Crusader Shipwreck, Likely From the Siege of Acre, Discovered

The boat in the Bay of Haifa included ceramics and a stash of gold coins

Siege of Acre
"The Siege of Acre," Dominique Papety, c. 1840 Wikimedia Commons

Researchers recently discovered a sunken ship in Israel’s Bay of Haifa. The wreck was likely helmed by Crusaders fleeing the Siege of Acre in 1291. According to Sarah Pruitt at, radio-carbon dating of the ship puts it between 1062 and 1250. A stash of 30 gold florins minted in the Italian Republic of Florence in the last half of the 13th century also help to date the wreck.

Ehud Galili and Michal Artzy from Haifa University led a team of archaeologists who discovered the shipwreck in the Bay, Philippe Bohstrom reports for Haaretz. While only bits of the hull, keel and planking remain, researchers uncovered ceramics from Cyprus, Syria and southern Italy, as well as iron nails and ship artifacts like anchors. They also found the cache of gold coins.

Since the 1990s, archaeologists have been excavating the Crusader city of Acre, which had been hidden—and remarkably well-preserved—underneath the 18th-century Ottoman city that still stands to this day. In 2011, the Associated Press reported that Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of excavations called the walled medieval port city "one of the most exciting sites in the world of archaeology."

As Pruitt explains, European crusaders first captured the city of Jerusalem in 1099. Then in 1187, Saladin, the political and military leader of the Muslim forces during the Crusades, successfully pushed the Europeans out of the Holy City. The city of Acre, located on the north end of the present-day Bay of Haifa, then served as a base of operations and powerful trading center for Christian Crusaders.

But by the late 13th century, the Europeans power in the region was on the wane. In 1291 the Mamluks, who now ruled over Egypt, marched against the city of Acre, pushing the Crusaders out of the region.

Jamie Seidel at reports that historical accounts describe chaotic scenes of evacuation for escaping Europeans. Wealthy citizens bribed owners of small boats to take them to waiting ships in the harbor that would carry them to Venice. Many of them didn’t make it, and instead drowned in the harbor. 

It is believed that the newly discovered sunken ship, which was loaded with trade goods and gold, could have been carrying fleeing Crusaders. Seidel reports that it's also possible the wreck could have been a boat sent by Henry II of Cyprus, a Christian king who sent 40 ships full of reinforcements to Acre during the siege. His forces were also forced to flee, more or less ending the era of the Crusaders in the Holy Land.

In the city itself, knights barricaded themselves in the castle of the Templars, holding off the Mamluks for several days until the Egyptians dug tunnels under the castle, toppling it. To make sure the Crusaders did not return, the Mamluks then dismantled the city and the harbor. It was not until several centuries later until the Ottoman city was built on its ruins.

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