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Frankish Epigraphy

By Pierre-Vincent Claverie
Assemblée Nationale, Paris

In the years following the First Crusade, many of those who colonized the territories of the Latin East came from regions we now designate as France and Italy. The colonists’ western origins were underscored early on by chroniclers of the First Crusade who used the collective demonym “Franks” to designate these settlers, as well as by Muslim authors who employed the substantive Franj. This terminology was discussed and challenged in the second half of the twelfth century by several German chroniclers, including John of Würzburg, who asserted that the Holy Land was conquered by the Franconians, not the Franks, and in the following century, by Otto of Sankt Blasien, when he blamed the failure of the 1197-1198 German Crusade on the hostility of the Latin inhabitants of Palestine, claiming they feared they would be deprived of their lands by invading imperial forces.

By the twelfth century, the multicultural society of Outremer had adopted French as the lingua franca, and for the most part, had retained Latin as the language of liturgy and law. French terms eventually found their way into the indigenous languages of the Latin East, including Armenian and Syriac, so that the master of the Templars was called maistir in Syriac, for example, and the brethren designated as phrēr. French remained influential well into the thirteenth century when Syriac chronicler Bar Hebraeus mentioned the presence of a mysterious band of Pherpherschuraie in Jerusalem, a group who undoubtedly corresponded to the Dominicans (frères prêcheurs) who had established themselves there.

This small summary of the cultural circumstances surrounding French-language use in Outremer helps to clarify some aspects of the Francophone tradition of Frankish epigraphy at the time of the crusades. Since the time studies on Frankish epigraphy first appeared in the late nineteenth century, misunderstandings about the role of French in the Latin East have engendered both substantive and chronological errors, due largely to the poor state of materials recovered in the Holy Land and to the use of several concomitant medieval dating systems.

Prior to World War I, museums rarely retained a description of or even a reference to the location of graves recovered by western researchers who travelled to Palestine and who eventually brought these gravestones back for further study. The Louvre, for example, currently houses the tombstone of Jacques Lesaboni, but maintains no record of the stone’s provenance. Furthermore, the Réunion des Musées Nationaux (French National Museums Trust) indicates that Lesaboni died on January 23, 1257 when, in fact, a quick examination of the grave demonstrates that he passed away on “the second day of January of the year 1257.” In the thirteenth century, inhabitants of Latin Syria recorded dates according to the Annunciation Style, which designated March 25 as the first day of the New Year. This means that Jacques Lesaboni actually died on January 2, 1258, not on the same date of the preceding year

Grave of Jacques Lesaboni (1258)

. These details may seem minor, but previous scholars were also misled about aspects as basic as the deceased’s name and country of origin. Contrary to earlier identifications, Jacques Lesaboni was not a Latin soap maker living in Acre and Tyre, but rather an Eastern Christian named Yaq‘ūb al-Saboni, whose name had been Gallicized. The use of a French-speaking stonecutter for his grave marker indicates that he was probably in communion with Rome, and therefore not a Melkite who followed the Byzantine rite.


The challenges in interpreting Frankish epigraphy are increased by the various techniques employed by stonecutters from Outremer when they created abbreviations and letter-forms for their inscriptions. Although Charles Clermont-Ganneau in the late nineteenth, and Father Sabino De Sandoli in the later twentieth century each produced vast inventories of the many uncial forms and masons’marks used in engravings from the Kingdom of Jerusalem, variations on many of these letter-forms continue to emerge as scholars examine and re-examine the sources at hand. If we look back to the grave of Jacques Lesaboni, for example, we see that it contains an original abbreviation of the French coordinating conjunction ET. As is clear in the attached image, the abbreviation is made with a crossed E, and is used synonymously with the conjunction QUI (who), so that the formula “ET TRESPASSA” (and died) can be read as “qui trespassa” (who died). Confusion can be further compounded when examining these inscriptions, since Frankish stonecutters often mixed roman and uncial characters with no clear distinction between upper- and lower-case forms.

Grave of a Frankish prelate buried near Jaffa (1259)

The fragmentary state of many of the salvaged tombstones also presents great difficulties to scholars who wish to recover missing epitaphs or determine the identity of the person the stone was meant to memorialize. Although we can

discern some information on the grave of an anonymous prelate who died in 1259 near Jaffa on the feast day of Saints Vincent and Anastasius (January 22, according to our calendar), his episcopal see or abbey remains unidentified.


Another perplexing example concerns the grave of the Occitan Archbishop of Nazareth, Guillaume de Saint-Jean, whose tombstone was excavated in the ruins of Acre in 1962, but whose exact date of death remains unclear. The career of this particular prelate is distinctive because he seems to have been one of the rare Templar bishops elected in Syria over the course of the thirteenth century.

Grave of Guillaume de Saint-Jean (1290)

While epigraphic studies provide an excellent view into the lives (and deaths) of many individuals, the field also offers historians raw material to understand larger aspects of the Frankish experience in Outremer. Evidence from Frankish epitaphs, for instance, suggests that a certain level of cultural refinement did exist in Levantine society during the time of the western settlements, despite complaints from several post-1187 chroniclers who dismissed its value by denouncing Frankish greed and lamenting the great quantity of sinners and fugitives living in Outremer. The epitaph of the Templar marshal Hugues Salomon du Quiliou, however, reveals that excellent Latinists were present and active within the ranks of the twelfth-century Frankish armies.

Grave of the Templar Hugues Salomon du Quiliou

The marshal of the Temple, like the kings of Jerusalem, received the following poetic epitaph after he died outside the walls of Ascalon in 1153: “MARESCHAUDUS HUGO SALOMONIS DE QUILIUGO, TEMPLI MILICIE PROVIDUS EXIMIE, MILES BELLATOR, FORTIS PEDES, ASSILIATOR HOSTIBUS HORIBILIS, CUM SOCIIS HUMILIS, TORMENTI STRATUS ICTU LAPIDIS, TUMULATUS UT LEGITUR TITULO, CONDITUR HOC TUMULO” ([Here lies] the marschal Hugues Salomon du Quiliou, outstanding Grave of the Templar Hugues Salomon du Quiliou provider of the Knighthood of the Temple, fighting knight, powerful infantryman, merciless with his enemies and humble with his companions, overcome by the shock of a stone sent by a ballista, buried as it can be read on this inscription, [after] having been inhumed under this mound).

Another inscription, seen on an exquisite lintel found among the holdings of the Musée du Moyen Âge in Paris, provides one example of the type of close relationship that might have existed between communities of westerners living in the Latin East and their faith leaders. In this case, the engraving on the lintel in question memorialized the affection felt by the faithful of Tyre towards an un-named, deceased Archbishop. The Latin used is this epitaph is so refined and uncommon that it has led scholars to question whether the lintel was an ex-voto rather than a gravestone.

Epitaph of a Tyrian Archbishop

Unlike a grave memorial, the inscription on this stone would have served as a votive offering from the people or canons of Tyre and extended as a sign of gratitude for the deceased Archbishop. One possible recipient of this tribute etched in stone is the Archbishop Gilles de Saumur, who died in Europe in 1266 while preaching the Eighth Crusade, but whose links with the people of Tyre were so intense that in 1265, he declared his willingness to stay and die in Tyre once he returned home to the East.


Tombstone of Jean de Valenciennes

Another inscription that bears witness to the Frankish experience in the Latin East is found on the headstone of Jean de Valenciennes, now kept in the lapidary storage at St. Anne’s church in Jerusalem. Over the years, scholars have put forth several theories concerning the identity of Jean de Valenciennes. Contrary to previous assertions, current research suggests that he was neither a Frankish knight of the twelfth century, nor the lord of Haifa who took part in the Seventh Crusade and who died in 1270. Instead, a comparison of previously-neglected ecclesiastical sources leads us to identify him as a canon who lived in Acre during the first half of the thirteenth century.

Even with this more precise identification, his grave continues to mystify scholars, since the epitaph remains unfinished and, unlike most funerary inscriptions, is not preceded by a cross. As is the case with de Valenciennes’ epitaph, the inscription found on the grave of Hospitaller Thomas Mauzun (d.

Grave of the Hospitaller Thomas Mauzu (1275)

1275) also lacks an invocatory cross. In the case of Mauzun, we know that Muslim iconoclasm was responsible for the erasure of the cross, but scholars are uncertain why there is no cross on the tombstone of Jean de Valenciennes. The conquest of Jerusalem by the Khwarezmians in 1244 may provide an answer, but there are also two much simpler solutions: first, his executors may have been unable to pay for the entire cost of the headstone, so the stonecutter left the engraving unfinished; or second, the executors ultimately decided to send the corpse back to the county of Hainaut for final burial, and so therefore left the incomplete epitaph as it was. Despite the multiple abbreviations and the colored marble used for the Hospitaller’s gravestone, Thomas Mauzun’s date of death is easier to ascertain than that of de Valenciennes. According to the inscription, the Hospitaller, who was formerly the Order’s Commander of the Vault, passed away on the “first day of September of the year of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ 1275.” The tombstone keeps the form “Mauzu” which seems to indicate an Auvergnat origin for this Hospitaller brother. Clues from these sorts of inscriptions are helpful in reconstructing some of the demographic realities of life in the Latin East.

Tombstone of Gauthier Mainebeuf (1278)

This overview would be incomplete if we did not mention one of the most beautiful and touching legacies from the Holy Land found on the tombstone of the Frankish knight Gauthier Mainebeuf and acquired by the Louvre museum in the 19th century. Mainebeuf’s family came to the East with the lord Eudes de Montbéliard in the years 1210, and Gauthier’s tombstone was engraved with his family’s blazon by a skilled stonecutter in the days after his death on July 20, 1278. One month afterwards, a second stonecutter added the name of his widow, Alemanne, who seems to have died as well, brokenhearted at the loss of her husband.

Grave of Thomas de Bruyères

Members of the Mainebeuf lineage were considered Poulains, westerners who came to the east and settle there permanently, but other individuals also left traces of their more brief sojourns in the east. Among them were crusaders like the banneret Thomas III de Bruyères, who had been lord of Bruyères-le-Châtel, Lèves and who became lord of Puivert in Languedoc at the time of the Albigensian Crusade. He came east on crusade with Saint Louis in 1248, and according an obituary of the diocese of Chartres, died in Cyprus on January 17, 1249. His fragmentary grave is now preserved at the Museum of the Castle of Limassol. This repository also houses the

Gravestone of Francesco Acciaioli

gravestone of a Tuscan merchant who died on Cyprus one century later, and though the dead man’s name is Gallicized, we can easily recognize him as the nobleman Francesco Acciaioli, who was elected Gonfaloniere of Justice in Florence four times between the years 1326 and 1352. He was apparently the second son of Pietro Acciaioli and one of the major beneficiaries of the collapse of the Bardi and Peruzzi banking companies in 1345. At the time, his family employed three agents in Famagusta, and three others in the port of Rhodes.

Dedication of the Mint Tower of Tripoli

The few epitaphs listed here might offer readers a morbid view of Frankish epigraphy, but we should mention that the field is not limited to memorials for the dead. It also includes the study of the inscriptions found on civic structures, the most famous of which is the dedication engraved on the Mint Tower of Tripoli, discovered in the area near the harbor in 1928. Count Bohemond VI ordered the construction of a new mint at the end of the 1260s to replace the one in Antioch, which was destroyed by the Mamluks at that time. Even if this impressive stone monument, often called a stele, is damaged, the words carved upon it recall a lost civilization in much the same way that different inscriptions collected by pilgrims who visited the Holy Land bring that experience to life. The German pilgrim Theodorich, for instance, copied the dedication of the Holy Sepulcher made by PatriarchFoucher d’Angoulême in 1149, and other visitors recorded the epitaphs of the kings of Jerusalem before the destruction of their sarcophagi by the Khwarezmians in 1244. Once historians have collected, analyzed, and interpreted these engraved testimonies, we can more clearly hear the voices of the past which will certainly tell the story of the great cosmopolitan society of Outremer.


Claverie, Pierre-Vincent, « Les difficultés de l’épigraphie franque de Terre sainte aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles », Crusades, XII (2013), pp. 67-89.

Clermont-Ganneau, Charles, Recueil d’archéologie orientale, Paris, 1888-1924, 8 vol.

Imhaus, Brunehilde (dir.), Lacrimae Cypriae : Les larmes de Chypre ou Recueil des inscriptions lapidaires pour la plupart funéraires de la période franque et vénitienne de l’Île de Chypre, Nicosia, 2004, 2 vol.

Sandoli, Sabino De, Corpus Crucesignatorum Inscriptionum Terrae Sanctae (1099-1291), Jerusalem, 1974.