Friday, January 23, 2015

The Armies of Outremer in the 12th Century





For the nearly ninety years between the founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the defeat of the Christian army at Hattin in July 1187, the armies of “Outremer” were substantial, surprisingly effective and nominally feudal. Yet their composition was far more complex than the term “feudal” implies.  They always included “armed pilgrims,” for example, and contingents of militant monks (i.e. Knights Templar and Hospitaller) became increasingly important. Most unusual, however, they were characterized by types of fighting men completely unknown in the West: Sergeants and Turcopoles, and the arriere ban enabled the King of Jerusalem to keep his army in the field up to one year. 

Below is a short description of the key components of the armies of Outremer in the 12th Century.

Barons and Knights




As in the West, the backbone of the Army of Jerusalem was the feudal host composed of the “knights” which the “tenants-in-chief” of the king owed in exchange for their fiefs. Tenants-in-chief might be secular lords (barons) or ecclesiastical lords (bishops and independent abbots).  

The baronies of Outremer could be very substantial or almost insignificant. Jonathan Riley-Smith in his Atlas of the Crusades, for example, lists the baronies of Sidon, Galilee, and Jaffa/Ascalon as all owing 100 knights, while according to the incomplete records of John d’Ibelin, the Bishops of Nazareth and Lydda owed 6 and 10 knights respectively.  (John d’Ibelin, Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, was writing in the mid-13th century but attempting to catalogue military service owed to the King of Jerusalem at the time of his grandfather Balian d’Ibelin.)

It is important to remember that the term “knight” does not refer to a single man but rather to a fighting-unit consisting of a knight and his warhorse (destrier), one or more mounted squires, a riding horse (palfrey) and one more pack-horses.  Knights were expected to be armed and armored, which means that throughout the 12th century they would be expected to provide their own chainmail hauberk, coif and mittens, and chainmail chausses for their legs. In addition, they would need a helmet, a sword, dagger and optionally a mace or axe. Lances, on the other hand, were relatively cheap, “throw away” weapons that the lord would provide.

The knights owed by each baron to the crown based on his fief's obligation would not, however, have been the total extent of fighting power that a baron brought to the battlefield. Barons would have been supported by younger brothers and adult sons, if they had them, and by “household knights,” i.e. men without land holdings of their own who served the baron (were “retained”) in exchange for an annual salary (that would include payments in-kind such as meals, cloaks, and in some cases horses). Peter Edbury’s analysis of the John d’Ibelin’s catalogue suggests that the ratio of “retained” knights to “vassals” (knights who owed their service by right of holding land from the lord) ranged anywhere from 1:2 to 3:2, making it clear that the knights fielded in the feudal army due to feudal obligation made up maybe no more than half of the total host!

So far, all is as it would have been in the West, including the large number of “household” or mercenary knights. However, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was unique in that activities and income sources not usually associated with feudal service were also often subject to military service obligations. Thus, for example, Baldwin d’Ibelin owed four knights service to the crown in exchange for the right to rent out grazing land to the Bedouins.  More common, income from customs duties, tariffs and other royal sources of income could be “enfeoffed” on a nobleman/knight in exchange for feudal service.  In the prosperous coastal towns of Outremer, there were many such “money-fiefs” with a military obligation.

While great lords, like Baldwin d’Ibelin, might hold multiple fiefs, they could only personally fulfill the obligation for one knight, which meant that a lord enjoying the income of a fief — whether from grazing Bedouins or customs duties — had to spend some of his income to hire as many trained and fully equipped “knights” (think fighting unit) as he owed. These knights would be drawn from the younger sons and brothers of fellow barons or from landless armed pilgrims, willing to stay in the Holy Land, but would like his landed knights be viewed as “vassals.”

Armed Pilgrims



The Holy Land, unlike the West, benefitted from the fact that at any one time — and particularly during the “pilgrim season” between roughly April and October — there would be tens of thousands of pilgrims in the kingdom, a portion of whom would have been knights capable of rendering military service in an emergency. Sometimes barons brought small private armies of retainers and volunteers with them to the crusader states explicitly for the purpose of fighting in defense of the Holy Land. A good example of this is Count Philip of Flanders, who arrived at Acre in 1177 at the head of what Bernard Hamilton describes as “a sizeable army.” His army even included the English Earls of Essex and Meath. More common were individual knights and lords who came to the Holy Land as genuine pilgrims, only to be sucked into the fighting by military necessity. One such example is Hugh VIII de Lusignan, Count de la March, who came in 1165 and ended up dying in a Saracen prison. Another example is William Marshal, who came in 1184 to fulfill a crusader vow taken by his liege, Henry the Young King. It is impossible to know how many “armed pilgrims” — and not just knights! — took part in musters and engagements between the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and its enemies at any time.

Fighting Monks



Another anomaly of the armies of Outremer were, of course, the large contingents of fighting monks — most famously Templars and Hospitallers, but also Knights of St. Lazarus and later Teutonic Knights as well. The major “militant” orders of the 12th Century were founded in Jerusalem with the explicit mandate to protect the Holy Land and Christian residents in and pilgrims to it. While the Templars started with just nine knights and the Hospitallers did not officially have “brother knights” until the 13th century, contemporary descriptions suggest that both orders fielded hundreds of knights by the end of the 12th century. David Nicolle in his book on the Battle of Hattin suggests that by 1180 the Templars had 300 knights deployed in the Holy Land and the Hospitallers 500 knights, but many of these knights would have been scattered about the country garrisoning castles. Undisputed, is the fact that 230 Templars and Hospitallers survived the Battle of Hattin to be executed on Saladin’s orders on July 6, 1187. Given the intense, two-day long nature of the Battle of Hattin, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that both militant orders, known for their fanaticism and willingness to die, had suffered significant casualties before the battle ended. It is likely, therefore, that close to 400 Hospitallers and Templars were in the field with royal army and this seems a good “ball-park” figure for the kind of resources the militant orders could contribute to the army of Outremer in the latter part of the 12th century generally.

Infantry
It is often forgotten in modern depictions of medieval warfare that the knights were the smallest contingent of medieval armies. The infantry made up the bulk of any feudal force and, far from being superfluous, the infantry was vitally important to success. But whereas in the West the infantry in the 12th century was largely composed of peasant levees (plus mercenaries), in the crusader states the infantry consisted of free “burghers” (plus mercenaries).

Mercenaries



If prostitution is the oldest profession on earth, than mercenaries must belong to the second oldest profession. (Mercenaries are recorded in ancient Greece and only my own ignorance prevents me from asserting with confidence that they were known in ancient Egypt as well; I feel almost certain that they were there too and in ancient Persia and would welcome comment on this point by those more knowledgeable than myself.) Certainly in the Middle Ages mercenaries were a vital component of warfare precisely because feudal levies in the West were only obligated to serve for 40 days at a stretch, but most kings and nobles needed fighting men who could serve whenever and for as long as needed.  Furthermore, certain military skills such as firing cross-bows, or building and manning siege engines, required a great deal of expertise and practice, making them unsuited to amateur armies composed of farmers. Mercenaries were everywhere on medieval battlefields. They were found in Outremer as well and, given the resources of the kingdom, were probably more prevalent there than in the West. But we have no clear numbers. 

Sergeants



A far more interesting and unusual feature of the armies in the crusader states were the “sergeants.” Because the “peasants” of Outremer were largely Arabic speaking Muslims,  the Kings of Jerusalem were not inclined to rely upon these men to fight their battles. On the other hand, as much as one-fifth of the population (ca 120,000 inhabitants) were Latin Christian settlers. All settlers were freemen and whether they settled in the cities as merchants and tradesmen or in agricultural settlements on royal and ecclesiastical domains, they were classed as “burghers” — not serfs or peasants. These freemen who had voluntarily immigrated to the crusader states were subject to military service, and when they served they were classed as “sergeants.”

The term “sergeant” in the context of Outremer appears to be a term similar to “man-at-arms” during the Hundred Years War. In short, it implies the financial means to outfit oneself with some form of body armor (most commonly padded linen “aketons,” or quilted “gambesons,” in rare-cases leather, or even chainmail) and a helmet of some kind (usually on open-faced “kettle” helm or later a crevelliere), and some kind of infantry weapon such as a spear, short sword, ax or sling.  

With half the settlers living in cities, it is not surprising that sergeants bore the brunt of the burden of providing garrisons for the cities, but according to John d’Ibelin’s records sergeants from the rural settlements in the royal domain and ecclesiastical fiefs were required to muster with the royal army.  We also know that both the Templars and Hospitallers maintained significant forces of “sergeants,” and these were — notably — mounted fighting men. Although not as well equipped as the knights themselves, they were entitled to two horses and one squire! It is not clear, however, whether the “sergeants” of the king and the ecclesiastical lords were also mounted.

Turcopoles



Perhaps the most exotic component of the armies of Outremer were the so-called “Turcopoles.” There are frequent references to these troops in contemporary records and they clearly played a significant role in the armed forces of the crusader states, but there is no unambiguous definition of who and what they were. They were clearly “native” troops, but the idea that they were mostly converted Muslims is off the mark.  Roughly half the population in the crusader states were non-Latin Christians, and it is from this segment of society that “native” troops were predominantly drawn.  The Armenians, for example, had a strong history of independent states and military prowess, and Armenians made up a significant portion of the population in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, having their own quarter there and their own cathedral. Syrian Christians were by this time Arabic speakers and would have looked like “Arabs” and “Turks” to visitors from the West, but as Christians they were reliable troops. There were also Greek, Coptic, Maronite and Ethiopian Christians resident in the crusader states, all of whom were, as freemen, theoretically subject to military service and as Christians native to the region probably some of the most willing fighting men. They, after all, had memories or personal experience with the taxes, insults and oppression of Turkish rule.  

Arriere Ban

Last but not least, the Kings of Jerusalem had the right to issue the “arriere ban” which obligated every free man to come to the defense of the kingdom. This was in effect an early form of the “levee en masse” of the French Revolution. Significantly, the King of Jerusalem could command the service of his vassals for a full year, not just 40 days as in the West, but such service was intended for the defense of the realm.  If the king took his army outside the borders on an offensive expedition, he was required to pay for the services of his subjects. 


Balian d'Ibelin served in the feudal armies of Outremer and the defense of the crusader kingdoms during his lifetime is the central theme of the three part biography that starts with:


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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Crusader Castles

One of the most impressive and visible legacies of the crusader kingdoms were the castles erected by Latin rulers in their territories.


One of the best preserved crusader castles: Krak de Chevaliers

T.E. Lawrence, famous as “Lawrence of Arabia,” disparaged the crusader castles as irrelevant and ineffective because these fortifications ultimately proved incapable of preventing the fall of the crusader kingdoms. Yet this is too facile a judgment. In fact, the crusader castles enabled numerically small fighting forces to withstand repeated invasions by numerically vastly superior armies. Christian defeats in the first hundred years of the crusader kingdoms occurred almost exclusively in the open field, where Muslim leaders could bring their larger forces to bear, e.g. the Field of Blood (1119), Hattin, (1187). By contrast, when the crusaders retreated into their fortified cities or castles, forcing the Saracens to besiege them, they usually survived to fight another day. 


The Crusader Castle of Kantara, Cyprus
Yet even the strongest walls require defenders and when a castle like Krak de Cheveliers, built to be defended by 2,000 knights, has a garrison of only a few hundred, it becomes indefensible. Outremer was not lost because its castles were irrelevant or ineffective, but because its castles could not be used as intended due to inadequate and dwindling manpower.

It is also important to remember, that crusader castles were not merely border fortresses designed for the defense of the realm against external enemies. They were also administrative and economic centers, symbols of royal/baronial power, residences, and places of refuge.  As in Western Europe, castles came in different shapes and sizes, each reflective of the original and evolving purposes of the castle and the wealth and power of respective patrons.



Interior of Hospitaller HQ at Acre


Adrian Boas, in his excellent work Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East, identified no less than five basic types of crusader castles. The simplest form of castle was a simple tower. Similar castles were already known in the West and became popular, for example, in Scotland. In the crusader kingdoms, such castles were usually square with a windowless cellar/undercroft used for storage, wells and or kitchens, over which were built two floors topped by a crenolated fighting platform on the roof.  Access from the outside was usually only at first floor level by means of an exterior stair that ended several yards away from the door; the gap was bridged by a wooden draw-bridge that could be closed from the interior to cover and so reinforce the door. Each floor had two or more barrel or cross-vaulted chambers, which might have been further partitioned by wooden walls or roofs/floors. Out-buildings containing workshops, storerooms, stables and the like were located around the foot of the tower but were not themselves defensible. A splendid, although late, example of a crusader tower castle is the Hospitaller castle at Kolossi on Cyprus.

Hospitaller Tower Castle at Kolossi, Cyprus

A second type of crusader castle, the castrum or enclosure castle, had their roots in Roman military architecture and evolved from Roman forts via Byzantium into crusader castles consisting of a defensible perimeter with reinforcing towers at the corners. The concept was similar to creating a ring of wagons behind which pioneers in the “wild west” defended themselves from attack by Indians or outlaws. The Muslims had also adapted this type of defensive structure, and on their arrival in the Holy Land the Franks took over a number of existing castles of this type. In addition, they built a number of castles following this design for themselves, notably Coliath in the County of Tripoli, Blanchegarde, and Gaza in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. These castles had large vaulted chambers with massive walls roughly three meters thick running between the corner towers. These housed the various activities necessary to castle life from kitchens and stables to forges, bakeries and bath-houses. The upper story of the enclosing buildings generally held accommodations, eating halls and chapels for the garrison. The roofs of the buildings were the fighting platform facing out in all directions and reinforced by the corner towers that provided covering fire.


Vaulted Chambers at Kolossi
The third type of crusader castle was a combination of the previous types: a strong roughly rectangular complex built around a tower or keep.  The enclosing walls (with their vaulted chambers) and corner towers formed the first line of defense and the keep the second. A surviving example of this kind of castle is Gibelet (Jubayl) in the County of Tripoli, and based on William of Tyre’s descriptions the royal castle at Darum in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was of this time.


As the Franks became wealthier or the threat became more intense the Franks started building outer works to provide a line of defense in beyond (i.e. before) the castrum containing so many vital parts of the castle’s inner life. These outer works may have originally been intended to provide a modicum of protection to the towns that often grew up around castles, but they soon evolved into what became one of the most distinctive, indeed iconic, type of crusader castle: the concentric castle. These were generally the castles of the military orders, built with the huge resources available to them and were more purely devoted to military dominance rather than the castles of secular lords or royal castles. These were the castles that inspired Edward I’s castles in Wales. In addition to Krak de Cheveliers, a famous example of this type of castle was Belvoir, overlooking the Jordan valley. Belvoir held out against Saladin a year and a half after the Battle of Hattin; Krak he never even tried to assault, deeming it too strong.


Another view of Krak de Cheveliers

Boas distinguishes between hill top and spur castles, but both of these castles were essentially castles that took advantage of natural geographic features to strengthen the overall defensibility of the castle. The hill-top castles and mountain spur castles were built on the top of steep slopes either occupying an entire hill-top of the tip of a longer corniche. They were undoubtedly the most difficult to take by storm since, built on bedrock, they were hard to undermine, and built on steep escarpments they were almost impossible to assault. Kerak, the castle of Reynald de Chatillon, was a spur castle and it withstood two unsuccessful sieges by Saladin, falling only to starvation more than a year after the Battle of Hattin.

Kerak 

Other crusader castles of this type were Montfort (or as the Teutonic Knights called it, Starkenburg), Beaufort/Belfort, Margat, and Saone.

The fosse at Margat, showing the pillar that supported the drawbridge.

A variation on the theme of the spur castle was the use of the sea rather than sheer mountain sides to provide protection. The Templar castle of Atlit Castle (Castle Pilgrim) and the castle at Tyre were both built on peninsulas extending into the sea and only accessible on one side from the land.  These castles proved almost impossible to capture as again, mining was impossible from three sides and assaults from boats were very precarious and difficult to carry out. As a result, a much smaller defensive force could hold such castles since only one side was vulnerable to attack and only a light watch was needed on the other three sides. Tyre became the only city in the Kingdom of Jerusalem that successfully resisted Saladin after the Battle of Hattin and became the base from which the coastal plain was reconquered.

Which seems a fitting place to end this brief description of crusader castles.


Crusader castles play a role in my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:





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