Adrian J. Boas
On the Farming Life
Of the many important contributions Ronnie Ellenblum made in crusading studies, one of the most substantial is his shattering of the old and well-entrenched concept that the Franks maintained an almost entirely urban presence in the Holy Land; that they settled in towns and occupied fortresses, but hardly at all ventured into the countryside. In the opening chapter of his first book, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Ronnie writes:
In many studies published in the last forty years the common analysis concludes that Frankish rural settlement in the Levant was very limited. The Franks, it was argued, confined themselves almost exclusively to the large cities and fortresses and engaged to a very limited extent in agricultural activities.*
In making his point that this was not in fact the case, Ronnie relied on both documentary evidence and on extensive surveys of the Frankish countryside. In addition, in April 1986, he carried out what was perhaps the earliest published excavation of a Frankish farmhouse, at Khirbet Lawza, about four kilometres west of Jerusalem** As limited as the excavation was, this was a substantial achievement. Ronnie pointed to the presence of an aqueduct and reservoir, a network of irrigation channels, a network of paths connecting the complex with the surrounding fields, fenced-in terraces, probably planted with grape vines and olive trees. He had exposed what was clearly not merely another administrative outpost like nearby Aqua Bella, or the numerous rural buildings often designated in literature as manor houses. Those were buildings that were primarily established in order to supervise the peasants in the surrounding countryside and above all, in order to facilitate the collecting of taxes and tithes. At Khirbet Lawza, however, we have an establishment the inhabitants of which were clearly chiefly occupied in actual farm work. Here was clear-cut physical evidence of Franks not merely as overseers, but as settlers and farmers.
* R. Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Cambridge, 1998, p. 3.
** R. Ellenblum, E.R. Rubin and G. Solar, "Khirbat al-Lawza, a Frankish Farm House in the Judean Hills in Central Palestine", Levant 28, 1996, pp. 28-202.