Part Three


(1128 — 1146)

I was about to begin the prayer when a Franj threw himself upon me, seized me, and turned my face to the East, telling me, ÝThat’s how you pray!’


Chronicler (1095–1188)


The Damascus Conspiracies

The vizier al-MazdaghÁni, Ibn al-QalÁnisi relates, went, as he did every day, to the Pavilion of Roses, in the palace of the citadel, in Damascus. All the emirs and military officers were gathered there. The meeting dealt with various matters. BÙri, son of Tughtigin, who was now master of the city, exchanged views with all those present, whereupon they rose to return to their residences. According to custom, the vizier was supposed to leave after the others. As he stood, BÙri gestured to one of his associates, who promptly struck al-MazdaghÁni several sabre blows on his head. He was then beheaded, and his body, in two pieces, was carried to the Gate of Iron that all might see what God had in store for those who had recourse to deceit.

News of the death of the Assassins’ protector spread through the souks of Damascus within a few minutes, and was immediately followed by a man-hunt. A huge crowd fanned out through the streets, brandishing sabres and daggers. All the BÁÔinis, their relatives, their friends, and anyone suspected of sympathy for them were tracked through the city, followed home and mercilessly slaughtered. Their leaders were crucified on the battlements of the city ramparts. Several members of Ibn al-QalÁnisi’s family took an active part in the massacre. It might be thought that the chronicler himself, who was a 57-year-old high-ranking functionary in that September of 1129, would not have mixed with the populace. But his tone speaks volumes about his state of mind during those bloodyhours: By morning, the public squares were rid of the BÁÔinis, and howling dogs vied for their corpses.

The Damascenes were visibly outraged by the Assassins’ hold on their city, and none more so than the son of Tughtigin, who refused to play his allotted role of puppet in the hands of the sect and of the vizier al-MazdaghÁni. For Ibn al-AthÐr, however, this was not a mere power struggle, but a fight to save the Syrian metropolis from imminent disaster: al-MazdaghÁni had written to the Franj proposing to hand over Damascus to them if they would give him the city of Tyre in return. Agreement had been reached. They had even set the date, a Friday. Indeed, the troops of Baldwin II were expected at any minute at the city walls; groups of armed Assassins planned to throw open the gates for them, while other commandos were sent to guard the exits of the great mosque to prevent dignitaries and officers from leaving the building until the Franj had occupied the city. A few days before the scheduled execution of this plan, BÙri, who had learned of it, hurried to eliminate the vizier, thus giving the signal that unleashed the population against the Assassins.

Had there really been such a plot? One is tempted to doubt it, since Ibn al-QalÁnisi himself, despite his evident hatred of the BÁÔinis, never accused them of seeking to deliver the city to the Franj. Nevertheless, Ibn al-AthÐr’s account is not implausible. The Assassins and their ally al-MazdaghÁni felt threatened not only by mounting popular hostility, but also by the intrigues of BÙri and his entourage. Moreover, they knew that the Franj had decided to take Damascus regardless of the cost. Rather than have to fight too many enemies at once, the sect might well have decided to establish a sanctuary such as Tyre from which preachers and killers could be sent into Fatimid Egypt, now the principal target of the disciples of Íasan Ibn al-ÑabbÁÎ.

The sequel to these events lends credence to the hypothesis that there had in fact been a plot. The few BÁÔinis who survived the massacre went to settle in Palestine, under the protection of Baldwin II, to whom they delivered BaniyÁs, a powerful fortress situated at the foot of Mount Hermon that controls the route from Jerusalem to Damascus. Moreover, several weeks later, a powerful Frankish army appeared in the environs of the Syrian metropolis. It included nearly ten thousand knights and foot-soldiers, who came not only from Palestine but also from Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli; there were also several hundred warriors freshly arrived from the land of the Franj, who loudly proclaimed their intention to seize Damascus. The most fanatical of them belonged to the order of the Templars, a religio-military society founded ten years earlier in Palestine.

Since he lacked sufficient troops to confront the invaders, BÙri hastily appealed to a number of Turkish nomadic bands and a few Arab tribes of the region, promising them lucrative recompense if they would help to repel the attack. The son of Tughtigin was well aware that he would be unable to rely on these mercenaries for very long, for they would quickly desert to indulge their lust for plunder. His prime concern was therefore to join the battle as soon as possible. One day in November his scouts informed him that several thousand Franj had begun foraging in the rich plain of GhÙta. Without delay he dispatched his entire army to give chase. The Occidentals, taken by surprise, were quickly surrounded. Some of their knights did not even have time to retrieve their mounts.

The Turks and the Arabs returned to Damascus late in the afternoon, Ibn al-QalÁnisi relates. They were triumphant, joyous and laden with booty. The populace rejoiced, morale soared, and the army decided to attack the Franj in their own camp. At dawn the next day, many horsemen set out at full gallop. When they saw great clouds of rising smoke, they thought they had found the Franj, but when they drew near, they discovered that the enemy had decamped after setting fire to their equipment, for they had no more beasts of burden to carry it.

Despite this setback, Baldwin II reassembled his troops for a fresh attack on Damascus. At the beginning of September the region was suddenly engulfed by torrential rains. The Franj camp was transformed into a sea of mud in which men and horses alike were soon hopelessly mired. Broken-hearted, the king of Jerusalem ordered his men to retreat.

BÙri, who upon his accession to the throne had been considered a frivolous and timorous emir, had saved Damascus from the two major dangers threatening it, the Franj and the Assassins. Drawing the lessons of his defeat, Baldwin II definitively renounced any new expedition against the city he coveted.

But BÙri had not silenced all his enemies. One day two individuals dressed in the Turkish style, with robes and pointed calottes, arrived in Damascus. They said they were seeking work at a fixed salary, and the son of Tughtigin hired them for his personal bodyguard. One morning in May 1131, while the emir was returning to his palace from his ÎammÁm, the two men sprang upon him and wounded him in the stomach. Before their execution they confessed that the master of the Assassins had sent them from the fortress of AlamÙt to seek vengeance for their brothers who had been exterminated by the son of Tughtigin.

Many physicians were summoned to the victim’s bedside, in particular, Ibn al-QalÁnisi reports, surgeons expert in the treatment of wounds. The medical care then available in Damascus was among the best in the world. DuqÁq had founded a hospital, amuristan, and a second one would be built in 1154. The traveller Ibn Jubayr, who visited both of them several years later, described how they worked.

Each hospital has administrators who keep the records, which list the names of the patients, the expenses required for their care and nourishment, and various other sorts of information. The physicians come every morning to examine the patients and prescribe the remedies and diets that can cure them, depending on what is required for each individual.

After the visit of these surgeons, BÙri, who began to feel better, insisted on returning home on horseback to receive his friends for the usual day’s chat and drinking. But this excessive enthusiasm eventually proved fatal to the patient, for his wound never healed properly. He died in June 1132, after thirteen months of terrible suffering. Once again, the Assassins had had their revenge.

BÙri was the first architect of a victorious riposte by the Arab world to the Frankish occupation, although his all-too-brief reign bequeathed no lasting memory, for it coincided with the rise of a personality of a wholly different stamp: the atabeg ÝImÁd al-DÐn ZangÐ, the new ruler of Aleppo and Mosul, a man Ibn al-AthÐr considered no less than the gift of divine providence to the Muslims.

At first glance, this dark-skinned officer with the bristly beard looked little different from the many Turkish military commanders who had preceded him in this interminable war against the Franj. Frequently dead drunk and, like them, prepared to resort to any amount of cruelty and perfidy to achieve his ends, ZangÐ often combated the Muslims with greater obstinacy than he did the Franj. What was known of him on that eighteenth day of June 1128, when he solemnly entered Aleppo, was scarcely encouraging. He had acquired his principal claim to fame the previous year, when he had suppressed a revolt by the caliph of Baghdad against his Seljuk protectors. The light-hearted al-MustaÛhir had died in 1118, passing the throne to his son al-Mustarshid BillÁh, a young man of twenty-five with blue eyes, red hair, and a freckled face. It was his ambition to revive the glorious tradition of his earliest ÝAbbasid ancestors. The moment seemed propitious, for Sultan MuÎammad had just died, and the usual war of succession had broken out. The young caliph seized the opportunity to take direct control of his troops, an act unprecedented for more than two centuries. A talented orator, al-Mustarshid won the support of the population of his capital.

Paradoxically, just when the prince of the faithful had broken with a long tradition of caliphal lethargy, the sultanate had fallen to a fourteen-year-old boy interested only in hunting and in the pleasures of the harem. MaÎmÙd, the son of MuÎammad, was treated with condescension by al-Mustarshid, who frequently advised him to go back to Persia. It was a genuine revolt by the Arabs against the Turks, those foreign military officers who had dominated them for so long. Unable to deal with the insurrection, the sultan appealed to ZangÐ, who was then governor of the rich port of Basra, at the north-west tip of the Gulf. His intervention was decisive: defeated near Baghdad, the caliph’s troops surrendered their weapons, and the prince of the faithful retreated to his palace to await better days. Several months later, to repay ZangÐ for his precious aid, the sultan entrusted him with the government of Mosul and Aleppo.

One could well have imagined more glorious military exploits for this future hero of Islam. But it was with good reason that ZangÐ would one day be hailed as the first great combatant of the jihÁd against the Franj. Before him, Turkish generals would arrive in Syria accompanied by troops anxious to engage in plunder and depart with as much money and booty as possible. The effects of their victories were rapidly wiped out by subsequent defeats. Troops were demobilized one year only to be remobilized the next. All this changed with ZangÐ. For eighteen years this indefatigable warrior would travel the length and breadth of Syria and Iraq, sleeping on a straw mat to protect himself from the mud, fighting with some, sealing pacts with others, and intriguing against everyone. Never did he dream of residing peacefully in one of the many paiaces of his vast fiefdom.

His entourage was made up not of courtesans and flatterers but of seasoned political advisers whom he had learned to heed. He ran a network of informers who kept him regularly apprised of what was afoot in Baghdad, Isfahan, Damascus, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as well as in his own cities of Aleppo and Mosul. Unlike the other armies that had fought the Franj, his was not commanded by a multitude of autonomous emirs ever ready for treason or internecine quarrels. Discipline was strict, punishment merciless at the slightest infraction. According to KamÁl al-DÐn, the soldiers of the atabeg seemed to march between two ropes—in an effort not to step into any cultivated fields. Once, Ibn al-AthÐr reports, one of ZangÐ’s emirs who had been granted a small city as a fiefdom took over the residence of a rich Jewish merchant. The latter asked to see the atabeg and set out his objections. ZangÐ glanced once at the emir, who evacuated the house immediately. Moreover, the master of Aleppo made the same demands on himself as he did on others. When he arrived at a city, he would sleep outside the walls in his tent, contemptuous of the many palaces at his disposal.

ZangÐ, the Mosul historian says, was also very concerned about the honour of women, especially of the wives of his soldiers. He used to say that if they were not well looked after, they would soon be corrupted, because of the long absences of their husbands during campaigns.

ZangÐ was possessed of severity, perseverence, and a strong sense of state, all qualities tragically lacking in the leaders of the Arab world. Even more important for the future, ZangÐ was greatly concerned about legitimacy. Upon his arrival in Aleppo he took three initiatives, made three symbolic gestures. The first was by now classic: he married the daughter of RiÃwÁn, already the widow of Ilghazi and Balak. The second was to transfer his father’s remains to the city, to demonstrate his family’s new roots in the fiefdom. The third was to obtain from the sultan undisputed authority over the whole of Syria and northern Iraq. ZangÐ thereby clearly indicated that he was no mere peripatetic adventurer, but the founder of a state that was expected to survive him. This element of cohesion that he introduced in the Arab world would not have its effects for several years yet. Intestine quarrels were to paralyse the Muslim princes—and indeed the atabeg himself—for a long time to come.

Nevertheless, the time seemed ripe to organize a sweeping counter-offensive, for the unshakeable solidarity that had hitherto been the great strength of the Occidentals now seemed seriously in doubt. It is said that discord has arisen among the Franj, something unusual for them. Ibn al-QalÁnisi says no more about it, except: It has even been said that they have fought among themselves and that several were killed. But the chronicler’s astonishment pales before that felt by ZangÐ the day he received a message from Alix, daughter of Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem, offering him an alliance against her own father.

This strange affair began in February 1130, when Prince Bohemond II of Antioch, then fighting in the north, fell into an ambush laid by GhÁzÐ, the son of the emir Danishmend, who had captured Bohemond I thirty years before. Bohemond II, who lacked his father’s luck, was killed in the fighting, and his blond head, carefully embalmed and enclosed in a silver box, was sent to the caliph as a gift. When news of his death reached Antioch, his widow, Alix, organized what amounted to a coup d’état. It appears that she had the support of the Armenian, Greek, and Syrian populations of Antioch; she first secured her control of the city and then made contact with ZangÐ. It was a curious attitude for her to have taken, one that heralded the advent of a new, second generation of Franj, who had little in common with the pioneers of the invasion. The young princess, whose mother was Armenian and who had never set eyes on Europe, felt Oriental and acted as such. Informed of his daughter’s rebellion, the king of Jerusalem immediately marched north at the head of his army. Shortly before reaching Antioch, he happened upon a knight of dazzling appearance, whose pure white charger wore shoes of silver and was barded, from mane to breast, with superb chiselled armour. The horse was a gift from Alix to ZangÐ and was accompanied by a letter in which the princess asked the atabeg to come to her aid, promising to recognize his suzerainty in return. After having the messenger hanged, Baldwin II continued on his way to Antioch, where he rapidly reestablished his control. Alix capitulated after purely symbolic resistance in the citadel. Her father exiled her to the port of Latakia.

Shortly afterwards, however, in August 1131, the king of Jerusalem died. He received a proper obituary from the Damascene chronicler—a sign of the times, for by then the Franj were no longer an undifferentiated mass among whom it was just possible to identify a few commanders, as had been the case during the initial period of the invasion. Ibn al-QalÁnisi’s chronicle now pays attention to detail, and even sketches out an analysis.

Baldwin, he writes, was an old man polished by time and misfortune. He had fallen into the hands of the Muslims but escaped by dint of his celebrated ruses. With his death, the Franj lost their most perceptive politician and their most competent administrator. Royal power fell to the count of Anjou, recently arrived by sea from their country. But his judgement was unsound and his administration ineffective, so the loss of Baldwin plunged the Franj into turmoil and disorder.

The third king of Jersualem—Fulk of Anjou, a stocky, red-haired quinquagenarian who was married to Melisende, the elder sister of Alix—was indeed a newcomer. Baldwin, like the great majority of the Frankish princes, had no male heir. Because of their worse-than-primitive health standards and their failure to adapt to the living conditions of the Orient, the Occidentals suffered a very high infant-mortality rate, which according to a well-known natural law affects boys more than girls. It was only with time that they learned to improve conditions by regular visits to the ÎammÁm and by resorting more frequently to the services of Arab physicians.

Ibn al-QalÁnisi was justified in expressing contempt for the political capacities of the heir from the West, for it was under Fulk’s reign that the Ýdisorder among the Franj’ would be most severe. As soon as he came to power he was faced with a new insurrection led by Alix, which was repressed only with great difficulty. Revolt then rumbled in Palestine itself. A persistent rumour had it that Fulk’s wife, Queen Melisende, had initiated an amorous liaison with a certain young knight, one Hugh of Le Puiset. The subsequent conflict between the partisans of the husband and those of the lover caused a cleavage within the Franj nobility, who were now racked by altercations, duels, and rumours of assassination. When Hugh felt threatened, he sought refuge in Ascalon among the Egyptians, who greeted him warmly. He was even offered the use of Fatimid troops, with which he seized the port of Jaffa. It took weeks to dislodge him.

In December 1132 Fulk assembled his forces to reoccupy Jaffa. Meanwhile the new master of Damascus, the young atabeg IsmÁÝÐl, son of BÙri, had just taken the fortress of BaniyÁs by surprise, the same fortress the Assassins had handed over to the Franj three years before. This reconquest, however, was an isolated incident. The Muslim princes, absorbed in their own quarrels, were unable to take advantage of the dissension afflicting the Occidentals. ZangÐ himself was practically invisible in Syria. Once again he had been forced to throw himself into a merciless struggle against the caliph, leaving one of his lieutenants in charge of the government of Aleppo. But this time it was al-Mustarshid who seemed to have gained the upper hand.

The sultan MaÎmÙd, an ally of ZangÐ, had just died at the age of twenty-six, and once again a war of succession had erupted within the Seljuk clan. The prince of the faithful had seized upon the opportunity to rise again. Promising each of the pretenders that he would say the Friday prayers in his name, al-Mustarshid became the arbiter of the situation. ZangÐ was alarmed. Gathering his troops, he marched on Baghdad, intending to inflict as crushing a defeat on al-Mustarshid as he had during their first confrontation five years earlier. But the caliph rode out to meet him at the head of several thousand men, near the town of TakrÐt, on the Tigris, north of the ÝAbbasid capital. ZangÐ’s troops were cut to pieces and the atabeg himself was on the point of falling into the hands of his enemies when at the last minute a man intervened and saved his life. It was the governor of TakrÐt, a young Kurdish officer by the as yet unknown name of AyyÙb. Instead of currying favour with the caliph by delivering his adversary to him, this officer helped theatabeg cross the river to escape his pursuers and return in haste to Mosul. ZangÐ would never forget this magnanimous gesture. He pledged indefectible friendship to AyyÙb and his family. Many years later, this friendship would be decisive in the career of AyyÙb’s son YÙsuf, better known by his surname ÑalÁÎ al-DÐn, or Saladin.

After his victory over ZangÐ, al-Mustarshid stood at the pinnacle of his glory. The Turks, feeling threatened, united around a single Seljuk pretender, MasÝÙd, brother of MaÎmÙd. In January 1133 the new sultan went to Baghdad to obtain his crown from the prince of the faithful. This ceremony was usually a mere formality, but al-Mustarshid transformed it in his own manner. Ibn al-QalÁnisi, our Ýjournalist’ of the epoch, recounts the scene.

The imÁm, prince of the faithful, was seated. Sultan MasÝÙd was led into his presence and paid him the homage due to his rank. The caliph presented him successively with seven stately robes, the last of which was black, a jewel-encrusted crown, and golden bracelets with a necklace of gold, saying to him: ÝReceive this favour with gratitude and fear God in public and in private.’ The sultan kissed the ground, then seated himself upon the high stool reserved for him. The prince of the faithful then said to him: ÝHe who does not comport himself rightly is not fit to govern others.’ The vizier, who was present, repeated these words in Persian and renewed his vows and eulogies. Then the caliph had two sabres brought and handed them solemnly to the sultan, along with two pennants, which he knotted with his own hand. At the conclusion of the interchange, the imÁm al-Mustarshid spoke these words: ÝGo, carry that which I have given you, and count yourself among the grateful.’

The ÝAbbasid sovereign evinced great self-assurance, although we may naturally wonder how much of it was a matter of keeping up appearances. He lectured the Turk with nonchalance, certain that the new-found unity of the Seljuks would inevitably threaten his nascent power in the long run, but he nevertheless recognized him as the legitimate sultan. In 1133, however, he dreamt of conquest once again. In June he set out for Mosul at the head of his troops, determined to take the city and to finish off ZangÐ at the same time. Sultan MasÝÙd did not seek to dissuade him. He even suggested that al-Mustarshid reunite Syria and Iraq in a single state under his own authority, an idea that would be taken up often enough in the future. But while putting forward these proposals, the Seljuk also helped ZangÐ to resist the attacks of the caliph, who besieged Mosul for three months, but in vain.

This setback marked a fatal turn in the fortunes of al-Mustarshid. Abandoned by most of his emirs, he was defeated and captured in June 1135 by MasÝÙd, who had him savagely assassinated two months later. The prince of the faithful was found naked in his tent, his ears and nose severed, his body pierced by a score of knife wounds.

As long as ZangÐ was so totally absorbed in this conflict, he was unable to take a direct interest in Syrian affairs. He would in any case have remained in Iraq until the attempt at ÝAbbasid restoration was definitely crushed had he not received, in January 1135, a desperate appeal from IsmÁÝÐl, the son of BÙri and ruler of Damascus, requesting that he come as quickly as possible to take possession of his city. ÝIf there is any delay’, wrote IsmÁÝÐl, ÝI shall be compelled to call upon the Franj, and to deliver Damascus and all it contains to them; responsibility for the blood of its inhabitants would then rest with ÝImÁd al-DÐn ZangÐ.’

IsmÁÝÐl, who feared for his life and thought he detected murderers lurking in every nook and cranny of his palace, decided to leave his capital and to seek refuge, under ZangÐ’s protection, in the fortress of Sarkhad south of the city, where he had already moved his wealth and wardrobe.

The reign of the son of BÙri had actually begun quite auspiciously. Having come to power at the age of nineteen, he exhibited admirable dynamism; the best illustration of this was his recapture of BaniyÁs. Granted, he was arrogant and scarcely heeded the advisers of his father, nor those of his grandfather Tughtigin. But people were prepared to attribute this to his youth. On the other hand, Damascenes found it hard to put up with the mounting greed of their master, who regularly imposed new taxes upon them.

It was not until 1134 that the situation began to take a tragic turn, when an old female slave by the name of Ailba, formerly in the service of Tughtigin, tried to assassinate her master. IsmÁÝÐl, who barely escaped death, insisted on hearing the confession of his assailant personally. ÝIf I acted as I did’, the slave responded, Ýit was to win God’s favour by ridding the people of your maleficent existence. You have oppressed the poor and helpless, the artisans, the pedlars, and the peasants. You have treated civilians and military men with disrespect.’ Ailba was then ordered to list the names of all those who, like herself, desired the death of IsmÁ’Ðl. Traumatized to the point of madness, the son of BÙri ordered the arrest of all the people named and had them put to death without further ado. Even these unjust executions did not satisfy him, the chronicler of Damascus relates. He suspected his own brother, Sawinj, and inflicted the worst of tortures upon him, locking him in a cell where he finally starved to death. His maleficence and injustice knew no bounds.

IsmÁÝÐl was trapped in a vicious circle. Every execution augmented his fear of fresh vengeance, and he ordered yet other death sentences in an effort to protect himself. When he realized that things could not go on much longer, he decided to hand his city over to ZangÐ and to withdraw to the Sarkhad fortress. Now, for years the people of Damascus had heartily detested the ruler of Aleppo. Their hatred dated back to the end of 1129, when ZangÐ had written to BÙri inviting him to take part in an expedition against the Franj. The lord of Damascus had quickly agreed, and dispatched five hundred cavalry commanded by his best officers and accompanied by his own son, the unfortunate Sawinj. After greeting them respectfully, ZangÐ had disarmed and imprisoned them all, informing BÙri that if he ever dared oppose him, the lives of the hostages would be in danger. It was not until two years later that Sawinj was released.

In 1135 the Damascenes still remembered this betrayal, and when the city’s dignitaries got wind of IsmÁÝÐl’s designs, they resolved to oppose them by any means necessary. Meetings of the emirs, notables, and principal slaves were held; they all wanted to save both their lives and their city. A group of conspirators decided to explain the situation to IsmÁÝÐl’s mother, the princess Zumurrud, ÝEmerald’.

She was horrified at what she heard, the chronicler of Damascus reports. She summoned her son and upbraided him severely. Her desire to do good, her profound religious sentiments, and her intelligence then led her to conceive a way to extirpate the evil at its roots and to redress the situation of Damascus and its inhabitants. She pored over the affair just as a man of good sense and experience would have done, examining things lucidly. She could find no remedy for the maleficence of her son except to dispose of him and thus to put an end to the mounting disorder for which he was responsible.

The execution of her plan was not long in coming.

The princess now thought of nothing else but this project. She waited for a time when her son would be alone, without slaves or squires, and ordered his servants to cut him down mercilessly. She herself showed neither compassion nor sorrow. She then had the corpse carried somewhere in the palace where it was sure to be discovered. Everyone rejoiced at the fall of IsmÁÝÐl. They thanked God, praising and offering prayers for the princess.

Did Zumurrud have her own son killed to prevent him from handing Damascus over to ZangÐ? It is doubtful, for three years later the princess would marry this same ZangÐ, and would actually implore him to occupy her city. Nor would she have acted to avenge Sawinj, who was the son of another of BÙri’s wives. Probably then, we must accept the explanation offered by Ibn al-AthÐr: Zumurrud was the mistress of IsmÁÝÐl’s chief adviser, and when she learned that her son planned to kill her lover, and perhaps to punish her as well, she decided to take action.

Whatever her real motives, the princess robbed her future husband of an easy conquest, for on 30 January 1135, the day IsmÁÝÐl was assassinated, ZangÐ was already on his way to Damascus. A week later, when his army crossed the Euphrates, Zumurrud installed MaÎmÙd, another of her sons, on the throne, and the populace prepared to resist ZangÐ actively. The atabeg, unaware of the death of IsmÁÝÐl, sent representatives to Damascus to examine the modalities of capitulation. They were politely received, of course, but were not told of the latest developments. Furious, ZangÐ refused to turn back. He set up camp north-east of the city and instructed his scouts to find out where and how he could attack. But he soon realized that the defenders were determined to fight to the bitter end. They were led by one MuÝÐn al-DÐn ÝUnar, a wily and stubborn Turkish officer and old comrade-in-arms of Tughtigin who was to be a thorn in ZangÐ’s side more than once in years to come. After several skirmishes, the atabeg decided to seek a compromise. As a face-saving gesture, the leader of the besieged city paid him homage and recognized his suzerainty, which remained, however, purely nominal.

The atabeg left Damascus in the middle of March. To raise the morale of his troops, who had found this useless campaign trying, he immediately led them north and, with stunning alacrity, seized four Frankish strongholds, among them the infamous MaÝarra. In spite of these exploits, his prestige was tarnished. Not until two years later was he able, through a striking action, to bury the memory of his setback at Damascus. Paradoxically, MuÝÐn al-DÐn ÝUnar was to be, unwittingly, the man who offered ZangÐ the opportunity to redeem himself.

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