Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Crusader States: The Setting of the Balian d'Ibelin Trilogy

My current project, a three-part biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin, is set in the crusader states established by the First Crusade. Over the next four entries, I want to "set the scene" for the novels by telling you more about the crusader states and so the world in which Balian lived. 


City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives today.
While most people have heard of "the crusades," not everyone realizes that the first crusade re-established Christian rule over some parts of the Holy Land, notably Antioch and Jerusalem, that lasted between 40 and 200 years.  Because the Western knights and noblemen who finally made it to Jerusalem felt they had been betrayed by the Byzantine Emperor, they did not turn the territory which they had conquered over to Byzantine control, instead they established a series of independent states with Christian rulers: the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli, and – most important – the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
 
Initially, these "kingdoms" were little more than Christian-controlled islands in an Islamic sea, separated from one another by large swaths of territory. Between 1099 and 1144, however, the Christians steadily increased their area of control -- in most cases giving the defeated Muslim defenders of cities and castles a safe-conduct after surrender. By 1144, the crusaders controlled the entire coastline of the Levant from south of Gaza to roughly Antalya. In short, the crusader kingdoms covered all of what is now Israel, most of modern Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria and Anatolia as well.

Copyright Helena P. Schrader
The crusaders who founded and ruled these states were a tiny elite of Latin Christians from Western Europe, dependent economically on the local population – composed predominantly of Byzantine, Syrian, and Maronite Christians, with smaller populations of Jews, Muslims, and new settlers from the West – all speaking a variety of languages. Although Latin churches were built and the various Latin religious orders soon established a presence, neither the Orthodox Churches, nor the synagogues and mosques were destroyed or closed; the inhabitants of the crusader kingdoms were free to follow their religious conscience. 

Acre, scene here, was always one of the most cosmopolitan of the Crusader cities.
Furthermore, the states were at the crossroads of trade between East and West, and the ports of Christian Palestine were the key points for trans-shipping the riches brought by caravan from China, Persia, Egypt, and Arabia to the entire Western world. This made these states both prosperous and cosmopolitan. The crusader states, known collectively in the West as “Outremer” (beyond the sea), rapidly became a melting pot for culture and a breeding ground for art and science.
The natives of these states, including the settlers who came from the West, soon identified with their new homeland. Fulcher of Chartes, writing in 1125, could already report of the crusader states that:
Westerners, we have become Orientals. The Italian and Frenchman of yesterday have been transplanted and become men of Galilee or Palestine...We have already forgotten the land of our birth; who now remembers it? Men no longer speak of it.

These settlers also adapted to their environment. They learned to speak some Arabic just to be able to communicate with their neighbors, their tenants, and with tradesmen and merchants. They adapted their clothes to the hotter temperatures, wearing more silk and less wool and fur, although they never adopted Arab or Turkish fashions. They naturally learned to cook foods from what was grown locally, and they could afford to eat "exotic" foods like lemons, oranges, figs and pomegranates, simply because such foods were not exotic in the crusader states. They could also afford other "luxuries" like sugar, glass and frequent baths for the same reason: such luxuries weren't costly in their new environment. 

Ivory was another luxury more common in the East; here the cover of a book from the Kingdom of Jerusalem
This adaptation to their new habitat, however, made the Latin settlers in the crusader states and their descendants suspect in the eyes of later waves of crusaders. The latter gave the former the derogatory appellation "poulains." At least from the Second Crusade onward, Western leaders and armed pilgrims viewed the poulains as "decadent" and "treacherous." Balian d'Ibelin was a poulain, a native of the crusader states, not a crusader.

The first two books in the series, Knight of Jerusalem and Defender of Jerusalem are available for purchase.




A landless knight, 
a leper king,
and the struggle for Jerusalem.





 A divided kingdom,
a united enemy,
and the struggle for Jerusalem



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