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

Eastern-Christians Formed the Largest Ethno-Religious Group

Part no. One


The Crusaders conquered the Land of Israel from the Fatimid dynasty in 1099, but this did not end the struggle between the Muslims and the Christians for control over the Holy Land. In fact, this struggle continued as long as the Crusaders ruled the land, their kingdom expanding and shrinking repeatedly. According to Sylvia Schein in her article The Land of Israel at the Time of the Crusaders, 1099-1291, the land was the “battleground on which incessant battles were fought between the Christian and the Islamic worlds”.

The Crusader army arrived from Beirut in the north and progressed along the coast to Caesarea, then turned towards Ramle. The residents of Jaffa, Ramle and Lydda fled for fear of the Crusaders, even though none of the cities along the coast from Beirut had been attacked yet. From Ramle the Crusader army marched on to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was taken in July 1099 and the Crusaders proceeded to massacre its Muslim and Jewish populations, robbing, pillaging, taking prisoners and enslaving them to serve the Frankish lords, or holding them for ransom. According to Arabic sources 70,000 people were killed.

The coastal cities were gradually taken after Jerusalem, so that the Crusader army remained connected to, supplied, and reinforced by its European bases. The Fatimid fought against the conquest of the coastal cities for ten years. Haifa, Arsouf, Caesarea and Acre were conquered in 1100 – 1110, while Ashkelon was only taken in 1153. Gaza, whose residents fled ahead of the Crusaders, was handed over to the Templar Order and resettled by the Crusaders.

The Crusaders met little resistance to their conquest of the internal areas, with Judea and Samaria taken first and then the Galilee.

The Crusaders’ Principality of the Galilee ruled over the Galilee, the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and all the area between it and Haifa. Tiberias was fortified and a fortress was built in Safed. Fortresses were built across the Galilee.

The Muslims never accepted their defeat, which was caused by divisions within their camp. They slowly recovered and began a Jihad. Their first offensive failed and the Crusader Kingdom remained strong. Their second offensive began in 1134 resulting in the Muslims conquering the Galilee up to Acre. That success, however, was temporary, and the Crusader Kingdom kept its early borders until 1187.

Saladin, a Kurd born in Tikkrit (Iraq), was brought up by his father, the governor of Beirut, for a military career. On a mission to protect Abbasside interests, he took over Egypt in 1177 and restored it to the Abbasside Caliphate. Saladin, however, was aiming higher, and in 1183-1185 he took over most of the area of modern-day Iraq. After unifying the lands of Islam under his rule, Saladin turned in 1177 towards the coastal cities of the Land of Israel, reaching as far as Ramle and Lydda, but in November 1177 he was defeated and his army destroyed in the battle near Gezer.

In the spring of 1179 Saladin attacked the Galilee and reached the bridge of Bnot-Yaakov where his army won a victory. In 1180-1182 the warring sides held a cease-fire, but in 1182 Saladin renewed his attacks and in 1182-1184 progressed from Trans-Jordan into the Galilee and the Valley of Jezreel. Another cease-fire was signed in 1185 and was supposed to last until 1189, but in 1187 Saladin breached the treaty and defeated the Crusaders in the battle of Hattin, west of Tiberias. Tiberias surrendered to Saladin’s army, Nazareth was conquered, Acre surrendered but its residents soon left. All the coastal cities surrendered, and Jerusalem was conquered on October 9th, 1187. Most of the Christians fled the city, leaving behind approximately 15,000 Eastern-Christians. Saladin destroyed the coastal cities and all the cities from Beit Daggan to Jerusalem, bringing the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem to its end, although a few Crusader enclaves resisted until 1192.

Another battle took place in 1191 between Saladin’s forces and the Crusaders near Arsouf, which ended in Crusader victory. The Crusaders re-established control over the coast from Jaffa to Tyre and made Acre their capital. In September 1192 both sides signed a three-year treaty. The Second Crusader Kingdom now lay along the coast, with an enclave around Ramle and Lydda. Jerusalem remained in the hands of the Muslims. Saladin died in 1192.

Saladin’s successors, the Ayoubs, inherited the areas Saladin ruled in the Land of Israel, including Judaea, Samaria, the Galilee, and Trans-Jordan. They and the Crusaders fought and ceased fire repeatedly until 1260.

The Crusader Kingdom of Acre made several attempts to retake the areas lost to Saladin. In 1226 the Crusaders reconquered Jerusalem; in 1241 the Galilee was handed back to them in a treaty; and another treaty was signed in 1243 which restored Crusader rule over most of the land. Between 1244 and 1247, however, renewed fighting ended in the Crusaders’ defeat.

The Crusader Kingdom was destroyed finally in 1260 by the Mamluks (Sunni Muslims of Turkmen origin), although its last bastion, Acre, held until 1291.

The administration of the Crusaders' Kingdom west of the Jordan River was divided into several parts:
The King's Domain
The Principality of the Galilee - included the Galilee, the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and all the area between it and Haifa. Tiberias was fortified and a fortress was built in Safed. Fortresses were built across the Galilee.
The Principality of Jaffa and Ashkelon – included the southern coast.
Autonomy to Military Orders in certain areas.

The Status of the Non-Frankish Population in the Land of Israel during the Crusader Period

During the Crusader occupation, the population of the Land of Israel was diverse and heterogeneous. Society in the Crusader Kingdom was divided into conquerors, and the conquered: the conqueror Franks and the conquered native population. The non-Frankish population – Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Samaritans – were the conquered and were required to pay a poll tax, the successor of the Muslim Jizya tax levied on the non-Muslim Dhimmi (the “protected”). The non-Frankish population was legally of inferior status, but the various religious communities enjoyed a certain communal autonomy and a relative freedom of worship.

The Eastern Orthodox Christians did not have a special status, and the Eastern Orthodox Church had to accept the seniority of the Latin Church. Other Christian sects were also brought under the authority of the Latin Church.

Muslims enjoyed an undisturbed freedom of worship in the rural region, but in cities inhabited by Christians they were allowed to worship only in private, while their mosques were converted to churches. This included the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, which became the Lord’s Temple, and the Al Aqsa Mosque which became Solomon’s Temple. Mosques in Caesarea, Jaffa, and Ashkelon were also converted into churches.

The population was divided into several socio-economic classes:

The Crusaders imported the European feudal system with minor changes. The land was divided into estates which were given to knights, monasteries, and fortresses. The nobility was comprised of the land owners, the military orders, and the heads of the Latin Church, all Franks in origin.

The burghers – city dwellers – were Franks (who enjoyed the highest status), Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Jerusalem, however, was populated by Christians only; Jews and Muslims were forbidden to live in it. At the beginning, the Crusaders got rid of the urban Muslim population (those who did not flee were exiled or massacred) and of most of the urban Jewish population, but as Crusader rule became more established, some returned.

Cities were of various sizes: Acre’s population numbered 40,000, Ashkelon’s 10,000, Jerusalem’s 20,000, and other cities’ population ranged from 2000 to 5000.

The largest part of the population was comprised of serfs -- Muslims and Eastern Orthodox Christians. According to Dr Shine there were approximately 700 villages in the Land of Israel during the Crusader period, compared with more than 2000 during the Byzantine period (Prof Joshua Prawer holds that the number was greater by several hundreds). Large villages had a population of several thousands, medium villages had 70-80 inhabitants, and small villages were populated by 10-20 or 20-40 people. The landlords lived in the cities. A village was run by the Raees, the head of the village, and villagers paid the poll tax, the land tax of 1/3 of their crops, and various taxes for fruit trees, vines, and bee hives, as well as the angaria – tax in the form of forced labour.

Villages were spread along the coastal plane close to the ports, in Judea and Samaria, and in the Galilee.

Prisoners of war and people from cities that resisted and were defeated were taken into slavery, serving the Frankish lords.

According to Dr. Schein, the Franks did not engage in missionary work. They did not try to convert the population into Christianity nor did they try to westernize it by imposing the Western-European culture and life-style. The main motive for this was economical: Landlords did not wish their serfs and slaves to convert, because according to the law they would have to set them free. Some Franciscan and Dominican monks did carry out missionary work. Prof. Emanuel Sivan, Prof. Benjamin Z. Kedar, and Dr. Sylvia Schein determined that some Muslims converted to Christianity, but in the absence of data either in the Latin or Arabic sources, it is difficult to estimate the extent of conversion. Although the Frankish rulers did not impose conversion to Christianity on the population, in the larger cities mosques were converted into churches.

Population Composition during the Crusader Period

Eastern Christian Orthodox formed the largest section of the population.

Researchers of the Arabic-Muslim Period (see Chapter 4 in this series) concluded that throughout the Arab-Muslim occupation of the Land of Israel, the largest section of the population was comprised of Eastern Orthodox Christians who descended from the Greeks and Aramaic-Syrians and veterans of the Roman army who immigrated into the country during the Hellenist and Roman-Byzantine periods, and were converted to Christianity during the Byzantine period. This conclusion is supported by Muslim historians and geographers such as Muhammed son of Abdallah Al Ma’afari of Seville and Ibn Al Arabi, a historian from Andalusia. They toured the country in 1095 and 1093-1095 respectively, and wrote that Eastern Christians formed the majority of the population. The Christian pilgrim Borchard, who toured the Land of Israel in 1280, also reported that most of the population was Eastern Orthodox Christian.

Contrary to the historians of the Arabic- Muslim Period, historians of the Crusader period are divided over whether Christians or Muslims were the majority in the Land of Israel during the Crusader period:
Prof. Joshua Prawer, Dr. Sylvia Schein, and Meron Benvenisti believe the Muslims were the majority.
Prof Benjamin Zeev Kedar and Prof. Ronni Ellenblum believe that the Eastern Orthodox Christians formed the largest section of the population:

Prof. Prawer, in his book History of the Crusader Kingdom, estimates that under Crusader rule in the 1180s, there were 100,000 to 120,000 Franks (i.e., Catholic Crusaders), while the rural population numbered 250,000 and was comprised of Muslims and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Prof. Prawer writes that “the rural population was not entirely Muslim. Certain regions were still densely populated by Syrian-Christians” (pp. 459-465), but “the majority were Muslim by faith” (p. 404). The urban population was mostly Christian. There were few Muslims in the cities following the massacres and emigration, by choice or by force (p. 462). Non-Franks were about 75% of the total country’s population, which numbered about 470,000.

In The Crusaders in the Holy Land, Meron Benvenisti estimated that at the time of the Crusader conquest, the population numbered 500,000 and 75%-80% were Muslim. According to this estimate the Muslim population numbered 375,000 – 400,000, while the Eastern Orthodox Christians numbered 100,000 – 125,000 or less, accounting for the Jewish and Samaritan minorities. Benvenisti estimated that the Franks numbered 140,000 and 10,000 – 20,000 of them lived in villages. However, unlike Prof Prawer, Benvenisti does not provide historical sources to support his estimate.

Dr. Sylvia Shine (in The Land of Israel at the Time of the Crusaders, 1099-1291) estimates the population of the Land of Israel at 400,000 during the Crusader period, Franks forming only 25% of them (p. 197). She agrees that Muslims formed the majority during that time (p. 274; p. 287) but does not provide any evidence.

Based on the numbers proposed by Prof. Prawer and Meron Benvenisti, and assuming that Muslims formed the largest ethno-religious group, then they numbered 200,000 – 250,000, the Eastern Orthodox Christians numbered 100,000 – 150,000, and no data is given for the numbers of Jews and Samaritans. The population total was 470,000.

As was mentioned above, Prof. Benjamin Zeev Kedar and Prof. Ronni Ellenblum believe that the Eastern Orthodox Christians formed the largest section of the population:

Prof. Kedar and Prof. Ellenblum published their research in the 1990s, while Prof Prawer published his in the 1960s. Kedar and Ellenblum refer to work by researchers of the Muslim period who concluded that the Eastern Orthodox Christians formed the largest section of the population during the Arabic-Muslim period. Building on this conclusion, as well as on the fact that the Muslim population declined on the eve of the Crusader conquest and shortly after due to massacres, exile, and flight, as well as on archaeological surveys, they state that during the Crusader period the Eastern Orthodox Christians continued to be the majority of the country’s population. An article by Prof. Emanuel Sivan (see below) on the Muslim refugee problem following the Crusader conquest points in that direction as well.

In his article The Subjected Muslims of the Frankish Levant (1990) Prof. Kedar writes that modern scholars agree on the following population estimates for the Crusader period (pp. 148-150): Non-Franks numbered 300,000 – 360,000: 250,000 rural Muslims and Eastern Christians and 100,000 urban Muslims and Eastern Christians. The Franks numbered 100,000 – 120,000. No data is given for Jews and Samaritans. Kedar cited a Christian source, the chronicler Aronnel, suggesting that rural Muslims numbered 150,000 and therefore the rural Eastern Christians numbered 100,000, but Kedar questions his reliability. Aronnel in 1160 and Ibn Jubair in 1184 attest that most of the Muslim population was rural, and so it is possible that out of a population of 100,000 urban non-Franks the majority were Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The conclusion is that the Eastern Orthodox Christians were the majority but the question remains as to by how much greater their numbers were compared to the Muslims. Kedar states that “at present, research cannot determine how many Muslims remained under Frankish rule” (1990, p.148).

Prof. Kedar believes that Muslims formed the majority in certain parts of the country while Eastern Christians were the majority in others, yet concludes that “the statement that under the Frankish rule the rural Eastern Christian majority was replaced by a Muslim majority is unreasonable”. He refers to Prof. Moshe Gil (A History of Palestine, 634-1099, vol. 1, p. 142) who determined that Eastern Christians formed the majority during the Arab-Muslim period, based on the writings of the Andalusian historian Ibn Al Arabi and the Christian pilgrim Borchard.

In another study, Franks, Muslims and Oriental Christians in the Latin Levant, Kedar reviews scholars’ efforts to estimate more precisely the size of the Muslim population in the Land of Israel under Crusader rule (pp. 129-153). Some scholars tried to calculate the size of an average Muslim family at that time, but few sources exist to support such calculation. Kedar concludes that “we cannot yet reach an agreement on the size of a Muslim family under Frankish rule” (p. 152) and therefore it is not possible to give a precise estimate of the Muslim population at that time.

Prof. Emanuel Sivan’s study, Refugees from Syria and the Land of Israel at the time of the Crusades, supports the proposition that Eastern Orthodox Christians were the majority. Sivan determined that as a result of the Crusader conquest, Muslims fled from the country, creating a refugee problem. This undoubtedly reduced the number of the country’s Muslims, although the Muslim sources Sivan cites do not give the refugees’ numbers.

Dr. Schein (The Land of Israel at the Time of the Crusaders, 1099-1291) also notes the Muslim flight from the country. Scholars agree that the Muslim flight was spurred by huge massacres carried out by the Crusaders in the Muslim population.

Prof. Ronnie Ellenblum’s study, Frankish Rural Settlements in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1998), concludes that the Eastern Orthodox Christians formed the majority of the population, and his research indicates that they numbered significantly more than the Muslims. Prof. Ellenblum refers to non-Jewish sources, archaeological surveys, and excavations carried out by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. He believes there is not enough data to determine the size of different sections of the population and their ratios. He researched the ethno-religious composition of the population during the Crusader period and concluded that the Eastern Christians formed the largest group.

Ellenblum began his discussion by examining the ethno-religious composition of the population during the Byzantine period. His first premise is that the various ethno-religious communities in the country lived separately and that during the Byzantine period the land was divided into Eastern Chrisitan, Jewish, Samaritan, and Muslim areas. Ellenblum suggests that this was the case during the Crusader period as well. As the Arabic-Muslim period lies between the Byzantine and Crusader periods, it is reasonable to assume that the same situation existed in it as well. Prof. Kedar and Dr. Schein agree that the rural regions were geographically divided along ethnic lines, and where cities had mixed population, the various groups lived in separate quarters. The Franks never mixed with the locals.

Ellenblum’s second premise, based on the convention among scholars specializing in the subject, is that a clear distinction must be made between the processes of regional Arabization(Arabic settlement) and Islamization, and the process of personal Islamization of the local population – Christians, Jews, and Samaritans – during the Arab-Muslim occupation. The process of conversion to Islam was much slower than the process of their acculturation.

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