1271: Krak des Chevaliers Captured by Sultan Baibars

1271: Krak des Chevaliers Captured by Sultan Baibars
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 8 April 1271
  • The famous castle Krak des Chevaliers was the strongest Crusader fortress in the Middle East. It was owned by the powerful Knights Hospitallers, but on this day it fell into the hands of the Egyptian Sultan Baibars.

On this day in the year 1271, the forces of Sultan Baibars captured the largest Crusader fortress in the Middle East – the famous Krak des Chevaliers. This huge castle was owned by Order of Saint John, also known under the name Hospitallers (they still exist today as the Knights of Malta).

The Krak des Chevaliers was built about 100 years earlier, at a time when Jerusalem was still in possession of the Christians. The castle is located on the territory of today’s Syria, not far from the northern Lebanese border. It is a mountainous area located about 35 kilometers from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

How did Sultan Baibars manage to seize the strongest Crusader fortress? Namely, Baibars was the powerful ruler of Egypt, and he also ruled Syria as well as a substantial part of Arabia, Libya and the Holy Land.

Baibars was of an unusual origin for an Egyptian ruler. To be more precise, he was born in Crimea and was a Turkic Cuman or Kipchak. It is interesting that he was blond and fair-skinned, and allegedly had bluish eyes. He was brought to Egypt as a slave and then became a soldier (at that time in the Muslim world, it was common to take soldiers of foreign origin).

From a successful military leader he managed to become the Sultan of Egypt. The power of his army is best illustrated by the fact that they managed to defeat an army of Mongols (Tartars) in the famous Battle of Ain Jalut. It was actually the first time that the Mongol invasion was permanently stopped in some part of the world, so this battle is considered one of the biggest turning points in world history.

Sultan Baibars came at the Krak des Chevaliers with a considerable army, and immediately ordered the construction of the so-called “mangonels” – siege engines similar to catapults. These machines were used to throw projectiles at the castle’s walls.

In total, the siege lasted for about 36 days, and the besiegers managed to break through one defensive wallat a time, until they reached the inner part of the castle. Finally, the Muslims used deception. They conveyed a forged letter to defenders in which the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller reportedly gives them permission to surrender.

Indeed, the defenders surrendered and Baibars apparently spared their lives. The Christian chapel inside the castle was converted into a mosque.

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