Post-classical history

Antioch, Sieges of (1097-1098)

Two consecutive sieges of the city of Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) during the First Crusade (1096-1099). In the course of these sieges, the crusaders invested and captured the Turkish-held city (20 October 1097-3 June 1098) but were then themselves besieged by a relieving Turkish army, which they defeated four weeks later (2-28 June 1098).

The crusaders seem always to have recognized the importance of Antioch: Stephen of Blois, one of their leaders, wrote to his wife from Nicaea (mod. Iznik, Turkey) that they were only five weeks’ march from Jerusalem, “unless Antioch resists us” [Heinrich Hagenmeyer, Epistulae et chartae ad historiam primi belli sacri spectantes (Innsbruck: Wagner’sche Universitats-Buchhandlung, 1901), 140]. The hope of speedy progress sprang from their knowledge of the fragmentation of the Saljūq sultanate after the death of Tutush I, ruler of Syria (1095), which left his territories divided between his sons Ridwān at Aleppo and Duqāq at Damascus. Their rivalry enabled men like Yaghisiyan, Saljūq governor of Antioch, to enjoy great independence, while the sultan, Barkyāruq (1095-1105), was viewed with deep suspicion by all the powers of Syria.

The crusaders could count on support from the Armenian lands to the north, east, and west that they had liberated during their march, a process solidified when Baldwin of Boulogne seized Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey)in March 1098. An English fleet had captured St. Symeon, the port for Antioch, and Laodikeia in Syria, a major maritime city to the south, establishing close connections with Byzantine Cyprus that would serve as a supply base throughout the siege. When a Genoese fleet put into St. Symeon on 17 November, the skills and equipment it brought enabled the army to build a fortified bridge of boats across the river Orontes and a fortress called Malregard to protect their camp north of the city. On 4 March 1098, another English fleet arrived, enabling the besiegers to build the crucial Mahommeries Tower, which blockaded the Bridge Gate. Yet, when the crusade first reached Antioch, the idea was floated (perhaps by the imperial representative, Tatikios) of a distant blockade, the method used when the Byzantines reconquered it from the Arab Hamdānid dynasty in 969. However, the crusaders rejected this idea, probably because of the need to keep the army together, and established themselves along the north wall in front of the gates between Mount Staurin and the Bridge Gate. Communications with St. Symeon were precarious, depending on the bridge of boats and subject to attack from the Bridge Gate.

Although the Western sources present the siege as a noble and continuous struggle, it was effectively a close blockade, probably punctuated by a series of truces, and there was never a general assault. The crusader army had suffered badly crossing Asia Minor, and its cavalry was reduced to about 700 in number. It had been attacked from enemy outposts to the north and feared relief expeditions. By December 1097 the army was starving and a foraging expedition was mounted into Syria. On 31 December it encountered a relief expedition sent by Duqāq of Damascus in an effort to undermine Ridwān. In a drawn battle near Albara, the crusaders halted this expedition, but their failure to gather booty plunged the army into a profound crisis of supply, prompting Tatikios to return to Constantinople to hasten imperial assistance. Ridwān moved to reassert his control over Antioch, but on 9 February 1098 Bohemund led all the surviving crusader cavalry and successfully ambushed Ridwān’s great army as it approached the city. The crusaders thus survived a great crisis and by early March had built the Mahommeries Tower outside the Bridge Gate and blockaded the St. George Gate to the south. Under this severe pressure, one of the tower commanders, Piruz, agreed to betray his section of the wall to Bohemund (late May). At the same time, news arrived of the approach of a huge relief army sent by the sultan under Karbughā of Mosul; this enabled Bohe- mund to extort a promise from the other leaders that he could have possession of the city if the Byzantine emperor did not come to their relief. On the night of 2/3 June, the crusaders entered the city, which was sacked, although the citadel held out under its Turkish garrison.

The very next day, Karbughā appeared before Antioch, having wasted time in a fruitless three-week siege of Edessa designed to please some of his allies. He established a camp 5 km (c. 3 mi.) north of the city and drove in all the crusader outposts. Another camp was then set up close to the citadel and an effort made to storm the city through the citadel, but the attempt failed because the crusaders were able to block the narrow route down to the city. The crusaders were starving and frightened, to such an extent that there were substantial desertions, including that of Stephen of Blois, and Bohemund set part of the city on fire to flush out the timorous. However, in this hour of crisis a series of visionaries came forward proclaiming God’s trust in his people; these events culminated in the discovery of the Holy Lance in the cathedral by a Provençal pilgrim named Peter Bartholomew on 14 June, which greatly lifted crusader morale.

On 28 June the army broke out from the Bridge Gate escorted by so many clergy that it seemed like a religious procession. Religious ardor played a major role in the ensuing victory, but so did the military prudence of Bohemund, who had been placed in command and who held back his own men as a reserve. But the decisive factor was that Kar- bughā had dispersed his forces: as his troops near the Bridge Gate were pushed back, those from outside other gates were drawn piecemeal into the battle. It took time for Karbughā to realize what was happening and mobilize his massive cavalry forces in the main camp; by the time they arrived the battle was lost, and the bulk of his forces never engaged. The siege of Antioch had been an enormous strain on the crusader army, but its capture ensured the continuation of the crusade. The city remained in Christian hands until 1268.

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