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InternationalMass graves of crusaders found in Lebanon

Mass graves of crusaders found in Lebanon

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Gaston de Persigny
Gaston de Persigny
Gaston de Persigny - Reporter at The European Times News

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Despite the fact that thousands of people died in the Crusades, archaeologists are incredibly rare in their mass graves. According to one of the versions, those killed, found this time, were buried personally by Saint Louis IX, King of France, leader of two crusades.


In 2019, archaeologists were in luck: they found a mass grave of crusaders in Sidon (now called Sayda), Lebanon. The collection, study and analysis of the finds took time, so the scientific work describing them came out only now, as reported in a press release from the University of Bournemouth (UK).

Archaeological excavations near the Castle of St. Louis have revealed two mass graves. Both were in a dry ditch near the city walls. The remains of the people were partially mixed, but the researchers concluded that at least twenty-five people were buried there – and exclusively men or adolescent males (at an age when they could already hold a weapon). Radiocarbon dating dates the event to the middle of the 13th century.

Dr. Richard N. R. Mikulski of the University of Bournemouth, who excavated and analyzed the skeletal remains, explained: “All the bodies belonged to adolescents or adult males, indicating that they were fighters who fought in the Battle of Sidon. When during the excavations we found so much damage from weapons on the bones, I realized that we had made an unusual discovery. “

In addition, the study showed that the victims were not buried immediately after death: for some time they remained unburied. There is also an assumption that scavengers snatched their part of the prey. On some of the bones of the cervical spine of the deceased, traces remained, indicating decapitation by a blow from the back (probably execution). Finally, there are traces of charring on the remains – they tried to burn the bodies, not bury them.

Against whom did the crusaders of Sidon fight, by whom were they defeated, and who nevertheless betrayed their bodies to the earth?

Originating in the early Bronze Age, Sidon was already a fairly large trade center by the time of the Crusades in the Levant (1097-1291). As a result of the First Crusade, the Crusaders first captured Sidon in 1110. The city (and especially its harbor) became a key strategic port in a series of coastal settlements that formed the basis of Christian states in the Latin East. In the middle of the 13th century, Sidon, held by Christians, was twice ravaged by enemies. The first time this happened in 1253 – the fortress was captured (and then abandoned) by the Mamluks, who had recently taken power in Egypt and founded the Mamluk Sultanate there. The medieval chronicle “L’Estoire de Eracles” tells about this assault on Sidon.

Just a few years passed and enemies again came to the city walls. The Chronicle of “The Templars of Tire” tells how, in August 1260, Sidon was again attacked. This time it was plundered by Mongol troops led by Kitbuki. Many defenders were killed, some of them were captured. After these events, the city remained under the control of the Crusaders until it was abandoned in 1291.

As we can see, the situation is about the same: in both cases there could be executions, in both cases the winners were clearly not going to bury the defeated, and this was done later, when the invaders left the city.

It is, of course, difficult to draw an exact conclusion about exactly when those found in the mass grave were killed. But there is a detail that tells us that most likely the remains belong to people who died at the hands of the Mamluks, and not the Mongols.

Jean Joinville in his chronicle says that after the attack of the Mamluks, Saint Louis IX, the leader of the Seventh (and then the Eighth) Crusade, came to the city. The author of the chronicle was a contemporary and biographer of the king, so he wrote about the events that he himself saw. He says that King Louis IX helped other crusaders to collect decomposing corpses and bury them: “We found that the king himself made sure that the bodies of Christians killed by the Saracens (as described earlier) were buried. He personally carried the bodies, all rotting and fetid, to put them in trenches in the ground, and never once covered his nose, although others did. ” The manuscript “The Book of Hours of Jeanne d’Evre”, although it was created several decades after these events, depicts specific details regarding the burial of the victims, in which Louis IX participated.

And although scientists refrain from final conclusions, the coincidence of details from written sources and archaeological finds suggests that the graves of the crusaders found most likely date back to 1253 – the capture of Sidon by the Mamluks. The Mamluks are the personal army of the sultans of Egypt, at that time recruited mainly from Kipchak slaves (Polovtsians) who were sold in slave markets and eventually ended up in Egypt. Around 1250, this elite army of the sultans seized power in the country, establishing their own dynasty.

Photo: The Battle of El Mansour, depicted in the painting by Guillaume Saint-Patus “The Life and Miracles of Saint Louis”. The battle took place in 1250, a few years before the destruction of Sidon / © Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits

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