Hidden Complexities of the Frankish Castle

Hidden Complexities of the Frankish Castle: Social Aspects of Space in the Configurational Architecture of Frankish Castles in the Holy Land, 1099-1291

By Eva Mol

Leiden University Press, 2012

Ruins of Montfort Castle - Photo by Ariel Gera / Wikimedia Commons
Ruins of Montfort Castle – Photo by Ariel Gera / Wikimedia Commons

Introduction: It was in 1291 when Acre, the last outpost of the Crusader Kingdom in the Holy Land fell, and the two hundred years of Frankish occupation of the Latin East came to an end. Considering all the previous conquerors of the Levantine region theirs was not a very enduring rule; nonetheless, the remains we see today are incredibly impressive. In these two centuries of Latin control, the Near Eastern landscape saw among numerous other constructions such as churches, villas, towns and cities, the rise of hundreds of castles in a wide variety of forms, sizes and places, dotting the Holy Land. It is on these castles that we will be focusing in this thesis. In all the research that has been conducted on the Crusades in the Near East, castles have received a considerable amount of attention. However, this attention has predominantly been of a descriptive nature and directed towards the military aspects of castles, treating them solely as defensive structures. While there are several studies that try to escape such conceptions, this thesis proposes that more work can be done and that an effort must be made towards an archaeology-based and more analytical approach that leads to an interpretative study of crusader castles. In this introduction I will discuss the topic and its related problems in approach and terminology, set out the framework and approach to the study of this particular artefact, and develop the objectives, research questions and aims that will determine the research.

This thesis is devoted to crusader castles and has a geographical focus on the Near Eastern regions. The initial source for the idea to study crusader castles of the Levantine area arose from the desire to bring an archaeological component to historical studies. Especially the crusades as an object of study has seen an immense amount of works by historians, and although I do not attempt to criticise these studies for neglecting archaeology, I do believe that putting material as the central focus in crusader research can result in new and interesting knowledge about this period. It already proved to be so when we look at some recent archaeological work on castles in the Near East among which two studies in particular threw new light upon how we can conceive castles in this period and area. One is the work of Ronnie Ellenblum, the other of Denys Pringle.

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While we will review both studies extensively in the coming chapter, it suffices to say here that these scholars both tried to approach castles from a more holistic perspective. Pringle with his analysis of the fortresses Castrum Rubrum and Belmont tried to give attention to the ways in which castles were actually used by the Franks, and how they fitted into the wider military and political history of the Latin East. Ellenblum focuses on the geographical distribution of castles and tries to connect Frankish military architecture to the political environment in which it was built. He divides the twelfth century into three parts based on the frequency and number of military conflicts of the Franks and their enemies. His conclusion is that castles in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem were not always erected against immediate danger from outside. We can see that the employment of archaeology has brought the study of crusader castles to a new phase, where it is used in such a way that it is not only a complement to castle-studies, but is also able to assemble more comprehension of how it reflects on Frankish society.

Click here to read this thesis from Leiden University

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