On a Brilliant Mind
For three years in the 1990s I co-directed excavations at the Templar fortress Vadum Iacob (Jacob's Ford), a project initiated and organised by Ronnie Ellenblum. Ronnie, a historical geographer who, like myself, was a student of crusader history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, realised the potential value of this site for many aspects of crusading studies. As he pointed out to me at the 1991 conference of the Society for the Studies of the Crusades and the Latin East, Vadum Iacob was a unique site because it had been in existence for only eleven months, from the commencement of its construction in October 1178 until its fall to the army of Saladin in August 1179. The value of such a short-lived site for archaeological research was obviously enormous, in that it would enable us to date finds with a greater precision than is the case in most sites of longer duration. In addition, in his sales-pitch to persuade me to participate, Ronnie told me that, never having been completed it was a building site, with the potential to provide information that a building site could provide, including material finds, tools and materials used in its construction, and evidence of the construction methods employed by the Templar builders. And as if that were not enough, it was a major battle site. There would be bodies, weapons, armour perhaps, a siege mine. And Ronnie's enthusiasm was most infective when it came a geological topic close to his heart; it was a site that had been torn apart by a major earthquake, perhaps the only example of a huge ancient building split directly down the centre.
Being of very different natures made working together and bouncing thoughts and ideas off each other, a lively and productive experience. Ronnie was a great theorist. He broke conventions and had the charm and intelligence to captivate his audience. We did not always agree, but I always respected his opinions. Ronnie passed away today. I will miss him.