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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / The first hundred years

XII: The Foundation of the Latin States, 1099-1118,   pp. 368-409 PDF (16.5 MB)

Page 369

 About three thousand Frankish fighting men, in addition to the clergy and
other noncombatants, remained in and about Jerusalem, a larger number in
and about Antioch, and a small band at Edessa (Urfa). Antioch was three hundred
and ten miles to the north of Jerusalem, across hostile territory; Edessa
was one hundred and sixty miles northeast of Antioch, and forty-five east
of the Euphrates. There were thus three isolated groups of western European
invaders left in a foreign land. It was an ancient land whose Semitic inhabitants
had seen many changes of fortune in the past, and whose upper classes were
superior to the Franks in manners, breeding, and education. 
 The region in which these newcomers had chosen to find their homes is essentially
a narrow strip between the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian desert. First
there is a coastal plain of sandy wastes interspersed with cultivable areas.
At places this narrows to nothing as at Dog river pass near Beirut where
a road is cut into the face of the cliffs fronting the sea. This coastal
area contains a number of seaports such as Latakia, Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon,
Tyre, and Acre which since time immemorial have exported both caravan goods
and local manufactures to the west. Back of the coastal plain is a series
of mountain ranges running north and south. They vary in elevation up to
five thousand feet in northern Syria, to eleven thousand feet in the Lebanon,
and to nearly four thousand feet in Palestine. There is a valley running
north and south between these ranges with its high point at Baalbek. Northward
flows the Orontes until it breaks through the mountains at Antioch to reach
the sea. Southward runs the Jordan until it reaches the depression of the
Dead Sea 1,292 feet below sea level, about twenty miles east of Jerusalem.
 From November to March moisture-laden winds from the Mediterranean bring
rains to the western slopes of the mountains. This causes the land to bloom
in the spring. Although much water runs off, more so now than in medieval
times owing to deforestation and overgrazing by sheep and goats, some of
it soaks into the underlying limestone strata. This water accounts for the
springs and streams, some of which continue to flow in the dry season when
the winds blow in from the desert. Consequently irrigation has ever been
important in Syria and Palestine, and the land has always had a significant
agricultural as well as commercial population. This is true even on the eastern
side of the mountains where the occasional streams eventually lose themselves
in the desert. Here nourished in fertile areas are located cities famous

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