Jacob’s Ford – Templar massacre revisited

It was recently 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.

2 thoughts on “Jacob’s Ford – Templar massacre revisited

  1. I found the Nat’l Geographic special interesting, but somewhat sensationalistic. The producers depicted the sacking of Jacob’s Ford as “the beginning of the end” for the Order – only 60 years after the Templars were founded…! The Order had not yet grown to be the medieval “multinational corporation” that it ultimately became. Reputable Templar scholars like Malcolm Barber and Helen Nicholson barely give Jacob’s Ford a footnote. The good folks at NG overstated the case significantly, for dramatic purposes. The on-site archeologists weren’t much better – who was to say that the skeletons they found were Templars, as opposed to Muslim casualties…? Let’s see how long it takes before the NG channel is overrun by shows like “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers” like the History Channel, if they’re going to produce such shoddy scholarship.

    1. There is a tendency to talk about the ‘twilight’ of the Templars before they’d even begun – I agree with you. As you say, after Jacob’s Ford the Order still had the whole of the thirteenth century to get through. I was only reading today of just how wealth the Templars in France were by the 1290s when the crusades were all but over. In spite of the loss of the Holy Land, the Order was all but bankrolling the French monarchy.

      As regards the History Channel – I call it the Mystery Channel. When I saw a programme speculating on whether NASA’s moon rocket technology had been learned from aliens, I stopped watching. In the UK, BBC Four has made some excellent history programmes of late – interesting without being sensationalist. I would strongly recommend ‘Story of England’, a programme which tells the whole history of England through the eyes of one village, Kibworth. Michael Wood is an excellent historian who brings to life medieval history through contemporary records. It’s interesting without resorting to cheap tricks. I recommend. Click here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tw231

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