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Monday, April 24, 2023

The Economy of the Crusader States: Industry and Manufacturing

The industrial sector in the crusader states was less well-developed than tourism, but it was far from insignificant. Agro-processing played an important role, while other industries grew out of the tourist trade and the region’s religious significance. Many of these industries — at least those we know about today — entailed the production of high-margin luxury products.

The revival of agriculture in the Levant led to a revival in agro-processing as well, and the most crucial agro-industry of the crusader kingdoms was a relatively new development: sugar. Prior to the arrival of the Franks, preparation of a primitive sweetener from sugar cane was conducted only at the household level. It was the Franks who transformed sugar production into an extensive and highly lucrative industry. The driving force behind this development may have been the importance of sugar as an ingredient for the medicines of this period. Both the Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights were active producing and refining sugar not for export but for use in their hospitals.

Sugar production was capital intensive. It required investment in both plantation-style production and refining. Highly sophisticated irrigation networks were needed that could both feed and starve specific fields successively to ensure a constant and regulated flow of ripe sugar to water-powered factories. Because sugar cannot be transported far after harvesting without losing its sweetness, the Franks built numerous factories close to the cane fields along the coast and in the Jordan Valley. When the Franks took control of Cyprus, they introduced large-scale sugar manufacturing to Cyprus. In both Jerusalem and Cyprus, the investment paid off handsomely. The West had an insatiable demand for this luxury product, and profit margins were high, making sugar one of the most profitable industries of the crusader states.

Another agro-based industry was wine. Wine production was widespread across the crusader states from Antioch and Latakia down the entire coast, in the region around Jerusalem, and Cyprus. Written records describe pruning methods facilitating the production of three crop yields from a single vine per year. Travellers to the Holy Land in this period attest to the high quality of the wines produced in the crusader states, particularly around Bethlehem. Cypriot wines were even more coveted.

Olive-oil manufacturing is another ancient Near East industry that continued and intensified under the Franks. Despite nearly ubiquitous oil production throughout the crusader states, most was consumed domestically rather than exported. This may be, in part, because oil was an essential ingredient of a more lucrative export, namely soap. Soap was known to have been produced in Tripoli, Nablus and Acre on the mainland and in Paphos in Cyprus. Soap is a major product of Nablus until this day.

Another cluster of agro-industries was based on livestock, namely tanning and the production of leather goods. Once tanned, the leather could be fashioned into a variety of products. These were popular because leather was one of the few comparatively flexible waterproof materials available in this era. For example, leather was used for footwear (shoes and boots), gloves, bags and purses, cloaks, saddles and other tack, but also for book covers and parchment.

Pottery has been produced across the Eastern Mediterranean since prehistoric times. In the Crusades era, high-quality pottery was produced in the Byzantine Empire and in Syria and Egypt. While higher quality wares were imported (Chinese porcelain has been recorded among the imports), the domestic pottery production in the mainland crusader states served everyday purposes and was a ‘consumable’ of comparatively low value. These objects were made of buff or red-coloured clay, and some were decorated with red or brown designs on a pale background. One popular variant of cooking pots and pans was glazed on the inside to prevent food from sticking, the medieval equivalent of Teflon. The Franks introduced pottery production to Cyprus, and from 1220 onwards, kilns operated in Paphos, Lapithos and near Famagusta. Over time, the quality of Cypriot pottery increased and developed distinctive characteristics. Cypriot pottery was glazed and adopted motifs and images drawn from the romances of the period.

Glass manufacturing is another ancient industry that continued under the Franks. Jewish sources indicate that much glass manufacturing was in Jewish hands, but there is no indication that the Jews had a monopoly on this lucrative business. Contemporary accounts testify to the high quality of crusader-era glass, which was extremely transparent.

Window glass was either round panes or plate glass and could be clear or stained. Fragments of dark and light purple, blue, turquoise, dark and light green, yellow and brown stained glass have been found. Colourless glass painted with decoration has also been recovered.

Glass was blown to create various vessels, including lamps, bottles, bowls, jars, cups and goblets. Some of the lamps were blue or greenish blue, and some had glass handles of a different colour. Bottles with long necks and a decorated, flaring rim appear to have been quite popular with the Franks, possibly for perfume. Cups, beakers and goblets, all for drinking wine, were also produced in significant numbers, some in light-blue and light-green glass. Beirut, on the other hand, was famous for its ruby-red glass.

Glass in this period might also be etched or cut to create decorations. Some vessels were inscribed with names, sayings, warnings or blessings. Other forms of decoration were ‘prunting’, small protrusions of glass applied to the exterior surface that presumably made it easier to hold — perhaps for chilled wines and sherbets which caused exterior water condensation in hot weather. More elaborate and expensive decoration consisted of enamel decorations on the finished glass object. The production of enameled glass was recorded in Acre. The most common decorations popular with the Franks were heraldic devices, flowers and plants, animals, birds and mythological beasts.

Textile production was both diverse and plentiful. Despite its fragility, thousands of textile fragments from the crusader era have been discovered, including silk, cotton, linen, felt and wool, as well as cloth woven from goat and camel hair. Many fragments are composed of hybrid fabrics, i.e., material woven together from a warp of one kind of yarn and weft of another, e.g., silk woven with wool, linen or cotton. Written sources also refer to taffeta, buckram and satin as well.

There is documentary evidence that some 4,000 silk weavers settled and worked in the County of Tripoli. Other hubs of silk weaving were Tyre, Gaza and Ascalon. Tyre was famous for its white silk. Beirut exported silk and cotton textiles, and cotton was grown around Acre, Tiberias and Ramla, presumably for use in local manufacturing. The dyeing industry was closely associated with the textile industry and was mainly in Jewish hands.

In Cyprus, sources note the production of samite and camlets for export to both east and west. Perhaps most intriguing of all are references to a hybrid fabric produced by weaving silk with strands of gold. This valuable luxury good was known as ‘siqlatin’, that is ‘silk-Latin’ — presumably because it was manufactured for Latin Christian (Frankish) customers or because it was produced in the Latin (crusader) states.

Except for iron mines near Beirut, the Kingdom of Jerusalem did not have significant metal deposits. Nevertheless, metalworking was an important domestic industry based on imports of raw material from outside the region. It ranged from essential, utilitarian tools to weapons and works of art. A unique but nevertheless low-grade form of metalwork common in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the production of cheap amulets and trinkets as souvenirs for pilgrims and ampullae to collect holy water and holy oil as keepsakes.

On the other hand, examples of high-quality metalwork from the Kingdom of Jerusalem include brass bowls and plates with detailed engravings, as well as organ pipes and church bells found in Bethlehem. More common, however, were religious souvenirs for the wealthiest class of pilgrims: the nobility and princes of the church. These often took the form of reliquaries in gold and silver, often studded with jewels or embellished with enamel. The gold and silversmiths of the crusader states also produced processional crosses and bishop’s crosiers.

In the thirteenth century, Acre became a centre for producing and exporting high-quality composite crossbows. The design of these bows came from the Muslim East, but the Muslim ban against the export of weapons to non-Muslims severely inhibited direct exports to the Latin East, much less Western Europe. However, the necessary raw materials for these effective weapons (glue and horn) could be imported by the Latin East from Damascus, a major weapons manufacturing centre. This enabled Acre’s weapons workshops to develop a near-monopoly on the production of these weapons.

An export even more unique or representative of the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus were icons. Icons had a long tradition in Orthodox Christianity, but it was not until the crusader era that they became fashionable with Latin patrons. The Franks of Outremer developed a taste for icons and contributed to the demand already generated by the local Orthodox population for these decorative and devotional objects. Icon artists mass-produced popular images – such as St. George and the dragon and the Virgin with Christ – for sale as finished products, as well as creating half-finished products that could be modified by the insertion of customised features such as a name or coat-of-arms. When commissioned, the local artists also created original works of art with distinctive features.

Another exceptional and decidedly ‘upmarket’ product of the crusader kingdoms was books — commercially produced books. Many visitors to the Holy Land purchased and returned with manuscripts manufactured in Jerusalem, Acre and, later, Cyprus. As with icons, historians believe popular texts were mass-produced; that is, fashionable works were copied and stored in anticipation of a sale.

Because the largest cost factor in books was illumination, mass-produced books had little or no illumination whatsoever. Such books were affordable objects for the middle classes, such as merchants, lawyers and simple knights of modest means. Only rarely did a wealthy secular or ecclesiastical patron commission a work with extensive illumination. While illuminated pieces were rare, they were more highly treasured and, therefore, better preserved, while the more common, mass-produced unillustrated copies have been mostly lost.

Finally, the crusader kingdoms had an important regional monopoly that extended across an array of economic sectors but was most pronounced in craft industries with a decorative component — e.g. pottery, glass, metal- or leather-working and icons or manuscripts. Namely, the production of objects with Christian motifs. These might be as simple as the popular fish motif on pottery plates and beakers or crosses on candlesticks and cutlery. Christian symbols could also be etched, sewn, drawn or branded onto objects designed for daily use, such as a belt buckle, scarf or bodice, saddle or pair of shoes. Yet, they could just as easily be worked into such luxury items as jewelry. Christians of this period were on the whole conventionally devout and unashamed to express it symbolically. Objects with Christian motifs were popular throughout this period with the entire Christian community of the Middle East. In the case of Christians still living under Muslim rule, Christian symbols were forbidden in public and could not be produced locally, making products from the Latin East that could be concealed even more coveted.


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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Monday, April 17, 2023

The Economy of the Crusader States: Religious Tourism and Financial Services

  Although the costs of protecting and maintaining the holy shrines of Christianity were enormous in both blood and gold, the existence of so many pilgrimage destinations within its borders contributed to the economic base of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In an age before the concept of ‘tourism’ had evolved, the Kingdom of Jerusalem had a thriving tourism industry, complete with high and low seasons and other characteristics of modern mass tourism.


 The news that Jerusalem had returned to Christian control had barely reached Europe before the first ships carrying pilgrims set out. At the start of the twelfth century, these ships were small, taking on average only fifty passengers in addition to cargo. Soon, however, to meet the enormous demand, specialised ‘pilgrim’ ships with a capacity for 200 passengers were built. By the thirteenth century, pilgrim ships could take as many as 1,500 passengers per voyage.

The Templars and Hospitallers both engaged in this trade. Records show, for example, that the Port of Marseilles restricted the military orders to two large passenger transports twice per year, presumably to ensure that the bulk of the trade went to local shipowners. Undoubtedly, the military orders transported passengers from other ports as well, mainly Messina, Taranto and Brindisi. Assuming the same number of ships per port, the military orders alone would have transported 48,000 pilgrims to the Holy Land each year. Meanwhile, the majority of pilgrims would have travelled aboard commercial ships owned by local shipowners or the Italian maritime powers such as Venice, Pisa and Genoa. The number of Western pilgrims travelling annually to the Holy Land easily topped 100,000. In addition, pilgrims came from the Byzantine Empire, from Egypt and as far away as Ethiopia, if in smaller numbers. In short, in good years the number of tourists must have approached 120,000.

Nor did the tourist trade disappear when the Christians lost control over Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and the Jordan River. Throughout the thirteenth century, the pilgrims continued to come, passing through the coastal ports still in Frankish hands like Acre, before embarking on the dangerous journey through Muslim-held territory to reach the holy sites. When such travel became too hazardous — and there are many recorded incidents of pilgrims being killed, kidnapped or robbed while travelling in Muslim territory in the thirteenth century — the Church began offering indulgences and remission of temporal punishment for visiting specific sites in Acre and possibly other Frankish cities. In short, throughout its existence, the Kingdom of Jerusalem accommodated massive numbers of tourists compared to the size of the resident population.

The pilgrims arrived in two great waves, one at the end of the stormy season in the spring and the other just before the storms resumed in October. During these peak periods, hundreds of pilgrim ships clogged the harbors of the kingdom, particularly Acre. Like today, the pilgrims differed in the capacity to pay and in their expectations for services. The very wealthy could charter entire ships for themselves, their companions, entourage and servants, ensuring more comfortable accommodation, increased security and higher-quality food. The less affluent but still well-off could take advantage of ‘all-inclusive package deals’, which included transportation, food, beverage and servants for the duration of the voyage. The poorest were packed together in the bowels or on the open deck of cargo ships and brought their own food with them for a trip that averaged three to six weeks. 

The Kingdom of Jerusalem, meanwhile, developed a sophisticated economic sector dedicated to meeting the needs of these tourists on arrival. This included accommodation, food and entertainment, outfitting, livery and transport services, interpreters, guides and security services for visits to the more distant and isolated destinations, and, of course, souvenirs such as reliquaries, icons and religious jewelry, all of which were produced and sold in the kingdom. Meanwhile, the passenger ships needed refitting for the return voyage, and so chandleries and repair yards also flourished. Altogether, the religious tourist industry created thousands of urban jobs.

The diverse origins of the pilgrims meant they also took advantage of another key service sector in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, money exchanges. Nevertheless, it was not until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that financial services became a main economic sector in the crusader states — in Cyprus rather than Jerusalem. The Italian banks established representatives in Nicosia, turning it into a centre for lending — much to the outrage of the local archbishop, who railed against usury. Indeed, the archbishop noted a variety of shady practices that had the effect of raising interest rates far above the accepted norms. These included fake sales, i.e., the borrowers purchased fictitious goods and sold them back at a loss, imaginary penalties for fabricated late payments, and making the borrower sign for a larger sum than was received. ‘The fact that borrowers were clearly prepared to go along with such subterfuges, however, despite the unethical character and the high rates of interest they had to pay, shows that there was a strong demand for capital that was to be used to finance commercial ventures’.[i]

[i] Nicholas Coureas, ‘Economy’, in Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191-1374, eds. Angel Nicolaou-Konnari and Christopher Schabel (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 127.

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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Monday, April 10, 2023

The Economy of the Crusader States: Agriculture

The Holy Land is the proverbial land of ‘milk and honey’, a fertile region with a moderate climate and sufficient rainfall to support ancient and medieval population levels in abundance.  When the crusaders first arrived, however, they did not find a garden of Eden but rather an underpopulated region with encroaching deserts. In less than a hundred years the Franks had transformed the landscape to be net-exporters of agricultural produce.


The decline of the region started with the Arab conquests which were characterized by the wholesale slaughter and enslavement of large portions of the rural population. Those natives who could, fled to the walled cities, abandoning their farms and fields, but tens of thousands were not so lucky and were killed or carried off. In the wake of the Muslim armies came Muslim immigrants who expropriated land, dwellings and entire villages from the remaining native inhabitants. The bulk of these new residents from the Arabian Peninsula, however, were herders, not farmers. They did not plant the fields they confiscated. Instead, they let their herds graze on them until they were largely worthless.

While the triumphant Muslim conquerors enjoyed a lavish and luxurious lifestyle in flourishing urban centres, the native rural population was subject to extra taxes and the payment of annual “tribute.” The chronicles of Muslims, Christians and Jews document the disparity between the lifestyle of the urban elites — including ‘dhimmis,’ i.e. Christians and Jews — and that of the rural poor. The result was a further decline in the rural population and an increased loss of agricultural productivity. And then the Seljuks came.

The Seljuks repeated the age-old pattern of conquest, accompanied by wide-scale destruction, slaughter and the enslavement of captives. On the eve of the crusades in the late twelfth century, the Byzantine historian Anna Comnena described the Near East’s once prosperous and fertile regions as a desert inhabited by Turkish nomads. While this was clearly an exaggeration, Arab, Syriac and Armenian sources corroborate the fact that, across the Holy Land, not only churches and synagogues but entire villages and towns had been abandoned. Agricultural productivity had fallen to a minimum, and desertification was on the rise.

The Frankish feudal lords, in contrast to the Arabs and Seljuks elites, had always derived their wealth from agriculture. They were quick to recognize the agricultural potential of the Holy Land. They set about improving the yield of the land by making strategic investments. The large number of ecclesiastical landlords in the crusader states was beneficial because they could draw on substantial capital reserves from their mother institutions. Furthermore, monastic institutions in Western Europe had long been at the cutting edge of agricultural technology and innovation. Yet, it was not church lands alone that benefitted from investment. Crown and baronial lands also enjoyed investment in such features as terracing, aqueducts, the clearing and opening of springs and wells, the filling of water reservoirs and the construction of wind and water-powered mills to pump water into newly laid irrigation canals and ditches. In addition, the Franks built roads for transporting products to market.

Such investment benefited the native rural population, who could increase productivity on the land they held. Furthermore, the Franks increased the amount of land under cultivation by actively recruiting agricultural labor from the West. Roughly 140,000 Latin Christians immigrated to the Holy Land in the first 80 years of the twelfth century; a sizeable portion of those appear to have moved to rural communities. The immigrants were attracted by free status, low rents, an almost complete absence of feudal labor services, modern infrastructure and proximity to the holiest sites in Christendom.

Archaeological surveys conducted at the end of the last century demonstrate that the Franks settled predominantly near existing Christian settlements. Notably, unlike the Arab settlers of the previous four centuries, ‘the Franks did not evict the local villagers from their homes. Most of the Frankish villages were established in places which had been abandoned before the arrival of the Franks or in places which were outside the boundaries of the previous villages.’[i] In other words, the Franks took over land that had been abandoned, allowed to lie fallow or had become semi-desert due to overgrazing and neglect.

Once in the Holy Land, the rural immigrants integrated with the local Christian population, using the same markets, baths, shops, tradesmen and even churches. Intermarriage with native Christians was common. The typical rural village of this period had between 500 and 600 inhabitants, composed of farmers and skilled craftsmen such as carpenters, metal workers, butchers, bakers and the like.

In some regions, however, the depopulation of previous centuries had been so significant that the land could support the creation of new villages inhabited exclusively by immigrants. These purely Frankish villages demonstrated some unique features such as collective ovens, collective oil and wine presses, large granaries and sometimes sugar factories. Communal ovens and mills were often co-located since the lord of the manor generally held both; instances of baths built to exploit the heat of the ovens also have been found. Exclusively Frankish settlements also differed from older native communities by being planned rather than growing haphazardly. Some villages spread out along a road; others were built in concentric circles around a new manor house, church or other central focal point such as a mill, granary or oil and wine press. The focal point of the latter type of village often served several satellite villages as well. The remains of manor houses, both fortified and unfortified, testify to the presence of the feudal elite in these villages.  

Initially, the new settlers must have been highly dependent on the native rural population to adjust to a new environment. They would have had to learn about the Near East’s weather patterns, which differed from the soggy, cool climate of France, England and the Holy Roman Empire, whence they had come. They would have been required to adjust their patterns of sowing and harvesting to different growing seasons. They would have needed to become familiar with different breeds of livestock, including goats and camels. They would also have been confronted with unfamiliar crops such as dates, sugar cane, figs, bananas and citrus fruits. Lastly, they would have had to learn to work with old-fashioned, oxen-drawn ploughs rather than the more effective horse-drawn ones long used in Europe. This was because the soil of the Near East was too shallow; a European-type plough would have dried out and killed the crops.

Soon, however, rural Franks were doing more than adapting; they were expanding and diversifying agricultural production. Wine and pork production, both of which had been neglected under Muslim rule, were ramped up, while sugar and olive oil production were industrialized to produce surpluses for export. Other cash crops were rice, cotton, indigo and balsam.

Orchards were another ubiquitous feature of the Frankish countryside, surrounding many of the urban centres. In addition to olive orchards and vineyards, the Franks cultivated almonds, pistachios, dates, figs, bananas, lemons, oranges, apples, pears, cherries, peaches, pomegranates, plums and carob. Vegetables represented another important agricultural product of the region, although these were grown primarily for domestic or household consumption. These included beans, lentils, cabbages, onions, garlic, artichokes, cucumbers, melons and mustard.

A wide variety of livestock thrived in the Near East and was cultivated by the Franks. Most essential for food were sheep, goats, pigs and fowl, while horses, mules, camels and donkeys were raised as beasts of burden. Oxen held an ambidextrous position, used for milk, meat and leather, but also for ploughing. Finally, fish formed an vital part of the medieval diet due to fasting rules that limited meat consumption in certain periods. The demand for fresh fish in the booming coastal cities exceeded local capacity to deliver. In addition to Pisan and Genoese fisherman, Jewish fisherman from as far away as Alexandria fished in the waters of the Levant and offloaded cargoes at the Frankish ports.

One form of livestock was particularly valuable: war horses. Despite the development of specialised horse transports, many crusaders and armed pilgrims arrived in the Holy Land without adequate mounts because many horses died of illness or were killed or permanently injured in accidents during the long journey. Even those horses that survived the trip could not always adapt to the Near East’s climate and diet. Last but not least, combat took a heavy toll on horses. The demand for replacement mounts was therefore enormous and could only be met by the local market. The horses bred in the surrounding Muslim states could be of exceptional quality for what they were bred for: speed and agility. As a rule, however, they lacked the stamina and strength required of a knight’s palfrey or destrier, both of which were expected to carry a man in full armor either for extended periods (the palfrey) or in intensive and rapid charges (the destrier). The Franks of Outremer cultivated the breeding of horses to Western standards in numbers exceeding their needs. It was undoubtedly a lucrative business. Knights arriving in the Holy Land without mounts were prepared to pay exorbitant prices to regain their military capabilities and status, both of which were lost without horses.

Despite the retention of the fertile coastal plain with its orchards, gardens and sugar factories, the thirteenth century saw a shift in agricultural production away from the Kingdom of Jerusalem to the Kingdom of Cyprus. Under the Lusignans, Cyprus’ export of surplus production of staples such as wheat, wine, oil, pulses, carob and salt were diverted from Constantinople to the Frankish states on the mainland. The Cypriot agricultural economy was significantly more diverse than that of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In addition to the familiar products of wheat, barley, rye, wine, olive oil and sugar, Cyprus exported salted fish, salt, onions, honey, wax and candlesticks, soap, cotton and silk textiles, pine resin and indigo. It produced cheese, timber, flax, cotton and rice for domestic consumption. The primary agricultural exports were wheat, barley, wine, olive oil, salt, fish, sugar and carob, while the other export products were less substantial in quantity, although not necessarily less in value.

A noteworthy feature of agricultural development in Cyprus under the Lusignans was the employment of highly sophisticated and efficient techniques at the cutting edge of medieval technology. Archaeological excavations show that waterpower was used extensively, including horizontal wheels with vertical millstones (a recent innovation) and water recycling from mills for use in irrigation and fishponds.

[i] Ronnie Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 96.

The bulk of this entry is derived 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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