Sunday, December 13, 2015

Changing Templar significance in Muslim eyes in the 12th century Holy Land

Battle of Hattin (source)
During the early phases of Nur al-Din's and Saladin's rise to power, the Military Orders were apparently not viewed as a special threat.

In the latter half of the twelfth century Arab sources recognize the military orders as distinct groups among the Franks. These sources demonstrate some understanding of the internal organization of the Military Orders. They correctly note that the warrior monks are called "brothers" (Latin fratres = Arabic ikhwa), live in a monastic house (Latin domus = Arabic bayt), and have a special relationship with the pope.

But the Orders are not perceived differently than other Frankish soldiers and nobles.

The nature of Arab views of the orders during this period is reflected in the treatment of captive knights,  which can be contrasted with Saladin's later treatment of the knights of the Orders after the battle of Hattin (July 1187) (...). On June 18, 1157, the Grand Master of the Templars Bertrand of Blanchefort was captured by Nur al-Din, along with eightyseven knights near Banyas. He and his knights were held to ransom like any other Frankish warriors and were released in May 1159 through intervention of Manuel, emperor of Byzantium. Two decades later in 1179, the situation was still much the same. (....) For this study it is important to note that in 1179, a mere eight years before the battle of Hattin, Saladin was still willing to release the Templar Grand Master for an appropriate ransom.

In the later decade of Saladin's life, the countercrusade accelerated rapidly, with Saladin escalating his jihad and triumphing against the Crusaders. By the 1180s the Orders were increasingly viewed as a serious threat to Islam for three reasons: their military prowess, their intransigence in making peace and their spiritual pollution of Muslim holy places, specifically Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies.

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