On a 12th century Knights Templar-battlefield north of Jerusalem, archaeologists uncover clues to the Battle at Jacob’s Ford – the battle they believe was the turn of the tide in the Crusades.
Based on what we know of the geography of the area, the Jordan River crossing at Jacob’s Ford was likely the same crossing used by St. Paul in his travels to Damascus centuries earlier.
800 years later, the territory surrounding the Jacob’s Ford battle site – the Golan Heights – remains in contention. In the 20th century, the armies of Jerusalem and Damascus have continued to dispute this region. Today, the hillside adjacent to the castle site is guarded by barbed wire due to the decades-old unexploded ordinances that still litter the modern-day battlefield.
In “Last Stand of the Templars,” the medieval coins unearthed at the Jacob’s Ford Templar battle site, and at the Israel Antiquities Authority storage facility, are filmed for the first time.
Archaeological studies have proven that the weapons (arrows) used by Christian and Muslim forces at the Battle of Jacob’s Ford were identical, leading experts to believe there was a common manufacturer supplying weapons to both sides during the Crusades.
All of the human skeletal remains recovered at Jacob’s Ford are estimated to be between 20 and 40 years of age. The remains were found in a layer of ash under the remains of the only building that had been completed by the time the castle was destroyed. None of the individuals were formally buried. The bodies lay in an apparently random orientation and with remaining limbs randomly positioned.
Excavations at Jacob’s Ford uncovered evidence of a well-documented massacre, which took place on 30 August 1179 AD. The archaeozoological remains include ten articulated equid skeletons, which were identified as three horses, six mules and a donkey. All the equid skeletal remains were found under the debris of a 22m Χ 9.1m vault, which was intentionally destroyed by the Muslims after the battle and was not disturbed by later human activity or scavengers. Most of the equids were probably killed during the battle by arrowheads which were found scattered around them.
The Crusader castle of Vadum Jacob was deformed during a destructive earthquake that occurred just 23 years after the Muslim attack - 20 May 1202 and offset the castle walls by 1.6 m.
One writer estimates the Templar and Crusader forces had enough food and water stockpiled within the fortress to sustain them for several years. If the Muslims had not successfully tunneled under the walls, there could have been a very different outcome to the Battle at Jacob’s Ford.
It is believed that Templar Grandmaster Odo de St. Amand, who was captured while the Jacob’s Ford castle was still under construction, died in a Damascus prison. Sources suggest Saladin tried to exchange a Muslim prisoner for St. Amand’s life. St. Amand allegedly refused the exchange, preferring death over having his own life valued equal to that of a Muslim.
Medieval Christian chronicler William of Tyre hated Templar Grandmaster - and Jacob’s Ford mastermind - Odo St. Amand. He says St. Amand was “dictated by the spirit of pride, of which he had an excess,” and referred to him as “a worthless man, proud and arrogant, having the spirit of wrath in his nostrils, neither fearing God, nor having reverence for men.” William of Tyre held St. Amand responsible for the loss at Jacob’s Ford.
Saladin’s complete destruction of the castle, and his ravaging of the countryside in a year of drought left the entire region nearly devoid of life, ensuring it was never again practical to consider erecting a castle at the ford.
After the fall of the fortress, Jacob’s Ford returned to what it had been before the Crusaders began construction - a Muslim place of pilgrimage, ‘sanctified by the actions of grace and prayers of the Muslims'.
For centuries, legend recounted how the Templar order was wiped out after being charged with heresy, and excommunicated from the church in the early 1300’s. However, a document called the Chinon Parchment, uncovered by Vatican Secret Archives researcher Barbara Frale now proves that the Templars were actually exonerated on those charges of heresy by the Pope. It was in fact the powerful, and jealous King of France, who pushed ahead with persecuting and executing the innocent Templars, eventually wiping out the order.
Legend recounts that as the last Templar Grandmaster Jacques de Molay was being burnt at the stake, he put a curse on his persecutors, King Philip the Fair of France and Pope Clement V, calling on “them both to appear with him within the year before the tribunal of God”. Clement V was dead within a month, King Philip lived another 8 months.
In the years following the Battle at Jacob’s Ford and the trials of the Templars, knights throughout Europe went into hiding, prized possessions were stored away, and almost immediately, legends began to grow. In 1945, a medieval plank painting was discovered in a centuries-old building in rural England. Some experts believe it was owned, and hidden by the local Knights Templar. Others believe it was part of an elaborate carrying case, designed to hold the mystical Shroud of Turin as the Templars went into battle.