The Templar's first task: highway police in peace time

After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 the Kingdom of the Franks did not endure a perpetual state of emergency, as the chroniclers and many historians wanted us to believe. Rather, the roughly ninety years leading to Saladin’s decisive victory over the Frankish army at Hattin in 1187, which put an end to the first Frankish kingdom, can be divided into a period of frequent military engagement between Franks and Muslims, a period of relative security, and a period of sustained Muslim offensive, which resulted in the creation of the Frankish frontier. 

The first of these periods, which lasted from 1099 until 1115, was defined by the frequent incursions of Fatimid armies from Egypt and Seldjuk armies from the east into the kingdom of Jerusalem. The second period, lasting from 1115 until 1167, witnessed a sharp decline in the number of orchestrated Muslim attacks and an increase in Frankish offensive campaigns. This coincided with the establishment and re-enforcement of numerous fortresses, particularly in the south-western part of the kingdom. The third period, which lasted from about 1167 until 1187, saw the crusader states put under increasing pressure from a united Muslim enemy under the charismatic leadership of Nur ad-Din and Saladin.

The chronology, even in its narrowest terms, suggests that the Order of the Temple was founded, and the Order of St John became military, in the second period, and thus at a time of relative peace and security. The frequency of Muslim attacks during that period was approximately twelve times less than during the first stage, from 1099 to 1115. What the founding brothers of the Order of the Temple would have been experiencing was, in relative terms, a period of peace and Frankish expansion.

The creation of the military orders was therefore also a response to a different kind of immediate threat, one that grew from within the newly created crusader states, albeit often with the support of, or influenced by, Aleppo, Damascus or Cairo. In the case of the Templars it is well documented that an important element of that perceived threat was the danger created by roaming bands of highwaymen, who preyed on pilgrims and other travellers using the old pilgrim roads. The road leading east from Acre to Rama was, according to the eleventh-century Persian traveller Nasir Kushraw, beleaguered by ‘disorderly men, who set upon anyone whom they saw to be a stranger in order to rob him of everything that he had.’ The same was true for a stretch of the road leading from Rames to Jerusalem, where travelers suffered from the attacks of nearby villagers who were eventually smoked out of their mountain hideouts and killed by Baldwin of Edessa.

The resulting picture concords with the traditional view that the original purpose of the Knights Templar was to provide protection on the roads of the Kingdom, but not against formal Muslims armies but against irregular tribal groups of different origin. Another blog will elaborate on the origin of these groups

This blog quotes freely from the paper by Jochen G. Schenk entitled: "Nomadic Violence in the First Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Military Orders",Reading Medieval Studie(2010): 39-55. Illustration source

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you and very imformative.