Excerpt from "The Capture of Jerusalem, 1244," in Matthew of Paris's Chronica Majora (1258)
Originally written by Master of the Hospitallers at Jerusalem, Tolord de Melaye; Reprinted in "Letters of the Crusaders," Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History; Translated by Dana C. Munro; Published in 1896
Excerpt from "The Fall of Acre, 1291," in Description of the Holy Land and the Way Thither (1350)
Originally written by Ludolph of Suchem; Reprinted in The Crusades: A Documentary History; Edited by James Brundage; Published in 1962
The thirteenth century brought an end to the Crusader states in the Holy Land. These Christian kingdoms had held on from their creation in 1099 by a combination of aid from Europe; military strength provided by their fighting religious orders, such as the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitallers; and a complex policy of playing off one Muslim enemy against another. The Crusaders, who at the time of the First Crusade were angry at Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire for his tricky dealings with the Muslims, had learned such lessons well over the years. They became very good at double-dealing as well, making treaties with one group of Muslims in order to hurt another, stronger group. There was even talk of making an alliance with the Mongols, that warrior-like tribe from Central Asia that was tearing the Middle East apart in the thirteenth century.
However, the Crusaders were not just playing politics against the Muslims; they were also battling each other. As the size of the Crusader states grew smaller and smaller under pressure from Muslim fighters, the Crusaders began turning against one another, fighting over territory and policy. They even imported conflicts from Europe, as seen in the following selections. The divisions between the various Muslim groups, caused by family or dynasty, and the competing branches of Islam had allowed the Crusaders to capture the Holy Land in the first place. Now the Crusaders were becoming as divided as the Muslims had been, with one state or city making treaties with the Turks or the Egyptians so that they could better compete against another Crusader state.
Of the four original states, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Principality of Antioch, little remained by the twelfth century, and it was in much weakened condition. Edessa was lost to the Muslims in 1144, and part of it was sold off to the Byzantine Empire. Jerusalem was lost in 1187 but won back by Frederick II in 1229 by treaty rather than war. That situation would also change, as shown in the following letter from the master, or chief, Hospitaller of Jerusalem describing the sack of the city by a Turkish Muslim force. After 1244 it was all downhill for the Crusaders. The central city for the Kingdom of Jerusalem became the fortified port of Acre, and, to the north, Tripoli and Antioch joined together under one leader. Smaller cities, such as Beirut and Tyre, also were fortified and held on until the very end against the Muslims, as did some of the famous forts, such as Krak des Chevaliers of the Hospitallers.
The fall of Jerusalem in 1244 contributed to the mounting of the last great Crusade to the Holy Land. The Seventh Crusade (1248–54), led by France's Louis IX, struck in Egypt, as had the Fifth Crusade. Like that earlier one, it, too, was a failure for the Christians. But from the Muslim point of view, it signaled the rebirth of Islam. Out of the chaos of that Crusade was born the Mamluk, or slave, dynasty of Egypt, a ruling line that lasted for several centuries and that unified much of the Middle East. These Mamluks were of mostly Turkish origin and were raised as professional soldiers. By 1260 they had become so powerful that they took over Egypt from their former masters. Led by the famous military ruler Baybars, the Mamluks drove the Crusaders into an ever-smaller corner of the Middle East. First, however, they had to deal with the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad in 1258 and were threatening the entire Middle East. The Mamluks defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Ayn Jalut in 1260, and then Baybars was free to turn his armies against the Christians. Antioch fell in 1268, and all its defenders were slaughtered. Baybars was no Saladin; although he was as great a general, he did not fight like a gentleman. Women, children, and men alike were killed without mercy.
After his death in 1277, leadership of the Mamluks was taken over by the general Kalavun, who continued to battle both the Crusaders and the Mongols. Kalavun made treaties when necessary and sent his troops into battle when such diplomacy did not work, taking Tripoli by force in 1289. By 1291 his son, al-Ashraf al-Khalil, had taken over as sultan of Egypt and gathered a huge Muslim force of about sixty thousand cavalry (horse-mounted soldiers) and about twice as many foot soldiers at the walls of the last great Crusader city, Acre. This was to be the final curtain for the Crusaders.
Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts about "The Final Good-Bye":
- Although Jerusalem was given back to the Christian Crusaders in 1229, it was impossible to fortify, for the old walls had been destroyed. To secure its position, the Kingdom of Jerusalem made a treaty with the Muslim rulers of Damascus, Syria, who were in conflict with the sultan of Egypt. When these two states went to war with each other, Jerusalem was caught in the middle. The Egyptians hired a tribe of Turks, the Khwarismians, to fight along with them, and these Turks swept into the Holy Land, capturing Jerusalem in 1244.
- The fall of Jerusalem in 1244 brought about the Seventh Crusade, which, in turn, helped create the powerful Mamluk dynasty in Egypt.
- So divided had the Crusaders become in the late thirteenth century that historians note that it was competing Crusaders who urged the Mamluk sultan Kalavun to attack Tripoli in 1289.
- The Crusaders finally united at the threat to Acre, their last stronghold. The military orders gathered their troops there and were aided by soldiers from England, France, and Italy, but it was a situation of having done too little and too late.
- When laying siege to Acre, the Muslims decided that they could not break through the thick walls of the fortified city. Instead, they brought in "sappers," (miners) who dug under the walls, weakening them and ultimately causing them to cave in.
- Written seventy years after the fact, Ludolph of Suchem's account of the fall of Acre in 1291 should be read with care. Like all good travel writers, Ludolph liked to exaggerate and change history for dramatic purposes. His timeline is generally accurate, but his numbers of Islamic soldiers is greatly exaggerated.
Excerpts from "The Capture of Jerusalem, 1244"
To the most potent lord, M. de Melaye, brother G. of Newcastle, by the grace of God, humble master of the holy house at Jerusalem, and guardian of the poor followers of Christ greeting.
From the information contained in our letters, which we have sent to you on each passage, you can plainly enough see how ill the business of the Holy Land has proceeded, on account of the opposition which for a long time existed, at the time of making the truce, respecting the espousing of the cause of the Damascenes against the sultan of Babylon; and now wishing your excellency to be informed of other events since transpired, we have thought it worth our while to inform you that, about the beginning of the summer last past, the sultan of Damascus, and Seisser, sultan of Cracy, who were formerly enemies, made peace and entered into a treaty with the Christians, on the following conditions; namely, that they should restore to the Christians the whole of the kingdom of Jerusalem, and the territory which had been in the possession of the Christians, near the river Jordan, besides some villages which they retained possession of in the mountains, and that the Christians were faithfully to give them all the assistance in their power in attacking the sultan of Babylon.
The terms of this treaty having been agreed to by both parties the Christians began to take up their abode in the Holy City, whilst their army remained at Gazara, in company with that of the aforesaid sultan's, to harass the sultan of Babylon. After they had been some time engaged in that undertaking, patriarch of Jerusalem landed […], and, after taking some slight bodily rest, he was inspired with a longing to visit the sepulchre of our Lord, and set out on that pilgrimage, on which we also accompanied him. After our vow of pilgrimage was fulfilled, we heard in the Holy City that a countless multitude of that barbarous and perverse race, called Choermians, had, at the summons and order of the sultan of Babylon, occupied the whole surface of the country in the furthest part of our territories adjoining Jerusalem, and had put every living soul to death by fire and sword.
A council was on this held by the Christians living at Jerusalem, and … it was prudently arranged that all the inhabitants of the Holy City of both sexes and of every age, should proceed, under escort of a battalion of our knights, to Joppa, as a place of safety and refuge.… After finishing our deliberations, we led the people cautiously out of the city, and had proceeded confidently half the distance, when, owing to the intervention of our old and wily enemy, the devil, a most destructive obstacle presented itself to us; for the aforesaid people raised on the walls of the city some standards, which they found left behind by the fugitives, in order by these means to recall the unwary, by giving them to believe that the Christians who had remained had defeated their adversaries. Some of our fellow Christians hurried after us to recall us, comforting us with pleased countenance, and declaring that standards of the Christians, which they well knew, were raised on the wall of Jerusalem, in token that they had defeated the enemy; and they, having been thus deceived, deceived us also.
We … returned confidently into the Holy City, … many from feelings of devotion, and others in hope of obtaining and retaining possession of their inheritances, rashly and incautiously returned …; we, however, endeavored to dissuade them from this altogether, fearing treachery from these perfidious people, and so went away from them. Not long after our departure, these perfidious Choermians came in great force and surrounded the Christians in the Holy City, making violent assaults on them daily, cutting off all means of ingress and egress to and from the city, and harassing them in various ways, so that, owing to these attacks, hunger and grief, they fell into despair, and all by common consent exposed themselves to the chances and risk of death by the hands of the enemy. They therefore left the city by night, and wandered about in the trackless and desert parts of the mountains till they at length came to a narrow pass, and there they fell into an ambuscade of the enemy, who … attacked them with swords, arrows, stones and other weapons, slew and cut to pieces … about seven thousand men and women, and caused such a massacre that the blood of those of the faith, with sorrow I say it, ran down the sides of the mountain like water. Young men and virgins they hurried off with them into captivity, and retired into the Holy City, where they cut the throats, as of sheep doomed to the slaughter, of the nuns, and aged and infirm men, who, unable to endure the toils of the journey and fight, had fled to the church of the Holy Sepulchre and to Calvary, a place consecrated by the blood of our Lord, thus perpetrating in His holy sanctuary such a crime as the eyes of men had never seen since the commencement of the world.
At length, as the intolerable atrocity of this great crime aroused the devotion of all the Christians to avenge the insult offered to their Creator, it was … agreed that we should all … give battle to these treacherous people. We accordingly attacked them, and fought … till the close of the day, when darkness prevented us from distinguishing our own people from our enemies; immense numbers fell on our side; but four times as many of our adversaries were slain.… On the following … day, the Knights Templars and Hospitalers … invoked assistance from above, together with all the other religious men devoted to this war, and their forces, and the whole army of the Christians … assembled by proclamation under the patriarch, and engaged in a most bloody conflict with the aforesaid Choermians and five thousand Saracen knights, who had recently fought under the sultan of Babylon … ; a fierce attack was made on both sides, as we could not avoid them, for there was a powerful and numerous army on both sides of us. At length, however, we were unable to stand against such a multitude, for fresh and uninjured troops of the enemy continued to come upon us, … and still feeling the effects of the recent battle … we were compelled to give way, abandoning to them the field, with a bloody and dearly bought victory; for great numbers more fell on their side than on ours.
And we were so assisted by Him who is the Saviour of souls, that not a hundred escaped by flight, but, as long as we were able to stand, we mutually exhorted and comforted one another in Christ, and fought so unweariedly and bravely, to the astonishment of our enemies, till we were at length taken prisoners … or fell slain. Hence the enemy afterwards said in admiration to their prisoners: "You voluntarily threw yourselves in the way of death; why was this?" To which the prisoners replied: "We would rather die in battle, and with the death of our bodies obtain glorification for our souls than basely give way and take to flight.…"
In the said battle, then, the power of the Christians was crushed, and the number of slain in both armies was incomputable
Excerpts from "The Fall of Acre, 1291"
After having told of the glories and beauties of Acre, I will now shortly tell you of its fall and ruin, and the cause of its loss, even as I heard the tale told by right truthful men, who well remembered it. While, then, the grand doings of which I have spoken were going on in Acre, at the instigation of the devil there arose a violent and hateful quarrel in Lombardy between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, which brought all evil upon the Christians. Those Lombards who dwelt at Acre took sides in this same quarrel, especially the Pisans and Genoese, both of whom had an exceedingly strong party in Acre. These men made treaties and truces with the Saracens, to the end that they might the better fight against one another within the city. When Pope Urban … heard of this, he grieved for Christendom and for the Holy Land, and sent twelve thousand mercenary troops across the sea to help the Holy Land and Christendom. When these men came across the sea to Acre they did no good, but abode by day and by night in taverns and places of ill repute, took and plundered merchants and pilgrims in the public street, broke the treaty, and did much evil. Melot Sapheraph, Sultan of Babylon, an exceedingly wise man, most potent in arms and bold in action, when he heard of this, and knew of the hateful quarrels of the people of Acre, called together his counselors and held a parliament in Babylon, wherein he complained that the truces had frequently been broken and violated, to the prejudice of himself and his people. After a debate had been held upon this matter, he gathered together a mighty host, and reached the city of Acre without any resistance, because of their quarrels with one another, cutting down and wasting all the vineyards and fruit trees and all the gardens and orchards, which are most lovely thereabout. When the Master of the Templars [William of Beaujeu], a very wise and brave knight, saw this, he feared that the fall of the city was at hand.… He took counsel with his brethren about how peace could be restored, and then went out to meet the Sultan, who was his own very especial friend, to ask him whether they could by any means repair the broken truce. He obtained these terms from the Sultan, to wit, that because of his love for the Sultan and the honor in which the Sultan held him, the broken truce might be restored by every man in Acre paying one Venetian penny. So the Master of the Templars was glad, and, departing from the Sultan, called together all the people and preached a sermon to them in the Church of St. Cross, setting forth how, by his prayers, he had prevailed upon the Sultan to grant that the broken treaty might be restored by a payment of one Venetian penny by each man, that therewith everything might be settled and quieted.… But when the people heard this, they cried out with one voice that he was the betrayer of the city, and was guilty of death. The Master, when he heard this, left the church, hardly escaped alive from the hands of the people, and took back their answer to the Sultan. When the Sultan heard this, knowing that, owing to the quarrels of the people, none of them would make any resistance, he pitched his tents, set up sixty machines, dug many mines beneath the city walls, and for forty days and nights, without any respite, assailedthe city with fire, stones, and arrows, so that [the air] seemed to be stiff with arrows.… There were at that time in the Sultan's army six hundred thousand armed, divided into three companies; so one hundred thousand continually besieged the city, and when they were weary another hundred thousand took their place before the same, two hundred thousand stood before the gates of the city ready for battle, and the duty of the remaining two hundred thousand was to supply them with everything that they needed. The gates were never closed, nor was there an hour of the day without some hard fight being fought against the Saracens by the Templars or other brethren dwelling therein. But the numbers of the Saracens grew so fast that after one hundred thousand of them had been slain two hundred thousand came back. Yet, even against all this host, they would not have lost the city had they but helped one another faithfully; but when they were fighting without the city, one party would run away and leave the other to be slain, … and each one knew and believed his own castle and place to be so strong that he cared not for any other's castle or strong place. During this confusion the masters and brethren of the Orders alone defended themselves, and fought unceasingly against the Saracens, until they were nearly all slain; indeed, the Master and brethren of the house of the Teutonic Order, together with their followers and friends, all fell dead at one and the same time.… At last the fulfillment of their sins and the time of the fall of the city drew near; when the fortieth day of its siege was come, in the year of our Lord one thousand two hundred and ninety-two [actual date was 1291], on the twelfth day of the month of May, the most noble and glorious city of Acre, the flower, chief and pride of all the cities of the East, was taken. The people of the other cities, to wit, Jaffa, Tyre, Sidon and Ascalon, when they heard this, left all their property behind and fled to Cyprus.… We read in the stories of the loss of Acre that because of the sins of the people thereof the four elements fought on the side of the Saracens. First the air became so thick, dark, and cloudy that, while one castle, palace, or strong place was being stormed or burned, men could hardly see in the other castles and palaces, until their castles and palaces were attacked, and then for the first time they would have willingly defended themselves, could they have come together. Fire fought against the city, for it consumed it. Earth fought against the city, for it drank up its blood. Water also fought against the city, for it being the month of May, wherein the sea is wont to be very calm, when the people of Acre plainly saw that because of their sins and the darkening of the air they could not see their enemies, they fled to the sea, desiring to sail to Cyprus, and whereas at first there was no wind at all at sea, of a sudden so great a storm arose that no other ship, either great or small, could come near the shore, and many who essayed to swim off to the ships were drowned. Howbeit, more than one hundred thousand men escaped to Cyprus. I have heard from a most honorable Lord, and from other truthful men who were present, that more than five hundred most noble ladies and maidens, the daughters of kings and princes, came down to the seashore, when the city was about to fall, carrying with them all their jewels and ornaments of gold and precious stones, of priceless value, in their bosoms, and cried aloud, whether there were any sailor there who would take all their jewels and take whichever of them he chose to wife, if only he would take them, even naked, to some safe land or island. A sailor received them all into his ship, took them across to Cyprus, with all their goods, for nothing, and went his way. But who he was, whence he came, or whither he went, no man knows to this day. Very many other noble ladies and damsels were drowned or slain. It would take long to tell what grief and anguish was there. While the Saracens were within the city, but before they had taken it, fighting from castle to castle, from one palace and strong place to another, so many men perished on either side that they walked over their corpses as it were over a bridge. When all the inner city was lost, all who still remained alive fled into the exceeding strong castle of the Templars, which was straightway invested on all sides by the Saracens; yet the Christians bravely defended it for two months, and before it almost all the nobles and chiefs of the Sultan's army fell dead. For when the city inside the walls was burned, yet the towers of the city, and the Templars' castle, which was in the city, remained, and with these the people of the city kept the Saracens within the city from getting out, as before they had hindered their coming in, until of all the Saracens who had entered the city not one remained alive, but all fell by fire or by the sword. When the Saracen nobles saw the others lying dead, and themselves unable to escape from the city, they fled for refuge into the mines which they had dug under the great tower, that they might make their way through the wall and so get out. But the Templars and others who were in the castle, seeing that they could not hurt the Saracens with stones and the like, because of the mines wherein they were, undermined the great tower of the castle, and flung it down upon the mines and the Saracens therein, and all perished alike. When the other Saracens without the city saw that they had thus, as it were, failed utterly, they treacherously made a truce with the Templars and Christians on the condition that they should yield up the castle, taking all their goods with them, and should destroy it, but should rebuild the city on certain terms, and dwell therein in peace as heretofore. The Templars and Christians, believing this, gave up the castle and marched out of it, and came down from the city towers. When the Saracens had by this means got possession both of the castle and of the city towers, they slew all the Christians alike, and led away the captives to Babylon.… When the glorious city of Acre thus fell, all the Eastern people sung of its fall in hymns of lamentation, such as they are wont to sing over the tombs of their dead, bewailing the beauty, the grandeur, and the glory of Acre even to this day. Since that day all Christian women, whether gentle or simple, who dwell along the eastern shore [of the Mediterranean] dress in black garments of mourning and woe for the lost grandeur of Acre, even to this day.
What happened next…
As Ludolph of Suchem noted, the fall of Acre in 1291 ended the Crusader states. The historian Hans Eberhard Mayer described the last days in The Crusades:
The rest of Palestine yielded without a struggle. Tyre capitulated [surrendered] on 19 May; Sidon at the end of June although the Castle of the Sea there held out until 14 July. Beirut followed on 31 July and the two Templar fortresses, Tortosa and the Castle of the Pilgrims, were evacuated on 3 and 14 August. Deliberately and carefully the Mameluks devastated [destroyed] the whole coast in order to ensure that the Franks could never return. The political victory of the Mameluks was won at the cost of the destruction of the ancient Syro-Palestinian city civilization.… Only the ruins of palaces survived to tell of former splendour.
After leaving the shore of the eastern Mediterranean, many of the Crusaders, including the religious military orders of the Templars, Teutonic Knights, and Hospitallers, kept outposts on islands such as Cyprus and Rhodes, but 1291 ended the attempted occupation of the Holy Land by Christians. Others returned to their homes in Europe, and some Christian merchants managed to stay on in parts of the Middle East.
Did you know…
- The Crusades were crushed in 1291, but the idea did not die. In 1300, with a rumor that the Mongols had defeated the Mamluks, there was another call for a Crusade, but nothing came of it.
- The Knights Templars, who had defended the Holy Land for almost two centuries, did not do well after the end of the Crusades. So powerful had they become that they made enemies in Europe. The king of France managed to get them disbanded in 1312; he took their property for the state.
- Another military order, the Knights Hospitallers, survived. They found a new enemy to fight, the Ottoman Turks, who became powerful in Asia Minor in the fourteenth century.
- In 1366 the Catholic pope, Urban VI, called yet another Crusade, this time to battle the Ottoman Turks near the Black Sea. The goal, however, was not to occupy the Holy Land but to keep the Muslim Turks from invading Europe. The Christians once again were defeated.
Consider the following…
- The Crusaders managed to carve out a slice of conquered land along the eastern Mediterranean as a result of the First Crusade and to hold part of it for almost two hundred years. What changes do you think happened to the way of life of these Crusaders and their descendants who lived in this conquered territory, the Latin Kingdom, over those two centuries? How "European" were they after all those years?
- Discuss the shifting alliances between the Crusaders, the Byzantines, and the Muslims during the Crusades. Was it always a matter of the Christians against Islam?
- Discuss some of the major changes to come about in the world as a result of the Crusades.
For More Information
Brundage, James, ed. The Crusades: A Documentary History. Milwaukee,WI: Marquette University Press, 1962.
Hindley, Geoffrey. The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and HolyWar. London: Constable, 2003.
Mayer, Hans Eberhard. The Crusades. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Munro, Dana C., trans. "Letters of the Crusades." Translations andReprints from the Original Sources of European History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1896.
"The Crusades." The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies. http://the-orb.net/textbooks/crusade/seventhcru.html (accessed on August 4, 2004).
Fordham University. "The Capture of Jerusalem." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1144falljlem.html (accessed on August 4, 2004).
Fordham University. "The Fall of Acre, 1291." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1291acre.html (accessed on August 4, 2004).