Post-classical history

§ Single-Handed Feats at the Battle of Kafartab

A similar case that I witnessed took place in the year 509 (1115). My father (may God have mercy upon him) had gone out at the head of the army to join the isbasalar Bursuq ibn Bursuq (may God have mercy upon him), who had arrived to lead an expedition by order of the sultan.114 He came at the head of an immense force, with a group of prominent amirs,115including: Commander of the Armies Uzbeh, lord of Mosul; Sunqur Diraz, lord of al-Rahba; the amir Kundughadi; the grand chamberlain Baktimur; Zangi ibn Bursuq, a real warrior-hero; Tamirak; Isma’il al-Bakji, and other amirs. They encamped against Kafartab, where the two brothers of Theo-philos116 and the Franks were, and attacked it. The troops from Khurasan entered the fosse and began digging a tunnel.117The Franks were convinced of their own destruction, so they set fire to the citadel and burned the roof, which fell upon the horses, beasts of burden, sheep, pigs and captives, burning them all up. But some of the Franks remained on the top of the citadel, clinging to its walls.

It then occurred to me to enter the sapping-tunnel and have a look at it. So I descended into the fosse, with arrows and stones falling on us like rain, and entered the tunnel. I saw there a very clever thing: they had tunnelled from the fosse to the barbican, and on either side of the tunnel they had set up posts, over which stretched a plank to prevent the earth above it from falling in. They extended the tunnel along in this way using timbers right up to the base of the barbican. Then they tunnelled under the walls of the barbican, keeping it supported, and reached as far as the foundations of the tower.118 The tunnel here was narrow, as it was only intended as a way to get to the tower. As soon as they reached the tower, [74] they widened the tunnel along the wall of the tower, supported it on timbers, and, a little bit at a time, they started carrying out the pieces of chipped away stone. The floor of the tunnel, on account of the stone chipping, became like mud. Having inspected the tunnel, I left without the Khurasani troops recognizing me. If they had, they would not have let me leave without paying them a heavy fine.

They then set about cutting up dry wood and stuffing the tunnel with it. Early the next morning, they set it ablaze. We had put on our armour and marched to the fosse, under a great shower of stones and arrows, to launch an assault on the citadel once the tower collapsed. As soon as the fire began to do its work, the layers of mortar between the stones of the wall began to fall out, then the wall cracked, the crack widened and the tower fell. We had thought that, once the tower fell, we would be able to advance on the enemy. But only the outer face of the tower fell; the inner wall remained as it was.119 So we stood there until the sun became too hot for us, and then went back to our tents having suffered a lot of damage from all the stones.

We rested until noon, when what should happen but an infantryman from our army went out all alone, armed with his sword and shield. He marched up to the wall of the tower that had fallen, whose sides had become like the steps of a stairway, and climbed up until he reached its highest point.120 When the other infantrymen of our army saw him, about ten of them rushed to follow him, fully armed, climbing up one behind the other until they were all on top of the tower, while the Franks were completely unaware of them. As for us, we suited up in our tents and marched out. Many more of the infantrymen had climbed the tower before the rest of the army had arrived.

The Franks now turned upon our men and shot them with arrows, wounding the one who was the first to climb up. So he went back down. But the other men continued to climb until they were facing the Franks on the parapet between the two tower walls.121 In front of them rose a tower with a doorway, in which stood an armoured horseman with shield and spear preventing entrance to the tower. On top of the tower was a group of Franks attacking our men [75] with arrows and stones. One of the Turks climbed up while we were watching and, abandoning himself to fortune, walked forwards until he approached the tower and hurled a bottle of naphtha122 on those who were on top of it. I saw it blaze like a shooting star on the stones, while those Franks threw themselves to the ground out of fear of getting burned. The Turk then came back.

Another Turk climbed up and walked along the parapet with a sword and shield. From the tower that had the horseman in its doorway, there came against him one of their men wearing a doubled hauberk,123 spear in hand, but no shield. The Turk met him, sword in hand, and the Frank thrust his spear at him. But the Turk pushed the spearhead away from him with his shield and stepped forward to his enemy, putting himself in where the Frank’s spear had been.124 So the Frank spun away from him, turning and bending his back like a man at prayer,125out of fear for his head. The Turk struck him with a number of blows, none of which had any effect. He then walked on until he entered the tower, where our men outnumbered and overpowered him and his comrades. The Franks then delivered the citadel and the captives came down to the tents of Bursuq.

The captives gathered together in the large tent of Bursuq to set for themselves the ransom by which they would be freed. I saw among them that one who had come out with his spear against the Turk. He stood up – he was a serjent – and said, ‘How much do you want from me?’

‘We want six hundred dinars,’ they said.

But he just scoffed at them and said, ‘Pfft! I’m just a serjent; my stipend is two dinars a month! Where am I going to get six hundred dinars?’ and then returned and sat down among his comrades. He was of very large build.

The amir al-Sayyid al-Sharif,126 who was one of the greatest amirs, said to my father (may God have mercy upon them both), ‘Brother, can you believe these people? I seek refuge in God from them!’

And God (glory be to Him) decreed that our army should move from Kafartab to Danith;127 we were surprised early Tuesday morning, 23 Rabi’ al-Akhir (15 September 1115) by the army of Antioch. [76] The surrender of Kafartab had occurred on Friday, 13 Rabi’ al-Akhir (5 September). The amir al-Sayyid (may God have mercy upon him) and a large host of Muslims were killed.

My father (may God have mercy upon him) returned after he had parted from me at Kafartab, his army having been crushed. We were still at Kafartab keeping watch on it, intending to rebuild it, since the isbasalar Bursuq had granted it to us. We were removing the prisoners in pairs, each pair chained to a soldier from Shayzar. One of them was half-burned, though his thigh was unharmed; another died in the fire: I saw in them a weighty example worthy of contemplation. We then left Kafartab and returned to Shayzar with my father (may God have mercy upon him), he having had all his tents, camels, mules, baggage and furniture taken from him, and the entire army having dispersed.

What had happened to the army at Danith was the result of a ruse foisted on them by Lu’lu’ the Eunuch,128 who was lord of Aleppo at the time. He made a plan with the lord of Antioch129 to deceive them and divide them, at which point the latter would set out from Antioch at the head of his army to destroy them. So Lu’lu’ sent a messenger to the isbasalar Bursuq (may God have mercy upon him) saying, ‘Send one of the amirs to me with a detachment of troops and I will deliver Aleppo to him. I am truly afraid that the populace of the city will not agree to let me deliver the city to someone else, so I want a body of troops to accompany the amir and thereby overawe the Aleppines.’

So Bursuq sent him the Commander of the Armies130 Uzbeh with three thousand horsemen. But Roger (may God curse him) surprised them one morning and, through the execution of the divine will, destroyed them. The Franks (may God curse them) returned to Kafartab, rebuilt it and settled in it.

[77] God (may He be exalted) decreed that the Frankish captives whom we had taken at Kafartab be released, since the amirs divided them among themselves and kept them until they could ransom themselves off. The exception to this was the case of the Commander of the Armies. For, before leaving for Aleppo, he ordered all those who fell to his share to be executed. And so the armies dispersed – those who survived Danith, that is – and they headed back to their homelands.

At any rate, it was that man who climbed all alone onto the tower of Kafartab who was the cause of its capture.

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