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Medieval Sourcebook:
Ludolph of Suchem:
The Fall of Acre, 1291


[Adapted from Brundage] As the Mongol armies began their advance into the Near East, there was for a time some hope that they might cooperate with the Christian powers of the Near East against the Moslem armies of that area. St. Louis, in fact, continued to cherish the hope - not entirely without foundation-that the Mongols might in time become Christian converts.

That the hope for Christian-Mongol cooperation against Islam was not unfounded was demonstrated when a large Mongol host under the Great Khan's brother, Hulagu, moved into Persia in 1256, destroying first the Assassin headquarters and then, in 1258, Baghdad itself. In the following year Hulagu's army moved into Syria, destroying Aleppo and taking Damascus as they went.

In 1260 word came to the Mongol armies in Syria that the Great Khan was dead. Hulagu anticipated trouble over the succession and withdrew his forces from Syria to hold them ready for fighting in the East. The Egyptian Sultan, meanwhile, had been preparing to fight off the Mongol horde. When the Sultan's armies advanced into Syria, they found only a relatively small Mongol rear guard there. At Ain Jalud on September 2, 1260 the Sultan defeated this Mongol army decisively.

The battle of Ain Jalud was of major importance, for it demonstrated both the prowess of the Egyptians and the vincibility of the Mongols. True, the Mongol force at Ain Jalud was comparatively small, but since no major Mongol forces were sent to Syria in the years immediately after the battle, Sultan Baibars was left free to attack the Latins in Palestine. The hope of joint Latin-Mongol cooperation in Palestine had failed.

Egyptian campaigns against the Latin kingdom came thick and fast. In 1265 Caesarea, Haifa, and Arsuf all fell to the Sultan. The following year saw the loss of all the important Latin holdings in Galilee. In 1268 Antioch was taken.

To help redress these losses, a number of minor Crusading expeditions left Europe for the East. The abortive Crusade of St. Louis to Tunis in 1270 was one such attempt. The tiny Crusade of Prince Edward (later King Edward 1) of England in 1-271-1272 was another. Neither of these expeditions was capable of giving any sound assistance to the beleaguered Latin states. The forces involved were too small, the duration of the Crusades too short, the interests of the participants too diverse to allow of any solid accomplishment.

Pope Gregory X (1271-1276) labored valiantly to excite some general enthusiasm for another great Crusade, but be labored in vain. The failure of his appeal was variously ascribed by the Pope's advisors to the laziness and vice of the European mobility and to clerical corruption. Though each of these factors may have been in part to blame, a more basic reason for the failure seems to have been the debasement of the ideal of the Crusade itself. The use by Gregory X's predecessors of the label and privileges of the Crusade to recruit armies which could fight the Papacy's European armies had done much to throw the whole movement into disrepute.

In any event, no Crusade of any major importance was forthcoming, despite the Pope's best efforts. Meanwhile the attacks on the Latin East continued, as did also the internal difficulties within what was left of the Latin Kingdom. By 1276 the situation of the Kingdom, both external and internal, had become so perilous that the "King of Jerusalem" withdrew from Palestine altogether to take up his abode on the Island of Cyprus.

The desperate plight of the Latin Kingdom worsened. In 1278 Lattakioh fell. In 1289 Tripoli was lost, too. Frantic efforts once again to conclude an alliance between Europe and the Mongols failed." At last, in 1291, the Egyptian Sultan, al-Ashraf, began an assault upon the last major Latin city left in Palestine - Acre.

THE FALL OF ACRE

After having told of the glories and beauties of Acre, I will now shortly tell you of its fall and ruin, and the cause of its loss, even as I beard the tale told by right truthful men, who well remembered it. While, then, the grand doings of which I have spoken were going on in Acre, at the instigation of the devil these arose a violent and hateful quarrel in Lombardy between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, which brought all evil upon the Christians. Those Lombards who dwelt at Acre took sides in this same quarrel, especially the Pisans and Genoese, both of whom had an exceedingly strong party in Acre. These men made treaties and truces with the Saracens, to the end that they might the better fight against one another within the city. When Pope Urban [note; Some confusion here - perhaps Pope Nicholas IV, 1288-92 is meant?] heard of this, he grieved for Christendom and for the Holy Land, and sent twelve thousand mercenary troops across the sea to help the Holy Land and Christendom. When these men came across the sea to Acre they did no good, but abode by day and by night in taverns and places of ill­repute, took and plundered merchants and pilgrims in the public street, broke the treaty, and did much evil. Melot Sapheraph, Sultan of Babylon," an exceedingly wise man, most potent in arms and bold in action, when he heard of this, and knew of the hateful quarrels of the people of Acre, called together his counselors and held a parliament in Babylon, wherein he complained that the truces had frequently been broken and violated, to the prejudice of himself and his people. After a debate had been held upon this matter, he gathered together a mighty host, and reached the city of Acre without any resistance, because of their quarrels with one another, cutting down and wasting all the vineyards and fruit trees and all the gardens and orchards, which are most lovely thereabout. When the Master of the Templars, [William of Beaujeu] a very wise and brave knight, saw this, he feared that the fall of the city was at hand, because of the quarrels of the citizens. He took counsel with his brethren about how peace could be restored, and then went out to meet the Sultan, who was his own very especial friend, to ask him whether they could by any means repair the broken truce. He obtained these terms from the Sultan, to wit, that because of his love for the Sultan and the honor in which the Sultan held him, the broken truce might be restored by every man in Acre paying one Venetian penny. So the Master of the Templars was glad, and, departing from the Sultan, called together all the people and preached a sermon to them in the Church of St. Cross, setting forth how, by his prayers, he had prevailed upon the Sultan to grant that the broken treaty might be restored by a payment of one Venetian penny by each man, that therewith everything might be settled and quieted. He advised them by all means so to do, declaring that the quarrels of the citizens might bring a worse evil upon the city than this ­as indeed they did. But when the people heard this, they cried out with one voice that he was the betrayer of the city, and was guilty of death. The Master, when he beard this, left the church, hardly escaped alive from the hands of the people, and took back their answer to the Sultan. When the Sultan heard this, knowing that, owing to the quarrels of the people, none of them would make any resistance, he pitched his tents, set up sixty machines, dug many mines beneath the city walls, and for forty days and nights, without any respite, assailed the city with fire, stones, and arrows, so that [the air] seemed to be stiff with arrows. I have beard a very honorable knight say that a lance which he was about to hurl from a tower among the Saracens was all notched with arrows before it left his hand. There were at that time in the Sultan's army six hundred thousand armed, divided into three companies; so one hundred thousand continually besieged the city, and when they were weary another hundred thousand took their place before the same, two hundred thousand stood before the gates of the city ready for battle, and the duty of the remaining two hundred thousand was to supply them with everything that they needed. The gates were never closed, nor was there an hour of the day without some hard fight being fought against the Saracens by the Templars or other brethren dwelling therein. But the numbers of the Saracens grew so fast that after one hundred thousand of them had been slain two hundred thousand came back. Yet, even against all this host, they would not have lost the city had they but helped one another faithfully; but when they were fighting without the city, one party would run away and leave the other to be slain, while within the city one party would not defend the castle or palace belonging to the other, but purposely let the other party's castles, palaces, and strong places be stormed and taken by the enemy, and each one knew and believed his own castle and place to be so strong that he cared not for any other's castle or strong place. During this confusion the masters and brethren of the Orders alone defended themselves, and fought unceasingly against the Saracens, until they were nearly all slain; indeed, the Master and brethren of the house of the Teutonic Order, together with their followers and friends, all fell dead at one and the same time. As this went on with many battles and thousands slain on either side, at last the fulfillment of their sins and the time of the fall of the city drew near; when the fortieth day of its siege was come, in the year of our Lord one thousand two hundred and ninety-two, on the twelfth day of the month of May, the most noble and glorious city of Acre, the flower, chief and pride of all the cities of the East, was taken. The people of the other cities, to wit, Jaffa, Tyre, Sidon and Ascalon, when they heard this, left all their property behind and Red to Cyprus. When first the Saracens took Acre they got in through a breach in the wall near the King of Jerusalem's castle, and when they were among the people of the city within, one party still would not help the other, but each defended his own castle and palace, and the Saracens had a much longer siege, and fought at much less advantage when they were within the city than when they were without , for it was wondrously fortified. Indeed, we read in the stories of the loss of Acre that because of the sins of the people thereof the four elements fought on the side of the Saracens. First the air became so thick, dark, and cloudy that, while one castle, palace, or strong place was being stormed or burned, men could hardly see in the other castles and palaces, until their castles and palaces were attacked, and then for the first time they would have willingly defended themselves, could they have come together. Fire fought against the city, for it consumed it. Earth fought against the city, for it drank up its blood. Water also fought against the city, for it being the month of May, wherein the sea is wont to be very calm, when the people of Acre plainly saw that because of their sins and the darkening of the air they could not see their enemies, they fled to the sea, desiring to sail to Cyprus, and whereas at first there was no wind at all at sea, of a sudden so great a storm arose that no other ship, either great or small, could come near the shore, and many who essayed to swim off to the ships were drowned. Howbeit, more than one hundred thousand men escaped to Cyprus. I have heard from a most honorable Lord, and from other truthful men who were present, that more than five hundred most noble ladies and maidens, the daughters of kings and princes, came down to the seashore, when the city was about to fall, carrying with them all their jewels and ornaments of gold and precious stones, of priceless value, in their bosoms, and cried aloud, whether there were any sailor there who would take all their jewels and take whichever of them he chose to wife, if only he would take them, even naked, to some safe land or island. A sailor received them all into his ship, took them across to Cyprus, with all their goods, for nothing, and went his way. But who he was, whence he came, or whither he went, no man knows to this day. Very many other noble ladies and damsels were drowned or slain. It would take long to tell what grief and anguish was there. While the Saracens were within the city, but before they had taken it, fighting from castle to castle, from one palace and strong place to another, so many men perished on either side that they walked over their corpses as it were over a bridge. When all the inner city was lost, all who still remained alive fled into the exceeding strong castle of the Templars, which was straightway invested on all sides by the Saracens; yet the Christians bravely defended it for two months, and before it almost all the nobles and chiefs of the Sultan's army fell dead. For when the city inside the walls was burned, yet the towers of the city, and the Templars' castle, which was in the city, remained, and with these the people of the city kept the Saracens within the city from getting out, as before they had hindered their coming in, until of all the Saracens who had entered the city not one remained alive, but all fell by fire or by the sword. When the Saracen nobles saw the others lying dead, and themselves unable to escape from the city, they fled for refuge into the mines which they had dug under the great tower, that they might make their way through the wall and so get out. But the Templars and others who were in the castle, seeing that they could not hurt the Saracens with stones and the like, because of the mines wherein they were, undermined the great tower of the castle, and flung it down upon the mines and the Saracens therein, and all perished alike. When the other Saracens without the city saw that they had thus, as it were, failed utterly, they treacherously made a truce with the Templars and Christians on the condition that they should yield up the castle, taking all their goods with them, and should destroy it, but should rebuild the city on certain terms, and dwell therein in peace as heretofore. The Templars and Christians, believing this, gave up the castle and marched out of it, and came down from the city towers. When the Saracens had by this means got possession both of the castle and of the city towers, they slew all the Christians alike, and led away the captives to Babylon. Thus Acre has remained empty and deserted even to this day. In Acre and the other places Dearly a hundred and six thousand men were slain or taken, and more than two hundred thousand escaped from thence. Of the Saracens more than three hundred thousand were slain, as is well known even to this day. The Saracens spent forty days over the siege of the city, fifty days within the city before it was taken, and two months over the siege of the Templars' castle. When the glorious city of Acre thus fell, all the Eastern people sung of its fall in hymns of lamentation, such as they are wont to sing over the tombs of their dead, bewailing the beauty, the grandeur, and the glory of Acre even to this day. Since that day all Christian women, whether gentle or simple, who dwell along the eastern shore [of the Mediterranean] dress in black garments of mourning and woe for the lost grandeur of Acre, even to this day.

[Adapted from Brundage] The fall of Acre closed an era. No effective Crusade was raised to recapture the Holy Land after Acre's fall, though talk of further Crusades was common enough. By 1291 other ideals had captured the interest and enthusiasm of the monarchs and nobility of Europe and even strenuous papal efforts to raise expeditions to liberate the Holy Land met with little response. The ideal of the Crusade was irretrievably tarnished.

The Latin Kingdom continued to exist, theoretically, on the Island of Cyprus. There the Latin Kings schemed and planned to recapture the mainland, but in vain. Money, men, and the will to do the task were all lacking. One last effort was made by King Peter I in 1365, when be successfully landed in Egypt and sacked Alexandria. Once the city was pillaged, however, the Crusaders returned as speedily as possible to Cyprus to divide their loot. As a Crusade, the episode was utterly futile.

The fourteenth century saw some other so-called Crusades organized, but these enterprises differed in many ways from the eleventh and twelfth century expeditions which are properly called Crusades. The "Crusades" of the fourteenth century aimed not at the recapture of Jerusalem and the Christian shrines of the Holy Land, but rather at checking the advance of the Ottoman Turks into Europe. While many of the "Crusaders" in these fourteenth century undertakings looked upon the defeat of the Ottomans as a preliminary to the ultimate recapture of the holy Land, none of the later crusades attempted any direct attack upon Palestine or Syria.


Source:

Ludolph of Suchem, Description of the Holy Land and of the Way Thither, trans. Aubrey Stewart (London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1895), XII, 54­61. reprinted in James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 268-72

Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover he gave permission for use of his translations.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall December 1997
halsall@fordham.edu