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Outremer

Overview

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The Latins maintained a political presence in the Near East for two hundred years, from their capture of Edessa in 1097 to the fall of Acre in 1291. Their presence in Greece lasted for much longer, with their last outpost at Rhodes falling only in 1525. One prince or another included the title of "King of Jerusalem" for centuries. But 1291 is the traditional end-point.

The first two generations of crusaders were a time of victories and expansion, despite some significant setbacks. From King Baldwin through the reign of King Fulk, the crusaders fairly consistently added territory to their principalities. Despite the major loss of Edessa in 1145, Outremer prospered right up to the advent of Saladin. From the 1180s until about 1200, the Crusader States suffered severe reversals, losing major fortresses and cities, some of which they would never recover. Saladin marks the real turning point, for the Crusader States never recovered their former position.

Even so, the situation did stabilize in the 13th century. The Ayyubid dynasty proved unable and even uninterested in ousting the Franks, preferring instead to use them as another pawn in the great chessboard of Muslim politics. This situation remained unchanged until the whole board was upset by the coming of the Mongols.

From the 1240s until the great victory at Ain Jalud in 1260, Outremer was preserved from final extinction by the constant threat of the Mongols. Once that threat was removed, its fate lay entirely in the hands of the Mameluks of Egypt. They produced a series of leaders who made the elimination of the Franks a deliberate object of policy, finally achieving that aim in 1291.

The Divisions of Outremer

Outremer (literally "across the sea") theoretically was the Kingdom of Jerusalem. All the other princes were the vassals of the King, but in reality both Antioch and Edessa were too far north. In many ways, the Kingdom was divided into two regions, the northerly of which was dominated by Antioch, the southerly by Jerusalem.

Antioch held Edessa and Tripoli under its sway and was ruled by Normans. Its great enemies were Aleppo and Mosul among the Muslim states, and the Byzantine Empire, which never ceased to claim Antioch as its own. Armenia, to the north, was a Christian kingdom with which Antioch became deeply entangled. Antioch rarely enjoyed the benefits of the major crusades; only one, the Second, even pretended to be concerned with affairs in the north, and it did little more than pay a courtesy visit.

In the south, Jerusalem's great enemies were Damascus and Egypt. After the city itself fell, Acre more or less succeeded as the new capital city for the second century. Especially from the early 13th century onward, the Italians in Acre and Tyre and the other coastal cities played an increasingly important role in the politics of the Kingdom.

In the 12th century, at least up to the fall of Jerusalem, the Kingdom had a succession of capable kings. After that (really, after Baldwin IV), the Kingdom produced almost no good kings. After the death of King Henry, the Kingdom experienced a series of minorities, followed by the virtual usurpation of the crown by Emperor Frederick II. From his time onward, the Kingdom was effectively ruled not by its kings, who were absent, but by baillies—designated royal representatives. A couple of these were good leaders, but they ruled over a deteriorating kingdom.

The history of Outremer is therefore complex and difficult to narrate in a linear fashion. There is the division between north and south. There are the many factions: Byzantium, various competing Muslim states, the Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry, the Italians, the influence of foreign monarchs, and finally the wild card of the actual crusades.

The narrative here will concentrate on political history and has as its main aim laying out the various threads of the story as clearly as possible. I have found it impossible to tell the story in one narrative and so have told the story of Antioch and the story of Jerusalem separately. Edessa and Tripoli will appear only in the context of these two narratives.

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