The Smart and Sweet Crusaders
By Fr. Cristobal Vilaroig
In 1099 the Crusaders entered the Holy City and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thousands of Europeans came to the newly created kingdom in search of a new life. They would bring some of their customs that would transform this land. Their imposing buildings are well known, castles such as Montfort or churches such as the Holy Sepulchre. One aspect that is not talked about so much is the sugar industry.
Human beings have always shown a weakness for sweetness. It looks like it was in India that they came up with the idea of refining certain substances such as sugar cane juice to produce a kind of “sweet salt” that could “season” food.
In Palestine, sugar was already known when the Crusaders arrived. However, it was not enough for them to enjoy this marvelous substance. Putting all their skills to work and using the technology they brought from their native Europe, they improved the production techniques and created a thriving industry.
Some medieval authors bear witness to this. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence of this industry in several places all around Galilee. Since 2002 we have known that Magdala was also one of these sugar centers; since that year, in the course of archaeological excavations, a large group of jars for molasses and sugar pots from the Crusaders’ period were found.
There is no doubt that also the rough crusaders occasionally showed their sweet side. For them, the Magdala of the Fish had become the Magdala of sugar.