Post-classical history

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Document 7 THE FAILURE OF THE SECOND CRUSADE AT DAMASCUS: TWO ACCOUNTS

(i) Ibn al-Qalanisi

Ibn al-Qalanisi, in his Dhayl Ta’rikh Dimashq, gives the following description of the attack on Damascus made by the forces of the Second Crusade.

In the first days [of the year] successive reports came from various directions about the arrival of ships of the aforementioned Franks on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and their coming to the coastal ports of Tyre and Acre, where [the newly arrived Franks] joined with the Franks who were there. [… Some subsequently returned home, but] Alman, the greatest of their kings [Conrad III of Germany, r. 1138–52], and others of lesser rank, remained, and their views differed regarding which of the lands of Islam and the cities of Syria they should seek to attack, until they settled on attacking Damascus. Their wicked souls reassured them of their conquest of it, so that they agreed on the division of its estates and districts. A series of reports arrived about that, and the governor of the city, the emir Mu‘in al-Din Unur, began to make preparations to fight them. [… The Franks] headed for Damascus […] in a host estimated, according to what was said, at 50,000 cavalry and infantry. […] The infidels overcame the Muslims with their superior numbers and equipment. They took control of the water-sources, spread throughout the orchards and camped in them. They approached the city and took over a part of it that no army had been able to hold in ancient or recent times.

[Three days later, after further fighting, the Muslims] made an early attack on them […] like hawks attacking mountain quail, and falcons descending on the nests of partridges. They surrounded them in their tents, encompassing their dwellings, where the Franks had fortified themselves among the olive trees. They destroyed them with volleys of arrows and showers of rocks. The Franks had refrained from coming out [to fight the Muslims]. They were fearful and faint of heart, and not one of them showed themselves.

Reports reached [the Franks] about the Muslim armies [from elsewhere] that were hastening to wage the jihad against them and rushing to exterminate them, and they became convinced that they would be destroyed and perish, and that ruin would overtake them. They consulted each other and did not find any deliverance for themselves from the net into which they had fallen and the abyss into which they had thrown themselves, except to depart in fright at dawn of the […] following day, and to run away forsaken and thwarted.

Source: Ibn al-Qalanisi. (1983) Ta’rikh Dimashq, pp. 462–6.

(ii) Ibn al-Athir

Ibn al-Athir gives this account of the siege in al-Kamil fi’l-Ta’rikh.

This year the king of the Germans came from his lands with a great host and large following of Franks, aiming to attack Islamic territory and not doubting that he would conquer it with the easiest of fighting because of the great multitude of his following and the abundance of his money and equipment. On his arrival in Syria, the Franks there sought him out and waited upon him, obeying his every command and prohibition. He ordered them to march with him to besiege and take Damascus, as he asserted. They duly set out with him, came to the city and put it under siege. […] The people were convinced that he would conquer the city. Mu‘in al-Din sent to Sayf al-Din Ghazi, son of Atabeg Zanki [Zangi], calling on him to come to the aid of the Muslims and to drive the enemy from them. Accordingly he gathered his troops and set out for Syria, taking with him his brother, Nur al-Din Mahmud, from Aleppo. […] Mu‘in al-Din wrote to the newly arrived Franks, ‘The ruler of the East has come. If you do not withdraw, I shall surrender the city to him and then you will be sorry.’ On the other hand, he sent to the Franks of Syria, to say to them, ‘By what reasoning do you aid these men against us? You know that, if they take Damascus, they will seize the coastal lands that you have in your hands. For myself, if I see that I am too weak to hold the city, I shall surrender it to Sayf al-Din, and you know that, if he controls Damascus, he will not allow you to retain any foothold in Syria.’ They agreed with him to withdraw cooperation with the German emperor and Mu‘in al-Din offered to hand over to them the castle of Banyas.

The Levantine Franks met with the German emperor and warned him against Sayf al-Din, his large forces and his constant supply of reinforcements. ‘Possibly he would take Damascus and you will be too weak to resist him.’ They continued to press him until he withdrew from the city. They then received the surrender of Banyas and the Germans returned to their own lands beyond Constantinople. Thus God saved the believers from their evil.

Source: ‘Izz al-Din ibn al-Athir. (2007) The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period from al-Kamil fi’l-Ta’rikh: Part 2: The Years 541–589/1146–1193: The Age of Nur al-Din and Saladin. Trans. D.S. Richards. Crusade Texts in Translation 15. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, pp. 21–2.

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