Archaeologists and historians working in northern Israel have discovered the remains of a Templar and Crusader army who were slaughtered by Saladin in one of the major battles of the Crusades. The results of the excavations are now being broadcast on the program “Last Stand of the Templars”, which is being shown this week on the National Geographic Channel.
The Battle of Jacob’s Ford, which was an intense siege of an important Crusader castle, took place in the late summer of 1179, ended with over 800 Templars and Crusaders being killed, and hundreds more being taken prisoner. It is considered one of the most important victories by the Muslim commander Saladin, allowing him to retake Jerusalem from the Crusaders eight years later.
“We are literally uncovering the beginning of the end for the Knights Templar,” said Ronnie Ellenblum, lead archeologist who has spent the last 10 years excavating the 12th century battle site of Jacob’s Ford in modern-day Israel. “Until the Battle of Jacob’s Ford in 1179, the Muslim leader Saladin saw nothing but defeat in all his efforts to push the Crusaders out of the Holy Land. The Battle of Jacob’s Ford turned the tide. Saladin’s forces not only succeeded in leveling a major castle, killing the whole garrison and carting off its wealth; they crushed an army that had been considered almost invincible.”
Ellenblum, an associate professor in geography at Hebrew University, Dr. Robert Kool, a researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority, and their teams have uncovered the first signs of this pivotal battle more than 800 years ago. Beginning with the discovery of medieval coins, ancient weapons, animal skulls and remains of the fortress that once guarded this important crossing on the Jordan River, Ellenblum has recently discovered the perfectly preserved skeletons of what he believes are the remains of more than 800 Crusaders killed during the Battle of Jacob’s Ford.
“Last Stand of the Templars” has been developed by the Canadian company Arcadia Entertainment. “We know that books and movies such as the Da Vinci Code and others have made the Knights Templar seem like mysterious forces from the Crusades,” said Andrew Killawee of Arcadia Entertainment, who produced, directed and wrote the documentary along with company president and executive producer John Wesley Chisholm. “We wanted to show them in a true light, including their downfall at the hands of their enemies. Ronnie Ellenblum’s research at Jacob’s Ford continues to uncover compelling evidence that this little-known battlefield was a major turning point for the Knights Templar and the Crusades, determining relations between the East and West for centuries to come, even in our own day.”
Killawee and Chisholm spent months researching the history around the battle and the Knights Templar, before shooting on location in England, France, Italy, United States, Israel, Malta and Morocco. Despite major religious riots on the Temple Mount just 10 days earlier, their crew gained rare access to the Mount and the holiest shrines in the western world, including the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the site of the Knights Templars’ earliest headquarters. The team also explored secret Templar tunnels beneath the ancient city of Acre and the Vatican Secret Archives, helping to paint a complete picture of the Knights Templar rise and fall.