The first archaeological evidence of the Crusader camp found in Israel

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A team of Israeli archaeological researchers have identified a Crusader encampment in the Tzipori Spring area in the Galilee, the first time a Crusader encampment has been found on the ground.

Their findings were published this year in the book Colonization and crusade in the 13th century.

Pursuing the idea of ​​liberating the holy places from Muslim rule and encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, the powers and sometimes the peoples of Europe launched several military campaigns in the Middle East between the 11th and 13th centuries, which led to the creation of a number of Christian states. in the area of ​​modern Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

For a period, he placed Jerusalem under Christian rule, a period documented by a vast body of historical sources as well as massive structures such as castles and fortresses left by the Crusaders in the region. However, very little remains to bear witness to moments of transition, such as battles and encampments.

In recent years, as workers widened Highway 79, which connects the coast with Nazareth, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority Nimrod Getzov and Ianir Milevski from the Department of Prehistory have carried out the required salvage excavations.

Arrowhead found at Tzipori sources. (credit: CLARA AMIT / ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

“The area along Route 79 was known as the site of the Frankish encampment before the Battle of Hattin in 1187, as well as other encampments by the Crusaders and Muslims for a period of 125 years,” said Dr Rafael Lewis. , senior lecturer at Ashkelon University College and researcher at the University of Haifa. “For this reason, I was brought on board to focus on the remains of that time. It was a very exceptional opportunity to study a medieval camp and to understand their material culture and their archeology.

According to the chronicles of the time, the Christian army was stationed in the area of ​​the sources of Tzipori for approximately two months before the crucial battle which allowed the troops led by Sultan Saladin to reconquer much of the area, including Jerusalem.

Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of metallic artifacts and have been able to study their relationship to the landscape.

“We used a discipline known as ‘artifact distribution analysis’,” he noted. “We started by reconstructing the landscape as it looked roughly at the time; we considered where the artifacts were found; and compared what we have learned to historical documents.

Lewis said that while all the troops at the time fought under the king, they did not serve in a centralized army – different groups of knights would fight together, each with their own side and each following the orders of their commander.

The remains reflected this reality.

“At the site, we found different groups of artifacts,” he said.

The majority of artefacts discovered by archaeologists were horseshoe nails, both local and more sophisticated European type, which prevailed closer to sources.

“We saw that the closer we got to the water, the richer the material culture became,” Lewis said. “It can probably be deduced from this that those of higher socioeconomic status were camping in the spring. Changing these nails was probably the main activity of the camp. No one wanted to end up in battle on a horse with a broken shoe.

Coin of Baudouin III (1143-1163 CE), Jerusalem, obverse.  (credit: CLARA AMIT / ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)Coin of Baudouin III (1143-1163 CE), Jerusalem, obverse. (credit: CLARA AMIT / ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

Archaeologists were surprised to find very few remains of other activities one might have expected in relation to life at the camp, such as cooking pots. However, it also suggests what items were brought back to castles and permanent settlements when the encampment was packed.

Based on the findings at Tzipori, researchers may in the future be able to examine other sites for archaeological remains.

“I am intrigued to learn more about the Crusader encampments,” Lewis said. “I believe that studying military camps has the potential to give us a better understanding of the period and its culture.”


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