Post-classical history



‘An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.’ PROVERBS XX, 21

It was with relief that the Franks of the East learnt of the Emperor’s death; and in their contentment they did not notice how much more greatly relieved was their arch-enemy, the atabeg Zengi. From 1141 for two years Zengi had been embarrassed by a desire of the Sultan Mas’ud to reassert his authority over him. It was only by a timely show of submission, accompanied by a gift of money and the dispatch of his son as a hostage that Zengi averted an invasion into the territory of Mosul by the Sultan’s army. A Byzantine conquest of Syria at that moment would have put an end to his western schemes. They were further endangered by an alliance, formed by common fear of him, between the King of Jerusalem and the atabeg of Damascus.

After the breakdown of the Franco-Byzantine alliance in 1138, Zengi returned to the task of conquering Damascus. His siege of Homs had twice been interrupted, first by the Frankish advance to Montferrand, and secondly by the Byzantine siege of Shaizar. He now returned in full force to Homs, and sent to Damascus to demand in marriage the hand of the atabeg’s mother, the Princess Zumurrud, with Homs as her dowry. The Damascenes were in no position to refuse. In June 1138 the dowager was married to Zengi; and his troops entered Homs. As a gesture of good-will he enfeoffed the governor of Homs, the aged mameluke Unur, with the newly conquered fortress of Montferrand and some neighbouring castles.

Fortunately for the Burid dynasty of Damascus, Unur did not take up his residence at Montferrand but came to Damascus. There, on the night on 22 June 1139, the young atabeg, Shihab ed-Din Mahmud, was murdered in his bed by three of his favourite pages. If Zengi, whose complicity was suspected, had hoped thereby to take over the government, he was disappointed. Unur at once assumed control. The murderers were crucified; and the atabeg’s half-brother, Jemal ed-Din Mohammed, governor of Baalbek, was summoned to take over Mahmud’s throne. In return Mohammed gave his mother and Baalbek to Unur. But Unur stayed on at Damascus, in charge of the government. This did not suit Zengi, who was urged on by his wife Zumurrud, and by a brother of Mohammed’s, Bahram Shah, a personal enemy of Unur. In the late summer of 1139 he laid siege to Baalbek, with a large army and fourteen siege-engines. The town capitulated on 10 October; on the 21st the garrison of the citadel, formed out of the ruins of the great temple of Baal, also surrendered, after Zengi had sworn on the Koran to spare the lives of its members. But Zengi broke his oath. They were all brutally massacred and their women sold into captivity. The massacre was intended to terrify the Damascenes, but it only hardened their resistance and led them to regard Zengi as a foe outside the pale of the Faith.

1139: Frankish Alliance with Damascus

During the last days of the year Zengi encamped close to Damascus. He offered the atabeg Mohammed Baalbek or Homs, in exchange for Damascus; and the young prince would have accepted had Unur permitted him. On his refusal Zengi moved in to besiege the city. At this crisis, on 29 March 1140, Mohammed died. But Damascus was loyal to the Burids; and Unur without difficulty elevated Mohammed’s youthful son Mujir ed-Din Abaq to the throne. At the same time he decided that he would be justified, religiously as well as politically, to call in the help of the Christians against his perfidious enemy. An embassy led by the Munqidhite prince Usama left Damascus for Jerusalem.

King Fulk had been attempting to take advantage of the embarrassments of the Damascenes to strengthen his hold of Transjordan. During the summer of 1139 he had received a visit from Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, whose wife Sibylla was his daughter by his first marriage; and with Thierry’s help he invaded Gilead and with some difficulty captured a small fortress near Ajlun, massacring its defenders. The effort had brought him little profit; and when Unur offered him twenty thousand besants a month and the return of the fortress of Banyas if he would drive Zengi from Damascus, he was easily persuaded to change his policy. The idea of such an alliance was not new. Already early in 1138 Usama had journeyed to Jerusalem on Unur’s behalf to discuss its feasibility. But though the Frankish Court had given him an honourable reception, his suggestions were rejected. Now the menace afforded by Zengi’s growing power was better understood. When Fulk summoned his council to consider the offer there was a general feeling that it should be accepted.

After hostages had been received from Damascus, the Frankish army set out in April for Galilee. Fulk moved cautiously and halted near Tiberias while his scouts went ahead. Zengi came down the opposite coast of the Sea of Galilee to watch his movements, but, finding him stationary, returned to the siege of Damascus. Thereupon Fulk advanced northward. Zengi would not risk being caught between the Franks and the Damascenes. He drew away from Damascus; and when Fulk met Unur’s forces a little to the east of Lake Huleh, early in June, they learnt that Zengi had retired to Baalbek. Some of Zengi’s troops returned later in the month to raid right up to the walls of Damascus, but he and his main army retreated on unscathed to Aleppo. The alliance had saved Damascene independence without a battle. Unur remained true to his bargain. For some months past his troops had been conducting a desultory siege of Banyas. Zengi’s lieutenant, Ibrahim ibn Turgut took advantage of a lull in the siege to raid the coast near Tyre. There he was surprised by an army led by Raymond of Antioch, who had come south to help Fulk in the Damascene campaign. Ibrahim was defeated and killed. When Unur himself appeared before Banyas, and was joined by Fulk and Raymond, who were further encouraged by the visiting papal legate, Alberic of Beauvais, the defenders soon decided to capitulate. Unur arranged that they should be compensated with lands near Damascus. He then handed the city over to the Franks, who installed its former governor, Rainier of Brus, while Adam, Archdeacon of Acre, was appointed its bishop.

The alliance between Fulk and Unur was sealed by a visit that Unur paid soon afterwards, accompanied by Usama, to the King’s Court at Acre. They were given a cordial and flattering reception, and went on to Haifa and Jerusalem, returning through Nablus and Tiberias. The tour was conducted in an atmosphere of the greatest good-will, though Usama by no means approved of everything that he saw. Fulk further showed his honest desire for friendship with the Damascenes, when they complained to him of the raids against their flocks committed by Rainier of Brus from Banyas. Rainier was sternly ordered to end his forays and to pay compensation to his victims.

1140: Castles on the Southern Frontier

By about the year 1140 King Fulk had reason to be satisfied with his government. The position in northern Syria had deteriorated since his predecessor’s days; nor did he enjoy such prestige or authority there. It is doubtful whether Joscelin of Edessa even recognized him as overlord. But in his own domain he was secure. He had learnt the lesson that for the Franks to survive there, they must be less intransigent towards the Moslems, but must be ready to make friends with the less dangerous of them; and he had carried his nobles with him in this policy. At the same time he had worked hard for the country’s defences. On the southern frontier three great castles had been built to guard against raids from the Egyptians at Ascalon. At Ibelin, some ten miles south-west of Lydda, at a well-watered spot that commanded the junction of the roads from Ascalon to Jaffa and to Ramleh, he used the ruins of the old Roman town of Jamnia to erect a splendid fortress that was entrusted to Balian, surnamed ‘the Old’, brother of the Viscount of Chartres. Balian had owned the land under the lords of Jaffa, and had won Fulk’s favour by supporting the King against Hugh of Le Puiset. As chatelain of Ibelin he was raised to the rank of a tenant-in-chief; and he married Helvis, heiress of Ramleh. His descendants were to form the best-known noble family in the Frankish East.

South of Ibelin the direct road from Ascalon to Jerusalem was guarded by the castle of Blanchegarde, on the hill called by the Arabs Tel as-Safiya, the shining mound. Its custodian, Arnulf, became one of the richest and most powerful barons of the realm. The third castle was built at Bethgibelin at the village that the Crusaders wrongly identified with Beersheba. It commanded the road from Ascalon to Hebron; and its maintenance was entrusted to the Hospitallers. These fortifications were not complete enough to prevent all raids from Ascalon. In 1141 the Egyptians broke through and defeated a small Crusader force on the plain of Sharon. But they could hold up any serious attack from the south on Jerusalem, and were centres for local administration.

At the same time Fulk took steps to bring the country east and south of the Dead Sea under stricter control. The seigneurie of Montreal, with its castle in an oasis in the Idumaean hills, had given to the Franks a loose command of the caravan-routes leading from Egypt to Arabia and to Syria; but Moslem caravans still passed unscathed along the roads, and raiders from the desert were still able to break through into Judaea. At the time of Fulk’s accession the lord of Montreal and Oultrejourdain had been Roman of Le Puy, whom Baldwin I had enfeoffed about the year 1115. But Roman had supported Hugh of Le Puiset against the King, who therefore, in about 1132, dispossessed and disinherited his son, and gave the fief to Pagan the Butler, one of the high officials of his Court. Pagan was a vigorous administrator who tried to establish a tighter control over the large area that he governed. He seems to have succeeded in policing the country to the south of the Dead Sea; but in 1139, when Fulk was engaged in Gilead, a band of Moslems managed to cross the Jordan close to its junction with the Dead Sea and to raid Judaea, where they lured to its destruction by the tactics of a feigned retreat a company of Templar knights sent against them. It was probably to control the north as well as the south end of the Dead Sea that Pagan moved his headquarters from Montreal in Idumaea to Moab. There, in 1142, on a hill called by the chroniclers Petra Deserti, the Stone of the Desert, he built with the King’s approval a great fortress known as Kerak of Moab. It was superbly situated for dominating the only practicable roads from Egypt and western Arabia into Syria, and it was not too far from the fords of the lower Jordan. Baldwin I had already established a look-out post down on the shore of the Gulf of Akaba, at Elyn or Aila. Pagan installed a stronger garrison there and at the Fort of the Valley of Moses, by the ancient Petra. These castles, with Montreal and Kerak, gave the lord of Oultrejourdain the mastery of the lands of Idumaea and Moab, and their rich cornfields and the saltpans by the Dead Sea, though there was no serious Frankish colonization there and the Bedouin tribes continued their old nomad life in the barren districts, merely paying occasional tribute to the Franks.

1143: Queen Melisende’s Foundations

The internal security of the realm improved during Fulk’s reign. At the time of his accession the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem was still unsafe because of the bandits who not only molested pilgrims but also interrupted the food-supply to the capital. In 1133, while the King was absent in the north, the Patriarch William organized a campaign against the bandits and constructed a castle called Chastel Ernaut, near Beit Nuba, where the road from Lydda climbs into the hills. Its erection made it easier for the authorities to police the road; and after the fortification of the Egyptian frontier travellers seldom met with trouble on their journey from the coast.

Of the government of the kingdom during Fulk’s later years we hear little. Once Hugh of Le Puiset’s revolt had been crushed and the Queen’s desire for vengeance had been allayed, the barons supported the Crown with perfect loyalty. With the Church of Jerusalem Fulk’s relations were consistently good. The Patriarch William of Messines, who had crowned him and who was to survive him, remained a faithful and deferential friend. As she grew older, Queen Melisende took to pious works, though her chief foundation was intended for the greater glory of her family. She was devoted to her sisters. Alice became Princess of Antioch; Hodierna was now Countess of Tripoli; but for the youngest, Joveta, who had spent a year of her childhood as a hostage with the Moslems, there was no suitable husband to be found. She had entered religion and became a nun at the Convent of St Anne in Jerusalem. The Queen in 1143 bought from the Holy Sepulchre, in exchange for estates near Hebron, the village of Bethany; and there she built a convent in honour of Saint Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, endowing it with Jericho and all its orchards and surrounding farms, and fortifying it with a tower. Lest her motive should be too clearly apparent she appointed as its first abbess an excellent but elderly and moribund nun, who tactfully died a few months later. The convent then dutifully elected the twenty-four-year-old Joveta as Abbess. Joveta in her dual role as princess of the blood royal and abbess of Palestine’s richest convent occupied a distinguished and venerable position for the rest of her long life.

This was the most lavish of Melisende’s charitable endowments; but she persuaded her husband to make several grants of land to the Holy Sepulchre, and she continued to found religious houses on a generous scale throughout her widowhood. She was also responsible for improving relations with the Jacobite and Armenian Churches. Before the Crusaders’ capture of Jerusalem the Jacobites had fled in a body to Egypt. When they returned they found that the estates of their church in Palestine had been given to a Frankish knight, Gauffier. In 1103 Gauffier was captured by the Egyptians, and the Jacobites recovered their lands. But in 1137 Gauffier, whom everyone thought dead, returned from his captivity and claimed his property. Owing to the direct intervention of the Queen, the Jacobites were allowed to remain in possession, after paying Gauffier three hundred besants as a compensation. In 1140 we find the Armenian Catholicus attending a synod of the Latin Church there. Melisende also gave endowments to the Orthodox Abbey of St Sabas.

1143: Death of King Fulk

Fulk’s commercial policy was a continuation of his predecessors’. He honoured his obligations to the Italian cities, who now controlled the export trade of the country. But he refused to give any one the monopoly; and in 1136 he made a treaty with the merchants of Marseilles, promising to give four hundred besants a year, drawn from the revenues of Jaffa, for the maintenance of their establishment there.

In the autumn of 1143 the Court was at Acre, enjoying the lull that Zengi’s retreat from Damascus had afforded. On 7 November the Queen desired to go for a picnic. As the royal party rode out into the country a hare was flushed, and the King galloped off in pursuit of it. Suddenly his horse stumbled and Fulk was thrown off; and his heavy saddle struck him on the head. They carried him back unconscious and with ghastly head-wounds to Acre. There, three days later, he died. He had been a good king for the realm of Jerusalem, but not a great king nor a leader of the Franks in the East.

Queen Melisende’s vocal grief, much as it moved all the Court, did not distract her from taking over the kingdom. Of the children that she had born to Fulk two sons survived, Baldwin, who was aged thirteen, and Amalric, aged seven. Fulk had possessed the throne as her husband; and her rights as heiress were fully recognized. But the idea of a sole Queen-regnant was unthought of by the barons. She therefore appointed her son Baldwin as her colleague and herself assumed the government. Her action was regarded as perfectly constitutional and was endorsed by the council of the realm when she and Baldwin were crowned together by the Patriarch William on Christmas Day. Melisende was a capable woman who in happier times might have reigned with success. She took as her adviser her first cousin, the Constable Manasses of Hierges, son of a Walloon lord who had married Baldwin II’s sister, Hodierna of Rethel. Manasses had come out as a young man to his uncle’s court, where his abilities and his royal connections secured him steady advancement. When Balian the Old of Ibelin died, soon after King Fulk’s death, Manasses married his widow Helvis, heiress of Ramleh, who in her own right and her sons’ controlled the whole Philistian plain. The barons were in time to resent Manasses’s power, for the Queen and he inclined towards autocracy; but for the moment there was no opposition to the Queen.

Her accession brought one serious disadvantage. Under Fulk the King of Jerusalem’s position as overlord of the Crusading states had been growing theoretical rather than practical; and it was unlikely that the princes of the north would pay greater attention to the suzerainty of a woman and a child. When quarrels broke out between the Prince of Antioch and the Count of Edessa, a strong king of Jerusalem, such as Baldwin II, would have marched north and forcibly composed the differences. Neither a queen nor a boy-king could do so; and no one else had the overriding authority.

1144: Siege of Edessa

Since the Emperor John’s death and Zengi’s check before Damascus, Raymond of Antioch’s self-confidence had revived. He sent at once to the new Emperor, Manuel, to demand the return of Cilicia to his principality, and when Manuel refused he invaded the province. Manuel himself was obliged during the first months of his reign to remain at Constantinople; but he sent a land and sea expedition under the Contostephanus brothers and the converted Turk Bursuk and the admiral Demetrius Branas, which not only drove Raymond out of Cilicia but followed his troops to the walls of Antioch. A few months previously Raymond had added Aleppan territory as far as Biza’a while Joscelin of Edessa advanced to the Euphrates to meet him. But Joscelin suddenly made a truce with Sawar, governor of Aleppo, which ruined Raymond’s schemes. Relations between Raymond and Joscelin were worsening. It seems that since about 1140 Joscelin had been obliged to accept Raymond as his overlord; but there was never any cordiality between them. Joscelin had irritated Raymond by his intervention in favour of the Patriarch Radulph; and this truce brought them almost to an open rupture.

Zengi was watching these quarrels. The death of the Emperor had freed him of his most dangerous potential enemy. The Damascenes would take no action against him without Frankish help; and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was unlikely now to embark on adventures. The opportunity must not be missed. In the autumn of 1144 Zengi attacked Kara Arslan, the Ortoqid prince of Diarbekir, who had recently made an alliance with Joscelin. In support of the alliance Joscelin marched out of Edessa with the bulk of his army down to the Euphrates, apparently to cut off Zengi’s communications with Aleppo. Zengi was informed by Moslem observers at Harran of Joscelin’s movements. He sent at once a detachment under Yaghi-Siyani of Hama to surprise the city. But Yaghi-Siyani lost his way in the darkness of the rainy November night, and reached Edessa no sooner than Zengi with the main army, on 28 November. By now the Edessenes had been warned and the defences had been manned.

The siege of Edessa lasted for four weeks. Joscelin had taken with him all his leading soldiers. The defence was therefore entrusted to the Latin archbishop, Hugh II. The Armenian bishop John and the Jacobite bishop Basil loyally supported him. Any hope that Zengi may have had of seducing the native Christians from their Frankish allegiance was disappointed. Basil the Jacobite suggested asking for a truce, but public opinion was against him. But the defenders, well though they fought, were few in numbers. Joscelin himself retired to Turbessel. The historian William of Tyre cruelly criticizes him for sloth and cowardice in refusing to go to his capital’s rescue. But his army was not strong enough to risk a battle with Zengi’s. He had confidence that the great fortifications of Edessa could hold out for some time. At Turbessel he could interrupt any reinforcements that Zengi might summon from Aleppo; and he counted on help from his Frankish neighbours. He had sent at once to Antioch and to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Queen Melisende held a Council and was authorized to gather an army, which she dispatched under Manasses the Constable, Philip of Nablus and Elinand of Bures, prince of Galilee. But at Antioch Raymond would do nothing. All Joscelin’s appeals to him as his overlord were in vain. Without his help Joscelin dared not attack Zengi. He waited at Turbessel for the arrival of the Queen’s army.

It came too late. Zengi’s army was swelled by Kurds and Turcomans from the upper Tigris; and he had good siege-engines. The clerics and merchants who formed the bulk of the garrison were inexpert in warfare. Their counter-attacks and counter-minings were unsuccessful. Archbishop Hugh was thought to be holding back the treasure that he had amassed, badly though it was needed for the defence. On Christmas Eve a wall collapsed near the Gate of the Hours; and the Moslems poured in through the breach. The inhabitants fled in panic to the citadel, to find the gates closed against them by order of the Archbishop, who himself stayed outside in a vain attempt to restore order. Thousands were trampled to death in the confusion; and Zengi’s troops, hard on their heels, slew thousands more, including the bishop. At last Zengi himself rode up and ordered the massacre to cease. The native Christians were spared; but all the Franks were rounded up and done to death, and their women sold into slavery. Two days later a Jacobite priest, Barsauma, who had taken over command of the citadel, surrendered to Zengi.

1145: Zengi’s Policy in Edessa

Zengi treated the conquered city kindly once the Franks were removed. He appointed as governor Kutchuk Ali of Arbil; but the native Christians, Armenians, Jacobites and even Greeks, were allowed a certain measure of autonomy. Though the Latin churches were destroyed, theirs were untouched, and they were encouraged to bring their co-religionists in to re-people the city. In particular the Syrian bishop Basil enjoyed the favour of the conquerors, because of his proud reply, when they questioned if he was trustworthy, that his loyalty to the Franks showed how capable he was of loyalty. The Armenians, amongst whom the dynasty of Courtenay had always been popular, took less willingly to the new regime.

From Edessa Zengi moved on to Saruj, the second great Frankish fortress east of the Euphrates, which fell to him in January. He then advance to Birejik, the town that commanded the chief ford across the river. But the Frankish garrison put up a stiff resistance. Joscelin was near at hand; and the Queen’s army was approaching. At that moment Zengi had rumours of trouble in Mosul. He raised the siege of Birejik and hurried eastward. He was still in name merely the atabeg of Mosul for the young Seldjuk prince Alp Arslan, son of Mas’ud. He returned to Mosul to find that Alp Arslan, in an attempt to assert his authority, had murdered the atabeg’s lieutenant Shaqar. It was an ill-chosen moment, for Zengi, as the conqueror of a Christian capital, was at the height of his prestige in the Moslem world. Alp Arslan was dethroned and his advisers were put to death; while the Caliph sent Zengi an embassy laden with gifts, to confer on him the honour of King and conqueror.

The news of the fall of Edessa reverberated throughout the world. To the Moslems it brought new hope. A Christian state that had intruded into their midst had been destroyed, and the Franks restricted to the lands by the Mediterranean. The roads from Mosul to Aleppo now were cleared of the enemy, and there was no longer a Christian wedge driven between the Turks of Iran and the Turks of Anatolia. Zengi had well earned his royal title. To the Franks it brought despondency and alarm; and to the Christians of western Europe it came as a terrible shock. For the first time they realized that things were not well in the East. A movement was set on foot to preach a new Crusade.

Indeed, a Crusade was needed; for the Frankish princes of the East, despite their peril, still could not bring themselves to co-operate. Joscelin attempted to rebuild his principality in the lands that he held west of the Euphrates, with Turbessel as his capital. But, though it was clear that Zengi would soon attack him, he could not forgive Raymond for having refused him help. He openly broke with him and rejected his suzerainty. Raymond was equally averse to a reconciliation. But he was alive to the danger of isolation. In 1145, after defeating a Turcoman raid, he decided to travel to Constantinople, to ask for help from the Emperor. When he arrived, Manuel would not receive him. It was only after he had knelt in humble contrition at the tomb of the Emperor John that he was allowed an audience. Manuel then treated him graciously, loading him with gifts and promising him a money subsidy. But he would not promise him immediate military aid, for the Byzantines had a Turkish war on their hands. There was talk of an expedition in the future; and the visit, humiliating though it was to Raymond’s pride and unpopular amongst his barons, had one useful result. It was not unremarked by Zengi; who therefore decided to postpone a further attack on the northern Franks and to turn his attention once more to Damascus.

1146: Murder of Zengi

In May 1146 Zengi moved to Aleppo to prepare for his Syrian expedition. As he passed through Edessa he learnt of an attempt by the Armenians there to shake off his rule and restore Joscelin. Kutchuk Ah easily crushed it; and Zengi ordered the ringleaders to be executed and a part of the Armenian population to be banished. Its place was taken by three hundred Jewish families, introduced by Zengi because the Jews were notoriously ready to support the Moslems against the Christians. In the summer Zengi led his army southward to Qalat Jabar, on the direct route from the Euphrates to Damascus, where a petty Arab prince refused to recognize him as overlord. While he was besieging the town, on the night of 14 September 1146, he quarrelled with a eunuch of Frankish origin whom he caught drinking wine from his own glass. The eunuch, furious at the rebuke, waited till he slept, then murdered him.

Zengi’s sudden disappearance was welcome news to all his enemies, who hoped that the dynastic disputes that usually followed the death of Moslem princes would disrupt his realm. While his corpse lay unburied and deserted, the eldest of his sons, Saif ed-Din Ghazi, accompanied by the vizier Jamal ed-Din of Isfahan, hurried to Mosul to take over the government there, and the second, Nur ed-Din, seizing the ring of office from the corpse’s finger, went to be proclaimed at Aleppo by the Kurd Shirkuh, whose brother Ayub had saved Zengi’s life when the Caliph defeated him in 1132. The division of the realm was the signal for its foes to invade. In the south Unur’s troops from Damascus reoccupied Baalbek and reduced the governor of Homs and Yaghi-Siyani, governor of Hama, to vassalage. In the east the Seldjuk Alp Arslan made another bid for power, but in vain, while the Ortoqids of Diarbekir recovered towns that they had lost. In the centre Raymond of Antioch led a raid up to the very walls of Aleppo, while Joscelin planned to reoccupy Edessa. His agents made contact with the Armenians in the city and won over the Jacobites. Joscelin then set out himself with a small army, which was joined by Baldwin of Marash and Kaisun. Raymond once more refused his help, this time with good reason, for the expedition was ill-planned. Joscelin had hoped to surprise Edessa; but the Moslems were warned. When he arrived before its walls, on 27 October, he was able, thanks to native help, to break his way into the city itself, but the garrison of the citadel was ready for him. His troops were too few to enable him to storm its fortifications. He lingered in the city uncertain what to do. Meanwhile messengers had reached Nur ed-Din at Aleppo. His army was now counter-attacking Raymond in Antiochene territory; but he at once summoned it back and demanded help from the neighbouring Moslem governors. On 2 November he appeared before Edessa. Joscelin was caught between him and the citadel. He saw that his only chance lay in an immediate evacuation. During the night he managed to slip out with his men and with large numbers of the native Christians, and made his way towards the Euphrates. Nur ed-Din followed on his heels. Next day a battle was fought. The Franks held their ground well till Joscelin rashly ordered a counter-attack. It was driven back; and the Frankish army broke up in panic. Baldwin of Marash was killed on the field. Joscelin, wounded in the neck, escaped with his bodyguard and took refuge in Samosata, where he was joined by the Jacobite bishop Basil. The Armenian bishop John was captured and taken to Aleppo. The native Christians, deserted by the Franks, were massacred to a man, and their wives and children enslaved. At Edessa itself the whole Christian population was driven into exile. The great city, which claimed to be the oldest Christian commonwealth in the world, was left empty and desolate, and has never recovered to this day.

1147: The Franks break with Unur

The episode showed Zengi’s enemies that they had gained little by his death. Moreover his sons, though they had small affection for each other, were wise enough not to quarrel. Saif ed-Din Ghazi, whose hands were fully occupied with the Ortoqids, took the initiative in arranging an interview with his brother, at which the division of the inheritance was peaceably confirmed. Saif ed-Din took the lands in Iraq and Nur ed-Din those in Syria. About the same time Nur ed-Din’s position was strengthened by an unexpected act of folly committed by the Franks in Jerusalem. Early in 1147 one of Unur’s lieutenants, Altuntash, governor of Bosra and Salkhad in the Hauran, an Armenian converted to Islam, declared his independence of Damascus and came to Jerusalem for support. He offered to hand Bosra and Salkhad to the Franks if they would set him up in a lordship in the Hauran. Queen Melisende very correctly summoned her Council to discuss the suggestion. It was an important decision to make, for to support Altuntash would mean the rupture of the alliance with Damascus. But it was a tempting offer. The population in the Hauran was largely Christian, Melkite, of the Orthodox rite. With this Christian help it should be easy to colonize the Hauran; and its control would put Damascus at the mercy of the Franks. The barons hesitated. They ordered the army to be assembled at Tiberias; but they sent an embassy to Unur to say that they proposed to reinstate Altuntash. Unur was angry, but for fear of Nur ed-Din he wished to avoid a rupture. He answered reminding the Queen that, according to her feudal law, a ruler could not support the rebellious vassal of a friendly power against his master; but he offered to repay her for any expenses that her proposed expedition had involved. The Queen then sent a knight called Bernard Vacher to Damascus to say that unfortunately she was committed to the support of Altuntash whom her army would convey back to Bosra, but she undertook in no way to cause damage to Damascene territory. Bernard soon returned, convinced by Unur that the proposal was unwise and wrong. He brought the young king Baldwin round to his views; and, when the matter was discussed again before the Council it was decided to abandon the expedition. But by now the soldiers’ enthusiasm had been aroused. Demagogues in the army, furious at the cancellation of a profitable raid against the infidel, denounced Bernard as a traitor and insisted on war. The King and the barons were frightened and gave way.

1147: The Emergence of Nur ed-Din

In May 1147 the Frankish army, with the King at its head, crossed the Jordan and marched into the Jaulan. But it was not the triumphal progress that the soldiers had anticipated. Unur had had full warning. His light Turcoman troops combined with the Arabs of the district to harass them as they toiled up the Yarmuk valley towards Deraa. Unur himself had already sent an embassy to Aleppo to ask for help from Nur ed-Din. It was an appeal that Nur ed-Din was delighted to receive. An alliance was made. Nur ed-Din received Unur’s daughter’s hand in marriage and promised to come at once to his rescue; he was to be given back Hama but was to respect Damascene independence. At the end of May the Franks reached Deraa, just over halfway between the frontier and Bosra. Meanwhile, Unur had hurried to Salkhad, which lay farther to the east. Altuntash’s garrison there asked for a truce; and Unur moved on westward to join with Nur ed-Din, who had come down at full speed from Aleppo. Together they marched on Bosra, which was surrendered to them by Altuntash’s wife. News of the surrender reached the Franks on the evening when, weary and short of water, they arrived within sight of Bosra. They were in no state to attack the Moslems. There was nothing to be done but retreat. The return journey was more arduous than the advance. Food ran short; many of the wells had been destroyed. The enemy hung on their rear and killed the stragglers. The boy King showed great heroism, refusing a suggestion that he should leave the main army and hurry on to safety with a picked bodyguard. Thanks to his example, discipline remained high. The barons at last decided to make their peace with Unur, and dispatched an Arabic-speaking messenger, probably Bernard Vacher, to beg for a truce; but the messenger was killed on his way. However, when the army reached ar-Rahub, on the edge of the Jebel Ajlun, a messenger came from Unur, to offer to revictual the Franks. With Nur ed-Din at hand, he had no wish for the Frankish army to be completely wiped out. The King haughtily rejected the offer; but it was remarked that a mysterious stranger on a white horse with a scarlet banner appeared to lead the army safely to Gadara. After a last skirmish there it crossed the Jordan back into Palestine. The expedition had been costly and pointless. It showed the Franks to be good fighters but foolish in their politics and their strategy.

One man alone had profited from it, Nur ed-Din. Unur had indeed recovered the Hauran. When Altuntash came to Damascus hoping to be pardoned, he was blinded and imprisoned, and his friends were disgraced. But Unur was desperately conscious of Nur ed-Din’s strength. He was alarmed for the future and longed to restore his Frankish alliance. Nur ed-Din, however, abode by his treaty with Unur. He returned northward to continue the task of stripping the principality of Antioch of all its lands east of the Orontes. By the end of 1147 Artah, Kafarlata, Basarfut and Balat were in his hands.

Nur ed-Din thus emerged as the principal enemy of the Christians. He was now aged twenty-nine; but he was wise for his years. Even his opponents admired his sense of justice, his charity and his sincere piety. He was perhaps a less brilliant soldier than his father Zengi, but he was less cruel and less perfidious and a far better judge of men. His ministers and generals were able and loyal. His material sources were less than his father’s; for Zengi had been able to call on the riches of Upper Iraq, which now had passed to Saif ed-Din. But Saif ed-Din had therefore inherited Zengi’s difficulties with the Ortoqids and with the Caliph and the Seldjuk sultanate, leaving Nur ed-Din free to give his full attention to the West. Moreover, the sons of Zengi remained true to their family pact. Saif ed-Din would send help if need be to Nur ed-Din, without any desire to annex his share of the family lands. A third brother, Nasr ed-Din, was established as Nur ed-Din’s vassal at Harran, while the youngest of the family, Qutb ed-Din, was growing up at his eldest brother’s court at Mosul. Secure from danger from his fellow-Moslems by his family connections and his alliance with Unur, Nur ed-Din was well fitted to lead the counter-attack of Islam. If the Christians in the East were to survive, it was against him that they must concentrate their efforts.


Plate I. Templar Knights fighting the Saracens.


Plate II. Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. The Dome of the Rock (Solomon’s Temple) and the Mosque al-Aqsa are in the left foreground of the city. The Tower of David shows on the horizon behind them. The Holy Sepulchre is behind the right corner of the Dome of the Rock.


Plate III. Tripoli. Raymond’s castle of Mount Pilgrim is in the foreground. The walls facing the ravine are mainly Raymond’s original construction. The Saracen town, al-Mina, is in the background on the left.


Plate IV. The Emperor John Comnenus.


Plate V. Damascus. Seen from the north-west. The orchards through which the Second Crusade attacked are on the far side of the city.


Plate VI. Seals of Baldwin III, King of Jerusalem; Bohemond III, Prince of Antioch; Pons, Count of Tripoli; William of Bures, Prince of Galilee.


Plate VII. The Emperor Manuel Comnenus and his wife, Maria of Antioch.


Plate VIII. Aleppo.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!