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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Acre, Palestine

ACRE, ` Akka, or ST Jean D'Acre, the chief town of a governmental district of Palestine which includes Haifa, Nazareth and Tiberias. It stands on a low promontory at the northern extremity of the Bay of Acre, 80 m. N. N.W. from Jerusalem, and 25 m. S. of Tyre. The population is about 11,000; 8000 being Moslems, the remainder Christians, Jews, &c. It was long regarded as the "Key of Palestine," on account of its commanding position on the shore of the broad plain that joins the inland plain of Esdraelon, and so affords the easiest entrance to the interior of the country. But trade is now passing over to Haifa, at the south side of the bay, as its harbour offers a safer roadstead, and is a regular calling .place for steamers. Business, rapidly declining, is still carried on in wheat, maize, oil, sesame, &c., in the town market. There are few buildings of interest, owing to the frequent destructions the town has undergone. The wall, which is now ruinous and has but one gate, dates from the crusaders: the mosque was built by Jezzar Pasha (d. 1804) from materials taken from Caesarea Palaestina: his tomb is within. Acre is the seat of the head of the Babist religion.


Few towns have had a more chequered or calamitous history. Of great antiquity, it is probably to be identified with the Aak of the tribute-lists of Tethmosis (Thothmes) III. ( c. 1500 B.C.), and it is certainly the Akka of the Tell el-Amarna correspondence. To the Hebrews it was known as Acco (' Re- vised Version spelling), but it is mentioned only once in the Old Testament, namely Judges i. 31, as one of the places from which the Israelites did not drive out the Canaanite inhabitants. Theoretically it was in the territory of the tribe of Asher, and Josephus assigns it by name to the district of one of Solomon's provincial governors. Throughout the period of Hebrew domination, however, its political connexions were always with Syria rather than with Palestine proper: thus, about 725 B.C. it joined Sidon and Tyre in a revolt against Shalmaneser IV. It had a stormy experience during the three centuries preceding the Christian era. The Greek historians name it Ake (Josephus calls it also Akre); but the name was changed to Ptolemais, probably by Ptolemy Soter, after the partition of the kingdom of Alexander. Strabo refers to the city as once a rendezvous for the Persians in their expeditions against Egypt. About 165 B.C. Simon Maccabaeus defeated the Syrians in many battles in Galilee, and drove them into Ptolemais. About 153 B.C. Alexander Balas, son of Antiochus Epiphanes, contesting the Syrian crown with Demetrius, seized the city, which opened its gates to him. Demetrius offered many bribes to the Maccabees to obtain Jewish support against his rival, including the revenues of Ptolemais for the benefit of the Temple, but in vain. Jonathan threw in his lot with Alexander, and in 150 B.C. he was received by him with great honour in Ptolemais. Some years later, however, Tryphon, an officer of the Syrians, who had grown suspicious of the Maccabees, enticed Jonathan into Ptolemais and there treacherously took him prisoner. The city was also assaulted and captured by Alexander Jannaeus, by Cleopatra and by Tigranes. Here Herod built a gymnasium, and here the Jews met Petronius, sent to set up statues of the emperor in the Temple, and persuaded him to turn back. St Paul spent a day in Ptolemais. The Arabs captured the city in A.D. 638, and lost it to the crusaders in I110. The latter made the town their chief port in Palestine. It was re-taken by Saladin in 1187, besieged by Guy de Lusignan in 1189 (see below), and again captured by Richard Cceur de Lion in 1191. In 1229 it was placed under the control of the knights of St John (whence one of its alternative names), but finally lost by the Franks in 1291. The Turks under Sultan Selim I. captured the city in 1517, after which it fell into almost total decay. Maundrell in 1697 found it a complete ruin, save for a khan occupied by some French merchants, a mosque and a few poor cottages. Towards the end of the 18th century it seems to have revived under the comparatively beneficent rule of Dhahar el-Amir, the local sheikh: his successor, Jezzar Pasha, governor of Damascus, improved and fortified it, but by heavy imposts secured for himself all the benefits derived from his improvements. About 1780 Jezzar peremptorily banished the French trading colony, in spite of protests from the French government, and refused to receive a consul. In 1799 Napoleon, in pursuance of his scheme for raising a Syrian rebellion against Turkish domination, appeared before Acre, but after a siege of two months (March - May) was repulsed by the Turks, aided by Sir W. Sidney Smith and a force of British sailors. Jezzar was succeeded on his death by his son Suleiman, under whose milder rule the town advanced in prosperity till 1831, when Ibrahim Pasha besieged and reduced the town and destroyed its buildings. On the 4th of November 1840 it was bombarded by the allied British, Austrian and French squadrons, and in the following year restored to Turkish rule.

Battle of Acre

The battle of 1189, fought on the ground to the west of Acre, affords a good example of battles of the Crusades. The crusading army under Guy of Lusignan, king of Jerusalem, which was besieging Acre, gave battle on the 4th of October 1189 to the relieving army which Saladin had collected. The Christian army consisted of the feudatories of the kingdom of Jerusalem, numerous small contingents of European crusaders and the military orders, and contingents from Egypt, Turkestan, Syria and Mesopotamia fought under Saladin. The Saracens lay in a semicircle west of the town facing inwards towards Acre. The Christians opposed them with crossbowmen in first line and the heavy cavalry in second. At Arsuf the Christians fought coherently; here the battle began with a disjointed combat between the Templars and Saladin's right wing. The crusaders were so far successful that the enemy had to send up reinforcements from other parts of the field. Thus the steady advance of the Christian centre against Saladin's own corps, in which the crossbows prepared the way for the charge of the men-at-arms, met with no great resistance. But the victors scattered to plunder. Saladin rallied his men, and, when the Christians began to retire with their booty, let loose his light horse upon them. No connected resistance was offered, and the Turks slaughtered the fugitives until checked by the fresh troops of the Christian right wing. Into this fight Guy's reserve, charged with holding back the Saracens in Acre, was also drawn, and, thus freed, 5000 men sallied out from the town to the northward; uniting with the Saracen right wing, they fell upon the Templars, who suffered severely in their retreat. In the end the crusaders repulsed the relieving army, but only at the cost of 7000 men. (R. A. S. M.)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Acre, Palestine'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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