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Friday, June 30, 2017

Crusader Horses

Horses were an absolutely essential — indeed defining — component of a knight’s equipment. The German word for knight (ritter) derives directly from the word for rider (reiter), while the French and Spanish terms, chevalier and caballero, derive from the word for horse (cheval and caballo respectively). While a knight might temporarily be without a mount, without a horse a knight could not fulfill his fundamental function as a cavalryman. Indeed, the symbol of knighthood was not the sword (infantrymen had those as well) or even the lance (they were throw away pieces of equipment), but the (golden) spurs tied to a knight's heels during the dubbing ceremony. Richard Barber notes in his seminal work The Knight and Chivalry that being financially in a position to outfit oneself with arms and horses was crucial to knightly status. David Edge and John Miles Paddock argue in their comprehensive work Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight that “[a knight’s horse] was the most effective and significant weapon the knight had; the basis of his pre-eminent position in society and on the battlefield.”

In short, knights needed horses — significantly not just one horse but several.  This short post provides a overview of a knight's equine needs.

The warhorse or destrier, is the most obvious of a knight’s horses. This was the horse a knight rode into battle, joust or tournament. This horse was his fighting platform. It was trained to endure the shock and noise of combat. In later years, destriers were sometimes also trained to lash out at enemies with teeth and hooves thereby becoming, as Edge and Paddock note, a weapon as well as a fighting platform. Knights rode stallions, not mares or geldings. This was in part because stallions were considered more aggressive, but also because riding a mare or a gelding detracted from a knight’s image as a virile warrior.

Destriers had to be strong because they needed to support a fully armored knight and because they had to withstand the press of horseflesh in a charge and endure uninjured the impact of charges by other horses. They particularly had to have powerful haunches to absorb the shock of frontal collisions with enemy cavalry or in a joust. This does not mean, however, that destriers were massive, heavy horses similar to modern draught horses.  Archeological and artistic evidence suggests that the warhorses of crusader knights were no more than 14-15 hands high (a hand is four inches and horses are measured at the withers, the bone over the shoulders at the base of the neck).  Furthermore, they had to be very responsive to their riders, and that means sensitive and agile. They can best be compared to modern quarter horses.

Destriers were not a specific breed of horse, so arguably the defining characteristic of a destrier was simply its function — and price. If a knight thought a horse had what it took to be a fine destrier, he was willing to pay a large premium for that — and anyone in possession of a horse with the necessary qualities was going to ask a commensurate price for it as well.  In short, destriers were outrageously expensive. They cost 4 to 8 times the price of lesser or ordinary horses. They cost as much as the armor a knight wore. They could cost as much as the annual knight’s fee — in short roughly the annual income of the gentry.  The equivalent is the price of a top-line BMW or Mercedes today.

Like any horse, destriers were vulnerable to colic and injury, however, which meant a knight was well advised to have more than one destrier — if he could afford it.  Even if he could and did, however, he was likely to have a favorite. The destriers of knights in contemporary romance and legend all have names: Baucent, Folatise, Babieca etc., but perhaps no description is more famous that the Dauphin’s praise for his horse before Agincourt in Shakespeare’s Henry V. “When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots on air; the earth sings when he touches it…. It is a beast for Perseus: he is pure air and fire….”

For all their value and importance, however, a knight spent far less time mounted on his prized destrier than on his palfrey(s). Palfreys were riding horses, transportation not weapons, the means of getting from point A to point B. Since medieval knights rode everywhere -- to oversea their estates, to visit neighbors, when hunting or hawking, to attend court or to go courting. In short, a knight spent literally countless hours with his palfrey(s). Palfreys were bred not for strength and fierceness but for smooth gates, endurance and common sense. They were probably much the same size as destriers, but lighter — marathon runners rather than sprinters, wrestlers more than boxers. 

Since these horses were just as likely to get colic or injured, the need for more than one palfrey was just as compelling as with destriers, but given the substantially lower price of palfreys the possession of more than one was considerably more common. Knights would normally have possessed at least two and wealthy nobles likely had stables of horses at their disposal for transport purposes.

The last and lowliest of a knight’s horses was his sumpter or packhorse. These were essential for transporting equipment, notably armor when it wasn't being worn.  A knight did not travel light. He needed a tent for camping out, a bedroll for sleeping on, basic utensils for cleaning, grooming and cooking, a change or two of clothes, supplies of food and — in more arid climates — water as well. Depending on the purpose and duration of travel, a knight might even take with him simple furnishings to ensure comfort while on campaign or traveling long distances. All that was carried on pack animals, either sumpter horses, mules or donkeys. We know little about these poor beasts of burden beyond that they were common and cheap. They were “hacks” largely interchangeable, nameless, and unloved. 

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: 
Horses play a role in the award-winning Jerusalem Trilogy, where "Gladiator" and "Centurion" are both important characters:

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Economic Revival of the Levant under Crusader Rule

The establishment of the crusader kingdoms along the coast of the Levant resulted in an economic revival of the region as pilgrims, merchants and settlers flooded into the territories re-captured for Christianity.  What had been an unimportant backwater to the Ayyubid and Fatamid caliphates, whose religious, administrative and economic centers lay in Damascus and Cairo respectively, had suddenly become the spiritual heart of the Latin-Christian world.  In consequence, not only did existing cities undergo an economic boom, but ancient cities gone to ruin, such as Caesarea and Ramla were revived, and entire new towns and villages were built.
An estimated 140,000 settlers from Western Europe immigrated to the Holy Land in the first century after the First Crusade, eventually accounting for between twenty and twenty-five percent of the population of the crusader states. These numbers were swelled annually during the “sailing season,” roughly from April to October, with tens of thousands of pilgrims who came to see the holy sites as “tourists.” 

To serve the pilgrims, the mercantile city-states of Venice, Genoa and Pisa built fleets and established communities in the ports of the crusader states to cater to residents, pilgrims and home markets. In addition to passengers, the Italian merchant fleets transported a variety of goods: timber, horses, arms and armor from the West; sugar, olive oil, silk, and spices from the east.

But not everything used in the crusader states were imports and not all exports were commodities. The crusader states also developed indigenous crafts both for every day and ceremonial use. These included, of course, metal-working and wood-working, leather goods, ceramics, textiles, and glass. Most of these products were produced by native craftsmen, who continued to use the same techniques as before the Latin conquest, but the motifs shifted to include crosses, fishes and other Christian symbols. The styles were also influenced by the taste of customers and exposure to products imported from the West. The native craftsmen, however, had developed their crafts over the centuries, heavily influenced by earlier waves of invaders from the Romans and Byzantines to the Saracens. Thus their work inevitably reflected these layers of past influence now combined with Western European influences to form distinctly crusader crafts.

Because of its durability, we know that crusader metal-working was of a very high standards as surviving objects from several of the key churches attest. Objects included metal screens or grilles, candle sticks and candelabra, brass bowls and bells, as well as magnificent silver and gold work in reliquaries and jewelry. Jerusalem had an entire street known as the Street of the Goldsmiths, attesting to the quantity and popularity of gold work produced in the Holy City. Many (if not most) of the products from these workshops probably ended up in the West, as pilgrims took them home as keep-sakes and gifts. Many may not yet have been identified as originating in the crusader states. At the lower end of the scale, there were many blacksmiths in the Holy Land, both native and settlers, and most earned their living producing articles needed for daily life from horseshoes, plowshares, hammers and shovels, to maces and battle axes, although it appears that most swords were imported either from Damascus (famous for its steel) or the important weapons centers in Italy and Germany.

Wood, leather and textile goods have largely been lost, but some cloth fragments are witness to the use of wool, cotton, linen and silk in cloth manufacture in the crusader states. Interestingly, evidence of mixed fabrics — silk warp with wool, linen or cotton weft — have been found.  Fragments of both dyed and undyed fabrics have been found, as well as patterned fabrics created by woodblock printing.  In addition, there is evidence that cloth, particularly silk, was decorated with silk or gold embroidery and brocading. The colors that have survived in the few finds of textiles from the crusader period ranged from ivory, yellow and gold to red and various shades of blue. However, purple was the imperial color of Byzantium and would have been available at least as in import for the upper classes, and it is reasonable to assume that green tones could also be produced and would have been available.

Pottery from the crusader period has survived in much larger quantities and demonstrates that while some pottery was imported from Egypt and Syria, the vast majority of pottery objects in use in the crusader states was produced locally and was often of very high quality. Pottery was used for the production of cooking pots and pans, storage jars and jugs, basins, bowls, plates and cups. It was often decorated with incisions in the unfired clay, and designs were painted either beneath a transparent glaze or with colored glazes. The most common color scheme was red or brown painting on a white backdrop, although blue and black designs on white were also known. Cream and pale green glazes were also popular. Popular motifs included ancient geometric designs, foliage, birds and animals, but human figures, crosses and fishes — i.e. Christian symbols — were also used. One distinctive feature of much local pottery that made it popular with pilgrims was the use of transparent glaze on the inside of pots and pans to create an early kind of “Teflon” — stick-free cooking.

Perhaps the more sophisticated and beautiful craft of the Holy Land was glass-making. Glass was used in windows in the crusader period, both stained and painted glass for churches, and round and plate panes for windows in secular buildings. Green plate glass from the crusader period, for example, was found at a farmhouse less than five miles from Jerusalem; it would probably have graced the manor of a local lord.  Glass was also used for the drinking vessels, both beakers and goblets, and for bowls and bottles.  Bottles with long necks for perfumes and the scented oils produced in the Holy Land were probably popular among pilgrims as gifts for those left behind. Glass was also used for storage jars and for oil lamps, a continuation of Byzantine and Arab traditions. Glass of the crusader period was often dyed and/or decorated. The colors of crusader glass found to date include yellow, red and light brown, emerald and light greens, turquoise, shades of blue as well as light and dark purple. Decorations included geometric designs and heraldry, foliage, birds, animals as well as saints and religious motifs. Some glass objects also have inscriptions. Tyre was particularly known for its glass-making industry and the glass produced was reputedly particularly transparent. But glass-making was also carried out in other crusader cities, including Acre and Beirut; the latter was famous of its red glass.

In short, the crusader kingdoms had a lively, diverse and comparatively sophisticated craft industry capable of producing not only articles for everyday use, but beautiful and valuable objects. This reflects a high level of civilization typical of a society with extensive trading ties and elites with sufficient income to support quality craftsmanship. Particularly interesting in crusader crafts is the synthesis of Arab/Egyptian, Byzantine and Western influences to produce a unique and distinctive “crusader style” in a variety of objects.

Note: I could find no pictures in the public domain of objects made in the crusader states. The photos are simply examples of objects from the 12th and 13th century, although the pottery is similar to pottery I saw on Cyprus from the crusader period.

Recommended further reading:

Boas, Adrian J., Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East, Routledge, London & New York, 1999.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:
The Holy Land as described in the award-winning Jerusalem Trilogy reflects the above economic reality:

Buy now!                                         Buy now!                                        Buy now!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Hospital Care in the Crusader Era

In his final guest post, Fermin Person talks about hospitals in the crusader era.

A hospital in a modern sense is a place where ill or wounded people go to be treated for their illness. Persons from all social strata use hospitals equally. In the medieval world, this was different.

The medieval Latin word hospitalia or hospite meant a variety of things. It could mean an institution along the basic idea of a modern hospital but it also meant hospice, guest house or hostel. It also could be charitable institution caring for old or poor people. This is largely because it was mostly poor people who needed and made use of these institutions, while wealthier people were cared for and treated at home.

The word domus infirmorum or firmaria meant “house of the sick”, but did not imply the attendance of physician. Usually a monk or a servant cared for the inmates there, although a physician or surgeon could be called on from the outside.

In the crusader states, because so many pilgrims were far from home and unable to avail themselves of “the family doctor,” there were several institutions that cared for the sick and wounded and had, exceptionally, had physicians and surgeons caring for their patient. These were predominantly run by religious orders such as the Order of St John (Hospitalers), the Teutonic order (from about 1200 onward) and by the order of St Thomas of Canterbury from the start of the 13th century on. The orders of St Anthony and of St Lazarus also ran probably institutions for the specific chronic illnesses (Ergotism and Lepra) that were under their focus. The Templars, in contrast, appear to have run infirmaries only for their own members.

The biggest and best researched hospital in the crusading states is the hospital of St John in Jerusalem. According to estimates by Piers Mitchel and by B. Kedar the capacity of the hospital ranged from 400-900 beds under normal circumstances to as many as 2500 under extreme circumstances, for example after battles.

Under normal circumstances the hospital of St John in Jerusalem would house a mixture of exhausted pilgrims, sick, wounded or dying patients. On arrival, the guests had to confess, following that they were clothed by the hospital and fed, segregated by sex. Physicians, surgeon and bloodletters were employed by the hospital and paid a good salary to provide treatment to patients if necessary daily, while sergeants and sisters took care of non-medical needs of the patients.

Patients whose conditions made it dangerous, impossible or unsustainable to keep them with the other guests were separated from them. A classic example for this is diarrhoea or delirium because of a fever. 

Excursus: Medieval western urine-diagnostic
Before the development of modern laboratory medicine there were only few possibilities to diagnose illnesses. One of those was the urine-diagnostics.
It was an obligatory part of the medical treatment by a physician to inspect, smell and taste the urine of the patient.
The smell or taste of urine could indicate metabolic disease of a patient such as diabetes or liver failure.
Similarly, could the colour and the amount of the urine indicate several other diseases.

The guests / patients were given a diet that was seen to be healthy for them, but great emphasis was also placed on the spiritual cleaning of the patients. Prayers and mass were thus a fixed part of the treatment. Other than in big byzantine or Muslim hospitals the patients were not distributed at their admission per their conditions onto different wards, but members of the Order of St John had separate infirmaries in case of falling ill or getting wounded.

Little is known about the actual quality of the big hospitals in the crusade states, especially about the death rates etc. John of W├╝rzburg (c 1170) reports that up to 50 dead per day were being carried out of the St Johns hospital in Jerusalem, he named 2000 inmates of the hospital. It is unclear if his numbers are exaggerated or if the hospital was at that moment particularly filled with patients. Similarly, without knowing the composition, the age and the general physical state of the inmates of the hospitals we can only guess about the quality of the medical caring.

Theoderich, a pilgrim that saw the hospital of St John in 1169 praised the equipment and the caring work of the hospital. Judging by the composition of the personal there was by the standards of time probably an adequate care for the sick and dying.

Field hospitals during the crusades

Little is known about field hospitals of the armies of the crusader states, however, there are various references to the wounded being carried to the army camp or the nearest city to be cared for. Examples of this is after the Battle of Antioch in 1119, the ambush of a Christian caravan on the 17 June 1192, and January 1192, when Richard I organised for the sick to be transported to Ramla. 

The first clear mention of something comparable to a field hospital is from the 1180s. According to the text of an anonymous cleric the Hospitallers set up a field hospital in the army’s camp, transporting wounded if needed back to Jerusalem. Similarly, German sailors from Bremen and Hamburg set up an improvised hospital during the siege of Acre in 1190, dismantling their ships to build it. During the same siege, English sailors also set up a field hospital dedicated to St Thomas Becket.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Battle on the Litani: June 1179

The Battle on the Litani has not received much attention in the history of the crusader states. It is often completely ignored or acknowledged with no more than a passing mention. While it is true that this battle was only one in a series of indecisive engagements between Salah ad-Din and the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the decade before the disaster at Hattin in July 1187, it was a sad precursor of things to come and is not entirely uninteresting.

The battle was allegedly provoked by Saracen “raiding,” of cattle and crops in the lordships of Beirut and Sidon. However, it seems highly unlikely that the King of Jerusalem would personally respond to mere raiding, particularly if it was conducted by Bedouins as some accounts suggest. Certainly, accounts of the engagement make clear that both Farukh Shah, a nephew of Salah ad-Din, and the Sultan himself were on hand with large cavalry, but notably no infantry, forces. This smells far more like a “reconnaissance in force” similar to the raid of 1187 that led to the disaster at the Springs of Cresson.

In any case, King Baldwin IV, now aged 18, responded by mustering a powerful cavalry force of his own. This included not only his most important baron, Raymond, Count of Tripoli, as well as Baldwin, Lord of Ramla and Mirabel, but also the Templars under their Grand Master, Odo de St. Amand. As W. B. Bartlett astutely points out in his Downfall of the Crusader Kingdom, this composition of forces underlines the fact that the Kingdom was not divided at this time; the Templars and Tripoli fought together without suspicion or recriminations.  

While the exact sequence of events is not clear, it appears that the King and his forces succeeded in surprising and routing the forces of Farukh Shah. They drove the bulk of his cavalry back across the Litani and may have temporarily taken Farukh Shah himself captive.  Meanwhile, however, the Templars had separately encountered the larger, main force under Sultan Salah ad-Din. William of Tyre, who was not in the Kingdom at the time and based his account on reports of others, blamed the Templars for attacking this larger force injudiciously.  While that is possible, it should also be remembered that Tyre was a consistent critic of the Templars and inclined to think poorly of them regardless, while other participants may have been only too ready to pin the blame on someone other than themselves.

What is clear is that the Templars broke and fled back toward the main feudal army around the King. At this point in time, however, the feudal army was already scattered across the valley floor “mopping up” after their successful action against Farukh Shah. They were in no position to form a cohesive force. Salah ad-Din’s cavalry, hot on the heels of the Templars, fell upon the dispersed Christian forces, killing and capturing large numbers of Christian knights and nobles, including Baldwin, Baron of Ramla and Mirabel, Hugh of Tiberius, and, according to Arab sources, some 270 knights and nobles altogether.

The King’s household, however, rallied around him and extricated him from the field with help and reinforcements from Reginald of Sidon. This was, of course, vital, as his capture would have had even more serious consequences than the other losses incurred. But his escape is notable for another reason as well: Baldwin was unhorsed during the — evidently heated — engagement, but his leprosy had by this stage advanced so far that he no longer had the use of his hand and arms and was unable to remount. The King had to be carried off the field on the back of a Frankish knight.

Just two months earlier, in another skirmish with Saracen cavalry, King Baldwin’s horse had bolted and, without the use of his hands, he had been unable to regain control. Now, because he was unable to remount, he had come within a hair’s breadth of capture. The eighteen-year-old king, who just two years earlier had led his chivalry to a stunning victory over Salah ad-Din at Montgisard, was now forced to face the fact that he could no longer command his armies from horseback. In a society in which the mounted warrior, the knight, was the incarnation of manly virtue and prowess, it must have broken Baldwin’s heart.  Not that he surrendered to his disability entirely: in the future he would lead his armies from a litter.

Meanwhile, the sorry outcome of this obscure engagement had two additional detrimental consequences for the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  First, among the captives was the Templar Grand Master, Odo St. Amand. Whether he was to blame for an unnecessary defeat, as William of Tyre suggests, or not, he had the courage and honor (as his successor Gerard de Rideford did not ) to  refuse ransom in accordance with the Templar Rule. He died miserably in a Saracen dungeon — thereby paving the way, indirectly, for the election of the disastrous and unscrupulous Gerard de Rideford.

Equally wide-reaching in its effect was the capture of Baldwin, Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. Baldwin (often referred to as Baldwin of Ibelin because he was the son of the First Baron of Ibelin and older brother of Balian of Ibelin, the founder of the Ibelin dynasty) was considered such a valuable prisoner that Salah ad-Din set his ransom higher than the ransom once asked for King Baldwin II of Jerusalem; in short, the Saracen Sultan demanded “a king’s ransom” for a baron whose feudal holdings were only two thirds of that of the upper tier of barons (Tripoli, Caesarea, Sidon, Galilee, Jaffa-Ascalon).  

This is not logical — unless the Sultan had some reason to believe that Ramla was destined to become a king. According to the chronicler Ernoul, who had close ties to the Ibelin family and so can be considered an “insider” — Princess Sibylla of Jerusalem had at this time promised to marry Ramla. Such a marriage would have made Ramla the effective heir to the throne, and Salah ad-Din would have had every reason to both demand the high ransom and hope that the cost of paying it would discredit Ramla to his future subjects. Curiously, the ransom was paid not by the treasury of Jerusalem but by the Byzantine Emperor instead, suggesting that the latter too had reason to expect Ramla would become King of Jerusalem. Both Salah ad-Din and Emperor Manuel I appear to have been misinformed. That, or — as Ernoul suggests — Princess Sibylla changed her mind after Ramla was captured.

In the latter case, Ramla’s capture can be seen as a contributing factor in Sibylla transferring her affections to the young, recently arrived French adventurer Guy de Lusignan. The consequences of her infatuation and life-long love for Lusignan are the subject of another entry.

The Battle on the Litani is described in detail in Book II of my three-part biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin:

A divided kingdom,

                             a united enemy,

                                                       and the struggle for Jerusalem.