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Colonization activities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem

Colonization activities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem

By Joshua Prawer

Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire. Tome 29 fasc. 4 (1951)

Introduction: The following paper is an attempt to describe one important feature of the social and economic problems of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: The colonization activities of the Crusaders in the Holy Land. We have not tried to answer this question in all its aspects: we have followed the crusading settlers-enterprise in their castles and in the open land and this for the 12th century only. Their city-dwellings have been temporarily laid aside, and we hope to deal with this no less important question in another study.

Let us state from the beginning : the Crusaders’ society was predominantly, almost exclusively, an urban society, an exceptional phenomenon amidst 12th century feudal Euope (excepting and even this in as mall degree, Italy). This urban society expanded outside the city for political and economic reasons but only a small part of its total population was affected by this movement. Nevertheless the movement is interesting and important in itself. The creation of the Crusaders’ city-settlement and city-population was, as we hope to prove elsewhere, conditioned and defined by the intrusion of a mainly agricultural and village-dwelling society into a country where the city has been for centuries an established and central institution. On the other hand, the non-city settlement was shaped by other factors with which we shall deal below.

Two reasons decided the Crusaders to leave the cities, their mainstay in the kingdom, and to venture into the open country : a) the all-important question of defence ; b) the economic necessity of creating or safeguarding their sources of income in the agricultural produce of the land. They could not possibly defend the land from their cities only, since their cities lay mostly along the coast and their hinterland was open to any razzia by an armed band of Moslems. Boundaries had to be defended and this could be done only by settling in fortresses along the frontier. But settling in fortresses far from the kingdom’s centres raised questions of a standing army and its logistics, a problem that could only be solved by a special way of settlement. Besides the question of defence there was that of administration, of ruling the land and of gathering its income in the face of open hostility and hatred on the part of the subjugated Moslem population. To this effect the Crusaders had to strike roots in the rural areas. Parallel to their establishment in the chain of fortresses along the frontiers they had to settle in fixed centres in the open land.

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