enable a novelist to picture the rural and urban dwellings of both rich and poor.  His descriptions and photos of objections in daily use such as pottery, lamps, and textiles are equally valuable. The book is also filled with gems of information which can be used to give a novel greater color — such as the street in Jerusalem known as the “Street of Evil Cooking,” which was lined with the crusader equivalent of “fast-food” stands catering to pilgrims. Now that’s the kind of fact that any novelist can use to enliven a description of the Holy City in the age of the Leper King!

My three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is set in the Holy Land in the late 12th century:


A landless knight, 
a leper king,
and the struggle for Jerusalem.





 A divided kingdom,
a united enemy,
and the struggle for Jerusalem
Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!                                                     Buy now!