The Eastern Latin States during the Crusades

The purpose of the crusade launched on November 27, 1095 by Urban II was accomplished: Jerusalem and the tomb of Christ were freed from the ungodly hands of Muslims, and at the same time purified in a bloodbath. The Pope died the same year, in 1099, probably not knowing that the war pilgrimage had been successful. The peasant crusade having been decimated, only the barons and their suites remain to consolidate their position. Still, it doesn't seem like the motivation is here to stay! The weakness of resources and staff will not, however, prevent the creation of Latin states, from this First crusade, and whose last stronghold did not fall until 1291 ...

The formation of the first Latin States

The Crusaders did not wait for the fall of Jerusalem to start carving out territories for themselves over their conquests, from their arrival in the East in late 1097. First of all Baudouin of Boulogne who, by coming to the aid of the Armenians, manages to get hold of Edesse and to be the governor from March 1098. Relying on the population (Armenians, but also Jacobite Syrians), to which he promises protection as much against Muslims as against the Byzantines, Baldwin I undertakes to enlarge his county and quickly puts the hand on the region which surrounds it, the Osrohene. He is also married to an Armenian princess. But the death of his brother Godefroi de Bouillon (we will come back to this later) led him to leave the county, which he left to his cousin Baudouin du Bourcq in 1100.

The case ofAntioch is still different: the city, powerful and strategic place, was taken with difficulty, and especially was the stake of a rivalry between Raymond of St-Gilles and Bohémond of Tarente. It was the latter who won the day. But, while he also wanted to expand his territory, he was taken prisoner in 1100 by the Danishmendites, the most powerful Turks in the region. The regency is ensured by Tancrède, his nephew. The Norman principality is threatened as much by the Turks as by the Byzantines, outraged that the Crusaders have not returned the city to them as promised.

The Tripoli County is the last Latin state created; it is the work of Raymond of St. Gilles, removed from Antioch, then from Jerusalem. Unlike the other barons, the Count of Toulouse kept his promise to Byzantium (when he was the only one not to have pledged allegiance to the emperor) by restoring his conquests of Laodicea, Valenia and Maraclea. On the other hand, he seizes Tortosa and fails before Tripoli in 1102; he then decides to build a castle near the city to block the exits, and continues his conquests. He took Gibelet in 1104 and died the following year.

The foundation of the kingdom of Jerusalem

The conquest of the Holy City didn't solve the problem of who was going to manage it. Once again, the barons argue, and once again Raymond de St-Gilles finds himself in competition. As in Antioch, he is supplanted, this time by Godefroi de Bouillon, who would have been chosen because he was weak and lacking in character. He also refuses the title of king, believing that only Christ can be considered the king of Jerusalem; he is therefore "Confessed to the Holy Sepulcher". But, already, he declares the preeminence of the kingdom of Jerusalem over the other principalities. He died early, however, in July 1100, and it was his brother Baudouin who was called from Edessa County to succeed him. He does not hesitate to be crowned king. However, if the entities exist, the reality of the situation is much more critical for the Latin States ...

The first difficulties, then the consolidation of the Latin States

The liberation from the tomb of christ caused the departure of many Crusaders, believing that they were freed from their engagement, and could return to enjoy their land and the prestige of soldiers of Christ in the West. Thus, in 1100, there were only 200 knights and a few thousand infantry in Jerusalem, and therefore to defend the Latin States! Historian J. Riley-Smith, who has managed to identify 791 Crusaders, estimates that there are only 104 to settle permanently in the Holy Land ... We are therefore far from colonization! Small crusades are sent by Pope Pascal II, as reinforcements; Composed of Lombards, Franks and Burgundians, they were crushed by the Turks in Heraclea in September 1101. A few years later, other attempts, with the Italian fleets or the Norwegian king Sigurd were a little more successful. This is also partly the case with the Bohemond Crusade in 1107-1108.

The Norman was freed on ransom two years after his capture, and took over the reins of the principality of Antioch. But he knows different setbacks, especially against the Byzantines, who took back his possessions in Cilicia. Alexis Comnenus imposed a treaty on him in 1108, which allowed him to keep Antioch even if he permanently lost his former possessions in the region; he also receives Aleppo ... on condition of taking it away from the Turks! A little depressed it seems, he returned to Puglia and died there in 1112.

Baudouin du Bourcq's debut in Edessa County was relatively encouraging, and he captured Marash. However, he failed in front of Aleppo. Worse, he was taken prisoner in 1104 by the Turks. The county then fell to Normand Tancrède… who refused to return it to Baudouin du Bourcq when he was released! It took the intervention of the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, for Tancrede to retire in 1109 and for the political situation to improve in the county.

In the Tripoli region, Raymond's death is causing succession disputes, and arbitration by the King of Jerusalem is once again needed to stabilize the situation. This allows the capture of Tripoli in 1109; the county now officially belongs to the family of the count of Toulouse and is stabilizing politically.

In Jerusalem, Baudouin I shows himself, despite his limited means, a tireless fighter. He takes advantage of enemy divisions to undertake risky but successful expeditions. Thus, he considerably enlarged his kingdom: he conquered Arsuf and Caesarea in 1101, Acre in 1104, Beirut and Sidon in 1110; further east, in 1115 he had the Chateau de Montréal built to control the caravan route from Damascus to Cairo, and even pushed as far as Aqaba! In 1105, he routed an unprecedented coalition of Egyptians and Syrians, then in 1113 he resisted, with the help of other principalities, a coalition army from Mosul, Damascus and Aleppo. He died in 1118, returning from a campaign in Egypt.

Twenty years after the capture of Jerusalem, the situation of the Crusaders is mixed. They succeeded, in spite of very reduced means, in consolidating Relatively solid Latin states, even if not very extensive (with the relative exception of the kingdom of Jerusalem), where they begin to impose a feudal system directly imported from the West.

But their the situation of the Latin States is still fragile : if they have succeeded in calming the Byzantine ardor, and in stopping the first Muslim reactions thanks to their military superiority and enemy divisions, they know that this may not last. The political solidity of the Latin States will not be enough without reinforcements from the West, and especially if in the other camp the Muslims manage to unite and finally realize what is happening to them ...


- M. BALARD, The Latins in the East, 11th-15th century, PUF, 2006.

- J. PRAWER, History of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, CNRS, 2007.

- G. TATE, East of the Crusades, Gallimard, 1991.

- C. MORRISSON, The Crusades, PUF, 2006.

Video: The Crusades, Crusader States and Medieval Christianity (September 2021).