contributor.author: Maria Georgopoulou

title.none: Kennedy, Crusader Castles (Georgopoulou)

identifier.other: baj9928.9702.005 97.02.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Maria Georgopoulou, Yale University, maria.georgopoulou@yale.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Kennedy, Hugh N. Crusader Castles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xvi, 221. $39.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-42068-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.02.05

Kennedy, Hugh N. Crusader Castles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xvi, 221. $39.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-42068-7.

Reviewed by:

Maria Georgopoulou
Yale University
maria.georgopoulou@yale.edu

As any art historian who teaches Crusader art and architecture knows, a book on Crusader castles is a welcome addition to our libraries and a long awaited work. This 200- page book is a good start. It is conceived and written by a historian who tries to fill a gap in our knowledge in this area. Its premise is the "scientific investigation of Crusader castles" and although the meaning of this statement is not clearly defined, it is obvious that the author sees the Crusader castles as "fighting machine[s] (p. 9)." The study comprises most known castles, describes each one of them, includes medieval chronicles and accounts of travelers that refer to the castles, and relates them to similar castles in the West and the East. In fact, the concern about the western or eastern origin of the castles permeates the whole study.

The book opens with a useful map of the area containing the names of all sites mentioned therein (a separate section indicating the lordship of Oultrejourdain would be welcome on the map). The Crusader and the medieval Muslim name as well as the actual name of all sites are given in each case to account for the complex history of these places. The book is densely illustrated in black-and-white (85 photographs and 25 architectural drawings reproduced from earlier publications) and includes seven color plates. Some photos are of particular interest as they have not been easily accessible in the past. The book concludes with a valuable appendix containing a unique document on the construction of the castle of Safet, a comprehensive 5-page bibliography and an index.

The book is divided in nine sections/chapters of unequal length, starting with a valuable prologue on the historiography of the subject. Biographical details on the scholars involved in the study of Crusader castles ease the reader into the recent history of the area of greater Syria. Kennedy informs us that interest in these castles was prompted by the establishment of the French in Syria in the nineteenth century and the study of these castles was firstly a patriotic duty accompanied by a romantic enthusiasm. The Crusader castles, especially Crac des Chevaliers, were seen as part of the patrimony of France and became tourist attractions of the French Levant. In fact, the most prominent historian of Crusader castles, Paul Deschamps, saw the Crusader castles as counterparts to the French chateaux de la Loire. A shift in the nationality of researchers is observed after Syrian independence in 1946; scholars from Israel and Great Britain are now interested in this field. Immediately after the war, Joshua Prawer, a famous historian of the Crusades, was concerned with Crusader settlement and the institutions that sustained it, and was involved with the excavations of Belvoir castle (1963-68) as well. Recently, the archaeological excavations of Luigi Marino in Jordan and the British team of Denys Pringle and R.P. Harper in the lordship of Caesarea, have provided new material for the study of particular sites and a new book on the topic (which was published after Kennedy's book).

Kennedy completes the prologue by saying that the Crusader castles have been subjected to extensive research, more than any other military structures of the medieval period except for the castles of medieval England. Finally, trying to expiate himself from the accusation of being an orientalist/imperialist, he admits that what pushes him to this research is genuine admiration, nostalgia and emotion generated by the dramatic landscape and buildings of the Levant. Dispelling the romantic views of the Middle Eastern lands is no easy feat, especially when the monuments are domineering stone fortresses that command spectacular views of the landscape.

Chapter 2 surveys fortification in the West and East before the First Crusade. Kennedy tries to place the Crusader castles within a continuum of military architecture and attempts to trace their architectural roots. He detects enough differences between the twelfth- and thirteenth- century fortifications to suggest that a break in military architecture occurred after the Battle of Hattin (1187) when the Crusaders lost many of their strongholds in the Holy Land. So, the book is implicitly divided in two large units: twelfth-century and thirteenth-century castles.

The main part of the second chapter deals with the origins of Crusader castles. Kennedy tries to find comparable material in order to establish a connection between practices in the military architecture of western Europe, Byzantium and Islam. Since castles were common in western Europe the first place to look is the West, especially France. Kennedy feels that the experience of the Normans, who like the Crusaders were alien conquerors, may provide a good parallel for the situation in the Levant. He concludes that the variety of castle building in Europe (motte and bailey, enclosure castle, great stone towers, fortifications on high elevations, etc.) provided the Crusaders with a wealth of designs to choose from and the opportunity to adapt various designs to particular situations. From this to jump to the conclusion that the Latins of the Levant had no need of local artisans and masons, however, as the author does on page 14, is a bit far-fetched.

The tone of the author changes when he turns to military architecture of Byzantium and Islam prior to the First Crusade. The most impressive remains are urban fortifications, but free-standing castles also existed -- some of them were even reused by the Crusaders (Antioch, Bourzey, Saone, Korikos). The lack of reliable surveys of Byzantine or Islamic military architecture allows Kennedy to resolve that the links between Byzantine and Crusader fortifications are tenuous. A clearer understanding of terms would be helpful here. Is the book dealing with military architecture in general? Are free-standing, rural castles the only concern? Are urban defences of interest? The only instance where the author admits that local tradition did play some role in the design of Crusader castles is the case of Armenian Cilicia, incidentally the only area that has been thoroughly surveyed and written about (R. Edwards, The Fortifications of Armenian Cilicia, Dumbarton Oaks, 1987). The author finds that the round towers flanking the curtain walls in Armenian examples may have had an impact in later Crusader forts of the thirteenth century.

This chapter reveals the assumptions of the author and sets the tone for the rest of the book. He is convinced that the masons and builders are primarily Latins, who in some way or another were trained in their European homeland. What they saw in the Levant may have impressed them, but they did not imitate it slavishly; they adapted particular designs the utility of which was apparent. In fact, the rest of the book will be based on the premise that the architectural solutions seen in the Crusader castles respond to particular needs and are due to the pragmatism and inventiveness of the builders.

The following two chapters are divided according to geographical location; first, castles in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, then castles in the northern Crusader states. Chapter 3 deals with the beginnings of military architecture in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, especially the reason and purpose of the castles, as well as a detailed analysis of individual sites. For each site a plan and a variety of black-and-white photographs give a clear impression of its appearance. Information is given on building material and techniques as well as on the peculiarities of each site and its garrison. This section categorizes the castles according to patronage (royal, lay nobility, military orders) and regions or principalities, and ultimately tries to find patterns/types in each case.

Castles and urban fortifications were sponsored by the King of Jerusalem in Palestine and the Oultrejourdain (Montreal, Li Vaux Moise, Al-Habis, Jazirat Far'un/Ile de Graye, Castrum Arnaldi, Bethgibelin, Blanchegarde, Chastiau dou Rei) oftentimes to supplement the meager resources of manpower. Unfortunately most of the urban fortifications of Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Caesarea and Tiberias are no longer visible. The lay nobility erected free-standing, rectangular towers/donjons to fortify their estates (e.g. Calansue, Caco, Montdidier, Castrum Rubrum/Red Tower and the Castle of Roger the Lombard in the lordship of Caesarea, Tiberias, Bet Shean, the first castle at Saphet, Toron, Chastel Neuf, Beaufort, Kerak, al-Habis Jaldak, the Cave of Tyron). Finally, the military orders of the Hospitallers and Templars were often entrusted with castles originally built by the lay nobility like Castrum Arnaldi, Calansue and Bethgibelin. In fact, the most impressive sites are those built by the military orders who had enough resources to pour into castle building. Most of the twelfth-century castles of the Templars were erected on important roads frequented by pilgrims, like Le Toron des Chevaliers, La Feve, Maldoim, Le Chastellet, or the tower of Le Destroit. But the most well-known Crusader castles belonged to the Hospitallers: Belmont and Belvoir.

It seems that in the twelfth century patronage played a role in the design of the castles. The use of the donjon was confined to the castles of secular lords which were mainly manorial estates fortified with a simple tower, whereas the military orders sponsored primarily enclosure or "concentric" castles incorporating cloisters, chapels, refectories and dormitories, with the exception of some isolated posts providing refuge on exposed and dangerous highways. It is suggested that by the thirteenth century the enclosure plan was no longer favored because it was vulnerable to Muslim attacks; instead, the Crusaders profited from the rugged landscape and placed most of their castles on ridges. Obviously, the exigencies of the terrain affected the types of castles.

As substantial remains are preserved only at Kerak and Belvoir, the author makes extensive use of medieval chronicles either to fill gaps in the archaeological record, or to illustrate specific cases, or finally to show the impression that these made on the people of the time by relating relevant anecdotes. From the medieval chronicles we learn that the castles were not exclusively military machines: they could be used for refuge or for attacks, but they would also bring wealth to the people living in the area because they provided security for the arable land around it. The chronicles and accounts contain useful information on the layout of buildings, their function and use. However, as in most cases the descriptions were made when the castle was besieged, this material is often frustratingly insufficient to allow for a secure reconstruction of the original appearance of the castles. This is where the archaeology ought to be handy, and the author makes extensive use of Denys Pringle's recent research in the lordship of Caesarea. This chapter contains many rich details about construction techniques. For instance, the fact that Crusader castles never employed spiral staircases, but only used straight stairs; or, that the architecture of Beaufort with its two- storey donjon and its well-cut bossed stonework figures is typical Crusader work of the twelfth century. As we learn later in the book (p. 65) this masonry was first uncovered in Giblet/Byblos and it may reflect an ancient practice.

Chapter 4 surveys the twelfth-century castles to the north of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The dramatic landscape of the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch produced different kinds of castle building. Few pilgrims visited this part of the Crusader lands so fewer castles were needed to protect the roads. As a result, neither isolated donjons nor rectangular enclosure plans were widely used in the northern states, except in the fertile and well-settled areas of the County of Tripoli. On the other hand the rugged limestone hills of the area lent themselved ideally to the construction of ridge castles following the example of the earlier Byzantine and Muslim castles in the area. Many of the Crusader castles here were redevelopments of existing structures, whereas with very few exceptions the castles of the Kingdom of Jerusalem were new foundations. Yet, Kennedy ends this chapter by asserting that the two centuries of Crusader settlement represent the only time that this area was so heavily built.

The square donjon of Giblet/Byblos protected by a walled enclosure with five projecting towers which served to provide flanking fire along the curtain wall, is a prime example of twefth-century donjon fortifications in the County of Tripoli. Tripoli, Nephin, Gibelacar, Arima are examples of grand fortifications on high points resembling enclosure castles. A number of smaller towers is found on the plains to the east of the county of Tripoli (Chastel Rouge, Burj al- Arab); although these have been explained as watch towers to guard the area from the dangerous Assassins, Kennedy sees them as residential complexes for the local lords equipped with a cistern and multiple stories (Tukhlah). The enclosure castle of Coliath was turned over to the Hospitallers in 1127; defended by square corner towers and bastions in the middle of the curtain walls it gives a good example of Hospitaller architecture in the twelfth century.

Margat was the center of the military enterprises of the Principality of Antioch, whereas its most remote castle is that of Bourzey, a Byzantine fortress with a redoubt on a rocky spur. Danger of invasion prompted the patriarch of the Principality to move his cathedral in the castle of Cursat on a natural plateau surrounded by steep valleys except for its southwestern side where an artificial ditch was created.

The author spends a lot of time discussing one of the most impressive Crusader castles, that of Saone. A reused Byzantine site built with walls and flanking towers around a redoubt, Saone illustrates how military architecture made use of the terrain in the defensive structures. Two walled enclosures are separated by a rockcut ditch, with the most impressive fortifications to the east. A two-storey vaulted donjon perched on the cliff is flanked by a curtain wall strengthened by two hallow circular towers with arrow slits. The construction is an example of the bossed masonry also seen in other Crusader structures of the twelfth century. Several smaller towers are interpreted as residential spaces, as may have been the case for the later, squat, large hall in the courtyard. Saone is also used as an example of the wall- head defences of the twelfth century: arrow slits on the walls at the level of the roof are combined with crenellations with arrow slits in the merlons. No traces of machicolations were found, but maybe there was simple wood hoarding. Since round towers were virtually unknown to the Crusaders before 1187, the towers at Saone may be a Byzantine feature or they may indicate that local masons were employed.

The following chapter (5) comes as a surprise as it deals with siege warfare but is situated in the middle of the book. The premise for studying siege warfare is that "only by examining techniques of attack can we come to a real understanding of the architecture of defence (p. 98)." The author is at pains to prove that "every feature has a purpose and nothing happens by chance. It is this pattern of developing response to challenge which makes the architectural history of these castles so intriguing...."(p. 119) In other words, he sees architectural developments in castles as responses to challenges posed by new siege techniques. Kennedy gives a detailed account of the ways to take possession of an enemy castle: starvation, undermining of the walls, simple blockade and more active methods of attack. In the twelfth century the siege techniques known to the Crusaders were quite primitive. One of the engines particular to the Crusaders used in the twelfth century was the movable tower, a precarious, structure prone to incendiary attack that could survey a whole city from above (used in Banyas in 1140). Given the problems posed by such engines, the Crusaders soon adopted the more sophisticated Muslim methods of building siege engines and of using mining and fire to sap the walls.

Many innovations are detected in the thirteenth century, especially regarding siege engines and sapping. Kennedy interprets the changes in military architecture as modifications prompted by these new siege techniques. The major modifications in castle design were: a) the adoption of the projecting towers (round or square) meant to counteract flanking fire, and b) the new sophistication of wall-head defences: the simple wooden hoarding was replaced by arrow slits and machicolations that created shooting galleries inside the curtain walls.

The sixth chapter, "Nobles, Templars and Teutonic Knights" deals with thirteenth-century castles, which "differ in ownership, distribution and design." Thus, this starts the second part of the book. It seems that the castles in the regions of Tripoli and Antioch reproduced many schemes that were in use in the twelfth century, whereas the thirteenth- century castles in the Kingdom of Jerusalem present a clear break with their twelfth-century precursors.

Few castles remained in the hands of the lay nobility after 1187, except in the coastal areas. None survives. A German traveller, Wilbrand of Oldenburg, records the lifestyle of these nobles in 1212. He stresses the luxury of the castle of John of Ibelin, and the description makes one think more of a villa with a garden than of a fortified site. The only significant remains of Frankish castle building in the thirteenth-century Kingdom of Jerusalem are on the island castle in the harbor of Sidon built in 1227-8. The castle consists of square towers enveloped by more massive fortifications; later on the Templars added a vaulted shooting-gallery similar to the one in Tortosa.

The remaining castles of the thirteenth century belonged to the military orders. They were built in the northern part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Chastel Pelerin, Monfort, Judin, Saphet and Beaufort). As all castles were constructed on hilltops or by the sea, the rectangular enclosure plan, favored by the military orders in the twelfth century was abandoned. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem castle building had to depend on monies offered by pilgrims from outside the Kingdom, whereas in Tripoli and Antioch enough money could be gathered from land revenues and tributes to support construction on a grand scale. Indeed, the Templars (like the Hospitallers) created large-scale fortifications in the early thirteenth century in Chastel Pelerin, Tortosa and Saphet. Like the Muslims they preferred rectangular to round towers, whereas the Hospitallers used round towers.

One of the most impressive thirteenth-century works was Chastel Pelerin (1218). It replaced the older tower of Le Destroit to guard the seaside road that passed near the Muslim fortifications of Mount Tabor. The site was actually a rock spit on the coast. It became the most important base in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and fell after Acre in 1291. The work consisted of a wall with two massive three-storey bastions, an outer wall with three square towers and a ditch across the promontory. Underground chambers and halls lay in the interior of the castle, most of them very ruinous to know their exact configuration; there was also a chapel octagonal in plan.

Saphet presents an interesting case because although very little remains we have a full account of its construction, De Constructione Castri Saphet, a rare, extremely valuable document that the author presents in full in the appendix. Two enceintes reinforced with towers and a ditch crowned the site.

Tortosa was the main base of the Templars in the northern Crusader states and lasted until 1291. The castle, located at the northwestern corner of the city walls, was refurbished after the earthquake of 1202 and shows many similarities with Chastel Pelerin. By 1212, when Wilbrand of Oldenburg visited it, the rebuilding was complete. Two lines of walls strengthened by oblong, projecting towers and two ditches protected the twelfth-century donjon, a bailey on the spot of the actual town square and the main conventual buildings (chapel and chapter house). Two additional towers were set where the donjon met the sea walls. The whole was executed in finely cut bossed masonry. Although no medieval documents help us understand the case of Tortosa, Kennedy argues that the thirteenth-century changes were done to accomodate the new offensive techniques of the time.

In the County of Tripoli the stronghold of the Templars was Chastel Blanc/Safita. Now it dominates the town square. Here we observe two lines of walls, at least two towers, vaulted halls, the highest surviving Crusader donjon with an underground cistern, a large chapel with a barrel vaulted upper chamber that may have served as a dormitory.

The Teutonic Knights (German Hospital) were newcomers in the Crusader states in the thirteenth century; as a result little is known of their architecture. Their two castles, Monfort and Judin, do not display features typical of the Crusader castles and this has led Kennedy to conclude that they follow German traditions of military architecture rather than Crusader ones. Monfort (1227) served as an administrative center for the Knights in the 1240s. It was built on a modest scale on the crest of a ridge. One side had a simple ditch, whereas the north and west sides were defended by a wall. Remains of a keep and an elaborate system of foundations for a hall and a chapel are visible. Judin was another Teutonic castle on a rocky site. A curtain wall and two towers have surfaced in recent excavations, along with indications of more buildings on a platform behind the wall.

Kennedy has chosen to have a separate chapter on "The Hospitallers in Tripoli and Antioch" to deal primarily with the castle of castles, Crac des Chevaliers. Not only is the history of this castle and its place in modern scholarship impressive, but it displays most of the innovative features of Crusader military architecture. Thus, although historically and methodologically it would have made infinitely more sense to deal with the castles of all military orders under the same heading, this decision is understandable. At the same time, the privileged treatment of Crac des Chevaliers reinforces the traditional, romantic perceptions of its uniqueness in Crusader history. The golden age of the structure was the first half of the thirteenth century when most sections were refurbished. It had both an offensive and defensive purpose, and it must have dominated the area around because the Muslims were paying tribute. Pilgrims and other European Hospitallers made large donations to the castle. So, this exceptional castle speaks to the wealth of the Knights Hospitallers. It was not until 1252 when the Turkmans plundered the lands around it that it lost much of its significance.

Crac des Chevaliers is set on an irregularly-shaped mountaintop with its most impressive fortifications developing on the south side. Two construction phases may be detected. The first one from 1142-1170 displays an enclosure castle with square towers, and a hall and vaulted chambers in the courtyard. Earthquake damages in 1170 demanded the rebuilding of the chapel. All twelfth-century work is detected by the finely-cut, bossed masonry. Following the earthquake of 1202 the castle was reconfigured. A new enceinte of outer walls was built, flanked by projecting, round towers and equipped with slits in the turrets and the curtain wall to minimize the area of dead ground. This elaborate system was the most developed at the time. Box machicolations added to the effectiveness of the defensive system. These seem to replicate Muslim methods of wall-head defence seen in the citadels of Aleppo and Damascus, that were unknown to the Franks. This raises an interesting point about the identity of the masons, who may have been the same as those working for the Muslims. In the 1250s a postern gate was added to the north. Finally, an impressive glacis and seven massive round towers made of finely cut flat ashlar blocks strengthened the outer enceinte. These walls protected the residential spaces in the courtyard, i.e. the chapel, a hall for shelter and the two-storied hall of the Knights. One of the great towers to the south was also made into a residential space for the Knights.

An additional Hospitaller castle is included in the same chapter, Margat -- first dealt with in chapter 4. Located 60 km from Crac des Chevaliers it was bought in 1186 and was refurbished in the first half of the thirteenth century. The cathedral of the nearby town was transferred there for security reasons in the 1200s. The masonry is not refined as in Crac, because the local black basalt that served as building material cannot be shaped as easily. The fortifications comprise two sets of walls strengthened with a glacis and round towers. Machicolations, a square gatehouse, a portcullis and a great tower known as Tour de l'Eperon, reinforced the defences of the castle. A chapel which has yielded interesting frescoes and several vaulted halls with flat roofs for siege engines are the highlights on the site.

This chapter concludes the main body of the book. The two last sections briefly address Muslim castles and the influence of Crusader castles in the West. In Chapter 8 Kennedy repeats that the Muslims mainly fortified urban areas, like Damascus and Aleppo. In the twelfth century these fortifications are characterized by curtain walls strengthened with small towers set at large intervals, with simple arrow slits. A change is observed in the impressive fortifications of Aleppo, Damascus and Bosra in the early thirteenth century. They are built more solidly in finely cut masonry and display-box machicolations. The number and size of towers increase, and they are now set much closer along the curtain wall. They have strong vaulted chambers because they are used not only for flanking fire, but also as base for trebuchets and other siege engines. These last elements, also observed in the Ayyubid citadel of Cairo (1183/4), provide striking similarities with the new military architecture that was produced by the Crusaders in the thirteenth century, a point that poses interesting questions about the identity of the workmen. There are, however, also differences. First, the Muslims did not use massive round towers, except in Subeibe. Second, there are no "concentric castles" in Muslim territories meaning that the Muslims did not opt for a double series of walls. Finally, since the main fortified spots are cities the domestic accomodation was much less developed.

The four-page-long final chapter, "Crusader Castles and the West," serves as a postscript. It poses the intriguing question whether the changes seen in the Latin East were brought back to Europe. As in the introductory chapter, the author has difficulty answering this question because of the variety of forms of castles according to country and region. He concludes by saying that only the area of France north of the Loire and England can be used for comparison. In fact, in these two regions we observe an abandonment of the donjon which was so vulnerable to artillery and sapping, the emergence of the concentric castle, the use of round rather than square towers but on a scale much smaller than in the East (in Europe these towers were not designed as a platform for seige engines as in the East). However, the feature which seems to be the glory of Crac des Chevaliers, the box machicolations, was very rarely used in the West. Kennedy concludes that in fact what came to the West from the Crusaders was "not new theories of military architecture but rather new methods of attacking castles." The last sentence confirms the original assumption of the author: In both East and West, architects and builders tried and adapted, coming up with solutions which were sometimes the same and sometimes different; experiment and experience, rather than architectural influences from the other end of the Mediterranean, were the deciding factors. Whether he has proven this or not, the reader will decide.

Many of my criticisms of this fine book stem from my art historian's biases. To my mind a book titled Crusader Castles ought to address the architecture as well as the history of these sites. This is done admirably in the collection of primary source material, but lacks precision when it comes to explaining the archaeologial remains or the historical/social reasons for the existence of these structures. The unbalanced nature of the material does not lend itself to an easy organization. It is indeed hard to decipher a theoretical premise, a thread that links the discussion of the castles. The author has decided to follow the historical/royal chronology of the Crusader states and tries to tie the existing castles with the reign of every king, but the result is mostly a gazeteer.

As military architecture is not a subject that everyone is familiar with, a glossary would be welcome. Many terms used throughout the book are either left unexplained or are defined in later sections of the book, making it impossible to get a full understanding of the architectural descriptions at times. For example, machicolations are first explained on page 116! Chapter 5 ("Siege Warfare in the Crusader Lands") tries to explain some of these techniques but more information would make the various descriptions much more succint. Also, since a definite survey of medieval military architecture is not available, this book ought to have been very rigorous methodologically. How does one decide when a particular device, e.g. a "clearly twelfth-century Frankish arrow slit (p. 29)" was used? What makes this a typical form?

This book is a first step in the study of Crusader castles. It provides a survey of most known sites, with photographs, maps and medieval accounts. Assembling this material was a worthy, important task; it may now serve as the basis for a critical work. Had this book had a more clearly defined methodological viewpoint and a more open attitude to the possible contributions from the East and the local artisans, new ideas may have sprung from it. For the moment, we are still waiting for the "final word" on the history of Crusader castles.