Post-classical history

§ Overawing the Enemy in War

That said, overawing the enemy can sometimes be effective in warfare. Here is an example:

In the year 529 (spring 1135), the atabeg arrived in Syria, and I with him, and he continued onward intending for Damas-cus.266 When we encamped at al-Qutayyifa, al-Yaghisiyani (may God have mercy upon him) said to me, ‘Saddle up and go ahead of us to al-Fustuqa.267 Take up a position along the road so that none of the troops can flee towards Damascus.’

So I went on ahead and took up my position for a while, when al-Yaghisiyani arrived at the head of a small detachment of his comrades. We could see smoke coming from ‘Adhra’, so we sent some cavalry to go and find out what all the smoke was. It turned out it was a detachment from the army of Damascus burning the hay in ‘Adhra’, and they took flight. Al-Yaghisiyani pursued them, with us accompanying him, amounting to maybe thirty or forty horsemen, and we arrived at al-Qusayr, where what should we find, but the army of Damascus in its entirety, cutting us off from the bridge. We were by then at the khan itself.268 So we halted, taking cover behind the khan. [151] Five or six of our horsemen would then go out so that the army of Damascus could catch sight of them, and then they would go back behind the khan, fooling them into thinking we had set up an ambush there.

In the meantime, al-Yaghisiyani sent a horseman to the atabeg to inform him of what we were up against. Soon we saw about ten horsemen approaching us at top speed, our army marshalled behind them. The horsemen arrived at our position and we saw that it was the atabeg leading the vanguard, with the army in tow.

The atabeg rebuked al-Yaghisiyani for what he had done, saying, ‘You ran ahead to the very gate of Damascus with only thirty horsemen just to ruin my reputation!’269 And he cast blame on him. They were both speaking in Turkish, so I did not understand what they were saying.

When the vanguard of the army arrived, I said to al-Yaghisiyani, ‘By your leave, I will take these men who have just arrived, cross over to the Damascene cavalry stationed opposite us and dislodge them.’

‘No,’ he replied. ‘Whoever loyally works in the service of this man is a dirty little so-and-so!270 Didn’t you just hear what he said to me?’

Had it not been for the benevolence of God (may He be exalted), and that attempt to overawe and play with the imagination of the enemy, they would have removed us.

A similar thing happened to me. I had set out with my uncle (may God have mercy upon him) from Shayzar, making for Kafartab. We were accompanied by a crowd of peasants and beggars who were to plunder the crops and cotton in the environs of Kafartab. The people all spread out in plunder, while the cavalry of Kafartab had taken to their mounts and were positioned outside town. But we stood between them and the people spreading out through the fields and cotton. Suddenly, one of our comrades, a horseman, came galloping from the scouts and said, ‘The cavalry of Apamea has come!’

At this, my uncle said, ‘You take up your position opposite the cavalry of Kafartab, while I go at the head of the troops to intercept the cavalry of Apamea.’

I took up my position with ten horsemen, hidden in the midst of some olive trees. Of these, three or four would leave us to worry the imaginations of the Franks, and then return to the olive trees. The Franks, thinking that we were a large group, would assemble, cry out and urge their horses [152] closer to us. But we remained unfazed and they retreated. We remained in that position until my uncle returned, having routed the Franks who had come from Apamea.

One of his attendants said to him, ‘My lord, did you see what he (meaning me) has done? He stayed behind and didn’t go with you to intercept the cavalry of Apamea.’

My uncle responded, ‘If it were not for the fact that he took his position with ten horsemen opposite the cavalry and infantry of Kafartab, the Franks would have taken the whole crowd captive.’

Thus, overawing and playing upon the imagination of the Franks was, on that occasion, more effective than fighting them, since we were but a small detachment and they a large group.

I was involved in a similar case at Damascus. One day, I was accompanying the amir Mu’in al-Din (may God have mercy upon him) when a horseman came to him and said, ‘Bandits have captured a caravan carrying a load of raw cloth up in the pass!’

‘Let’s ride after them,’ he said to me.

‘As you command,’ I replied. ‘But order the officers of the guard271 to have the troops ride out with you.’

‘What do we need the troops for?’ he asked.

‘Would it hurt to have them ride with us?’ I responded.

‘We don’t need them,’ he retorted. He was one of the bravest of horsemen, but in certain circumstances, such stoutheartedness can be a fatal flaw and a real liability.

We rode out with about twenty horsemen. Shortly before noon, we sent two horsemen out this way, two that way, two yet another way and one horseman some other way in order to reconnoitre the roads. We continued on our way in a small band and then the time for mid-afternoon prayer came. Mu’in al-Din said to an attendant of mine, ‘Sawinj, go up and keep watch to the west until we are done praying.’ We had barely finished the last of our prayers when that attendant came galloping towards us.

‘There are men on foot’, he said, ‘bearing bolts of raw cloth on their head, down in the valley!’

‘Let’s ride!’ said Mu’in al-Din (may God have mercy upon him).

‘Give us a second to put on our kazaghands. Then when we find the bandits, we can charge at them with our horses and run them through with our spears, and they won’t even be able to tell whether we are many or few.’

The amir replied, ‘We can put our armour on when we get there!’ [153] and rode off as we headed towards them.

We encountered them in the Valley of Halbun,272 which is a narrow valley where the distance between the two mountains alongside is perhaps five cubits. The mountains on either side are rough and steep and the path is so narrow that horsemen can only pass through one after the other. Yet the bandits were about seventy men, wielding bows and arrows.

When we reached the bandits, our attendants were still behind us with our weapons and unable to get to us. And those bandits: there was a group of them in the valley and a group of them on the slope of the mountain. But I thought that the people in the valley were our men, some peasants from the village who had come out in pursuit of the bandits, and that the men on the slope of the mountain were the real bandits. So I drew my sword and charged those who were on the slope. My horse climbed up that rough slope but nearly breathed its last breath. When I got to them, with my horse stopped still, unable to advance further, one of the bandits nocked an arrow in his bow to shoot me. But I shouted at him and threatened him and he held back. I then made my horse climb down again, hardly believing that I had escaped from them.

The amir Mu’in al-Din climbed to the top of the mountain, thinking he could find some peasants there that he could get to chase the bandits. He shouted at me from the top of the mountain, ‘Don’t leave them before I get back!’ and then disappeared from sight.

So I returned to that group in the valley, having learned in the meantime that they were part of the bandit-party. I charged at them on my own, due to the narrowness of the place, and they fled, throwing down the raw cloth they had with them. I also liberated two animals that were likewise bearing loads of raw cloth. The bandits climbed up to a cave on the slope of the mountain as we watched them, without us having any way to get to them.

The amir Mu’in al-Din (may God have mercy upon him) came back at the end of the day without finding anyone to get to chase the bandits. If we had only had the army with us, we would have struck off all the heads of those bandits and recovered everything that they had with them.

Something like this happened to me on another occasion, too. It was a result of the execution of the divine will and also a lack of experience in warfare. It happened like this:

We set out with the amir Khusraw ibn [154] Talil, making for Damascus to enter the service of Nur al-Din273 (may God have mercy upon him), eventually arriving at Homs. When Khusraw decided to continue via the Baalbek road, I said to him, ‘I’ll go on ahead of you so I can have a look at the Church of Baal,274 until you arrive.’

‘Make it so,’ he replied.

I mounted up and set out. When I was inside the church, a horseman arrived from Khusraw, with his message: ‘Some bandits on foot have attacked a caravan and captured it. Saddle up and meet me in the mountains.’

So I mounted my horse and met up with him. We climbed into the mountains and spotted the bandits in a valley below us, the mountain that we were on being surrounded by the valley in question. One of Khusraw’s companions said to him, ‘You should go down and get them.’

But I said, ‘You shouldn’t do that. Let’s instead make our way around the mountain until we get right above their heads and we can interpose ourselves between them and their path off to the west and then capture them.’ For the bandits had come from the territory of the Franks.

Another person said, ‘In the time it will take us to go around the mountain, we could go down and capture them.’ So we went down. But once the bandits caught sight of us, they climbed up into the mountains.

So Khusraw said to me, ‘Climb up after them!’ I tried my hardest to climb up, but I could not do it.

Now, there remained six or seven of our horsemen on the mountain. They went on foot, leading their horses with them, towards the bandits, who formed a large group. The bandits attacked our comrades and killed two of our horsemen. They took their two horses as well as another horse, whose owner survived safely. The bandits then climbed down the opposite side of the mountain with their plunder.

And so we went back, two of our horsemen dead, and three horses and a caravan captured. This heedless risk-taking was the result of a lack of experience in matters of war.

§ Risk-Taking: A Warrior’s Duty

As for taking risks in acts of valour, it does not happen because one has renounced life. Indeed, it comes about when a man [155] becomes known for his audacity and is given the label of courage. When he then takes part in battle, his ambition demands that he perform noteworthy deeds that his peers cannot accomplish. His spirit so quails at death and riding into danger that it almost overwhelms him, stopping him from what he wants to do, until he forces his spirit and makes it undertake that which it hates to do. As a result, shudders spread throughout his body and his colour changes. But when he enters into battle, his terror disappears and his cravenness subsides.

I was present at the siege of the citadel of al-Sawr with the King of Amirs, the atabeg Zangi (may God have mercy upon him), someone I have already touched on. The citadel belonged to the amir Qara Arslan (may God have mercy upon him), and was fully manned with crossbowmen. This was after Zangi’s defeat at Amid.275 As soon as his tents were set up, Zangi dispatched one of his comrades, who shouted up underneath the citadel, ‘Enemy crossbowmen! The atabeg says to you, “By the grace of the sultan, if but one of my comrades is killed by your arrows, I will absolutely cut off your hands.”’

Zangi then set up the mangonels against the citadel, which took down one side of it. But not enough of it was brought down for the men to use the breach to get up into the citadel. However, one of the atabeg’s bodyguards, a man from Aleppo called Ibn al-’Ariq, climbed up through the breach and set to striking the enemy with his sword. But they injured him with a number of wounds and threw him down from the tower into the moat. By then, our men had overwhelmed them at that breach and we took possession of the citadel. The representatives of the atabeg climbed up to the citadel and took possession of its keys, sending them to Timurtash, and granting Zangi the citadel.

[156] Now, it happened that a crossbow-bolt struck a man from the Khurasanian troops in his knee, cutting through the cap that is on top of the joint, and he died. The moment the atabeg took possession of the citadel, therefore, he summoned the crossbowmen, who were nine in number. They came with their bows slung from their shoulders. Zangi ordered that their thumbs be sliced from their wrists so their hands became limp and useless.

As for Ibn al-’Ariq, he treated his wounds and recovered after being at death’s door. He was a brave man who pushed himself to face all manner of dangers.

I saw something like that on yet another occasion. The atabeg had encamped before the citadel of al-Bari’a,276 which is surrounded by solid rock upon which tents cannot be pitched. The atabeg therefore encamped in the plain and delegated his amirs to conduct the siege in turns. One day, the atabeg rode over to the siege; it was the turn of the amir Abu Bakr al-Dubaysi,277but he did not have sufficient materiel for battle. The atabeg stopped there and said to Abu Bakr, ‘Advance and fight them!’ So Abu Bakr marched at the head of his comrades even though they were practically unarmed, and the infantrymen from the citadel came out to attack them. At this, one of Abu Bakr’s comrades, called Mazyad, who was not then known for his prowess in battle or his courage, came forward and fought furiously, striking at them with his sword and dispersing their crowds. He was wounded many times. I saw him as they carried him back to camp and he was about to breathe his last breath. But then later he got well. Abu Bakr al-Dubaysi presented him and Zangi promoted him and invested him with a robe of honour and made him a member of his own bodyguard.

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