Weakness of the Crusader States

  By Rider, 15 August 2007; Revised
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The weakness of the Crusader States in Outremer came mostly from their build up – the same feudal system that was used in France and Germany. The situation in Outremer, however, was not fitting for the feudal system despite the fact that the Muslim states used a system relatively similar.


The Symbiose

As already mentioned, the system used in the Kingdom of Jerusalem (and in the Counties of Edessa, Triplo and Antioch) was similar to the French feudal system, although it had been adapted to the needs. The Outremer had large cities, which were mostly absent in Europe.

The Arabs had a system which gave lands in exchange for service in war. These lands were mostly inherited from father to son. Also, the larger lords were given permission to tax the people besides the tax for the land itself. The Crusaders or Franks abolished these systems and replaced them with their own feudal ones – the local Arab system remained on a very basic level. Yet, the Crusaders used the opportunity and put large taxes on the populace. The locals (except Frankish knights) were seldom called for duty in war.

The Muslim officials that remained in office were mostly lower court persons (the raissa with civilian arguements). This was so for the Kingdom of Jerusalem; Antioch, however, remained more deeply in the Muslim system though still on the basic level.

Further,  the different Crusader states differed from each other as the Oriental states differed from one another. Antioch had reminders of the Byzantine life (it had belonged to the Arabs for only 15 years). Also, since the founders of the County of Antioch were mostly from Italy and Sicily, the power of the duke was inherited, but in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the king may have been elected. The County of Tripoli had smaller differences compared to Jerusalem[1] in the composition of the rulers.


The Nobleman

The main person of importance in any Crusader state was the nobleman. He controlled some lands, was called upon if needed in wartime, and he had supreme authority in his domain. Just as in the Orient, the nobleman wanted more lands, more people to govern, more rights and the king wanted to centralize the power. This sometimes occurred, but was later reversed. Due to this ’infighting’, unified leadership to which all would agree was hard to achieve.

Many noblemen hated each other for some grudges of no actual importance and the politics of the states were extremely complicated (when the last fort of the County of Edessa was sieged, it got no relief from other states). Due to these same grudges, the Second Crusade failed pathetically. Also, some of the dukes had deals with the Muslims for profiting when their neighbours were warring against the same persons.

The noblemen who carved constantly for more power were, however, terribly set back in 1163 when Amauri I of Jerusalem declared himself the rightful sovereign over all domains of the Kingdom of Jerusalem – the King became the direct lord over all vassals of the kingdom. However, during the later years, the King was also set back – he was forbidden to take away any fiefs without the allowance of the High Court and most decisions were to be discussed in it. However, the lower vassals were obliged to discuss everything with their own vassals as well so the entire business of the Kingdom was greatly disrupted.

For the lands the noblemen got from the kings, they had to serve in the army (in full armor and horseback) for an unlimited time. The Oriental limit of 40 days was removed for better campaigns. For this, the king gave the barons rights to tax the locals in different areas and ways of life. Also, a limit was taken into effect in the first years of the Kingdom that when a nobleman was away from his fief for one year and one day, he lost all rights for those lands.


The Fief

Although nominally also a lord over Edessa, Antioch and Tripoli, the local overlords had as much power there as the king had in Jerusalem. It could be said that the four states presented a loose confederation.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem was divided into 22 fiefs – four larger ones and eighteen smaller ones. The four larger ones were the Galilea, the Sidon-Caesarea-Beisan, the Jaffa-Ascalon and the Krak de Montréal-Saint-Abraham principalities. The smaller ones included Arsuf, Jericho, Ibelin, Hebron and other towns and forts. The King was the personal lord over Jerusalem (of which a quarter belonged to the Patriarch), Nablus and Akko; and of all the lands from Jerusalem to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

The profits of the king were mostly gained by abnormal taxes that were presented everywhere; local taxes of which some went to the king and also the taxes for owning something (vineyards for example had a cost).


The Worker

The abnormal taxes were demanded from the peasants. They were sold and bought cheap (horses were three times the cost of a man). Most of the local population of Arabs were killed after the Crusaders took the lands, but enough remained; there were also incoming peasants from the Orient who wished for a better life, but didn’t get it. There were practically no judicial rights for these people, they were tortured freely at no punishment (until the 1120 when the clergy set some possible punishments). There were some slaves who managed to buy themselves free – this was a light rise, however, the taxes remained and when it happened that the ex-slave insulted a lord, the freedom was taken away.

The taxes these people had to pay included the evolutions from Arab ones – muna (renting money) became monnaie and haradzh became terrage (tax for land). The lords could, however,  freely change the rate these taxes were at. The terrage was dependent on what grew on the land, where that land was and so on...

The peasants were eager to rebel mostly due to these taxes that they had to pay and it was another of the weaknesses of the Crusaders States. It was however well known that the peasants supported the Muslims in invasions and helped them whenever they could. There were also separate rebellions – castles were built to stop these and to gain a refugee in case of an assault. Cases were peasants killed their lord were extremely common. Thoros II of Cilician Armenia noted to Amauri I when he visited Jerusalem that the local Saracen peasants will help the Muslims when they win, when they lose and in every other scenario. Bishops Guillaume of Tyre considered the peasants a larger threat than a plague...



The Crusader States were fragile – their buildup was not suitable for such a situation where you could be threatened with continuous war for unlimited time (though the removed limit for service at war evened up the difference a bit) on hostile terrain. The nobles were busy dividing lands they hadn’t conquered yet... They suffocated the peasants with taxes to see them fighting alongside their enemy.

It is very easy to say that the Crusaders caused their own downfall – what else could you expect from such methods that were in use.



M. Zaborov, ’Ristisõdijad Hommikumaal’


References and Notes:
  1. ^ meant as the Kingdom of Jerusalem if not, otherwise, mentioned