Making the Crusades possible: craft, trade and organisation

The agricultural revolution described in an earlier blog resulted in a change in the land use that allowed the subsistence farmer to go with his surplus crop to the market, originally at the local church, to buy and sell. The creation of markets at the churches gave way to more defined market places that specialized in certain products. Trade chains developed. For instance, sheep were a good investment, for their wool was appreciated especially in the colder northern climates. Sheep’s wool was sheared by the shepherd, which wool was sold in the fairs and markets of Champagne (France) and later Flanders (Belgium) for processing and weaving. The product was bought by Italians from Northern Italy for further refinement, and from there sold in international trade.

The tradesmen, artisans, and workers did organize. The first labor laws protecting selected trades in "guilds" were enacted in Ghent in the 11th Century. Normally groups of property owners, burgers, and representatives of the guilds and associations, shared power with the titular feudal authority except when they went their own way. These "Communes" controlled the means of production in their towns and the association with other towns. The wool producing towns in France, Belgium and Germany were either dominated by such communes or independent as “communal republics”.

Many Italian city states used the communal republic as a form of governance. As such, Florence, Genoa and Venice were republic in form. These Italian cities provided the banking, trading and maritime skills for the wool producing regions in Champaign (France), Flanders (Belgium) and England.

This text consists of slightly edited quotes from the blog The Cistercian Connection by Gordon S Fowkes. The illustration is from the same source.

"Genetic Admixture from the Crusaders in the Near East"

"During the medieval period, hundreds of thousands of Europeans migrated to the Near East to take part in the Crusades, and many of them settled in the newly established Christian states along the Eastern Mediterranean coast.

Here, we present a genetic snapshot of these events and their aftermath by sequencing the whole genomes of 13 individuals who lived in what is today known as Lebanon between the 3rd and 13th centuries CE. These include nine individuals from the ‘‘Crusaders’ pit’’ in Sidon, a mass burial in South Lebanon identified from the archaeology as the grave of Crusaders killed during a battle in the 13th century CE.

We show that all of the Crusaders’ pit individuals were males; some were Western Europeans from diverse origins, some were locals (genetically indistinguishable from present-day Lebanese), and two individuals were a mixture of European and Near Eastern ancestries, providing direct evidence that the Crusaders admixed with the local population.

However, these mixtures appear to have had limited genetic consequences since signals of admixture with Europeans are not significant in any Lebanese group today—in particular, Lebanese Christians are today genetically similar to local people who lived during the Roman period which preceded the Crusades by more than four centuries."

This blog quotes the summary of the paper A Transient Pulse of Genetic Admixture from the Crusaders in the Near East Identified from Ancient Genome Sequences by Marc Haber et al., published in The American Journal of Human Genetics104, 977–984, May 2, 2019 published on internet here. This is an open access article under the CC BY license ( Illustration shows bones in the Sidon Crusaders' pit, source

Templar churches and chapels

Chapelle d'Avalleur
According to some authors the religious Templar churches and chapels were built in a way specific to the Order and arranged for the exercise of secret and mysterious rites. Hence the existence of a Templar architectural symbolism, the famous "Templar architecture", whose models would be octagonal buildings or rotunda, like the rotunda of the Temple of Paris.

If the actual existence of an architecture specific to the Temple is doubtful, it is none the less true that it is permissible to perceive in the use of certain forms or dispositions a symbolic content related to the conception of the spirituality of the Templars. But in its outline and its order, this architecture is inspired by the monastic architecture of the time, especially Cistercian style and references.

Let us remember that every sacred building rests on an articulated set of formal and other symbols whose purpose is to put in permanent relation the sacred, but nevertheless terrestrial, built site with the divine world, the symbols serving to express this relationship materially.

"crochets" source

Two types of sacred buildings were favored by the Temple: the church and chapel with rectangular or basilica plan, of early Christian origin, with the shape of a long square, generally oriented towards Jerusalem. The building has a nave, often with one and sometimes with three aisles. There is no break between the nave and the choir, which is closed by a  semicircular dome with in the wall three narrow windows or triplet of Romanesque or Gothic style, according to time. 
The back of the facade is often pierced by a single narrow window. 

This simplicity is also found on the outside openwork facade of the simple portal, sometimes decorated with small columns, and a middle window on the first floor, which is topped with a bell-tower arcade. Often,this is replaced by a more traditional bell tower leaning against one of the side walls of the building. Both inside and outside,  the decoration is discreet and uniform, though regional differences exist, and limited to foliage, some animal figures or hooks ("crochets") based on the Cistercian model. 

First illustration and text (translated from French and slightly edited) from a blog on Templar symbolism on

Making the Crusades possible: the agricultural revolution

A series of revolutions in economic and political life transformed Northern Europe. Technology (tools) drove the process, and it was the entrepreneurial spirit of inventive farmers, craftsmen, and what we call today business that triggered change. The monastery as an economic enterprise provided central direction upon reflection and quickly adopted the technologies to enhance the productivity of the monastery. The Cistercian Order under Saint Bernard is found in the middle of the process. 

The soil of northern Europe was too dense and damp to be plowed efficiently with the scratch plows of the day to produce much past subsistence. In order to cut the heavy soil, the heavy plow was invented which included a cutter, plowshare, and wheels and was initially drawn by oxen. The need for speed and horse power, as horses pulled two hours longer and faster, lead to the invention of the horse collar which solved the problem of the oxen yoke which choked the horse. The hooves of horses did not fare well in the damp earth, unlike oxen, which lead to the use of horse shoes. 

Oxen could survive largely on hay, but horses needed vegetable protein such as from grain and legumes (beans). The additional protein in farmers diets lead to increased energy in the people in the area. Since legumes contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia, they were found to restore nitrogen to farmland. Crop rotations changed from fallow and wheat to fallow, wheat, and legumes, a change to three crop rotation which also extended the productive use of the land.

This text consists of slightly edited quotes from the blog The Cistercian Connection by Gordon S Fowkes. The illustration is from the same source.