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John of Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut

For other people with this name, see John of Ibelin.

John of Ibelin (c. 1179-1236), the "Old Lord of Beirut," was a powerful crusader noble in the 13th century. He was the son of Balian, Lord of Nablus and Ibelin, and Maria Comnena, widow of Amalric I of Jerusalem.

By 1198 he had become constable of Jerusalem; the fact that he was the half-brother of Isabella, Queen of Jerusalem gave him considerable influence. At the time he was a vassal of Ralph of Tiberias, who was exiled from the kingdom after being accused of attempting to assassinate king Amalric II. John attempted to mediate but Amalric would not back down.

Sometime before 1205 John relinquished the office of constable in exchange for the lordship of Beirut, which became the home of the Ibelin family for the rest of the century. He rebuilt the city, which had been completely destroyed during Saladin's conquest of the kingdom, and constructed an opulent palace. Beirut was effectively an independent state under his rule; in 1207 John added Arsuf to his territory through his marriage to Melisende of Arsuf. From 1205 to 1210 John also served as regent in Acre, the new capital of the kingdom, for Maria of Montferrat, Isabella's daughter. As regent, John helped arrange the marriage of Amalric IIís son Hugh I of Cyprus to Alice of Champagne, daughter of Amalricís predecessor as king of Jerusalem, Henry II of Champagne. In 1210 he also helped arrange Mariaís marriage to John of Brienne, who was suggested by king Philip II of France.

By 1217 John and his brother Philip of Ibelin seem to have made their way to the Kingdom of Cyprus and to have become involved its politics. They had apparently alienated themselves from John of Brienne, but the two represented Cyprus at a council in Acre, which met to plan for the arrival of the Fifth Crusade. When Hugh I died in 1218, Philip became regent until his own death in 1228, after which John took over the same office. Although Philip and John were closely related to Hugh I, they were opposed on Cyprus by supporters of the Lusignan family, of which Hugh was also a member; his uncle Guy and father Amalric and were the first two kings of Cyprus.

Later in 1228, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II arrived in Cyprus on the Sixth Crusade. Frederick was married to Isabella II, John of Brienneís daughter, and he attempted to claim the kingship of Jerusalem and the overlordship of Cyprus, as well as John of Ibelinís lordship of Beirut, which John naturally refused. John was deposed and the island was placed under imperial control, but he resisted with military force, and outside Nicosia on July 14, 1229, he defeated the imperial bailiffs that Frederick had left on the island after returning home in April. Frederick sent an army to the east in 1231, under the marshal of the Empire, which attempted to invade Cyprus. John was able to repel the invasion, but the imperial fleet sailed to Beirut, which they besieged and almost captured. The marshal, Riccardo Filangieri, was able to establish himself in Jerusalem and Tyre, which he had regained by treaty in 1229, but not in Beirut or the capital in Acre.

In Acre, Johnís supporters formed a commune, of which John himself was elected mayor when he arrived in 1232. The Commune of Acre was able to relieve the siege of Beirut, but in Johnís absence from Cyprus, the supporters of the Lusignans took control. In any case Henry I of Cyprus came of age in the same year and Johnís regency was no longer necessary. When Henry I succeeded to the throne, both John and Riccardo immediately raced back to Cyprus, where the imperial forces were defeated in battle on June 15. Henry was now undisputed king of Cyprus; he was, however, a supporter of the Ibelins over the Lusignans and Johnís family remained influential.

Riccardo still in control of Jerusalem and Tyre, and had the support of Bohemund IV of Antioch, the Teutonic Knights, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Pisan merchants. John was supported by his nobles on Cyprus, and in his continental holdings in Beirut, Caesarea, and Arsuf, as well as by the Knights Templar and the Genoese merchant community. Neither side could make any headway, and in 1234 Pope Gregory IX excommunicated John and his supporters. This was partly revoked in 1235, but still no peace could be made.

Meanwhile John and the Hospitallers went on campaign against the Muslims in 1236. John died during the campaign after his horse fell on him and crushed him.

John was married twice. His first wife was Helvis of Nephin, and in 1207 he married Melisende, Lady of Arsuf. With Melisende had two sons, Balian (d. 1247), who succeeded him as Lord of Beirut, and John (c. 1211-1258), lord of Arsuf and constable of Jerusalem. Balian's son was also named John, and inherited Beirut; he is often called John II to distinguish him from his grandfather, the "Old Lord." John, lord of Arsuf, had a son, also named Balian, who married Plaisance of Antioch.


  • Peter W. Edbury, John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Boydell Press, 1997.
  • J.L. La Monte, "John of Ibelin. The Old Lord of Beirut, 1177-1236." Byzantion, xii, 1947.
  • Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174-1277. MacMillan Press, 1973.
Last updated: 06-04-2005 19:41:45
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