Join Amazon Prime - Watch Thousands of Movies & TV Shows Anytime - Start Free Trial Now

The 'Melisende Psalter'

Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem) between 1131 and 1143

Upper Cover

A larger black and white image of the Upper Cover of The 'Melisende Psalter', Jerusalem

A detail of David and Goliath on the Ivory Cover of the 'Melisende Psalter', Jerusalem, 1131-1143AD. British Library Egerton 1139.

In the roundels:
David kills a lionDavid annointed by Samuel
David fights GoliathDavid receiving the show bread and Goliath’s sword from Abimelech (Doeg behind)
Murder of the priests and women of Nob   David playing a harp with musicians Ethan, Iduthin, Asaph and Eman
To the upper right of 'David and Goliath' is 'Pride slain by Humility'; to its lower right is 'Fortitude slaying Avarice'.

Referenced on p.7, God's Warriors, Knights Templar, Saracens and the Battle for Jerusalem by Helen Nicholson & David Nicolle
The ivory cover of Queen Melisende's Psalter, made in Jerusalem AD 1131-43. It symbolizes the King of Jerusalem's claim to rule as King David's successor. The warriors reflect Byzantine or Islamic arms and armour, particularly 'Fortitude' who slays' Avarice' below and to the right of 'David and Goliath'.

The scene between the lower four roundels is referenced on p.20 WAR - 118 Byzantine Infantryman, Eastern Roman Empire c.900-1024 by Timothy Dawson
Despite all the anti-Constantinople rhetoric that appears in Frankish sources, the residents of the crusader states recognized the vastly superior cultural sophistication of the Eastern Roman Empire and constantly looked to it for example in both civilian matters and military. The psalter made for Queen Melisende of Jerusalem in the 12th century embodies this strikingly. This detail of the carved ivory front cover shows a man clad in the basic equipment of a Roman infantryman, extending back as far as the 7th century - a conical spangenhelm and a hooded zava (arming tunic) quilted in a typically Byzantine manner.
(British Museum)

Referenced on pp.277-8, Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era, 1050-1350, Western Europe and the Crusader States by David Nicolle
729A-C Ivory cover of Queen Melisende's Psalter, Palestine, early 12th century
(British Museum, London, England)

A - Goliath; B - Pride slain by Humility; C - Fortitude slaying Avarice. An interesting variety of arms and armour is shown on this ivory book cover, and it might be possible to guess why particular styles are given to particular figures. Both Goliath (A) and Pride (B) seem to wear armour in Byzantine style, perhaps reflecting a current coolness in Crusader-Byzantine relations. These two armours are probably very stylised, even archaised, and seem to consist of mail jerkins with splinted upper-arm protections. Pride is the most Byzantine of all, having a splinted skirt, a helmet with some form of non-mail aventail, a sword hung from a guige, and a small round shield. Goliath is less Byzantine in appearance and may be an attempt to show certain Middle Eastern Islamic fashions. His mail shirt includes a coif and could be intended to extend beneath his kilt. His large kite-shaped shield, however, looks Western European. The figure of Fortitude (C) is a paradox. One would have expected him to be shown as a typical Western European Crusader, but here he almost certainly wears a substantial lamellar cuirass. Similar but far from identical armours are seen in Norman southern Italy at roughly the same date. Could the giving of lamellar to Fortitude betray a reluctant admiration for the 'infidel' Turks on the part of the artist? (The high regard in which these warriors were held by their Crusader foes is clear in many historical accounts of the First Crusade.) Or perhaps he is dressed as an Armenian warrior. Melisende, the original owner of this psalter, was the daughter of an Armenian princess, Morphia, who was in turn daughter of Gabriel of Malatya and wife of King Baldwin of Jerusalem. She also did a great deal to improve relations between the Catholic Crusaders and the local Armenians and other Christian communities.

Next: Betrayal, the 'Melisende Psalter', Jerusalem, 1131-1143AD. British Library Egerton 1139.
Back to The 'Melisende Psalter', Jerusalem, 1131-1143AD. British Library Egerton 1139.

Other representations of female Vices and Virtues in Psychomachia (Conflict Of The Soul') by Prudentius'
See also King David, musicians and soldiers in the Vivian Bible, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latine 1, folio 215v, 845-851AD
David playing his harp, Ethan juggles knives & balls, musicians are Iduthin playing a fiddle and Asaph and Eman with trumpets, in the Tiberius Psalter, British Library Cotton Tiberius C VI, Winchester, England, c.1050