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Timewatch: The Crusaders' lost fort

Updated Tuesday 11th April 2006

Did the Crusades fail due to too much faith? Timewatch visits the Crusader's lost fort.

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In 1179, the Muslim Sultan Saladin launched an assault on the crusader castle of Jacob's Ford in the Holy Land. As his troops poured through a burning breach in the walls the Christian garrison of elite Templar Knights made a bloody last stand, 800 of the garrison were butchered and a further 700 taken captive.

With the stronghold overrun, Saladin razed it to the ground. The site remained abandoned for eight centuries, until now, when the true significance of Jacob's Ford, about 50 miles north-west of Jerusalem, is becoming apparent. The Crusaders' lost fort explores if the fall of this fort was actually a pivotal moment in the history of the crusades as well as the wider struggle between Islam and the West.

In 1174 two men assumed power in the Near East. Baldwin IV ascended the throne of the kingdom of Jerusalem, while Saladin, ruler of Egypt ,seized possession of Damascus, the seat of Muslim power in Syria. Both leaders fought for dominion over Jerusalem, which the crusaders had held since 1099.

In 1178 Baldwin began constructing a castle which would destablise Saladin's empire and shift the balance of power in his own favour - the fortress of Jacob's Ford. The castle stood in a frontier zone contested by both Baldwin and Saladin, between their respective realms. It was designed to be a defensive tool as well as an offensive weapon, to severely inhibit Saladin's ability to invade the Latin kingdom while simultaneously undermining the Sulatan's security in Damascus.

In 1179 Saladin launched a full-scale attack on Jacob's Ford. As soon as news of the attack reached Baldwin IV he began assembling a relief army, could the Muslims crack the stronghold's defences before the Latin forces arrived?

Piecing together the 12th century records and archaological evidence, a picture emerges of the grim 5 days that followed. Human skeletal remains unearthed within the fortress bear witness to the ferocity of the assault.

Saladin slaughtered more than half the garrison, and plundered 1,000 coats of armour before dismantling the fort and abandoning the site. He would go on to recapture Jerusalem for Islam, which would remain in Muslim hands until the 20th century. Timewatch follows the dramatic story of these two powerful leaders and the fort which became lost in time.





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