Domestic Settings: Sources on Domestic Architecture and Day-to-Day Activities in the Crusader States. By A. Boas. Brill. 2010. xxvii + 393pp. €140.00/$199.00.


One of the first images to come to anyone's mind when considering the crusades to the Latin east is that of the enormous castles – Crac des Chevaliers in particular – which so characterize this period in Middle Eastern history. The magnificence of these fortresses is matched only by the scale of the interest they have received from archaeologists and historians. Other aspects of crusader architecture have also received significant attention, most prominently the churches of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, which have been painstakingly recorded by Denys Pringle. Recently, however, the studies on these great landmarks of crusading archaeology have been supplemented and expanded by works on rural settlements, daily life and industry, which have helped to construct a more detailed picture of the Latin eastern landscape. This movement is reflected in Boas's own publications, including his monographs Crusader Archaeology (1999), Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades (2001) and Archaeology of the Military Orders (2006). In these works he opens new avenues for research on well-known subjects, i.e. military architecture, whilst considering the perhaps less glamorous – but no less suggestive – topics of urban and rural properties and day-to-day living.

Domestic Settings marks a significant expansion on elements of Boas's earlier work, drawing together and presenting a vast corpus of information – whether in architecture, material remains and documentary evidence – on various aspects of daily life in the kingdom of Jerusalem. In some cases it is clear that every last scrap of evidence has been drawn together for the more obscure subjects. Structurally, this study works through those aspects of domestic life that can be described to any degree from the surviving evidence. The first three chapters consider the construction, design and influences on Frankish building in the Levant. The following eight chapters then cover the purpose and design of specific rooms, such as bedrooms and dining space, as well as the provision of facilities, such as water supply and sewerage, and gardens and stabling. The next three chapters cover the related topics of neighbourhoods, streets, living conditions and property values. These chapters are then supported by appendices (consisting of ‘a typology of Frankish houses’ (pp. 249–60), a ‘gazetteer of archaeologically recorded domestic sites’ (pp. 261–360) and ‘analyses of plaster and mortar from Frankish sites’ (pp. 361–2)) and a detailed glossary. As Boas is at pains to point out in the introduction, these are not subjects that have received anything but the most superficial treatment in the past. Indeed, with the exception of some aspects of his own earlier work, the existing coverage on many of these areas is about as close to zero as any area can be in the crowded field of crusading studies, rendering this work a truly groundbreaking study.

In each of these chapters, Boas draws together a considerable amount of material on the given subject, creating typologies in many places. An example of this is his discussion of domestic designs where he works through the various different forms of Frankish architecture in both urban and rural environments. These accounts often include ideas or details which give an insight into the wider mentality and changing situation of the Franks during this period. One particularly striking example can be found in chapter 14 where Boas offers a comparison of housing costs in Latin and Egyptian cities, demonstrating that rents were often higher in the Frankish coastal cities – a consequence of overcrowding. This chapter, which tabulates a great deal of statistical data concerning wages and accommodation costs, also provides discussion on the subject of currency exchange rates in the Latin east which, as the author points out, is an area much in need of attention.

In addition to charting these various aspects of Frankish life, Domestic Settings contributes to the far wider questions surrounding the degree to which the Levantine Franks adopted the practices of those already living in the east. This is naturally a major area of interest in crusading historiography and Boas looks at the degree to which the Franks adopted local building techniques and lifestyles. His engagement with this question begins at the outset and in chapter 1 there is a brief outline of common practices and trends in the construction of contemporary Byzantine, Frankish and Islamic domestic space. This is seemingly designed to set a benchmark for the findings revealed in the subsequent chapters. Of these outlines, the material on Islamic architecture is the most comprehensive, the section on Byzantium the most brief. In subsequent chapters, Levantine Frankish practices are then compared against these norms. The findings from this analysis identify some significant developments, including the Frankish adoption of the Islamic custom of constructing houses around a courtyard, and also those practices that were carried across from Europe – such as the introduction of fireplaces. In general this work describes a Frankish population gradually assimilating to a different cultural and physical environment. It is, however, pointed out in the conclusion that any changes introduced by the Franks did not long survive the fall of the Latin east in 1291.

Overall, this is a study that lays the foundations not merely for a new idea or argument, but for a new zone of research. It is not difficult to envisage in the coming years that Domestic Settings will become the foundational study for future investigations into this area. The field of domestic architecture in the Latin east is clearly still emerging, but this work provides a solid beginning which draws together what is already known and can be built upon by future findings, whether documentary or archaeological. For those who are concerned with other questions regarding the Latin east it is hard to think of any field of study for which this work would not provide an extremely valuable source of contextual material.

  • Nottingham Trent University

  • Nicholas Morton