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Holy warriors of the Catholic Church: Templar artifacts discovered?
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A major crusader camp has been unearthed in Israel, possibly used just prior to the decisive Battle of Hattin, in 1187.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Among the most consequential wars in history, the crusades may be foremost. This series of holy wars fought between Christianity and Islam from 1095 to 1291 are responsible for why the word is as it is today. Without the Crusades, both Europe and the Middle East would be much different, the Spanish and Portuguese might not have blundered into America when they did, and the way they did, and many modern problems might not exist. Although they began ten centuries ago, the Crusades remain a hot topic for scholars who even argue which conflicts should be counted as crusades.
This is why research into these incredible conflicts, motivated by politics and religion, and decided by nature and cunning, is so important. Understanding the Crusades helps us to understand the modern world and how it was shaped.
Although the Crusades involved hundreds of thousands of participants over a span of three centuries, very little archaeological evidence has been uncovered. That's because the sands of time have erased all but the most sturdy fortifications. There are plenty of records and accounts, but the temporary camps and battlegrounds have been difficult to probe for a variety of reasons. That's what makes the current discovery so remarkable.
A new dig into a site at Tzippori Springs (Sepphoris) near Nazareth, Israel, is yielding a massive trove of new crusader artifacts. The dig, done in advance of a highway expansion project, appears to have located the remains of a major Crusader encampment, possibly occupied just prior to the decisive Battle of Hattin, fought in 1187.
Among the discoveries are hundreds of metal artifacts, including coins, arrowheads, and items used to care for horses. The archaeologists have discovered bridles, harness fittings, a comb, and horseshoes as well as horseshoe nails. One particular dig site is the focus of great activity and is now identified as a site used by Frankish forces. The identification comes from the nature of the artifacts, which are consistent with Frankish style of manufacture. The Frankish Kingdom later became the modern state of France.
It is possible the site was used prior to the Battle of Hattin, in which the Crusaders, cut off from supplies of food and water, were drawn into battle against the Islamic Sultan, Saladin. They were decisively defeated, ending almost a century of European control of most of the Holy Land.
Saladin is regarded as a genius of crusader warfare, and was respected for his chivalry. He proved to be a formidable opponent and was responsible for the eventual defeat of the Crusaders. However, he did not defeat them alone. The Crusaders were also defeated by political rivalries that made it difficult for them to cooperate on campaign and in battle, language barriers, competing interests, and a reluctance to adapt to the climate of the region. For example, the Crusaders attempted to implement feudal systems of control and grow European crops in the Holy Land. They also insisted on maintaining European standards of dress, despite the warmer climate. In the end, their hubris undermined their efforts to control the region, and they were finished off by the genius of Saladin.
But Saladin was not unchallenged. Of all the forces arrayed against him, the fiercest opponents were likely the Knights Templar. Combined with the Knights Hospitaller, these Catholic crusaders were particularly dedicated to the cause. Each knight took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, much like other religious persons of the age. And they dedicated themselves to the art of war. They served as professional soldiers at a time when such forces were rare. They were supported by a massive network of houses, banks, and hospitals that stretched into the farthest corners of Europe. And they were sponsored by the wealthy nobles of dozens of kingdoms. They made money providing the first banking services to Christians, inventing ways for Christian pilgrims to deposit money and travel with notes instead of treasure, thus making them much less attractive targets for thieves.
Each Templar knight was supported by a team of helpers who managed their horses, armor, and more. It is likely that some of the artifacts uncovered in the present dig belonged to these knights, although conclusive identification is yet to be made. The artifacts reveal how important cavalry was to these knights, who spent much of their time caring for their horses. Not all Templar warriors fought on horseback. In fact, most fought on foot. However, it was the mounted knights who could move the fastest on the battlefield, and who delivered decisive blows against the enemy. For this reason, the mounted soldiers were well-sustained and maintained. The evidence from the dig indicates this clearly, since there are so many artifacts dedicated to care for the horses.
There are of course, artifacts belonging to the other forces. Swords have been uncovered, as well as arrowheads. Archers played an important role, disrupting and intimidating the enemy before the infantry and cavalry clashed. Several well-aimed volleys of arrows could make an untrained enemy flee, and could sow confusion even among the ranks of disciplined warriors.
Mass graves also provide evidence for the crusades. Many such graves have been found across the region with some of the victims showing signs of suffering a brutal death. Some have broken bones, smashed skulls, and some are clearly decapitated, a tragic end for some prisoners whose ransoms were never paid.
Templar warriors were often killed in battle because they had a strict rule against surrender. A single Templar knight was often worth many enemy lives, and as such they were usually killed right away if captured. Their opponents feared them too much to leave them alive.
The Knights Templar met their end at the hands of King Philip IV of France. Likely it was because he borrowed heavily from them and could not repay his debts. He conjured false accusations against the order. It is tragic to note they served the Frankish and French kings well, only to be betrayed. The Templar treasure, which was reported to be substantial, simply disappeared. There are rumors the Templars even discovered the Ark of the Covenant, although such ideas strain credulity. Still, not all of the Templars were captured and killed across Europe, and most Templar knights escaped persecution, but disappeared from history. There is anecdotal evidence they fled their homes, possibly with much of the wealth of the order and relocated far from danger. But where?
One such place suggested by some is the Americas. The hypothesis isn't as far-fetched as many assume. There is conclusive evidence the Vikings sailed to the Americas five centuries or more before Columbus, and knowledge, or at least rumors of the continent probably existed at the time. The Vikings even settled in Greenland as early as the 10th century AD, and established a Catholic bishopric on the island. It is possible the Knights Templar used this knowledge to escape persecution with some of their treasure.
What we do know is that the property and assets of the Knights Templar that was not confiscated by secular authorities, or disappeared, was given to the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights Hospitaller still exist today and are known as the Knights of Malta.
As the nation of Israel grows and develops, archaeologists are finding more sites dating back to the Crusades. In time, more evidence will be discovered and hopefully some of the mysteries surrounding the Knights Templar will be uncovered.