German Crusader Castles in the Near East

  • Walther Hubatsch


After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, Britain and France, by virtue of their administrations in Palestine and Syria, took on themselves the task of protecting historic buildings in the Near East to a degree not hitherto possible. Of course, the remains of Judaic and classical antiquity had always attracted archaeologists to these centres of ancient civilisation; but there was neither energy nor money to spare for the study of medieval buildings, which continued to fall into disrepair and ruin. A notable exception was France. The crusading movement and France’s role in this, the concept of the ‘gesta Dei per Francos’, traditionally formed part of the French national consciousness, particularly in the days of Napoleon III, so that it is hardly surprising that around the middle of the nineteenth century French scholars should begin to show a lively interest in the medieval buildings of Syria. I am, of course, thinking here primarily of E. G. Rey and V. Guérin, names still pronounced with respect in archaeological circles. A generation later German scholars had taken the lead in this field under Reinhold Röhricht, and their findings in the Near East enjoyed wide circulation through the medium of the German Palestine Association, whose publications found their way into every German school and parsonage. It was, then, not until after the First World War that British scholars made their significant contribution to medieval archaeology in the Near East, the most outstanding among them being Conder, Lawrence and Salmon, whose works are well known in Germany. In France, at about the same time, there was a revival of interest in Syrian castles, and the monumental works of C. Enlart and P. Deschamps were completed just before the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war German scholarship was understandably slow to find its way back onto the international scene, and that it did so is thanks to the encouragement it received from the works of two Englishmen, R. Fedden and J. Thomson. However, sufficient material has been collected to allow identification of a number of problems, and it is becoming clear that the answers to many questions about the nature of crusader castles in the Near East are to be found in the results of research on fortifications in Europe. A glance at the location of the castles on the Levantine coast shows two recognisable clusters of medieval fortifications in Syria and central Palestine. It is generally acknowledged that the line of fortifications to the south and directed against the south is older, while the more northerly barrier is more recent. Apart from some earlier structures and the numerous existing buildings which the crusaders took over, it is unlikely that the Franks built any castles in this area before the battle of Hattin in 1187 — in other words, before the beginning of the thirteenth century.


Ground Plan Mountain Pass Architectural Feature Thirteenth Century British Scholar 
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Select Bibliography

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Copyright information

© Walther Hubatsch 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walther Hubatsch
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BonnGermany

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