Crusader wreck tells tale of Crusader Holy Land conquest
Christian knights and Mameluke warriors were fighting on the walls. Now the wreck of a 13th century ship reveals the desperate bid to save the Holy Land.
|A Crusader-era book illumination showing a Christian ship at sea. A wreck near the port of Acre dates from|
the fall of that city — and the last hours of the Crusader state [Credit: WikiCommons]
In return, ships carried precious cargoes of sugar, spice and exotic textiles. But, in 1291, it all came crashing down.
The Egyptian Mameluke Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil — leading an army of 100,000 men and horses — rolled back the Christian defences, weakened by almost two centuries of fighting to maintain control over the Holy Land.
European interest was failing — despite efforts by Pope Gregory X to summon reinforcements. And the militant orders — international organisations of warrior-monks — established to defend the Holy Land had become engrossed by their own wealth and the games of thrones back home.
|Gold Crusader florins found in Acre harbour by diving archaeologists |
According to the news service Haaretz, a Crusader-era shipwreck recently found in the bay of Acre has been dated to the time of the desperate last stand by a handful of knights and mercenaries on the walls of the city.
Acre is now part of northern Israel.
The wreck had been severely damaged by dredging. But parts of the timber hull, including its keel, survived. Excavation work began last year. The wood has been carbon-dated between 1062-1250, which neatly brackets the Crusader era.
|Glazed crusader bowl with the mark of St.Peter's key, found in crusader Acre |
[Credit: Michal Artzy]
Fragments of ceramics, including jugs and bowls, reveal the ship was carrying imports from Cyprus and Italy. There are also rusted remains of a few metallic objects, including anchors.
It is possible the wreck may have belonged to King Henry II of Cyprus who had reportedly sent a force of 40 ships filled with reinforcements. Just one month later, King Henry’s forces would retreat by sea as the city fell.
Historic records of the disaster tell the tale of fleeing nobles attempting to bribe boat and ship owners for safe passage out of the Middle East. But few managed to make their way on-board.
|A glazed crusader bowl with bird decoration, found in the marine excavation at Acre. Imported from Paphos, Cyprus |
[Credit: Michal Artzy]
But, by May 18, the Grand Masters of the Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights had fled. The Grand Master of the Templars had been killed. Only a few equipped and trained knights remained alive.
Defeat, they knew, was inevitable. The last stand was fought in a Templar tower at the very edge of the sea. Accounts tell of the city’s inhabitants throwing themselves into the harbour in a desperate bid to reach the departing ships.
The Templar knights were only overcome when Mameluke engineers undermined their fortress’ walls. Among the rubble were 100 of the Sultan’s best men who had been inside, fighting the Crusaders hand-to-hand.
|A painting showing the desperate stand by The Hospitalier Maréchal Matthieu de |
Clermont while defending the walls at the Siege of Acre, 1291. Painting by
Dominique Papety (1815–49) [Credit: WikiCommons]
The Hospitallers retreated to Rhodes, where they established a navy in anticipation of a fresh crusade. The Teutonic Knights shifted the focus of their holy war to the Baltics.
The entire city of Acre was levelled, and left abandoned until rebuilt nearly three hundred years later.
Author: Jamie Seidel | Source: News Corp Australia Network [April 02, 2017]