In the early 11th century the Fatimid caliph Hakim began to persecute Christians, pilgrimages were cut off and he despoiled the Holy Sepulcher. Persecution abated after his death in 1021, but relations remained strained and became more so when Jerusalem passed in 1071 from the comparatively tolerant Egyptians to the Seljuk Turks, who in the same year defeated the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV at Manzikert. The Turks at once began to persecute the Christians. Pilgrims on their way to the Holy City were robbed and beaten. The sacred places of the Roman Catholic Church were profaned or destroyed.
When European Christians heard of the persecution, they were outraged. Alexius Commenus, the new emperor of Byzantium, feared that the Turks might seize Constantinople, his capital.
As the terror of the Turks spread, Alexius Commenus sent a plea for aid to Pope Urban II at Rome late in the 11th century. This was not the first appeal of the kind but it may have helped to determine the time and the route of the First Crusade, 1095-99, though its precise import is difficult to estimate. Direct impetus was given the crusade by the great speech of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont (now Clermont-Ferrand) in 1095. Urban exhorted Christendom to go to war for the Sepulcher, promising that the journey would count as full penance and that the homes of the absent ones would be protected by a truce.
The battle cry of the Christians, he urged, should be 'Deus volt' [God wills it]. From the crosses that were distributed at this meeting the Crusaders and the Crusades took their name. Although they failed to establish a permanent presence in the region, the Crusaders left their imprint on Lebanon. Among the conspicuous results of the Crusades are the remains of many towers along the coast, ruins of castles on hills and mountain slopes, and numerous churches.
In August 1096 the first real armies of knights and princes began their march. Late in 1096, the first of the princes, Hugh of Vermandois, a brother of Philip I of France, reached Constantinople, the emperor persuaded him to take an oath of fealty. Godfrey of Bouillon and his brothers Eustace and Baldwin (later Baldwin I of Jerusalem), Raymond IV of Saint Gilles (Count of Toulouse), Bohemond I (Bohemond the Norman), Tancred, Robert of Normandy, and Robert II of Flanders arrived early in 1097. The armies crossed to Asia Minor, took Nicaea and defeated the Turks at Dorylaeum (1097). 20 October 1097 saw the crusaders reach the fortified city of Antioch, which was protected by a wall flanked with 450 towers, stocked by the Amir Jagi-Sian with immense quantities of provisions.
Thanks to the assistance of carpenters and engineers who belonged to a Genoese fleet that had arrived at the mouth of the Orontes, the crusaders were enabled to construct battering machines and to begin the siege of the city. Eventually Bohemond negotiated with a Turkish chief who surrendered one of the towers, and on the night of 2 June 1098, the crusaders took Antioch by storm. The very next day they were in turn besieged within the city by the army of Kerbûga, Amir of Mosul. Plague and famine cruelly decimated their ranks, and many of them, among others Stephen of Blois, escaped under cover of night. The army was on the verge of giving way to discouragement when its spirits were suddenly revived by the discovery of the Holy Lance, resulting from the dream of a Provençal priest named Pierre Barthélemy.
The First Crusades
On 28 June, 1098, Kerbûga’s army was effectually repulsed, but, instead of marching on Jerusalem without delay, the chiefs spent several months in a quarrel due to the rivalry of Raymond of Saint-Gilles and Bohemond, both of whom claimed the right to Antioch finally it was Bohemond who remained in possession of Antioch.
It was not until April 1099, that the march towards Jerusalem was begun and not wishing to waste more time and not realizing its strategic importance, of the Franks marched straight through Lebanon without significant incident. The campaign was completed in July 1099, by the taking of Jerusalem, where the Crusaders massacred the Muslims and Jews. The election of Godfrey of Bouillon as defender of the Holy Sepulcher marked the beginning of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. A Latin patriarch was elected. Godfrey was however to die in 1100 and after his death Baldwin was crowned king of Jerusalem on 11 November 1100. Soon the importance of Lebanon was to be realized and the country was to see more than its fair share of war and destruction.
Over the years that followed the birth of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, other fiefs, theoretically dependent on Jerusalem, were created as the crusade’s leaders moved to expand their domains. These were the county of Edessa (Baldwin), the principality of Antioch (Bohemond), and the county of Tripoli (Raymond). The task of maintaining the hold of such exotic states on a relatively narrow strip of land against a black background of Islam proved to be much more difficult than creating them. Clearly their existence depended upon continued support from overseas, at best a dubious procedure, and upon adequate land and sea lines of defense. The Lebanese seaports were ringed by castles on the landsides and provided with towers on the seaside. The towers served as guard and observation posts. Of the nine recognizable today that of Jbeil, southeast of the town, is the most conspicuous. Most of the castles are likewise replacements or renovations of older constructions from Roman, Byzantine or even Phoenician times. The castle of Tripoli was followed by that of Tyre. Jbeil’s castle, which displays remains of Phoenician structure, came next followed by that of Batroun. That of Sidon, Chateau de la Mer, was used by the sainted French Crusader, Louis IX, between 1250 and 1254.
This coastal chain of towers and forts was seconded by a higher chain on the western spurs or slopes of Mount Lebanon intended to guard the strategic passes leading from the Moslem interior to the Frankish seaboard. Most conspicuous among these is Qalat al-Shaqif (Beaufort). Standing like a sentinel on a precipitous rock above the Litani River (Leontes) and overlooking the sea, this castle commands the Sidon-Damascus road. Many of these towers and forts were later repaired and utilized by the Crusaders’ Moslem successors, particularly the Mamlouks. Many of these castles in Lebanon are still standing, a physical reminder of a forlorn and ill-advised venture.
Tripoli and Byblos
In 1102 Raymond VI of Saint Gilles, Count of Toulouse, one of the first knights who set out on the First Crusade in 1096, turned his attention to the conquest of Tripoli, the most important emirate on the coast. The Emirate of Tripoli, together with other Moslem emirates, was considered an obstacle to the Christians since it separated the Franks (Franj) of Antioch and Edessa from those in Jerusalem. Raymond wished to establish a principality that would command both the coast road and the Orontes. Despite the heavy losses he suffered in August 1101 when his entire dehydrated army of was massacred by Kilij Arslan near the village of Merzifun, Raymond was victorious in April 1102 in a battle outside Tripoli against the Banou Ammars and the Emirs of Homs and Damascus. Ibn al-Athir, an Arab chronicler of the time, described the extraordinary battle:
“Saint-Gilles, may God curse his name, returned to Syria after having been crushed by Kilij Arslan. He had only three hundred men left. Fakhr al-Mulk, the lord of Tripoli, sent word to King Duqaq and to the governor of Horns: ‘Now is the time to finish off Saint-Gilles forever, for he has so few troops!’ Duqaq dispatched two thousand men, and the governor of Horns came in person. The troops of Tripoli joined them before the gates of the city, and together they marched into battle against Saint-Gilles. The latter threw a hundred of his soldiers against the Tripolitanians, a hundred against the Damascenes, and fifty against the troops of Horns; he kept fifty behind with him. At the mere sight of the enemy, the troops of Horns fled, and the Damascenes soon followed. Only the Tripolitanians held their ground, and when he saw this, Saint-Gilles attacked them with his two hundred other soldiers, defeating them and killing seven thousand of them.”
His forces, however, were too small to conquer Tripoli itself. After exacting heavy tribute in money and horses he returned to Tortosa, his headquarters north of Tripoli, to plan his next campaign. He learned that a Genoese squadron of forty vessels lay at anchor at Lattakieh. He hired this squadron for an attack on Tripoli.
The attack failed and so he moved southward and captured instead the port of Jbeil. The Genoese were rewarded with one third of the town.
In 1103 Saint-Gilles who had camped on the outskirts of the city, ordered the construction of a fortress, which to this day is still known by his name. The well-preserved ‘Qalat Saint-Gilles’ is still visible in the twentieth century, in the center of the modern city of Tripoli. At the time of the arrival of the Franks, however, the city extended no further than the ‘Mina’ quarter, the port, which lay at the end of a peninsula access to which was controlled by this famous fortress. This fortress was the first ever of its kind. No caravan could reach or leave Tripoli without being intercepted by Saint-Gilles’s men. The qadi Fakhr al-Mulk wanted at all costs to destroy this citadel, which threatened to strangle his capital. Night after night his soldiers attempted daring raids, stabbing a guard or damaging a wall under construction, but it was in September 1104 that the most spectacular operation was mounted. The entire garrison of Tripoli affected a sortie en masse, led by the qadi himself. Several Frankish warriors were massacred and a wing of the fortress was burned. Saint-Gilles himself was caught by surprise atop one of the flaming roofs. Suffering from severe burns, he died five months later, in terrible agony.
On Raymond’s death in 1105 the barons of Toulouse accepted his illegitimate son, Bertrand, as a successor. Bertrand had already governed for nearly ten years prior to his father’s death during his absence in the East. Bertrand arranged for a Genoese squadron to accompany him when he set out for the East in 1108 to claim his father’s inheritance and to round off his future principality by the conquest of Tripoli. Genoa had promised to aid Bertrand take over his father’s conquests. In return they wished to receive a favored commercial position. Bertrand landed with the Genoese squadron near Tripoli. The following is an account of the capture of Jbeil:
“The Genoese fleet with which he had come consisted of seventy galleys, under the command of two noble Genoese, Ansaldus and Hugh Embriacus. It was soon apparent that they were wasting their efforts in the siege of Tripoli at that time. It was therefore deemed advisable, in the meantime, to attempt something worthy of remembrance. Accordingly they begged Bertram in a friendly way to accompany them to Jbeil by land, and they themselves directed the fleet thither. Jbeil is a city on the coast of Phoenicia, one of the dependent cities, which are recognized as subject to the metropolitan of Tyre, with metropolitan right. Ezekiel the prophet mentions it, saying, “The ancients of Gebal and the wise men thereof were in thee thy calkers.” Again, in the first book of Kings, it is written thus concerning the same city: “So they prepared timber and stones for the building of the house of the Lord.” The ancient name of this place was Eve, for Eveus, the sixth son of Canaan, is believed to have been its founder. On arriving before Jbeil, the armies invested the city both by land and by sea. The citizens were thrown into a state of panic, for they had no confidence in the strength of their defenses. A deputation was accordingly sent to the commanders of the fleet, Ansaldus and Hugh Embriacus, to announce that under certain conditions the citizens were willing to unbar the entrances and admit them as lords. It was stipulated that those who desired to leave be given an opportunity to do so unhindered, with their wives and children, but that those who did not wish to abandon their homes in the city be permitted to remain under favorable conditions. The terms asked were granted, and they therefore surrendered the place to the two commanders. One of these, Hugh Embriacus, received the city for a definite time on consideration of a fixed annual payment to the treasury of the Genoese. The same man was the grandfather of the Hugh who rules that city today and bears the same name and surname.
King Baldwin I of Jerusalem and Bertrand became allies in the attack on Tripoli. The city was taken on June 10, 1109 after a two thousand day siege. The Genoese were rewarded by a quarter in Tripoli and by a castle known as the Castle of the Constable ten miles north of Tripoli. Bertrand was installed as the Count of Tripoli and reaffirmed his vassalage to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thus did Jbeil, ancient Byblos, come into the hands of the Genoese as a hereditary fief, controlled by the descendants of Hugh Embriacus.
On June 29, 1170 a terrible earthquake devastated the region. Many fortresses were ruined including the Krak des Chevaliers and the castles of Tripoli and Jbeil. It took many months to repair the ruined fortresses. In the meantime the great warrior Saladin succeeded in uniting Islam and drove the Crusaders to a narrow strip on the coast of Phoenicia. In 1187 after Palestine surrendered he moved up the coast. Tyre was well fortified and well garrisoned. His first attack failed and so Saladin passed on. Sidon surrendered without a blow on July 29. Beirut capitulated on August 6 and Jbeil surrendered a few days later on the orders of its lord, Hugh Embrtaco, whom Saladin released on that condition. Once again the city of Jbeil came under Moslem control. The Crusades held on to Tripoli. During the Third Crusade early in 1197 Jbeil was recovered by the Crusaders.
On July 1, 1198 a peace was negotiated between al-Adil, leader of the Ayoubites, and Almaric, king of Jerusalem. It gave Jaffa to the Moslems and the Crusaders took possession of Jbeil and Beirut. Sidon was divided between them. The peace was to last for five years and eight months.
During the thirteenth century Italian merchants controlled important investments in the Near East. The three great Republics of Genoa, Venice and Pisa with their colonies in every Levantine port dominated Mediterranean trade. Various conflicts arose. In the conflict between the interests of the Venetians and the Genoese in Acre the head of the Embriaco family in Jbeil, true to his Genoese origin, defied the prohibition of his suzerain, Bohemond VI of Antioch-Tripoli, and sent troops to help the Genoese in Acre. This disobedience to his order and the personal hatred of Bohemond for his vassal, Henry of Jbeil, soon developed into war. Not only did Henry defy Bohemond’s suzerainty and maintain his independence with the help of the Genoese, but Henry’s cousin Bertrand, head of the younger branch of the Embriaco family, attacked Bohemond in Tripoli. At the instigation of Bohemond, Bertrand Embriaco, who owned large estates in and around Jbeil, was beheaded by peasants while riding through one of his villages. This resulted in a blood feud between the Houses of Antioch-Tripoli and the Embriaco.
In 1277 Bohemond VII of Tripoli quarreled with the most powerful of his vassals, Guy II Embriaco of Jbeil. Guy allied himself with the Templars and Bohemond responded by destroying the Templars’ buildings at Tripoli and cutting down a forest they owned nearby. The Master of the Temple led the knights of the Order against Tripoli and burned the castle at Batroun. When the Templars had moved back, Bohemond set out to attack Jbeil. Guy, with a contingent of Templars, went to meet him. A fierce battle took place a few miles north of Batroun resulting in the loss of many lives on both sides. After one year’s truce Guy and the Templars attacked Bohemond again. Another truce was arranged between the Grand Master of the Hospital and Bohemond. Guy however had ambitions to capture Tripoli. In January 1282 with his brothers and his friends, he smuggled himself into the Templar quarters in Tripoli. A misunderstanding with the Templar commander started a panic and Guy and his companions fled to a tower in the Hospital of the Templars where they were besieged by Bohemond’s troops. After a few hours they agreed, at the request of the Hospitallers, to surrender on condition their lives be spared. Bohemond broke his word, all of Guy’s companions were blinded. Guy himself and his brothers and cousin were taken to Nephin and there they were buried up to their necks in a ditch and left to starve to death. This deed shocked the vassals of Bohemond. The allies of Guy in Tyre planned to move up from Tyre to avenge the deaths, but Bohemond reached Jbeil before them and took over the city temporarily.
On 27th April 1289 Tripoli fell to the Mamalik forces. Among the tens of thousands of combatants of the Muslim army was Abul-Fida’, a young emir of sixteen. A scion of the Ayyoubid dynasty, now a vassal of the Mamlouks, he would several years later become the ruler of the small city of Hama, where he would devote most of his time to reading and writing. The work of this historian, who was also a geographer and a poet, is of interest primarily for the account it affords us of the last years of the Frankish presence in the Middle East. Abul-Fida’ was present, sword in hand and with an attentive eye, on all the main fields of battle, he writes:
“The city of Tripoli is surrounded by the sea and can be attacked by land only along the eastern side, through a narrow passage. After laying the siege, the sultan lined up a great number of catapults of all sizes opposite the city, and imposed a strict blockade. The Muslim troops penetrated the city by force. The population fell back to the port. There, some of them escaped onto ships, but the majority of the men were massacred, the women and children captured, the Muslims amassed immense booty. A short distance from Tripoli, in the Mediterranean Sea, there was a small island, with a church. When the city was taken, many Franj took refuge there with their families. But the Muslim troops took to the sea, swam across to the island, massacred all the men who had taken refuge there, and carried off the women and children with the booty. I myself rode out to the island on a boat after the carnage, but was unable to stay, so strong was the stench of the corpses.”
Qalawoun, the Mamlouk Sultan, had the city razed to the ground lest the Crusaders with their command of the sea try to recapture it. Mamlouk troops went on to occupy Batroun and Nephin. No attempt was made to defend these cities. Peter Embriaco, lord of Jbeil, offered his submission to the Sultan. He was allowed to keep his city under strict surveillance for another decade.
In the late autumn of 1102 ships transporting Holy Land pilgrims home were driven ashore by storms, some near Ascalon and some between Sidon and Tyre. The pilgrims were either slain or taken to Egypt where they were sold as slaves. Control of the coastal cities therefore was essential for safe passage of pilgrims and for the landing of much needed men and supplies from Europe. The chief objective of King Baldwin was the capture of the coastal cities, Ascalon, Tyre, Sidon and to the north Beirut. Both Ascalon and Tyre were strong fortresses with a large permanent garrison so the king decided to attack Sidon instead. A powerful squadron sailed from Egypt to protect the city and Baldwin was obliged to raise the siege. Beirut was the next choice and it so happened that Baldwin had a loyal ally in the area. In 1109 he assisted Bertrand of Toulouse, one of the Crusading knights, to capture Tripoli so in return Bertrand sent men to help Baldwin attack Beirut. The city was taken by assault on May 13, 1110. Beirut put up a desperate defense, according to Salih bin Yahya, and the Crusaders inflicted great suffering upon the inhabitants. Jacques de Vitry, a historian of the Crusades, gives this account:
“Our people lay siege to Beirut both by sea and land, and being joined by Bertram, the noble count of Tripoli, after a two months’ siege, having brought wooden towers up to the walls and joined them to the walls by ladders, forced their way into the city, and slew many of the citizens, cast the rest into chains and held them captive. Beirut is a city on the seashore between Sidon and Biblium in the country of Phoenicia … it is fertile and fair, with fruit trees, woods and vineyards.”
Another source for this period is the history of William of Tyre. He tells of the siege of Beirut and how Baldwin and Bertrand collected galleys from the coast cities in their possession to cut off Beirut by sea. From the pine trees in the neighborhood of the city they secured the wood necessary to construct siege towers, ladders, bridges and catapults. The besieged were given no rest by day or by night for two months until they were worn out by fatigue of constantly defending the walls. At last some soldiers leaped from one of the towers onto the walls while the rest of the Crusaders attacked in other quarters to keep the defenders fully occupied. Other Crusaders brought up their ladders and scaled the walls. From the height of the walls they leaped down and opened one of the gates, thus letting their comrades in.
When the inhabitants of Beirut saw the Crusaders within the gates they fled towards the port to escape on the galleys anchored there, but the Crusaders’ fleet cut off their escape by sea. Driven back into the city they were caught between two fires and were cut down. Few would have escaped had not the king put an end to the slaughter. On December 4, 1110 Sidon fell to the Crusaders. They now controlled the whole Syrian coast with the exception of the two fortress cities Tyre and Ascalon. Tyre was taken on June 29, 1124. Jacques de Vitry writes:
“The King kept in his hand the noblest and best part of the land/ to wit/ the cities of Jerusalem, Neapolis (Sichem), Acre and Tyre with some other towns and villages. The liegemen of the kingdom bound by oath to serve the King with a certain number of knights were the Count of Tripoli, the Lord of Beirut, the Lord of Sidon…”
The seigneury of Beirut was assigned to the Crusader knight Foulques de Guines. In 1130 Fetullus came here and wrote that Beirut was a very wealthy city. He was deeply impressed with a miraculous image of Christ. “Whoever is anointed with a drop from the imaged he wrote “is restored to health.” John of Wurzburg in 1160 was struck with the wealthy appearance of Beirut. He too was taken to see the miraculous painting of Christ.
In 1167 Amalric I, king of Jerusalem, gave the seigneury of Beirut to Andronic Comnenus, a relative of his queen. In 1172 when Theodorich passed Beirut on his way to the Holy Land he wrote: “Next to the southward on the seashore comes Berytus, called by the modems Baruth, a rich and strong city, large and populous.”
The miraculous figure of Christ, he recorded, was preserved as a sacred relic in the church and the limbs of cripples were anointed with the “blood”.
The harbor of Beirut was well fortified during this period. In the year 1185 a pilgrim, Joannes Phocas, traveled down the Lebanese coast to Beirut on his way to Jerusalem:
“And then comes Berytus, a large and populous city, set round about with spacious meadows, and adorned with a fair harbor. The harbor is not a natural one, but has been wrought by art, and is embosomed in the city in the form of a half-moon, and at the two extremities of the half-moon are placed, as horns, two great towers, from one of which a chain is drawn across to the other, and shuts the ships within the harbor.”
The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was slowly disintegrating due to personal ambition and intrigues of members of the royal family. Sibylla, eldest daughter of Amalric I, took as a second husband a French adventurer. Guy de Lusignan, thus passing on to him a presumptive title to the crown. At the death in 1186 of the young king Baldwin V, Sibylla’s son by her first marriage, in spite of the opposition of the barons and lords of the kingdom. Guy de Lusignan acceded to the throne. In the same year Beirut was taken over by Jocelin, count of Edessa, a supporter of Sibylla and Guy de Lusignan.
Beirut remained in the hands of the Crusaders until 1187. When Saladin came to the throne of Egypt and Syria he at once began preparations to drive the Crusaders out of the coastal cities. In 1183 he attacked Beirut. He had secured a fleet in Egypt and assembled a large force in the Beqaa. Sentinels were stationed on the summits of the mountains of Lebanon to notify him as soon as the ships appeared. The Crusaders collected ships from Acre and Tyre to ward off the attack by sea.
Saladin came over the mountain with his army and attacked Beirut on all sides. Stones and darts rained upon the walls with no interruption and for three days the defenders were scarcely able to have a pause to eat. The Crusaders fought bravely and inflicted heavy losses on Saladin’s men. An attempt was made to mine the walls but this met with no success. When Saladin heard of the arrival of reinforcements for the Crusaders by sea, he abandoned the siege and withdrew his army.
Saladin was biding his time for the opportune moment to strike. It came in 1187 when twenty thousand Crusaders marched over a sandy plain in the heat of July to relieve the city of Tiberias. They met the forces of Saladin at Hattin and were utterly defeated. One military success followed the other and on October 2, 1187 Jerusalem fell to Saladin’s army.
After Saladin’s great victory at Hattin the cities of Palestine and several on the coast were taken over by him with the exception of Tyre, which he had attacked but failed to take. Sidon opened the gates of the city but Beirut refused to surrender. Saladin pitched his tents on the heights above the town. The siege lasted eight days. When the Crusaders asked for terms to surrender, they were granted permission to take refuge in Tyre. Before he left Beirut Saladin appointed a governor to take charge of the city.
The loss of Jerusalem was a great blow to the Christians of Europe. A call for a third Crusade was made. This did not come from the papacy but from the dominant power in Europe at the time, the three strong monarchies of Germany, England and France. A number of converging Crusader armies all sought to reach a common center, the coastal city of Acre.
As Saladin went to meet the armies of the Third Crusade, which by now were nearing Acre, he heard of the approach of Frederick Barbarossa from the north with an army of German Crusaders. Saladin was worried lest the Germans take the coastal cities and establish bases there. Jacques de Vitry describes Saladin’s dilemma:
“Frederick, the Roman emperor, set out on his journey by land with great power and a countless host of warriors. Passing over the borders of Germany, he crossed Hungary, Macedonia and Greece and marched through the land of the Saracens with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm… reached Armenia (Cecilia) where, during great heat, he went into the river which the natives call the Iron River, to bathe and therein for our sins was miserably drowned. Saladin so greatly feared his approach that he ordered the walls of Laodicia, Gibelet, Tortosa, Biblium and Beirut to be pulled down, sparing only the fortresses, that is the citadels and towers.”
The host of Germans faded away before it reached Acre, only a small remnant passed by Beirut, so few that they were unable to make an attack on the city.
At the close of the war with Richard, Saladin came to Beirut and held court here for a few days. He received Bohemond III, prince of Antioch, with whom he made a treaty. After the departure of the king of England Saladin returned to Damascus where he died. Soon after dissension broke out among his followers. The Crusaders were able to recover some of the cities taken from them. Sidon was retaken and Crusader forces marched up the coast towards Beirut. The governor was a certain Tsama, who appears to have been a coward for he ran away before the Crusaders reached Beirut. Jacques de Vitry writes:
“Likewise the city of Beirut with its citadel was deserted by its Saracen garrison and was restored to Christendom.”
Before abandoning Beirut the Saracens tore down whatever buildings and fortifications they could. The city was in a shambles. The seigneury of Beirut was given to Jean of Ibelin. When called upon shortly afterwards to defend his feudal rights to the city, the lord of Beirut replied:
“Ai recu la ville quant la crestiente l’ot recovree, toute abatue et tele que le Temple et 1’Ospital et tous les barons de Syrie la refuserent, et l’ay fermee et maintenue des amones de la crestiente et de mon travail…”
The city which the Templars, Hospitallers and the barons of Syria disdained due to its ruined state was taken over and fortified once again by Jean of Ibelin. The walls and towers of the castle were rebuilt and the moat repaired. When Wilbrand of Oldenburg passed here in 1212 he was impressed by the castle and remarked that it was strongly built.
Toward the end of the Ayyoubid period, Malek al-Saleh Najm ed-Din Ayyoub succeeded his brother and entered Cairo as sultan in 1240. He made large purchases of Mamalik slaves for his army. The dynasties which succeeded the Ayyoubids until the conquest of Egypt by the Ottomans have been called Mamalik dynasties because their sultans were drawn from the enfranchised slaves who constituted the court and were officers in the army. In 1277 Kalaoun, a Mamlouk who had risen high in his sovereign’s service seized power. His aim was to capture the last places that remained in the hands of the Crusaders.
In 1291 Acre revolted. Khalil, also called Malek al-Ashraf Salah ed-Din, the son of Kalaoun, captured and destroyed the city after a siege of forty-three days. This was followed by the capture of Tyre, Sidon and Beirut.
With the departure of the Crusaders the port of Beirut fell into ruin. This however did not deter pilgrims from traveling to the Holy Land. Ludolph von Suchem arrived in Beirut in 1350. He writes:
“The city is a common thoroughfare for pilgrims . . . From Beirut a man can return to any country he pleases on this side of the Mediterranean Sea, a matter which I leave to his own choice to settle.”
A church dedicated to Saint Nicolas was held in special veneration by the Christians and it was in Beirut it was said, that Saint George slew the dragon.
In 1365 the Crusaders of Cyprus captured Alexandria. The sultan of Egypt ordered a large fleet to be built at Beirut for the invasion of the island. The project was abandoned, however, because of the superior skill of the Crusaders at sea. In 1381 a Genoese fleet appeared off Sidon and the city was plundered. News of the attack was reported to Damascus and a force was dispatched to Beirut to protect the city should an attack be made upon it too. The Genoese fleet sailed towards Beirut to plunder but withdrew when they found the city well garrisoned. When the troops returned to Damascus, the Genoese came back again and made a vigorous attack on the city. There was only a small fort to defend Beirut and the men of the garrison holding it were plied with stones and fire darts from the ships.
They retreated behind the walls, the Crusaders landed but the Moslems made a counterattack and forced them back to their ships. Among the defenders of Beirut was the father of Saleh bin Yahya, the author of the history mentioned above. News of the approach of the Crusader fleet was “telegraphed” to Damascus at night by bonfires and a troop of horse arrived in Beirut by the evening of the following day, too late to take part in the defense. It appears that a regular service of bonfires by night and carrier pigeons by day was maintained between Damascus and the coastal cities for use in such emergencies.
In 1404 another Genoese fleet appeared off the coast of Beirut. The inhabitants, unprepared to face an attack, took their belongings and fled to the mountains. There was no one to defend Beirut. The Genoese landed and plundered until the middle of the afternoon. Returning to their ships unmolested, they then set sail for Sidon. This was the last hostile act of the Genoese.
Tyre and Sidon
After the fall of Beirut Baldwin marched on Sidon. The inhabitants of Sidon who had fought so bravely at the beginning of the Crusades years earlier when they organized raids against the Crusaders as they marched south, no longer had the stomach to fight and feared a similar fate to the inhabitants of Beirut. The people Sidon sent a delegation of notables to plead with Baldwin for their lives, he accepted and on December 4, 1110 Sidon surrendered to the Crusaders, there was no massacre. The Crusaders now controlled the whole coast with the exception of the two fortress cities Tyre and Ascalon.
In November 1111 Baldwin brought up his whole army before the walls of Tyre. He assembled all the ships he could find and gathering all the land forces he could, he placed his troops in a circle around the city and besieged it. William of Tyre tells us: “Tyre lies in the bosom of the sea like an island closed round about by waters. It is the capital and metropolis of Phoenicia.” Baldwin used all the methods ordinarily employed in besieging a city. A series of almost constant skirmishes and attacks exhausted the strength of the inhabitants. The walls and towers were shattered by blows from the siege engines. Baldwin ordered two wooden towers to be built, far taller than the stone towers of Tyre. From the top of these it was possible to look down into the city and mercilessly attack all points. The Tyrians, however, showed themselves to be shrewd and valiant. William of Tyre relates:
“They met each scheme by a similar one and strove to repel in kind the injuries that were being inflicted upon them. They brought together great quantities of stones and cement, mounted two towers, which were practically opposite our machines, and began to build them higher. Thus within a very short time these rose far above the wooden machines opposed to them outside the walls. From there the defenders hurled fire upon the engines below and were prepared to bum everything, unopposed.”
Baldwin had no fleet; only twelve Byzantine vessels were at his command. The Byzantines were not about to take hostile action against the Fatimids with whom their relations were good unless adequate compensation was forthcoming. They demanded that Baldwin help them recover the cities, which they had lost to the princes of Antioch. When Baldwin hesitated the Byzantines did not supply the Franks with provisions. Although the Tyrians fought well they were constrained to seek aid from Tughtigin, the Seljuk king of Damascus. Before taking this step, however, a letter was sent to the Egyptian court to justify this action. Tughtigin sent a carrier pigeon to establish his first contact with Tyre, but it was intercepted by an Arab in the Crusader’s service. The message was taken to Baldwin who sent men in disguise to meet the delegation from Damascus. These were captured and put to death. Nonetheless Tughtigin advanced on Tyre and besieged the Franks in their camp. Baldwin, greatly discouraged by four wasted months before the walls of Tyre, gave up the attempt. He was obliged to lift the siege and fight his way back to Acre.
Baldwin now turned his attention to affairs in northern Syria. He then went to Akaba on the Red Sea and left a garrison there. On his return he marched again against Tyre but contented himself with setting up a strict blockade of the city from the land.
Baldwin occupied himself with administration of his possessions and the building of fortresses. He visited the Red Sea to examine the region and was brought low with illness. Tyre was the only city on the coast still in the possession of the enemy and the king was eager to bring it under his power, William of Tyre tells us:
“Accordingly, this same year, after he had recovered from his illness, he built a fortress between Acre and Tyre. This occupied the very site where once Alexander of Macedon, in order to take Tyre, is said to have erected a fortress and to have called it Alexandrium from his own name. Alexandrium lies on the seashore scarcely five miles from Tyre and is well watered by springs. The king rebuilt it with the idea that it might be a thorn in the side of the people of Tyre and that from it injuries might often be inflicted upon them.”
Baldwin I neglected his final duty as king, he made no arrangement for the succession to the throne. At his death a council of nobles decided that the crown go to Baldwin of Le Bourg, Count of Edessa. He was a devout, God fearing man. King Baldwin II had barely established himself on the throne when he heard of an alliance between Egypt and Damascus. The Fatimid vizier, Al-Afdal was anxious to avenge the incursions of Baldwin I against Egypt, while Tughtigin of Damascus was alarmed by the growing power of the Franks. Tughtigin laid waste to the land of Tiberias and Baldwin retorted by marching against him and destroying the city of Gerasa. Tughtigin had built a large fortress there well supplied with provisions and weapons. Opinion in the camp of Baldwin was unanimous that it should be completely razed.
Meanwhile Balak, a powerful Turkish prince, was making frequent incursions into the countryside surrounding Antioch. Count Jocelyn, ruler of Edessa, and his kinsman Galeran were captured by him and thrown into prison. Baldwin and his army proceeded to Antioch to protect the city and the people. Riding with some followers while inspecting the area, Baldwin fell into the hands of Balak and was led away captive. The captured king was bound and cast into the fortress of Quardapiert (Kharpart) where Jocelyn and Galeran were also imprisoned. Certain Armenians hearing the king was held in captivity devised a scheme to rescue him and his companions. Disguised in the habits of monks, but carrying daggers under their loose robes, they declared they had suffered injury and desired to protest to the governor. Another version is that they gained admittance into the fortress as merchants selling cheap wares. By whatever means they gained an entry they took possession of the citadel, released the king and the count and fortified the place as best they could. Baldwin ordered Jocelyn to depart secretly and to return with sufficient men to deliver him. The Turks in the meantime discovered that the king and his companions had gained control of the citadel by a clever ruse. They seized their arms and hurried to the fortress which was built on a hill. Balak was aware that it would be an easy task to undermine the fortress. He therefore gave orders to dig deep tunnels into the hill and shore them up with beams, dry boughs and other inflammable wood. Once the workmen finished digging, fire was set to the combustible material. When the supports burned away, the hill caved in and a tower, which was built on it, collapsed with a crash. The Turks swarmed in and the king surrendered to Balak without conditions. Balak granted life to the king and Galeran, but the Armenians were delivered over to tortures of every kind:
“Some were flayed alive, others sawn asunder; and still others buried alive. Others Balak handed over to his men to serve as targets in archery practice. Yet, though they suffered torture in this world, these men had a sure hope of immortal life; though they were tried in a few things, yet, from another point of view, their reward was great.”
The Venetians in the meantime had enjoyed profitable commerce with the east. They were reluctant to break these trade relationships and therefore had not taken any great part in the Crusades up to this time. However they saw that the Genoese and Pisans, by their connection with the Crusader movement, were gaining many commercial advantages. The doge of Venice, learning of the difficulties which faced the kingdom of the East, seized this opportunity and ordered a fleet to be made ready. With forty galleys, twenty-eight chats and four larger ships, he set sail for Syria. The doge sighted the Egyptian fleet near Jaffa and attacked. He won the naval battle and many Egyptian galleys remained in the hands of the Venetians. The news that the doge had landed in the eastern Mediterranean and had triumphed over the Egyptians reached Jerusalem. It now remained to come to an agreement between the doge and the barons of the kingdom to take either Ascalon or Tyre. The representatives from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jaffa and Nablus wished to direct the campaign against Ascalon, as it was nearer, and would demand less outlay of labor and money. The people from Acre, Nazareth, Sidon, Beirut, Tiberias, Jbeil, and other cities on the coast urged that the expedition be led against Tyre. Their argument was that since this was a well-fortified city, all possible efforts should be made to take the city, otherwise the enemy by way of Tyre might have access to Crusader territory. A compromise was reached. To end the controversy it was decided to draw lots. William of Tyre tells us:
“Two slips of parchment, one containing the name of Tyre, the other that of Ascalon, were placed on the altar. Then an innocent orphan boy was brought forward and allowed to choose between the two, it being understood that the army should proceed without dispute against the city named in the lot drawn. The choice fell upon Tyre.”
Preparations were made for the expedition and on February 16th 1124 the Frankish army moved up the coast and the Venetian fleet sailed parallel to it. They laid siege to Tyre both by land and by sea. The Crusaders drew up all their ships on dry land near the harbor. One galley alone was kept at sea ready for any emergency which might arise. Workmen were summoned to build siege engines of various kinds. The patriarch of Jerusalem and the Frankish nobles assembled carpenters and builders, provided the necessary material and directed them to build a tower of great height. From the top of this the Crusaders could engage in close combat with the Tyrians in the towers on the city walls. Machines were built which could hurl huge stones to shatter the walls. The doge and the Venetian forces built similar machines and set them up in strategic positions. Constant attacks and skirmishes gave the Tyrians no chance to rest. However the Tyrians were not dismayed. They built huge machines in the city from which rocks were hurled on the Crusader towers. According to William of Tyre:
“The fear inspired by these flying stones enabled the foe (the Tyrians) to become masters of that particular section, for none of the Christians dared to remain in the vicinity… From their stations in the high towers, the enemy, armed with bows and ballistae, poured forth showers of Javelins and arrows, and meanwhile a never ceasing torrent of huge rocks hurled from within the city pressed the Christians so hard that they scarcely dared to thrust forth a hand.”
The Crusaders pressed on. From their siege towers they returned blow for blow. The Tyrians had difficulty in repelling them. Huge stones were hurled into the city and the towers and walls of Tyre were nearly demolished by the force of the blows. Some missiles passed over the ramparts and crashed with force in the city damaging buildings and injuring the inhabitants. In the countryside cavalry and infantry forces fought daily skirmishes with the Tyrians. Many a time the Tyrians took the initiative to attack the Crusaders. Day by day Crusaders and Tyrians continued their attacks, be it by machines or by fighting around the gates. At this time, Pons, the count of Tripoli summoned by the nobles, arrived with his forces.
His arrival strengthened the position of the Crusaders. To the Tyrians it brought fear and a sense of futility of resisting. Wearied by the continuous fighting and constant skirmishes, they began to despair. Their food supply was giving out and no one could enter or leave the city unmolested. Scarcely any provisions now remained. They wrote to the caliph of Egypt and the king of Damascus to inform them of their desperate condition. Word was presently received that Tughtigin, king of Damascus, moved by the messages had left Damascus with a large number of Turks. He set up his camp in the vicinity of Tyre on the banks of a river four miles from the city. It was further rumored that an Egyptian fleet would arrive within three days with reinforcements and the necessary food supplies. The king of Damascus was expecting more soldiers to join him. For this reason he prudently postponed crossing the river and attacking the Crusaders until the Egyptian fleet arrived. He reasoned that while he was fighting the Crusaders, the naval force might have unhindered access to the city.
The Crusaders decided to counter all these moves. The cavalry and infantry were to march out with the count of Tripoli and William de Bury, the king’s constable, leading them. They were to engage the forces of the king of Damascus. The doge of Venice and his men were to set out in galleys to engage the Egyptian fleet. The third division consisted of the people from neighboring cities who had come to take part in the siege and a large number of Venetians. To this contingent was given the duty of guarding the siege engines and movable towers. They were to ensure that the hurling machines continued to assault the city and that the fighting before the gate was not interrupted.
The count of Tripoli, the king’s constable and their forces rode out to meet the enemy. They advanced two miles, but the army of Tughtigin did not ride out to meet them. It was obvious that the king of Damascus had originally placed his camp by the river intent on crossing it. However, when he learned of the Crusader plans, he decided it would be dangerous to risk an encounter with them. Accordingly he ordered the trumpet to sound the summons calling his men together and gave the command to return home. The doge of Venice and his fleet in battle formation sailed down to Alexandrium (known as Scandalium). Here he learned that the king of Damascus had returned home. There was no sight of the Egyptian fleet, so he sailed back. The siege of Tyre was pressed forward more vigorously.
As the situation became hopeless some young men of Tyre took a solemn oath and planned to steal into the Crusader camp to set fire to the machines and movable towers. They stealthily left the city and succeeded in setting fire to an engine which was of great use to the Crusaders. The Crusaders tried to quench the flames by pouring on quantities of water. The fire was put out; the young Tyrians were captured and killed as their friends looked helplessly on. The Tyrians had set up a machine within the city which was aiming huge stones so accurately against the Crusader’s siege towers as to cause serious damage. William of Tyre writes:
“Since there was no one in camp who possessed the expert skill necessary for aiming and hurling the mighty missiles, they sent to Antioch for a certain Armenian named Havedic, who was said to be very proficient in that art. He came immediately and displayed so much skill in directing the machines and hurling the great stone missiles that whatever was assigned to him as a target was at once destroyed without difficulty. As soon as he reached the army, he was granted an honorable salary from the public treasury, so that he might maintain himself in his customary magnificence. He applied himself earnestly to the work for which he had been summoned and showed so much skill that the war seemed to be carried on with renewed strength. In fact it assumed the aspect of a new war in the eyes of the Tyrians, whose woes were greatly increased by his coming.”
As the siege of Tyre progressed, Balak, the Turkish prince who held Baldwin II prisoner, was killed while besieging the city of Hierapolis. This news was received with great joy by the armies before Tyre. The Tyrians on the other hand were suffering desperately from hunger. They had no hope of receiving provisions or aid. William of Tyre tells us of a desperate act, which gained the admiration of the Crusaders. Several young Tyrians, expert swimmers all, ventured out from the inner harbor and succeeded in reaching the Crusader galley, which was moored at sea. They had brought with them a rope which they fastened to the vessel. They then cut the moorings and began to tow the ship after them to the city. The Crusaders gave the alarm. Men hurried to the shore but before they could decide what to do, the youths had towed the vessel inside the city harbor. Of the five men assigned to guard the vessel, one was killed but the other four leaped into the sea and swam safely to shore.
The Tyrians meanwhile were driven beyond endurance by hunger. They gathered together in groups to discuss how to put an end to their misery. Surrender was preferable to seeing their wives and children die from starvation. By unanimous consent the matter was brought before the elders and governors of the city. The entire city gathered in a public meeting where it was decided that peace must be obtained no matter at what risk or on what terms.
Aware of the city’s untenable situation the king of Damascus summoned his allies and returned to his position near Tyre where he encamped by the river. He sent envoys to the patriarch Gormond, the doge of Venice, Dominicus Michaelis, the count of Tripoli and the other nobles on the Crusader side. After much discussion an agreement was reached between the two parties. The city was to be surrendered to the Crusaders on condition that those who wished be allowed to leave freely with their wives, children and possessions. Those who preferred to remain at Tyre could do so and their homes and possessions would be guaranteed from harm. The king of Jerusalem’s standard was raised on the tower over the city gate; likewise the banner of the doge of Venice was placed on one tower; from another tower the colors of the count of Tripoli were flown. Thus Tyre was taken on June 29, 1124, in sixth year of the reign of Baldwin, king of Jerusalem.
The townspeople, worn out by the long siege, came out of the city and hurried to the Crusader camp. They were curious to examine the great siege machines and movable towers. When the Crusader forces entered Tyre, they too, in turn, marveled. William of Tyre writes:
“They admired the fortifications of the city, the strength of the buildings, the massive walls and lofty towers, the noble harbor so difficult of access. They had only praise for the resolute perseverance of the citizens who, despite the pressure of terrible hunger and the scarcity of supplies, had been able to ward off surrender for so long. For when our forces took possession of the place they found only five measures of wheat in the city.”
In 1187 Saladin, founder of the Ayyoubid dynasty, succeeded in uniting Islam and invaded Syria and Palestine. Advancing along the Phoenician coast he arrived with his army before Tyre. It was well garrisoned and the great walls that protected it from the land were formidable. When his first attack failed he passed on to conquer Sidon, Beirut and Jbeil. By the end of August 1187 the cities, which remained in the hands of the Crusaders to the south of Tripoli, were Tyre, Ascalon, Gaza, a few isolated castles and the holy city of Jerusalem. On October 2, 1187 Saladin at the head of his armed forces entered Jerusalem.
However Saladin had not taken Tyre, the strongest fortified city on the coast. The refugee barons of Palestine were now crowded in the city. Joined to the mainland by a sandy isthmus, with a great wall built across it, Tyre appeared impregnable. Had Saladin pressed his attack on Tyre as soon as Acre fell, this wall could not have stopped him. He delayed too long, and the vigor of the Tyrian defense was too much for him. He raised the siege and marched against Ascalo. When in November 1187 he again appeared before Tyre, its
fortifications had been strengthened further. Frankish military and naval reinforcements had arrived. At a council of war Saladin disbanded half of his army and lifted the siege of Tyre. It was New Year’s Day 1188.
At Saladin’s death, his dominions were divided between his sons, of whom Othman succeeded as sultan of Egypt. War broke out between Saladin’s sons and heirs and the throne came to Malek al- Adil, the uncle of Othman. On July 1, 1198 a peace was negotiated between al-Adil and Almaric, king of Jerusalem. It gave Jaffa to the Moslems; the Crusaders took possession of Jbeil and Beirut. Sidon was divided between them. The peace was to last for five years and eight months.
Tyre is a celebrated city, and a frontier fortress of the Moslems. The city is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and there is land only on the fourth side where the roadway is defended by a fortified gate. It stands out in the sea, as the palm of the hand does from the wrist. The Moslems first took the city in the days of Omar, and it remained in their hands in perfect prosperity till the year 518 (1124), when the Franks came against the city and beleaguered and blockaded it, till it surrendered. The ruler of Egypt had tried to raise the siege, but the winds were contrary, and perforce he had to sail back to Egypt. Then they capitulated, and the Moslems all left the city, and none remained, except beggars, who could not move. The Franks have fortified Tyre and garrisoned it and rebuilt the town, and it remains in their hands even to the present day. Tyre is counted as of the Jordan province.
Toward the end of the Ayyoubid period, Malek al-Saleh Najm ed-Din Ayyoub succeeded his brother and entered Cairo as sultan in June 1240. He made large purchases of slaves (Mamaliks) for his army. Most of his time was spent in campaigns in Syria. The dynasties which succeeded the Ayyoubids until the conquest of Egypt by the Ottomans are often called Mamalik dynasties because their sultans were drawn from the enfranchised slaves who constituted the court and officered the army. In 1277 Kalaoun, a Mamlouk who had risen high in a former sovereign’s service, seized power. He directed his energies towards capturing the last places that remained in the hands of the Crusaders.
Kalaoun was followed by his son, Khalil (Malek al-Ashraf Salah ed-Din) who carried out his father’s policy to drive the Franks out of Syria. On 17th June 1291 he captured and destroyed Acre after a siege of forty-three days. This was followed by the capture of Tyre, Sidon and Beirut. Dimashki, born in 1256 in Damascus, wrote a description of his native land. He gives us many details of the state of the country after the departure of the Crusaders. He writes:
“Saladin did not gain possession of Tyre, for in his days it remained in the hands of the Christians, and was only retaken by Salah ed-Din Khalil, and it was he who laid it in ruins. In the space of forty-seven days retook from the Christians the fortresses of Athlith, Haifa, Iskandarounah, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Jbeil, Anfah, Batroun and Sarafand.”
The Arab historian and future ruler of Hama, Abul-Fida, states:
“After the conquest of Acre, God struck fear into the hearts of those Franj still remaining on the coast. Thus did they precipitately evacuate Sidon, Beirut, Tyre, and all the other towns. The sultan therefore had the good fortune, shared by none other, of easily conquering all those strongholds, which he immediately had dismantled. With these conquests all the lands of the coast were fully returned to the Muslims, a result undreamed of. Thus were the Franj, who had once nearly conquered Damascus, Egypt, and many other lands, expelled from all of Syria and the coastal zones. God grant that they never set foot there again.”
The Holy Land was thus cleared of the Crusaders.