Beneath the Battle: Engineers and miners as mercenaries in the Holy Land

Beneath the Battle : Engineers and miners as mercenaries in the Holy Land

By Nicolas Prouteau

Mercenaries and Paid Men The Mercenary Identity in the Middle Ages, edited by John France (Brill, 2008)

Introduction: Recent works on the ideology of crusade have focused mainly on the gap between Christian and Muslim during the crusades and have generally omitted the possibility of diplomatic or pacific exchanges. Indeed, the context of the crusades is often associated with the idea of a global conflict in which all means are employed to extend political and territorial supremacy and impose one faith upon another. However, such conflict didn’t prevent the protagonists from appreciating the technological or martial skill of the enemy. As Arnold of Lübeck observed, each society watched his opponent’s particular features and sometimes tried to borrow some innovative techniques and experts able to reproduce them. Though prisoners of war were numerous on building and demolition sites, the mercenary phenomenon gained in importance as the lack of experts confronted princes and sultans with new problems. The importance of fortification in the crusading context and the high frequency of siege assaults provided a fertile ground for the genesis of a new social class. Before starting to reflect upon the military engineer and miner as mercenary figures in Frankish and Muslim armies in the Crusades context, I shall introduce two main groups whose technical knowledge seemed to have played a significant part in the science of poliorcetic. In the second place, I shall try to analyse more deeply the reasons for their expertise and the different mechanisms for the recruitment of these individuals or communities.

Although the mercenary phenomenon was differently considered and regulated in the West, the practice of taking up arms in the service of a rival army is attested in the Latin East in the twelfth and thirteenth-century. It was not rare for Turkish or Arab mercenaries to be employed in the Frankish armies and the Military Orders frequently made use of the speed and military effectiveness of the Turcopoles. Frankish soldiers were likewise recruited in the Turkish armies. In the second half of the thirteenth century, Simon de Saint-Quentin in his ‘History of the Tartars’ declared that this group was cohesive enough to disturb some of the plans of the Mongols. This custom was obviously not totally new seeing that Adhémar of Monteil — Bishop of le Puy and one the leaders of the First Crusade — remarked that some Franks were engaged by the Seljuk sultan. In this last case, the status of these men can not be compared to that of paid men or mercenaries because they were prisoners of war. Nevertheless, we learn that some of the crusaders who stayed in the Turkish garrison of Adalia in 1148 were paid for the service they offered.

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