Post-classical history

CHAPTER III

BEFORE THE WALLS OF ANTIOCH

Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.’ DEUTERONOMY XX, 20

The city of Antioch lies on the river Orontes, some twelve miles from the sea. It was founded in the year 300 B.C. by Seleucus I of Syria and called after his father. It soon rose to be the chief city in Asia; and under the Roman Empire it was the third city in the world. To the Christians it was especially holy; for there they had first been given the name of Christian; and there Saint Peter had founded his first bishopric. In the sixth century A.D. earthquakes and a sack by the Persians had diminished its splendour; and after the Arab conquest it had declined, to the profit of its inland rival Aleppo. Its recovery by Byzantium in the tenth century restored some of its greatness. It became the chief meeting place of Greek and Moslem commerce and the most formidable fortress on the Syrian frontier. Suleiman ibn Kutulmish captured it in 1085. On his death it passed to the Sultan Malik Shah, who installed as governor the Turcoman Yaghi-Siyan. Yaghi-Siyan had now ruled the city for ten years. Since Malik Shah’s death his nominal suzerain had been the Emir Ridwan of Aleppo; but he was an un-dutiful vassal and preserved practical independence by playing off against Ridwan his rivals Duqaq of Damascus and Kerbogha of Mosul. In 1096 Yaghi-Siyan had even betrayed Ridwan during a war against Duqaq whom he now called his overlord; but his aid had not enabled Duqaq to take Aleppo, whose Emir never forgave him.

Plan of Antioch in 1098

Yaghi-Siyan s Search for Allies

The news of the Christian advance alarmed Yaghi-Siyan. Antioch was the acknowledged objective of the Crusaders; and, indeed, they could not hope to be able to march southward towards Palestine unless the great fortress was in their hands. Yaghi-Siyan’s subjects were most of them Christians, Greeks, Armenians and Syrians. The Syrian Christians, hating Greeks and Armenians alike, might remain loyal; but he could not trust the others. Hitherto it seems that he was tolerant towards the Christians. The Orthodox Patriarch, John the Oxite, was permitted to reside in the city, whose great churches had not been turned into mosques. But with the approach of the Crusade he began restrictive measures. The Patriarch, the head of the most important community in Antioch, was thrown into prison. Many leading Christians were ejected from the city; others fled. The Cathedral of St Peter was desecrated and became a stable for the Emir’s horses. Some persecution was carried on in the villages outside the city; which had for a result the prompt massacre of the Turkish garrisons by the villagers as soon as the Crusaders were at hand.

Next Yaghi-Siyan searched for allies. Ridwan of Aleppo would do nothing to help him, in short-sighted revenge for his treachery the previous year. But Duqaq of Damascus, to whom Yaghi-Siyan’s son, Shams ad-Daula, had gone personally to appeal, prepared an expedition for his rescue; and his atabeg, the Turcoman Toghtekin, and the Emir Janah ad-Daula of Homs, offered their support. Another envoy went to the court of Kerbogha, atabeg of Mosul. Kerbogha was now the leading prince in upper Mesopotamia and the Jezireh. He was wise enough to see the threat of the Crusade to the whole Moslem world; and he had long had his eye on Aleppo. If he could acquire Antioch, Ridwan would be encircled and in his power. He, too, prepared an army to rescue the city; and, behind him, the Sultans of Baghdad and Persia promised support. Meanwhile Yaghi-Siyan collected his own considerable forces within the fortress and began to supply it with provisions against a long blockade.

The Crusaders entered Yaghi-Siyan’s territory at the small town of Marata, the Turkish garrison fleeing at their approach. From Marata a detachment under Robert of Flanders went off to the south-west to liberate the town of Artah, whose Christian population had massacred the garrison. Meanwhile, on 20 October, the main army reached the Orontes at the Iron Bridge, where the roads from Marash and Aleppo united to cross the river. The bridge was heavily fortified, with two towers flanking its entrance. But the Crusaders attacked it at once, the Bishop of Le Puy directing the operations, and after a sharp struggle forced their way across. The victory enabled them to capture a huge convoy of cattle, sheep and com on its way to provision Yaghi-Siyan’s army. The road now lay open to Antioch, whose citadel they could see in the distance. Next day Bohemond at the head of the vanguard arrived before the city walls; and the whole army followed close behind.

The Camps Before Antioch

The Crusaders were filled with awe at the sight of the great city. The houses and bazaars of Antioch covered a plain nearly three miles long and a mile deep between the Orontes and Mount Silpius; and the villas and palaces of the wealthy dotted the hillside. Round it all rose the huge fortifications constructed by Justinian and repaired only a century ago by the Byzantines with the latest devices of their technical skill. To the north the walls rose out of the low marshy ground along the river, but to the east and west they climbed steeply up the slopes of the mountain, and to the south they ran along the summit of the ridge, carried audaciously across the chasm through which the torrent called Onopnicles broke its way into the plain, and over a narrow postern called the Iron Gate, and culminated in the superb citadel a thousand feet above the town. Four hundred towers rose from them, spaced so as to bring every yard of them within bowshot. At the north-east comer the Gate of St Paul admitted the road from the Iron Bridge and Aleppo. At the north-west comer the Gate of St George admitted the road from Lattakieh and the Lebanese coast. The roads to Alexandretta and the port of St Symeon, the modem Suadiye, left the city through a great gate on the river-bank and across a fortified bridge. Smaller gates, the Gate of the Duke and the Gate of the Dog, led to the river further to the east. Inside the enceinte water was abundant; there were market-gardens and rough pasture ground for flocks. A whole army could be housed there and provisioned against a long siege. Nor was it possible entirely to surround the city; for no troops could be stationed on the wild precipitous terrain to the south.

It was only through treachery that the Turks had taken Antioch in 1085; and treachery was the only danger that Yaghi-Siyan had to face. But he was nervous. If the Crusaders were not able to encircle the city, he on his side had not enough soldiers to man all its walls. Till reinforcements came up he could not risk losing any of his men. He made no attempt to attack the Crusaders as they moved up into position, and for a fortnight he left them unmolested.

On their arrival the Crusaders installed themselves outside the north-east comer of the walls. Bohemond occupied the sector opposite the Gate of St Paul, Raymond that opposite the Gate of the Dog, with Godfrey on his right, opposite the Gate of the Duke. The remaining armies waited behind Bohemond, ready to move up where they might be required. The Bridge Gate and the Gate of St George were for the moment left uncovered. But work was at once started on a bridge of boats to cross the river from Godfrey’s camp to the village of Talenki, where the Moslem cemetery lay. This bridge enabled the army to reach the roads to Alexandretta and St Symeon; and a camp was soon established on the north of the river.

Yaghi-Siyan had expected an immediate assault on the city. But, amongst the Crusading leaders, only Raymond advised that they should try to storm the walls. God, he said, who had protected them so far, would surely give them the victory. His faith was not shared by the others. The fortifications daunted them; their troops were tired; they could not afford heavy losses now. Moreover, if they delayed, reinforcements would join them. Tancred was due to arrive from Alexandretta. Perhaps the Emperor would soon come with his admirable siege engines. Guynemer’s fleet might spare them men; and there were rumours of a Genoese fleet in the offing. Bohemond, whose counsel carried most weight among them, had his private reasons for opposing Raymond’s suggestion. His ambitions were now centred on the possession of Antioch for himself. Not only would he prefer not to see it looted by the rapacity of an army eager for the pleasure of looting a rich city; but, more seriously, he feared that were it captured by the united effort of the Crusade he could never establish an exclusive claim to it. He had learnt the lesson taught by Alexius at Nicaea. If he could arrange for its surrender to himself, his title would be far harder to dispute. In a little time he should be able to make such an arrangement; for he had some knowledge of Oriental methods of treachery. Under his influence Raymond’s advice was ignored; Raymond’s hatred of him grew greater; and the one chance of quickly capturing Antioch was lost. For, had the first attack met with any success, Yaghi-Siyan, whose nerve was shaking, would have put up a poor resistance. The delay restored his confidence.

Food Supplies Begin to Run Out

Bohemond and his friends had no difficulty in finding intermediaries through whom they could make connections with the enemy. The Christian refugees and exiles from the city kept close touch with their relatives within the walls, owing to the gaps in both blockade and the defence. The Crusaders were well informed of all that passed inside Antioch. But the system worked both ways; for many of the local Christians, in particular the Syrians, doubted whether Byzantine or Frankish rule was preferable to Turkish. They were prepared to ingratiate themselves with Yaghi-Siyan by keeping him equally well informed of all that went on in the Crusaders’ camp. From them he learnt of the Crusaders’ reluctance to attack. He began to organize sorties. His men would creep out from the western gate and cut off any small band of foraging Franks that they could find separated from the army. He communicated with his garrison out at Harenc, across the Iron Bridge on the road to Aleppo, and encouraged it to harass the Franks in the rear. Meanwhile he heard that his son’s mission to Damascus had succeeded and that an army was coming to relieve him.

As autumn turned to winter, the Crusaders, who had been unduly cheered by Yaghi-Siyan’s preliminary inaction, began to lose heart, despite some minor successes. In the middle of November an expedition led by Bohemond managed to lure the garrison of Harenc from their fortress and to exterminate it completely. Almost the same day a Genoese squadron of thirteen vessels appeared at the port of St Symeon, which the Crusaders were thereupon able to occupy. It brought reinforcements in men and armaments, in belated response to Pope Urban’s appeal to the city of Genoa, made nearly two years before. Its arrival gave the Crusaders the comfortable knowledge that they now could communicate by sea with their homes. But these successes were overshadowed by the problem of feeding the army. When the Crusaders had first entered the plain of Antioch, they had found it full of provisions. Sheep and cattle were plentiful, and the village granaries still contained most of the year’s harvest. They had fed well and neglected to lay in supplies for the winter months. Troops were now obliged to go foraging over an ever larger radius, and were all the more liable to be cut off by Turks coming down from the mountains. It was soon discovered that the raiders from Antioch would creep through the gorge of the Onopnicles and wait on the hill above Bohemond’s camp to attack stragglers returning late to their quarters. To counter this, the leaders decided to build a fortified tower on the hill, which each of them guaranteed to garrison in turn. The tower was soon constructed and named Malregard.

About Christmas time 1097, the army’s stocks of food were almost exhausted; and there was nothing more to be obtained in the neighbouring countryside. The princes held a council at which it was decided that a portion of the army should be sent under Bohemond and Robert of Flanders up the Orontes valley towards Hama, to raid the villages there and carry off all the provisions on which they could lay hands. The conduct of the siege should be meantime left in the hands of Raymond and the Bishop of Le Puy. Godfrey at the time was seriously ill. Bohemond and Robert set out on 28 December, taking with them some twenty thousand men. Their departure was at once known to Yaghi-Siyan. He waited till they were well away, then, on the night of the 29th, made a sortie in strength across the bridge and fell on the Crusaders encamped north of the river. These were probably Raymond’s troops, who had moved from their first station when the winter rains made the low ground between the river and the walls no longer habitable. The attack was unexpected; but Raymond’s alertness saved the situation. He hastily collected a group of knights and charged out of the darkness on the Turks; who turned and fled back across the bridge. So hotly did Raymond pursue them that for a moment his men obtained a foothold across the bridge before the gates could be swung shut. It seemed that Raymond was about to justify his belief that the city could be stormed, when a horse that had thrown its rider suddenly bolted back, pushing the knights crowded on the bridge into confusion. It was too dark to see what was happening; and a panic arose among the Crusaders. In their turn they fled, pursued by the Turks, till they rallied at their camp by the bridge of boats; and the Turks returned to the city. Many lives were lost on both sides, but especially among the Frankish knights, whom the Crusade ill could spare. Among them was Adhemar’s own standard-bearer.

Famine

Meantime Bohemond was riding with Robert of Flanders southward, totally ignorant of how nearly Antioch had fallen to his rival, Raymond, and ignorant, too, that a great Moslem relief force was moving up towards him. Duqaq of Damascus had left his capital, with his atabeg Toghtekin and with Yaghi-Siyan’s son Shams and a considerable army, about the middle of the month. At Hama the Emir joined them with his forces. On 30 December they were at Shaizar, where they learnt that a Crusading army was close by. They marched on at once and next morning came upon the enemy at the village of Albara. The Crusaders were taken by surprise; and Robert, whose army was a little ahead of Bohemond’s, was all but surrounded. But Bohemond, seeing what was happening, kept the bulk of his troops in reserve, to charge upon the Moslems at the moment when they thought that the battle was won. His intervention saved Robert and inflicted such heavy losses on the Damascene army that it fell back on Hama. But the Crusaders, though they claimed the victory and had indeed prevented the relief of Antioch, were themselves too seriously weakened to continue their foraging. After sacking one or two villages and burning a mosque, they returned, almost empty-handed, to the camp before Antioch.

They found their comrades deep in gloom. The disastrous battle on the night of the 29th had been followed next day by a severe earth-tremor, which was felt even at Edessa; and that evening the aurora borealis illuminated the sky. During the next weeks torrential rain poured down incessantly, and it grew steadily colder. Stephen of Blois could not understand why anyone complained of excessive sunshine in Syria. It was clear that God was displeased with His warriors, for their pride, their luxuriousness and their brigandage. Adhemar of Le Puy ordered a solemn fast for three days; but with famine already approaching the fast made little difference; and now the failure of the foraging expedition would mean starvation for many. Soon one man in every seven was dying of hunger. Envoys in search of food were sent as far as the Taurus mountains, where the Roupenian princes consented to provide what they could. Some supplies came from the Armenian monks settled out on the Amanus mountains; while local Christians, Armenian and Syrian, collected everything edible that they could find and brought it to the camp. But their motive was not philanthropy but gain. For one donkey-load of provisions eight bezants were charged; and these were prices that only the wealthiest soldiers could afford. The horses suffered even worse than the men, till only some seven hundred were left with the army.

Peter the Hermit Attempts to Desert

A more generous helper was found in the island of Cyprus. The Bishop of Le Puy, acting no doubt on Pope Urban’s instructions, had been assiduous in establishing good relations with the Orthodox Church dignitaries of the East; whom he treated with a respect that belies the theory that the Pope envisaged the Crusade as a means for bringing them under his control. For the Patriarch of Antioch, imprisoned within the city, this friendship was as yet of little value; for the Turks would from time to time put him in a cage and hang him over the walls. But the Patriarch Symeon of Jerusalem, who had retired from his see when Ortoq’s death made life there too insecure, was now in Cyprus. As soon as communications were opened, Adhemar made contact with him. Symeon was no friend of Latin usages, against which he had published a firm but moderate treatise; but he was glad to co-operate with the western Church for the good of Christendom. Already in October he had joined with Adhemar in sending a report on the Crusade to the Christians of the West. Now, hearing of the plight of the army, he regularly dispatched across to it all the food and wine that the island could spare.

The Patriarch’s food parcels, plentiful though they were, could do little to alleviate the general misery. Pressed by hunger, men began to desert from the camp to seek refuge in richer districts or to attempt the long road home. At first the deserters were obscure private soldiers; but one January morning it was found that Peter the Hermit himself had fled, accompanied by William the Carpenter. William was an adventurer with no desire to waste his time on a hopeless Crusade; he had already deserted an expedition in Spain; but why Peter should have lost his nerve is hard to understand. The refugees were pursued by Tancred and brought back in ignominy. Peter, whose reputation it was advisable to preserve, was pardoned in silence; but William was kept standing all night in Bohemond’s tent and in the morning received from him a harsh and menacing lecture. He swore that he would never leave the army again till it reached Jerusalem; but he later broke his oath. Peter’s prestige inevitably suffered; but he was soon to be given a chance to redeem it.

With the army daily diminishing from famine and from flight, Adhemar considered that a strong appeal for reinforcements must be made to the West. To give it the utmost authority, he drafted it in the name of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, whose permission he had presumably secured. The language of the appeal is significant for the light that it throws on Adhemar’s ecclesiastical policy. The Patriarch addresses all the faithful of the West as leader of the bishops now in the East, both Greek and Latin. He entitles himself ‘Apostolic’; he takes it upon himself to excommunicate any Christian who fails in his Crusading vows. It is the language of an independent pontiff. Adhemar could never have put it into the mouth of one who was intended to be made subject to the Bishop of Rome. Whatever Urban’s ultimate plans might be for the government of the eastern Churches, his legate was not preaching papal supremacy. We do not know what response the Patriarch’s letter evoked in the West.

While the Crusaders showed a proper respect for the hierarchs of eastern Orthodoxy, their relations with its lay overlord deteriorated. Early in February the Emperor’s representative Taticius suddenly left the army. He had accompanied the Crusade from Nicaea with a small staff and a company mainly of guides and engineers, and had apparently been on good terms with its leaders. At Comana and at Coxon they had correctly handed over their conquests to him; and he in his reports paid generous tribute to their fighting qualities. Several explanations were given at the time for his departure; but there is no need to reject the story that he told on his return to Constantinople. According to him, Bohemond sent for him one day, when it was already known that the Turks were about to make another effort to relieve Antioch, and told him in strict confidence that the other leaders believed the Emperor to be responsible for encouraging the Turks and were plotting to revenge themselves by taking his life. Taticius allowed himself to be convinced. Indeed, the temper of the army at this moment was such that a scapegoat might well be desired. Besides, he believed that the Crusaders, weakened and demoralized by hunger, could not now hope to take the great fortress. His advice that it should be starved into surrender by the occupation of the castles that commanded its more distant approaches had been ignored. He therefore announced that he must return to imperial territory to arrange for a more satisfactory system of revictualment and took a ship at the port of St Symeon for Cyprus. To show that he intended to return, he left most of his staff behind with the army. But as soon as he was gone Bohemond’s propagandists suggested that he had fled from cowardice in face of the coming Turkish attack, if not from actual treachery. When the Emperor’s representative acted so dishonourably, surely the Crusade was freed from any obligation towards the Empire. That is to say, Antioch need not be restored to it.

Bohemond Threatens to Desert

Next, Bohemond put it about that he was himself contemplating his departure from the army. He could not much longer ignore his obligations at home. Hitherto he had played a leading part in all the military operations of the Crusade; and, as he calculated, the prospect of losing his aid at this critical juncture terrified the army. He therefore allowed it to be understood that if he were given the lordship of Antioch it would compensate him for any losses that he might suffer owing to his absence from Italy. His fellow-princes were not taken in by these manoeuvres; but among the rank and file he won much sympathy.

Meanwhile the Turks were massing again for the relief of Antioch. When Duqaq failed to bring the aid that he had promised, Yaghi-Siyan turned again to his former suzerain, Ridwan of Aleppo. Ridwan by now regretted his own inaction that had permitted the Franks to penetrate to Antioch. When Yaghi-Siyan readmitted his suzerainty, he prepared to come to his rescue, assisted by his cousin, Soqman the Ortoqid, from Diarbekir, and by his father-in-law, the Emir of Hama. Early in February the allies reoccupied Harenc, where they assembled for their attack on the Crusaders’ camp. On hearing the news, the Crusading princes held a council in Adhemar’s tent, where Bohemond proposed that while the infantry should remain in the camp to contain any sortie from the city, the knights, of whom there were only seven hundred now fit for service, should make a surprise onslaught on the invading army. His advice was taken. On 8 February, at nightfall, the Frankish cavalry slipped out across the bridge of boats and took up its position between the river and the Lake of Antioch, from which it could fall on the Turks as they advanced to cross the Iron Bridge. At daybreak the Turkish army came in sight; and at once the first line of the Crusaders charged, before the Turkish archers could be formed into line. The charge could not break the mass of the Turks; and the knights withdrew, luring the enemy to their chosen battleground, where the lake on the left and the river on the right prevented the great numbers of the Turks from outflanking them. On this narrow terrain the knights charged again, this time in full force. Before their weight, the more lightly armed Turks broke and fled, spreading confusion in the packed lines behind them. Soon the whole of Ridwan’s army was in full disorderly retreat back to Aleppo. As they passed through Harenc, its garrison joined the fugitives, leaving the town for the native Christians to hand back to the Crusaders.

While the cavalry were winning this spectacular victory, the infantry were fighting a harder battle. Yaghi-Siyan made a sortie in full strength against the camp; whose defenders were beginning to lose ground, when, in the afternoon, the triumphant knights were seen approaching. As they drew near Yaghi-Siyan understood that the army of relief was beaten. He called his men back within the walls.

The Battle on the Road to St Symeon

The defeat of the second relieving army, though it raised the morale of the Crusaders, did nothing to improve their immediate situation. Food was still very short, though supplies were beginning to arrive at the port of St Symeon, coming largely from Cyprus, where the Patriarch Symeon, and probably also the unappreciated Taticius, collected all that was available. But the road down to the sea was perpetually raided by parties slipping out of the city, who ambushed the smaller convoys; while the city itself received provisions through the still unguarded Gate of St George and across the fortified bridge. To control the bridge and so to make the passage to St Symeon safe, Raymond proposed to build a tower on the north bank close by. But the project was held back owing to the lack of materials and of masons. On 4 March a fleet manned by Englishmen and commanded by the exiled claimant to the throne, Edgar Atheling, sailed into St Symeon. It brought pilgrims from Italy, but had called on its way at Constantinople, where Edgar had joined it, placing himself under the orders of the Emperor. There it had been loaded with siege materials and mechanics, whose arrival was very timely. The fact that they were provided by the Emperor was carefully disregarded by the Crusaders.

Hearing that the fleet had put in, Raymond and Bohemond set out together, neither trusting the other alone, to recruit as many fighting-men as possible from its passengers and to escort the mechanics and material up to the camp. On 6 March, as they were returning laden along the road from St Symeon, they were ambushed by a detachment from the garrison of the city. Their troops were taken by surprise and fled in panic, leaving their loads in the hands of the enemy. A few stragglers rushed into the camp and spread the rumour that both Raymond and Bohemond were killed. At the news Godfrey prepared to go out to rescue the defeated army, when the Turks made a sudden sortie from the city against the camp, to provide cover under which the ambushers, now heavy with booty, could reach the gates. Godfrey’s men, already armed to set out along the road to the sea, were able to hold the attack till Raymond and Bohemond appeared unexpectedly with the remnant of their forces. Their arrival, weakened though they were, enabled Godfrey to drive the Turks back into the city. The princes then united to intercept the raiders as they returned. Their tactics were entirely successful. The raiders, handicapped by their loads, were outmanoeuvred and massacred as they struggled to reach the bridge; and the precious building materials were recovered. It was said that fifteen hundred Turks were slain, many of them drowned while trying to cross the river. Among the dead were nine Emirs. That evening members of the garrison crept out to bury the dead in the Moslem cemetery on the north bank of the river. The Crusaders saw them and left them in peace, but next morning they dug up the corpses for the sake of the gold and silver ornaments that they wore.

Negotiations with the Fatimids

The result of the Crusaders’ victory was to complete the blockade of Antioch. With the workmen and materials now provided the planned fortress was built to command the approach to the fortified bridge. It was built close to a mosque by the Moslem cemetery and was officially called the castle of La Mahomerie, from the old French word for ‘mosque’. But when the leaders debated in whose charge the castle should be placed, Raymond, whose idea it was to erect it, claimed its control for himself; and it was usually known as the castle of Raymond. The building was finished by 19 March. It soon proved its value in preventing any access to the bridge-gate. But the Gate of St George was still open. To bring it too under control it was next resolved to build a castle on the site of an old convent on the hill that faced it. The construction was completed in April and the castle entrusted to Tancred, who was allowed the sum of three hundred marks for his expenses. Henceforward no convoys of food were able to reach the city, nor could its inhabitants send, as had been their custom hitherto, their flocks to pasture outside the walls. Individual raiders could still climb over the walls on Mount Silpius or through the narrow Iron Gate, but could no longer attempt an organized sortie. While the garrison began to suffer from hunger, the Crusaders’ problem of commissariat was eased. The better weather as spring came on, the possibility of foraging without the risk of sudden Turkish attacks and the readiness of merchants that had hitherto sold their goods at high prices to the garrison to do business now with the camp made more provisions available and raised the morale of the Franks. Soon after his castle had been built Tancred had captured a huge consignment of food destined for Yaghi-Siyan and conveyed by Christian merchants, Syrian and Armenian. Such successes led the Crusaders to hope that Antioch might now be starved into surrender. But it must be done quickly, for the terrible Kerbogha of Mosul was gathering his forces.

While they were still at Constantinople the Emperor Alexius had advised the Crusaders to arrive at some sort of understanding with the Fatimids of Egypt. The Fatimids were uncompromising enemies to the Turks; they were tolerant towards their Christian subjects and had always been ready to treat with the Christian powers. The Crusaders probably had not followed this advice; but in the early spring an Egyptian embassy arrived at the camp before Antioch, sent by al-Afdal, the all-powerful vizier of the boy Caliph, al-Mustali. His proposal seems to have been that a division should be made of the Seldjuk empire; the Franks should take northern Syria and Egypt should take Palestine. Al-Afdal no doubt regarded the Crusaders merely as the mercenaries of the Emperor and assumed therefore that such a division, based on the state of affairs before the Turkish invasions, would be perfectly acceptable. The western princes received the ambassadors with cordiality, though they did not commit themselves to any specific arrangement. The Egyptians stayed for some weeks at the camp and returned home accompanied by a small Frankish embassy and laden with gifts, chiefly derived from the booty captured in the battle on 6 March. The negotiations taught the Crusaders the advantages that might emerge from intrigues with the Moslem powers. Laying aside their religious prejudices they next, on the news of Kerbogha’s preparations, sent to Duqaq of Damascus, asking for his neutrality and declaring that they had no designs on his territory. Duqaq, who regarded his brother Ridwan of Aleppo as his chief enemy and saw that Ridwan had reverted to his former neutrality, did not acquiesce with their wishes.

The Plot to Capture Antioch

Early in May it was known that Kerbogha was on the march. Besides his own troops, men had been provided by the Sultans of Baghdad and of Persia and from the Ortoqid princes of northern Mesopotamia; Duqaq was waiting to join him; and at Antioch Yaghi-Siyan, though hard pressed, was still holding out. Amongst the Crusaders tension grew. They knew that unless they captured the city first they would be crushed between the garrison and the huge relieving army. The Emperor Alexius was now campaigning in Asia Minor. A desperate appeal was sent to him to hurry to their rescue. Bohemond, determined to win Antioch for himself, had special cause for worry. If the Emperor arrived before Antioch fell or if Kerbogha were defeated only with the Emperor’s help, then it would be impossible not to restore Antioch to the Empire. Most of the princes were prepared to give Bohemond the city; but Raymond of Toulouse, probably supported by the Bishop of Le Puy, would not agree. Raymond’s motives have often been discussed. He, alone of the princes, was not bound by an explicit oath to the Emperor; but he had left Constantinople on good terms with the Emperor; he hated and suspected Bohemond as his chief rival for the military leadership of the Crusade; and both he and the legate may have considered that if the oath was invalid, the Church, of which Adhemar was the representative, should alone be able to allot territory. After some discussion and intrigue a compromise was reached. If Bohemond were the prince whose troops first entered the city, and if the Emperor never came, he should receive it for himself. Even so, Raymond demurred, but Bohemond already had reason to be satisfied.

Kerbogha’s own miscalculation gave the Crusade a breathing-space. He did not like to advance on Antioch leaving a Frankish army in Edessa in a position to threaten his right flank. He did not realize that Baldwin was too weak for offensive action but was too strong in his great fortress to be easily displaced. For the last three weeks of May he paused in front of Edessa, vainly attacking its walls, before he decided that the effort and the time lost were not worth while.

During these three precious weeks Bohemond was hard at work. At some time he had established a connection with a captain inside the city of Antioch, whose name was Firouz. Firouz was apparently an Armenian converted to Islam, who had risen to a high position in Yaghi-Siyan’s government. Though outwardly loyal he was jealous of his master, who had recently fined him for hoarding grain; and he kept in touch with his former co-religionists. Through them he reached an understanding with Bohemond and agreed to sell the city. The secret of the transaction was well kept. Bohemond took no one into his confidence. Instead, he publicly emphasized the dangers ahead in order to increase the value of his coming triumph.

His propaganda was only too successful. At the end of May Kerbogha abandoned the profitless siege of Edessa and continued his advance. As he approached, panic began to spread in the Crusaders’ camp. Deserters began to slip away in such numbers that it was useless to try to stop them. At last, on 2 June, a large body of the northern French took the road to Alexandretta, led by Stephen of Blois. Only two months before Stephen had written cheerfully to his wife from the camp, to tell her of the difficulties of the siege but also to describe the triumphant battle of 6 March and to emphasize his own importance in the army. But now, with the city still untaken and Kerbogha’s host at hand, it seemed to him mere folly to await for certain massacre. He had never been a great fighting man, but at least he would live to fight another day. Of all the princes Stephen had been most enthusiastic in his admiration for the Emperor. Bohemond must have smiled to see him go; but he could not foretell how useful this flight would be to his cause.

The Eve of the Assault

Had Stephen delayed his departure for only a few hours he would have changed his mind. On that very day Firouz sent his son to Bohemond to say that he was ready for the act of treachery. It was later rumoured that he had been hesitating right up till the evening before, when he discovered that his wife was compromised with one of his Turkish colleagues. He was now in command or the Tower of the Two Sisters and the adjoining section of the wall of the city on the outside, facing the castle of Tancred. He therefore urged Bohemond to assemble the Crusading army that afternoon and lead it out eastward, as though he were going to intercept Kerbogha; then, after dark, the troops should creep back to the western wall, bringing their ladders to scale the tower where he would be watching for them. If Bohemond agreed to this, he would send back his son as a hostage that evening as a sign that he was prepared.

Bohemond took his advice. As the day drew on he sent one of his infantrymen, whose name was Male Couronne, round the camp as a herald to bid the army be ready to set out at sunset for a raid in enemy territory. Then he invited the chief princes to see him, Adhemar, Raymond, Godfrey and Robert of Flanders, and, for the first time, told them of his plot. ‘Tonight’, he said, ‘if God favours us, Antioch will be given into our hands.’ Whatever jealousy Raymond may have felt was left unspoken. He and his colleagues gave their loyal support to the scheme.

As the sun set the Crusading army set out eastward, the cavalry riding up the valley in front of the city and the infantry toiling over the hill-paths behind it. The Turks within the city saw them go and relaxed, in expectation of a quiet night. But in the middle of the night orders were given throughout the army to turn back to the west and north-west walls. Just before dawn Bohemond’s troops arrived before the Tower of the Two Sisters. A ladder was placed against the tower; and, one after the other, sixty knights climbed up, led by Fulk of Chartres, and entered through a window high on the wall into a room where Firouz was nervously waiting. As they first entered he thought their numbers insufficient. ‘We have so few Franks’, he cried out in Greek, ‘where is Bohemond?’ He need not have worried. From the Two Sisters the knights took over the other two towers under his control, enabling their friends to set ladders against the intervening stretches of the wall, while an Italian infantryman went to tell Bohemond that it was time for him to climb into the city. The ladder broke behind him; but while some of the soldiers ran along the wall, surprising the garrisons in their towers, others descended into the city and roused the Christian inhabitants and with their help flung open the Gate of St George and the great Gate of the Bridge, across which the bulk of the army was waiting. The Crusaders now poured in through the gates, meeting with little opposition. Greeks and Armenians joined them in massacring all the Turks that they saw, women as well as men, including Firouz’s own brother. Many Christians perished in the confusion. Yaghi-Siyan himself, awakening to the clamour, at once concluded that all was lost. With his bodyguard he fled on horseback up the gorge that led to the Iron Gate and out on to the hillside. But his son Shams ad-Daula kept his head. Gathering what men he could find he made his way up to the citadel before the Franks could overtake him. Bohemond followed but failed to force an entrance; so he planted his purple banner on the highest point that he could reach. The sight of it, waving in the light of the rising sun, cheered the Crusaders far below as they entered into the city.

When he had gathered enough men Bohemond attempted a serious assault on the citadel. But he was driven back and was himself wounded. His men preferred to return to the more agreeable task of sacking and looting the city streets; while he was soon consoled by receiving from an Armenian peasant the head of Yaghi-Siyan. Yaghi-Siyan had been thrown from his horse on a mountain path as he fled. His escort had deserted him; and as he lay there exhausted and half-stunned some Armenians had found him and recognized him. They killed him at once; and while one earned a handsome reward by bringing Bohemond his head the others sold his belt and his scimitar-sheath for sixty bezants apiece.

The Capture of the City

By nightfall on 3 June there was no Turk left alive in Antioch; and even from neighbouring villages to which the Franks had never penetrated the Turkish population had fled, to seek refuge with Kerbogha. The houses of the citizens of Antioch, of Christians as well as of Moslems, were pillaged. The treasures and the arms found there were scattered or wantonly destroyed. You could not walk on the streets without treading on corpses, all of them rotting rapidly in the summer heat. But Antioch was Christian once more.

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