A history of the 1291 siege of Acre that brings the convoluted give-and-take between Muslim and Christian entities to vivid life and relevance.
Beginning in the 12th century, Acre helped hold together the “Frankish” principalities along the Mediterranean shore of Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria, aka the Outremer, which was established during the First Crusade (1096-1099) in the wake of Muslim onslaught. An ancient strategic site, writes Crowley (Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, 2015, etc.), Acre first “fell to Islam in 636.” In 1104, it was taken by Baldwin of Boulogne, the “first crusader King of Jerusalem,” and became the “chief landing place for pilgrims and the armies to protect them.” The Muslims regained the city in 1187. However, in a 683-day battering siege of the city’s ramparts (1189-1191), the Christians, led by Richard I “Lionheart” of England and others, defeated the Muslims, who were led by Saladin, prince of the Ayyubid dynasty. It was a “titanic” battle that came down to Acre’s so-called Accursed Tower, located in the most fortified area. Yet instead of extending mercy to the inhabitants, as Saladin had done to the Christians, Richard had approximately 3,000 Muslim defenders beheaded. This development set the “bitter legacy” for the final retaking of Acre from the Christians by the Muslims exactly 100 years later. Crowley adeptly builds the detail and suspense that led up to this extraordinary last pitched battle, which involved the might of the ascendant Mamluks, or the Turkish slaves who would become sultans, and their incomparable skills and resources, such as the awesome trebuchet. Led by the fearless Sultan Khalil, the Mamluks took the city by surprise in several weeks, with people attempting in vain to flee by ship. As the author writes in this exciting, sleek narrative, “the looting was feverish and spectacular.” At the end of the book, the author also provides a useful section on “the evidence for the fall of Acre.”
A bracing work by a masterly historian whose great knowledge portrays the “dramatic symbolic significance” of this landmark event.