Post-classical history

Ager Sanguinis, Battle of (1119)

A battle fought in the Ruj Valley (Syria) in 1119 between the Franks of Antioch, under Roger of Salerno, and a Turkish coalition led by the Artûqid leader īlghāzi.

The name of the battle (Ager Sanguinis means “Field of Blood”) reflects its disastrous outcome for the Christian forces. The most detailed account of the fray was written by the chancellor of Antioch, Walter, who was an eyewitness to events. His account contrasts the defeat in 1119 with Roger’s successful campaign against the Turks in 1115, which had culminated in victory at Tell Danith. In 1119 īlghāzi had collected a large army, said to have numbered 40,000, to attack Antioch as part of a campaign to secure Aleppo for himself. It is likely that Roger’s earlier success at Tell Danith had made him overconfident: although he appealed for help from King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Count Pons of Tripoli when he heard of the threat, he did not wait for reinforcements to arrive, but on 20 June he led out the army of Antioch. īlghāzi was informed by his scouts of the Antiochene army’s weakness, and he decided on an immediate attack. He surrounded the enemy camp and Roger was forced to give battle. Few of his knights escaped the slaughter, and Roger himself was killed.

The Christian prisoners of war were treated with brutality both on the battlefield and in Aleppo: most of them were put to death in ways graphically described by Walter the Chancellor. However, the Turks did not follow up their victory as was undoubtedly expected. The principality of Antioch was effectively defenseless, with its army destroyed and its prince killed, but the Latin patriarch, Bernard of Valence, rallied the inhabitants and sent an urgent message to summon help from Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, īlghāzi devoted himself to celebrating his victory, so much so (his detractors reported) that he became ill. This gave time for Baldwin to bring up his troops. He consulted Patriarch Bernard and Roger’s widow, Cecilia (Baldwin’s sister), and it was decided that the king of Jerusalem would act as regent of the principality during the minority of the acknowledged heir, Bohemund II, who was a boy of ten and still in Italy. Baldwin then brought the Turks to battle at Hab (1119); the outcome was ambiguous, but it ended the Turkish threat for the near future.

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