Frontier Warfare in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem

The Campaign of Jacob's Ford, 1178-79.

The construction by the Latins of the fortress of Chastellet at the place known as 'Jacob's Ford' or Bait el-Ahzan on the Upper Jordan between Lake Huleh and the Sea of Galilee between October, 1178, and March, 1179, and Saladin's subsequent and ultimately successful attempt to demolish it in August, 1179, offers an interesting case history for the study of Christian-Muslim warfare in the reign of King Baldwin IV. Although the sources are not copious, they tell us enough to be able to draw some tentative conclusions about the military, economic, and religious significance of a site desired by both sides and the nature of the warfare required to make those desires a reality. The picture which emerges is far removed from the traditional images of the the gallant leper king and the chivalrous Saladin; rather it is one of grim and often desperate conflict, no less brutal and ruthless than its counterparts on western Christendom's other frontiers in Germany and Spain. Indeed, it could not have been otherwise, for control of this crossing was absolutely crucial to both sides in a way which it had not been in the past. More than any other military event between 1174 and 1187, the loss of this fortification began the process which led to the defeat of the Christians at Hattin. The situation was made all the more critical in that it took place in a year when, according to Imad ad-Din, Saladin's secretary and chancellor, drought and famine were especially severe the effects of which could only have been exacerbated by the wholesale seizure or destruction of the harvest.


According to one of the versions of the Old French chronicle of Ernoul, who was a contemporary with knowledge of high politics in the Latin kingdom, Baldwin IV had agreed not to fortify the place, but was persuaded by the Templars to renege on his promises. William of Tyre - who was often hostile to the Templars and had a particular hatred for Odo of Saint-Amand, the reigning Master - nevertheless says only that the king began to build the fortress, although he implies that the Templars were behind it, when he states that, on completion, it 'was surrendered to the brothers of the knights of the Temple, who laid claim to all that region for themselves by concession of the kings'. A truce had indeed been made with Saladin after the Frankish victory at Mont Gisard (south-east of Ramla) in November of the previous year, but neither side seems to have been very committed to it, since the Franks had attacked Hamah in August, 1178, while Saladin's preparations for a new campaign were fairly obvious.However, the Templars did have a particular interest in the area; in 1168 King Amalric had granted them the important fortress of Safad, which was only about fifteen kilometres (or half a day's journey, according to Imad ad-Din)to the south-west. Safad - described by Imad ad-Din as 'a nest of evil' - dominated northern Galilee, but could not by itself prevent incursions from the east across the Jordan.

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Author: Malcolm Barber

Article Source: http://www.deremilitari.org

Image Source: wikipedia.org  - Jacob's Ford Battlefield (1179) on the Jordan River. Looking east from the Crusader fortress across the river in the direction from which Saladin's forces attacked.

Keywords: Warfare, Crusader, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Fortifications, Siege Warfare



Malcolm Barber

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