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Ceramics as a Reflection of Maritime Commercial Activity at Crusader Acre
By Edna J. Stern
One Thousand Nights and Days: Akko through the Ages, edited by A.E. Killebrew and V. Raz-Romeo (Haifa, 2010)
Introduction: A large variety of Crusader period ceramics have been unearthed during large-scale excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at various sites in Acre since the early 1990s. These archaeological excavations have revealed different parts of the Crusader city of Acre, which was a thriving commercial center after the Crusader conquest of the Holy Land in 1104. With the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, Acre became the capital of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and its principal harbor. In the 13th century, Acre’s port was one of the busiest in the Frankish East and played an important role in the maritime trade with Europe, the Muslim states, and the Byzantine Empire until the fall of the Crusader Kingdom in 1291.
Two large archaeological excavations, those conducted at the Hospitaller compound and at the Knights Hotel, in addition to numerous smaller excavations, revealed a variety of public and domestic buildings, shops, and streets. The many pottery types uncovered, intended for storing, preparing, cooking, and serving food, reflect the ceramics in use by a cross-section of the population of Crusader Acre. The preservation of many of the ceramic vessels unearthed in these excavations was extraordinarily good; many vessels were whole or nearly whole. The large variety of ceramic types, combined with the high degree of preservation that facilitated the identification of the origin of the wares, is uncommon at other medieval Mediterranean port sites. Another outstanding feature of this assemblage was the wide range of ceramic ware imported from many regions throughout the Mediterranean, including artifacts from the western Mediterranean that were not previously identified in Israel. Such large-scale importation of ceramics into the Holy Land did not exist during the previous Fatimid period or during the subsequent Mamluk period. This phenomenon is unique to the time period of the Frankish presence in Acre. Therefore, the ceramic record from Acre makes it ideal for studying the trade and distribution of ceramics in the Mediterranean in the 12th and 13th centuries.