Castle Find Shows How Crusaders Had Fun

UPPER GALILEE, ISRAEL – Archaeologists discovered that the German Crusaders living in Montfort Castle on a hill in Galilee weren’t there to defend anything or fight anyone…so…what were they doing?

Playing board games, apparently, according to new excavations conducted this year by Professor Adrian J. Boas of the University of Haifa. His work is revealing how the Crusaders lived 800 years ago in the 13th century AD.

So far, Professor Boas and his team have discovered a game of Nine Man’s Morris, several loose game pieces, a workshop to make buttons, crossbow nuts, and other objects carved from bone. They’ve also discovered copious amounts of animal remains that were identified to be from European pigs that were apparently imported so that the Crusaders could always dine on pork. Other animal remains were found too, revealing that the Crusaders dined on turtle, sheep, deer, and cattle also.

The archaeologists have also dug up a variety of belt buckles and round buttons made for tunics. These items are giving historians valuable insight into how the Crusaders dressed during the 1200s. Surprisingly, no suits of armor were found at the castle – only a few pieces of rusty chainmail.

Ceramic oil lamp discovered at Montfort. [PHOTO:]

Ceramic oil lamp discovered at Montfort. [PHOTO:]

The castle was richly furnished, with frescoed walls, beautiful hand-woven tapestries, vaulted rooms, gilded wood, stained glass, and luxurious apartments for the knights to live in. It’s a sprawling complex on the hillside, featuring stables, workshops, a castellan’s quarters, a chapel, and a massive great hall.

Montfort was home to a group of Teutonic knights during the 1200s. The Teutonic knights were an order of knights who lived a monastic life. They went out into the world on a mission to start hospitals and protect Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Oddly, Montfort doesn’t seem to be the kind of castle that existed to protect anyone, though, so what were the Teutonic knights doing there?

Well, Professor Boas thinks they were probably hiding from the Templar and Hospitaller knights. The Templars and Hospitallers were other knightly orders who both thought they had rights over the Holy Land. These differing sects of Christians – Teutonic, Templar, and Hospitaller – all fought amongst themselves, despite having a common enemy. Professor Boas believes that Montfort was, rather than a military base designed to protect travelers, an administrative office designed to be isolated from other knightly orders. Montfort overlooks no farmland, towns, or even a road. It’s hidden by high hills on all sides, effectively shielding it from any Templar or Hospitaller who might be in the area. The other orders never knew it was there.

“The purpose of building this castle seems to have been to [house] some of the order’s administration, such as the archives and perhaps the treasury.” – Professor Adrian J. Boas.

It seems strange to think of European knightly orders building huge castles in the middle of Israel simply to play chess and file paperwork, but according to the archaeology, that’s exactly what they did.