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Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Ibelins: An Archetypical Frankish Family

 Today I start a series on the history of the Ibelin Family -- arguably the most powerful and most charismatic of all the "Frankish" families. Certainly their influence pre-dated and out-lasted that of the Lusignans.

The Ibelin family was one of the most powerful noble families in the crusader states. Sons of the House of Ibelin were at various times Lords of Ibelin, Ramla and Mirabel, Nablus, Caymont, Beirut, Arsur, and Counts of Jaffa and Ascalon, the last, a traditionally royal domain and title of the heirs to the throne. Ibelins married into the royal families of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus and Armenia. An Ibelin daughter founded the Cypriot royal family, and three other Ibelin women were queens of Cyprus. Ibelins were repeatedly regents, constables, marshals and seneschals of both Jerusalem and Cyprus. The Ibelins also led a successful revolt against the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II. 

Yet the Ibelins were not mere politicians. They were respected scholars. One translated Arab poetry into French; another wrote a legal treatise that is not only a goldmine of information about the laws of the crusader kingdoms but admired for its elegance of style and the sophistication of its analysis. The Ibelins built at least one magnificent palace, whose mosaics, fountains, gardens and polychrome marble inspired the admiration of contemporaries. Their display of wealth and panache during the Seventh Crusade awed the nobility of France. 

Yet while the Ibelins were undoubtedly exceptionally successful, they were also in many ways typical. They embodied the overall experience, characteristics and ethos of the Franks in the Holy Land. They came from obscure, probably non-noble origins, and the dynasty’s founder can be classed as an ‘adventurer’ and ‘crusader’. They rapidly put down roots in the Near East, intermarrying with native Christian and Byzantine elites. They were hardened and cunning fighting men able to deploy arms and tactics unknown to the West and intellectuals who could win wars with words in the courts. They were multilingual, cosmopolitan and luxury-loving, as comfortable in baths as in battles. Perhaps most importantly, they worked closely with turcopoles and sergeants and forged alliances with the merchant communities, reflecting the Latin East’s tolerant and fluid social structures. Finally, like the crusader states themselves, they disappeared from history when the last crusader kingdom fell to the greed of the Italian commercial city-states. In short, the story of the Ibelins is a microcosm of the crusader states, and I will be telling their story over the next weeks.

The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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1 comment:

  1. I thought you had "left us" for World War II. But Balian and his kin make a come back!

    Next thing you know, you're going to reminisce about Leonidas! LOL

    Looking forward to it, Professor.


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