Post-classical history

Ascalon, Battle of (1099)

A battle fought near Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) between the armies of the First Crusade and the Fātimid caliphate of Egypt, resulting from the attempt by al-Afdal, vizier of Egypt, to recapture the Fātimid territory in Palestine lost to the crusade in July 1099.

The Egyptian army was commanded by al-Afdal and may have comprised as many as 20,000 soldiers, with a core of heavily armored Ethiopian infantry, and large numbers of Bedouin light horse and more heavily armored Turkish cavalry. On 25 July the new Frankish ruler of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon, sent word to Tancred and Eustace of Boulogne that a large Egyptian army was gathering at the Fātimid-held coastal city of Ascalon. All three crusaders made for Caesarea and then pushed south, arriving at Ramla on 7 August, where they were later joined by Robert of Normandy and Raymond of Saint-Gilles. On 11 August the combined crusader army, amounting to perhaps 1,200 knights and 9,000 infantry, marched toward Ascalon and captured a large number of the enemy’s cattle; these cattle played an influential role in subsequent battle, as the Egyptians mistook them for soldiers and consequently believed the crusader army to be much larger than it really was.

The main battle was fought on 12 August 1099, approximately 5 kilometers (c. 3 mi.) north of the city. Raymond commanded the crusaders right alongside the sea, Robert the center, and Godfrey the left flank. They were able to surprise the numerically superior Egyptians; al-Afdal pushed forward his heavy infantry into the center to allow time for his heavy cavalry to deploy and tried to outflank the crusader left with his Bedouin cavalry. Both attacks were beaten off, and as the Ethiopian infantry tired, Robert of Normandy led a charge that captured the Egyptian battle standard and overran their camp. Godfrey repulsed a counterattack, and thousands of Egyptian soldiers were killed trying to escape into Ascalon. The crusaders had won a decisive victory, but this did not prevent al-Afdal from returning in successive years in a bid to recover Jerusalem.

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