“Adversarial Camaraderie” at the Siege of Acre: Archery and Wrestling Competitions

Professor John D. Hosler’s fascinating book on the siege of Acre during the Third Crusade provides a brief, but interesting, consideration of the interactions that sometimes took place between combatants during the siege. Regardless of the violence of the siege, Hosler notes that “the spaces between the ramparts…were not necessarily a zone of death.” The shared experience that Muslim and Christians troops who took part in the lengthy and bloody siege (lasting from 1189-1191) could sometimes lead to “noticeable expressions of respect, and even an adversarial camaraderie.” Hosler describes two examples found in the sources.

The first includes a contest of skill between Christian and Muslim archers. Hosler notes:

In one instance, a Muslim archer called Grair challenged a Welshman named Mardoc to a duel, in which each would take turns in loosing arrows at the other. This duel- which the Welshman won- took place after a whole host of archers and slingers who been lobbing missiles at each other ‘for amusement and practice.’

Hosler, Siege of Acre, p. 60

Then Hosler describes a fascinating wrestling match between Christians and Muslims. One can almost imaging the setting as both sides, exhausted by the lengthy siege and its effects, cheered for their champions.

In another case, a wrestling match was arranged between two young Muslims from Acre and two young Christians. One of the Christians was pinned and became a prisoner, but another crusader ransomed him for two dinars.

Hosler, Siege of Acre, p. 60

Hosler notes that these stories “demonstrate the humanity of a shared hostile experience. Despite the elevated religious tensions and copious violence at the siege of Acre, respectful and even friendly interactions with the enemy were not beyond the realm of possibility.” p. 61

While reading this section in Hosler’s book, I was particularly drawn to the wrestling episode. As a fairly decent former high school wrestler who then served in the U.S. Marine Corps, I recall instances in my youth, whether in boot camp on later on, where I would wrestle, box, or fight with pugil sticks on behalf of my unit or platoon against another Marine from another unit or platoon. They could be raucous affairs, with both sides screaming “Kick his ass!” and the like, and a lot of pressure put on one to perform well so as not to let down their fellow warriors. It’s an intense experience once the dust begins to fly. I can only imagine how much more intense the experience would be if the loser were to become the slave of the side he lost to, which was nearly the case for Hosler’s wrestling crusader.

Hosler’s book, by Yale University Press, not only provides an important scholarly contribution to our understanding of the Third Crusade, but also provides many fascinating anecdotes like the ones I describe above.


*For a good sense of the intensity that goes into these sorts of exhausting one on one engagements in a military setting see the videos below.