Fall of Acre

The fall of Acre marked the end of Christian Crusader rule and dominance in Palestine and Syria, and the resumption of Muslim control.

Summary of Event

A riot in late August, 1290, between Muslims and newly arrived Italian Crusaders Crusades —undisciplined, drunken, and disorderly—in the streets of Acre ended with the killing of a number of Muslims. As a consequence, Sultan Qalān Qalā՚ūn of Egypt was convinced that the massacre broke the existing truce between Egypt and the already greatly contracted kingdom of Jerusalem, and he began to gather his army to finally eliminate the Franks. Outraged by the incident, the barons and knights ruling Acre suppressed the rioters and rescued many Muslims. They also immediately apologized to the sultan, who sent an embassy demanding surrender of the leaders of the riot. [kw]Fall of Acre (April, 1291)
[kw]Acre, Fall of (April, 1291)
Acre, fall of (1291)
Israel/Palestine;Apr., 1291: Fall of Acre[2560]
Religion;Apr., 1291: Fall of Acre[2560]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr., 1291: Fall of Acre[2560]
Amalric de Lusignan
William de Beaujeau
al-AshrafṢalā al-Dīn Khalīl
Henry II de Lusignan
Otto de Grandison

The bailie, Amalric de Lusignan Amalric de Lusignan , representative of the king of Jerusalem in Acre, convened a council to frame a response. The master of the Temple, William de Beaujeau William de Beaujeau , proposed sending the criminals in the jails of Acre to Cairo as the guilty men, but the council refused. Instead of condemning Christians to die in Cairo, the council attempted to persuade the sultan’s emissaries that Muslim merchants had precipitated the riot. After consulting his council, Qalān rejected this response, abandoned the truce, and began mobilizing his army.

Templar agents at Cairo reported the sultan’s intentions to William de Beaujeau, who earlier had sent his own envoy to Cairo. Qalān then offered a proposal to William: He would allow the residents to leave Acre safely for a ransom of one Venetian sequin per inhabitant. When William presented this proposal to the high court in Acre, it was rejected, and the court accused William of treason.

The sultan left Cairo with his army on November 4. The invasion, however, was halted when Qalān suddenly fell ill and died on November 10. The government and citizens of Acre then relaxed, concluding that their troubles were over in the light of the usual protracted disorders accompanying the succession of sultans. The Mamlūk successional conflict, however, was settled quickly and, by March of 1291, Qalān’s son, al-Ashraf Ṣalā al-Dīn Khalīl Ashraf Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Khalīl, al- (Mamlūk sultan) , was in control. The council at Acre then sent a final embassy seeking to flatter Khalīl and to seek terms of peace. Khalīl threw them in prison, where they died. He sent his army against Acre in March, 1291. On April 6, he invested Acre and the siege began.

The inhabitants of Acre had put the double walls of the city in good repair. In anticipation of an attack after the fall of Tripoli in 1289, the authorities in Acre had broadcast appeals for help. The military orders—Templars, Hospitalers, and Teutonic knights—called in all available members from Europe. No great crusade, however, came from Europe. The only reinforcements to arrive were Tuscan and Lombard crossbow troops, who provoked the riot in August, 1290, and scattered knights errant. A few English volunteers led by Otto de Grandison Otto de Grandison came at the expense of King Edward I of England (r. 1272-1307). The Venetians and Pisans remained loyal, but the Genovese, whose business in Acre had been ruined by Venice, stood aside.

King Henry II de Lusignan Henry II de Lusignan , immobilized by sickness in Cyprus, sent a Cypriot group, and his brother Amalric commanded the defense. Many noncombatants were ferried to Cyprus, and supplies of food, water, and arms were in good order. In all, about 1,000 mounted men and 15,000 foot soldiers guarded the walls of Acre. The invaders reportedly brought 60,000 mounted men, 160,0000 infantry, and almost 100 catapults and mangonels. Although these figures are probably exaggerated, the besiegers most likely outnumbered defenders by ten to one.

During a month of battering, Italian catapults had knocked out some important Egyptian siege engines, and a ship fitted with a catapult did great damage behind the Mamlūk lines until it was destroyed in a storm. A moonlight sally by the Templars on April 15 began well but ended in confusion. A second sally by the Hospitalers in the dark of the moon a few days later was ambushed. Thereafter, the defenders fought from within the walls in order to conserve men and armaments. On May 4, Henry arrived from Cyprus with 100 knights and 2,000 foot soldiers. This was the last infusion of reinforcements.

Henry sent envoys to beg for peace. In reply, Khalīl demanded surrender of the city but offered to allow the defenders to leave alive. During the parley, a catapulted stone landed among the bystanders, and Khalīl had to be persuaded not to kill the ambassadors immediately. Khalīl’s terms were refused and, on May 15, the Egyptians penetrated the outer wall, forcing the defenders back to the Gate of Saint Anthony and the inner wall.

On May 18, they mounted a general assault, overrunning the inner wall and the Gate of Saint Anthony. By evening, the Christians were trying to organize an evacuation by sea. Henry, Amalric, and many of the Cypriots left first. Otto de Grandison took command of the rear guard and filled the Venetian ships with wounded; he himself was the last to embark. When the elderly Nicholas of Hannape was carried to a ship by his servants, he encouraged fugitives to crowd in with him. The overloaded boat then foundered, drowning all on board.

After the ships left, the docks still were crowded with refugees. The Templars retreated to their headquarters and resisted for a few more days. Finally, the Mamlūks Mamlūk Dynasty[Mamluk Dynasty] undermined the walls, collapsing the entire building and killing all of the defenders and many of their own men.

The Mamlūks then sacked Acre, killing or enslaving all Christians. The sultan also deliberately destroyed Acre and all of the castles along the coast. Fearing Christian sea power, Khalīl then systematically wiped out the remaining Christian outposts in the Levant.

On May 19, his army appeared before Tyre, the strongest city in the kingdom of Jerusalem. Although it might have endured a long siege, the Cypriot garrison sailed home without resisting. At Sidon, the Templars held out until July, when they left by sea. Beirut, although protected by a private truce, was taken by treachery in the same month. In August, the monasteries of Mount Carmel were sacked.


By the end of 1291, no Franks remained in Outremer. The Crusader states had lasted only 192 years from the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 to their final destruction in 1291. Throughout, Outremer was plagued by persistent shortcomings. Most important, the permanent Frankish population was never large enough to defend and expand the Crusader states. Indeed, continuous reinforcement from the West was a necessity.

The many different and antagonistic European Crusader contingents seldom acknowledged any “central” authority and frequently lapsed into civil conflict. Also, the Crusaders were dependent on commercially oriented, opportunistic, and unreliable Italian city-states for transportation and commercial activity. Crusader leadership generally was unable to impose stable policy and, in any event, dependence on feudal allegiances frequently frustrated effective organization of available resources.

Acre was eventually conquered in 1516 by the Ottoman Turks, who ruled the area with minor interruptions until 1918, when the city was captured by the British. After 1922, it was governed under the British mandate of Palestine. Acre again was captured in 1948, by a Jewish terrorist group, and subsequently occupied by regular Israeli troops. In the process, most of the city’s Arab population fled.

Further Reading

  • Avi-Yonah, Michael, ed. A History of Israel and the Holy Land. New York: Continuum, 2001. Presents a history of Palestine from the Arab conquest through the time of the Crusades, including the fall of Acre, and during the time of the Mamlūks and Ottomans. Illustrations, maps, index.
  • Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000. Chapters explore the fall of Acre, ethnic and religious stereotyping, daily life, the conduct of war, and more. Bibliography, index.
  • Madden, Thomas F., ed. The Crusades: The Essential Readings. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. A collection of previously published articles about the Crusades, including medieval sources, lay enthusiasm, patronage, Byzantium, and the subjection of Muslims. Bibliography, index.
  • Payne, Robert. The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades. 1984. Reprint. New York: Stein and Day, 2000. Good account of the end of Outremer drawn from Arab as well as European accounts. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • Richard, Jean. The Crusades, c. 1071-c. 1291. Translated by Jean Birrell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. A comprehensive history of the Crusades from its beginnings to its historical end with the fall of Acre in 1291. Genealogical tables, maps, bibliography, index.
  • Robinson, John. Dungeon, Fire, and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades. New York: M. Evans, 1991. Provides a concise historical account of the Templars’s religious-military mission in battling for control of the Holy Land, and gives an account of the fall of Acre, including preceding and subsequent events. Illustrations, comprehensive bibliography.
  • Runciman, Steven. “The Crusader States.” In The Later Crusades, 1189-1311, edited by Robert Lee Woolf and Harry W. Hazard. Vol. 2 in A History of the Crusades, edited by Kenneth M. Setton. 2d ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969-1989. Detailed scholarly account of the fall of Acre. Includes a map of the region. Bibliography, index.
  • Runciman, Steven. The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades. Vol. 3 in A History of the Crusades. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Comprehensive history of the Crusaders from the Third Crusade through final dissolution of Outremer.