Tag Archives: Crusader

Diver finds 900-year-old Crusader sword in Israel

Nir Distelfeld, an inspector for the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the 900-year-old Crusader sword. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Shlomi Katzin was on one of his usual Saturday dives off the coast of Carmel beach, in northern Israel, when he stumbled across the discovery of a lifetime. Helped by meteorological conditions, as the waves and undercurrents shifted the sand beneath him, the diver was shocked to see metal anchors and an elongated object that turned out to be a 900-year-old longsword dating back to the Crusades.

The perfectly preserved Medieval weapon measures one meter in length and has a 30-centimeter hilt, according to experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). It is likely made of iron, said Nir Distelfeld, an inspector for the IAA’s Robbery Prevention Unit.

Recognizing that the sword is likely ancient and of great archaeological value, Katzin brought the artifact ashore and, fearing it may end up in the wrong hands, immediately contacted local authorities who handed over the item to the National Treasures Department.

Although the sword is covered in marine life and sediments, experts claim the sword is preserved very well and should look amazing once the restoration process is complete.

“We will ensure it is displayed to the public,” IAA general director Eli Escosido told Times of Israel.

The Crusades represented a series of religious wars between European Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, which disputed control over holy sites considered sacred by both parties. Eight major Crusade expeditions occurred between 1096 and 1291.

Diver Shlomi Katzin with the sword he found. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Several religious knightly military orders were birthed out of the Crusades, including the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Knights, and Hospitallers. The newly discovered longsword likely belonged to such a knight, as common footsoldiers could not afford such a high-quality weapon for its time.

Carmel beach, where the sword was found, is known as a natural anchorage that has been in use since as early as 4,000 years ago. It was likely also used by the Crusaders 900 years ago to land on the shores of the Holy Land. Archaeologists are now surveying the site, on the lookout for more artifacts that might tell us more about Crusaders and perhaps even the identity of the knight who lost his sword. 

Crusaders were a diverse bunch, genetic analysis shows

History is riddled with stories about the Crusades — religious wars fought between 1095 and 1291, in which Christian invaders tried to claim the Near East. The Crusaders are often presented as a singular, unitary force, but a new genetic study shows quite the contrary. Crusaders came from many parts of the world and often intermixed with the locals.

A team of researchers analyzed 25 individuals whose remains were found in a burial pit near a Crusader castle near Sidon, Lebanon — warriors who fought and perished in the 1200s. The team conducted genetic analyses of the remains and were able to sequence the DNA of nine Crusaders, revealing that three were Europeans, four were Near Easterners, and two individuals had mixed genetic ancestry.

“We know that Richard the Lionheart went to fight in the Crusades, but we don’t know much about the ordinary soldiers who lived and died there, and these ancient samples give us insights into that,” says senior author Chris Tyler-Smith, a genetics researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

In a way, the Crusades resembled a mass migration. Armies went there to make war, but they also made love, and many soldiers settled down. History remembers the names of the armies’ leaders, but the vast majority of the footmen remain unknown. This helps to at least show what kinds of people went to fight in these wars.

But things were not rosy during the Crusades. Researchers also discovered an isolated skull in the area, which they believe was used as a projectile — catapulted into the opposition’s camp to destroy morale and spread disease.

Ultimately, however, despite evidence for many crusaders settling down in Lebanon, their genetic infiltration was short-lived.

Dr. Marc Haber, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said:

“The Crusaders travelled to the near East and had relationships with the local people, with their sons later joining to fight their cause. However, after the fighting had finished, the mixed generation married into the local population and the genetic traces of the Crusaders were quickly lost.”

The Crusades were a series of religious wars directed by the Latin Church during the medieval period. The most commonly known Crusades are the campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean aimed at recovering the Holy Land (areas around Israel and Palestine). Officially, these wars were fought to suppress paganism and heresy, though, in practice, the reasons for fighting were numerous, and included political and territorial motivations. The Crusaders had mixed results. The first crusade (1095–1099) was a stellar success, with the Christian soldiers winning battle after battle despite overwhelming odds. The second one, carried some 50 years later, led to the formation of a Crusader state, but ended in a total disaster. The third crusade, led by Richard III, had mixed results. However, the Fourth Crusade ended with the sacking the city of Constantinople (Istanbul), earning the Crusaders an excommunication.

The study has been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2019.03.015