An Israeli archaeologist has identified the long-lost battlefield of Arsuf. This was a battle that took place during the Crusades between the legendar
An Israeli archaeologist has identified the long-lost battlefield of Arsuf. This was a battle that took place during the Crusades between the legendary figures of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. The battle of Arsuf (1191 AD) was one of the most important to take place during the Crusades , but its exact location had been lost for centuries.
Dr. Rafael Lewis, during his post-doctoral studies at the University of Tel Aviv, began work on identifying the site of the Battle of Arsuf. According to the Jerusalem Post , the “memory of its exact location had been long lost.” The battle between Muslims and Western European Christians was long believed to have occurred on the Plains of Sharon, near the busy modern city of Tel Aviv. Haaretz reports that it “was known to have taken place near the ancient settlement of Apollonia, aka Arsuf, whose remains today lie on the Israeli coast just north of Tel Aviv.” However, no-one knew where the battle took place despite its immense historic importance.
The archaeologist examined primary sources and discovered that Richard the Lionheart and his army made their way down the coast from Arce. In the image Saladin’s armies can be seen during the Siege of Arce. ( Public domain )
Challenges of Battlefield Archaeology
Pinpointing the site of the battle was challenging. Dr. Lewis told the Jerusalem Post that “the area of battlefield archaeology focuses on events that last only a few hours or at most a few days, whose sites are therefore challenging to be investigated archaeologically.” The archaeologist, who now works at Haifa University, decided to adopt an innovative approach to identify the long-lost battlefield.
First, he examined the primary sources from the period, such as medieval maps. He knew that Richard the Lionheart and his army of western European knights and soldiers made their way down the coast from Acre. He also studied the ancient network of roads, which are vastly different from those today.
Using environmental studies, Dr. Lewis found what he believes is the battlefield site where Muslims and Crusaders clashed. (Rafael (Rafi) Lewis)
Lewis told the Jerusalem Post that he employed environmental studies “which usually are not considered but provide a lot of information.” He was able to estimate the humidity and heat of the area in the 12 th century AD and the hours of sunlight and moonlight. He knew from documentary sources that the battle took place in September and this was helpful. The various data points and the sources led him to believe that the battle took place between the modern city of Herzliyya and modern Arsuf.
Dr. Lewis surveyed the proposed battlefield site with a metal detector and turned up arrowheads and other metal objects from the right era. (Rafael (Rafi) Lewis)
Metal Detector Helps Locate Battlefield
Lewis believed that there were also strategic reasons why the battle took place in this area. Richard the Lionheart had wanted the conquer Jerusalem and recapture its holy sites. However, for strategic reasons, he headed for the port of Jaffa. The archaeologist told the Jerusalem Post that “Saladin did not believe that Richard was marching towards Jaffa but that at that point he and his troops were going to turn inland in the direction of Jerusalem.” As a result, Lewis believes that the Muslim and the Christian armies encountered each other at the spot identified by him near Arsuf. In the 13 th century, the battlefield was an oak forest.
It was only in the latter stages of his research that Lewis conducted archaeological research. He surveyed the proposed battlefield site with a metal detector . The Times reports that the “preliminary scan of the site has so far turned up arrowheads and other metal objects of the right date.” These artifacts appear to substantiate Lewis’s theory concerning the battlefield site.
Amongst the artifacts found was a piece of a “violin-key” horseshoe that was used in Western Europe in the Crusader period. Rafael (Rafi) Lewis
Crucial Battle of the Third Crusade
The Battle of Arsuf was the most important military confrontation of the Third Crusade . This was prompted by the defeat of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem at Hattin by the great Muslim hero Saladin. Later the forces of Saladin captured Jerusalem and the Crusader states in the Levant were on the point of collapse. The Third Crusade was called by the Pope to recapture Jerusalem.
Richard I of England, popularly known as the Lionheart, captured Acre from the Muslims in 1191. He desperately needed a port and made his way south to Jaffa. As the Crusaders were leaving a forest, they were ambushed by Saladin. Richard the Lionheart’s army withstood the attacks and the military order of Knights Hospitaller counterattacked the Muslims and caught them by surprise. The heavily armored Christians overwhelmed Saladin’s army and inflicted thousands of casualties.
The Battle of Arsuf is famous as the encounter between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. ( Public domain )
Crusaders Failure to Capture Jerusalem
However, the Crusaders did not push on to crush the army of Saladin because they feared more ambushes. Lewis is quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that “Richard won the battle, but failed to destroy the Muslim forces.” The Christians did not manage to capture Jerusalem which was their main objective. Many believe that the Battle of Arsuf ensured a Christian presence in the area for more than a century. The Jewish population of the region did not participate in the conflict between Christians and Muslims.
The potential identification of the site of the battle could be a breakthrough in our understanding of the Third Crusade. More research needs to be conducted in the area. In future, the methodology used in the study could help researchers to identify other lost battlefield sites.
Top image: The Army of Saladin, Guillaume de TyrParis, 1337. Source: Public domain
By Ed Whelan