The Siege of Damietta, 1218-19 CE

The Siege of Damietta, 1218-19 CE

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The Fifth Crusade was a disorderly affair, lacking a clear leader at the head. Starting in Syria in 1217, it proved ineffective there. The crusaders, including Austrians, Hungarians, and knights who had settled in Jerusalem, sailed south in hopes of taking Egypt instead.

The crusaders’ goal was Cairo, but before advancing there they needed to take Damietta, to give them a base on the coast. They spent much of 1218 and 1219 besieging the town, using artillery bombardments, assaults from bridges, and even a siege tower built on two ships bound together to attack from the sea.

The winter of 1218-19 saw the besiegers ravaged by storms and scurvy. The Egyptian commander in the region, al-Kamil, launched counter-attacks in an attempt to relieve the siege. In August 1219, the Muslims feigned a retreat in the face of an attack, drawing the disorderly crusaders out into the desert and then forcing them into a retreat.

But the siege remained in place, even after a final attack by al-Kamil in November. On November 5 th , 1219, Damietta fell to a crusader assault. Inside, they found the defenders mostly dead or dying from starvation.

For the next year, the crusaders consolidated their position and waited for reinforcements, many of whom never came.

In July 1221 they advanced down the Nile towards Cairo, taking 1,200 knights, 4,000 archers, and support from 630 ships. Things looked bad for the locals, and al-Kamil sought peace terms.

Just as success seemed within sight for the crusaders, disaster struck. Trapped between the rising water of two branches of the Nile, they were surrounded when al-Kamil sank ships to block the Nile. As more Muslim forces circled in from the north-east, the crusaders tried to retreat but were unable to escape. They surrendered on August 29 th and handed over Damietta in return for their freedom.

Louis IX’s fleet sails from France, by Gustav Doré


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Damietta, Arabic Dumyāṭ, also spelled Dimyat, city, capital of Dumyāṭ muḥāfaẓah (governorate), in the Nile River delta, Lower Egypt, on the Mediterranean coast. Damietta, the port of the governorate, is located 8 miles (13 km) from the Mediterranean, on the right (east) bank of the Damietta branch of the Nile. The name is a corruption of the ancient Coptic Tamiati.

Damietta was an important city of ancient Egypt and was formerly closer to the sea than it is at present. It declined with the development of Alexandria (after 322 bce ). In 638 ce it fell to Arab invaders, who made it a commercial centre famous for its textiles. Frequently attacked by the Crusaders, it was only briefly in their hands (1219–21 1249–50). The settlement’s vulnerability to sea attacks led the Mamlūk sultan Baybars I (reigned 1260–77) to raze the town and fortifications, block access to the Damietta branch of the river, and erect a new town called Damietta 4 miles (6.4 km) inland on the present site. During both the Mamlūk and the Ottoman periods, the town was used as a place of banishment. After the construction in 1819 of the Maḥmūdiyyah Canal, which diverted much of the Nile’s shipping to Alexandria, Damietta’s importance as a trade centre diminished, although it retained some trade, principally with Syria.

In modern times dredging of the channel revived Damietta’s port the port facilities were upgraded to relieve the overcrowding at Alexandria, but much traffic has been diverted to the west of Alexandria or east to Port Said. The city’s industries include furniture and clothing manufacturing, leatherworking, flour milling, and fishing. The city has several fine mosques. Damietta is linked to Cairo by rail via Banhā (Benha) and to Port Said and the Suez Canal zone by highway. Pop. (2006) 206,664.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

The Fifth Crusade 1213–21 Part III

A 13th century CE manuscript illustration depicting the attack on Damietta in Egypt in 1218-19 CE during the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221 CE). (From the Chronica Majorca by Matthew Paris, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)

A decision to attack Egypt had been taken at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.51 Unlike in 1201–2, there was no need for secrecy, the new strategic orthodoxy being apparently well established and accepted. Preliminary operations in northern Palestine in late autumn and early winter of 1217 by the newly arrived Germans and Hungarians provided employment for restless western troops, badly needed food supplies for Acre and a measure of increased security for the Frankish enclave without provoking any serious counter-attack by al Mu ‘azzam of Damascus. From their camp south of Acre, the crusaders, careful to avoid a pitched battle with local Ayyubid forces, conducted a leisurely promenade across the river Jordan and a circuit of the Sea of Galilee, followed in December by two fruitless assaults on the Muslim fortress on Mt Tabor, Pope Innocent’s casus belli of 1213. A subsequent foray by a splinter group of 500 Hungarians into the Lebanese mountains ended in disaster. However, the success of the earlier foraging excursion was followed in the New Year by the crusaders’ refortification of two vital links on the road south, the Templar castle of Athlit or Château Pèlerin south of Haifa (now the site of an Israeli naval base) and Caesarea. Although this did not foreshadow an immediate march on Jerusalem, reestablishing these strongholds put pressure on Muslim strategists as well as protecting Acre. These manoeuvres may also have played a part in an alliance with Kay Kavus, the Seljuk sultan of Rum, who invaded northern Syria and attacked Aleppo in 1218. Given the westerners’ Egyptian plan, such Syrian diversions were extremely useful in stretching the resources and resolve of Sultan al-Adil’s family and allies who controlled Muslim Syria and Palestine in uneasy cooperation or competition.

The sense of a carefully prepared strategy was reinforced in the early months of 1218. Even Andrew of Hungary’s precipitate departure from Acre with many of his Hungarian followers in January 1218 may have played an incidental role. Unusually, he travelled west overland, giving money to northern Syrian castles, arranging marriages for his sons with Armenian and Greek princesses as well as probably passing through Seljuk territory. There may well have been a subsidiary diplomatic purpose in this unusual itinerary to assist shoring up the crusaders’ distant northern flank. To allow Acre or Antioch to be attacked while the main armies fought in the Nile Delta would have made no sense. That the Egyptian attack was planned by this time cannot be doubted, as immediately the northern fleets arrived in late spring an assault was launched. When the fleets’ commanders assembled with the duke of Austria and the local lay, clerical and military order leadership, their support for the Egyptian campaign was, according to James of Vitry, who was there, unanimous. The only issue in the mind of the king of Jerusalem, John of Brienne, was whether the crusaders should sail for Alexandria or Damietta. Regarded by common consent in Outremer as ‘the key to Egypt’, the choice fell on Damietta. By the end of May, the crusaders had established a bridgehead on the left bank of the Nile opposite Damietta and began to probe the city’s formidable defences. For the next three and a half years, this narrow waterlogged region of flats, marsh, canals and rivers remained the focal point for the thousands who joined the crusade from the west, the longest static campaign in the history of the eastern crusades.

Damietta, set among the silt, lagoons, sandbars, dunes and mud flats at the mouth of the main eastern estuary of the Nile, was, in Near Eastern terms, a relatively minor port, with a population of perhaps 60,000, smaller than Alexandria, much smaller than Cairo. However, because of its strategic importance, guarding one of the main routes of access to Cairo, it was well fortified with walls and protected by canals and river channels. The warfare around Damietta fell into four phases. After the initial landings in late May 1218 and the establishment of a camp opposite Damietta, strenuous assaults led to the taking of the so-called Tower of Chains, which stood in the Nile, midstream between the crusaders’ camp and the city, on 24 August 1218. A series of increasingly desperate efforts to secure a hold on the right bank of the river, as well as some fruitless sallies against the city walls led, in February 1219, to the complete investment of the city when the new Sultan, al-Kamil, withdrew from his camp at al-Adilyah. During the summer of 1219, despite some heavy mauling, the crusaders held their positions. At this moment Francis of Assisi arrived in the crusader camp.54 After accurately predicting the crusaders’ failure to dislodge the Muslims from their camp at Fariskur, he was reluctantly given permission to cross through the lines on a hopeless mission to convert the sultan. Francis barely escaped with his life. The failure of Ayyubid relief, increasingly dire conditions within the city and consequently negligent defence led to the fall of the city in November 1219. The nearby port of Tinnis fell soon after. The third phase witnessed a long, curious twenty-one-month period of edgy diplomacy and phoney war, during which the leadership squabbled as to the best strategy to adopt whether to accept Muslim peace terms, as preferred by King John of Jerusalem, or to press forward to capture Cairo, a policy supported by the increasingly assertive Cardinal Pelagius. These disagreements were conducted against a backcloth of regular crusader departures for which new arrivals failed to compensate. A growing impatience at inaction was exacerbated by the failure of Frederick II to honour his commitment to join the Egypt campaign. The final act saw a failed march on Cairo in August 1221 and the Christian evacuation of Damietta the following month. While a few crusaders remained to help defend Outremer and a trickle of new recruits continued to travel east, the surrender of Damietta marked the end of the central action of the crusade. The lesser expeditions of 1227 and of Frederick II in 1228 acted as codas for the Damietta enterprise as well as setting a pattern of continual small-scale western military assistance for Outremer that characterized the rest of the thirteenth century, with the exception of the French crusade of 1248–50.

The Damietta campaign of 1218–21 revolved around problems of leadership, reinforcement, technology and diplomacy. The delay in capturing Damietta raised questions over the central thrust of the Egyptian strategy. Were the crusaders there to conquer Egypt or to force a panicked Ayyubid sultan to restore the kingdom of Jerusalem? All the central features of the operation touched on this issue. Who determined the crusade’s objectives? Did the western host possess the technical ability successfully to prosecute a campaign in the Delta and an attack on Cairo? Were there enough troops to achieve and sustain such a conquest? How far could negotiation with Ayyubids or other Near Eastern powers guarantee the security of a restored Jerusalem? In the event none of the answers to these questions proved satisfactory for the crusaders. It said much for the enthusiasm and levels of commitment aroused during the recruitment process that the effort was maintained for so long despite very modest material gains.

The problem of leadership arose as soon as the vanguard of the crusader fleet reached Egyptian waters on 27 May 1218. In the absence of most of the more important leaders, delayed by contrary winds, the crusaders elected Count Simon of Saarbrücken to lead the landing and the establishment of a camp on the west bank of the Nile opposite Damietta. Born of immediate military necessity, this was only a temporary measure, probably reflecting the Rhenish composition of the ships in the vanguard. Once the full army had assembled, ‘with the agreement of all’ (par accort de toz), John of Brienne king of Jerusalem was chosen as leader of the host. Although his partisans later claimed that he had also been promised rule of any conquests made, his position was considerably less dominant than that of Richard I or even Conrad III on earlier campaigns. John’s leadership was of military convenience rather than recognition of political authority. Western lords were unlikely to accept his orders unconditionally, not least because they led their own contingents, many tied to their lords by close regional, tenurial or familial association. The papacy, in the form of the legate Pelagius cardinal bishop of Albano, who arrived in September 1218, demanded influence, supported by the significant amounts of treasure derived from the 1215 clerical tax, redemptions and donations. Control of these funds placed great practical power in the legate’s hands. Oliver of Paderborn recorded at least two occasions when he used the central fund: in May 1219 to help the Pisans, Genoese and Venetians conduct an assault on the walls of Damietta and in 1220, when he hired French and German troops to join his retinue. A papal account of 1220 recorded payments made to Pelagius from the papal Camera (i.e. treasury) and the 1215 tax of well over 35,000 silver marks and more than 25,000 gold ounces. This pivotal role in funding as much as his supposed arrogance and imperious self-confidence propelled Pelagius into playing a key part in tactical decisions in an army whose lay recruits continually found themselves running short of cash.

King John’s own position was less than secure. John of Brienne, a nobleman from Champagne, had carved a career for himself out of his military usefulness in high places. However, despite a number of golden opportunities, through lack of political acumen or luck, he repeatedly failed to translate his skills into a throne of his own. In 1210 he had arrived in Palestine and married Queen Maria, the daughter of Conrad of Montferrat and Isabella I. She had died in 1212, leaving John technically regent for their infant daughter Isabella II. John was remarried, to an Armenian princess, daughter of King Leo II (d. 1219), through whom and on behalf of their son he laid claim to the Armenian throne. These foundered on his wife’s and son’s deaths at Acre in 1220 only shortly after he had withdrawn from the crusade army in Egypt to pursue their Armenian inheritance. Losing even his Jerusalem position when Isabella II married Frederick II in 1225, John campaigned in Italy for the pope and finally served as regent for Baldwin II and co-emperor in the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The political vulnerability of King John was emphasized by the crusade’s collective leadership with its constantly changing membership. This was partly a product of the expedition’s composition, partly of its constitution. The insistence that decisions were reached collectively could involve, as they had during the Fourth Crusade, the wider military community of the host. The crucial debate in the spring of 1220 on whether or not to advance from Damietta to attack Cairo was decided, against the advice of Cardinal Pelagius, the archbishop of Milan and other luminaries, by the opinion of the knights, not the divided leadership. The crusaders stayed put. At Sharamsah in July 1221, the mass of crusaders overruled John of Brienne’s counsel to withdraw. As on every previous large crusade, decisions of the high command had to pass the close and critical scrutiny of their troops’ public opinion in ways unusual in normal contemporary western warfare. The lack of political cohesion, the rhetoric of voluntary service and the reality of sworn communal rules of discipline created a robust and, for the leadership, at times awkward and unpredictable climate of participation.

Overshadowing everything was the promise of the appearance of Frederick II, held out from the arrival of the Germans in 1217–18 and Pelagius in the autumn of 1218 to the appearance of Matthew of Lesina in 1220–21, repeated regularly by the pope and earnestly desired by crusaders. Frederick, although not yet the figure of self-promoted glamour and outrageous ambition he was to become, seemed, in his inheritance of Sicily, Germany and the imperial dignity, to represent a new secular order in Christendom, for the moment allied with the papacy. His arrival was regarded as totemic of optimism and success. As Peter of Montague, Master of the Temple, put it, the emperor was ‘long expected’. As late as 1221, one compelling argument against accepting apparently generous peace terms was that Frederick had forbidden any deal prior to his own arrival. No secular figure could replace him, not even his representatives in 1220–21. Frederick’s absence unsettled tactical considerations and strategic planning. Cardinal Pelagius, representing the other universal power, had the unenviable task of trying to maintain the crusade until the emperor was ready to join it.

This was made considerably more difficult by the rhythm of departures and arrivals. The regularity of the two annual passages, the number of ships and crusaders carried provided remarkable testimony to the development of Mediterranean shipping and trade routes during the twelfth century. It did little to support an effective military campaign. A key element in previous long crusading expeditions had been the emergence of an esprit de corps based on shared expedience rather than shared origins – 1097–9, 1191–2, 1203–4. During the operations around Damietta from May 1218 to September 1221, death or departure deprived the Christian army of consistent command. Not a single great western lord remained in the Nile Delta for the complete duration of the war. Oliver of Paderborn was one of a very few leading clergy who did. In contrast with the Third Crusade, the Outremer barons, clergy and the masters of the military orders, spent significant passages of time away from the front line. Pelagius’s continuous presence from the autumn of 1218 of itself added to his influence. Each newly arrived contingent was balanced by the departure of others. Few seemed reconciled to staying until the Egyptian campaign was completed or Jerusalem recovered. As with the Albigensian wars, crucesignati appeared to believe that seeing only limited active service in the cause of the cross was sufficient to merit the indulgence. Although Quia Maior and Ad Liberandam indicated that Innocent III envisaged a campaign lasting three years or more, in neither was any conditional time limit set for the enjoyment of the plenary indulgence. The temporary quality of the crusaders’ commitment exerted a powerful influence. Even the legate’s threats of excommunication failed to prevent some, such as the count of Katzenellenbogen in 1220, from deserting. In October 1218, the news of crusaders leaving encouraged the Muslims to attack the Christian camp. Later, the pressure to retain as many troops as possible on station prompted Pelagius in 1220–21 to argue for a more aggressive policy. Without fighting and the prospect of booty or success, hanging about in Damietta indefinitely was hardly an attractive or sustainable option. Equally damaging, the incessant merry-go-round of arrivals and departures consolidated the regional, national and social divisions that dominated the public and private debates on the course the campaign should take, a disunity fed by the lack of an accepted single leader.

Technology assumed a central place in the Egyptian campaign. Eyewitnesses noted when new crusaders brought with them siege equipment, as they had during the siege of Acre during the Third Crusade. Apart from the contest of throwing machines on both sides, much of the fighting was determined by the respective merits of the attackers’ and defenders’ engineering and shipping as the struggle was played out across the Nile around Damietta and later, in the summer of 1221, upstream towards Cairo. Water protected and threatened by turns in a landscape where military aggression was fraught with hazard as it almost invariably required crossing rivers or canals. The first great obstacle, the seventy-foot-high Chain Tower, situated in the Nile between Damietta and the crusader camp, was separated from the Christian-held left bank by a narrow channel. From the tower to the city walls ran a chain, restored by Saladin, that was raised to prevent unwelcome river traffic proceeding up the Nile. It was only captured in August 1218 thanks to an elaborate floating fortress designed by Oliver of Paderborn himself.66 Although paid for and built by the Germans and Frisians, the design – a fortified platform equipped with scaling ladders suspended above two large ships lashed together – resembled the devices constructed by the Venetians before the walls of Constantinople in 1204. A number of Venetian maritime experts may have been on hand, left behind to find new clients when Andrew of Hungary decided to return home overland.

Oliver’s engine was needed because the garrison of 300 in the Chain Tower could not be starved out as a bridge of boats supplied the tower from Damietta. Another pontoon bridge further upstream protected the Ayyubid camp at al-Adilyah, south of the city, as well as allowing Muslims to attack crusader positions across the river. This bridge became the focus of operations for both sides, producing one of more remarkable engineering feats of the campaign. To outflank the bridge, the crusaders dredged and enlarged the al-Azraq canal, which ran for some miles, linking the Mediterranean coast to the Nile south of the Christian camp and upstream of Muslim defences, which now included hulks scuttled in the main channel of the river. The enlargement of the canal took a month. Any immediate advantage was dissipated by a devastating storm and flood of seawater in late November that almost engulfed the two hostile camps, followed by an epidemic, possibly of scurvy. Christian fatalities may have been as high as 20 per cent. However, after a grim and unsettled winter, the engineering efforts of the previous autumn contributed to the occupation of the Ayyubid camp on the right bank of the Nile in February 1219 which had been deserted as a consequence of an attempted coup against the new sultan al-Kamil.

Thereafter, the lack of adequate technological capacity first blunted the crusaders’ attempts to take the city during the summer of 1219 and later, on the march south in July and August 1221, placed the western host at a fatal disadvantage. The lack of manpower, exacerbated by the departure in the spring of 1219 of Leopold of Austria and many others the following autumn, proved significant. This left the crusaders outnumbered and unable to press forward attacks. Muscle power, human or animal, provided the energy upon which the army depended, a role taken in much later centuries by gunpowder, petrol and electricity. Among the skills well represented on all crusading expeditions, those of the carpenter stand out. John of Brienne employed one of his, Aubert the Carpenter, to reconnoitre the deserted Ayyubid camp in February 1219. On land or water, wood technology occupied a central place in medieval warfare. The Nile Delta presented peculiar problems, not least its lack of suitable local timber, a point recognized by Innocent III’s attempt to ban western exports of wood or ships to Egypt in 1213 and 1215. From the winter of 1218–19, although able to maintain a blockade of Damietta once the city was encircled in February, the crusaders made no progress and were only barely able to resist counter-attacks by Sultan al-Kamil, now stationed further to the south. In the event, the blockade worked, starving the city so that resistance slackened, an unguarded section of wall leading to its fall in November 1219. The main bulk of the Muslim forces were deliberately never engaged. When, finally, almost two years later, they were, the crusaders’ technological limitations were exposed. They lacked sufficient flat-bottomed barges to carry the bulk of the army and so had to maintain a precarious link between the land army and many of its leaders, including the legate, on board ship. This form of amphibious warfare was beyond the experience of many, the departure of Frisians and Netherlanders over the previous two years being keenly felt. The absence of adequate craft in sufficient numbers allowed the Egyptians to outmanoeuvre the crusaders. By using shallow side canals, the Muslims cut them off from their base at Damietta and imperilled any chance of retreat once the Christians pressed southwards into the heart of the Delta beyond Sharamsah in late July 1221.

Yet these problems of leadership, manpower and technology did not prevent the crusade from threatening the survival of the Ayyubid empire, if only, but especially, in the minds of Egypt’s defenders. From their discomfort came a policy of military containment and appeasing diplomacy, which unlike the Richard–Saladin negotiations over Palestine in 1191–12, nonetheless failed seriously to engage the Christians. On this failure, traditionally blamed on the myopic stubbornness of Cardinal Pelagius, the crusade has been seen by many to have foundered. In fact, the objectives of each side were incompatible. The fragile unity of the Ayyubid empire was severely shaken by the death of Sultan al-Adil in August 1218, just after the fall of the Chain Tower. Thereafter, no claimant to the succession among his sons or nephews could realistically have surrendered control of Palestine, still less the Holy City of Jerusalem, any such offers being so territorially circumscribed as to be unconvincing. The Ayyubid military weakness exposed by the simultaneous attack on Egypt by the crusaders and on Aleppo by the Seljuks in 1218 imposed a temporary unity of self-interest on the rival dynasts. Hard-pressed al-Kamil, al-Adil’s son and successor in Egypt, received vital help from his brother al Mu ‘azzam of Damascus. Al Mu ‘azzam campaigned in Egypt in 1219 and 1221 and launched a series of assaults on Frankish positions in Syria, recapturing Caesarea late in 1219 and in 1220 threatening Acre and Château Pèlerin. Yet it was entirely unclear whether al-Kamil exerted sufficient control over Palestine for any promise to restore Jerusalem to the Christians to be implemented. The Franks may have known this. The hollowness of any negotiated return of Jerusalem was emphasized when al Mu ‘azzam dismantled its walls in 1219 and ordered further demolition in the city in 1220.

The perceived threat from the crusaders was real enough. Taking the fight to Egypt dealt a profound blow to morale and hence was a key element in support for the Ayyubids, whose power had been grounded on their ability to unite and protect Islam against the infidel invaders. Al-Adil had been careful to avoid risking direct confrontation or a pitched battle. Al-Kamil had no option, especially as his own position was challenged at least once by a failed palace coup implicating another brother, al-Faiz, early in 1219. This had caused al-Kamil to abandon his frontline camp at al-Adilyah in February 1219 and regroup further south. Just as the crusaders’ long failure to capitalize on the fall of the Chain Tower sapped their morale in 1218–19, so their opponents’ inability to expel them from Egyptian soil placed great strain on Egyptian logistic, military, defensive and financial resources. The mere presence of the crusaders in the Nile Delta, supported by fleets from a number of Italian trading cities, threatened Egypt’s immensely lucrative commerce far more certainly than the wishful papal bans on trading. Al-Kamil, rebuilding his army early in 1219, had to resort to increased taxes on the Coptic and other Christian communities. The sultan’s anxiety over the military threat in 1219 led him to devote attention to the fortifications of Cairo itself. Two years later, news of the crusaders’ long-awaited push towards Cairo caused panic. Some members of the political elite tried to ingratiate themselves with Christian captives in Cairo as insurance against a crusader victory. The sultan announced a general call-up probably as much to stiffen morale as to provide effective additional military strength. Both the old and new cities of Cairo were evacuated. Ayyubid rule had arisen from Frankish attempts to occupy Egypt, with Frankish troops stationed in Cairo and Alexandria in 1167 and Cairo besieged in 1168. They feared that their rule might end the same way. The total number of combatant crusaders, peaking at perhaps 30,000 fighting men in 1218 and gradually if irregularly decreasing thereafter, with a casualty rate among the leaders of around a third, may never have been adequate to achieve or maintain such a conquest. Yet the threat to political stability and the prospect of a return to the factional chaos of the last days of the Fatimids was a distinct possibility. According to Oliver of Paderborn, whose figures are impressively precise and possibly based on official estimates at the time, the army that set out for Cairo in July 1221 included a modest 1,200 knights and 4,000 archers, with a fleet of 600 boats of various sizes, as well as unspecified, perhaps a few thousand, auxiliary cavalry, such as Turcopoles and infantry. This would have been unlikely to have been able to lay serious siege to Cairo, even if the army had used the timber from its ships to construct siege machines. However, the danger for al-Kamil lay in the loyalty of his emirs and of his and their askars or professional military households. Sustained warfare on home soil denied participants much chance of booty or profit, placing a strain on the military system that supported Ayyubid political authority. As it was, the crusaders received some local support, including, according to Oliver of Paderborn, ‘a great multitude of Bedouin’, resentful of the fiscal exaction of the parvenu Ayyubids. Fears of such internal dissent, exacerbated by the attempted coup of February 1219, prompted al-Kamil at least twice to offer what he thought the crusaders might accept for withdrawing their forces from his territory, the return of Jerusalem.

The first offer came after al-Kamil had successfully repulsed the crusader attack on his camp at Fariskur in late August 1219, when it became clear that a quick military solution was unlikely. The worsening conditions in both camps and in Damietta, the inability of either side to establish a clear military advantage and the strains within both leaderships indicated that a negotiated settlement might find sympathetic hearing. Francis of Assisi’s intervention at this precise moment hinted that a peaceful agreement was being considered by the Christians as well as the Muslims. Francis may have inclined to pacifism, but his mission to Sultan al-Kamil was rather different. He went to convert, not to secure a lasting armistice. He sought no accommodation with Islam, rather its eradication through reasoned evangelism. However, the naive grandeur of his vision failed to conceal that immediately in the crusader camp and more generally among the intellectual elites there existed a Christian alternative to military crusading. The idea of removing Islam’s grip on the Holy Places and as a threat to Christendom by conversion, not conquest, attracted more adherents as the size, racial and religious diversity of the world became more apparent to western Europeans during the thirteenth century at the same time as warfare failed to achieve the desired objectives of crusading. Whatever else, in the circumstances of the depressed, divided and wretched Christian camp on the Nile in the late summer of 1219, Francis’s mission to al-Kamil expressed, however eccentrically, the desire of many to arrange an honourable end to their difficulties.

As reported by western writers, the sultan proposed, in return for the crusaders’ evacuating Egypt, to restore the Holy Cross lost at Hattin as well as Jerusalem with all castles west of the Jordan to Christian rule, with a financial subsidy to help rebuild the walls of the Holy City demolished earlier in the year. Unsurprisingly, John of Brienne urged acceptance, as it would, at a stroke, incontestably provide him with a greatly expanded kingdom. Despite the assumptions of sympathizers, John’s claims to any Egyptian conquests were opposed both by the legate, acting on papal instructions handing him the power to dispose of any territorial gains, and by the representatives of the emperor. Swapping an uncertain acquisition for the traditional goal of the expedition made complete sense to the king, as it did to most of the northern crusaders and the Teutonic Knights. However, the legate, the rest of the clergy and the Italians disagreed. For the Italians this was not necessarily, as has usually been supposed, a simple question of a material desire for control of a commercial centre in Egypt for their own profit. Rather, many of them, like the Venetians in 1203–4, sought compensation for the interruption to business with Egypt. The restoration of the kingdom of Jerusalem hardly offered them this. In the light of the anger from the rank and file at the lack of booty when Damietta was captured two months later, it is likely that many of those advocating acceptance of al-Kamil’s terms might similarly have felt disgruntled in the event of the deal being achieved. Crucially, King John’s essentially self-interested position was contradicted by the Hospitallers and Templars, the military orders which, unlike the Teutonic Knights, had institutional and corporate memories of the problems of the twelfth century. They argued that the absence of Kerak, Montréal, and with them control over the Transjordan region, made Jerusalem untenable. During 1191–2, they had supported Richard I in believing that even if captured Jerusalem could not be held because of the departure of most of the western crusaders. Now they again stood on strategic realities. Al-Kamil’s terms, even in the unlikely event of being acceptable to the Ayyubids of Syria, offered no lasting peace or security to a revived kingdom of Jerusalem, any more than had the treaty of Jaffa in 1192. By insisting on the retention of Transjordan, al-Kamil signalled his intention to retain his hold on the vital sinews of Ayyubid power uniting Egypt and Syria, and that his proposals came from self-interest not generosity. His seriousness was further impugned by the memory that Saladin, when he had promised to return the True Cross, had failed to find it. Any evacuation of Egypt after the struggles of 1218–19 would almost certainly have led the crusade to break up, exposing Outremer to immediate vulnerability. After a debate further damaging the unity of the enterprise, the sultan’s offer was rejected.

Two years later, as the crusaders were preparing to advance on Cairo in August 1221, al-Kamil repeated his peace offer: Damietta for Jerusalem. Seriously alarmed at the potential erosion of his political position any prolonged fighting in the Egyptian hinterland would cause, let alone the prospect of defeat, al-Kamil may have reckoned that this proposal would sow dissension in the crusader ranks and encourage delay. This would allow more time for his Syrian allies to assemble as well as bringing the timing of the Christian advance awkwardly close to the annual Nile flood. It is possible that the deal had been presented to the crusaders more than once Oliver of Paderborn described the terms as ‘so often proffered by the enemy’. A striking but unsurprising feature of the Egypt war 1218–21 was how much informal contact existed between the two sides as they manoeuvred for advantage in the narrow region around Damietta spies, renegades, prisoners of war, ambassadors all featured prominently. Each side had a shrewd idea of the circumstances, motives and fears of the other. Once again, as in 1219, al-Kamil’s diplomacy split the army, although this time even some of Pelagius’s admirers seemed, with hindsight, less than enthusiastic at his steadfast refusal to countenance compromise. In Oliver of Paderborn’s case this may reflect the different stages of composition, his earlier support for Pelagius being written before the failure of the crusade had occurred. While it is likely that the arguments of 1219 were still canvassed, by August 1221 both the pope and the emperor had expressly forbidden their representatives in Egypt to agree to a treaty. In those circumstances, negotiations could not succeed. The crusade’s fate would be determined on the battlefield.

In retrospect, this final rejection of al-Kamil’s peace terms appears stupendously perverse or foolish. The prohibition of the pope and emperor hardly seems adequate explanation for the imbalance of chances between a risky campaign in alien territory soon to be inundated with flood water and the peaceful return of the Holy City and most of Palestine. Richard I may have jumped at such terms. Yet Richard’s pragmatism had failed to deliver lasting success. It seems that, just as John of Brienne may have been too openly moved by self-interest, Pelagius had begun to believe his own propaganda, which had been fed in unexpected ways. Resident for these years on the rim of Asia, the crusaders grew familiar with the complexity and, to a westerner, exoticism of regional politics. They acquired news of events further east and north, from Georgia to the great Eurasian steppes. Distorted rumours of the extraordinary conquests of Genghis Khan (d. 1227) filtered through. By 1220, the Mongols seemed to threaten Iraq and the Baghdad caliphate. Even though al-Ashraf of Greater Armenia, another of al-Kamil’s brothers, judged the crusaders a greater menace than the Mongols, the stories of a non-Muslim conqueror to the east of the Islamic world aroused considerable excitement in the crusader camp. Genghis Khan, or rather a garbled version of him, became King David of the Indians commonly called, as James of Vitry wrote to the pope, Prester John. This figure of legend, the Christian priest king who combated Islam from the east as the crusaders did from the west, had haunted western imagination since the mid-twelfth century, when stories of Nestorian Christians in the Far East and great victories over Muslims in the Eurasian steppes first reached western Europeans. To wishful observers shut up in Damietta, keen to clutch at signs of grace for their enterprise, the great events in the east presaged another reordering of temporal affairs in a manner similar to the First Crusade. In this vein James of Vitry described the privations of the camp at Damietta in words taken verbatim from William of Tyre’s account of the First Crusade. History, they hoped, was about to repeat itself. For this they had additional and unusual confirmation in a series of prophecies that very conveniently came to light in the months before and after Damietta fell in November 1219. The prophetic tradition formed a powerful element in preaching and the promotion of the crusade. Now, it appeared, there was more to it than fancy biblical exegesis and intellectual prestidigitation.

Even before the capture of Damietta, an apparently prophetic work in Arabic had been brought to the crusaders’ attention predicting the capture of the city. Rumours circulated of a pan-Christian rising against the power of Islam. Such heady influences formed the emotional context within which the peace diplomacy of 1219–21 was conducted. The atmosphere of cosmic expectation was further heightened after the capture of the city by the supposed discovery of further prophetic works that were widely circulated though the crusader ranks in translation, their content directly informing official propaganda and preaching. One of these, the Prophecy of Hannan, son of Isaac, while purporting to be by a ninth-century Persian Nestorian doctor, was probably composed by local Egyptian Nestorians in 1219–20. Another associated the prophecy of ultimate success with an unimpeachable Christian source, The Revelations of the Blessed Apostle Peter by his Disciple Clement. These rather esoteric works were provided with suitably hoary provenance, complete with references to ancient languages, local custody and old bindings. While evidently feeding directly into the stream of optimism that sustained the clerical propagandists in the crusader camp, these prophecies seemed to gain credence when combined with the contemporary news of the events in the east, of ‘King David’ and of Prester John, even if there was some confusion over the location of the latter’s kingdom, in eastern Asia or east Africa. Pelagius and his high-powered intellectual advisors, such as James of Vitry, seemed to have been convinced of the essential accuracy of these prophecies of triumph. They had them translated, sent to the west and broadcast to the troops, especially in the prelude to the advance south in July 1221. These auguries combined with the instructions from the leaders in the west to incline the clerical leadership against throwing away what all sides agreed was an advantage by agreeing to the sultan’s terms. Imperialist support in 1220–21 stiffened this resolve.

Pelagius did not hope the crusaders would win he thought he knew they would. While it is impossible to reach into the minds of the protagonists, the acceptance of what struck intelligent witnesses as objective prophetic documents, while anathema to most sane modern observers, fitted well into the mind set that placed crusading within a frame of universal history. To reject the possibility of prophetic truth would have been to deny the crusade mentality itself. To ignore the prophetic message in favour of the naked short-term self-interest of John of Jerusalem would have seemed treason to God’s purpose. The forged Damietta prophecies of 1219–21 exerted such an impact because they operated with, not against, the grain of expectation and understanding of the progress of human history towards Judgement Day. Only in retrospect did the refusal to accept al-Kamil appear foolish. The central failure of the Fifth Crusade was not diplomatic but military.

St Louis’s Crusade

When King Louis IX of France set sail for Egypt in August 1248, his was a better-organised expedition. Financed by the richest country in Europe, centrally led and well planned, it crossed the Mediterranean in a fleet of the finest modern ships. Wintering in Cyprus, Louis turned the island into a massive forward supply base.

Arriving at Damietta on June 4 th , 1249, Louis laid siege to the town with his 2,500 knights and 10,000-12,000 infantry. Within two days he achieved what took the previous crusade a year and a half, and Damietta fell.

Unlike his predecessors, Louis took the Nile floods into account. He waited for them to subside and for reinforcements led by his brother to arrive. Then, in October, he set out down the Nile.

Death of Louis IX during the siege of Tunis

Arriving near Mansurah, Louis found Muslim forces blocking his way across a canal to the town. He had his engineers try to build a causeway across, but the defenders dug out the far side ahead of them and bombarded the crusaders with Greek fire, causing horrible deaths and injuries. On February 8 th , 1250, a crusader attack made it across the canal via a pontoon bridge. But discipline broke down, crusaders led by Robert of Artois charged ahead into the town and were massacred, and the attack was halted.

On 28 February, Egyptian reinforcements arrived under the Sultan Turanshah. They cut off the crusaders’ supply route, capturing 80 of their supply ships before Louis gave up and called a retreat.

By now, many of the crusaders were sick with typhus and dysentery. The sick and wounded were loaded into galleys to sail back up the Nile, but were captured and most of them put to death. Louis led the rest of his forces north overland but was also cut off and forced to surrender. Once again, Damietta was returned to its owners in exchange for the release of the crusading force.

The Crusades of St. Louis

When the garbage-adorned Frederick II sailed from Acre harbor, he left behind a kingdom devastated by the attainment of its most cherished goals. The Templars, Hospitallers, and local barons watched with horror as the Holy Roman emperor destroyed their weapons and garrisoned their towns with his own troops. They were incensed by what they saw as the humiliation of Jerusalem: the Holy City was filled with Muslims, lacked fortifications, and had been handed over to an excommunicate. Frederick&rsquos ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was an affront to their laws and the traditions of the kingdom of Jerusalem, a blatantly illegal action bordering on sacrilege. It is no wonder, then, that the Christians of the East saw the crusade of Frederick II as a war aimed not at the Muslims but at themselves.


Frederick&rsquos reconciliation with Pope Gregory IX in 1230 did nothing to make his rule in the East more palatable. Resistance and open rebellion were everywhere. The lord of Beirut, John of Ibelin, became the leader of an opposition party that included virtually all the barons as well as the Hospitallers and Templars. Before Frederick replaced him with his own men, John had been regent (bailli) of Cyprus. He was easily the most powerful member of the native aristocracy, so it was natural that he should become the rebellion&rsquos focus. In 1232, the city of Acre went so far as to declare itself an independent commune, separate from the kingdom of Jerusalem. John was elected the city&rsquos first mayor. War between Frederick&rsquos Hohenstaufen forces and the crusaders continued until 1233, when John captured Cyprus. Henceforth, the trappings of imperial government remained, but the real power lay in the well-connected Ibelin family.

Fortunately for the Christians, the Muslims were also in a state of disarray. The brotherly love of al-Kamil and al-Ashraf expired shortly after the conquest of Damascus. The two fought a bitter civil war until 1237, when al-Ashraf died and al-Kamil took Syria. The sultan did not have long to savor his victory he died one year later. The Ayyubid Empire was split between his two sons: As-Salih ruled in Damascus, and al-Adil took Egypt. The two brothers quickly followed the example of their father and uncle by declaring war on each other. As-Salih succeeded in capturing Egypt but lost Syria in the process. He would spend much of his energy over the subsequent years attempting to regain it.

In 1239, Frederick II&rsquos truce expired. The Muslims wasted no time in taking back Jerusalem, a task made simple by the fact that the city was undefended and surrounded. In a real sense, it had only been on loan to the Christians.

During the tensions between Syria and Egypt in 1240 and 1241, two crusades from the West arrived at Acre in rapid succession. Neither the first, led by Thibaut of Champagne, nor the second, led by Richard of Cornwall, had any important military victories, but together they successfully played the sides in the Muslim dispute against each other to gain territorial concessions. In return for an alliance with Egypt, the Christians recovered Jerusalem as well as other lost territories, including Ascalon, Sidon, Tiberias, and Galilee. It was a remarkable deal, one that brought the kingdom of Jerusalem to its largest size since 1187.

The last vestiges of Frederick II&rsquos power in the Holy Land were eradicated in 1242 or 1243, when his son Conrad came of age. The barons declared the emperor&rsquos regency at an end and invited the young Conrad to assume his throne in Jerusalem. They knew, of course, that he would do no such thing. Alice of Cyprus, the next in line for the throne, thus became regent. Conrad&rsquos own nominations for his regency were ignored indeed, Alice instructed the barons to henceforth ignore all orders from the king&mdashwhich they happily did. She also revoked all grants made by Frederick in Conrad&rsquos name. The last stronghold of imperial power was Tyre, which the barons besieged and captured. Hohenstaufen rule in Jerusalem was effectively at an end.

The sands of regional power shifted again when as-Salih allied with the Khorezmians of northern Syria to regain Syria and Palestine. In response, the crusaders allied with Damascus for the promise of additional land concessions. As part of the deal, the Muslim residents evacuated Jerusalem, leaving it for one last moment a Christian city. It still lacked serious fortifications. When the Khorezmians poured into the region in 1244, they easily captured it, massacred the Christians, and burned their churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The allied army of the Egyptians and Khorezmians was formidable. After dealing a crushing blow to the crusader-Syrian forces, as-Salih took Syria and reunited the Ayyubid Empire. In one devastating campaign, the Christians had lost all the gains won by Frederick II, Thibaut of Champagne, and Richard of Cornwall. Once again, they were confined to a strip of ports along the Mediterranean coast.


The catastrophic events in the Holy Land did not escape the notice of the young king of France, Louis IX (1226&ndash70). A man of great piety and enormous courage, Louis was eager to use the resources of his kingdom in the service of Christ. Those resources were considerable. Thanks to the wise policies of Philip II Augustus and Louis&rsquos mother and regent, Blanche of Castile, France had emerged as the wealthiest and most powerful state in Europe. Much has been written about the character of Louis IX&mdashall of it good. Even his staunchest enemies agreed that Louis was a man of integrity whose moral character was unassailable and whose devotion to justice was legendary. Like all men of his class, Louis was raised in a culture of chivalry that celebrated the crusade as the greatest use of Christian arms. It is no exaggeration to say that the liberation of Jerusalem was the single most cherished goal in his life.

Like Richard the Lionheart, Louis IX was a consummate crusader-king. The spirit of the crusade energized both men, and each had a wealthy kingdom at his disposal with which to pursue his goals. Both were gifted leaders of men, inspiring their troops to endure great hardships for the good of the crusade. Louis was much more cautious and deliberative than Richard, qualities that also made him a better king. Louis&rsquos piety ran deeper as well. He saw the conquest of Jerusalem as the greatest act of devotion to Christ, whereas Richard viewed it as the greatest achievement of a chivalric warrior. In the field, Louis was a skillful tactician, although never the equal of Richard on that score.

Louis IX came to crusading honestly. He was the product of generations of crusaders on both sides of his family. His father, Louis VIII, devoted his final years to the Albigensian Crusade. By engaging France in a new crusade, Louis may have felt that he was fulfilling the dreams of a father whom he never knew. After coming of age, he considered crusading frequently, although his mother did her best to discourage him. At last, in December 1244, after a serious illness, Louis took the cross. When Blanche arranged to have the vow commuted, Louis stubbornly took it again. On this matter, he would not be moved, despite protests from many in his court.

Louis&rsquos crusade was from the beginning a French affair. In truth, no one else was available. In his customary state of excommunication, the aging Frederick II was once again in open warfare with the church. Although the emperor had promised vast and numerous crusades to conquer Palestine and protect the Latin Empire of Constantinople, the popes no longer expected anything from him but words. The English were busy with their own turmoil between Henry III (1216&ndash72) and his nobles.

The king of France was determined that his crusade would be well supplied, well funded, and meticulously organized. He oversaw every aspect of the long preparation. Pope Innocent IV (1243&ndash54) granted him the right to receive a tenth of ecclesiastical revenues in his kingdom, and Louis instituted additional special taxes on his subjects to fund the enterprise. A large fleet was contracted from the merchants of Genoa and Marseilles, and enormous stores of provisions were stockpiled on Cyprus to provide support for the crusaders wherever they chose to operate.

Louis and his main fleet sailed on August 25, 1248 (photospread illustration 10). On September 17, they arrived at Cyprus, where they spent the winter waiting for more troops. By spring, a sizable force had assembled. The destination of the crusade had not been formally announced, although Louis had clearly decided on Egypt long before he arrived at Cyprus. Like many Christians, Louis considered often the tragic failure of the Fifth Crusade. He closely studied the event and was determined to improve on history. In a council of war, the crusaders settled on Damietta, the Nile port captured and then lost by the Fifth Crusade, as their initial destination. None of this was a surprise to the sultan of Egypt, who sent a garrison to the city and made camp with his own forces nearby. The sultan, too, was well acquainted with the Fifth Crusade.

The crusade fleet sailed from Cyprus in late May 1249, arriving at Damietta on June 4. Thirty-one years earlier the Fifth Crusade had prosecuted its siege of this city from a fortified camp on the west bank of the Nile. Louis planned to do the same. Determined to deny the French that beachhead, as-Salih arrayed his troops along the shore. The crusaders were prepared. Many of the knights boarded shallow-bottomed boats that could be maneuvered right up to the banks of the river. The French then struck with a bold amphibious assault. When the vessels opened, knights poured out, splashing through waist-deep water to fight the Muslim defense forces on the shore. Louis was among the knights, wielding his sword with righteous determination. When the Muslim cavalry came thundering down the beach, the French thrust their lances into the sands, breaking up the charge. Soon, the Egyptians were in full retreat and the crusaders had won their camp.

At this point, the Christians expected to begin a long siege of Damietta. It had taken the Fifth Crusade eighteen months to wear down the heavily fortified city, but luck was with Louis and his crusaders. When the Muslim forces retreated from the shore, they did not enter Damietta but instead marched directly to the sultan&rsquos camp farther up the Nile. Seeing this, the garrison in the city began to suspect that they alone would have to suffer the depredations of a siege. The frightening stories of the wretched conditions in Damietta during the siege of 1218&ndash19 were still vividly told throughout Egypt. The city garrison, therefore, followed the cue of the shore defense forces and marched back to the sultan&rsquos camp. Seeing themselves abandoned, the citizens of Damietta also made a quick retreat from the city. To their astonishment, the crusaders discovered the city undefended and empty. They occupied it at once.

As al-Kamil had done in 1219, as-Salih moved his forces upriver to the fortified town of Mansurah. Louis did not give chase, for he did not want to repeat the Fifth Crusade&rsquos mistake of getting caught by the Nile&rsquos summer flood. He also wanted to wait for the arrival of his brother, Alphonse of Poitiers, who was bringing additional troops. Alphonse arrived on October 24, 1247, and Louis immediately called a council of war.

The arguments presented at the council in Damietta exposed the two contradictory motivations for leading crusades into Egypt. When Richard the Lionheart had proposed an attack on Egypt during the Third Crusade, he envisioned it as a means of breaking the back of Muslim power in the Near East, thereby ensuring the permanent safety of Jerusalem. This also was the initial motivation behind the Fourth Crusade and the Fifth Crusade. In Louis IX&rsquos council, this position was championed by the king&rsquos brother, Robert of Artois, who proclaimed that the surest way to kill a serpent was to smash its head. The goal, therefore, should be Cairo, the capital of the Ayyubid Empire. Only with Egypt under their control, he argued, could they hope to bring peace to the Holy Land.

The majority of the council opposed this plan. They saw conquests in Egypt not as ends in themselves but as a means to bargain for the return of the holy places. This idea had more recently developed during the Fifth Crusade, when the sultan proved willing to return the entire kingdom of Jerusalem in exchange for Damietta. It was further supported by the diplomatic successes during the crusades of Frederick II, Thibaut of Champagne, and Richard of Cornwall. The majority argued that the French should not risk the treacherous Nile delta but instead should sail to Alexandria. There, they could capture a rich and important city while remaining well supplied from Cyprus. Because they ruled the waves, the French could hold Damietta and Alexandria indefinitely, or until the sultan offered them enough in Palestine to make them relinquish their Egyptian prizes. This proposal was pragmatic, but it did not offer a long-term solution to the survival of the crusader states. The view of Robert of Artois was more ambitious, but as the debacle of the Fifth Crusade demonstrated, the risks were great. Louis deeply believed that God was eager to bestow great victories on his army of crusaders, and the ease with which they had taken Damietta confirmed this for him. He felt certain that similar victories awaited them at Mansurah and Cairo if only they put their trust in God rather than in clever bargaining. They would march to Mansurah.

The crusade headed south on November 20. Louis took his time, ensuring that lines of communication and supply from Damietta to the Nile were established and maintained. It took the army a month to reach Mansurah. They made camp on the same spot chosen by the Fifth Crusade, a wedge of land between the Nile and a tributary. During their journey south, the sultan died. Because his heir was in Syria, Emir Fakhr-ad-Din took command of the forces and managed to maintain order.

Across the river from the French camp lay the town of Mansurah and the camp of Fakhr-ad-Din. The latter had sufficient forces to repulse any landing of troops by boat. The French began constructing a causeway, but the Muslims bombarded it with stones and Greek fire. They also began to dig away the shore where it would make land. Weeks dragged by with little progress. And then an opportunity fell into Louis&rsquos lap. An Egyptian informant, in exchange for a rich reward, revealed the location of a ford farther down the tributary. At once, Louis and his men made plans for a surprise attack on Mansurah. They decided to send an advance force, commanded by Robert of Artois, to the ford under cover of night. Robert would cross the river and establish a secure base on the other side. Louis would then follow with the main body of the army, and the combined forces would sweep down on Mansurah. Hugh of Burgundy was given command over a small defensive force to hold the current crusader camp.

On February 7, 1250, Robert of Artois crossed the ford as planned, but rather than wait for Louis, he decided to seize the moment and attack the Muslim encampment. It was a foolish risk but enormously successful. The Egyptians were caught completely unaware. Fakhr-ad-Din did not even have time to find his sword before he was cut down. In short order, the camp was taken. Flush with victory, Robert then gave the order to attack Mansurah itself. This, too, was a foolish risk, and this time the results were disastrous. Robert and his knights could not fight effectively in the tight and winding streets of the city. They were also greatly outnumbered&mdashthe bulk of the Egyptian forces were quartered in the city. Almost the entire advance force was killed, including Robert himself.

As planned, the king crossed the ford but found no trace of his brother. He did not have long to wonder about him, for he soon heard the thunder of hoofbeats as the Egyptian army charged to the ford. Retreat was impossible, so Louis&rsquos forces prepared to fight. The difficult and bloody battle lasted all day. Louis and his men slowly fought their way along the river until they brought themselves just opposite the crusader camp. From there, Hugh of Burgundy was able to provide missile support and to ferry reinforcements across. The Egyptians retreated back into Mansurah. When the sun set, the French had won the opposite shore of the river and were in possession of the Muslim camp.

Because of the botched surprise attack, the crusaders had acquired much less than they anticipated and paid much more than they planned. Casualty rates were high, and the frequent Muslim sorties drove them higher. Louis now lacked sufficient numbers to take the city of Mansurah, let alone contemplate the conquest of Cairo, yet he refused to lose hope. So strong was his belief that God would continue to bless his army with victories that Louis would not hear of retreat back to Damietta. He knew that the new sultan was not popular with the elite Turkish slave army (known as the Mamluks), so he held onto the hope that a coup might throw the Muslims into disarray, leaving Mansurah vulnerable. That was not to be. On February 28, the new sultan, Turan-Shah, arrived to take command of the Egyptian forces. He ordered dismantled vessels to be carried by camel down the Nile past the crusader camp, where they were to be reassembled. Catching the crusaders by surprise, the Egyptian galleys severed the shipping lines back to Damietta. For the French, it was the worst possible news. Despite all their careful preparations, the crusaders found themselves in precisely the same predicament that had destroyed the Fifth Crusade. The king refused to give up his position, despite starvation and sickness in the ranks. By the end of March, though, he no longer had a choice. Clearly, Turan-Shah&rsquos hold on power would outlast the French food reserves. The king abandoned the hard-won camp outside the city and returned to the crusader camp across the river.

The weakest were put aboard the few remaining crusader vessels, which then attempted to run the Muslim blockade. Only one made it back to Damietta. Louis refused to board a vessel, despite a dangerous illness that had sapped all of his strength. When his brother angrily told him that his gallantry would slow the progress of the army, he replied, &ldquoCount of Anjou, count of Anjou, if you think I am a burden to you, get rid of me but I will never leave my people.&rdquo On April 5, the weak and starving army headed north. Muslim forces harassed them the entire way. After the army had trudged halfway to Damietta, Louis&rsquos advisers informed him that further progress was impossible. With great sorrow, Louis sent envoys to the sultan of Egypt, offering his surrender.

Turan-Shah was not as merciful as al-Kamil. He immediately ordered the massacre of the poor and the sick in the Christian army. The rest, including the king and the nobility, he took as hostage. At the end of April, Louis and the sultan struck a bargain. In return for the release of all hostages the Christians would hand over Damietta, evacuate Egypt, and agree to pay 800,000 bezants. Louis himself was to remain in Egypt until half of the ransom had been paid. But things did not go quite as planned. The coup that Louis had long anticipated finally happened. The Mamluks revolted against the sultan, killed him, and seized control of Egypt. The Mamluks were at first unwilling to abide by the terms of the agreement, but at last they realized that they needed both the money and Damietta.

On May 6, Damietta was once again surrendered to the Muslims. Louis was released, along with many, but not all, of the upper nobility. On May 8, the French paid 400,000 bezants, thus allowing the king to leave Egypt. Contrary to the agreement, the Mamluks did not release the thousands of hostages they still held.

It was a somber group that assembled for Louis&rsquos next council of war. With one voice, the royal vassals, including Louis&rsquos own brothers, proclaimed the obvious: the crusade was over. It was time to go home. Back in France, Blanche of Castile urged Louis to return and take up the reins of state. But the king was not yet finished in the East. If his vassals wished to go home, he could not gainsay it. Each had done all that could be expected of a crusader. He announced his intention to travel to the Holy Land and do whatever he could for the Christians there. He was also determined not to leave the Levant until he had won the release of his countrymen in Egyptian prisons.

St. Louis in the Holy Land

Louis arrived at Acre on May 13. The patriarch of Jerusalem, the masters of the military orders, and the cheering citizens of the city welcomed him in a splendid ceremony. Louis had no legal authority in the crusader kingdom, which remained under the titular control of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Neither did he have claim to power through military strength, since he arrived with only about a thousand troops. Yet Louis&rsquos authority in the Latin East was vast. During the next four years, he was the virtual ruler of the kingdom. His power flowed not from raw might, but from what the ancient Romans called auctoritas, the authority that one obtains through fame, glory, and moral uprightness. As in Europe, the barons of the East saw the king of France as the epitome of chivalric and Christian virtue. No one dared to contradict him, for they were absolutely certain that his interests were solely for the good of the Holy Land. His mere presence helped to cool the factionalism that had torn the crusader states asunder. The contrast between the visits of Louis IX and Frederick II could not have been more stark.

There was more opportunity to make progress in the kingdom of Jerusalem than Louis might have thought. After the assassination of Turan-Shah, the Muslims of Syria and Egypt were once again at war. Because the two sides were evenly matched, both were willing to offer much to the Christians in exchange for an alliance. Louis bargained cleverly, playing each side off of the other. Both promised to restore Jerusalem and its kingdom to the Christians after the war, but Egypt also offered to release the remaining French captives and cancel the outstanding debt of 400,000 bezants. As had occurred during the crusade of Thibaut of Champagne, there was considerable debate among the Christians over which side they should favor. In their customary way, the Templars and Hospitallers strongly disagreed on the question, with the former supporting the Syrians and the latter arguing for the Egyptians. For Louis, there was no real question. Egypt offered the liberation of his men and the cancellation of a sizable debt. In early 1252, he made an alliance with his former enemies, the Mamluks.

The war was plagued with fits and starts, and as it turned out, the Christians were never able to link up with the Egyptians. Finally, on April 1, 1253, Egypt and Syria made peace. There was no longer any need to court the westerners. Diplomatically left out in the cold, Louis turned his attention to building projects in the kingdom. With his own funds he improved the defenses of Acre, Caesarea, Jaffa, Sidon, and other smaller fortresses along the coast.

Throughout his stay in Palestine, Louis continued to receive letters from home asking him to return. His mother died at the end of 1252, and Louis&rsquos two brothers, Alphonse of Poitiers and Charles of Anjou, had taken over the royal government. There were plenty of reasons why he should return to his own kingdom and fewer and fewer reasons why he should remain in the East. By the end of 1253, it was clear that without many more troops there was nothing more he could do. He had calmed the internal dissension of the crusader kingdom while greatly improving its defensive position. His last act was to establish a permanent garrison of one hundred knights in Acre that would henceforth be maintained by the French crown. On April 24, 1254, almost six years after his departure from Europe, Louis IX sailed home.

Louis never forgot the Holy Land indeed, the thought of its restoration animated his entire reign. Over the next decade and a half, he sought to perform his duties as a Christian king so well, and to care for his subjects with such devotion, that God would deem him worthy to rescue the land of his Son. As William Chester Jordan has argued, Louis&rsquos reforms at home can best be understood when viewed through the king&rsquos intense desire to win Jerusalem. He wanted to build a government that could efficiently and effectively fight the wars of God. He kept a sharp eye on events in the East and sent funds regularly to assist the crusader kingdom.

The news from the East was not good. After the king&rsquos departure from Palestine, the crusader states appeared secure for the foreseeable future. In 1255, they made a ten-year truce with the Mamluks, a reason for some optimism concerning the relations between the Christians and the new masters of Egypt. The arrival of the Mongols, however, changed everything.

The Mongols, an Asiatic people, had already built through conquest the largest empire the world had ever seen, stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean. They were ferocious fighters, mercilessly cruel and fantastically successful. After conquering China and other parts of the Far East, they stormed through the heart of the Muslim world, rapidly capturing Persia, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia. Christians did not shed a tear to see the most opulent areas of Islam destroyed. A few of the Mongols were known to be Nestorian Christians, members of a sect that held that Christ&rsquos divine and human natures were distinct and separate. This was hardly a vast theological gap to be bridged. Various popes expressed the belief that the European Catholics and Mongolian Nestorians could come to an agreement if it meant the defeat of Islam.

The arrival of the Mongols appeared to be presaged by the legend of Prester John, a popular tale familiar to almost all Europeans. It held that a great and powerful Christian monarch, perhaps the successor of one of the magi who attended the Nativity of Christ, ruled a mighty empire in the Far East. When he learned of the Muslim conquests in the Mediterranean, he would make plans to lead the forces of his empire to defend the Holy Sepulcher and his fellow Christians in the West. No one was certain where the story came from, but there was not a Christian alive who did not hope that it was true. Naturally, expectations were raised when the Mongols appeared in the East, trampling Muslim armies in their powerful advance. Over the course of the previous six centuries, Islam had conquered three-quarters of the Christian world. It is not surprising, then, that Christians prayed that the Mongols were their long-awaited rescuers&mdashbut they were not, at least not directly.

While he was still in the Holy Land, St. Louis himself had opened negotiations with the ruler of the Mongol Empire, the great khan. The king proposed mending their minor theological differences so that they could ally against the Muslim conquerors of the land of Christ. Although these words were translated for the Mongols, they were still unintelligible. Nestorianism was the religion of only a tiny handful of Mongols. In any case, religion was not why they waged their wars of conquest it was a side issue for the Mongols, a matter of personal taste. They expanded their territory because they had the power to do so and because they wanted still more. As the khan responded to a similar letter from Pope Innocent IV in 1246:

You have also said that supplication and prayer have been offered by you, that I might find a good entry into baptism. This prayer of thine is not understood. Other words which thou hast sent me: &ldquoI am surprised that thou has seized all the lands of the Magyar and the Christians. Tell us what their fault is.&rdquo These words of thine I have also not understood. The eternal God has slain and annihilated these lands and peoples, because they have neither adhered to Jenghiz Khan, nor the Khagan, nor to the command of God.1

The Mongols&rsquo ultimate goal was world conquest, which, they believed, would usher in a new era of order under the control of an all-powerful khan. From their perspective, Louis was a petty chieftain, a ruler of a small kingdom that they would conquer or assimilate in due course. In reply, they demanded that Louis surrender France and prepare to send an annual tribute to the great khan. Needless to say, talks went nowhere.

Christian applause for the Mongol conquests began to subside a bit when the Mongols entered Syria, capturing Aleppo and then Damascus. They were led by Kitbogha, a Nestorian Christian. The Christians in the north, at Antioch and in Armenia, had already submitted to the Mongols and thereby survived. When Kitbogha entered Damascus, he was accompanied by the king of Armenia and the prince of Antioch, thus putting three Christians at the head of the Mongol advance. This did not put the Christians in the kingdom of Jerusalem at ease. They counted all three men as traitors to the faith who would just as happily deprive the Latins of their own lands if given the chance.

In fact, Kitbogha did not attack their kingdom, nor did he make plans to. Instead, he sent an ambassador to Cairo demanding the immediate submission of Egypt to the Mongols. The Mamluk sultan, Kutuz, responded by killing the ambassador and mobilizing his own forces for war. His timing was good, for at that moment news arrived from the east that the great khan had died and that civil war had erupted four thousand miles away in Karakorum. Kitbogha&rsquos forces were thus depleted. The Mamluk troops were led by the brilliant but thoroughly ruthless general Baybars, a Kipchak Turk. At the Battle of &rsquoAyn Jalut in September 1260 the Mamluks decisively defeated the Mongols and captured Syria. It was a momentous victory: No one on three continents had ever pushed back a Mongol conquest. With Baghdad already in Mongol hands, it was Egypt that now took center stage in the Islamic world.


Not long after his victory at &rsquoAyn Jalut, Baybars became sultan of Egypt. This was bad news for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Although Egypt was rich and prosperous, its chaotic and capricious governments had kept it relatively weak. The Mamluks changed that. Under the command of Baybars, it became a powerful threat. The new sultan was initially kept busy establishing control over Syria, but there could be no doubt that he would soon turn his attention to Palestine.

While external threats grew in magnitude, internal dissension again weakened the struggling kingdom. For decades, the Templars and Hospitallers had been at odds. Aside from their mutual refusal to recognize Frederick II as king in 1229, the two military orders agreed on little. Even trivial issues found them staking out opposing positions. The tension grew to such levels that it erupted in open warfare. One of the vehicles for internecine fighting was the War of St. Sabas, which began as a case in the civil courts. In 1251, the Venetians and the Genoese disputed ownership of some houses that belonged to the monastery of St. Sabas in Acre. After five years of legal wrangling, the case was no closer to resolution, and tempers flared violently. In 1256, the Genoese armed themselves, seized the disputed houses, and attacked the Venetian Quarter of Acre. The Venetian merchants rallied and drove out the Genoese. Philip of Montfort, the lord of Tyre, took advantage of the disturbance to expel the Venetians, who had owned one-third of that city since their crusade of 1122. Quickly, the opposing factions in the Latin kingdom chose sides in the war. The Templars and Teutonic Knights supported Venice, whereas the Hospitallers and most of the barons backed Genoa. The war climaxed with a massive naval battle between the two maritime states fought just off the port of Acre in June 1258. Venice was the victor. Genoa abandoned Acre altogether and concentrated its resources on Tyre. The Genoese had their revenge a few years later when they backed the soon-to-be-crowned emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus (1261&ndash82), who reconquered Constantinople in 1261 and expelled the Venetians.

The nature of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was changing fundamentally in response to changes in the world. The Mongol conquests made possible new trade routes to the Far East that allowed a merchant to travel from the Black Sea to the Sea of Japan while remaining in the Mongol Empire. The route was safe, quick, and free from numerous and shifting customs duties that plagued the routes through Muslim lands. Black Sea ports started to bustle with activity as goods from the Far East were loaded aboard vessels bound for Europe. Constantinople also did well because it commanded the Bosporus Strait, the only connection between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. As a result, business slowed noticeably in the markets of the crusader states. The Italians made do with less exotic payloads, but the local barons could not afford the loss in revenue. One by one, they began to sell their lands to the military orders, which were always well off thanks to pious contributions to their houses in Europe. Soon, power in the kingdom resided primarily with the Italians and the military orders&mdashand they were usually at each other&rsquos throats.

It did not take long for Baybars to settle matters in Syria and turn his attention to the Christians. The Mamluk sultan waged a vigorous jihad aimed at removing once and for all the problem of the Christian presence in Palestine. In 1263, he led a successful raid into Galilee and destroyed the cathedral of Nazareth. Two years later, he conquered Caesarea and Arsuf. In 1266, he took the Templar fortress of Safad, massacring the inhabitants after promising to spare their lives. According to an inscription memorializing his victory, Baybars &ldquoexchanged unbelief for faith, church bell for the call to prayer, and the Gospel for the Qur&rsquoan.&rdquo In general, Baybars made it a point to massacre or enslave Christians wherever he found them, be they in great citadels or in modest villages. As his biographer, Shafi&rsquo bin &lsquoAli, recorded, Baybars was determined to wage war &ldquountil no more Franks remain on the surface of the earth.&rdquo2 In 1268, he captured Jaffa and brutally sacked the city.

Later that same year, Baybars led his forces north against the great city of Antioch. It fell after only four days. The sultan ordered the doors of the city closed and the inhabitants, including women and children, massacred. This atrocity shocked Christian and Muslim chroniclers alike. It was the single greatest massacre of the entire crusading era. Upset to see that Count Bohemond VI was not in his city, Baybars wrote to him to describe the carnage that he had missed:

You would have seen your knights prostrate beneath the horses&rsquo hooves, your houses stormed by pillagers and ransacked by looters, your wealth weighed by the quintal, your women sold four at a time and bought for a dinar of your own money! You would have seen the crosses in your churches smashed, the pages of the false Testaments scattered, the Patriarchs&rsquo tombs overturned. You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate the Mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the Patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes. You would have seen fire running through your palaces, your dead burned in this world before going down to the fires of the next, your palace lying unrecognizable, the Church of St. Paul and that of the Cathedral of St. Peter pulled down and destroyed then you would have said: &ldquoWould that I were dust, and that no letter had ever brought me such tidings!&rdquo3

The loss of Antioch was a terrible blow to the Christians. It was the oldest of the crusader states, having stood firm for 170 years. What remained of the Latin East was in desperate need of aid from the West.


No sizable crusading force had arrived in the Holy Land for almost three decades. This was not for lack of interest in Europe, nor because of popular disillusionment with the crusades rather, it was the result of the proliferation of crusades to destinations other than the Levant. Crusade fervor in Europe was just as strong as ever it was simply directed elsewhere. Crusades in Spain and the Baltic continued to attract recruits. The popes also had responsibility for the safety of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, which was always in desperate need of help. After Constantinople fell in 1261, the pope proclaimed a new crusade to reclaim it. Closer to home, there was the continual problem of the Hohenstaufens in Italy. After the death of Frederick II&rsquos son, Conrad, in 1254, Pope Alexander IV (1254&ndash61) proclaimed a crusade against his illegitimate brother, Manfred. That crusade continued well after Alexander&rsquos death. In 1264, Pope Urban IV (1261&ndash64) invited Charles of Anjou to invade the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, defining the war as a crusade. Louis IX, who had earlier attempted to arbitrate a peace, fully supported his brother&rsquos crusade against the Hohenstaufens, although he worried about expending crusade energy in wars against Christians. In 1266, Charles defeated Manfred and became king of Sicily.

The Christian losses in the Levant were a source of great anguish to the king of France. Although he continued to send money and men to the East, Louis longed to be able to lead a crusade in defense of Jerusalem once again. After his brother&rsquos victory in Sicily, Louis saw no reason to wait any longer. He discussed his plans with Pope Clement IV (1265&ndash68), who was pleased by the prospect but somewhat concerned with what would become of southern Italy in the absence of both Louis and Charles of Anjou. Charles and Louis spoke often about the crusade. Charles made no secret about his desire to go to Constantinople and wrest the city from the newly restored Byzantine emperor. Having just won the crown of Sicily, Charles dreamed of wearing the imperial diadem in the city of Constantine. Louis, however, would hear no more of wars against Christians.

At an assembly of the barons of France on March 24, 1267, Louis and his three sons proudly took the cross of the crusade. The barons were unimpressed. Louis was not the swashbuckling warrior of his youth he was in his fifties and becoming frail. To many, Louis&rsquos desire to win Jerusalem seemed the unrealistic dream of a young man, one that should have faded away long ago. His friend and comrade in the previous crusade, John of Joinville, expressed the changing values of the time when he excused himself from again accompanying the king on the expedition to the East:

And I told him [Louis IX] this, that if I wished to do what was pleasing to God, I should remain here, to help and defend my people and if I put my body in danger in the pilgrimage of the cross, while seeing quite clearly that this would be to the hurt and damage of my people, I should move God to anger, Who gave His body to save His people.4

The royal court was unanimously opposed to the expedition, but Louis was granitic in his resolve. The king&rsquos brothers, Charles of Anjou and Alphonse of Poitiers, announced that they would join him. Outside France, the crusade attracted other royal adherents: King James I of Aragon (1213&ndash76) and King Henry III of England (1216&ndash72).

Now the governmental reforms that Louis had instituted in France were put to the test, and they performed marvelously. The king had little problem in collecting the ecclesiastical and secular tithes for his expedition and was easily able to procure the necessary supplies. He arranged for fleets to be waiting in Genoa and Marseilles. If anything, Louis&rsquos second crusade was even better organized than his first.

The crusade was to depart in June 1270, but the Genoese were late in providing vessels, so it did not sail until July. The rendezvous point was Cagliari in southern Sardinia, where Louis convened a council of war. The Spanish were not there. Their fleet had been broken up by storms, and most of the survivors returned home. Henry III of England had decided not to crusade after all, but he sent his son, Edward, to lead the English crusaders. They too had not yet arrived.

The destination of the crusade had not been announced. Most, including even the owners of the vessels, expected that Louis would again take the crusaders to Egypt. The assembly was stunned, therefore, to learn that they were headed for Tunis.

Scholars have long wondered at Louis&rsquos reasons for attacking a relatively weak Muslim state in the western Mediterranean. Although it appears that Charles of Anjou did not have a hand in the decision, he could scarcely have opposed it. Tunis lay directly across the sea from Sicily, and the emir continued to support Hohenstaufen sympathizers there. The conquest of Tunis not only would deny an outpost for rebels in the south but would also give Charles solid control over the western Mediterranean. Because Louis would not allow the crusade to go to Constantinople, for Charles, Tunis was second best. Louis may have believed that the capture of Tunis would harm Egypt and thus make its subsequent conquest easier. If so, he was misinformed. Egypt received almost nothing from Tunis indeed, the sultan in Cairo was delighted when he learned of the crusade&rsquos destination. The king may also have received information from Dominicans close to him that the emir of Tunis, Muhammad I, was willing to convert to Christianity if a strong Christian army would support him. If Louis believed this story it might have convinced him to head to Tunis. That information too was faulty.

Whatever the reason for Louis&rsquos decision, it is clear that he envisioned the trip to Tunis as only a brief stop on his way to the East. The city was neither well fortified nor well defended. Once captured, it could serve as a useful place to await further recruits. Scrupulous crusaders might question whether this Western town was a legitimate target for a crusade, but the word of Louis IX was sufficient to dispel any doubts.

The crusade landed in Tunisia on July 18, 1270. The crusaders quickly captured a fortress on the site of ancient Carthage and established their camp. Charles of Anjou was delayed in Italy, and Louis decided to wait until his arrival with more troops before launching an attack. Muhammad sent a few sorties to harass the crusaders, but Louis strictly ordered his men to avoid skirmishes. He did not want headstrong and glory-hungry knights to harm the crusade as his brother, Robert of Artois, had done in Egypt. The summer sun beat down on the crusaders and nurtured an outbreak of deadly diseases in the camp. Soldiers began to die in great numbers. Soon, even members of the royal family fell ill. Louis&rsquos eldest son, Philip, became extremely sick, and another son, John of Nevers, died. Louis was stricken with grief over the loss of John, who had been born in Damietta during the king&rsquos first crusade and now died in the ruins of Carthage on his second. It seemed that God was sending down an angel of death to ravage the crusade army, and Louis could not guess why. Eventually, Louis himself fell ill. Day by day he grew weaker, until it was clear to all that he would not recover. On the night of August 24 he asked to be laid out on a bed of penitential ashes. That night, in his sleeping delirium, he could be heard to cry out, &ldquoJerusalem! Jerusalem!&rdquo The next day the Most Christian King of France died.

A few days later, Charles of Anjou finally arrived. Legally, Philip III (1270&ndash85) was in command of the crusade, but because he remained ill he deferred to his uncle. Charles immediately opened negotiations with the emir. Muhammad was eager to talk, and in short order the two men came to an agreement. In exchange for the departure of the crusade, the emir granted a series of concessions to Charles&rsquos kingdom of Sicily and paid a large war indemnity, of which Charles would receive one-third. The rank-and-file crusaders were upset when the deal was announced. Charles had successfully negotiated a victory for himself, although he had taken no part in the crusade. Some even blamed him for Louis&rsquos death, for if he had arrived sooner they would not have had to endure the heat and disease of the crusader camp for six agonizing weeks.

The second crusade of Louis IX was a success for no one but Charles of Anjou, and he profited mightily. Despite very high casualties, the French had failed to achieve anything, or even to reach their final destination. But the reputation of Louis IX did not suffer in the slightest. After a life of exemplary piety and Christian kingship, he died as he lived, in the service of the faith. A mere twenty-seven years later, the church honored her defender by canonizing him as a saint.

Shortly after Charles struck his bargain with the emir, Prince Edward arrived with his English crusaders. He was understandably upset to find the French preparing to return home. After wintering in Sicily, Edward led his small force to Acre, where he landed on May 9, 1271. He found the crusader kingdom in a pitiful state. When Baybars learned of the French decision to attack Tunis, he immediately resumed his attacks on Christian strongholds in the East. In March, he captured the huge Hospitaller fortress of Krak des Chevaliers, the greatest Christian outpost in the Levant. Edward lacked the troops to threaten Baybars, but he possessed diplomatic skills. He roused the Mongols to raid and plunder in Syria, then negotiated a truce of ten years and ten months with the sultan of Egypt. Unable to do more, he returned to England, where he discovered that his father had died and that he was king.

The crusades of St. Louis were the best-funded, best-organized enterprises that Christendom had ever launched. They were led by a king of enormous piety, skilled in the art of war and devoted to the restoration of Jerusalem. If they could not succeed, what could? One might expect that disillusionment and despair would result, yet despite these failures and a century of similar ones, the Christians of Europe remained steadfast in their commitment to the Holy Land. The crusade remained a central part of life and the restoration of the Holy Land a constant prayer of all the faithful. The fire of crusading zeal still burned brightly, and, despite his failures, St. Louis became the model of the selfless warrior of Christ. Few could shake the foreboding feeling, however, that the armies of Islam were simply too powerful to resist.

1. Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary Survey, 260.

2. Hillenbrand, Crusades, 231, 237.

3. Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades, 311.

4. Geoffrey of Villehardouin and John of Joinville, Memoirs of the Crusades, trans. Frank T. Marzials (New York: Dutton, 1951), 320.

The Siege of Damietta, 1218-19 CE - History

Editor's Introduction [1848]

This is an extract from an Arabian manuscript entitled Essulouk li Mariset il Muluk that is to say, "The Road to Knowledge of the Return of Kings." It is the history of the Sultans Curdes-Ayyubids, of the race of Saladin, and of the two Dynasties that have reigned in Egypt the one of Turkish slaves, known under the name of Mamelukes­Baharites, the other of Circassians. This work was composed by MAKRISI, who was born in the 769th year of the Hegira, or one hundred and twenty years after the expedition of St. Louis.

THE sultan Melikul­Kamil died at Damascus the 21st of the moon Regeb, in the 635th year of the Hegira (March 10, AD 1238). Melikul­Adil­Scifeddin, one of his two sons, was proclaimed on the morrow, in the same town, sultan of Syria, and of Egypt. He was the seventh king of the posterity of the Ayyubids, who descended from Saladin.

On the 17th day of the moon Ramadan, there arrived an ambassador from the caliph of Baghdad, who was the bearer of a standard and rich robe for the sultan, weak remnants of the vast authority the caliphs who succeeded Muhammad [*] formerly enjoyed, and of which the sultans had not thought it worth their while to deprive them.

Melikul­Adil, when scarcely on the throne, instead of attending to the government of his kingdoms, gave himself up to all sorts of debauchery. The grandees of the state, who might have reproached him for the dissipated life he led, were banished under various pretexts, and replaced by more complaisant ministers. He believed he could have nothing to fear, if the troops were attached to him and, in order to gain them, he made them great presents, which, added to those his pleasures required, exhausted the treasures his father had amassed with so much difficulty.

A conduct so unworthy a sovereign made him contemptible, and his subjects offered up vows that his brother Nedjm­Eddin would deprive him of his crown. This prince had no other wish, but he was afraid of intrusting a project of this nature in the hands of a fickle populace. At last all the orders of the state, oppressed by the tyrannies of Melikul­Adil, called Nedjm­Eddin to the throne. He made his entry into Cairo the ninth day of the moon Chuwal, in the year 637 (May 3, AD 1240), and was proclaimed sultan of Syria and Egypt. Melikul­Adil was imprisoned, after having reigned two years and eighteen days.

Nedjm­Eddin, on mounting the throne, found only one solitary piece of gold, and one thousand drachms of silver, in the public treasury. He assembled the grandees of the state, and those in particular who had had any share in the administration of the finances, under the reign of his brother, and asked what had been their reasons for deposing Melikul­Adil. "Because he was a madman," they replied. Then, addressing himself to the chiefs of the law, he asked if a madman could dispose of the public money. And on their answering that it was contrary to law, he ordered all who had received any sums of money from his brother to bring them back to the treasury, or they should pay for their disobedience with their heads. By this means, he recovered seven hundred and fifty-eight thousand pieces of gold, and two millions three hundred thousand drachms of silver.

In the year 638 (1240), Salih­Imad­Eddin, who had surprised Damascus, under the reign of Melikul­Adil, fearful that the new sultan would deprive him of this unjust conquest, made an offensive and defensive alliance with the Franks of Syria. He gave them, the better to secure their support, the towns of Safet* and Chakif,+ with their territories, half of the town of Sidon, and a part of the country of the Tiberiad.# He added also the mountain of Aamileh,++ and several other places on the seashore, permitting them to come to Damascus to purchase arms. This alliance displeased good Muslims, who were indignant to see Franks purchase arms in a Muslim town, which these infidels might one day turn against the sellers.

Salih-Imad­Eddin resolved to make war on Egypt, and, assembling his troops, joined the army of the Franks. The sultan of Egypt was informed of this movement, and sent, in consequence, a body of men as far as Acre. The two armies met but the Egyptians corrupted the Muslim soldiers of Damascus, who, according to their secret conventions, fled on the first attack, and left the Franks singly to bear the shock. They, however, made but a feeble resistance great numbers were slain, and the rest, loaded with chains, were led to Cairo.

In the 640th year of the Hegira, the Franks surprised the town of Napoulous* on a Friday, the 4th day of the moon Djemazilewel, and made slaves of the inhabitants, after they had plundered them of all they had, and committed all sorts of cruelties.

The whole year of 641 (AD 1243) was employed in negotiations between Salih­Inzad­Eddin and Nedjm­Eddin. The latter consented to allow the former to be master of Damascus, but on condition that the town should be a fief to Egypt, and that the coin should be struck in his name. However, as they could not agree, Imad­Eddin made another treaty with the Franks, by which he gave up to them Jerusalem, the whole country of the Tiberiad, and .Ascalon*

The Franks took possession of these towns, and instantly fortified all the castles in the neighbourhood of Tiberias and Ascalon. They expelled Muslims from the mosque Aksa,* made a church of it, and hung bells in the minaret.

Nedjm­Eddin, on his side, connected himself with the Kharesmiens,* a people whose lives were passed in war and plunder. They hastened from the farthest part of the East, crossed the Euphrates, to the amount of ten thousand combatants, under the command of three generals. One division fell back upon Balbeck, and another marched to the very gates of Damascus, pillaging and destroying all that came in their way. Salih­Imad­Eddin shut himself up in Damascus, without attempting to stop the torrent that inundated his dominions. When they had despoiled all the country near to Damascus, they advanced to Jerusalem, took it by storm, and put all the Christians to the sword. The women and girls, having suffered every insult from a brutal disorderly soldiery, were loaded with chains. They destroyed the church of the holy Sepulchre and when they found nothing among the living, to glut their rage, they opened the tombs of the Christians, took out the bodies, and burnt them.

After this expedition, they marched to Gaza, and deputed some of their principal officers to Nedjm­Eddin. This prince caressed them much, had them clothed in superb dresses, and presented them with rich stuffs and horses of great value. He desired that they would halt their troops at Gaza, where he proposed making a junction of the two armies, promising to march them to Damascus. The troops of the sultan were soon really to take the field, under the command of the emir Rukneddin­Bibars, one of his favourite slaves, and in whose bravery he wholly confided. Bibars joined the Kharesmiens at Gaza.*

Imad­Eddin, on his part, raised troops in Damascus: they marched under the orders of Melik­Mansour, prince of Hemesse.* The Franks were likewise ready to take the field and the two bodies met at Acre, when they formed but one army. Nasir­Daoud, prince of Karak,+ and Zahir, son of Songour, also brought some soldiers to the prince of Damascus. This was the first time the standards of the Christians, on which was a cross, were seen intermixed with those of Muslims. The Christians formed the right wing, the troops of Nasir­Daoud the left, and the emir Mansour formed the centre with the Syrians.

The two armies met near to Gaza. The Kharesmiens made the first onset, which was but faintly opposed by the Syrians, who instantly fled. Zahir, who commanded the left wing, being made prisoner, there only remained the Franks, who for some time defended themselves, but were soon surrounded by the Kharesmiens: the greater part perished on this occasion, except a few that had the good fortune to escape. Eight hundred prisoners were made and there lay on the field of battle upwards of thirty thousand dead, as well Christians as Syrian Muslims. Mansour returned to Damascus with a few soldiers. The Kharesmiens made an immense booty.

The news of this complete victory arrived at Cairo on the 15th of the moon Gemazilewel, in the year of the Hegira 642 (Oct. 9, AD 1244). Nedjm­Eddin was so delighted with it that he ordered public rejoicings to be made, and they were announced to the people by sound of drums and trumpets. The town and the castle of the sultan * were illuminated for several nights. The heads of the enemies that had been slain in battle were sent to Cairo, and exposed on the gates of the town. The captive Franks arrived at the same time, mounted on camels: as a mark of distinction, horses had been given to the most considerable among them. Zahirben­Songour, one of the Syrian generals that had been taken, marched next, with the other officers of the Syrian army. They were paraded with much pomp through the town of Cairo, and then confined in prisons.

The emirs Bibars and Abouali had orders from the sultan to lay siege to Ascalon but the place was too strong, and too well defended, to be taken. Bibars remained before Ascalon, and Abouali advanced to Napoulous.

The other generals of Nedjm­Eddin took possession of Gaza, Jerusalem, Khalil, Beit­Djebril, and Gaur.* NasirDaoud lost nearly all his territories, for there only remained to him the fortress of Kerok, Belka. Essalib,+ and Adjeloun.

Nedjm­Eddin had promised the Kharesmiens to lead them to Damascus for he counted as nothing the last victory, if he did not regain that town and he resolved to make so important a conquest in person. The Kharesmiens followed him with joy, and Damascus was besieged. Battering-rams, and other machines for casting stones were erected but the besieged made a vigorous resistance, and the siege lasted upwards of six months without any breach being made. Provisions, however, began to fail in the town and Mansour, prince of Hemesse, had a conference with Berket, one of the Kharesmien chiefs, for the surrender of the place. It was at length agreed that the town should be surrendered to the sultan, and that Imad­Eddin, Mansour, and the other Syrian chiefs, should have liberty to retire with all their riches. The town of Balbeck, and all its territory, were given to Imad-Eddin: Hemesse and Palmyra were allotted to Mansour. The Kharesmiens, who had flattered themselves with the hope of pillaging Damascus, in despair at being frustrated, quarrelled with the sultan, and, the ensuing year, formed an alliance with Mansour and the other Syrian leaders. They marched conjointly to the siege of Damascus, and reduced the town to the utmost distress from want of provision. The inhabitants, after they had consumed the vilest food, did not scruple to feed on the bodies of such as died, to preserve their lives. Nedjm­Eddin had returned to Egypt but he hastened to Syria again, with a numerous army, attacked the Kharesmiens, and totally defeated them in two battles.

In the year 644, the emir Fakreddin won from the Franks the castle of Tiberias and the town of Ascalon, both of which he razed to the ground. This year was fatal to the Franks, from their intestine divisions.

In the year 645, the sultan returned to Egypt, and passed through Ramle.* He was there attacked with an abscess, which turned to a fistula but in spite of this accident, he continued his journey, and arrived at Cairo. New troubles, which had arisen in Syria, called him again into that province but having learned at Damascus,+ that the French were preparing to invade Egypt, he preferred defending his own kingdom in person. In spite of the violence of his sufferings from pain, he mounted his litter, and arrived at Achuloum-Tanah,# at the beginning of the year 647.

As he had no doubt but that Damietta would be the first place attacked, he endeavoured to put it in a state of defence, and formed there magazines of every sort of provision, arms, and ammunition. The emir Fakreddin was ordered to march toward that town, to prevent a descent on the coast. Fakreddin encamped at Gize de Damietta, with the Nile between his camp and the town.

The disorder of the sultan, however, grew worse and he caused proclamation to be made, that all to whom he owed any thing should present themselves at his treasury, when they would be paid.*

On Friday, the 21st of the moon Sefer, and in the year of the Hegira 647 (AD 1249, Friday, 4th June), the French fleet arrived off the coast, at two o'clock of the day, filled with an innumerable body of troops under the command of Louis, son to Louis, king of France. The Franks, who were masters of Syria, had joined the French. The whole fleet anchored on the strand opposite to the camp of Fakreddin.

The king of France, before he commenced any hostilities, sent by a herald a letter to the sultan Nedjm­Eddin, conceived in the following words -

Nedjm­Eddin, on reading this letter, could not restrain his tears. He caused the following answer to be written by the cadi Behaedin, his secretary:-

The French disembarked on the Saturday, on the same shore where Fakreddin had made his encampment, and pitched a red tent for their king.

The Muslims made some movements to prevent their landing and the emirs Nedjm­Eddin and Sarimeddin were slain in these skirmishes.

At the beginning of the night the emir Fakreddin decamped with his whole army, and crossed the bridge which leads to the eastern shore of the Nile, whereon Damietta is situated. He took the road to Achmoum­Tanah, and by this march the French were left masters of the western bank of that river.

It is impossible to paint the despair of the inhabitants of Damietta when they saw the emir Fakreddin march away from their town, and abandon them to the fury of the Christians.. They were afraid to wait for the enemy, and quitted their town precipitately during the night. This conduct of the Muslim general was so much the less excusable as the garrison was composed of the bravest of the tribe of Beni-Kenane, and as Damietta was in a better 6tate of resistance than when it was besieged by the Franks during the reign of the sultan Elmelikul­Kamil for, although plague and famine afflicted the town, the Franks could not conquer it until after sixteen months' siege.

On the Monday morning (6th June, 1249), the French came before the town but, astonished to see no one, they were afraid of a surprise. They were soon informed of the flight of its inhabitants, and, without striking a blow, took possession of this important place, and all the ammunition and provision they found there.

When the news of the capture of Damietta reached Cairo, the consternation was general. They considered how greatly this success would augment the courage and hopes of the French for they had seen an army of Muslims timorously fly before them, and were in possession of an innumerable quantity of arms of all sorts, with plenty of ammunition and provision. The disorder of the sultan, which daily grew worse, and hindered him from acting in this critical state of affairs, overwhelmed the Egyptians with despair. No one now longer doubted but that the kingdom would be conquered by the Christians.

The sultan, indignant at the cowardice of the garrison, ordered fifty of the principal officers to be strangled. In vain did they allege in their defence the retreat of the emir Fakreddin: the sultan told them they deserved death, for having quitted Damietta without his orders. One of these officers, condemned to death with his son, requested to be executed first but the sultan refused him this favour, and the father had the misery to see his son expire before his eyes.

After this execution, the sultan, turning to the emir Fakreddin, asked with an enraged tone, " What resistance have yon made? What battles have you fought? You could not withstand the Franks one hour. You should have shewn more courage and firmness." The officers of the army, fearing for Fakreddin the rage of the sultan, made the emir understand by their gestures that they were ready to massacre their sovereign. Fakreddin refused his assent, and told them afterward that the sultan could not live more than a few days and that, if the prince wished to trouble them, they were able at any time to get rid of him.

Nedjm­Eddin, notwithstanding his melancholy state, gave orders for his departure for Mansoura. He entered his boat of war,* and arrived there on Wednesday the 25th of the moon Sefer (June 9, AD 1249). He put the town in a posture of defence by employing his whole army on this service. The boats ordered by the prince before his departure arrived laden with soldiers, and all sorts of ammunition. Every one able to bear arms ranged himself under his standards, and he was joined by the Arabs in great numbers.

While the sultan was making his preparations, the French were adding new fortifications to Damietta, and placed there a considerable garrison.

On Monday, the last day of the moon Rebiulewel (July 12

AD 1249) thirty-six Christian prisoners were conducted to Cairo they had belonged to the guard of the camp against the inroads of the Arabs, among whom were two knights. The 5th of the same moon, thirty-seven were sent thither on the 7th, twenty-two and on the 16th, forty-five other prisoners and among these last were three knights.

Different Christian princes, who held lands on the coast of Syria, had accompanied the French, by which their places were weakened. The inhabitants of Damascus seized this opportunity to besiege Sidon, which, after some resistance, was forced to surrender. The news of this, when carried to Cairo, caused an excess of joy, and seemed to compensate for the loss of Damietta. Prisoners were made almost daily from the French, fifty of whom were sent to Cairo the 18th of the moon Diemazilewel (Aug. 29, AD 1249).

The sultan continued daily to grow worse in health and the physicians despaired of his recovery, for he was attacked at the same time by a fistula and an ulcer on his lungs. At length he expired, on the night of the 15th of the moon Chaban (Nov. 22), after having appointed as his successor his son Touran­Chah. Nedjm­Eddin was forty-four years old when he died, and had reigned ten years. It was he who instituted that militia of slaves, or of Mamelukes­Baharites,* thus called from being quartered in the castle which this prince had built in the island of Roudah, opposite to old Cairo. This militia, in course of time, seized on the throne of Egypt.

As soon as the sultan had expired, the sultana Chegeret-Eddur, his spouse, sent for the general Fakreddlin and the eunuch Diemaleddin, to inform them of the death of the sultan, and to request their assistance in supporting the weight of government at such a critical period. All three resolved to keep the sultan's death a secret, and to act in his name as if he were alive. His death was not to be made public until after the arrival of Touran­Chah, to whom were sent messengers after messengers.

Notwithstanding these precautions, the French were informed of his death. Their army instantly quitted the plains of Damietta, and encamped at Fariskour. Boats laden with provision and stores came up the Nile, and kept the army abundantly supplied.

The emir Fakreddin sent a letter to Cairo, to inform the inhabitants of the approach of the French, and to exhort them to sacrifice their lives and fortunes in the defence of the country. This letter was read in the pulpit of the great mosque, and the people answered only with sighs and groans. Every thing was in trouble and confusion and the death of the sultan, which was suspected, added to the consternation. The most cowardly thought of quitting a town which they believed unable to withstand the French but the more courageous, on the contrary, marched to Mansoura, to join the Muslim army.

On Tuesday, the 1st day of the moon Ramadan (Dec. 7, AD 1249), there were some trifling skirmishes between different corps of troops of each army. This, however, did not prevent the French army from encamping at Charmesah: the Monday following, being the 7th of the same moon, the army advanced to Bermoun.

On Sunday, the 13th day of the same moon, the Christian army appeared before the town of Mansoura, the branch of the Achmoum was between it and the Egyptian camp. Nasir Daoud, prince of Karak, was on the western bank of the Nile with some troops. The French traced out their camp, surrounding it with a deep ditch surmounted by a palisado, and erected machines to cast stones at the Egyptian army. Their fleet arrived at the same time so that there were engagements on water and on land.

On Wednesday, the 15th day of the same moon, six deserters passed over to the camp of the Muslims, and informed them that the French army was in want of provision .

The day of Bairam,* a great lord, and relation to the king of France, was made prisoner. Not a day passed without skirmishes on both sides, and with alternate success. The Muslims were particularly anxious to make prisoners, to gain information as to the state of the enemy's army, and used all sorts of strategies for this purpose. A soldier from Cairo bethought himself of putting his head withinside of a watermelon, the interior of which he had scooped out, and of thus swimming toward the French camp a Christian soldier, not suspecting a trick, leaped into the Nile to seize the melon but the Egyptian was a stout swimmer, and catching hold of him, dragged him to his general.+

On Wednesday, the 7th day of the moon Chewal (Jan. 12, 1250), the Muslims captured a large boat, in which were a hundred soldiers, commanded by an officer of distinction. On Thursday, the 15th of the same moon, the French marched out of their camp, and their cavalry began to move. The troops were ordered to file off, when a slight skirmish took place, and the French left on the field forty cavaliers with their horses.

On the Friday, seventy prisoners were conducted to Cairo, among whom were three lords of rank. On the 22nd of the same moon, a large boat belonging to the French took fire, which was considered as a fortunate omen for the Muslims.

Some traitors having shewn the ford over the canal of Achmoum to the French, fourteen hundred cavaliers crossed it, and fell unexpectedly on the camp of the Muslims, on a Tuesday, the 15th day of the moon Zilkalde (Feb. 8), having at their head the brother of the king of France. The emir Fakreddin was at the time in the bath: he instantly quitted it with precipitation, and mounted a horse without saddle or bridle, followed only by some slaves. The enemy attacked him on all sides, but his slaves, like cowards, abandoned him when in the midst of the French: it was in vain he attempted to defend himself he fell pierced with wounds. The French, after the death of Fakreddin, retreated to Djedile but their whole cavalry advanced to Mansoura, and, having forced one of the gates, entered the town: the Muslims fled to the right and left. The king of France had already penetrated as far as the sultan's palace, and victory seemed ready to declare for him, when the Baharite slaves, led by Bibars, advanced, and snatched it from his hands: their charge was so furious that the French were obliged to retreat. The French infantry, during this time, had advanced to cross the bridge had they been able to join their cavalry, the defeat of the Egyptian army, and the loss of the town of Mansoura, would have been inevitable.

Nigh separated the combatants, when the French retreated in disorder to Djedile, after leaving fifteen hundred of their men on the field They surrounded their camp with a ditch and wall, but their army was divided* into two corps: the least considerable body was encamped on the branch of the Achmoum, and the larger on the great branch of the Nile that runs to Damietta.

A pigeon had been let loose to fly to Cairo* the instant the French had surprised the camp of Fakreddin, having a note under its wing, to inform the inhabitants of this misfortune. This melancholy event had created a general consternation in the town, which the runaways had augmented, and the gates of Cairo were kept open all the night to receive them. A second pigeon bearing the news of the victory over the French, had restored tranquillity to the capital. Joy succeeded sorrow and each congratulated the other on this happy turn of affairs, and public rejoicings were made.

When Touran­Chah heard of the death of his father, Nedjm­Eddin, he set out from Huns­Keifa.* It was the 15th of the moon Ramadan when he departed, attended by only fifty horsemen, and he arrived at Damascus toward the end of that moon. After receiving the homage of all the governors of the towns in Syria, he set out on a Wednesday, the 27th day of the moon Chewal, and took the road to Egypt. The news of his arrival raised the courage of the Muslims. The death of Nedjm­Eddin had not yet been publicly announced: the service of the sultan was performed as usual: his officers prepared his table as if he had been alive, and every order was given in his name. The sultana governed the kingdom, and found, in her own mind, resources for all. The moment she heard of Touran­Chah's arrival, she waited on him, and laid aside the sovereign command, to invest him with it. This prince was anxious to appear at the head of his troops, and set out for Mansoura, where he arrived on the 5th of the moon Zilkade (Feb. 8).

Boats sent from Damietta brought all sorts of provision to the French camp, and kept it abundantly supplied. The Nile was now at its greatest height.* Touran­Chah caused many boats to be built, which, when taken to pieces, he placed on the backs of camels, and had them thus carried to the canal of Mehale, when they were put together again, launched on the canal, and filled with troops for an ambuscade.

As soon as the French fleet of boats appeared at the mouth of the canal of Mehale, the Muslims quitted their hiding-place, and attacked them. While the two fleets were engaged, other boats left Mansoura filled with soldiers, and fell ml the rear of the French. It was in vain they sought to escape by flight: a thousand Christians were killed or made prisoners.

In this defeat, fifty-two of their boats laden with provision were taken, and their communication with Damietta by the navigation of the Nile was cut off, so that within a short time the whole army suffered the most terrible famine. The Muslims surrounded them on all sides, and they could neither advance nor retreat.

On the 1st of the moon Zilhige (March 7), the French surprised seven boats but the troops on board had the good fortune to escape. In spite of the superiority of the Egyptians on the Nile, they attempted to bring up another convoy from Damietta, but they lost it: thirty-two of their boats were taken and carried to Mansoura, on the 9th of the same moon. This new loss filled the measure of their woes, and caused them to propose a truce and send ambassadors to treat of it with the sultan. The emir Zeineddin and the cadi Bedreddin were ordered to meet and confer with them, when the French offered to surrender Damietta, on condition that .Jerusalem, and some other places in Syria, should be given in exchange for it. This proposal was rejected, and the conferences broken up.

On Friday, the 27th of the moon Zilhige (April 1), the French set fire to all their machines of war and timber for building, and rendered almost all their boats unfit for use. During the night of Tuesday,* the 3rd day of the moon Mahasem (April 5), in the year of the Hegira 648, the whole of the French army decamped, and took the road to Damietta. Some boats which they had reserved fell down the Nile at the same time. The Muslims having, at break of day of the Wednesday, perceived the retreat of the French, pursued and attacked them.

The heat of the combat was at Fariskour. The French were defeated and put to flight: ten thousand of their men fell on the field of battle, some say thirty thousand. Upwards of one hundred thousand horsemen, infantry, trades-people, and others, were made slaves. The booty was immense in horses, mules, tents, and other riches. There were but one hundred slain on the side of the Muslims. The Baharite slaves, under the command of Bibars Elbondukdari, performed in this battle signal acts of valour. The king of France had retired, with a few of his lords, to a small hillock, and surrendered himself, under promise of his life being spared, to the eunuch Djemaddelin Mahsun­Elsalihi: he was bound with a chain, and in this state conducted to Mansoura, where he was confined in the house of Ibrahim­ben Lokman, secretary to the sultan, and under the guard of the eunuch Sahil. The king's brother was made prisoner at the same time, and carried to the same house. The sultan provided for their subsistence.

The number of slaves was so great, it was embarrassing, and the sultan gave orders to Seifeddin­Jousef­ben­tardi to put them to death. Every night this cruel minister of the vengeance of his master had from three to four hundred of the prisoners brought from their places of confinement, and, after he had caused them to be beheaded, their bodies were thrown into the Nile in this manner perished one hundred thousand of the French.

The sultan departed from Mansoura, and went to Fariskour where he had pitched a most magnificent tent. He had also built a tower of wood over the Nile and, being freed from a disagreeable war, he there gave himself up to all sorts of debauchery.

The victory he had just gained was so brilliant that be was eager to make all who were subjected to him acquainted with it. He wrote with his own hand a letter in the following terms, to the emir Djemal­Edden­ben­Jagmour, governor of Damascus:

The sultan, with this letter, sent the king<'s cap, which had fallen in the combat: it was of scarlet, lined with a fine fur. The governor of Damascus put the king's cap on his own head when he read to the public the sultan's letter. A poet made these verses on the occasion:

The gloomy and retired life the sultan led had irritated the minds of his people. He had no confidence but in a certain number of favourites, whom he had brought with him from Huns­Keifa, and whom he had invested with the principal offices of the state, in the room of the ancient ministers of his father. Above all, he shewed a decided hatred to the Mamelukes, although they had contributed so greatly to the last victory. His debaucheries exhausted his revenue and, to supply the deficiencies, he forced the sultana Chegeret­Eddur to render him an account of the riches of his father. The sultana, in alarm, implored the protection of the Mamelukes, representing to them the services she had done the state in very difficult times, and the ingratitude of Touran­Chah, who was indebted to her for the crown he wore. These slaves, already irritated against Touran­Chah, did not hesitate to take the part of the sultana, and resolved to assassinate the prince. To execute this design, they fixed on the moment when he was at table Bibars­Elbondukdari gave him the first blow with his sabre, and, though he parried it with his hand, he lost his fingers. He then fled to the tower which he had built on the banks of the Nile, and which was but a short distance from his tent. The conspirators followed him, and, finding he had closed the door, set fire to it. The whole army saw what was passing but, as he was a prince universally detested, no one came forward in his defence.

It was in vain he cried from the top of the tower, that he would abdicate his throne, and return to Huns­Keifa the assassins were inflexible. The flames at length gaining on the tower, he attempted to leap into the Nile but his dress caught as he was falling, and he remained some time suspended in the air. In this state, he received many wounds from sabres, and then fell into the river, where he was drowned. Thus iron, fire, and water contributed to put an end to his life. His body continued three days on the bank of the Nile, without any one daring to give it sepulture. At length, the ambassador from the caliph of Baghdad obtained permission, and had it buried.

This cruel prince, when he ascended the throne, had his brother, Adil­Chah, strangled. Four Mameluke slaves had been ordered to execute this but the fratricide did not long remain unpunished, and these same four slaves were the most bitter in putting him to death. With this prince was extinguished the dynasty of the Ayyubids, who had governed Egypt eighty years, under eight different kings.

After the massacre of Touran­Chah, the sultana Chegeret-Eddur was declared sovereign of Egypt she was the first slave who had reigned over this country. This princess was a Turk, but others said an Armenian. The sultan Nedjm-Eddin had bought her, and loved her so desperately that he carried her with him to his wars, and never quitted her. She had a son by the sultan, called Khalil, but who died when very young. The emir Azeddin­Aibegh, of the Turcoman nation, was appointed general of the army and the name of the sultana was imprinted on the coin.

The emir Abou­Ali was nominated to treat with the king of France for his ransom, and for the surrender of Damietta. After many conferences and disputes, it was agreed that the French should evacuate Damietta, and that the king, and all prisoners in Egypt, should be set at liberty, on condition of paying down one half of such ransom as should be fixed on. The king of France sent orders to the governor of Damietta to surrender that town: but he refused to obey, and new orders were necessary. At last it was given up to the Muslims, after having remained eleven months in the hands of the enemy. The king paid four hundred thousand pieces of gold, as well for his own ransom as for that of the queen, his brother, and the other lords that had accompanied him.

All the Franks that bad been made prisoners during the reigns of the sultans Hadil­Kamil, Salih­Nedjm­Eddin, and Touran­Chah, obtained their liberty: they amounted to twelve thousand one hundred men and ten women. The king, with all the French, crossed to the westward branch of the Nile, and embarked on a Saturday for Acre.*

The poet, Essahib­Giemal­Edden­Ben­Matroub made, on the departure of this prince, the following verses:

The Fifth Crusade 1213–21 Part IV

The outcome of the Egyptian campaign surprised and appalled in almost equal measure. The canny Iraqi pundit Ibn al-Athir called it ‘unexpected’. Western observers were less charitable, attaching blame variously to Pelagius, the pope, the dilatory Frederick II, the clergy, the crusade leaders, sin, pride, materialism and avarice. Many remained confused, by the decisions taken on the ground and the judgement of God on his followers. ‘What mass of evil caused it?’ Reaction on all sides was sharpened by the appreciation of how near to success the crusaders had come. A major Egyptian port had been secured in the face of fierce opposition, an undefeated land army and hostile terrain, in its way an achievement to rank with the taking of Acre in 1191. The Ayyubid empire had been severely shaken, especially in the aftermath of the death of al-Adil in 1218. The perceived seriousness of the threat to Egypt had briefly united the rival Ayyubid factions across the Near East. For two years Sultan al-Kamil had been prepared to offer superficially generous terms simply to get the crusaders out of his territory. The prospect of the crusaders’ assault on Cairo in 1221 had caused widespread alarm. Yet that final foray into the heart of the Nile Delta in the summer of 1221 exposed the westerners’ consistent weaknesses of leadership, control and manpower. The army in 1221, as for the previous three years, was too hesitant, too divided and too small. Traditionally these problems have been seen in terms of a personal conflict between Pelagius and John of Brienne. The reality was more complex.

The lack of a settled army of itself need not have undermined the crusade. Regional or national divisions were never submerged during the Third or even the First Crusade. However, in Egypt in 1218–21 these divisions were not balanced by a decisive command structure, which went some way to explaining the lethargy that gripped the expedition between November 1219 and July 1221. When Damietta fell, the high command failed to distribute the booty and plunder in ways regarded as equitable by the mass of their troops, reminiscent of events following the fall of Constantinople fifteen years earlier. The conflict was triangular. Pelagius, as controller of the central fund, bore responsibility for dispersing the plunder and incurred the anger of the common crusader for perceived meanness. He was also opposed by John of Brienne, who insisted on his right to rule the city and, supported by his barons, resorted to arms to press his case. While Pelagius received the support of the imperialists, eager to preserve any future rights of Frederick II, John could play on Pelagius’s unpopularity to secure a favourable compromise. He was granted the city until the arrival of Frederick and the division of spoils was increased. This represented a hollow victory, as the city’s property and mosques were assigned to separate western national groups whose distinct identities were preserved by the constant arrival of fellow countrymen. Neither Pelagius nor John was in control of events, these national groups pursuing their own policies with an inconsistency that meant that neither could rely on their support. As the legate discovered with some of the French and Germans, not even cash guaranteed loyalty. Elaborate military operations were often conducted as separate private enterprises by one contingent or another. For once, corporate leadership did not work.

This serial dislocation of command and control not only frustrated Pelagius’s policies but encouraged King John to leave the army around Easter 1220 for more than a year. His departure drew criticism from the legate’s adherents and weakened the king’s standing among the veterans at Damietta, who remembered the promises of unwavering support before the campaign had begun in 1218. John’s withdrawal prompted many others to leave, further emasculating its offensive capacity. John was attempting to secure a claim to the Armenian throne though his wife, Stephanie, eldest daughter of Leo II of Armenia, and their infant son. Leo II died in the summer of 1219, leading to a damaging succession dispute between his great nephew, Raymond Roupen, a recently failed prince of Antioch, and Leo’s daughters Stephanie and his preferred heir Isabella. While John may have despatched troops to support his cause in Armenia, his claim was negated by the deaths of his wife and son in Acre shortly after he arrived from Egypt. John’s failure to return to Damietta for another year after the collapse of his Armenian hopes further eroded his position. By the time he reappeared, seemingly reluctantly, in July 1221, while the familiar divisions between the aggressive and defensive parties remained, the army had been joined by influential newcomers, especially imperialists led by Louis of Bavaria and the count of Lesina, who owed no allegiance or respect to John’s rights or authority. In his absence, faute de mieux, Pelagius had assumed a more dominant role. Thus, when John sensibly advised caution in the face of the risks of a Delta campaign, he lacked the political credit to impose his will, a weakness not entirely of his enemies’ making. However, John’s absence may have served the crusade’s interests in ways not recognized by his opponents at Damietta. By remaining in his kingdom in 1220–21, John was on hand to blunt al Mu ‘azzam’s and al-Ashraf’s continued probing of the Franks’ Syrian and Palestinian defences, including attacks on Château Pèlerin and Acre.

One of the most remarkable features of the Egypt campaign was its tenacity, first in the face of the desperate warfare of 1218–19 and then during the long period of defence and inactivity 1219–21. By the summer of 1221 the Christian host remained intact. But action now appeared an absolute necessity if the army were to remain in Egypt. Certainly the clerical elite around Pelagius believed the whole enterprise was becoming mired in corruption, indolence and sin by the enforced inaction. Only activity would raise morale, morals and the integrity of the army. Nonetheless, with hindsight, the decisions reached by the crusade high command in July and August 1221 seem to defy reason. The first was to launch an attack on Cairo in early July perilously close to the annual flood season with a force, perhaps a minority of the troops available, far smaller than the combined Egyptian and Syrian Ayyubid armies facing them and comprising too few to take the Egyptian capital by siege or even protracted assault. The plan to march on Cairo was unlikely to have been made suddenly. In Louis of Bavaria, who reached Damietta in May, the legate found an ally for his strategy and a commander for his troops. The arrival of King John and a large force on 7 July precisely coincided with the Damietta troops reaching battle readiness. However, the final muster at Fariskur, on 17 July, came with only a month left before the Nile flooded. The leadership also knew of the Syrian reinforcements coming to aid al-Kamil. Yet such had been the effort in preparing the expeditionary force that further delay or even acceptance of the sultan’s renewed peace terms would not only have split the leadership but risked the complete disintegration of the Christian army. This, in turn, would have encouraged the sultan and his allies to renege on any offer made while the crusader army was strong and threatening. Once embarked upon, the advance could scarcely be cancelled. Although he expressed his doubts, at no stage did King John withdraw his troops. Indeed, he had timed his return to Egypt precisely to coincide with the advance.

The second fateful decision was to continue the march southwards from Sharamsah, a town twenty miles south of Damietta on the Cairo road, at the end of July. To that point, progress had been relatively unopposed. The prevailing insistence of the mass of the crusaders to press on came as a direct consequence of the effort to mobilize the force in the first place. It also provided testimony to the fragile hold over public opinion within the army. Once again, although vociferously unhappy with the outcome, King John loyally remained with the army as it picked its way towards Mansourah. He had declined to break up the army when he had a final chance at Sharamsah to remove his own contingent. The details and motives behind the leaders’ debate are irrecoverable. However, it was not be the first or last occasion when contested military judgement was proved wrong. It should be remembered that up to its departure from Sharamshah, the army had only made contact with the enemy’s Turkish light cavalry. The Christian failure to see the trap being prepared for them suggests a collapse in intelligence rather than cussed obstinacy or myopic amateurism.

The third decision was less finely balanced. The crusaders had marched, open-eyed, into a position opposite Mansourah between the Nile and the al-Bahr-as-Saghir, a canal that linked the river to Lake Manzalah to the north-east. From one aspect, they were protected from attack by these waterways. From another they were cornered. During their march south, the crusaders ignored a side channel that flowed into the Nile north of Baramun. Now the Muslims used it to blockade the river downstream from the Christian camp opposite Mansourah. At the same time the Syrian levies moved to positions on land north-east of the crusaders, obstructing access to their base at Damietta. The Christians were trapped. Once this became apparent, a debate began on whether to withdraw or to dig in, hoping for relief from Damietta or from the promised arrival of Frederick II. With provisions for only twenty days, trying to hold such an advanced, exposed position made little sense. On 26 August, the crusaders began a ragged but not entirely disorderly retreat. Beset by constant enemy attack and the rising waters of the Nile, the Christian army struggled northwards. Many common crusaders decided to drink the wine supplies they could not take with them, reducing their military effectiveness still further. As a final throw, the sultan opened the sluices, flooding the Christians’ camp near Baramun, catching them, in the words of the Master of the Temple, ‘like a fish in a net’. Pelagius bowed to the inevitable and asked John of Brienne to sue for peace.

Despite appearances, the crusaders still held some bargaining chips. The large garrison at Damietta remained unconquered. The substantial field army, although badly mauled and carrying heavy casualties, remained intact, largely thanks to the organization imposed by the Templars. Reinforcements from Europe were expected to arrive any day. Al-Kamil’s priority remained the same as before: the removal of foreign troops from Egyptian soil. He had no desire to press for a definitive military solution, not least because the continued presence of his Syrian brothers and their armies in his kingdom presented a potential threat to his authority. A siege of Damietta could take months. After some ineffectual sabre rattling by both sides, terms were agreed on 29 August that struck Oliver of Paderborn as ‘excellent’. This stretched a point. In return for the surrender of Damietta, the Christians were to be allowed to evacuate Egypt freely, without ransom. All prisoners were to be exchanged and a truce of eight years established that was not to be binding on Frederick II if he chose to campaign in the east. As a fig leaf to conceal Christian disappointment, the return of the True Cross was promised, by now a formal, not realistic, part of such treaties. After some trouble when the news of the treaty reached Damietta, the evacuation was conducted in orderly fashion, even though a new imperial force under the count of Malta had just arrived in port. The crusaders dispersed, some travelling to Acre, others sailing directly for the west.

However brave a face apologists presented, the failure of the Egyptian campaign stood in barren contrast to the hopes raised in 1219 and, more widely, to the prodigious efforts made across Christendom after 1213. While the fundraising and recruiting continued, the political appetite for a renewed general crusade ceased. Increasingly, the relationship between the pope and the new emperor, upon which the success of whole enterprise had come to be predicated, became marred by recrimination and mutual suspicion, leading to Gregory IX’s excommunication of Frederick in 1227 following his failure to embark on crusade that year. Other contingents journeyed east, including a substantial army with the English bishops Peter des Roches of Winchester and William Brewer of Exeter in 1227. This was intended as part of Frederick II’s crusade, and some of its members stayed to join the emperor when he finally arrived in the Holy Land in 1228. However, the sight of an excommunicated crusade leader, shunned by large sections of the Frankish political and clerical hierarchy, eagerly securing a deal with al-Kamil that had eluded the crusaders on the Nile was hardly the result envisaged by Innocent III and his army of preachers and recruiting agents a decade and a half earlier.

Perhaps the surprise of the Fifth Crusade lies less in its failure than in how nearly it succeeded, at least in destabilizing the Ayyubid empire at a critical moment of insecurity on the death of al-Adil in 1218. This is the more remarkable as it appears unlikely that the expedition ever contained enough troops to attempt a serious conquest, still less occupation of Egypt. Its disturbing impact on the region testified to the fragility of Ayyubid power structures. However, lasting achievements in the east were few. The fortification of Château Pèlerin stood the test of time. It was never captured by the Muslims, only being evacuated in August 1291 after the fall of Acre had rendered further resistance impractical. The experience of regular traffic of seaborne armies across the Mediterranean set a trend for the rest of the thirteenth century which sustained the mainland outposts of Outremer as its Muslim neighbours became increasingly united and bellicose. The financial, propagandist and penitential systems that were perfected during the crusade’s preparations formed the basis for the conduct of future expeditions. Ironically, even the strategy of an assault on a Nile port was deemed to retain the promise of success. It was rehearsed, with even more disastrous results, in 1249–50 by Louis IX of France and remained a staple of crusade planning for another century. Although many blamed the defeat in Egypt in 1221 on excessive church control, the integration of ecclesiastical wealth into the ‘holy business’ transformed the nature of the exercise for succeeding generations, as did the availability of cash vow redemptions and donations. The crusade failed to secure a lasting papal–imperial alliance, but did not necessarily point to mortal combat between the two. More generally, the reaction to the Fifth Crusade was not, as it could have been, the abandonment of the ideal or practices of crusading. Instead, contemporaries took the lesson that their efforts needed to be more sharply focused in terms of logistic preparations, military organization and religious commitment. The Fifth Crusade met military defeat for itself while securing institutional success for its cause.

Zaki Naguib Mahmoud (February 2, 1905 - September 8, 1993) was an Egyptian intellectual and thinker, and is considered a pioneer in modern Arabic philosophical thought.

Unionpedia is a concept map or semantic network organized like an encyclopedia – dictionary. It gives a brief definition of each concept and its relationships.

This is a giant online mental map that serves as a basis for concept diagrams. It's free to use and each article or document can be downloaded. It's a tool, resource or reference for study, research, education, learning or teaching, that can be used by teachers, educators, pupils or students for the academic world: for school, primary, secondary, high school, middle, technical degree, college, university, undergraduate, master's or doctoral degrees for papers, reports, projects, ideas, documentation, surveys, summaries, or thesis. Here is the definition, explanation, description, or the meaning of each significant on which you need information, and a list of their associated concepts as a glossary. Available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Polish, Dutch, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Swedish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Catalan, Czech, Hebrew, Danish, Finnish, Indonesian, Norwegian, Romanian, Turkish, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Greek, Bulgarian, Croatian, Slovak, Lithuanian, Filipino, Latvian, Estonian and Slovenian. More languages soon.

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Today, smaller trebuchets are built for school science and history fairs, competitions or as a hobby. These can be purchased from s, or from several online stores. Models range from small, 1/30th scale models to full size trebuchets.

A full-scale trebuchet, claimed to be the worlds largest, is at Warwick Castle. The Warwick Trebuchet is 18 metres tall and weighs 22 tons it is made from English Oak, with a throwing arm of Ash. Constructed in 2005, from 13th century notes and drawings, it is in regular operation, firing twice a day between March and October.


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