Post-classical history

THE FOURTH CRUSADE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The actions of those elements of the Fourth Crusade that travelled the Middle East were militarily less successful than the conquest of Constantinople, though perhaps more honourable. Traditionally it was thought that very few members of this crusade reached the Holy Land in 1203, but that their actions nevertheless helped stabilize and even slightly extend the frontiers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. More recent research suggests that over half those knights who took the cross in the Ile-de-France, but less than a tenth of those from Flanders, arrived in Acre. This would probably have amounted to a force of around 300 knights, plus a larger number of sergeants and other followers.

They found a somewhat confusing state of affairs. In fact the War of the Antioch Succession, having been in abeyance, had suddenly flared up late in 1202 when King Leo of Cilician Armenia reopened hostilities. This was followed by a serious Armenian raid into the fertile Jisr al-Hadid (Iron Bridge) area of the Principality of Antioch. Since then the local leadership had struggled to solve the question of the Antioch succession before the anticipated arrival of the main crusading army. These efforts involved the papal legate Soffred of Pisa sailing to Antioch, as well as Amaury the nominal King of Jerusalem, the Masters of both the Templars and the Hospitallers, local and newly arrived barons including Stephen de Perche and Marcia of Hungary, plus an envoy sent by Boniface of Montferrat from outside Constantinople. But, despite their status, they nevertheless failed to achieve peace.

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A carved relief showing the martyrdom of Sts Fuscien, Victoric and Gentian on their tomb in Sains-en-Amienois, with typical early 13th-century northern-French military equipment. (Author’s photograph)

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The view from the Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers across a fertile region that was often raided during the early 13th century. Beyond the hills lay the powerful Islamic city of Hims. (Author’s photograph)

As if this was not frustrating enough for the enthusiastic Crusaders, the Kingdom of Jerusalem currently had a truce with its Ayyubid neighbours in Damascus and Egypt, so offensive action was not permitted on these fronts. There seems to have been no truce farther north, where the County of Tripoli and the Hospitaller garrison of Crac des Chevaliers were involved in low-intensity warfare with neighbouring Ayyubid garrisons. On 16 May 1203 this erupted into a major clash near Ba’rin (Montferrand) between Hospitallers and troops from Tripoli on one side and the Muslim garrison of Ba’albak on the other, with victory going to the Muslims. The Hospitaller castle of Montferrand itself had been lost to Saladin at the end of the 12th century. There was another significant clash on 3 June, which the Muslims again won, though the Sultan of Hims remained in the field with his army, fearing another Christian attack.

According to the Arab chronicler Ibn Wasil, after this defeat the Hospitallers asked their Templar rivals to intercede on their behalf but the Ayyubid Sultan of Hims refused to make peace. The fact that those Crusaders who wanted to fight nevertheless did not get involved in this particular confrontation suggests that Count Bohemond IV, who ruled both Tripoli And Antioch, told them to back off. Frustrated, the Flemish leader Jean de Nesle went by sea to offer his services to King Leo of Cilicia, while Renard II of Dampierre, a high-ranking knight from Champagne, headed up the coast with the intention of offering his support to the garrison of Antioch.

The precise date of Renard’s journey is unknown, though the renowned French historian Claude Cahen thought it was probably in May 1203, around the time of the battle at Ba’rin. It may, however, have been some months later, following angry arguments in Tripoli. More than 80 knights and a substantial number of infantry set out, perhaps to strengthen the position of the papal legate Soffred of Pisa rather than to take an active role in hostilities. Unfortunately Renard II of Dampierre ignored the advice of the governor of Jabal, the first Muslim town they reached along the coastal road, who had pointed out that the Ayyubid realms were currently in a state of some confusion, with truces sometimes being adhered to and sometimes not. The next town up the coast, Lattakia, was not apparently covered by any truce, so the governor of Jabal suggested that the travellers send messengers to Aleppo to get safe passage from Sultan al-Zahir of Aleppo, the overall ruler of the region. Unfortunately, the Crusaders considered they were strong enough to fight off any attack, and so pressed on. They were promptly ambushed by troops from Lattakia, several of the Christians being killed while others were captured, including Renard II of Dampierre.

The Fourth Crusade in the Middle East

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Renard seems to have been held in Aleppo and freed late in 1203, apparently after the Hospitallers paid for most or all of his ransom. Jean de Villers and several other senior captives, including Godfrey of Guise and Bartholomew of Mézières, were probably held in Lattakia, perhaps being released later after military threats against this city by the nearby Hospitaller garrisons of Marqab and Crac des Chevaliers. They were certainly back in the Kingdom of Jerusalem by 1206, where their gifts to their local Hospitaller commanders were recorded. Two years later Godfrey of Guise is known to have been home in France.

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The carvings around the western door of the Cathedral of St Lawrence in Trogir, on the Dalmatian coast, were made a few decades after the Fourth Crusade. (Author’s photograph)

In October 1203, while these overconfident Crusaders were languishing in jail, a truce was at last agreed between the Hospitallers and the Sultan of Hims. However, the War of the Antioch Succession continued and on 11 November a small force of Cilician troops broke into Antioch, resulting in street fighting within the city. Another cause of dissension was the frontier castle of Baghras, which was claimed by both Cilician Armenia and the Principality of Antioch. Arguments about its possession still raged in July 1204. By then however, the truce between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Ayyubid Sultan al-‘Adil had either come to an end or had broken down. In May 1204 a fleet of Crusader ships had sailed up the Rashid (Rosetta) branch of the river Nile, reaching deep into the Egyptian Delta to attack the little town of Fuwa. During that summer some Muslim ships retaliated, attacking Christian vessels off the coast of Cyprus, though apparently without authorization from al-‘Adil. This prompted Christian galleys to seize six Muslim ships off the Palestinian coast.

A real war now seemed imminent, and some time after 10 September the Kingdom of Jerusalem declared that the truce with Damascus was also over. A substantial Christian force, almost certainly including members of the Fourth Crusade, attacked Muslim territory in Gallilee. Ibn al-Athir recorded these events but did not consider them very significant:

A large crowd of the Franks came out from overseas to Syria. Their mission was facilitated by their seizure of Constantinople… After their halt at Acre, they marched and looted several Muslim areas in the vicinity of (the river) Jordan… Al-Malik al-‘Adil was in Damascus. He ordered his forces to muster in Syrian and Egyptian lands. He marched and camped at al-Tur near Acre… The Franks came out to meadows beyond Acre and raided Kafr Kanna near Nazareth. They took the inhabitants captive and confiscated their wealth. The amirs were urging al-‘Adil to raid and plunder their domains, but he did not.

Clearly, al-‘Adil still wanted to avoid a full-scale confrontation, or perhaps plague had already broken out in the crowded Crusader city. It certainly did so shortly afterwards, killing half of the newly arrived Crusader knights. Al-‘Adil was also prepared to compromise, agreeing a renewed truce and even handing over a small (but significant) amount of land to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. These territories consisted of Nazareth and parts of the governorates of Ramla, Lydda and Sidon. Al-‘Adil then returned to Egypt, which enabled the Crusaders to turn against the Muslim frontier city of Hama, which was not covered by the truce. Its ruler, al-Mansur, went out to face them in battle, probably in August 1204, but was badly beaten. After pursuing Sultan al-Mansur back to Hama, the Crusaders again defeated the city militia outside their walls.

Thus the Fourth Crusade came to an end in the Middle East as it already had in Constantinople. Even here its limited successes had been a result of Muslim weakness rather than Crusader strength. Al-‘Adil was, in fact, currently in a difficult position. Several of his senior commanders were disloyal, his control over much of Syria was fragile and he still had not settled matters with the rival Muslim ruler of Mosul in northern Iraq. Probably fearing another larger Crusader attack on the Nile Delta following that of May 1204, he chose to seek peace on the best terms available. Furthermore, there was a famine in Egypt, compounding the Ayyubid ruler’s shaky economic and financial position. Far to the south in Yemen, in the most distant of Ayyubid realms, the governors had been in trouble since 1201 and did not regain full control until 1214. Indeed, for the Muslims of the Middle East, the Fourth Crusade had been little more than a sideshow. For the Byzantines, of course, it had been a catastrophe.

5 ‘Crusade Song XIX’, in J. Linskill, The Poems of the Troubadour Raimbault de Vaqueiras (The Hague, 1964) p. 220.

6 Clari, Robert de (ed. Edward N. Stone), Three Old French Chronicles of the Crusades (Seattle, 1939).

7 Choniates, Nicetas (tr. H. J. Magoulias), O City of Byzantium, Annals of Nicetas Choniates (Detroit, 1984) pp. 296–97.

8 Ibid., p. 297.

9 Pryor, J. H., ‘The Chain of the Golden Horn, 5–7 July 1203’ in I. Shagrir (ed.), In Laudem Hierosolymitani: Studies in Crusades and Medieval Culture in Honour of Benjamin Z. Kedar (Aldershot, 2007) p. 377.

10 Linskill, J., The Poems of the Troubadour Raimbault de Vaqueiras (The Hague, 1964) p. 310.

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