It was the turn of Channel Four in the UK to look at the Saracen massacre of Knights Templar at Jacob’s Ford in 1179 after this subject was visited by National Geographic earlier this year. The programme gave some interesting insights in to the way in which warriors died without delving much in to the politics behind the massacre. For the politics, I refer you to my earlier post on this and on the Battle of Hattin – use the search button on this page.
What this programme majored on was the skeletal remains found at Jacob’s Ford and the likely causes of death. There was speculation that one body which showed signs of bad nourishment would have been that of a western low born labourer who had gone on crusade with little by way of military training. He would most likely have had no real knowledge of how to use a weapon effectively. In the dramatisation, he is shown being forced to defend himself against Saracens with a spear and no armour or shield. After a chase through the castle, he is hunted down and ignominiously killed.
A marked contrast to a higher status skeleton, most likely of a Templar knight, who appears to have been beheaded – the traditional mode of execution for the aristocracy. Common people ended up dangling from the end of a rope. While the Saracen leader Saladin was not present at this battle, we know that he enjoyed watching Templars getting executed because a contemporary chronicler tells us in these words:
“The Knights of the Temple and of the Hospital, whom the sword had not destroyed on the field of battle, were separated from the other captives, and Saladin ordered them to be beheaded in his presence, and delighted his eyes with this long-coveted enjoyment. The tyrant displayed his personal hatred against that most Christian man Reginald de Chastillon; — celebrated as much for his renown in arms as for the nobility of his mind; he formerly administered with vigor the office of prince of Antioch, and presided at that time with distinction over the Christians on the confines of Arabia; him he fiercely questioned; and being answered with the firmness that became so great a man, he slew him with his own hand, thinking that much of his pleasure would be lost, if any one else but himself should shed such precious blood.”
The contemporary account from the same chronicle of what happened at Jacob’s Ford is as follows:
“God’s fury was not yet turned away, but his hand was stretched out still. For after Caesarea Philippi (which is now called Belinas, and was, as it were, the key of the Christian territories against Damascus) had fallen into the hands of the enemy, the Templars, is well from their own resources as what they had supplicated from all sides, built an important fortress at a place called Jacob’s Ford, in order to prevent the foe from making unrestrained invasions within the Christian territory from the side of Caesarea. The walls rose daily; and a large party of armed men constantly kept watch there, lest the work should be impeded by any hostile incursion. For a long time this was winked at and endured by the Turks, but with envy and grief of heart, while the Christian force was undiminished; but when they saw them weakened in a measure by their recent overthrow, watching their opportunity, they surrounded the fortress aforesaid, now filled with men and arms, and applying their engines, they began their attack with spirit. The Christian army, however, assembled at Tiberias to raise the siege, but not with its wonted alacrity. Here our chiefs, deliberating on what was to be done, deemed it by no means safe for them to encounter so numerous an enemy, while the holy cross was absent. Persons were sent to Jerusalem to procure that protecting standard immediately. In this interval the fortress was taken; and being quickly demolished, the Turks retired with abundant spoils — for there was captured a large quantity of arms, and Christian blood was shed profusely.”