Post-classical history



‘He went forth conquering, and to conquer.’ REVELATION VI, 2

Raymond of Antioch had been right to urge the leaders of the Second Crusade to march against Aleppo. His failure to persuade them cost him his life. The chief enemy of Christendom was Nur ed-Din; and in 1147 a great army could have crushed him. He was master of Aleppo and Edessa; but Unur of Damascus and the petty independent emirs of the Orontes valley would not have come to his rescue; nor could he have counted on help from his brother Saif ed-Din at Mosul, who had troubles of his own in Iraq. But the folly of the Crusaders drove Unur into alliance with him for as long as the danger lasted; and the chance given him of intervention in the affairs of Tripoli allowed him to strengthen his hold on central Syria.

Raymond was further justified in refusing to join the Crusade. Neither he nor Joscelin of Edessa could afford to leave their lands exposed to Nur ed-Din. Even while the Crusaders were before Damascus troops from Aleppo raided Christian territory. Under a flag of truce Count Joscelin went himself to Nur ed-Din’s camp to beg for clemency. All that he obtained was a temporary respite. Meanwhile, the Sultan of Konya, Mas’ud, at peace with Byzantium, took advantage of the discomfiture of the Franks to attack Marash. Raymond prepared to meet him; so Mas’ud sent to ask Nur ed-Din to make a diversion. His request was granted; but Raymond with the alliance of a Kurdish chief of the Assassins, Ali ibn Wafa, who hated Nur ed-Din far more than the Christians, surprised Nur ed-Din in November 1148 as he swept through the villages in the plain of the Aswad at Famiya, on the road from Antioch to Marash. Nur ed-Din’s two chief lieutenants, the Kurd Shirkuh and the Aleppan notable Ibn ed-Daya, had quarrelled. The former refused to take part in the battle; and the whole Moslem army was forced into a hasty and ignominious retreat. Next spring Nur ed-Din invaded the country again and defeated Raymond at Baghras, close to the former battlefield. He then turned south to besiege the fortress of Inab, one of the few strongholds left to the Christians east of the Orontes. Raymond with a small army and a few Assassin allies under Ali ibn Wafa hurried to its rescue; and Nur ed-Din, misinformed of the strength of his force, retreated. In fact the Moslem army of six thousand horse outnumbered the Frankish of four thousand horse and one thousand infantrymen. Against Ali’s advice Raymond then decided to reinforce the garrison of Inab. But Nur ed-Din was now aware of Raymond’s weakness. On 28 June 1149 the Christian army encamped in a hollow by the Fountain of Murad, in the plain between Inab and the marsh of Ghab. During the night Nur ed-Din’s troops crept up and surrounded them. Next morning Raymond realized that his only chance was to charge his way out. But the terrain was against him. A wind rose and blew dust in the eyes of his knights as they pressed their horses up the slope. In a few hours his army was annihilated. Amongst the dead were Reynald of Marash and the Assassin leader Ali. Raymond himself perished by the hand of Shirkuh, who thus regained his master’s favour lost at Famiya. The Prince’s skull, set in a silver case, was sent by Nur ed-Din as a gift to his spiritual master, the Caliph of Baghdad.

1150: The Capture of Count Joscelin

Joscelin of Edessa, enjoying an uneasy truce with the Moslems, had refused to work in with his old rival, Raymond. His turn came next. Nur ed-Din passed on through Antiochene territory completing his hold on the middle Orontes by the capture of Arzghan and Tel-Kashfahan, then overpowering the garrisons of Artah and Harenc farther north and turning west to appear before the walls of Antioch itself and raid as far as Saint Symeon. Joscelin made no attempt to rescue his fellow-Franks but marched on Marash in the hope of taking over the inheritance of Reynald, who was his son-in-law. He entered the city but retired when the Sultan Mas’ud approached. The garrison that he left behind surrendered to the Seldjuks on the promise that Christian lives should be spared; but as they and the clergy were taking the road to Antioch they were massacred one and all. Mas’ud pursued Joscelin to the neighbourhood of Turbessel. But Christian reinforcements were approaching; while Nur ed-Din had no wish to see Joscelin, who was still his client, lose his lands to the Seldjuks. Mas’ud found it politic to retire. Next, the Ortoqids of the Jezireh, limited on the south by Nur ed-Din and his brothers, sought to expand along the Euphrates at the expense of the Armenians of Gargar, who had been tributaries to Reynald. Joscelin dissipated his energies in vainly sending help to Basil of Gargar. The Ortoqid Kara Arslan took over the whole district of Gargar and Kharpurt, to the delight of the Jacobite Christians to whom his rule was infinitely preferable to that of Reynald with his strong pro-Armenian and anti-Jacobite sentiments. In the winter of 1149 Nur ed-Din broke with Joscelin. His first attacks were unsuccessful; but in April 1150, as Joscelin was riding to Antioch to consult with the government there, he was separated from his escort and fell into the hands of some Turcoman freebooters. They were ready to release him for a heavy ransom; but Nur ed-Din heard of his capture and sent a squadron of cavalry to take him from his captors. He was blinded and imprisoned at Aleppo. There he died, nine years later, in 1159.

Thus, by the summer of 1150, both the Principality of Antioch and the remains of the County of Edessa had lost their lords. But Nur ed-Din did not venture to go farther. When news reached Antioch of the death of Prince Raymond, the Patriarch Aimery put the city into a state of defence and sent urgently south to ask King Baldwin to come to its rescue. He then obtained a short truce from Nur ed-Din by promising to surrender Antioch if Baldwin did not arrive. The arrangement suited Nur ed-Din, who was shy of attempting the siege of the city and who meanwhile was able to capture Apamea, the last Antiochene fortress in the Orontes valley. King Baldwin hastened north with a small company, mostly composed of Knights Templar. His appearance induced Nur ed-Din to accept a more lasting truce, and it served to help to keep Mas’ud from attacking Turbessel. But though Antioch was saved, the Principality was now reduced to the plain of Antioch itself and the coast from Alexandretta to Lattakieh.

1150: Turbessel ceded to Byzantium

It then remained to settle the government of the two lordless domains. On Joscelin’s capture, Nur ed-Din had attacked Turbessel; but the Countess Beatrice put up so spirited a defence that he withdrew. It was clear, nevertheless, that Turbessel could not be held. It was overcrowded with Frankish and Armenian refugees from the outlying districts. The Jacobite Christians were openly disloyal; and the whole area was cut off from Antioch by Nur ed-Din’s conquests. The Countess was preparing to abandon her lands when a message came through from the Emperor Manuel. He was aware of the situation, and he offered to purchase from her all that was left of her county. Beatrice dutifully referred the offer to King Baldwin, who was at Antioch. The lords of his kingdom who were with him and the lords of Antioch discussed the offer. They were loth to hand over territory to a hated Greek; but they decided that it would at least be the Emperor’s fault now if the places were lost to Christendom. The Byzantine governor of Cilicia, Thomas, brought bags of gold — how many, we are not told — to the Countess at Antioch; and in return she handed over to his soldiers the six fortresses of Turbessel, Ravendel, Samosata, Aintab, Duluk and Birejik. The King’s army accompanied the Byzantine garrisons on their journey, and escorted back the many Frankish and Armenian refugees who distrusted Byzantine rule and preferred the greater safety of Antioch. The Countess reserved one fortress from the sale, Ranculat or Rum Kalaat, on the Euphrates near Samosata, which she gave to the Armenian Catholicus. It remained his residence, under Turkish suzerainty, for a century and a half. As the royal army and the refugees travelled back, Nur ed-Din tried to surprise them at Aintab; but the King’s excellent organization preserved them. His chief barons, Humphrey of Toron and Robert of Sourdeval, vainly begged him to allow them to take possession of Aintab in his name; but he abode by the bargain with the Emperor.

Why the Emperor made the bargain is uncertain. The Franks believed that in his pride he thought that he could hold them. It is unlikely that he was so badly misinformed. Rather, he was looking ahead. He hoped before long to come in force to Syria. If he lost them now he could recover them then; and his claim would be beyond dispute. In fact, he lost them in less than a year, to an alliance between Nur ed-Din and the Seldjuk Mas’ud. The alliance had been made on the morrow of Joscelin’s capture, and had been sealed by the marriage of Nur ed-Din to Mas’ud’s daughter. Turbessel was to be her dowry. But Mas’ud had not joined his son-in-law in his attack on Beatrice; he contented himself with capturing Kaisun and Behesni, in the north of the county, giving them to his son Kilij Arslan. But in the spring of 1151 he and Nur ed-Din both attacked the Byzantine garrisons; and the Ortoqids hurried to take their share. Aintab and Duluk fell to Mas’ud, Samosata and Birejik to the Ortoqid Timurtash of Mardin, and Ravendel to Nur ed-Din. At Turbessel itself the Byzantines resisted for a while but were starved out and surrendered to Nur ed-Din’s lieutenant, Hasan of Menbij, in July 1151. All traces of the County of Edessa were gone. The Countess Beatrice retired to Jerusalem with her children, Joscelin and Agnes; who in time to come were to play disastrous parts in the downfall of the kingdom.

1150: Princess Constance’s Suitors

Edessa was gone, but Antioch remained. Raymond’s death left the Princess Constance a widow with four young children. The throne was hers by right; but it was felt that in such times a man must govern. Her elder son, Bohemond III, was five years old at his father’s death. Till he came of age there must be a male regent. The Patriarch Aimery had taken charge at the moment of crisis; but lay opinion disliked the idea of a clerical regency. It was clear that the young Princess ought to remarry. In the meantime the proper regent should be her cousin, King Baldwin, acting as her nearest male relative rather than as an overlord. Baldwin had hastened to Antioch on the news of Raymond’s death. He dealt with the situation with a wisdom rare in a boy of nineteen, and his authority was universally accepted. He returned in the early summer of 1150, to give his authority to the sale of Countess Beatrice’s lands. But he had too many anxieties in the south to wish to remain responsible for Antioch. He urged Constance, who was only twenty-two, to choose another husband and himself suggested three alternative candidates, first, Yves of Nesle, Count of Soissons, a wealthy French noble who had come to Palestine in the wake of the Second Crusade and was ready to make his home there; secondly, Walter of Falconberg, of the family of Saint-Omer, which had held the lordship of Galilee in the past; and thirdly Ralph of Merle, a gallant baron of the County of Tripoli. But Constance would have none of them; and Baldwin had to return to Jerusalem leaving her in possession of her government.

Irritated by her young cousin’s importunities, Constance at once changed her policy and sent an embassy to Constantinople to ask the Emperor Manuel as her overlord to choose her a husband. Manuel was eager to comply with her wishes. Byzantine influence had been declining along the south-eastern frontier of the Empire. About the year 1143 the Armenian Prince, Thoros the Roupenian, had escaped from Constantinople and taken refuge at the Court of his cousin, Joscelin II of Edessa. There he gathered a company of compatriots, with which he recaptured the family stronghold of Vahka, in the eastern Taurus mountains. Two of his brothers, Stephen and Mleh joined him, and he made friends with a neighbouring Frankish lord, Simon of Raban, whose daughter he married. In 1151, while the Byzantines were distracted by the Moslem attack on Turbessel, he swept down into the Cilician plain and defeated and slew the Byzantine governor, Thomas, at the gates of Mamistra. Manuel at once sent his cousin Andronicus with an army to recover the territory lost to Thoros; and now there came the timely chance to place his own candidate on the throne of Antioch.

Neither project succeeded. Andronicus Comnenus was the most brilliant and fascinating member of his talented family, but he was rash and careless. As he moved up to besiege Thoros at Mamistra, the Armenians made a sudden sortie and caught him unawares. His army was routed and he fled back in disgrace to Constantinople. In choosing a husband for Constance, Manuel showed greater ingenuity than sense. He sent his brother-in-law, the Caesar John Roger, the widower of his favourite sister Maria. John Roger was a Norman by birth, and though he had once plotted to secure the imperial throne, he was now a proved and trusted friend of the Emperor; who knew that he could count on his loyalty but believed that his Latin birth would make him acceptable to the Frankish nobility. He forgot about Constance herself. John Roger was frankly middle-aged and had lost all his youthful charm. The young Princess, whose first husband had been famed for his beauty, would not consider so unromantic a mate. She bade the Caesar return to the Emperor. It would have been better if Manuel had sent Andronicus to Antioch and John Roger to fight in Cilicia.

1152: The Murder of Raymond II

King Baldwin would have welcomed almost any husband for his cousin; for he had recently acquired a new responsibility. The married life of Count Raymond II of Tripoli and his wife Hodierna of Jerusalem was not entirely happy. Hodierna, like her sisters Melisende and Alice, was headstrong and gay. Doubts were whispered about the legitimacy of her daughter Melisende. Raymond, passionately jealous of her, attempted to keep her in a state of Oriental seclusion. Early in 1152 their relations were so bad that Queen Melisende felt it her duty to intervene. Together with her son the King, she travelled to Tripoli to patch up a reconciliation. Baldwin used the opportunity to summon Constance to Tripoli, where her two aunts scolded her for her obstinate widowhood. But, perhaps because neither of them had made an outstanding success of married life, their lectures were unavailing. Constance returned to Antioch promising nothing. With Raymond and Hodierna the Queen was more effective. They agreed to compose their quarrel; but it was thought best that Hodierna should enjoy a long holiday at Jerusalem. Baldwin decided to stay on at Tripoli for a while as there were rumours that Nur ed-Din was going to attack the County. The Queen and the Countess set out on the road southward, escorted for a mile or so by the Count. As he rode back through the south gate of his capital a band of Assassins leapt out on him and stabbed him to death. Ralph of Merle and another knight who were with him tried to protect him, only to perish themselves. It was all over so quickly that his guard were unable to catch the murderers. The King was playing at dice in the castle when cries came up from the city below. The garrison rushed to arms and poured into the streets, slaying every Moslem that they saw. But the Assassins escaped; nor was the motive of their act ever known.

Messengers were sent to bring back the Queen and the Countess, and Hodierna assumed the regency in the name of her twelve-year old son, Raymond III. But, as at Antioch, a man was needed as guardian of the government; and Baldwin, as the nearest male relative was obliged to take on the guardianship. Nur ed-Din at once made an incursion as far as Tortosa, which his troops held for a while. They were soon driven out; and Baldwin, with Hodierna’s consent, handed over Tortosa to the Knights of the Temple.

1152: Melisende yields to her Son

Baldwin was glad to be able to return to Jerusalem. Queen Melisende, conscious of her hereditary right, was unwilling to hand power over to her son. But he was now over twenty-two years of age and public opinion demanded his coronation as an adult ruler. The Queen therefore arranged with the Patriarch Fulcher that she should be crowned again by his side, in order that her joint authority should be explicitly admitted. The coronation was to take place on Easter Sunday, 30 March; but Baldwin postponed it. Then, on the Tuesday, when his mother suspected nothing, he entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with an escort of knights and forced the angry Patriarch to crown him alone. It was the signal for an open breach. The Queen had many friends. Manasses of Hierges, her protege, was still Constable; his family connections included the great Ibelin clan, which controlled the Philistian plain; and many of the nobles of southern Palestine were of his party. It was noticeable that when Baldwin went to Antioch in 1149, few of the nobility would accompany an expedition in which the Queen was not interested. Baldwin’s friends came from the north. They were led by Humphrey of Toron and William of Falconberg, whose estates were in Galilee. The King did not venture to have recourse to force. He summoned a great council of the realm, before which he pleaded his claims. Thanks to the influence of the clergy, he was obliged to accept a compromise. He could have Galilee and the north as his realm; but Melisende would retain Jerusalem itself and Nablus, that is to say, Judaea and Samaria; and the coast, where the King’s young brother Amalric held the County of Jaffa, was under her sovereignty. It was an impossible solution; and before many months were passed, the King demanded from his mother the cession of Jerusalem. Without Jerusalem, he said, he could not undertake the defence of the kingdom. With Nur ed-Din’s power growing daily, the argument was forceful; and even her best supporters began to desert the Queen’s cause. But she held firm and fortified Jerusalem and Nablus against her son. Unfortunately, the Constable Manasses was surprised and captured by the King’s troops at his castle of Mirabel, on the edge of the coastal plain. His life was spared on his promise to leave the East and never to return. Nablus thereupon surrendered to the King. Melisende, deserted by the lay nobility but supported still by the Patriarch, tried to hold out in Jerusalem. But the citizens also turned against her and obliged her to give up the struggle. After a few days she yielded the city to her son. He took no strong action against her; for legal opinion seems to have held that right, if not expediency, was on her side. She was allowed to retain Nablus and the neighbourhood as her dower; and, though she retired from lay politics, she retained the patronage over the Church. Baldwin, supreme now in the lay government, replaced Manasses as Constable with his friend Humphrey of Toron.

These dynastic troubles in the ruling Frankish families had been very much to Nur ed-Din’s liking. He did not trouble to make any serious attacks against the Christians during these years; for he had a more urgent task to complete, the conquest of Damascus. After the failure of the Second Crusade Unur of Damascus kept up a desultory war against the Christians for a few months; but fear of Nur ed-Din made him glad to accept peace overtures from Jerusalem. In May 1149 a two-years’ truce was arranged. Unur died soon afterwards, in August; and the Burid emir, Toghtekin’s grandson Mujir ed-Din, in whose name Unur had ruled, took over the government. His weakness gave Nur ed-Din his opportunity. He did not act at once; for his own brother Saif ed-Din died in November, and a rearrangement of the family lands ensued. The youngest brother, Qutb ed-Din, inherited Mosul and the territory in Iraq, but he seems to have recognized Nur ed-Din as his superior. In March next year Nur ed-Din advanced on Damascus; but heavy rains slowed his progress and gave Mujir ed-Din time to ask for help from Jerusalem. Nur ed-Din therefore retired on receiving a promise that his name should be mentioned on the coinage and in the public prayers at Damascus after those of the Caliph and the Sultan of Persia. His rights to a vague overlordship were thus admitted.

1150: Intrigue in Egypt

In May 1151 Nur ed-Din again appeared before Damascus, and again the Franks came to the rescue. After camping for a month close to the city Nur ed-Din retreated to the neighbourhood of Baalbek, which was governed by his lieutenant, Shirkuh’s brother Ayub. Meanwhile the Franks under King Baldwin moved up to Damascus. Many of them were allowed to visit the bazaars within the walls, while Mujir ed-Din paid a cordial visit to the King in the Christian camp. But the allies were not strong enough to go in pursuit of Nur ed-Din. Instead, they marched on Bosra, whose emir, Sarkhak, had accepted help from Nur ed-Din in a revolt against Damascus. The expedition was unsuccessful; but soon afterwards Sarkhak, with the usual volatility of the minor Moslem princes, made friends with the Franks; and Mujir ed-Din was obliged to call in Nur ed-Din’s help to reduce him to obedience. When Nur ed-Din went north again, Mujir ed-Din followed him on a visit to Aleppo, where a treaty of friendship was signed. But the Damascenes still refused to renounce their alliance with the Franks. In December 1151 a band of Turcomans tried to raid Banyas, probably at Ayub’s orders. The garrison countered by a raid on the territory of Baalbek, which Ayub drove off. Mujir ed-Din carefully disclaimed any connection with the warfare. He was more embarrassed when suddenly, in the autumn of 1152, the Ortoqid prince Timurtash of Mardin appeared with a Turcoman army that he had taken by forced marches round the edge of the desert and asked for help for a surprise attack on Jerusalem. He had probably heard of the quarrels between Baldwin and Melisende and thought that a bold stroke might succeed. Mujir ed-Din compromised by allowing him to purchase supplies but sought to dissuade him from going farther. Timurtash then dashed across the Jordan, and, while the Frankish nobility was attending a council at Nablus, doubtless to arrange for Melisende’s dower, pitched his camp on the Mount of Olives. But the garrison of Jerusalem made a sudden sortie on the Turcomans, who, finding that their surprise had failed, retreated to the Jordan. There, on the river bank, the army of the Kingdom fell on them and won a complete victory.

During the next months the attention of Christians and Moslems alike was turned to Egypt. The Fatimid Caliphate seemed near to complete disruption. Since the murder of the vizier al-Afdal there had been no competent ruler in Egypt. The Caliph al-Amir had reigned on till October 1129 when he, too, was murdered; but the government had been conducted by a series of worthless viziers. Al-Amir’s successor, his cousin al-Hafiz, showed more character and tried to free himself from the shackles of the vizierate by appointing his own son Hasan to the post. But Hasan was disloyal and was put to death at his father’s orders in 1135. The next vizier, the Armenian-born Vahram, filled the administration with his compatriots, only to provoke a reaction in 1137, when for days the streets of Cairo ran with Christian blood. Nor was al-Hafiz luckier with his later viziers, though he clung precariously to his throne till his death in 1149. The reign of his son, al-Zafir, began with open civil war between his two leading generals. Amir ibn Sallah won and became vizier, only to be murdered himself three years afterwards. This unending story of intrigue and blood raised the hopes of Egypt’s enemies. In 1150 King Baldwin began to repair the fortifications of Gaza. Ascalon was still a Fatimid fortress, and its garrison still made frequent raids into Christian territory. Gaza was to be the base for operations against Ascalon. The vizier Ibn Sallah was alarmed. Amongst the refugees at the Fatimid court was the Munqidhite prince Usama, who had previously been in Zengi’s service. He was sent to Nur ed-Din, who was now encamped before Damascus, to ask him to make a diversion into Galilee; the Egyptian fleet would meanwhile raid the Frankish seaports. The mission was unsuccessful; Nur ed-Din had other preoccupations. Usama on his way back stopped at Ascalon for two years to conduct operations against the local Franks; then he returned to Egypt in time to witness the intrigues that followed the murder of Ibn Sallah by the son of his stepson Abbas, with the connivance of the Caliph.

1153: The Capture of Ascalon

This drama, following soon on his own triumph over his mother, decided King Baldwin to attack Ascalon. He made careful preparations; and on 25 January 1153 the whole army of the Kingdom, with all the siege engines that the King could amass, appeared before its walls. With the King were the Grand Masters of the Hospital and the Temple, with the pick of their men, the great lay lords of the realm, the Patriarch, the Archbishops of Tyre, Caesarea and Nazareth, and the Bishops of Bethlehem and Acre. The relic of the True Cross accompanied the Patriarch. Ascalon was a tremendous fortress, spreading from the sea in a great semicircle, with its fortifications in excellent repair; and the Egyptian government had always kept it well stocked with armaments and provisions. For some months the Frankish army, though it could completely blockade the city, could make no impression on its walls. The pilgrim-ships that arrived about Easter-time added reinforcements to its ranks. But they were countered by the arrival of an Egyptian fleet in June. The Fatimids did not venture to attempt to relieve Ascalon by land, but they sent a squadron of seventy ships laden with men and arms and supplies of all sorts. Gerard of Sidon, who commanded the twenty galleys that were all that the Christians could muster, dared not attack them, and the Egyptian ships sailed triumphantly into the harbour. The defenders were heartened; but the ships sailed away again after they had been unloaded; and the siege dragged on. Most formidable of the Frankish siege-machines was a great wooden tower that overtopped the walls, from which stones and flaming faggots could be shot right into the city streets. One night, in late July, some of the garrison crept out and set fire to it. But a wind arose, and the flaming mass was blown against the wall. The intense heat caused the masonry to disintegrate, and by morning a breach was made. The Templars, who manned that sector, determined that they alone should have the credit of the victory. While some of their men stood by to prevent any other Christian approaching, forty of their knights penetrated into the city. The garrison at first thought that all was lost, but then, seeing how few the Templars were, rounded on them and slew them. The breach was hastily repaired, and the Templar corpses were hung out over the city walls.

While a truce was held to enable each side to bury its dead, the King held a Council in his tent, before the relic of the Holy Cross. The lay nobles, discouraged by the reverse, wished to abandon the siege; but the Patriarch and the Grand Master of the Hospitallers, Raymond of Le Puy, persuaded the King to continue with it; and their eloquence moved the barons. The attack was renewed more vigorously than before.

On 19 August, after a fierce bombardment of the city, the garrison decided to surrender, on condition that the citizens should be allowed to depart in safety with their movable belongings. Baldwin accepted the terms and abode by them loyally. As a great stream of Moslems poured out of the city, by road and sea, to retire to Egypt, the Franks entered in state and took over the citadel, with its vast store of treasure and of arms. The lordship of Ascalon was given to the King’s brother, Amalric, Count of Jaffa. The great mosque became the Cathedral of St Paul, and the Patriarch consecrated as bishop one of his canons, Absalom. Later, the Bishop of Bethlehem, Gerard, secured a ruling from Rome that the see depended on his own.

The capture of Ascalon was the last great triumph of the Kings of Jerusalem, and it raised their prestige to a formidable height. To have won at last the city known as the Bride of Syria was a resounding achievement; but in fact it brought no great substantial gain. Though the fortress had been the base for petty raids into Frankish lands, Egypt no longer seriously threatened the Christians; but now, with Ascalon in their hands, the Franks were lured on to dangerous adventures by the Nile. It was perhaps for that reason that Nur ed-Din, with his far-sighted policy, had not attempted to interfere in the campaign, except for a projected expedition against Banyas which he planned with Mujir of Damascus, but which came to nothing owing to mutual quarrels. He could not regret that Egypt was weakened, nor that Frankish attention should be diverted to the south. Mujir of Damascus was more easily impressed. He hastened to assure Baldwin of his devoted friendship, and he agreed to pay him a yearly tribute. While Frankish lords journeyed and raided as they pleased over Damascene territory, Frankish ambassadors came to the city to collect the money for their King.

1154: Nur ed-Din takes Damascus

To Mujir and his counsellors, mindful of their own safety, a Frankish protectorate was preferable to their fate should Nur ed-Din become their master. But to the ordinary citizen of Damascus the insolence of the Christians was unbearable. The Burid dynasty was proving itself traitor to the Faith. Ayub, Emir of Baalbek, took advantage of this sentiment. His agents penetrated the city, spreading resentment against Mujir. There happened at this time to be a food-shortage in Damascus; so Nur ed-Din held up the convoys that were bringing corn from the north, and Ayub’s agents spread the rumour that this was Mujir’s fault for refusing to co-operate with his fellow-Moslems. Next, Nur ed-Din persuaded Mujir that many of the Damascene notables were plotting against him; and Mujir in panic took action against them. When Mujir had thus lost the favour of both the rich and the poor, Ayub’s brother Shirkuh arrived as Nur ed-Din’s ambassador before Damascus, but he came truculently, with an armed force unusual for a friendly mission. Mujir would not admit him to the city nor would he go out to meet him. Nur ed-Din took this as an insult to his ambassador and advanced with a large army to Damascus. Mujir’s desperate appeal to the Franks was sent out too late. Nur ed-Din encamped before the walls on 18 April 1154. Exactly a week later, after a brief skirmish outside the eastern wall, a Jewess admitted some of his soldiers into the Jewish quarter, and at once the populace opened the eastern gate to the bulk of his army. Mujir fled to the citadel, but capitulated after only a few hours. He was offered his life and the emirate of Homs. A few weeks later he was suspected of plotting with old friends in Damascus and was ejected from Homs. He refused the offer of the town of Balis on the Euphrates, and retired to Baghdad.

Meanwhile the citizens of Damascus received Nur ed-Din with every sign of joy. He forbade his troops to pillage, and he at once filled the markets with foodstuffs and removed the tax on fruit and vegetables. When Nur ed-Din returned to Aleppo, he left Ayub in charge of Damascus. Baalbek was given to a local noble, Dhahak, who later revolted against Nur ed-Din and had to be suppressed.

Nur ed-Din’s capture of Damascus heavily outbalanced Baldwin’s capture of Ascalon. His territory now stretched down the whole eastern frontier of the Frankish states, from Edessa to Oultrejourdain. Only a few petty emirates in Moslem Syria retained their independence, such as Shaizar. Though Frankish possessions were larger in area and richer in resources, Nur ed-Din’s had the advantage of union under one master who was far less trammelled by arrogant vassals than the rulers of the Franks. His star was in the ascendant. But he was too cautious to follow up his triumph too quickly. He seems to have reaffirmed the alliance between Damascus and Jerusalem and to have renewed the truce for another two years in 1156, when he made a payment of 8000 ducats in continuance of the tribute paid by Mujir ed-Din. His forbearance was chiefly due to his rivalry with the Anatolian Seldjuks, from whom he wished to take their share of the former County of Edessa.

The Sultan Mas’ud died in 1155; and his sons, Kilij Arslan II and Shahinshah, at once quarrelled over the inheritance. The former won the support of the Danishmend princes, Dhu’l Nun of Caesarea and Dhu’l Qarnain of Melitene; the latter that of the eldest Danishmend, Yaghi Siyan of Sivas. Yaghi Siyan asked Nur ed-Din for help; and Nur ed-Din readily responded by attacking and annexing the Seldjuk share of the Edessan towns, Aintab, Dukuk and probably also Samosata. Kilij Arslan defeated his brother; but, though he tried to build up an alliance with the Armenians and Franks against Nur ed-Din, he was obliged to accept the loss of his Euphratesian province.

1156: Earthquakes in Syria

Secure in the north, Nur ed-Din turned south again. In February 1157 Baldwin broke his truce with Nur ed-Din. Relying on the truce, large numbers of Turcomans had brought their flocks of sheep and their horses to graze on the rich pastures near the frontier at Banyas. King Baldwin, heavily in debt owing to a taste for luxury, could not resist the temptation to attack the unsuspecting shepherds and make off with their animals. This shameless breach of his engagements brought him the most valuable booty that Palestine had seen for many decades, but it roused Nur ed-Din to vengeance. While he paused at Baalbek, to reduce its rebellious emir, his general Shirkuh defeated some Latin raiders from the Buqaia; and his brother Nasr ed-Din routed a company of the Hospitallers near Banyas. In May Nur ed-Din himself set out from Damascus to besiege Banyas. Shirkuh defeated a small relieving force, and joined his master before the walls. The lower town was soon taken, but the citadel, two miles away up a steep mountain, held out under the Constable, Humphrey of Toron. Humphrey was on the point of surrendering when news came of the King’s approach. Nur ed-Din set fire to the lower town and retired, letting Baldwin enter Banyas and repair its walls. As the Franks returned south down the Jordan, Nur ed-Din fell on them just north of the Sea of Galilee and won a great victory. The King barely escaped to Safed; and the Moslems were able to return to the siege of Banyas. But after a few days, on news from the north of a projected attack by Kilij Arslan, Nur ed-Din abandoned the attempt and hurried back to Aleppo.

There were other reasons for wishing to avoid an open war at that moment. In the early autumn of 1156 a series of earthquakes was felt throughout Syria. Damascus was not severely damaged, but news of destruction came in from Aleppo and Hama, while a bastion collapsed at Apamea. In November and December there were further shocks, in which the town of Shaizar suffered. Cyprus and the coastal cities north of Tripoli were affected by shocks during the following spring. In August 1157 the Orontes valley underwent even more serious shocks. Many lives were lost at Homs and Aleppo. At Hama the damage was so appalling that the earthquake was called by the chroniclers the Hama earthquake. At Shaizar the family of the Munqidhites were gathered together to celebrate the circumcision of a youthful prince when the great walls of the citadel crashed down on them. Only the Princess of Shaizar, rescued from the ruins, and Usama, away on his diplomatic missions, survived of all the dynasty. Both Moslems and Franks were too busy repairing shattered fortresses to think of serious aggressive expeditions for some time to come.

In October 1157, two months after his return from Banyas, Nur ed-Din suddenly fell desperately ill at Sarmin. Thinking that he was dying he insisted upon being carried in a litter to Aleppo. There he made his will. His brother, Nasr ed-Din was to succeed to his states, with Shirkuh ruling Damascus under his suzerainty. But when Nasr ed-Din entered Aleppo to be ready to take over the heritage, he met with opposition from the governor, Ibn ed-Daya. There were disturbances in the streets that were only quelled when the notables of Aleppo were summoned to their prince’s bedside and saw that he still lived. Indeed, the crisis was now past, and he began slowly to recover. But he seemed to have lost something of his initiative and energy. He was no longer the invincible warrior. Other forces were appearing in Syria to dominate the scene.

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