As the name suggests – Jacob’s Ford was a crossing point in the Holy Land where the river Jordan could be traversed.
It was a hundred miles from Jerusalem where the leper king Baldwin IV ruled and felt somewhat emboldened by his victory against the Saracen leader Saladin at Montgisard.
But wily Saladin was always a threat and nobody doubted his determination to remove the crusader states and unite the region under his control.
The crusaders reasoned that a castle at Jacob’s Ford would block any possible advance from the north against Jerusalem and set about building an enormous fortification. Saladin was distracted at the time by revolts among his own people and was unable to stop the castle being built, even in spite of huge bribes offered to the crusaders. About seven hundred knights, many of them Templars, were based in the rising castle along with masons and carpenters erecting the structure.
Saladin decided it was time to strike and ignoring his own internal political problems, marched an army towards Jacob’s Ford. The walls looked impregnable but his ‘sappers’ got to work tunnelling under the fortifications and in the time honoured tactic of the Middle Ages, put combustible material under the walls and started a fire. The first fires were extinguished from above but eventually the walls collapsed and the Saracens were able to enter.
The National Geographic Channel is running a programme on the fourteen year archaeological dig that has finally yielded hundreds of Templar and crusader bodies. What has struck those working on the site is the sheer severity of the massacre, estimated to have gone on for six days. A furious Saladin was clearly trying to put the shame of the defeat at Montgisard behind him and to put down a decisive marker for the eventual taking of Jerusalem.
As it turned out, Saladin would defeat the Templars at the Horns of Hattin eight years later and take the holiest city in Christendom shortly after. In 2006, the BBC Timewatch programme ran a programme on the siege and subsequent killing pointing out that Saladin then razed the castle to the ground brick by brick. You can find out more about the current archaeological dig here or watch National Geographic of course.