Siege of Acre (1291)

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Siege of Acre (1291)
Part of The Crusades
The Hospitalier Maréchal Matthieu de Clermont[1] defending the walls at the Siege of Acre, 1291, by Dominique Papety (1815–49) at Versailles
Date4 April – 18 May 1291
LocationAcre, Israel
32°56′N 35°05′E / 32.933°N 35.083°E / 32.933; 35.083Coordinates: 32°56′N 35°05′E / 32.933°N 35.083°E / 32.933; 35.083

Decisive Mamluk victory

End of the Crusades
Acre captured by the Mamluks
Mameluke Flag.svg Mamluk Sultanate Vexillum Regni Hierosolymae.svg Kingdom of Jerusalem
Cross of the Knights Templar.svg Knights Templar
Cross of the Knights Hospitaller.svg Knights Hospitaller
Insignia Germany Order Teutonic.svg Teutonic Knights
Cross saint thomas 1236.png Knights of St. Thomas
Commanders and leaders
Mameluke Flag.svg Al-Ashraf Khalil Vexillum Regni Hierosolymae.svg Henry II of Jerusalem
Vexillum Regni Hierosolymae.svg Amalric of Tyre

Acre: 15,000[2]

  • 14,000 infantry
  • 1,000 cavalry
Cyprus: 700[2]
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The Siege of Acre (also called the Fall of Acre) took place in 1291 and resulted in losing the Crusader-controlled city of Acre to the Mamluks. It is considered one of the most important battles of the period. Although the crusading movement continued for several more centuries, the capture of the city marked the end of further crusades to the Levant. When Acre fell, the Crusaders lost their last major stronghold of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. They still maintained a fortress at the northern city of Tartus (today in north-western Syria), engaged in some coastal raids, and attempted an incursion from the tiny island of Ruad, but when they lost that as well in 1302–3 in the Siege of Ruad, the Crusaders no longer controlled any part of the Holy Land.[3]


In 1187, Saladin conquered much of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (also called the Latin Kingdom), including Acre and Jerusalem, after winning the Battle of Hattin and inflicting heavy losses on the Crusaders. The Third Crusade was launched in response; the Crusaders besieged and eventually recaptured Acre in 1191. Acre became the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The religious orders made their headquarters in and around the city, and from there made crucial military and diplomatic decisions. For example, when the Mongols arrived from the East in the mid-13th century, the Christians saw them as potential allies while also maintaining a cautious neutrality with the Muslim Mamluks. In 1260, the Barons of Acre granted the Mamluks safe passage through the Latin Kingdom en route to fighting the Mongols; the Mamluks subsequently won the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut in Galilee against the Mongols. This was an example of atypically cordial relations between the Christians and the Mamluks.

In 1250, the Mamluk Sultanate arose in Egypt; it was a more dangerous enemy than the Ayyubids. The Mamluks fielded heavy cavalry - a match for the Crusader knights - and was much more hostile. As early as 1261, after the Battle of Ain Jalut, Sultan Baibars led the Mamluks against the Crusaders. Baibars captured Caesarea, Haifa, and Arsuf in 1265, all the important Crusader holdings in Galilee the following year, and then Antioch in 1268.

Europe launched a number of minor Crusading expeditions to reinforce the Crusader states, including the abortive Crusade of Louis IX of France to Tunis in 1270, and the minor Ninth Crusade of Prince Edward (later King Edward I) of England in 1271–1272. The expeditions failed to provide the required relief; they were too small, too short-lived, and the interests of the participants were too diverse.

The Fall of Tripoli in 1289 triggered frantic preparations to save Acre.

More seriously, no major reinforcing Crusade was forthcoming. Pope Gregory X was unable to rally support for another great Crusade. Papal advisors blamed the lack of enthusiasm to the laziness and vice of the European nobility and to clerical corruption. A more fundamental reason seems to have been the debasement of Crusading ideal; Gregory X's predecessors had used Crusades to raise armies against the Papacy's European enemies.

The Crusader states continued to deteriorate from continuing attacks and political instability. In 1276, the unpopular "King of Jerusalem" Hugh III moved his court to Cyprus. Under Sultan Al-Mansur Qalawun, the Mamluks captured Lattakia in 1278, and conquered the County of Tripoli in 1289. Qalawun concluded a ten-year truce with the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1284.

Following the fall of Tripoli, King Henry II, son of Hugh III, sent senechal Jean de Grailly to warn European monarchs of the critical situation in the Levant.[4] Pope Nicholas IV supported Jean by writing letters urging European potentates to act. However, the Sicilian question overshadowed calls for a new Crusade, and Edward I of England was too entangled by troubles at home.

Decades of communications between the Europeans and the Mongols failed to secure a meaningful Franco-Mongol alliance.

Pretext for attack[edit]

One Arabian account claims that an affair between a rich young wife of the city and a Mussulman was discovered by the husband who:

gathers together some friends goes out from Ptolemais [...] and immmolates them both to his injured honour. Some Mussulmans are drawn to the spot, the Christians come up in still greater numbers, the quarrel becomes angry and general and every Mussulman is massacred.

— The History of the Crusades, Vol. 3, p.73, Michaud and Robson[5]

The Crusaders feared that Qalawun would use this as a pretext to resume the war, and petitioned the pontiff for reinforcements. According to Michaud, 25 Venetian galleys carrying 1600 men "levied in haste in Italy" were sent.[5] Other sources claim 20 galleys of peasants and unemployed townfolks from Tuscany and Lombardy, led by Nicholas Tiepolo, the son of Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo, who was assisted by the returning Jean de Grailly and Roux of Sully.[6] These were joined by five galleys from King James II of Aragon who wished to help despite his conflict with the Pope and Venice.[6]

The Italian reinforcements were ill-disciplined and without regular pay; they pillaged indiscriminately from both Muslims and Christians before setting out from Acre. According to Runciman they attacked and killed some Muslim merchants around Acre in August 1290[4], although in Michaud's account they instead pillaged and massacred towns and villages. Qalawun demanded the extradition of the Christian perpetrators. On the suggestion of Guillaume de Beaujeu, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, the Council of Acre debated the issue; the Sultan's demand was rejected, with the Crusaders claiming that the murdered Muslims had been responsible for their own deaths.[7]

If Sultan Qalawun had sought a pretext, he now had it.


Sultan Qalawun dissolved the truce with Acre and the Mamluks began mobilizing by October 1290. Qalawun died in November and was succeeded by his son, Al-Ashraf Khalil[8] (sometimes spelled Chalil[5].) Guillaume de Beaujeu received a message from Khalil, which stated the latter's intention to attack Acre and to refuse peace overtures.[9] Nonetheless, the Crusaders dispatched a peace delegation, led by Sir Philip Mainebeuf[10][11], to Cairo; the delegation was imprisoned.[unreliable source?][12][13]

Amassing of forces[edit]

Al-Ashraf Khalil assembled the forces of Egypt and Syria, which included a great number of volunteers[14] and siege engines from everywhere at Hisn al-Akrad. Some of Khalil's catapults were huge and had such names as "Al Mansuri" and "The Furious" in addition to lighter, but potent, mangonels called "Black Bulls".[15][16] Four armies from Damascus (led by Lajin), Hama (led by al-Muzaffar Taqai ad-Din), Tripoli (led by Bilban) and Al-Karak (led by Baibars al-Dewadar) marched to Acre to join the Muslim army of Khalil.[17][18]

In addition to the historian Baibars al-Dewadar [19] who led the army of Al Karak, Abu al-Fida was another prominent historian who accompanied al-Ashraf in his Levantine expedition.[20]

Call for aid from Europe[edit]

The Franks of Acre were for some time aware of the seriousness of the situation. They asked for help from Europe which resulted in nothing significant. A small group of knights, among them the Savoyard Otto of Grandson, were sent by King Edward I of England. Burchard of Schwanden, the Grand Master of the German Teutonic Knights, resigned and was replaced by Konrad von Feuchtwangen who suddenly left Acre for Europe. The only noteworthy reinforcement came from king Henry II of Cyprus who fortified the walls and sent forces led by his brother Amalric to defend the city.

The defences[edit]

Acre was well defended by two lines of thick walls[21] and had twelve towers[22] which were built by European kings[23] and rich pilgrims.[24]

The siege begins[edit]

Map of Acre in 1291

On 5 April 1291, Khalil's forces stood in front of Acre.[25] The army of Hama took its position on front of the Templars' tower, while the Muslim army stretched out from the end of the wall of Montmusard [26] up to the Gulf of Acre.[27] The Dihliz (red tent of the Sultan and the headquarters) stood on a small hill near the shore on front of the Tower of the Legate. For eight days both armies engaged in occasional clashes. At the end of the eight days the Muslims set up barricades and began to move further towards the city, using wicker screens, till in the end they reached the edge of the wall, while continuously bombarding the walls with trebuchets. Carabohas[28] were brought up and parts of the wall were mined out. Despite the continual arrival of reinforcements from Cyprus to Acre by sea, the Franks became convinced of their lack of strength against Khalil's army. On 15 April, under moonlight, the Templars, led by Jean Grailly and Otto of Grandson, launched a sudden attack against the camp of the contingent of Hama, but their horses got their legs tangled in the ropes of the Muslims' tents and were caught, and many were killed. Another attack, after a few days and this time under cover of darkness, by the Hospitallers also ended badly. On 5 May, some hope was revived when Henry II of Cyprus arrived with 700 troops transported by 40 ships.[2] But soon Henry, too, became convinced of his helplessness.


The Franks sent messengers [29] to Al-Ashraf Khalil who saluted him on their knees. Khalil asked them whether they brought him the keys of the city, but they replied that the city could not be surrendered so easily and that they only came to plea for mercy for the poor inhabitants and that the Franks were willing to discuss any injustice done by them earlier to the Muslims and to restore the truce signed by them and the Muslims. Khalil promised the messengers to spare the life of everyone if the Franks hand him Acre peacefully, but the messengers refused his offer.[30] While the messengers were still there a huge catapult stone launched from the city struck the ground near the sultan's tent. Khalil, believing that the crusaders were negotiating in bad faith, reacted furiously and wanted to kill the two messengers, but Emir Sanjar al-Shuja' pleaded for them and they were sent back to the city.

The towers begin to fall[edit]

From 8 May, Acre's towers began to cave in one after one. On 18 May (4 May according to Michaud), early in the morning at sunrise, the Sultan gave his order to launch an all-out attack on all points, accompanied by sound of trumpets and drums carried on 300 camels.[31][32] Nightfall gave some relief to the defenders causing the Saracens to retreat and allowing the King of Cyprus, Henry, the chance to escape (under the pretence of seeking repose) with his knights and 3,000 soldiers.[5]

By morning the attack had resumed; noticing the lack of Cypriot defence at the tower and gate of St. Anthony, Khalil ordered his Chages to fill up a ditch to allow the cavalry access. The Chages, sectaries to the Mameluks and known for self-immolation in the name of Islam, followed the order with their living bodies forming a bridge over which the cavalry advanced and gained the foot of the walls.[citation needed]

The Muslim forces advanced towards the Accursed Tower[33] and forced the Frankish garrison to retreat to the side of the Gate of St. Anthony. All counter-attacks and attempts made by the Hospitallers and the Templars to recapture the tower were in vain. King Henry II and the Master of the Hospital boarded their galleys and fled from Acre.[34] William of Beaujeu, the Master of the Temple, and Matthew of Clermont were killed. By capturing these positions, the Muslim forces were now inside the city fighting the Franks in the streets and alleys of Acre, which turned into a terrifying chaos as the inhabitants were fleeing towards the sea. How many inhabitants perished on land and in sea is unknown.[35][36][37]

Acre falls[edit]

Before night on Friday 18 May 1291,[38] Acre, after being in the hands of the Franks for 100 years,[39] was in the hands of Al-Ashraf Khalil and his army after a siege of 43 days, with the exception of the huge headquarters of the Templars which stood on the west side of the city seashore. After a week, Al-Asraf Khalil negotiated with Peter de Severy, who was in charge of the Templars, and it was agreed that the Templars and everyone inside the fortress would have free passage to Cyprus, but the Sultan's men who were sent to the fortress to supervise the evacuation started to round up the women and boys to send to the slave markets and were massacred by the Templars. Under the cover of darkness, Thibaud Gaudin, the new Master of the Temple, left the fortress for Sidon with a few people and the fortune of the Templars. In the morning, Peter de Severy went to the Sultan to settle a new negotiation but he was arrested with his followers and they were executed in retaliation for the Sultan's men who were massacred earlier by the Templars inside the fortress. When the besieged Templars in the fortress saw what happened to Peter de Severy, they continued the fight. On 28 May, after a wide breach was made under the fortress, the Sultan sent about 200 men to take it. The Frankish fortress collapsed, killing nearly everyone inside. All the Templars were killed, and about half of the Sultan's men were killed.[40]

The news of the conquest of Acre reached Damascus and Cairo. Al-Ashraf Khalil entered the decorated city of Damascus with Franks chained at the feet and the captured crusader standards which were carried upside-down as a sign of their defeat. After celebrating his victory in Damascus, Khalil left for Cairo, which was also decorated and celebrating.[41] Arriving at Cairo, he ordered the release of Philip Mainebeuf and the men who accompanied him to Cairo earlier.[42]


The fall of Acre signaled the end of the Jerusalem crusades. No effective crusade was raised to recapture the Holy Land afterwards, though talk of further crusades was common enough. By 1291, other ideals had captured the interest and enthusiasm of the monarchs and nobility of Europe and even strenuous papal efforts to raise expeditions to retake the Holy Land met with little response.

The Latin Kingdom continued to exist, theoretically, on the island of Cyprus. There the Latin kings planned to recapture the mainland, but in vain. Money, men, and the will to do the task were all lacking. One last effort was made by King Peter I in 1365, when he successfully landed in Egypt and sacked Alexandria. Once the city was taken, however, the Crusaders returned to Cyprus. As a crusade, the episode was futile, and this and further coastal raids over the following decades led in 1410–11 to a destructive counter-raid by the Mamelukes; in 1426 Cyprus was forced into Mameluke vassalship with a hefty yearly tribute.

The 14th century saw some other crusades organized, but these enterprises differed in many ways from the 11th- and 12th-century expeditions which are properly called Crusades. The crusades of the 14th century aimed not at the recapture of Jerusalem and the Christian shrines of the Holy Land, but rather at checking the advance of the Ottoman Turks into Europe. While many of the crusaders in these 14th-century undertakings looked upon the defeat of the Ottomans as a preliminary to the ultimate recapture of the Holy Land, none of the later crusades attempted any direct attack upon Palestine or Syria.

In fiction[edit]

The siege of Acre is covered in the Robyn Young historical novel Crusade, published in 2007,[43] and Michael Jecks' Templar's Acre (2013).

The siege appears at the beginning of the first episode of the History Channel's series Knightfall.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daunou; Émeric-David; Lajard, Félix; Paris, Paulin; Le Clerc, Victor; Fauriel (1842). Didot frères, Firmin; Treuttel; Wurtz, eds. Histoire littéraire de la France (in French). 20. Paris: Imprimerie nationale. p. 83.
  2. ^ a b c Nicolle, p. 39
  3. ^ Burgtorf, Jochen (2006). "Acre, Siege of (1291)". In Alan V. Murray. The Crusades: An Encyclopedia. 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. pp. 13–14. OCLC 70122512.
  4. ^ a b "A History of the Crusades" by Sir Steven Runciman, p.408
  5. ^ a b c d Michaud, The History of the Crusades, Vol. 3, p. 18 ; available in full at Google Books. Note that in a footnote Michaud claims reliance on "the chronicle of Ibn Ferat" (Michaud, Vol.3, p.22) for much of the information he has concerning the Mussulmans.
  6. ^ a b Runciman, p.409
  7. ^ Runciman, p.410-411
  8. ^ Author, D. Nicolle, Acre 1291: Bloody sunset of the Crusading states. Osprey 2005. D
  9. ^ "Because you have been a true man, so we send you advance notice of our intentions, and give you to understand that we are coming into your parts to right the wrongs that have been done. Therefore we do not want the community of Acre to send us any letters or presents (regarding this matter), for we will by no means receive them." —From the letter of Al-Ashraf Khalil to Guillaume de Beaujeu, The Templar of Tyre, Chronicle Gestes des Chiprois, p.104/ part 3
  10. ^ The Templar of Tyre, Gestes des Chiprois, p.104 / part 3
  11. ^ Philip Mainebeuf, who spoke Arabic, was accompanied by a knight named Bartholomew Pisan and a scribe named George. The Templar of Tyre, Gestes des Chiprois, p.104/ part 3
  12. ^ Asili, p.110
  13. ^ The Templar of Tyre, Gestes des Chiprois, p.104/ part 3
  14. ^ Abu al-Fida,p.278/ vol.13. According to Ibn Taghri most of Khalil's troops were volunteers. Ibn Taghri, p.5/ vol. 8
  15. ^ Asili, p. 110. Templar of Tyre, p.105
  16. ^ Al-Mansuri (The victorious; Arabic: المنصورى) might refer to Khalil himself as he was Khalil Al-Mansuri, The Furious (Arabic: Al-Ghadibah الغاضبة), Black Bulls (Arabic: Al-Thiran Al-Sawda'a الثيران السوداء)
  17. ^ There are no reliable figures for the Muslim army, according to some sources it consisted of 60 000 cavalry and 160 000 infantry. Though the numbers seem exaggerated, the army of the Muslim was probably larger than that of the Crusaders. Asili, p.111
  18. ^ Michaud, ibid, pp. 75–76, gives account of 7 emirs leaving in Kalouan's (ie Sultan Qalawun) stead as he was ill; he reports that each emir had 4,000 horse and 20,000 foot at his command – giving about 160,000 men.
  19. ^ Rukn ad-Din Baibars al-Dewadar was also a historian. He gave his account about the battle for Acre in his book "Zobdat al-Fikrah Fi Tarikh al-Hijrah ( 11 volumes )".
  20. ^ The historian Abu Al-Fida was in the army of Hama. Asli, p.114
  21. ^ Acre is one of the few cities in the world whose walls have remained standing over the centuries.See List of cities with defensive walls
  22. ^ The towers of Acre were built in the outer wall and the inner wall. Among these towers were the Tower of the Countess of Blois, the Accursed Tower, the Tower of the Legate, the Tower of the Patriarch, the Tower of St. Nicholas, the English Tower, the Germans Tower, the Tower of Henri II, the Tower of King Hugh and the Tower of St. Lazarus. Asili, p.113. Templar of Tyre, p.106/note2
  23. ^ The English tower was built by Henry I. Asili, p.113
  24. ^ The Tower of the Countess of Blois was built by the Countess of Blois. Asili, p.114
  25. ^ Templar of Tyre, p.105. Asili, p.110. Ibn Taghri, p.5 / vol. 8. Al-Maqrizi, p.223/ vol.2
  26. ^ Montmusard (also Montmusart) was a suburb of crusader Acre
  27. ^ Asili, p.114
  28. ^ Carabohas were rapid-fire siege machines. Templar of Tyre, p.106
  29. ^ The messengers were a knight named William of Villiers and William of Caffran who was from the household of William of Beaujeu.Templar of Tyre, p.108. Asili, p.116
  30. ^ Asili, p.117. Templar of Tyre, p.108-109
  31. ^ Al-Maqrizi, p.223/ vol.2. Asili, p.118
  32. ^ Michaud, ibid, p.78
  33. ^ The Accursed Tower was in the inner wall, situated between the Tower of King Henri II and the Tower of the Teutonic Knights. Templar of Tyre, p.106. Asili, p.113
  34. ^ Templar of Tyre, p.113
  35. ^ According to Ludolph of Suchem (which seems exaggeration): "In Acre and the other places nearly a hundred and six thousand men were slain or taken, and more than two hundred thousand escaped from thence. Of the Saracens more than three hundred thousand were slain, as is well known even to this day." —From Ludolph of Suchem, p. 268-272
  36. ^ Many nobles of Acre managed to flee in boats by paying money to the mercenary commander and Knight Templar Roger de Flor who made use of the situation and made his fortune by blackmailing the refugees of Acre. Asili, p.120-121
  37. ^ "More than five hundred most noble ladies and maidens, the daughters of kings and princes, came down to the seashore, when the city was about to fall, carrying with them all their jewels and ornaments of gold and precious stones, of priceless value, in their bosoms, and cried aloud, whether there were any sailor there who would take all their jewels and take whichever of them he chose to wife, if only he would take them, even naked, to some safe land or island" —From Ludolph of Suchem, p.268-272
  38. ^ "The 'Templar of Tyre': Part III of the 'Deeds of the Cypriots'", by Paul Crawford, p.171 (Google Books limited preview); which gives a translation with notes of the chronicle of one of the Knights Templar who apparently recorded these things during the later retreat to Cyprus.
  39. ^ Acre was conquered by the Crusaders in 1104. In 1187, Saladin recaptured Acre but it was captured again by the Crusader Richard the Lionheart in 1191. See also Siege of Acre.
  40. ^ According to Ludolph of Suchem, the besieged Templars deliberately undermined the walls of the fortress' tower to let it collapse on the Sultan's men. Ludolphi, Rectoris Ecclesiæ Parochialis in suchem, p.46
  41. ^ The gate of the San Andreas Church was transported from Acre to Cairo to be used in the Al-Ashraf's Mosque which the Sultan was building. Asili, p.123
  42. ^ Ibn Taghri, p.9/ vol.8
  43. ^ "The Crusades".

Further reading[edit]

  • Antonio Musarra, Acri 1291. La caduta degli stati crociati, Bologna, il Mulino, 2017.
  • Siege of Acre 1291
  • Nicolle, David Acre 1291 (Osprey Campaign 154) Osprey, 2005.
  • The history of the crusades, Volume 3, pp 70–89 (Google Books, full view), by Joseph François Michaud, trans. William Robson. Note that in this account Acre is referred to as "Ptolemaïs", Sultan Qalawun as "Kalouan" and Khalil as "Chalil" and throughout the work Muslims are referred to as "Mussulmans". Several contemporary manuscripts, such as the chronicles of Ibn Ferat, are referenced and appendices give some translations.
  • The Crusades by Edward Gibbon (1963), pp. 76–78, provides a useful short summary of the events of the siege including an overview of the situation in Acre at the time.