‘Imād al-Dīn Zangī was governor of Mosul and Aleppo, famous for his capture of the city of Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) from the Franks in 1144.
Zangī was born around 1084, the son of Aq-Sunqûr al- Hājib, a Turkish emir in the service of the Great Saljûq sultan Malik-Shāh I. Aq-Sunqûr was appointed governor of Aleppo in 1087, but afterMalik-Shāh’s death in 1092 he was slain by the sultan’s brother Tutush I, whom he had opposed in favor of Malik-Shāh’s son Barkyârûq. Zangī was brought up by Karbughā, the governor of Mosul, became an emir, and distinguished himself over the years in the service of the various rulers of the city. In 1123 his efforts were rewarded when he was awarded two governorships in Iraq.
In 1126 Zangī was appointed governor of Baghdad and Iraq. A year later, responding to requests made by envoys from Mosul, Mahmûd, the Saljûq sultan of Persia and Iraq, appointed Zangī to the governorship of the city. Zangī made his formal entry into Mosul in the autumn of 1127 and soon after also took control of other territories in Iraq and Upper Mesopotamia, including Nisibis (mod. Nusay- bin, Turkey) and Harran. He then turned his attention to the city of Aleppo, which was in uproar. The city’s governor had made himself unpopular with its people, who had besieged him in the citadel. Zangī sent representatives to the city, then made a formal entry in June 1128. He brought with him the remains of his father, whose memory was very dear to the populace. To further establish his legitimacy he linked himself to his predecessors by marrying the daughter of Ridwān, one of the earlier Saljûq rulers of Aleppo.
In early 1130 Zangī captured Bahā‘ al-Dīn Sāwinj, the ruler of Hama (mod. Hamāh, Syria), and a son of Tāj al- Mulûk Bûrî, the ruler of Damascus. He thus gained possession of Hama itself. He also attempted to take Homs (mod. Hims, Syria) but was resisted by its inhabitants. In the same year he raided the Frankish fortress of Atharib. Zangī then conducted a campaign against the Artûqids of Mardin and Hisn Kayfa, before spending two years preoccupied by conflict in Iraq. Then, in the spring of 1134, he attacked the Artûqid ruler of Hisn Kayfa, defeating his forces near Amida (mod. Diyarbakir, Turkey) but failing to take the latter. Meanwhile, Zangī had been invited to intervene in Damascus by Shams al-Mulûk Ismā‘īl, the son of Bûrî, but when he arrived with his army in February 1135, he found that Ismā‘īl had been murdered and replaced by his brother Shihāb al-Dīn Mahmûd. After a number of inconclusive skirmishes with Damascene troops, a message arrived from the‘Abbāsid caliph in Baghdad ordering Zangī to return to Mosul. He was thus able to retreat honorably. He then conducted a campaign against the Franks, taking Atharib, Zerdana, Tell A‘di, and Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘man and repelling an attack by Bertrand, count of Tripoli. He also besieged Homs but was forced to withdraw upon hearing of fresh instability in Iraq. This instability would occupy his attention until 1137.
In December 1135, fearing a renewed assault from Zangī, the ruler of Homs handed it over to the rulers of Damascus. In May 1137 Zangī took troops from Mosul and Aleppo and besieged Homs but was resisted. In July, hearing that the Franks had moved on Hama, he was forced to make peace. The Franks entrenched themselves at Montferrand (mod. Bārīn, Syria), a stronghold to the west of Hama and Homs. Zangī besieged Montferrand, while his troops took Kafartab and Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘man from the Franks. Hearing that reinforcements were approaching from Jerusalem and Tripoli, he accepted the capitulation of Montferrand, which he had previously rejected, in August 1137.
Another factor affecting Zangī’s decision to accept the capitulation of Montferrand was the arrival at Antioch of the Byzantine emperor John II Komnenos. John’s initial intentions had been to try and bring Antioch under his control, and indeed, initially contact between the emperor and Zangī was peaceful, but in 1138 John made an alliance with Prince Raymond of Antioch. In April 1138 the Byzantine emperor took Buza‘ah and then, reinforced by troops from Tripoli, besieged Aleppo for three days. In the face of resistance, the emperor decided to isolate the city. Frankish troops reoccupied Atharib, Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘man, and Kafartab, while the emperor besieged Shaizar (mod. Shayzar, Syria). Harassed by Zangī’s troops and beset by disagreements with the Franks, the emperor allowed himself to be bought off by the inhabitants of Shaizar and withdrew from the area in May. By the end of October Kafartab, Buza‘ah, and Atharib had been retaken, removing the threat to Aleppo. Meanwhile, in August 1138 Zangī finally took possession of Homs when he married Būrī’s widow, Safwat al-Mulk, who brought him the city as her dowry.
In June 1139 Shihāb al-Dīn Mahmūd of Damascus was assassinated and replaced by his brother Jamāl al-Dīn Muhammad. Zangī, who at the time was engaged in a campaign against the Artûqid Timurtash, was incited by Safwat al-Mulk to take vengeance for her son’s assassination, with the result that he decided to attack Damascus. Before doing so he attacked Baalbek. The city was taken on 10 October, but the citadel continued to hold out until the twenty-first, when a capitulation agreement was made. However, when the troops of the citadel came out, Zangī reneged on the agreement and had many of them killed, something that only increased hostility toward him elsewhere. Zangī then advanced on Damascus, eventually besieging it in October and November 1139. Jamāl al-Dīn died in March 1140 and was succeeded by his son Mujīr al-Dīn, who was a minor. Acting on his behalf was Mu‘īn al-Dīn Unur, an old opponent of Zangī. Unur sought the aid of the Franks, offering to give them the border town of Banyas (mod. Bâniyas, Syria), along with hostages and payment for their expedition. Hearing of this,Zangī withdrew, then reinforced the defenses of Baalbek, which he left in the hands of Najm al-Dīn Ayyûb, the father of Saladin. In June 1140 he returned to Damascus but was forced to retreat in the face of a sortie by the forces of the city. An agreement was made by which Damascus recognized the sovereignty of Zangī, who, having won a moral victory, returned to Mosul.
Zangī spent the next three years subduing rebellions and rivals to the north and east. His efforts caused friction with the Saljûq sultan Mas‘ūd (1143-1144), but he was able to avoid serious conflict by paying an indemnity. Then, in late spring of 1144, following both the instructions of the sultan and the interests of Mosul, he set out toward Edessa, taking several towns en route. He was engaged in operations against the Artūqids in the Diyar Bakr region when he heard that Count Joscelin II of Edessa, responding to a request for help from the Artûqid Qara Arslān, had left Edessa with a strong force of troops. Seizing the opportunity, Zangī besieged Edessa, taking it by storm on 24 December 1144. Thus the first of the capitals of the Frankish states of Outremer fell back into Muslim hands. Building on his success, Zangī took Saruj (mod. Suruç, Turkey) in January 1145. In March he besieged Bira (mod. Birecik, Turkey) but was forced to abandon the siege in May, when he heard that his deputy in Mosul had been assassinated.
After dealing with plots against his life in Mosul and Edessa, Zangī set out on his last campaign in the spring of 1146. He subdued Timurtash, then attacked Qala‘at Ja‘bar on the Euphrates. It was during this siege, in September 1146, that Zangī was assassinated by a Frankish slave while he lay in a drunken stupor. He was succeeded at Mosul by his eldest son, Sayf al-Dīn Ghāzī, and at Aleppo by his second son, Nūr al-Dīn Mahmūd.
It is clear that Zangī spent much of his life pursuing military campaigns. The core of his military forces was a permanent body of cavalry, the ‘askar, consisting of warriors skilled at both close combat and horse archery and composed of a mixture of Turkish mamlûks (slave soldiers) and free Kurdish warriors. The ‘askar was bulked out by Arab and Turcoman tribal auxiliaries. This core, which was maintained from the income of Zangī’s territories, was supplemented by both the ‘askars of Zangī’s subordinates and locally recruited cavalry armed only for close combat. Usually infantry would only be employed if a siege was to be undertaken.
A detailed study of Zangī’s career reveals that he was both opportunistic and ruthless, ruling his territory with an iron grip; indeed, he was feared by both his army and his subjects alike. He had far-reaching political ambitions in both the eastern and western Islamic world, and it is worth noting that he spent a significant amount of his career fighting against fellow Muslims. However, he was also an adept politician and skilled military commander, and in the later years of his career he was clearly regarded by some of his Muslim contemporaries as a mujāhid (holy warrior), even before the fall of Edessa. The latter achievement significantly enhanced his reputation in this regard, and he received several honorific titles from the ‘Abbāsid caliph, stressing his position as a champion of Islam. Had he lived longer, he would probably have taken Damascus and so brought all of Muslim Syria under his control. He might well then have led the united Muslims in the jihād (holy war) against the Franks.