Monday, October 28, 2013

The Siege of Acre

Funny that Zoe should bring up “levant” and Jeff “The Levant.”  My plan has been to bring up that area of the world today.

In the course of researching the British in East Africa at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, I came across the phrase “Not since the Siege of Acre,…”  I hadn’t the vaguest knowledge of what that could mean.

I know; I show my ignorance.  Readers often disbelieve my claims to have hated studying history in school, considering that I now write historical mysteries.  But I did loathe it.  No doubt my teachers tried to teach me about the several sieges of Acre.  But I was probably daydreaming or absorbing the facts only long enough to pass the test.  So when I came across that phrase, I had to look it up.  It turned out that the Siege of Acre means nothing to the story I am writing.  So was learning about it a waste of time?  Not at all.  Isn’t this what blogs are for—to tell what I learn that I can’t use in a mystery novel.  Here it is:

The city of Acre is one of the oldest inhabited sites in the Middle East.  It has been by turns Egyptian, Judean, Roman, and on and on.  All the many conquerors who swept through the territory vied for it.  Today it is part of Israel.

The town has been put under siege at least three times.  First in the late 12th Century, when it fell to the Christians and became their prime base in the area for the next hundred years.  It was the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The most famous siege was one of the most important battles of The Third Crusade.  For most of the second half of the 13th century, the Mamluks had been taking Christian strongholds in the Holy Land left and right.  Europe sent in French and English knights to shore up their positions, largely to no avail.  The powerful of Europe were, by then, pretty much done with fighting the Pope’s battles, and nothing Gregory X said could get their backs up to go and fight the Muslims, again. 

By 1276, Henry II, the “King” of Jerusalem absconded to Cyprus and the Latin Kingdom was pretty much done for.  The Franks made their last stand at Acre.  The Muslims took the challenge.  They brought in all their many siege engines—catapults, mongonels, --and four armies from Egypt, Syria, and Tripoli.

Acre had been in the hands of the Franks for a century, but after only 43 days, the Muslims had taken all but the Templars seaside fort.  There ensued one of those insane battles over nothing.  The Templars negotiated free passage out of their fort to Cyprus, but instead of just leaving, they killed the Sultan’s men who came to escort them out.  Afterwards, when the Templar leader went to meet the Sultan, he was executed in turn.  The Muslims attacked the fort, breached its walls, and killed everyone inside.   With that, but for a few minor skirmishes, the Crusaders completely lost control of the Holy Land.   That was end of the Crusades.
Commodore William Sidney Smith
Then in 1799, the French arrived.  Napoleon was bent on conquering the Holy Land.  He figured he would take Acre in two weeks and be on his way to Jerusalem.  The citizens of Acre had other ideas.  They knew that before moving north to besiege them, the French had savagely sacked Jaffa and massacred thousands of Albanians on the seashore.  Acre’s people were not about give up only to be hacked to death by Napoleon’s troops.  They had Haim Farhi, the Pasha’s Jewish advisor to help them stiffen their defenses.  And the British Royal Navy weighed in on Acre’s side.  Between the city’s stubborn defenders and the blockade put up by the English ships, Napoleon came out the loser, having sacrificed 2000 of his soldiers in the process.   He decamped to Egypt.  A myth arose that he had one of his cannons shoot his hat into the city before he left.

It is still a source of civic pride in Acre that it once withstood an attack by the most famous general in history.

Annamaria Alfieri - Monday


  1. I think we must have cut the same class (together?) because I also don't recall learning that the Knights Templar and the Crusades ended in Acre. I thought it took until 2009 in Rome with the shooting of "Angels and Demons."

    By the way, did you notice how I restrained myself from making any reference to "God's Little Acre." Everett take notice.

    1. I love it when you tell us what you are not saying, Jeff. It's a skill I am trying to develop.

  2. Great column, Annamaria, thanks! Plugged another small hole in my ignorance.

    Jeff, your self-restraint is legendary for the smallness of its size. Or, at least, I seem to remember that you were legendary for the smallness of something about yourself. Maybe it wasn't self-restraint. I imagine, if you ever carried through with your threat to pose naked on a Harley, that it would all become horribly clear.

  3. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.