Chapter 6 :The Population of the Land of Israel under Crusader Rule(1099 - 1260/90) / Dr.Rivka Shpak Lissak

Part No. Two

Settlement Distribution during the Crusader Period

Prof. Kedar (Jews and Samaritans in the Kingdom of Jerusalem) and Prof. Ellenblum (Frankish Rural Settlements in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem) charted the country’s settlements during the Crusader period (1099-1260).

The largest group – the Eastern Orthodox Christian – was concentrated in several areas: the western Galilee, the coastal plane, around Jerusalem, and the south of Judea. There was also a Christian enclave in the eastern Galilee in places holy to Christianity.

Muslims were mostly concentrated in the Shomron mountain, in Nablus and its environs. There were a few Muslim enclaves in the western and eastern Galilee, and the south was the Bedouins’ wandering area.

Jews were mostly concentrated in the eastern Galilee and in certain cities inland and along the coast.

Samaritans lived in Samaria and in the coastal cities.

The population composition did not change much since the Arab-Muslim period, with the Eastern Christians forming the largest section.

It is believed that this settlement distribution reflects the country’s division along ethno-religious lines, including small enclaves of different ethno-religious groups. This regional ethno-religious division began in Byzantine times with the increase in efforts to convert the population to Christianity. Prof Ellenblum’s research presents important information regarding the settlement distribution in the country’s various regions from the Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries), through the Arab-Muslim period (7th – 11th centuries), to the Crusader period (12th – 13th centuries).

In contrast to the deserted areas where Bedouins took over and imposed their customs and life-style, the local more established communities did not undergo rapid Islamization. According to Ellenblum, up until the 11th century (the last century of the Arab-Muslim occupation), there was no policy to forcefully convert the established population to Islam, and most of the population was Eastern Christian on the eve of the Crusader conquest.

Scholars distinguish between Islamization of individuals – a slow and lengthy process – and the Islamization and Arabization of areas through settlement of Bedouin tribes who filled the vacuum created when the local population left under their pressure.

The process of Islamization of the local population was slow, gaining momentum as a result of political and social events. The important factors included the high rate of special taxes levied on non-muslims, the various restrictions (on employment and other areas), and the attacks by Muslim mob.

Ellenblum’s study indicate that the regional Islamization and Arabization process refers to areas deserted by the local population under pressure of devastating invasions by nomad Bedouin tribes. In these regions, according to Elleblum, the Bedouins had gradually gone from a nomadic life-style to permanent settlement; in other words, Islamization in these regions refers to permanent settlement of Muslim Arabs rather than the conversion of the local population.

Most scholars agree that from the beginning of Arabic occupation in the 7th century and until the early 11th century, there were not many cases of forced conversion to Islam since that was forbidden by Islamic law, and thus the Islamization process had not been complete by the end of the Arab-Muslim period. Jews and Christians were not persecuted by the Arab-Muslim rule, except during the time of the Caliph Al Hakim, who ordered the demolition of churches and synagogues and forced the local population to convert to Islam or leave the country. These decrees were announced in 1002/3 or 1012. Jews were forced to convert, but returned to Judaism when the decree was soon annulled. During the Crusader period there were still 35 Jewish settlements in the Galilee and several more in other parts of the country (see Chapter 4).

The Franks

One of the main factors contributing to the collapse of the Crusader Kingdom was the lack of man power. The Crusader conquest did not result in massive immigration of Catholic Christians from Europe into the Land of Israel, leaving the Franks an occupying minority.

Frankish settlements were of various types: Fortresses manned by garrisons, monasteries populated by monks, towns populated partly by Franks, and villages with a mixed population, including Franks. Most of the Franks lived in the cities, particularly along the coast, but also in Tiberias, Safed, Tzipori and Nazareth in the Galilee, in Jerusalem, in Ramle-Lydda, Nablus, and Bethlehem.

Some 10,000 to 20,000 Franks lived in villages. Frankish villages were built in Akhziv, Al Kubeiba, El Birra, Dabouriya, St Gilles, Beit Guvrin, Beit Nouva, and Beit Tzourik. Franks lived also in the towns of Kakoun, Kalanswa, Deir El Balah, Sebastia, Jennin, Lajoun and Tibnin.

According to Meron Benvenisti in his book The Crusaders in the Holy Land, the Franks lived in some 80 settlements, which were about 15% of the total 700 settlements of the Crusader period. According to Prof. Prawer, the total number was larger by several hundreds.

As the Crusader army was comprised of men, and few European women accompanied the warriors, the Franks married local women who converted to Christianity.

The Eastern Orthodox Christian Population

Muslims, quoted above, attest to the majority Eastern Christians held of the country’s population. According to the Christian pilgrim Borchard, who toured the country in 1280, the Syrians (the Eastern Orthodox Christians) were the largest section of the country’s population, but large numbers of Christian Armenians, Persians, Maronites, Abyssinians, and others, were present as well. Indeed, contrary to the Muslim population which fled, was massacred or exiled, the Eastern Orthodox Christian population remained in its place. These Eastern Christians were of Syrian and Greek origin, descended from immigrants who settled in the country during the Hellenist period and converted to Christianity during the Byzantine period, and Roman veterans settled by Rome. Most of the Greek-descended population fled on the eve of the Arabic-Muslim conquest, so that the Eastern Christian population during the Crusader period was mostly of Syrian (a mix of Aramaeans and Phoenicians) descent. This population had undergone a process of Arabization (cultural acculturation) during the Arab-Muslim occupation, but remained mostly Christian. Its intellectual elite had fled ahead of the Crusader conquerors.

The Eastern Orthodox Christians belonged to the Greek-Orthodox Church. They prayed and worshipped in Greek but conducted their daily affairs in Arabic.

The Eastern Christian population lived in cities and villages. The villagers became serfs in the Frankish feudal estates, while the city-dwellers remained free although they did not have the status of burghers. Eastern Christians were the majority of city population beside a Frankish minority. Prof. Prawer determined that following the massacres, exile and flight of Muslims, no Muslim population remained in the cities.

During the Crusader period, the western Galilee had been populated mostly by Eastern Christians (i.e., Greeks, Phoenicians, and Hellenist Syrians who converted to Christianity during the Byzantine period), pilgrims from Byzantium and Europe, and Franks (i.e., Christian settlers from Europe). The western Galilee was divided into feudal estates; for example, the area bounded by Peki’in in the north-east, Sejour in the south-east, and Deir El Assad in the south-west was the feudal estate of Henricus Bubalus, son of a knight from Champagne.

In the eastern Galilee, Christians had settled during the Byzantine period in separate neighborhoods of several towns in the lower Galilee, in Tiberias, Kfar Qana, and Dabouriya and Nazareth(holy places for Christianity). The Jewish community of Nazareth was eliminated by the Byzantines on the eve of the Arab-Muslim conquest. There is lack of evidence as to the fate of the Nazareth’s Byzantine-Christian through the Muslim occupation. Nazareth changed hands during the wars between Muslims and Crusaders, but it became Christian again in 1100, and Crusaders began to settle in it in 1108. The crusaders reconstructed the ruined churches and Christians from Europe joined the Eastern – Christian population.

The region north of Jerusalem, i.e., southern Samaria, was mostly Christian. An archaeological survey found 267 settlements there. Christian-Byzantine settlements in the south of Samaria remained as they were. The Crusaders settled only in Christian settlements.

The area surrounding Jerusalem was also populated by Christians. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Beit Guvrin had a Christian population majority. The Franks turned Jerusalem into a Christian city and encouraged the settlement of Eastern Orthodox Christians in it to replace the Muslims who had fled or were massacred.

Ramle, Lydda, and the coastal cities also had a Christian majority. The coastal cities had been Christian during the Arab-Muslim occupation as well, and the Crusaders welcomed Eastern Christian settlement in the coastal cities to replace whatever Muslim population had fled or died.

(While the Islamization process of the Christian population in the Land of Israel had not been complete during the Arab-Muslim period, it continued during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. As a result of persecution and discrimination, the Christian population continued to shrink. This process, which was usually irrevocable, gained momentum when the Muslim communities became stronger and more organized.)

The Arabic-Muslim Population

Muslims were the second largest section in the population of the Land of Israel. According to Prof. Kedar, however, “at the present stage of research it is not possible to determine how many Muslims remained under Frankish rule following the massacres and flight from the Land of Israel” (in The Subjected Muslims of the Frankish Levant, p.148). The Frankish chronicler Aranol tells of a proposal made by the King of Armenia to the King of Jerusalem in 1160, to send 30,000 Armenians with their families to settle the country in place of the missing Muslim population. Prof. Kedar writes that, if the proposal set one Armenian for one Muslim farmer, then we may conclude there were 30,000 Muslim farmers in the country. If an average family had five persons, then the rural Muslim population would have numbered 150,000 persons. Kedar, however, doubts the reliability of this story.

In 1099, on the eve of the Crusader conquest, the Muslim population in the Land of Israel was concentrated in two main places: The Negev, the Arava, and northern Samaria. Muslim enclaves existed in the area of Tiberias, Ramle, and Mt Hebron. The coastal cities and inland the population was mixed and the Muslims were the minority (see Chapter 4). The Muslim elite left before the Crusaders arrived.

Few sources exist to tell of Muslim life under Crusader rule. The little that is available indicates that Muslims’ fate was determined by the manner in which Crusaders took control of Muslim settlements: in those that resisted and were conquered, Muslims were taken prisoners and enslaved and others were massacred; in cities that surrendered, the population was left unharmed and was given the choice to stay or leave. Most chose to leave.

The Muslims were mostly Suni, with a Shiite population in the north. The Muslim population was made up of four groups: Slaves, serfs in Frankish estates, city dwellers, and nomad Bedouins.

Muslim Slaves

Slaves were prisoners of war and residents of cities that had not surrendered. It seems there were many of them in the country although their precise number is unknown. Four hundred slaves lived in the Templar fortress in Safed. Three years after the Crusader conquest, 4000 Muslim slaves were liberated in Acre, and in Jerusalem 5000 were set free. According to Kedar, these slaves may have been released for ransom or exchanged for Frankish prisoners (p. 153).

Muslim Serfs

Farmers who had worked the lands of their Muslim owners became serfs when the estates were taken by the Franks, who established the European feudal system in the country, including serfdom. According to Ibn Jabbar who toured the country in 1148, the Muslim villagers under Crusader rule fared better than those in the Muslim countries.

Benvenisti states that the rural Muslim population included remnants of the older population who had converted to Islam and became assimilated with the occupying Arabs. His opinion, however, is contested by experts in the history of the Arab-Muslim period who hold that mass conversion into Islam did not take place and that the Muslims were Arabs who settled in the Land of Israel (see Chapter 4).

Urban Muslims

Most of the cities inland surrendered to the Crusaders and their population was given the choice to stay or leave. Some Muslims stayed but most chose to leave. Muslims remained in Tiberias, Nazareth, and Bethlehem, while masses fled from Ramle before the Crusader conquest.

According to Amad Al Din, Saladin’s secretary, Muslims were the majority in certain inland cities, but the Muslims in Jerusalem were massacred and those who survived fled or were enslaved. Thereafter, Muslims were forbidden to settle in Jerusalem. Most of Nablus’ Muslim population fled.

Conquest of the coastal cities was accompanied by massacres of their Muslim population. About 4000 Muslims were massacred in Acre and their property looted. In Caesarea many Muslim men were massacred and their women sold into slavery; whoever survived fled. Massacres were carried out also in Haifa, which had stubbornly resisted the Crusaders. Most of the Muslim population of Jaffa fled before the Crusaders arrived. Arsouf and Ashkelon surrendered and their Muslim population chose to leave.

Dr.Schein determined that between 1099 and 1109 no Muslims remained in the coastal cities. In 1109 the Crusaders changed their policy as they realized that the absence of population meant the absence of revenues, and so some local population was allowed to settle. From the second or third quarters of the 12th century Muslims were allowed to settle in the coastal cities, but the majority of the urban population was Eastern Christian. Non-Franks living in the cities paid a municipal tax in addition to the poll tax.

The Bedouins

Bedouin and Turkmen tribes wandered in the area between Gaza and Egypt (in the south of the Land of Israel), throughout Trans-Jordan, and in the Banias area (the Golan). Agreements they signed with the Crusaders allowed them to graze in the Crusader Kingdom in return for the payment of a poll tax.

Prof. Prawer described the composition of the nomadic population, Arab and Turkmen Bedouins, during the Crusader period:

The tribes Taalbe, Garim, and Banu Buheed wandered along the Egyptian border.
The Garim and Qudhaaa tribes, related to the Banu Tay tribe, wandered between Gaza and Hebron.
The tribes of Banu Qalid, Banu Haubar, and Banu Kinana wandered in the south of the Land of Israel.
The tribes Banu Saadir and Al lid wandered on the roads from Egypt to Syria.
The tribes Banu Auqaaba, Banu Zuhr, and Banu Auf wandered in the Trans-Jordan.
The Banu Rabiaa tribe, which was part of the Banu Tay tribe, wandered in the region between the Trans-Jordan and the Horran. Before the Crusader conquest parts of this tribe settled in the area of Ramle, but following the conquest they moved north.
Nomads wandered through the country’s north as well.
The population around Nablus was semi-nomadic.
The tribe Banu Amaila resided in the Galilee but left when the Crusaders conquered the area.

Of these tribes, the Banu Tai tribe was famous during the Arab-Muslim period for its raids into populated regions and for taking over parts of the country for a short time.

According to Mordekhai Aviam and Israel Finkerstein’s archaeological surveys, at the beginning of the Arab-Muslim period, nomad Bedouin tribes began entering the Samaria area deserted by the Samaritans . According to Crusader sources, there were still Bedouin tribes wandering in Samaria during the Crusader period in the 12th century. The Bedouins lived outside the Samaritan villages.

Prof. Ellenblum refers to a study by Abraham Poliak who researched the Islamization process in the area. Poliak concluded that the Islamization of the region did not result from the conversion of the local, established population but from the gradual transition of the nomadic Bedouins to permanent settlement, a process which, to a great extent, was completed during the Crusader period.

Of the 62 settlements that existed in Samaria during the Crusader period and even during the Mamluk period (1260-1516), 39 had not existed during the Byzantine period. Surveys show that these new settlements were not built on top older ones (no Byzantine ostraca were found) and that their settlement patterns were different.

Ellenblum describes three stages iof Bedouin settlement process:

In the first stage, the site was deserted by its established population.
In the second stage, nomadic tribes entered the area, maintaining their nomad life style.
In the third stage, the nomads went through a transition to permanent settlement.

This process started early in the Arab-Muslim period. Historical sources document the Islamization process of the area which began in the Arab-Muslim period and continued until the early 12th century. The whole population of northern Samaria was Muslim, not through conversion but descending from Muslims who had settled there.

Saladin’s soldiers settled in Kaukab Abul Hija, south-west of Yodfat, and Najidat (in the lower Galilee) after his victory in the Battle of Hattin in 1187.

The historian Emanuel Sivan researched the refugee problem created by the Crusades in his study Refugees from Syria and the Land of Israel during the Crusades. He concluded that most of the refugees, who fled from the Land of Israel on the eve of the Crusader conquest, during the war and the occupation, and thereafter, were Muslim. This supports Ellenblum’s proposition that Eastern Orthodox Christians were the majority of the country’s population rather than the Muslims.

Sivan distinguishes three refugee groups:

The first included Muslim survivors of the massacres carried out by the Crusaders in cities that refused to surrender and fought to the bitter end, such as Caesarea in 1101.

The second group came from cities that had surrendered and whose Muslim population was given the choice to stay or leave. The majority chose to leave – Sivan determined that the largest refugee group was made up of Muslims who chose exile over life under Christian rule, as, for example, the Muslims from Arsouf in 1101.

The third group was made up of Muslims who fled their homes for fear of the Crusader conquerors. The city Ramle, for example, was completely deserted by its population.

Sivan discusses in detail the “Nablus Affair”: Muslim villages south-east of Nablus were hostile towards the Crusaders, and in the middle of the 12th century the population of 8 small villages fled, in small groups, to Damascus in 1156. They left because of the harsh rule of the Frankish governor, who levied a poll tax 4 times greater than the tax paid in other parts of the country, had offended their religious feelings and particularly their religious leaders, and introduced extreme capital punishments into the legal system.

Most of the refugees settled near Damascus and Aleppo, some moved to Iraq and Jezeera. Unfortunately, Sivan’s sources do not mention numbers, so it is impossible to estimate the extent of the Muslim refugee problem, although it is apparent that it was not negligible.

Based on Arabic-Muslim sources, Sivan concluded that a small number of Muslim refugees returned to the country after Saladin won the battle at Hattin and took over a large part of the country in 1187. His conclusion is based on the fact that the Jihad movement, which began at the beginning of the 12th century in Damascus and Aleppo, was not started by refugees from the Land of Israel but by local leaders. Although later on refugees, particularly from the area of Nablus, joined the movement, they were not the dominant group. Arabic sources mention that Saladin restored lands to returning refugees, based on documents they brought with them, formal property registrars, or witnesses’ testimonies.

In his article Converts to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Benjamin Zeev Kedar brought to light testimonies of Muslim conversion to Christianity under Crusader rule. Emanuel Sivan also wrote about Muslims who converted to Christianity. The testimonies are from Christian and Muslim sources and from official documents such as contracts and wills. Conversion to Christianity took place mostly among the Muslim lower classes and the slaves.

The Crusaders enslaved the population of cities that did not surrender, but Christian law demanded that slaves who converted to Christianity be set free. Correspondence between the Pope and senior religious officials of the Latin Church in the Crusader Kingdom (from the years 1193, 1201, 1237/8, and 1264) shows that the Frankish feudal lords were reluctant to free slaves for economic reasons and therefore discouraged missionary activity in their communities.

Following his victory in the battle near Bnot Yaakov bridge in 1179, Saladin executed prisoners he had taken, who were found to be Muslims who had converted to Christianity and served in the Crusader army.

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