Nomadic Violence in the First Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Military Orders

Nomadic Violence in the First Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Military Orders

By Jochen Schenk

Reading Medieval Studies, Vol. 36 (2010)

Introduction: This present study takes its inspiration from Ronnie Ellenblum’s revisionist book on crusader castles, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories. In the book Ellenblum not only challenges prevailing ideas of the socio-political functions and implications of the medieval castle. Relying a great deal on Raymond Smail he also develops the view that castles marked the centres of the lordships dependent on them, that the size and shape of lordships were determined by the power radiating from these castles and that borders existed where such power ceased to be effective. Moreover, in his previous study on patterns of Frankish settlement in the Latin East Ellenblum has described the unevenness of rural settlements in the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, a kingdom that was divided by cultural borders dating back to Byzantine and Biblical times. It was along the lines of a cultural frontier and along religious divisions, which had segregated, for example, the Samaritan population from the Byzantine Christians in Central Samaria, that the rural settlement of the Franks developed, creating wide spaces where Frankish settlers never gained a foot and where nomadic tribesmen (‘wandering Turks’ as well as Bedouins) made up a large percentage of the population. These were also the regions where the military orders of the Temple and the Hospital established some of their major strongholds during the second half of the twelfth century. This study argues that in addition to protecting the kingdom of Jerusalem against perceived enemies from without, these strongholds are evidence of the military orders’ involvement in policing nomads roaming within and traversing through the kingdom.

A second outcome of Ellenblum’s more recent research is his concept of ‘geography of fear’. It correlates the degree of actual threat, measured by the number of reported attacks on the kingdom, with the activity of castle building over a prolonged period of time. The way he sees it, after 1099 the kingdom did not endure in a perpetual state of emergency, as the chroniclers and many historians wanted us to believe. Rather, the roughly ninety years leading to Saladin’s decisive victory over the Frankish army at Hattin in 1187, which put an end to the first Frankish kingdom, can be divided into a period of frequent military engagement between Franks and Muslims, a period of relative security, and a period of sustained Muslim offensive, which resulted in the creation of the Frankish frontier. The first of these periods, which lasted from 1099 until 1115, was defined by the frequent incursions of Fatimid armies from the south and Seldjuk armies from the east into the kingdom of Jerusalem. The second, lasting from 1115 until 1167, witnessed a sharp decline in the number of orchestrated Muslim attacks and an increase in Frankish offensive campaigns, which coincided with the establishment and re-enforcement of numerous fortresses, particularly in the south-western part of the kingdom. The third period, which lasted until 1187, saw the crusader states put under increasing pressure from a united Muslim enemy under the charismatic leadership of Nur ad-Din and Saladin.

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