When Yaghi-SiyÁn, the ruler of Antioch, was informed of the approach of the Franj, he feared possible sedition on the part of the Christians of the city. He therefore decided to expel them.
This event was related by the Arab historian Ibn al-AthÐr, more than a century after the beginnings of the Frankish invasion, on the basis of testimony left by contemporaries:
On the first day, Yaghi-SiyÁn ordered the Muslims to go out beyond the walls to clean out the trenches ringing the city. The next day, he sent only Christians on the same task. He had them work until night had fallen, and when they sought to return, he halted them, saying, ÝAntioch is your city, but you must leave it in my hands until I have resolved our problem with the Franj.’ They asked him, ÝWho will protect our women and children?’ The emir answered, ÝI will take care of them for you.’ He did, indeed, protect the families of those expelled, refusing to allow anyone to touch a hair of their heads.
In that October of 1097 the aged Yaghi-SiyÁn, for forty years an obedient servant of the Seljuk sultan, was haunted by the fear of betrayal. He was convinced that the Frankish armies gathered before Antioch would be able to enter the city only if they found accomplices within the walls. For the city could not be taken by assault, and still less starved out by a blockade. Admittedly, this white-bearded Turkish emir commanded no more than six or seven thousand soldiers, whereas the Franj had nearly thirty thousandcombatants, but Antioch was practically impregnable. Its walls were two farsakh long (about twelve thousand metres), and had no less than 360 turrets built on three different levels. The walls themselves, solidly constructed of stone and brick on a frame of masonry, scaled Mount ÍabÐb al-Najjar to the east and crowned its peak with an inexpugnable citadel. To the west lay the Orontes, which the Syrians called al-Assi, Ýthe rebel river’, because it sometimes seemed to flow upstream, from the Mediterranean to the interior of the country. The river-bed ran along the walls of Antioch, forming a natural obstacle not easily crossed. In the south, the fortifications overlooked a valley so steep that it seemed an extension of the city walls. It was therefore impossible for attackers to encircle the city, and the defenders would have little trouble communicating with the outside world and bringing in supplies.
The city’s food reserves were unusually abundant; the city walls enclosed not only buildings and gardens, but also wide stretches of cultivated land. Before the FatÎ, or Muslim conquest, Antioch was a Roman metropolis of two hundred thousand inhabitants. By 1097 its population numbered only some forty thousand, and several formerly inhabited quarters had been turned into fields and pastures. Although it had lost its past splendour, it was still an impressive city. All travellers, even those from Baghdad or Constantinople, were dazzled by their first sight of this city extending as far as the eye could see, with its minarets, churches, and arcaded souks, its luxurious villas dug into the wooded slopes rising to the citadel.
Yaghi-SiyÁn was in no doubt as to the solidity of his fortifications and the security of his supplies. But all his weapons of defence might prove useless if, at some point along the interminable wall, the attackers managed to find an accomplice willing to open a gate to allow them access to a turret, as had already happened in the past. Hence his decision to expel most of his Christian subjects. In Antioch as elsewhere, the Christians of the Middle East—Greeks, Armenians, Maronites, Jacobites—suffered a double oppression with the arrival of the Franj: their Western coreligionists suspected them of sympathy for the Saracens and treated them as subjects of inferior rank, while their Muslim compatriots often saw them as natural allies of the invaders. Indeed, the boundary between religious and national affiliation was practically non-existent. The same term, ÝRÙm’, was used to refer to both Byzantines and Syrians of the Greek confession, who in any event still saw themselves as subjects of the basileus. The word ÝArmenian’ referred to a church and a people alike, and when a Muslim spoke of Ýthe nation’, al-umma, he was referring to the community of believers. In the mind of Yaghi-SiyÁn, the expulsion of the Christians was less an act of religious discrimination than a wartime measure against citizens of an enemy power, Constantinople, to which Antioch had long belonged and which had never renounced its intention of recovering the city.
Antioch was the last of the great cities of Arab Asia to have fallen under the domination of the Seljuk Turks: in 1084 it was still a dependency of Constantinople. Thirteen years later, when the Frankish knights laid siege to the town, Yaghi-SiyÁn was naturally convinced that this was part of an attempt to restore the authority of the RÙm, with the complicity of the local population, the majority of whom were Christians. Faced with this danger, the emir was not troubled by any scruples. He therefore expelled thenazara, the adepts of the Nazarethan (for this is what Christians were called), and then took personal charge of the rationing of grain, oil, and honey, ordering daily inspections of the fortifications and severely punishing any negligence. Would that suffice? Nothing was certain. But these measures were designed to enable the city to hold out until reinforcements arrived. When would they come? The question was asked insistently by everyone in Antioch, and Yaghi-SiyÁn was no more able to give an answer than was the man in the street. Back in the summer, when the Franj were still far away, he had dispatched his son to visit the various Muslim leaders of Syria to alert them to the danger stalking his town. Ibn al-QalÁnisi tells us that in Damascus Yaghi-SiyÁn’s son spoke of holy war. But in Syria in the eleventh century, jihÁd was no more than a slogan brandished by princes in distress. No emir would rush to another’s aid unless he had some personal interest in doing so. Only then would he contemplate the invocation of great principles.
Now, in that autumn of 1097, the only leader who felt directly threatened by the Frankish invasion was Yaghi-SiyÁn himself. If the emperor’s mercenaries wanted to recover Antioch, there was nothing unnatural about that, since the city had always been Byzantine. In any case, it was thought that the RÙm would go no further. And it was not necessarily bad for his neighbours if Yaghi-SiyÁn was in a spot of trouble. For ten years he had toyed with them, sowing discord, arousing jealousy, overturning alliances. Now he was asking them to put their quarrels aside and rush to his aid. Why should he be surprised if they failed to come at the run?
A realistic man, Yaghi-SiyÁn was well aware that he would be left to languish and forced to beg for help, that he would now have to pay for his past cleverness, intrigue, and betrayal. But he never imagined that his coreligionists would go so far as to hand him over, bound hand and foot, to the mercenaries of the basileus. After all, he was merely struggling to survive in a merciless hornets’ nest. Bloody conflict was relentless in the world in which he had grown up, the world of the Seljuk Turks, and the master of Antioch, like all the other emirs of the region, had no choice but to take his stand. If he wound up on the losing side, his fate would be death, or at least imprisonment and disgrace. If he was lucky enough to pick the winning side, he would savour his victory for a time, and receive several lovely female captives as a bonus, before once again finding himself embroiled in some new conflict in which his life was at stake. Survival in such a world depended above all on backing the right horse, and on not insisting on the same horse at all times. Any mistake was fatal, and rare indeed was the emir who died in bed.
At the time of the arrival of the Franj in Syria, political life was envenomed by the Ýwar of the two brothers’, a conflict between two bizarre personalities who seemed to have stepped out of the imagination of some popular story-teller: RiÃwÁn, the king of Aleppo, and his younger brother DuqÁq, king of Damascus. Their mutual hatred was so obstinate that nothing, not even a common threat to both of them, could induce them even to contemplate reconciliation. RiÃwÁn was barely more than twenty in 1097, but his personality was already shrouded in mystery, and the most terrifying legends about him were rife. Small, thin, of severe and sometimes frightening countenance, he is said (by Ibn al-QalÁnisi) to have fallen under the influence of a Ýphysician-astrologer’ who belonged to the order of Assassins, a recently formed sect that was to play an important part in political life throughout the Frankish occupation. The king of Aleppo was accused, not without reason, of making use of these fanatics to eliminate his opponents. By means of murder, impiety, and witchcraft RidwÁn aroused the distrust of nearly everyone, but it was within his own family that he provoked the most bitter odium. When he acceded to the throne in 1095 he had two of his younger brothers strangled, fearing that they might one day contest his power. A third brother escaped with his life only by fleeing the citadel of Aleppo on the very night that the powerful hands of RiÃwÁn’s slaves were supposed to close upon his throat. This survivor was DuqÁq, who subsequently regarded his elder sibling with blind hatred. After his flight, he sought refuge in Damascus, whose garrison proclaimed him king. This impulsive young man—easily influenced, inclined to fits of anger, and of fragile health—was obsessed by the idea that his brother still sought to assassinate him. Caught between these two half-crazy princes, Yaghi-SiyÁn had no easy task. His closest neighbour was RiÃwÁn, whose capital Aleppo, one of the world’s oldest cities, was less than three days’ march from Antioch. Two years before the arrival of the Franj, Yaghi-SiyÁn had given RiÃwÁn his daughter in marriage. But he soon realized that his son-in-law coveted his kingdom, and he too began to fear for his life. Like DuqÁq, Yaghi-SiyÁn was obsessed by fear of the Assassins sect. Since the common danger had naturally brought the two men closer together, it was to the king of Damascus that Yaghi-SiyÁn now turned as the Franj advanced on Antioch.
DuqÁq, however, was hesitant. It was not that he was afraid of the Franj, he assured Yaghi-SiyÁn, but he had no desire to lead his army into the environs of Aleppo, thus affording his brother an opportunity to strike from behind. Knowing how difficult it would be to prod his ally into a decision, Yaghi-SiyÁn decided to send as emissary his son Shams al-Dawla—ÝSun of the State’—a brilliant, spirited, and impassioned young man who stalked the royal palace relentlessly, harassing DuqÁq and his advisers, resorting by turns to flattery and threat. But it was not until December 1097, two months after the start of the battle of Antioch, that the master of Damascus finally agreed, against his better judgement, to take his army north. Shams went along, for he knew that the full week the march would take gave DuqÁq plenty of time to change his mind. And indeed, the young king grew increasingly nervous as he advanced. On 31 December, when the Damascene army had already covered two-thirds of its trajectory, they encountered a foraging Frankish troop. Despite his clear numerical advantage and the ease with which he managed to surround the enemy, DuqÁq declined to issue the order to attack. This allowed the Franj to overcome their initial disorientation, recover their poise, and slip away. At the day’s end there was neither victor nor vanquished, but the Damascenes had lost more men than their adversaries. No more was needed to discourage DuqÁq, who immediately ordered his men to turn back, despite the desperate entreaties of Shams.
The defection of DuqÁq aroused the greatest bitterness in Antioch, but the defenders did not give way. Curiously, in these early days of 1098, it was among the besiegers that disarray prevailed. Many of Yaghi-SiyÁn’s spies had managed to infiltrate the enemy army. Some of these informants were acting out of hatred of the RÙm, but most were local Christians who hoped to win the emir’s favour. They had left their families in Antioch and were now seeking to guarantee their security. The information they sent back encouraged the population: although the defenders in the besieged city had abundant supplies, the Franj were vulnerable to starvation. Hundreds had died already, and most of their mounts had been slaughtered for food. The expedition encountered by the Damascene army had been sent out to find some sheep and goats, and to pilfer some granaries. Hunger was compounded by other calamities that were daily undermining the invaders’ morale. A relentless rain was falling, justifying the light-hearted nickname the Syrians had bestowed upon Antioch: Ýthe pissoir’. The besiegers’ camp was mired in mud. Finally, there was the earth itself, which trembled constantly. The local people of the countryside were used to it, but the Franj were terrified. The sounds of their prayers reached into the city itself, as they gathered together to plead for divine mercy, believing themselves victims of celestial punishment. It was reported that they had decided to expel all prostitutes from their camp in an effort to placate the wrath of the Almighty; they also closed down the taverns and banned dice games. There were many desertions, even among their chiefs.
News such as this naturally bolstered the combative spirit of the defenders, who organized ever more daring sorties. As Ibn al-AthÐr was to say, Yaghi-SiyÁn showed admirable courage, wisdom, and resolution. Carried away by his own enthusiasm, the Arab historian added: Most of the Franj perished. Had they remained as numerous as they had been upon their arrival, they would have occupied all the lands of Islam! A gross exaggeration, but one that renders due homage to the heroism of the Antioch garrison, which had to bear the brunt of the invasion alone for many long months.
For aid continued to be withheld. In January 1098, embittered by DuqÁq’s inertia, Yaghi-SiyÁn was forced to turn to RiÃwÁn. Once again it was Shams al-Dawla who was charged with the painful mission of presenting the most humble excuses to the king of Aleppo, of listening unflinchingly to all his sarcastic cracks, and of begging him, in the name of Islam and ties of kinship, to deign to dispatch his troops to save Antioch. Shams was well aware that his royal brother-in-law was not susceptible to this type of argument, and that he would sooner lop off his own hand than extend it to Yaghi-SiyÁn. But events themselves were even more compelling. The Franj, whose food situation was increasingly critical, had just raided the lands of the Seljuk king, pillaging and ravaging in the environs of Aleppo itself, and for the first time RiÃwÁn felt his own realm threatened. More to defend himself than to aid Antioch, he decided to send his army against the Franj. Shams was triumphant. He sent his father a message informing him of the date of the Aleppan offensive and asked him to organize a massive sortie to catch the besiegers in a pincer movement.
In Antioch, RiÃwÁn’s intervention was so unexpected that it seemed heaven-sent. Would it be the turning-point of this battle, which had already been raging for more than a hundred days?
Early in the afternoon of 9 February 1098 look-outs posted in the citadel reported the approach of the Aleppan army. It included several thousand cavalry, whereas the Franj could muster no more than seven or eight hundred, so severely had their mounts been decimated by famine. The besieged, who had been anxiously awaiting the Aleppans for several days now, wanted the battle to be joined at once. But RiÃwÁn’s troops had halted and begun to pitch their tents, and battle-orders were postponed to the following day. Preparations continued throughout the night. Every soldier now knew exactly where and when he had to act. Yaghi-SiyÁn was confident that his own men would carry out their side of the bargain.
What no one knew was that the battle was lost even before it began. Terrified by what he knew about the fighting abilities of the Franj, RiÃwÁn dared not take advantage of his numerical superiority. Instead of deploying his troops, he sought only to protect them. To avoid any threat of encirclement, he had confined them all night to a narrow strip of land wedged between the Orontes River and Lake Antioch. At dawn, when the Franj attacked, the Aleppans may as well have been paralysed. The narrowness of the land denied them any mobility. Their mounts reared, and those horsemen who fell were trampled underfoot by their comrades before they could rise. Of course, there was no longer any question of applying the traditional tactics, sending successive waves of cavalry-archers against the enemy. RiÃwÁn’s men were forced into hand-to-hand combat in which the heavily armoured knights easily gained an overwhelming advantage. It was carnage. The king and his army, now in indescribable disarray and pursued by the Franj, dreamed only of flight.
The battle unfolded differently under the walls of Antioch itself. At first light, the defenders launched a massive sortie that compelled the attackers to fall back. The fighting was intense, and the soldiers of Yaghi-SiyÁn were in an excellent position. Slightly before midday, they had begun to penetrate the camp of the Franj when news came in of the Aleppans’ debacle. Sick at heart, the emir ordered his men to fall back to the city. Scarcely had they completed their retreat when the knights who had crushed RiÃwÁn returned, carrying macabre trophies from the battle. The inhabitants of Antioch soon heard great guffaws of laughter, followed by muffled whistles. Then the fearfully mutilated severed heads of the Aleppans, hurled by catapults, began to rain down. A deathly silence gripped the city.
Yaghi-SiyÁn offered words of encouragement to those closest to him, but for the first time he felt the vice tighten around his city. After the debacle of the two enemy brothers, he could expect nothing more from the princes of Syria. Just one recourse remained open to him: the governor of Mosul, the powerful emir KarbÙqa, who had the disadvantage of being more than two weeks’ march from Antioch.
Mosul, the native city of the historian Ibn al-AthÐr, was the capital of JazÐra, or Mesopotamia, the fertile plain watered by the two great rivers Tigris and Euphrates. It was a political, cultural, and economic centre of prime importance. The Arabs boasted of its succulent fruit: its apples, pears, grapes, and pomegranates. The fine cloth it exported—called Ýmuslin’, a word derived from the city’s name—was known throughout the world. At the time of the arrival of the Franj, the people of the emir KarbÙqa’s realm were already exploiting another natural resource, which the traveller Ibn Jubayr was to describe with amazement a few dozen years later: deposits of naphtha. This precious dark liquid, which would one day make the fortune of this part of the world, already offered travellers an unforgettable spectacle.
We approach a locality called al-Qayyara [the place of tar], near the Tigris. To the right of the road to Mosul is a depression in the earth, black as if it lay under a cloud. It is there that God causes the sources of pitch, great and small, to spurt forth. Sometimes one of them hurls up pieces, as though it were boiling. Bowls have been constructed in which the pitch is collected. Around these deposits lies a black pool; on its surface floats a light black foam which washes up on the banks and coagulates into bitumen. The product looks like a highly viscous, smooth, shiny mud, giving off a sharp odour. Thus were we able to see with our own eyes a marvel of which we had heard tell, the description of which had seemed quite extraordinary to us. Not far away, on the banks of the Tigris, is another great source; we could see its smoke rising from afar. We were told that when they want to extract the bitumen it is set on fire. The flame consumes the liquid elements. The bitumen is then cut into pieces and transported. It is known throughout these lands as far as Syria, in Acre and in all the coastal regions. Allah creates whatever he wills. Praise be upon him!
The inhabitants of Mosul attributed curative powers to the dark liquid, and immersed themselves in it when they were ill. Bitumen produced from oil was also used in construction, to Ýcement’ bricks together. Because it was impermeable, it was used as a coating for the walls of public baths, where its appearance was similar to polished black marble. But as we shall see, it was in the military domain that oil was most widely employed.
Apart from these promising resources, Mosul was of vital strategic importance at the start of the Frankish invasion; its rulers had acquired the right to inspect Syrian affairs, a right the ambitious KarbÙqa intended to exercise. He considered Yaghi-SiyÁn’s call forhelp a perfect opportunity to extend his own influence. He immediately promised to raise a great army. From that moment on, Antioch was on tenterhooks anticipating KarbÙqa’s arrival.
This providential figure was a former slave, a condition the Turkish emirs did not consider in any sense degrading. Indeed, the Seljuk princes used to appoint their most faithful and talented slaves to posts of responsibility. Army chiefs of staff and governors of cities were often ex-slaves, or mamlÙks, and so great was their authority that it was not even necessary to manumit them. Before the Frankish occupation was complete, the entire Muslim Middle East would be ruled by Mamluk sultans. As early as 1098 the most influential men of Damascus, Cairo, and several other major cities were slaves or sons of slaves.
KarbÙqa was among the most powerful of these. This authoritarian officer with the greying beard bore the Turkish title of atabeg, literally Ýfather of the prince’. Members of the ruling families suffered a staggering mortality rate in the Seljuk empire—through battles, murders, and executions—and rulers often left heirs who had not yet reached their majority. Tutors were assigned to protect the interests of these heirs, and to round out his role as adoptive father, a tutor generally married his pupil’s mother. Theseatabegsnaturally tended to become the real holders of power, which they often subsequently transmitted to their own sons. The legitimate prince then became no more than a puppet in the hands of the atabeg, sometimes even a hostage. Appearances were scrupulously respected, however. Armies were often officially Ýcommanded’ by children of three or four years of age who had Ýdelegated’ their power to the atabeg.
Just such a strange spectacle was seen in the last days of April 1098, as nearly thirty thousand men gathered to set out from Mosul. The official edict announced that the valiant fighters would be waging the jihÁd against the infidels under the orders of an obscure Seljuk scion who, presumably from the depths of his swaddling clothes, had entrusted command of the army to the atabeg KarbÙqa.
According to the historian Ibn al-AthÐr, who spent his entire life in the service of the atabegs of Mosul, the Franj were seized with fear when they heard that the army of KarbÙqa was on its way to Antioch, for they were vastly weakened and their supplies were slender. The defenders, on the contrary, took heart. Once again they prepared for a sortie to coincide with the approach of the Muslim troops. With the same tenacity as before, Yaghi-SiyÁn, ably seconded by his son Shams al-Dawla, checked the grain reserves, inspected the fortifications, and encouraged the troops, promising them a rapid end to the siege, Ýwith God’s permission’.
But his public self-assurance was a mere façade. The real situation had been worsening for several weeks. The blockade of the city had been tightened, it was more difficult to get supplies, and—this was even more worrying—information from the enemy camp was increasingly scanty. The Franj, who had apparently realized that their every word and deed was being reported to Yaghi-SiyÁn, had decided on drastic action to deal with the problem. The emir’s agents had occasion to watch them kill a man, roast him on a spit, and eat his flesh, while shouting that any spy who was discovered would suffer a similar fate. The terrified informants fled, and Yaghi-SiyÁn no longer had detailed information about his besiegers. As a seasoned military man, he considered the situation highly disquieting.
He was reassured only by the knowledge that KarbÙqa was on the way. He was expected by the middle of May, with his tens of thousands of fighters. Everyone in Antioch impatiently awaited that moment. Rumours circulated day after day, propagated by citizens who mistook their desires for reality. There would be a spate of whispering and a dash to the ramparts, maternal old women asking questions of callow soldiers. The answer was always the same: no, the rescuing troops were not in sight, but it would not be long now.
The great Muslim army was a dazzling sight as it marched out of Mosul, with countless lances glinting in the sun and black banners (emblem of the ÝAbbasids and the Seljuks) waving in a sea of white-robed cavalry. Despite the heat, the pace was brisk. The army would reach Antioch in less than two weeks if it maintained its rate of advance. But KarbÙqa was troubled. Shortly before the army’s departure, he had received some alarming news. A troop of Franj had taken Edessa, known to the Arabs as al-RuhÁ', a large Armenian city situated north of the route leading from Mosul to Antioch. The atabeg could not help wondering whether the Franj of Edessa might not advance behind him as he approached the besieged city. Was he not running the risk of being caught in a pincer movement? In the early days of May, he assembled his principal emirs to announce that he had decided to take a different route. He would first head north and settle the problem of Edessa in a few days; then he would be able to engage the besiegers of Antioch without risk. Some protested, reminding him of Yaghi-SiyÁn’s anxious message. But KarbÙqa silenced them. Once his decision was made, he was as stubborn as a mule. While his emirs grudgingly obeyed, the army headed for the mountain passes leading to Edessa.
The situation in the Armenian city was indeed worrying. The few Muslims who had been able to leave had brought news of strange events there. In February a Frankish chief by the name of Baldwin had arrived in command of hundreds of knights and more than two thousand foot-soldiers. Thoros, an old Armenian prince and ruler of the city, had appealed to him to strengthen the city garrison against repeated attacks by Turkish warriors. But Baldwin refused to act as a mere mercenary. He demanded to be formally named the legitimate successor of Thoros. The latter, aged and childless, agreed. An official ceremony was held, in accordance with Armenian custom. Thoros dressed in a loose-fitting white robe, and Baldwin, naked to the waist, slipped under his Ýfather’s’ frock and pressed their bodies together. Then it was the turn of the Ýmother’, the wife of Thoros, against whom Baldwin now crept, between robe and naked flesh, before the amused regard of the onlookers, who whispered that this rite, conceived for the adoption of children, seemed somewhat inappropriate when the Ýson’ was a great hairy knight.
The soldiers of the Muslim army laughed loud and long as they pictured the scene that had just been described to them. But the sequel of the account chilled them. A few days after the ceremony, Ýfather’ and Ýmother’ were lynched by a mob urged on by the Ýson’, who watched impassively as they were put to death and then proceeded to proclaim himself the Ýcount’ of Edessa. He then appointed his Frankish companions to all the important posts in the army and the administration.
Hearing his worst fears confirmed, KarbÙqa decided to organize a siege of the city. His emirs again sought to dissuade him. The three thousand Frankish soldiers in Edessa would not dare to attack the Muslim army, which numbered tens of thousands of men. On the other hand, they were quite sufficient to defend the city itself, and the siege might well drag on for months. In the meantime Yaghi-SiyÁn, abandoned to his fate, might give way to the pressure of the invaders. But the atabeg would not listen. Only after a futile three weeks under the walls of Edessa did he acknowledge his mistake and set out once more for Antioch, on a forced march.
Meanwhile, within the besieged city, the high hopes of early May had given way to utter disarray. In the palace and in the streets alike, no one could understand why the troops from Mosul were taking so long. Yaghi-SiyÁn was in despair.
The tension reached a paroxysm just before sunset on 2 June, when the look-outs reported that the Franj had assembled their forces and were heading north-east. The emirs and soldiers could think of only one explanation: KarbÙqa was in the area, and the attackers were setting out to meet him. Within a few minutes, houses and ramparts had been alerted by word of mouth. The town breathed again. By sunrise, the atabeg would pry the city loose. The nightmare would finally end. It was a cool and humid evening. Long hours were spent discussing the situation on the doorsteps of darkened homes. Finally Antioch drifted off to sleep, exhausted but confident.
Then at four in the morning, from the southern rim of the city, came a dull sound of rope being dragged against stone. From the peak of a great five-sided tower a man leaned out and gestured. He had not slept all night, and his beard was dishevelled. His name was FÐrÙz, a maker of armour in charge of the defence of the towers, Ibn al-AthÐr would later report. A Muslim of Armenian origin, FÐrÙz had long been part of Yaghi-SiyÁn’s entourage, but he had lately been accused of black-market trading, and Yaghi-SiyÁn had slapped a heavy fine on him. FÐrÙz, seeking revenge, contacted the attackers. He told them that he controlled access to a window overlooking the valley south of the city, and declared that he was prepared to escort them in. Better still, to prove that he was not leading them into a trap, he sent them his own son as hostage. For their part, the attackers promised him gold and land. Thus the plot was hatched: it would be put into action at dawn on the third day of June. The night before, in order to mislead the garrison into relaxing its vigilance, the attackers would pretend to move away from the city.
When agreement was reached between the Franj and this accursed maker of armour, Ibn al-AthÐr writes, they climbed to that small window, opened it, and hauled up many men by means of ropes. When more than five hundred of them had ascended, they sounded the dawn trumpet, while the defenders were still exhausted from their long hours of wakefulness. Yaghi-SiyÁn awoke and asked what was happening. He was told that the sound of the trumpets was coming from the citadel, which had surely been taken.
The noise was actually coming from Two Sisters Tower. But Yaghi-SiyÁn did not bother to check. He thought that all was lost. Succumbing to his fear, he ordered that one of the city gates be opened and he fled, accompanied by several guards. He rode for hours, haggard and unable to recover his spirits. After two hundred days of resistance, the ruler of Antioch had finally broken down. While reproaching him for his weakness, Ibn al-AthÐr evoked his death with emotion.
He burst into tears at having abandoned his family, his sons, and the Muslims, and, in great pain, he fell unconscious from his horse. His companions tried to put him back in the saddle, but he could no longer hold himself upright. He was dying. They left him and rode off. An Armenian woodcutter who happened to be passing by recognized him. He cut off his head and brought it to the Franj in Antioch.
The city itself was a scene of blood and fire. Men, women, and children tried to flee through muddy alleyways, but the knights tracked them down easily and slaughtered them on the spot. The last survivors’ cries of horror were gradually extinguished, soon to be replaced by the off-key singing of drunken Frankish plunderers. Smoke rose from the many burning houses. By midday, a veil of mourning enveloped the city.
Only one man was able to keep his head amidst the bloodthirsty lunacy of 3 June 1098: the indefatigable Shams al-Dawla. The moment the city was invaded, the son of Yaghi-SiyÁn had barricaded himself in the citadel with a small group of fighters. The Franj tried to dislodge them on several occasions, but were repulsed each time, not without suffering heavy losses. The greatest of the Frankish commanders, Bohemond, a gigantic man with long blond hair, was himself wounded in one of these attacks. Having learned something from his misadventure, he sent Shams a message proposing that he abandon the citadel in exchange for a guarantee of safe conduct. But the young emir haughtily refused. Antioch was the fief he had always meant to inherit, and he intended to fight for it to his dying breath. There was no shortage of supplies or sharp arrows. Enthroned majestically at the summit of Mount ÍabÐb al-Najjar, the citadel could resist the Franj for months. They would lose thousands of men if they insisted on scaling its walls.
The determination of these last defenders eventually paid off. The knights abandoned their attack on the citadel, and instead established a security zone around it. Then, three days after the fall of Antioch, Shams and his companions saw to their delight that KarbÙqa’s army had appeared on the horizon. For Shams and his handful of diehards, there was something unreal about the appearance of the cavalry of Islam. They rubbed their eyes, wept, prayed and embraced one another. The soldiers’ cries of AllÁhu akbar, ÝGod is great!’, rose to the citadel in a continuous roar. The Franj dug in behind the walls of Antioch. The besiegers had become the besieged.
Shams’s joy was tinged with bitterness, however. When the first emirs from the rescue expedition joined him in his redoubt, he bombarded them with a thousand questions. Why had they come so late? Why had they given the Franj time to occupy Antioch and massacre its inhabitants? To his utter astonishment, the emirs, far from defending their army’s tactics, denounced KarbÙqa for all these evils: KarbÙqa the arrogant, the pretentious, the inept, the coward.
This was not simply a matter of personal antipathy. It was a genuine conspiracy, and the ringleader was none other than King DuqÁq of Damascus, who had joined the Mosul troops as soon as they crossed into Syrian territory. The Muslim army was decidedly not a homogeneous force, but a coalition of princes whose interests were often contradictory. No one was unaware of the territorial ambitions of the atabeg, and DuqÁq had little trouble convincing his colleagues that their real enemy was KarbÙqa himself. If he emerged victorious from the battle against the infidels, he would set himself up as a saviour, and no Syrian city would escape his rule. On the other hand, if KarbÙqa was beaten, the danger to the Syrian cities would be lifted. Compared to that threat, the Frankish peril was a lesser evil. There was nothing alarming about the RÙm’s desire to retake their city of Antioch with the aid of their mercenaries, for it was inconceivable that the Franj would create states of their own in Syria. As Ibn al-AthÐr put it, the atabeg so annoyed the Muslims with his pretensions that they decided to betray him at the battle’s most decisive moment.
This superb army, then, was a colossus with feet of clay, ready to collapse at the first fillip. Shams, who was willing to forget the decision to abandon Antioch, still sought to overcome all this pettiness. He felt that it was not yet time for accounts to be settled. But his hopes were short-lived. The very day after his arrival, KarbÙqa summoned Shams to inform him that he was to be deprived of his command of the citadel. Shams was indignant. Had he not fought bravely? Had he not held out against all the Frankish knights? Was he not the rightful heir of the ruler of Antioch? The atabeg refused to discuss the matter. He was in charge, and he demanded obedience.
The son of Yaghi-SiyÁn was now convinced that the Muslim army could not win the day, in spite of its imposing size. His only consolation was the knowledge that the situation in the enemy camp was scarcely any better. According to Ibn al-AthÐr, after conquering Antioch, the Franj went without food for twelve days. The nobles devoured their mounts, the poor ate carrion and leaves. The Franj had suffered famine before during past months, but on those occasions they had always been able to gather provisions by raiding the surrounding countryside. Their new status as a besieged army, however, deprived them of this possibility. And Yaghi-SiyÁn’s food reserves, on which they had counted, were practically exhausted. Desertions were running at an alarming rate.
Providence seemed unable to decide which of these two exhausted and demoralized armies to favour during that June of 1098. But then an extraordinary event brought about a decision. The Occidentals cried miracle, but the account of Ibn al-AthÐr contains no hint of the miraculous.
Among the Franj was Bohemond, their commander-in-chief, but there was also an extremely wily monk who assured them that a lance of the Messiah, peace be upon him, was buried in the Kusyan, a great edifice of Antioch. He told them: ÝIf you find it, you will be victorious; otherwise, it means certain death.’ He had earlier buried a lance in the soil of the Kusyan and erased all his tracks. He ordered the Franj to fast and to make penance for three days. On the fourth day, he had them enter the building with their valets and workers, who dug everywhere and found the lance. The monk then cried out, ÝRejoice, for victory is certain!’ On the fifth day, they began exiting from the city gates in small groups of five or six. The Muslims said to KarbÙqa, ÝWe should slip up to the gate and slaughter all who come out. It would be easy, for they are dispersed.’ But he answered, ÝNo. Wait for all of them to leave, and we will kill them all, every last one.’
The calculation of the atabeg was less absurd than it may appear. With such indisciplined troops, and with his emirs waiting for the earliest excuse to desert him, he could not afford to prolong the siege. If the Franj were ready to join the battle, he did not want to frighten them with an excessively massive attack, which would threaten to drive them back into the city. What KarbÙqa had failed to anticipate, however, was that his decision to temporize would be seized upon by those who sought his downfall. While the Franj continued their deployment, desertions began in the Muslim camp. There were accusations of treason and cowardice. Sensing that he was losing control of his troops and that he had probably under-estimated the size of the besieged army as well, KarbÙqa asked the Franj for a truce. This merely demolished the last of his prestige in the eyes of his own army and emboldened the enemy. The Franj charged without even responding to his offer, forcing KarbÙqa in turn to unleash a wave of cavalry-archers upon them. But DuqÁq and most of his emirs were already serenely withdrawing with their troops. Realizing his mounting isolation, the atabeg ordered a general retreat, which immediately degenerated into a rout.
Thus did the powerful Muslim army disintegrate Ýwithout a stroke of sword or lance, without the firing of a single arrow’. The Mosul historian was hardly exaggerating. The Franj themselves feared a trick, he wrote, for there had not yet been any battle justifying such a flight. They therefore preferred not to pursue the Muslims. KarbÙqa was thus able to return to Mosul safe and sound, with the tatters of his troops. All his great ambitions vanished for ever before the walls of Antioch, and the city he had sworn to save was now firmly in the hands of the Franj. It would remain so for many a year.
Most serious of all was that after this day of shame, there was no longer any force in Syria capable of checking the invaders’ advance.