A Twelfth-Century Oil Press Complex at the Crusader Town of Arsur (Apollonia-Arsuf) and the Olive Oil Industry in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem
By Etan Ayalon, Oren Tal and Elisabeth Yehuda
Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Vol.1:4 (2013)
Abstract: This article documents an oil press discovered in the southern part of the Crusader town of Arsur (Area E), dating to the twelfth century CE. To date, no olive press from the Crusader period, excavated in systematic-scientific excavations, has been published in full. The article also discusses the olive oil industry in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem based on the available archaeological findings published thus far. It includes our current understanding of the development of olive oil production technology in the Holy Land and the role of the Crusader interlude as bridging the period between large-scaled and sophisticated Byzantine oil presses with those of late Ottoman (pre-modern) industry, which were smaller and simpler.
Introduction: Apollonia-Arsuf, located on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, some 17 km north of Jaffa (ancient Joppa, south of Tel Aviv) and 34 km south of Caesarea, has been excavated continuously during the last 35 years. Once a modest coastal settlement, Apollonia-Arsuf became the urban center of the southern Sharon Plain as early as the Persian period (late sixth century BCE) through the Crusader period (until the mid-thirteenth century CE).
The history of the site’s occupation during the Crusader period is relatively well covered in the historical sources (Roll 1999: 11–18). The town was conquered by Baldwin I of Jerusalem and his army in 1101 CE and incorporated in the royal demesne. Several decades later, Arsur became the seat of an independent feudal seigneury that extended over the southern Sharon Plain. Its first known lord was Johannes de Arsur, a close ally and supporter of King Amaury I (1163–1173 CE). As an important Frankish settlement inhabited by Crusaders, colonists, and pilgrims, it possessed its own burgess court. In 1187 CE, Arsur was briefly occupied by Saladin’s forces, but was re-conquered by the Crusaders during the Third Crusade after the Battle of Arsuf, in which Richard I (“the Lionhearted”), king of England, personally directed the victory over Saladin on September 7, 1191 CE. In 1207 CE, John of Ibelin, the “Old” Lord of Beirut, married Melisende of Arsur and became lord of Arsur. John II of Arsur, one of his younger sons, inherited the seigneury in 1236 CE. He rebuilt the town walls and constructed a concentric castle in 1241 CE in its northwestern part.