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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Teutonic Knights Part I: A Child of the Third Crusade

The Teutonic Knights were founded much later than the Templars or Hospitallers and won their greatest fame and fortune fighting, conquering and ruling in northeastern Europe rather than the Holy Land. However, they had their roots in the siege of Acre, and throughout the 13th century, they played a very important role in the history of the crusader states. What follows is a part I of a short history of their role in the Latin East.

The Teutonic Knights evolved out of a “fraternity” of German crusaders who took part in the siege of Acre during the Third Crusade.  These crusaders, predominantly from the free Hansa cities of Bremen and Luebeck, established a hospital to care for the sick in the siege camp. The Hospitallers were, of course, present at the siege, so the need for an additional hospital appears to have been driven by the fact that many German crusaders were not comfortable speaking Latin or French, the languages of the Hospital. They preferred entrusting themselves to the care of men who spoke German.

The German Hospital (as it was called at that time) soon acquired such a good reputation that the son of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the Duke of Swabia, leading the remnants of his father’s crusade, chose to be treated there when he became deathly ill during the siege of Acre.  He also wrote to his brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, requesting that he petition the papacy to recognize the German Hospital as a religious order.  He then requested that the German Hospital assume responsibility for his burial. 

The problem with that was that the fraternity running the German Hospital was not yet composed of monks, so the Hospitallers challenged their right to conduct a burial. Feeling threatened by the Hospitallers, the Germans turned to the Knights Templar for protection. The Templars took the German brothers under their wing, granting them the right to wear the white habit of the Templars, but with a black half-cross (rather than the red Templar cross) inside a circle. What is more, a Templar, a certain Henry Walpot, was appointed the first “Master.”

Meanwhile, back in the West, the pope granted the emperor’s request to recognize the German Hospital as a religious order and told them to adopt the Rule of the Hospitallers. For the next eight years, the German Hospital, which had been granted land inside the re-captured city of Acre by King Guy de Lusignan, remained a hospital.  Its reputation with German pilgrims was high. Whether they died in the Holy Land or returned home, many German pilgrims bequeathed wealth and land to the German Hospital.

In 1198 a large contingent of German knights raised by Emperor Henry VI arrived in Acre as the spearhead of a new crusade. The death of the Emperor led to the premature dissolution of this crusade, but a few of knights chose to remain in the Holy Land.  They wished to continue fighting for the recovery of the holy sites and pleaded for the militarization of the German Hospital. This was granted, and the Templar Rule was adopted for the fighting elements.

The new character of the Order, now known as the Teutonic (German) Order (Deutscher Orden or sometimes Deutscher Ritter-Orden) did not lead to an explosion in manpower.  On the contrary, in 1210, at the time the next master was elected, the Order is described as being able to muster only ten knights. One is reminded of the Templars whose strength was initially just nine nights.

The new master, however, was a certain Herman von Salza, the son of a Thuringian family in the service of the Holy Roman Emperor, who is believed to have gone to the Holy Land in the entourage of the Count of Thuringia.  Herman proved to be a man of exceptional ability, particularly as a diplomat, and he was able to vastly increase the wealth, prestige and influence of the fledgling order.

One of his first acts appears to have been a break with the Templars themselves as it was in exactly 1210 that the Templars complained to the pope that the Teutons were wearing the while mantle of the Templars “illegally.” I.e. because they were no longer subordinate to the Templars, they no longer had the right to wear the white mantle. The pope agreed with the Templars. Salza ignored both the Templars and the Pope.

Presumably, they could get away with this because they already enjoyed the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrick II Hohenstaufen. By 1217, Frederick was allowing the Teutonic Knights to draw income from his own revenues to pay for their (illegal) white mantles. The Hohenstaufen support for the Teutonic Knights went back, of course to the Duke of Swabia, but Fredrick II had his own reason to favor them: he was employing Salza as his envoy to the German princes in efforts to drum up support for the latest crusade and ― more importantly ― as his spokesman for his excuses to the pope for his own absence from that crusade.

The Teutonic Knights, few in number though they were, took part in the Fifth Crusade, and this proved to be decisive in their fortunes. The Fifth Crusade was a debacle. After the crusaders captured the Egyptian city of Damietta, the Sultan of Egypt al-Kamil offered to restore Jerusalem and the entire Muslim-occupied lands of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in exchange for the return of Damietta to Egypt. The leadership of the crusade, notably Cardinal Pelagius, refused. The subsequent attempt to seize Cairo got mired down, the Egyptian navy successfully cut off the crusaders’ supplies and forced them to sue for terms. The survivors were allowed to leave on the condition of returning Damietta, and so the crusade ended with nothing but shame and casualties ― except for the Teutonic Knights and Herman von Salza.  Salza had urged the acceptance of al-Kamil’s terms, thereby setting himself apart from the bulk of the leadership, while his knights had distinguished themselves in the fighting.

Recruits, grants, and privileges flooded in. The Order officially started to accept “confratres” ― secular men and women who, without taking monastic vows, affiliated themselves with the order for a limited period of time rather than for life. This significantly inflated their manpower reserves.  Meanwhile, the pope granted the Order a variety of privileges ― including all the privileges previously reserved for the Templars and Hospitallers. Frederick II likewise showered the Teutonic Knights with gifts of land and taxation rights, while the Patriarch of Jerusalem sang their praises.

Yet the Holy Land remained imperiled and Jerusalem and other holy sites were still in Muslim hands. The Teutonic Knights, like the Templars and Hospitallers, set about preaching and recruiting for yet another crusade. After the disastrous results of the two preceding expeditions (the hijacking by Venice of a crusade intended to restore Christian rule in the Holy Land for an attack on Constantinople and the fiasco on the Nile), the response was understandably anemic.

Frederick II, who had twice sworn to lead a crusade, kept putting off the date of departure, and he again employed Herman von Salza as his envoy to the pope to receive the necessary dispensation.  It was possibly Salza that came up with the idea of Frederick’s marriage to the heiress of Jerusalem, Yolanda (Isabella II).  The idea, whether it originated with Salza or the pope, was that Fredrick’s marriage to Yolanda would increase the emperor’s personal (material) interest in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and make him more ready to actually undertake the crusade he had committed himself to. 

In any case, Salza undertook the role of marriage broker, negotiating between his comrade-in-arms from the Fifth Crusade, John de Brienne, King of Jerusalem by right of his deceased wife Marie de Montferrat, and Frederick II Hohenstaufen.  In the course of this activity, Salza evidently promised John de Brienne that he would remain King of Jerusalem as long as he lived, to be succeeded by any issue from Yolanda’s marriage to Frederick. In the event, however, the marriage was not yet consummated before Fredrick dismissed John de Brienne as superfluous and demanded homage from the barons of Jerusalem.

Frederick’s actions made a life-long, bitter enemy of his father-in-law, John de Brienne (who would soon lead papal armies against Frederick’s kingdom of Sicily). They also put Herman von Salza in an awkward position.  Nicholas Morton points out in The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land 1190-1291 that neither John de Brienne nor the pope seemed to blame Salza for the Emperor’s actions, suggesting that he had not been complicit in a plot to mislead Brienne, yet his honor and reputation as a negotiator were at stake. Apparently, the Emperor, while contemptuously dismissing his father-in-law, felt sufficient qualms about sullying the reputation of his friend and supporter Salza to compensate him for the loss of reputation with yet more marks of favor.

Significantly, it was at precisely this time, 1226, that the Teutonic Knights sought and received from Frederick II the right to colonize Prussia. It was to be in Prussia that the Teutonic Knights build a completely independent state, and where they survived as a major political power until the 15th century. But that was in the future and beyond the scope of this short essay.

Principle source: Morton, Nicholas. The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land, 1190-1291. Boydell Press, 2009.

Join me next week to learn more about the Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land. Meanwhile, discover the crusader states at the end of the 12th century in  my award-winning novels set in Outremer:

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Homes for Crusaders: Domestic Architecture in the Crusader Kingdoms:

It is still commonplace (at least in fiction and Hollywood) to depict medieval homes, as unhygienic, cold, dark and gloomy. One problem, of course, is the tendency to assume that houses hardly changed over a thousand years of history and to imagine the homes in Norway were no different from those on Sicily. In reality, medieval architecture was highly sophisticated produced not just wonders of ecclesiastic architecture from the splendors of York Cathedral to the sublime beauty of Fontfroid Abbey, but also luxurious and comfortable domestic structures. What follows is a look at domestic architecture in the crusader states.

The Bishop of Oldenburg, traveling to the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1212, was stunned by the luxury of the residences of the elite. According to Sir Steven Runciman in his "Families of Outremer," Oldenburg was particularly impressed by the Ibelin palace in Beirut:

Its windows opened some on the sea, some on to delicious gardens. Its walls were paneled with plaques of poly-chrome marble; the vaulted ceiling [of the salon] was painted to resemble the sky with its stars; in the center of the [salon] was a fountain, and round it mosaics depicting the waves of the sea edged with sands so lifelike that [the bishop] feared to tread on them lest he should leave a foot mark.

Unfortunately, nothing of this palace remains today. 

The same is true of the Lusignan palace in Nicosia, but Volume 4 of A History of the Crusades: The Art and Architecture of the Crusader States, Hazard, Harry W ed. provides the following summary:

The royal palace, adjoining the church of St. Dominic, seemed to travelers the finest in the world. Its great throne room, its balconies, its golden ornaments, its tapestries, pictures, organs, and clocks, its baths, gardens and menageries suggest the most sumptuous of medieval residences. (p. 175)

Interior courtyards with fountains and gardens were regular features of medieval residences. The cloisters of contemporary monasteries may provide a hint of what they looked like. Here Fontfroid in Southern France -- origin of many crusaders.
While both the above passages refer to palaces (baronial and royal respectively), the following is a more general commentary on Frankish domestic architecture in the crusader states. Writing after the re-conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, Ibn-Khallikan wrote:
"the infidel had rebuilt [Jerusalem] with columns and plaques of marble...with fair fountains where the water never ceased to flow--one saw dwellings as agreeable as gardens and brilliant with the whiteness of marble; the columns with their foliage seemed like trees." (quoted in Hazard, p. 138.)
A close-up of the capitals in the crusader cloisters at Bethlehem. (Photo by the author)

Yet only scattered fragments of this sophisticated urban secular architecture from the crusader period have survived into the present. Even these remains have largely been obscured by subsequent changes in style and function that obscure crusader structures almost beyond recognition. 

Descriptions such as those cited above as well as systematic analysis of the archeological evidence nevertheless enables us to imagine a great deal. Here is a short summary:

Due to a general scarcity of wood, the basic building material in the Middle East in the crusader period was stone and/or brick. The latter, and often the former, was plastered over and whitewashed, both inside and out, or faced with marble in the case of important and representational buildings. The floors of poorer dwellings were either beaten earth or cut out of the bedrock, while upper floors were plaster. In wealthier homes the floors were usually flagstone on the ground floor, marble or mosaic. Courtyards were usually paved with cobbles.

The basic building block of houses in the Holy Land were vaults. Barrel vaults were the easiest and most fundamental building block and could be stacked on top of one another at perpendicular angles for several stories. A good example of this is the Hospitaller Castle of Kolossi. Below are three images of vaulted chambers: one an upstairs chamber from the Hospitaller castle at Kolossi, one a cellar from the Byzantine/Crusader castle of St. Hilarion, and the third showing a wine or oil press in the ground-floor chamber, something very common in the crusader kingdoms.

Groin vaults and rib-vaults, however, was also common, particularly in larger structures such as palaces, monasteries, customs houses, and the like. Here is an image of beautiful vaulting from Bellapais Monastery on Cyprus.

Most houses in the crusader states appear to have had at least one, and in urban areas -- particularly in the 13th century -- as many as three upper floors. The upper floors were often reached by means of an external stairway over a arch (see photo below), or by means of internal wooden stairs or even ladders through trap doors. In larger, rural structures, stairs could also be built into the thickness of the walls. Bellow are pictures of exterior stairs from Kythera, which are similar to what is described in crusader urban architecture.

Most buildings in the Middle East were crowned, then as now, by flat roofs, which were sometimes decoratively crenelated. The roof provided additional living or work space in the form of a roof-top terrace that could be shaded from the sun by canvas awnings, or a vine arbor. Whether used as a terrace or not, rooftops almost always collected rain water in a cistern.  Indeed, even the poorest and smallest of urban dwellings had cisterns, often several. All had settlement tanks to help purify the water.  Water could be pumped from these tanks to the kitchens or latrines. 

Many urban dwellings were built around one or a series of courtyards. These in turn contained cisterns or sometimes wells, kitchen and formal gardens, or working space, depending on the wealth of the occupant. The courtyard below in Jerusalem has many medieval elements and does not look so very different from what it could have looked like in the 12th century.

The courtyard in the next photo is from the Hospitaller headquarters in Acre. It is an example of a more spectacular, 13th century courtyard and only relevant for public buildings, but it is indicative of style, taste and crusader capabilities.

In poorer neighborhoods, several dwellings were clustered around a large, communal courtyard and shared the space space and water.

Despite the prevalence of courtyards, Frankish houses were not inward-looking. Unlike their Arab contemporaries, the houses of the rich had beautiful balconies and logias that looked out over the streets from the upper stories. The roof of the logia in urban areas might be supported either by an arcade or by pillars. Some of these pillars were reclaimed Roman pillars, employed in a new function, but the Franks were skilled at producing pillars themselves and the capitals of these were famous -- even among their enemies -- for the lifelike quality of their decoration. In rural settings the logia could be even more dramatic as in the example below from St. Hilarion on Cyprus.

The working class on the other hand had workshops and store fronts that opened onto the street at ground level. 

Doors throughout the Frankish territories from the mid-12th century until the end of Frankish rule were usually made by a wide, slightly pointed arch. This arch, borrowed from the Arabs before the beginning of true Gothic architecture in the West, was the dominant, indeed iconic, shape of crusader architecture. Poorer dwellings, however, usually had square doors, and secondary/back doors even on wealthier dwellings might also be square.

Windows could be either arched or square, with the Romanesque forms of “double-” or “triple-light” windows as common in the Holy Land as in the countries of the crusaders’ origin. Below are two examples of windows from St. Hilarion and Krak de Chevaliers respectively.

Because there were major glass producing centers in the crusader states (notably Tyre and Beirut), window glazing was more common in the crusader states than in the West, a fact supported by both archaeological finds and descriptions. Below are examples of crusader glass manufacture. While the context is different, this glass demonstrates the very high quality of the industry generally.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Frankish window glazing consisted either of plate glass or round glass set in plaster (the latter being presumably much cheaper and more common). Below left is an example of the round glass technique used here in the Templar Church in Famagusta, Cyprus.  The same technique is still in use today (right) on Kythera.


As the description at the start of this essay indicated, interior d├ęcor could include poly-chrome marble, but mosaics and glazed tiles may also have been used. Certainly, a wide variety of crusader glazed pottery has been found, using cream colors, yellows, greens and blues. The pottery gives us some indication of what colors and motifs could have been used on floor and wall tiles, although the evidence is lacking. Below is an example of crusader pottery.

However, we also know that the Turks and Saracens were very fond of brilliant blues and turquoise tiles in later centuries, and these may also have been available to the crusaders. At least I like to imagine it so! Below is an example of modern tile work just to hint at the possibilities.

As for mosaics, the description at the start of the article is perhaps the best indication of quality and the fact that life-like motifs were possible in the crusader era. However, we should not forget that mosaics floors were very common in the Roman and Byzantine periods, and the many crusader residences in fact dated from earlier periods and retained these older tiles. Below is a picture of tiles that date back the 4th century AD and were allegedly commissioned by St. Helena. Particularly under the influence of the Byzantine brides of Baldwin III and Amalric I, Byzantine styles and artists were welcomed and employed in the crusader kingdoms. They would easily have produced tiles similar to this example from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Last but not least, as the contemporary written descriptions stress, no description of urban architecture in the crusader states would be complete without reference to gardens. Frankish elites oriented their houses so that their (glazed) windows looked out at either views (such as the ocean) or gardens. The Holy Land offered a variety of beautiful vegetation from trees such a palms and olives, lemons and pomegranates, to flowers such as hibiscus and oleander. Frankish gardens would have been beautiful indeed.  So to conclude, here is a picture of a garden in the crusader church of St. Anne in Jerusalem today.

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:

In all my novels, I attempt to portray daily life as accurately as possible, which includes portraying domestic architecture as it was -- from the cross vaulted ceilings to the mosaic or marble floor, from the loges to the gardens. 

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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:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Jews in the Crusader States

Everyone has heard how the crusaders slaughtered all the inhabitants of the Jerusalem when they captured the city by storm on July 15, 1099. Among the dead were allegedly the entire Jewish population of Jerusalem at the time.  We also know that long before the first crusaders reached Jerusalem, in 1096, Jewish communities in the Rhineland were attacked and massacred mercilessly, and that all subsequent crusades were likewise accompanied by greater or lesser outbreaks of violence against Jews in Western Europe. It may therefore come as a surprise that Jews in the crusader states themselves suffered no persecution. On the contrary, by the end of the 13th century, the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem had become home to a flourishing community of Jews and a major center of Talmudic studies.

How was this possible and how did it come about?

Although Robert Chazan[i] traces the roots of anti-Semitism to the start of the 11th century, when the Jews were complicit in the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by the Fatimid caliph in 1009, there is strong evidence that the crusades intensified anti-Semitic feelings among large portions of the population of Western Europe. Daniel P. Franke[ii] rightly points out that the Popes ― right into the 15th century ― maintained a policy of tolerance, quoting from a papal bull in 1120, which states:

We decree that no Christian shall use violence to force [Jews] into baptism while they are unwilling and refuse… Moreover…no Christian shall presume to wound their persons, or kill them, or rob them of their money… Furthermore, while they celebrate their festivals, no one shall disturb them in any way.[iii]

Yet the very fact that 23 popes of the 12th to 15th centuries felt compelled to re-issue this directive underlines the fact that violence against the Jews continued across Western Europe. Certainly the attacks on Jews by the first crusaders spread from Speyer to Worms, Mainz, Trier, Metz, Regensburg, and Prague.  Some historians argue they were not confined to the German-speaking world, but also spread to France. Certainly, England saw a terrible outbreak of violent anti-Semitism in association with Richard I’s coronation in 1190. King (Saint) Louis IX went so far as to elevate Jewish persecution to state policy, although there were less spontaneous acts of violence against them than elsewhere in Europe. So why not in the Holy Land itself?

The initial contact between crusaders and Jews had been bitter. The Jews actively supported the Muslim defenders of Jerusalem, Haifa, and other cities of the Holy Land. When these cities fell to assault, the Jews were massacred along with the Muslim defenders; when the cities agreed to terms, they were allowed to withdraw with their portable goods and chattels. Within ten years, most Jews, who were predominantly urban-dwellers, had been driven out of the territories held by the crusaders. In Jerusalem itself, a ban prohibited Jews from ever re-settling in the Holy City.

Yet there is ample evidence of the fact that the Jews remained or returned to other cities ― or never left at all. Records show there were large Jewish communities in Tyre and Acre, smaller communities in Ascalon and elsewhere.  Furthermore, there were two dozen villages occupied entirely by Jews in Galilee, between Tiberias and Nablus.

Even more astonishing and significant: the First Crusade sparked a Jewish messianic movement.  According to Prawer, “in some communities the Jews sold their property and waited for the Messiah who would bring them to Jerusalem.” [iv] Certainly, the establishment of the crusader states and regular trade and pilgrimage traffic between the Holy Land and Western Europe allowed European Jews to undertake the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and other sacred places in the Holy Land.  The pilgrim traffic to the crusader states included a significant portion of Jews ― and like their Christian counterparts, many of these chose to stay in the Holy Land after they arrived.

They were encouraged to do so not merely by the proximity to their holy sites, but by the prevailing atmosphere of tolerance in the crusader states ― in sharp contrast to the situation “at home” in Western Europe. Precisely because the Frankish elite was a minority in the crusader states, they were dependent upon the cooperation and contribution of a variety of native inhabitants. The majority of these were other kinds of Christians ― Melkites, Maronites and Jacobites, Armenian, Abyssinians and Copts ― but there was also a large Muslim population. People in the Holy Land had to learn to deal with all of them; Jews were just one more “flavor” in the mix.

This social tolerance was underpinned by the laws of the crusader states that did not discriminate against Jews either. Rather, Jews were treated the same way as Muslims and non-Latin Christians in that they were allowed to retain their own laws and customs, living according to their own traditions and celebrating their festivals and rites without interference. In consequence, there were rabbinical courts in both Acre and Tyre (and possibly Tiberias), and Palestine in the crusader period was one of only three centers in the world for Talmudic Study.

Furthermore, the Jews continued to pursue respected professions such as medicine, and took part in commercial activities. There is no evidence that they were required to wear distinctive clothing or live in segregated communities, although it is almost certain that, like the remaining Muslim population, they were subject to additional taxes.

In addition, there was still a large Samaritan population. (Note: Samaritans accept only the first five books of the Hebrew bible as divinely inspired.) Although many Samaritans had been driven into exile across the Middle East, the center of Samaritan worship and scholarship was located in Nablus, and this was where the largest Samaritan population was concentrated in the crusader era. The Samaritans appear to have flourished under crusader rule and a large number of Torah scrolls produced by Samaritans have survived, suggesting a flourishing of activities rather than the reverse.

To be sure, the Jews welcomed Saladin’s victories because he allowed Jews to re-settle in Jerusalem, but within a few decades the situation there had become too precarious. In 1229, the Sultan al-Kamil handed Jerusalem back to Fredrick II Hohenstaufen for ten years, and the Emperor immediately re-imposed the anti-Jewish ban. The Turkoman invasion of 1244 resulted in the sack of Jerusalem, and the Mongol raids of the 1260s made life in and around Jerusalem dangerous. Yet tellingly, the Jews moved not further east to Damascus and Aleppo, but rather preferred to live in the remaining crusader cities, notably Tyre and Acre.

As a result, from the second quarter of the 13th century until its fall, Acre became a vibrant Jewish center, a “cross-section of the different communities of the Diaspora. The leading elements were Jews from Spain and from northern and southern France, in addition to eastern Jews, whether Palestinian-born or from neighboring Moslem, countries…Here a Talmudic academy continued the tradition of the French Tosafists, whereas rabbi Salomon Petit expounded the Kabbala and Spanish Jews continued their own tradition.”[v]

Tragically, despite Islam’s vaunted “tolerance” for Judiasm, this Jewish center and the entire Jewish community that fed and surrounded it were exterminated mercilessly by al-Ashraf Khalil when he captured Acre in 1291.

 Daily life, including tolerance for Jews, is depicted as accurately as possible in my award-winning novels set in Outremer:

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[i] Chazan, Robert. “1007-1012: Initial Crisis for Northern European Jewry,” in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 38/39. 1970-1971, p. 101.
[ii] Franke, Daniel P.. “The Crusades and Medieval anti-Semitism: Cause or Consequence” in Seven Myths of the Crusades. Editors Andrea, Alfred J. and Andrew Holt. Hackett, 2015
[iii] Franke, p. 61
[iv] Prawer, Joshua. “Social Classes in the Crusader States: the ‘Minorities” in A History of the Crusades Volume 5: The Impact of the Crusade on the Near East. Editors Hazard, Harry M. and Norman P. Zacour. University of Wisconsin Press, 1985, p. 97.
[v] Prawer, p. 101.