Post-classical history





Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee.’ EXODUS XXXII, 34

Syria at the time of the First Crusade

The Syrian Emirs

When Stephen of Blois, writing to his wife from Nicaea, had expressed the fear that the Crusade might be held up at Antioch, he never dreamed how long the delay would last. Fifteen months had passed since the army had reached the city walls. During this period there had been important changes in the Moslem world. The Fatimids of Egypt, like the Byzantines, had, before the Crusade began, recovered from the first shock of the Turkish onslaught, and, like the Byzantines, they hoped to use the Crusade to consolidate their recovery. The real ruler of Egypt was Shah-an-Shah al-Afdal, who had succeeded his father, the Armenian renegade Badr al-Jamali, as vizier to the boy Caliph, al-Mustali. Al-Afdal’s embassy to the Crusader camp at Antioch had not produced any results. Frankish ambassadors had returned with his envoys to Cairo; but it soon was clear that they were not authorized to negotiate an alliance and that the Crusaders, far from being willing to aid the Egyptians to recover Palestine, had every intention of themselves marching on Jerusalem. Al-Afdal therefore determined to profit by the war in northern Syria. As soon as he heard of Kerbogha’s defeat at Antioch and realized that the Turks throughout Asia were in no position to resist a new attack, he invaded Palestine. The province was still in the hands of the sons of Ortoq, Soqman and Ilghazi, who admitted the suzerainty of Duqaq of Damascus. As al-Afdal advanced they retired behind the walls of Jerusalem. They knew that Duqaq could not at once come to their aid; but they hoped that the great fortifications of Jerusalem and the fighting ability of their Turcoman troops would enable them to hold out till rescue came. Al-Afdal’s army was equipped with the latest siege machines, including forty mangonels; but the Ortoqids resisted for forty days, till at last the walls were so battered that they were forced to capitulate. They were allowed to retire with their men to Damascus, whence they went on to join their cousins in the district round Diarbekir. The Egyptians then occupied the whole of Palestine and by the autumn had fixed their frontier at the pass of the Dog River, on the coast just north of Beirut. In the meantime they repaired the defences of Jerusalem.

In northern Syria the local Arab dynasties were equally delighted by the collapse of Turkish power and were ready to make terms with the Franks. Even the Emir of Hama, Ridwan’s father-in-law, and the Emir of Homs, who had fought well for Kerbogha, abandoned any idea of opposing them. More important to the Crusaders was the attitude of the two leading Arab families, the Munqidhites of Shaizar and the Banu ‘Ammar of Tripoli. The former controlled the country immediately ahead of the Crusaders, from the Orontes to the coast, and the latter the coast line from the middle Lebanon to the Fatimid frontier. Their friendship, or at least their neutrality, was essential if the Crusade was to advance.

From Maarat an-Numan Raymond marched on to Kafartab, some twelve miles to the south. There he waited till 16 January, collecting provisions to revictual his troops; and there Tancred and Robert of Normandy joined him. Thither, too, came ambassadors from the Emir of Shaizar, offering to provide guides and cheap provisions for the Crusaders if they would pass peaceably through his land. Raymond accepted the offer; and on the 17th the Emir’s guides conducted the army across the Orontes, between Shaizar and Hama, and led it up the valley of the Sarout. All the flocks and herds of the district had been driven for safety into a valley adjoining the Sarout; into which, by error, one of the guides introduced the Franks. The herdsmen and the local villagers were not strong enough to prevent the Franks from systematically taking over the beasts. The commander of the castle that dominated the valley thought it best to buy immunity for himself. So rich was the booty that several of the knights went off to sell their surplus in Shaizar and in Hama, in return for pack-horses, of which they bought a thousand. The Arab authorities freely allowed them to enter their towns and make their purchases.

The Crusaders at Hosn al-Akrad

While these supplies were being collected, Raymond and his commanders met to discuss what route should now be taken. Raymond himself favoured the view that the army should strike due west across the Nosairi range in order to reach the coast as soon as possible. Lattakieh was already in Christian hands; and so long as he kept to the coast he would be in touch with Antioch and could obtain supplies from the Byzantine authorities in Cyprus, with whom he was on good terms. But Tancred pointed out that to be sure of the coast road it would be necessary to capture all the great fortresses that lay on the way. The fighting strength of the army was now only a thousand knights and five thousand infantrymen. How could such a force indulge in siege warfare? They ought, he argued, to march straight on to Jerusalem, avoiding the necessity of capturing the coastal fortresses. If they could take Jerusalem, not only would the news bring more soldiers out from Europe, but cities like Tripoli, Tyre and Acre would no longer attempt to hold out against them. The argument against his view was that all the country between the Lebanon and the desert was held by Duqaq of Damascus, who, unlike the Arab princelings, would undoubtedly oppose the Crusaders’ progress. It was eventually decided to strike the coast further to the south, through the Buqaia, the plain between the Nosairi range and the Lebanon, which provides the only easy access from inner Syria to the sea, and to waste as little time as possible on attempts to reduce enemy fortresses.

On 22 January the Crusaders reached the town of Masyaf, whose lord hastened to conclude a treaty with them. From there they turned south-south-east, to avoid the massif of the Jebel Helou. Next day they came to the town of Rafaniya, which they found deserted by its inhabitants but full of supplies of every kind. They remained there for three days, then descended into the Buqaia. The plain was commanded by the huge fortress of Hosn al-Akrad, the Castle of the Kurds, built on the height where the ruins of Krak des Chevaliers now stand. The local inhabitants had driven all their herds to shelter within its walls; and, for the purpose of revictualment rather than for strategic reasons, the Crusaders decided that it must be taken. On 28 January they attacked the fortifications. But the defence, aware of their habits, opened a gate and let out some of their beasts. So intent were the Franks on rounding up all this booty that they scattered; and a sortie from the castle not only prevented them from reassembling but also nearly succeeded in capturing Count Raymond himself, who had been deserted by his bodyguard. Next day the Franks, ashamed of having been tricked, planned a serious assault; but when they reached the walls they found that the castle had been abandoned during the night. There was still considerable booty left within; and the army settled down to spend three weeks there, while further discussions about strategy were held. The Feast of the Purification was celebrated within the castle.

While Raymond was at Hosn al-Akrad, envoys reached him from the Emir of Hama, offering him gifts and promising not to attack his men. They were followed by envoys from the Emir of Tripoli. This Emir, Jalal al-Mulk Abu’l Hasan, of the dynasty of the Banu ‘Ammar, a family noted more for its learning than for its warlike qualities, had maintained the independence of his emirate by playing off the Seldjuks against the Fatimids. With the Turkish power in decline, he was ready to encourage the Franks against the renascent Egyptians. Raymond was invited to send representatives to Tripoli to discuss arrangements for the passage of the Crusade and to bring the banners of Toulouse, which the Emir would unfurl over the city. The prosperity of Tripoli and the surrounding country greatly impressed the Frankish ambassadors; who on their return to the camp advised Raymond that if he made a show of force against one of the fortresses of the emirate, the Emir would certainly pay a large sum to buy immunity for the rest of his dominions. Raymond, who was in need of money, took their advice and ordered his army to attack the town of Arqa, situated some fifteen miles from Tripoli, where the Buqaia opens out to the coast. He arrived before its walls on 14 February.

Meanwhile, anxious as he was to establish communications with the garrison at Lattakieh and the sea, Raymond encouraged Raymond Pilet and Raymond, Viscount of Turenne, to attempt a surprise attack on Tortosa, the one good harbour on the coast between Lattakieh and Tripoli. The two Raymonds, with a small detachment, hurried westward and arrived before the town after dark on 16 February. They lit a series of camp fires all round the walls, to suggest the presence of a far larger army than they possessed. The ruse was successful. The governor of Tortosa, who was subject to the Emir of Tripoli, was so seriously alarmed that he evacuated himself and his garrison by sea during the night. Next morning the gates of the town were opened to the Franks. At the news of their conquest the governor of Marqiye, ten miles to the north, hastened to recognize Raymond’s suzerainty. The capture of Tortosa greatly strengthened the Crusade. It opened up easy communications by sea with Antioch and Cyprus and with Europe.

The Siege of Arqa

This success roused jealousy among the Crusaders still at Antioch and decided them to follow Raymond southward. About the end of February Godfrey of Lorraine, Bohemond and Robert of Flanders set out from Antioch to Lattakieh. There Bohemond turned back. He thought that after all it would be wiser to consolidate himself in Antioch lest the Emperor might march towards Syria in the spring. Godfrey and Robert moved on to besiege the small sea-port of Jabala. While they lay there, the Bishop of Al-bara reached them from Raymond, begging them to join him at Arqa.

The siege of Arqa was not going well. The town was well fortified and courageously defended; and Raymond’s army was not large enough to invest it completely. Tancred’s warning that the army was in no condition to attempt to storm fortresses was fully justified. But once Raymond had begun the siege he could not abandon it for fear that the Emir of Tripoli, seeing his weakness, would become openly hostile. It is possible that the soldiers made no great effort. Life was comfortable in the camp. The countryside was fertile and further supplies began to arrive through Tortosa. After all that they had endured the men were pleased to relax themselves a while. Early in March there was a rumour that a Moslem army was assembling to relieve Arqa, led in person by the Caliph of Baghdad. The rumour was false, but it alarmed Raymond into summoning Godfrey and Robert of Flanders. On the receipt of the message Godfrey and Robert made a truce with the Emir of Jabala, who accepted their suzerainty, and hurried southward to Arqa. They celebrated their arrival by an attack on the suburbs of Tripoli and by several successful raids to round up beasts of all sorts, including camels, in the Buqaia.

Raymond soon regretted the arrival of his colleagues. He had been for two months the accepted leader of the Crusade. Even Tancred had acknowledged his authority in return for five thousand sous. But now he had been obliged to call on his rivals for help. Tancred, whose advice he had ignored, moved over to Godfrey’s camp, saying that Raymond had not paid him sufficiently. The two Roberts showed little inclination to admit Raymond’s hegemony. In his attempt to assert his rights he aroused resentment; and quarrels began. The men of each army, seeing their leaders at loggerheads, followed suit and would not co-operate with each other.

The Question of the Holy Lance

The controversy was worsened by the arrival in early April of letters from the Emperor. Alexius informed the Crusaders that he was now ready to start out for Syria. If they would wait for him till the end of June, he would be with them by St John’s Day and would lead them on into Palestine. Raymond wished to accept the offer. As the Emperor’s faithful ally he could count on imperial backing to help him to reassert his supremacy over the Frankish army. Amongst his own men, there were many, like Raymond of Aguilers, who, much as they disliked the Byzantines, felt that the Emperor’s arrival would at least provide the Crusade with a leader whom all the princes would admit. But the bulk of the army was impatient to move on to Jerusalem; and none of the other princes wished to find himself under imperial suzerainty. Against such strong public opinion, Raymond’s policy could not prevail. It is probable that Alexius never expected that the Crusaders would wait for him. Disgusted by their behaviour at Antioch he had already decided upon an attitude of neutrality. This to a Byzantine diplomat was not a passive attitude but meant the establishment of relations with both sides in order that benefits might be reaped whichever should be victorious. He was in communication with the Egyptians, who had probably written to him when the Crusade advanced towards their territory to ask if it was acting on his account. In answer Alexius repudiated the movement. He had reason for so doing. Bohemond’s actions taught him that he could not count upon the loyalty of the Franks; nor was he particularly interested in Palestine. It lay outside the lands that he had hoped to recover for the Empire. His only obligation there was towards the Orthodox Christians, whose protector he was. He may well have considered that they would fare better under the tolerant rule of the Fatimids than under the Franks who were already showing at Antioch a marked hostility towards native Christianity. At the same time he did not wish to sever his connection with the Crusade, which might still be of use to the Empire. His correspondence with Egypt later fell into the hands of the Crusaders, who were genuinely shocked by the evidence of his treachery to them, though their treachery to him seemed to them perfectly reasonable and right. They blamed it on him that the ambassadors they had sent to Cairo from Antioch had been detained there for so long.

These ambassadors returned to the army at Arqa a few days later, bearing the Fatimids’ final offer for a settlement. If the Crusade would abandon any attempt to force its way into Fatimid territory, its pilgrims would be allowed free access to the holy places and everything would be done to facilitate the pilgrimage. The suggestion was at once rejected.

In spite of the desire of the other princes to resume the march, Raymond refused to leave Arqa untaken. To bring matters to a head, Peter Bartholomew announced that on 5 April Christ, Saint Peter and Saint Andrew had all appeared to him to announce that an immediate assault on Arqa must be made. The bulk of the army was growing tired of Peter’s revelations, which they regarded as a political device of Count Raymond’s. A section of the northern French, led by Robert of Normandy’s chaplain, Arnulf of Rohes, now openly declared their disbelief and even questioned the authenticity of the Holy Lance, remarking that Adhemar of Le Puy had never been convinced of it. The Provencals rallied to Peter’s support. Stephen of Valence reminded the army of his vision at Antioch. Raymond of Aguilers told how he had kissed the Lance while it was still embedded in the ground. Another priest, Peter Desiderius, reported that Adhemar had appeared to him after his death and had described the hell-fire to which his doubts had led him. Another, Everard, said that when he was visiting Tripoli on business during the Turkish siege of Antioch a Syrian there had told him of a vision in which Saint Mark had spoken of the Lance. The Bishop of Apt, who had been a sceptic, mentioned a vision that had caused him to change his mind. One of Adhemar’s own entourage, Bertrand of Le Puy, announced that the bishop and his standard-bearer had both come to him in a vision to admit that the Lance was genuine. Faced by this impressive evidence, Arnulf publicly confessed that he was convinced; but his friends continued to cast doubt on the whole story; till at last Peter Bartholomew in a fury demanded to be allowed to defend himself by the ordeal of fire. Whatever the truth may have been, he clearly by now believed firmly in his divine inspiration.

The ordeal took place on Good Friday, 8 April. Two piles of logs, blessed by the bishops, were erected in a narrow passage and set alight. Peter Bartholomew, clad only in a tunic, with the Lance in his hand, leapt quickly through the flames. He emerged horribly burnt and would have collapsed back into the fire had not Raymond Pilet caught hold of him. For twelve days he lingered on in agony, then died of his wounds. As a result of the ordeal the Lance was utterly discredited, save only by the Provencals, who maintained that Peter had passed safely through the flames but had been pushed back by the enthusiastic crowd in their eagerness to touch his sacred tunic. Count Raymond still kept the Lance with all reverence in his chapel.

The Crusaders before Tripoli

The army lingered on for a month outside Arqa before Raymond could be induced to abandon the siege. The fighting there had cost many lives, including that of Anselm of Ribemont, whose letters to his liege lord, the Archbishop of Reims, had given a vivid account of the Crusade. On 13 May Raymond yielded to his colleagues’ persuasion and, with tears in his eyes, ordered the camp to be struck; and the whole host moved down to Tripoli. There had been further discussions about the route to be followed. The Syrians informed Raymond that there was an easy road passing through Damascus, but though food was plentiful there, water was short. The road over the Lebanon was well watered, but it was difficult for beasts of burden. The third alternative was the coast road; but there were many places where it could be blocked by a handful of the enemy. However, local prophecies declared that the deliverers of Jerusalem would travel along the coast. This was the road that was chosen, less for its prophetic reputation than for the contact that it provided with the English and Genoese fleets that were now cruising in Levantine waters.

As the Crusaders approached, the Emir of Tripoli hastened to buy immunity for his capital and its suburbs by releasing some three hundred Christian captives that were in the town. He compensated them with fifteen thousand bezants and fifteen fine horses; and he provided pack-animals and provender for the whole army. He was further reported to have offered to embrace Christianity if the Franks defeated the Fatimids.

On Monday, 16 May, the Crusaders left Tripoli, accompanied by guides provided by the Emir; who led them safely along the dangerous road that rounded the cape of Ras Shaqqa. Passing peacefully through the Emir’s towns of Batrun and Jebail, they reached the Fatimid frontier on the Dog River on 19 May. The Fatimids kept no troops in their northern territory, except for small garrisons in the towns on the coast, but they possessed a considerable navy, which could provide additional defence for these towns. Thus, though the Crusaders did not meet with any opposition on the road, they could not hope to capture any of the ports that they passed; and the Christian fleet could no longer keep in touch with them. Fear of running short of supplies obliged them thenceforward to hurry on as quickly as possible to their final objective.

As they drew near to Beirut the local inhabitants, dreading the destruction of the rich gardens and orchards that surrounded the city, hastened to offer them gifts and a free passage through their lands on condition that the fruit trees, the vines and the crops were unharmed. The princes accepted the terms and led the army quickly on to Sidon, which was reached on 20 May. The garrison of Sidon was of sterner stuff and made a sortie against the Crusaders as they were encamped on the banks of the Nahr al-Awali. The sortie was repulsed; and the Crusaders retorted by ravaging the gardens in the suburbs. But they moved on as soon as possible to the neighbourhood of Tyre, where they waited two days to allow Baldwin of Le Bourg and a number of knights from Antioch and from Edessa to catch them up. The streams and greenery of the neighbourhood made it a delightful halting-place. The garrison of Tyre stayed behind its walls and did not molest them. Tyre was left on the 23rd; and the army crossed without difficulty over the pass called the Ladder of Tyre and over the heights of Naqoura, and arrived outside Acre on the 24th. The governor, following the example of Beirut, secured immunity for the fertile farms around the town by the gift of ample provisions. From Acre the army marched to Haifa and along the coast under Mount Carmel to Caesarea, where four days were spent, from the 26th to the 30th, in order that Whitsun might be properly celebrated. While it was encamped there a pigeon was killed by a hawk overhead and fell near the tent of the Bishop of Apt. It was found to be a carrier, with a message from the governor of Acre to rouse the Moslems of Palestine against the invaders.

The Occupation of Ramleh

When the march was resumed, the coast was followed only as far as Arsuf, where the army turned inland, arriving before Ramleh on 3 June. Ramleh, unlike most of the towns of Palestine, was a Moslem town. Before the Turkish invasions it had been the administrative capital of the province, but had declined in recent years. The approach of the Crusaders alarmed the inhabitants; the garrison was small and they were too far from the sea for the Egyptian navy to help them. They fled in a body from their homes, away toward the south-west, having first, as an act of defiance, destroyed the great Church of St George that stood in the ruined village of Lydda, a mile from Ramleh. When Robert of Flanders and Gaston of Bearn rode up in the van of the Crusading army they found the streets deserted and the houses empty.

The occupation of a Moslem town in the heart of the Holy Land elated the Crusaders. They vowed at once to rebuild the sanctuary of St George and to erect Ramleh and Lydda into a lordship to be his patrimony, and to create a new diocese whose bishop should be its lord. A Norman priest, Robert of Rouen, was appointed to the see. As at Albara this did not mean the displacement of a Greek bishop in favour of a Latin, but the establishment of a bishopric in conquered Moslem country. The appointment showed that public opinion amongst the Crusaders considered that conquered territory should be given to the Church. Robert was left in charge of Ramleh with a small garrison to protect him. Meanwhile the princes debated what next should be done; for some considered that it would be foolish to attack Jerusalem in the height of summer. It would be better, they argued, to advance against the real enemy, Egypt. After some discussion their advice was rejected and the march to Jerusalem was resumed on 6 June.

From Ramleh the army took the old road that winds up into the Judaean hills to the north of the present thoroughfare. As it passed through the village of Emmaus envoys came to the princes from the city of Bethlehem, whose entirely Christian population begged to be delivered from the yoke of the Moslems. Tancred and Baldwin of Le Bourg at once rode off with a small detachment of knights over the hills to Bethlehem. They arrived in the middle of the night, and the frightened citizens at first believed them to be part of an Egyptian army come to reinforce the defence of Jerusalem. When dawn broke and the knights were recognized as Christians, the whole city came out in procession, with all the relics and the crosses from the Church of the Nativity, to welcome their rescuers and to kiss their hands.

While the birthplace of Christ was being restored to Christian rule, the main Christian army pressed on all day and through the night towards Jerusalem. It was heartened by an eclipse of the moon, foreboding the eclipse of the Crescent. Next morning a hundred of Tancred’s knights from Bethlehem rejoined their comrades. Later in the morning, the Crusaders reached the summit of the road, at the Mosque of the prophet Samuel, on the hill-top that the pilgrims called Montjoie; and Jerusalem with its walls and towers rose in the distance before them. By that evening of Tuesday, 7 June 1099, the Christian army was encamped before the Holy City.

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