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Monday, November 14, 2011

Deciphered Crusader Inscription Stuns Archaeologists

In the Middle East, finding an inscription in Arabic is usually as exciting as finding ice in Antarctica. But there’s one group of people who, for obvious reasons, never used the Semitic tongue – the European Crusaders. In an exciting first of its kind discovery, However, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem uncovered the only Crusader inscription in the Arabic language in the entire Middle East!

An 800 year old stone slab’s inscription bears the name of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and the date “1229 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus the Messiah,” leading the Israel Antiquities Authority to proclaim it “a rare archaeological find.”

Eight hundred years ago,  Frederick II led the Sixth Crusades to conquer the Holy Land. What was especially fascinating about this crusade was it was not marked by the sort of violent and bloody imagery that comes to mind when we would normally associate with the Crusades but rather, it was a result of careful diplomacy with Egyptian Sulta Malik al-Kamil. Frederick II, in addition to obtaining Nazareth and Bethelem for the Crusader Kingdom, proclaimed himself “King of Jerusalem.”

Says Professor Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University, “prior to achieving this agreement, the emperor fortified the castle of  Jaffa  and left in its walls, as it now appears, two inscriptions, one in Latin and the other in Arabic. The Arabic inscription was drafted by Frederick’s officials, or possibly even the emperor himself, and it is the one which has been now deciphered.”

“This was a great find because we don’t have such a ruler who knew Arabic and he was very much interested in Islam and his court was full of Muslim scientists and ambassadors, so he is a very special character,” Sharon said.

Like many great finds in history, many did not know how important the text actually was at first. Years ago, when it was first discovered, it was dated to several centuries later, during the Ottoman Period.

Israel’s history is like a mosaic,  composed of hundreds of thousands of pieces of archaeological evidence uncovered throughout the years. Perhaps more exciting than finding new treasures is to have another look at what we already have, and maybe discovering we’ve had the pieces to complete the puzzle all along.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.