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10 New Discoveries About the Crusaders

Jana is an amateur archaeologist who examined her first rock at the age of 2. She likes to group ancient discoveries together in fun lists.

Stained glass in a Cornwall church depicting a Knight Templar.

Stained glass in a Cornwall church depicting a Knight Templar.

Meet the Knights

Military orders such as the Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights all participated in the wars of the Crusades, fighting against the Muslims for ultimate control of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Many well-documented stories were left behind and there are plenty of scintillating myths surrounding some of these monks, especially the Knights Templar. However, solid history demands physical evidence to back up these tales and such discoveries are rare. In recent years, several findings surfaced – some gave more credence to known battles but also revealed new behaviors, lifestyles and difficulties the Crusaders faced, some of which had never been seen before.

10. Tel Aviv Tablet

A wall slab in Tel Aviv confused researchers for years. For once, the logic behind the Arabic inscription was difficult to decipher. One of the 800-year-old lines read, "1229 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus the Messiah." Not realizing the date was not written by a Muslim, it was assumed to originally belong to a 19th Century tombstone. But once researchers caught on, it became clear that the date reflected the Christian calendar.

Diligent investigation revealed it had been created by the Roman Emperor Frederick II, a ruler who preferred to talk the Muslim enemy into his corner rather than fighting them. He spoke Arabic fluently but even so, writing a royal declaration in the language was an unusual move and it remains the only such Crusader inscription in the Middle East. It lists the countries he ruled and in it, he calls himself the King of Jerusalem. This refers to the Sixth Crusade that Frederick II led in 1228 and which won him the territories, including Jerusalem, belonging to the Sultan of Egypt. This remarkable feat was achieved, not by battle, but with diplomatic talks.

9. The Lebanese Legacy

It would appear that the living genes of the Crusaders and their adversaries surfaced in Lebanon.

During a survey, geneticists focused on male Muslims and Christians living in Lebanon. Originally, the study had nothing to do with what the ancient opponents but intended to analyze Y-chromosome influences on different population groups. Researchers weren't looking to find Crusaders and the spread of Islam in the 926 volunteers but there is no easier way to explain what surfaced.

While peering at the subjects' building blocks of life, they noticed that the Christian group had more of the genetic marker R1b. This marker is usually only seen in Western Europe. The Muslim men was enriched with the Hg J* marker, one that is abundant in the Arabian Peninsula and most likely stem from a 7th Century A.D. influx into Lebanon.

History and local oral tradition supports the genetic arrival of two major religions in the country. Some Lebanese Christians tell of stories where the Crusaders are their ancestors. Since it's estimated that up to 2 percent of the population carries R1b, which represents a substantial injection of genetic material, it's likely that Crusaders (11-13 Centuries A.D.) coming from Western Europe was indeed responsible. R1b is yet to be found elsewhere in the Middle East.

8. Double-Sword Grave

Amateur archaeologists made the discovery of a lifetime - the body of an early Crusader. The team started the day in Janakkala, southern Finland, exploring a field with a metal detector. After a few unimportant finds, things progressed when an ax blade and the tip of a spear marked a spot of interest. However, after some digging unearthed a shattered sword, they decided to stop and call in the experts.

It turned out to be a grave containing a well-preserved skull and torso of a man. The burial occurred sometime during the 12th Century. Considering that he came with weaponry, researchers are almost certain that he was a Crusader swordsman and possibly even of noble birth. What makes this a rare burial is that it also contains a set of swords. Stacked on top of each other, they presented archaeologists with a puzzle. Each belonged to a different historical period. The smaller was a scorched Viking-era blade and possibly a family heirloom. The second, a medieval sword, is unusually long and measured 120 cm. This makes it one of the longest ever discovered in Finland.

Saranda Kolones

Remains of a horse mill at Saranda Kolones.

Remains of a horse mill at Saranda Kolones.

7. They Had Worms

A Crusader castle in western Cyprus yielded evidence that the soldiers had an enemy they couldn't defeat.

The castle, Saranda Kolones, was built in 1191 and used by the men who fought during the Third Crusade. They used the bathroom for 30 years before an earthquake decommissioned the fort. Plucky researchers retrieved feces from an ancient latrine and found a heavy infestation of whipworm and roundworm eggs. Both species are a modern problem, but for medieval Crusaders, the problem would have gone beyond the embarrassment of having worms. They would have suffered abdominal pain, inability to efficiently absorb nutrients (slow starvation), exhaustion and physical intestinal damage.

Malnutrition was a documented cause of death during the Crusades. An estimated 15-20 percent of nobles and clergy succumbed to malnutrition and disease. No records were kept of soldier deaths but one can assume that the death toll was even higher among the lower-ranking men. Spread through bad hygiene, it is likely that parasites shot down many Crusaders during long expeditions and sieges.

6. Hand Grenade

Marcel Mazliah was once an employee of the Israel Electric Corporation. He worked at the coastal Hadera power station for decades and when he recently died, his secret hobby came to light.

Mazliah had been collecting ancient artifacts from the Mediterranean sea for years. One of them was a lavishly adorned hand grenade that could easily fit in the palm of one's hand. Used during the Crusader era, it was made of metal and embossed with patterns on the outside. Much like today, the idea was to toss the acorn-shaped weapon at the enemy. Scholars are not wholly united about the nature of these artifacts. Some believe they were used to deliver burning naphtha, a liquid chemical, while others suspect the so-called ancient hand grenades were really perfume holders.

After Mazliah's passing, his family handed over the priceless collection to the authorities. Most of the artifacts appeared to originate from shipwrecks. Among the rest of the items were a toggle pin, mortars, pestles, candlestick fragments and a 3,500-year-old knife piece from the Bronze Age.

Apollonia Fort

5. Crusader Coins

In 2012, the Apollonia fortress outside Tel Aviv delivered another rare treasure. Literally, this time. Israeli archaeologists lifted one of the castle's floor tiles and found a fractured jug. Inside was 108 gold coins. The hoard is worth approximately $100,000 and was probably hidden by Crusaders when Muslims attacked their stronghold.

The area surrounding the coastal building saw major conflict over who was going to take the Holy Land. When the coins were hastily buried, around 1265, the castle was embroiled in a battle which saw the Muslim forces emerge as victorious. After they won, they clearly never bothered to look beneath the floor tiles.

It remains unclear how the gold reached Israel in the first place but researchers know that the coins were minted around 1000 A.D. and that the owners were the Knights Hospitaller, a Christian Order known for their care of the sick. The significance of the find is three-fold. It's one of the biggest gold caches ever found, rare because its difficult to find money used by the Crusaders and it also backs up written history detailing a drawn-out siege and battle at Appolonia.

4. Teutonic Luxuries

In Upper Galilee, the military monks of the Teutonic Order built themselves a home. Montfort Castle was tucked away between hills almost as if they wished to remain hidden. However, the German Crusaders were ousted in 1271 after losing a 15-day siege forced on them by the Mamluks.

Recent excavations in 2016 showed that the monks lived in unexpected comfort. They played board games such as Nine Man's Morris and enjoyed a variety of meat in their diet, including mutton, beef, venison, pork and even the odd turtle. They had coins and a large collection of glassware. The stables were beautifully constructed with a beamed roof and flagged floor. A lot of the metal artifacts came from the stables: horse shoes and nails, saddle buckles, bells and tools. Clothing items suggested that they dressed stylishly: chain and scale mail, buttons for belts and tunics, even weapons parts for arrows and crossbows were produced by the castle's workshop.

A happy footnote; the Montfort knights were spared after the castle fell to Sultan Baibars, who kindly escorted them to Acre, which was controlled by Crusaders.

3. Attack on Jerusalem's Queen

In the 12th Century, a young Crusader attacked Jerusalem. Not to remove Muslims, but to oust his mother who ruled the city. Historians always knew about this bitter family moment but for the first time, physical evidence came to light.

Queen Melisende became regent when her husband died and their son was still an infant. The baby grew up to become Baldwin III. In his 20s, after he defeated the Egyptian rulers in a battle for Ashkelon, Baldwin returned to claim his throne. Melisende denied him this honor, stating that he was too young.

In 2016, archaeologists on Mt. Zion found traces of Baldwin's ballistic reaction. A layer of ash, 0.45-meter thick, holds the remains of a fiery violence. Household items and crops were mixed with crossbow bolts, arrows and signs of a raging fire. The deposits date to around 1153 C.E., when he returned to Jerusalem. Despite the siege lasting a week and Baldwin storming the citadel after getting through the gates, mother and son reconciled. They even divided the realm; Baldwin became King of Jerusalem and Melisende ruled Judea and Samaria.

Crusader Stronghold Falls

2. The Acre Shipwreck

Acre eventually did fall to the Mamluk Sultanate. The Crusader stronghold in Israel was near the coast and by then, the only remaining Christian grip on the Holy Land.

In 2017, an ancient shipwreck was found in the modern-day harbor of Acre. To find out if this was one of the fleet carrying those who fled the final attack, the hull was tested to determine the wood's age. The ship returned a perfect time bracket (1062-1250 C.E.) for a vessel built during the Crusader era. A big find was when divers found gold florins near the wreck, minted during the era when Acre was destroyed in 1291 CE.

Discovering the ship and coins at the bottom of the harbor matches reports from those who witnessed the Siege of Acre. Merchants and nobles left the fortress by ship and paid boat owners handsomely to get them out of there but many still sank in the harbor during the battle. The Crusaders, a group of Knights Templar, refused to leave and fought bravely until they were crushed to death when the entire building collapsed.

1. The Hospital-Orphanage

A thousand years ago, the Knights Hospitaller built a magnificent edifice - a joint hospital and orphanage. The order wanted a safe haven for sick pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem, especially those who wished to die there. The building became the biggest hospital in the Middle East during the Crusades. Most of it ended up in ruins, likely from an earthquake that shook Jerusalem in 1457.

Beginning in 2000, excavations uncovered its true size. The structure covers over 150,000 square feet with enormous pillars supporting ribbed ceilings as high as 20 feet. Despite having the capacity to hold 2,000 patients, historical documents describe its efficiency as being almost on par with modern hospitals. Shoeing metal and bones from horses and camels show that the grounds included stables too.

This hospital was the one place where Crusaders and Muslims came together. Patients from any religion were allowed. The Arabs even helped with its construction and shared their expert medical knowledge. Even Saladin, the famous enemy of all Crusaders, gave the hospital his protection and left the monks in peace.













© 2017 Jana Louise Smit

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