The Armies of Outremer

The armies of Outremer differed substantially from contemporary Western and Muslim armies. They represented not only an adaptation of Western military traditions to the conditions in the Near East, but reflected the diversity of the population from which the armies were drawn. In his recent study "The Crusader Armies" Steve Tibble claims that the armies of the crusader states would have been completely "unrecognizable" to the modern eye expecting hoards of fanatical, white Western Europeans wearing red crosses on their surcoats. Rather: 

The voices talking and shouting [would be] perhaps Armenian or Syriac. The lower-level commands being issued in Arabic and what we now call medieval French...Turbans would have been worn to keep the heat of the sun off the helmets. Bedouin scouts would be bringing back news of he enemy troop movements, reporting in Arabic... Bad tempered camels and donkeys were in the baggage train, handled by increasingly frustrated Syrians shouting abuse at them in local dialect.

The 'crusader' armies of the Middle East in the twelfth century often had relatively few genuine crusaders in them. After the first couple of decades, the majority of the Franks were mixed-race local settlers...and in many crusader armies even these local Franks were in a minority, marching in units with Armenian-speaking comrades, or with other native Christian soldiers

Below I take a closer look at the the component parts of the armies of Jerusalem in 12th Century.

Barons and Knights

As in the West, the command in the feudal army of Jerusalem was in the hands of the king, his officer and the feudal elite: the barons. The barons were "tenants-in-chief" of the king, who held their fiefs in exchange for committing to bring fixed numbers of knights and/or sergeants to the feudal army on demand. These tenants-in-chief could be either secular or ecclesiastical lords, the former with the additional obligation to appear in person. The feudal obligations they incurred depended on the wealth and size of their respective fief and varied substantially. The thirteenth century Count of Jaffa, John d'Ibelin, compiled a comprehensive (but incomplete) list of feudal obligations that notes that the great baronies of Sidon, Galilee, and Jaffa/Ascalon, for example, owed 100 knights, while the Lord of Caymont and Bishop of Lydda owed only 6 knights. 
The elite and the most effective fighting component of the armies of Jerusalem was composed of these barons and the knights that they brought with them. It is important to remember, however, that the term “knight” does not refer to a single man but rather to a fighting-unit consisting of a knight and his warhorse (destrier), one or more mounted squires, a riding horse (palfrey) and one more pack-horses.  
Knights were expected to be armed and armored, which means that throughout the 12th century they would be expected to provide their own chainmail hauberk, coif and mittens, and chainmail chausses for their legs. In addition, they would need a helmet, a sword, dagger and optionally a mace or axe. Lances, on the other hand, were relatively cheap, “throw away” weapons that the lord would provide or could be purchased as needed.

However, the fighting power that a baron brought to the battlefield generally exceeded the minimum set by feudal obligations. Barons would have been supported by younger brothers and adult sons, if they had them, and by “household knights,” i.e. men without land holdings of their own who served the baron (i.e. were “retained”) in exchange for an annual salary (that would include payments in-kind such as meals, cloaks, and in some cases horses). Peter Edbury’s analysis of the John d’Ibelin’s catalogue suggests that the ratio of “retained” knights to “vassals” (knights who owed their service by right of holding land from the lord) ranged anywhere from 1:2 to 3:2, making it clear that the knights fielded in the feudal army due to feudal obligation made up maybe no more than half of the total host!

So far, all is as it would have been in the West, including the large number of “household” or mercenary knights. However, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was unique in that activities and income sources not usually associated with feudal service were also often subject to military service obligations. Thus, for example, Baldwin d’Ibelin owed four knights service to the crown in exchange for the right to rent out grazing land to the Bedouins.  More common, income from customs duties, tariffs and other royal sources of income could be “enfeoffed” on a nobleman/knight in exchange for feudal service.  In the prosperous coastal towns of Outremer, there were many such “money-fiefs” with a military obligation.

While great lords, like Baldwin d’Ibelin, might hold multiple fiefs, they could only personally fulfill the obligation for one knight, which meant that a lord enjoying the income of a fief — whether from grazing Bedouins or customs duties — had to spend some of his income to hire as many trained and fully equipped “knights” (think fighting unit) as he owed. These knights would be drawn from the younger sons and brothers of fellow barons or from landless armed pilgrims, willing to stay in the Holy Land, but would like his landed knights be viewed as “vassals.”
Last but not least, as Tibble pointed out, by the end of the twelfth century the vast majority of these knights  had been born in Outremer, spoke Arabic, and might have Armenian or Greek mothers or grandparents.

Fighting Monks

Another anomaly of the armies of Outremer were, of course, the large contingents of fighting monks — most famously Templars and Hospitallers, but also Knights of St. Lazarus and later Teutonic Knights as well. The major “militant” orders of the 12th Century were founded in Jerusalem with the explicit mandate to protect the Holy Land and Christian residents in and pilgrims to it. While the Templars started with just nine knights and the Hospitallers did not official have “brother knights” until the 13th century, contemporary descriptions suggest that both orders fielded hundreds of knights by the end of the 12th century. David Nicolle in his book on the Battle of Hattin suggests that by 1180 the Templars had 300 knights deployed in the Holy Land and the Hospitallers 500 knights, but many of these knights would have been scattered about the country garrisoning castles. Undisputed, is the fact that 230 Templars and Hospitallers survived the Battle of Hattin to be executed on Saladin’s orders on July 6, 1187. Given the intense, two-day long nature of the Battle of Hattin, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that both militant orders, known for their fanaticism and willingness to die, had suffered significant casualties before the battle ended. It is likely, therefore, that close to 400 Hospitallers and Templars were in the field with royal army and this seems a good “ball-park” figure for the kind of resources the militant orders could contribute to the army of Outremer in the latter part of the 12th century generally.


Despite the name, which was borrowed from the Byzantines, the term “turcopole” in the context of the crusader states refers not to an ethnic group but simply to “mounted archers” — of diverse ethnic character. They were not Muslim converts much less Muslim troops. Nor were the turcopoles the children of mixed marriages. Rather the turcopoles were native Christians, primarily Armenians and Maronites, who started with a comparatively strong tradition of warfare and who over the generations of Frankish rule developed outstanding skills as mounted archers to counter the Turks.
Keep in mind that the West had no tradition of mounted archers. The broken and wooded terrain of Western Europe offered little opportunity to deploy such troops effectively, and in the absence of a compelling need for such troops, the cost of raising and maintaining horses of sufficient strength, agility, and intelligence to be suitable for mounted combat appeared excessive. In the Near East, in contrast, the open steppe was ideal both for the deployment of light cavalry and for the breeding and raising of fleet horses.

The crusaders came in contact with the superb horse-archers of the Turks almost as soon as they crossed into Asia. Turkish mounted archers had by the First Crusade already conquered most of central Asia. They were a formidable enemy and the Franks who settled in Outremer and faced the Turkish archers in every engagement learned to respect them.

The Franks soon recognized that they needed light cavalry capable of conducting a variety of functions.  Turcopoles were employed in spying, scouting and reconnaissance. They were favored for carrying out hit-and-run raids, particularly on moving targets such as supply and relief caravans of the enemy. They were also valuable in providing a protective screen for the Frankish “fighting box” and also could add weight to a charge of heavy knights.
Having recognized the utility of turcopoles, the Franks moved rapidly to develop this combat arm. Already by 1109, there are references in the primary sources to these troops. However, the quality of Frankish turcopoles was initially poor -- a reflection of the fact that for over four-hundred years the Christian population of the region had been prohibited from riding horses or bearing arms. It took time to develop the skills of horse archers and to train suitable mounts. In the course of subsequent decades, as generations of native Christians grew up under Frankish rule, turcopoles started to play an increasingly important role in the fighting tactics and military successes of the Frankish armies of Outremer.
Historical studies suggest that by the second half of the twelfth century the turcopoles made up on average 50% of the mounted forces of the crusader armies. Two thirds of the cavalry with Amalric on his invasion of Egypt in 1167, for example, were turcopoles. Probably fifty percent of the Frankish horse at the Battle of Hattin were turcopoles. During the Third Crusade, the turcopoles supplied as much as 80% of the forces employed to relieve Kerak and Montreal in 1170. Furthermore, both the Templars and Hospitallers had Turcopoles integrated turcopoles into their organizations and their Rule carefully accounts for them. Indeed, the military orders accorded the turcopoles higher status than Sergeants, a fact consistent with such highly skilled fighting men.
This is probably because the turcopoles were almost certainly drawn from the upper echelons of native/Orthodox Christian society. The cost of training and maintaining a horse suitable to mounted archery, and the years of training necessary to develop a mounted archer make it improbable than anyone of lower status would have the resources or the time to become an effective mounted archer. The turcopoles, whose numbers most often mirror that of the equally expensive and highly trained knights, were almost certainaly the sons of the native Christian landowners and wealthy urban elites, those same wealthy patrons of the arts who also sponsored many of the beautiful icons featuring warrior saints as mounted archers.


It is often forgotten in modern depictions of medieval warfare that the knights were the smallest contingent of medieval armies. The infantry made up the bulk of any feudal force and, far from being superfluous, the infantry was vitally important to success. But whereas in the West the infantryin the twelfth century was largely composed of amateur peasant levees (plus mercenaries), in the crusader states the infantry consisted of free “burghers” (citizens) drawn from the entire Christian (not just the Latin Christian) population -- plus mercenaries, of course. 
Furthermore, these troops were deployed with such regularity that they rapidly developed skills and discipline approaching professionalism. They were capable of manuervering under fire and of responding rapidly to orders. There were recorded incidents of units swapping out -- i.e. relieving the most exposed units with fresh units -- in the middle of a battle, and all Frankish infantry was drilled in the necessary -- but very tricky -- manueuver of stepping aside (without creating vulnerabilities) to allow their own knights to charge.  
In accordance with their greater professionalism and importance, the infantry in Outremer was exceptionally well armed and armored. The bulk of the infantry in Frankish armies were bowmen, often crossbowmen, although they might also have spears. They had metal helmets and quilted aketons/gambesons or jacks and over this most also had chainmail hauberks. Arab chronicles note that Frankish infantry -- no less than the knights -- could survive and continue to fight despite having multiple Saracen arrows sticking out of their protective clothing.
Their contribution of Frankish infantry to the success of Frankish arms was so signficant that Frankish noblemen were not ashamed to praise them and their role in engagements -- something almost unthinkable in the West of this period.  
But where did this remarkable infantry come from?

Citizen-Soldiers - Sergeants

All settlers and their descendants were freemen whether they lived in the cities as merchants and tradesmen or in agricultural settlements on royal and ecclesiastical domains, they were classed as “burghers” — not serfs. These freemen who had voluntarily immigrated to the crusader states were subject to military service, and when they served they were classed as “sergeants.” Likewise, the native Christian population enjoyed "free" status under the Franks. Again, whether urban or rural dwellers, Christians were not serfs. What is unclear is the extent to which non-Latin Christians had an obligation to serve in the feudal armies, and to what degree the large numbers of native Christians found in the armies of Jerusalem were volunteers. In either case, the term “sergeant” in the context of Outremer appears to have applied to what were often referred to as “man-at-arms” during the Hundred Years War. In short, it implies the financial means to outfit oneself with as described above with substantial body armor and serviceable weapons.

With maybe as much as half the population living in cities, it is not surprising that sergeants bore the brunt of the burden of providing garrisons for the cities, but according to John d’Ibelin’s records sergeants from the rural settlements in the royal domain and ecclesiastical fiefs were required to muster with the royal army. We also know that both the Templars and Hospitallers maintained significant forces of “sergeants,” and these were — notably — mounted fighting men. Although not as well equipped as the knights, they were nevertheless entitled to two horses and one squire. It is not clear, however, whether the “sergeants” of the king and the ecclesiastical lords were also mounted, and Tibble suggests that this depended entirely upon the circumstances. Sergeants might be employed either as light cavalry or as infantry, and they might deploy by foot or by horse as needed. 


If prostitution is the oldest profession on earth, than mercenaries must belong to the second oldest profession. Mercenaries are recorded in ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. Certainly in the Middle Ages mercenaries were a vital component of warfare precisely because feudal levies in the West were only obligated to serve for 40 days at a stretch, but most kings and nobles needed fighting men who could serve whenever and for as long as needed.
Furthermore, certain military skills such building and manning siege engines or mining operations required a great deal of expertise and practice, making them unsuited to amateur armies composed of farmers. Mercenaries were everywhere on medieval battlefields. They were found in Outremer as well and, given the resources of the kingdom, were probably more prevalent there than in the West. They certainly included Greek and Armenians, and may -- surprisingly -- some Muslims as well.   
Nor should we forget that every household knight was technically of mercenary -- selling his arms and skill thereat for a fixed rate of pay. Reynald de Chatillon and Gerard de Rideford were both "mercenaries" to William of Tyre -- and so were many other Western knights who came to the Holy Land for the sake of their soul and to win fame and fortune with their swords.

Armed Pilgrims

The Holy Land, unlike the West, benefited from the fact that at any one time — and particularly during the “pilgrim season” between roughly April and October — there would be tens of thousands of pilgrims in the kingdom, a portion of whom would have been knights capable of rendering military service in an emergency. 
Sometimes barons brought small private armies of retainers and volunteers with them to the crusader states explicitly for the purpose of fighting in defense of the Holy Land. A good example of this is Philip Count of Flanders, who arrived at Acre in 1177 at the head of what Bernard Hamilton describes as “a sizeable army.” His army even included the English Earls of Essex and Meath. 
More common were individual knights and lords who came to the Holy Land as genuine pilgrims, only to be sucked into the fighting by military necessity. One such example is Hugh VIII de Lusignan, Count of the March, who came in 1165 and ended up dying in a Saracen prison. Another example is William Marshal, who came in 1184 to fulfill a crusader vow taken by his liege, Henry the Young King. It is impossible to know how many “armed pilgrims” — and not just knights! — took part in musters and engagements between the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and its enemies at any time.

Arriere Ban

Last but not least, the Kings of Jerusalem had the right to issue the “arriere ban” which obligated every free man to come to the defense of the kingdom. This was in effect an early form of the “levee en masse” of the French Revolution. Significantly, the King of Jerusalem could command the service of his vassals for a full year, not just 40 days as in the West, but such service was intended for the defense of the realm.  If the king took his army outside the borders on an offensive expedition, he was required to pay for the services of his subjects.