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The Frankish Conquest: a Century of Rupture (1099 - 1189)

p. 180-183

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1At the end of the eleventh century the current territory of the Kingdom of Jordan was the focus of bitter rivalry between the Fatimids and Seljuks from Damascus to control the Hijaz and Red Sea routes. The sudden emergence into the Near East political scene of a new power, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, permanently disrupted the balance of forces and resulted in a few years in the complete expulsion of Muslim powers.

2On July 15, 1099, Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders. Having driven back a reinforcement army sent by the vizier Al-Afdal on August 12, the conquerors quickly subdued Palestine and Samaria before embarking on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Heavily defeated at Ascalon, the Fatimids were unable to oppose the Franks. In the spring of 1100, Tancred de Hauteville ravaged Ajlun and the Golan before annexing them to the princedom of Galilee. In the winter of the same year, Baldwin I, guided by local Christians, crossed through Idumaea and reached the shores of the Red Sea (fig. IV.9). Two further expeditions took place in 1107 and 1112 before finally, in 1115, Baldwin ordered the construction of a citadel in the south east of the Dead Sea: Montreal (Shawbak) plate IV.2 and fig. IV.10).

Figure IV.9 — The Suete Territory in Jordan and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

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3With this construction, Jordanian territory passed under full administrative supervision of the kings of Jerusalem. From then on, the region on either side of Wadi Zarqa was split into two separate entities: to the north, Suete lands occupied present-day Ajlun and the Golan Heights whilst to the south, the princedom of Transjordan extended to the Red Sea.

4To assert their power over the region, the Latin people increased the construction of fortresses, which led to the emergence of real castral towns inhabited by eastern Christians and western settlers. Thus, the “city” of Montreal (Shawbak), built against the fortress, had a population of 7,000 in the early thirteenth century. Kerak, built in 1142 experienced similar development, as did Petra, while Tafila, Udhruh and Aqaba were held by garrisons. However, the direct proximity of the enemy led the Franks to prefer to occupy natural defences such as the Caves of Suete or ancient structures like the agora of Amman, in northern Jordan. The many villages mentioned in the charters provide a picture of the installation of the Franks in the countryside. Each fort or fortress was a core surrounded by five or six villages. According to sources, the region derived its wealth from agriculture, orchards (those in Montreal were compared to orchards in Damascus), cane sugar farming, bitumen from the Dead Sea and the fisheries on Lake Tiberias. Frankish settlement appears to have been encouraged by the existence of a strong Christian community which was invited by Baldwin I to settle in depopulated Jerusalem after the capture of the city. To protect these lands, the Assizes of the kingdom of Jerusalem mention the presence of 60 knights in Transjordan and 40 in Suete, as well as the temple brothers stationed at the caves of Gilead and Amman.

5During the decade 1160-70, Franks and Syrians from Nur al-Din waged a relentless battle to exercise their protectorate over Cairo. The Franks’ loss, followed by the rise of Saladin, disrupted the situation. Transjordan, so far removed from events, and the land of Suete, whose southern part was relatively spared, were propelled to the centre of the battle. Since they separated Syria from Egypt, they represented a leading strategic stake.

6With his marriage to Stephanie de Milly, Renaud de Chatillon took control of Transjordan. An advocate of a hard-line policy against Saladin, he was the principal architect of the resounding victory of Montgisard. In the winter of 1181, he began a race war in the Red Sea, which shook the Muslim world: his troops threatened Mecca.

7 In July 1187, a new attack against a caravan protected by a strong force, reopened hostilities. Saladin marched to Jerusalem at the head of 60,000 soldiers. The clash took place at Hattin in Galilee. The ost Franks 20,000 fighters were destroyed. True to his promise, Saladin himself beheaded Chatillon and executed all the Templar and Knight Hospitaller prisoners.

Plate IV.2 — View of Shawbak Castle.

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C. Devais

8The garrisons of Suete fell rapidly after the rout. However, Kerak and Montreal withstood a siege for nearly two years. In 1189, blinded by hunger and suffering, the last defenders whose courage won the admiration of Oriental chroniclers, finally accepted surrender.

Figure IV.10 — Map of Shawbak Castle.

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