In June 1137 ZangÐ arrived, with an impressive array of siege machinery, in the vineyards surrounding Homs, the principal city of central Syria and traditionally an object of contention between Aleppo and Damascus. At the time, the Damascenes controlled it; indeed, the governor of the city was none other than old MuÝÐn al-DÐn ÝUnar. When he saw the catapults and mangonels being set up by his enemy, MuÝÐn al-DÐn realized that he would be unable to resist for long. He arranged to send word to the Franj that he planned to capitulate. The knights of Tripoli, who had no desire to see ZangÐ establish a base a mere two days’ march from their city, set out to meet him. ÝUnar’s stratagem met with complete success: fearing that he might be forced to fight on two fronts, theatabeg concluded a hasty truce with his old enemy and turned against the Franj. He decided to lay siege to their most powerful fortress in the region, BÁrin. The uneasy knights of Tripoli called upon King Fulk of Jerusalem to come to their rescue, and he hastened to join them with his army. Thus it was that the first important battle between ZangÐ and the Franj took place before the walls of BÁrin, in a cultivated, terraced valley. It is perhaps surprising that this was the first such engagement, for the atabeg had been ruler of Aleppo for more than nine years.
The battle was brief but decisive. Within a few hours the Occidentals, exhausted by their long forced march, were crushed by overwhelming numbers and were cut to pieces. Only the king and a few members of his entourage managed to take refuge in the fortress. Fulk had just enough time to send a message to Jerusalem appealing for reinforcements when, as Ibn al-AthÐr relates, ZangÐ cut off all communications, allowing no news to filter through; the besieged no longer knew what was happening in their country, so strict was the control of the routes.
Such a blockade would have had no effect whatever on the Arabs. For centuries they had used carrier-pigeons to convey messages from town to town. Every army on the march carried pigeons that had been raised in various Muslim cities and strongholds. They had been trained always to return to their nests of origin. It was therefore enough to scribble a message, roll it up, attach it to a pigeon’s leg, and release the bird, which would then fly, much faster than the swiftest charger, to announce victory, defeat, or the death of a prince, to call for assistance or to encourage resistance among a beleaguered garrison. As the Arab mobilization against the Franj became better organized, a regular pigeon-post service was established between Damascus, Cairo, Aleppo, and other cities, the state even paying salaries to the people in charge of raising and training these birds.
In fact, it was during their stay in the Orient that the Franj were initiated into the art of raising and training carrier-pigeons, which would later become something of a fad in their home countries. At the time of the siege of BÁrin, however, they knew nothing of this means of communication, whereas ZangÐ was able to take advantage of it. The atabeg began by stepping up the pressure on the besieged, but then, after bitter negotiations, he offered them advantageous terms of surrender: they would hand over the fortress and pay fifty thousand dinars; in exchange, he would let them leave in peace. Fulk and his men surrendered and fled at a gallop, delighted to have got off so lightly. Shortly after leaving BÁrin, they encountered the bulk of the reinforcements that were coming to their aid, and they regretted their decision, but it was too late. This had happened, according to Ibn al-AthÐr, only because the Franj had been completely cut off from the outside world.
ZangÐ was especially pleased with his resolution of the BÁrin affair, for he had just received some particularly alarming news: the Byzantine emperor John II Comnenus, who had succeeded his father Alexius in 1118, was en route to northern Syria with tens of thousands of men. As soon as Fulk departed BÁrin, the atabeg leapt on his mount and rushed to Aleppo. This city, a special target of the RÙm in the past, was seething. In anticipation of an attack, the citizens had begun to empty the trenches around the city walls.(In peacetime people had the bad habit of dumping their rubbish in them.) But emissaries of the basileus soon arrived to reassure ZangÐ: their objective was not Aleppo but Antioch, the Frankish city to which the RÙm had always laid claim. Indeed theatabeg soon learned, not without satisfaction, that Antioch was already under siege, being bombarded with catapults. Leaving the Christians to their own disputes, ZangÐ turned back to besiege Homs, where ÝUnar continued to hold out against him.
RÙm and Franj, however, reconciled their differences more quickly than expected. To placate the basileus, the Occidentals promised to restore Antioch to Constantinople, while in return John Comnenus promised to deliver several Muslim cities of Syria to them. A new war of conquest was launched in March 1138. The emperor’s lieutenants were two Frankish commanders, Joscelin II, the new count of Edessa, and a knight by the name of Raymond, who had just taken charge of the principality of Antioch by marrying Constance, the eight-year-old daughter of Bohemond II and Alix.
In April the allies laid siege to Shayzar, bringing eighteen catapults and mangonels into the battle. The old emir Sultan Ibn Munqidh, who had been governor of the city even before the start of the Frankish invasion, scarcely seemed capable of resisting the joint forces of the RÙm and the Franj. According to Ibn al-AthÐr, the allies selected Shayzar as their target because they hoped that ZangÐ would not bother to defend with any vigour a city that did not belong to him. They did not know the man. The Turk organized and directed the resistance pesonally. In fact, the battle of Shayzar was an occasion for him to display his admirable qualities as a man of state more clearly than ever.
In just a few weeks he turned the entire Middle East upside down. After dispatching messengers to Anatolia, where they convinced the successors of Danishmend to attack Byzantine territory, he sent agitators to Baghdad to organize a riot similar to that which Ibn al-KhashÁb had fomented in 1111, thus forcing Sultan MasÝÙd to send troops to Shayzar. He then wrote to all the emirs of Syria and JazÐra calling upon them, with appropriate accompanying threats, to commit all their forces to driving back this new invasion. The army of the atabeg himself, far less numerous than that of the enemy, avoided any frontal attack and instead started to harass the enemy. Meanwhile ZangÐ initiated an intense correspondence with the basileus and the Frankish commanders. He Ýinformed’ the emperor—and this was in fact true—that his allies feared him and were impatiently awaiting his departure from Syria. He then sent messages to the Franj, in particular to Joscelin of Edessa and Raymond of Antioch: Do you not understand, he asked them, that if the RÙm occupied a single stronghold in Syria, they would soon seize all your cities? He dispatched numerous agents, most of them Christians of Syria, to mingle among the rank-and-file Byzantines and Franj. Their task was to spread demoralizing rumours about the approach of gigantic armies coming to the rescue from Persia, Iraq, and Anatolia.
This propaganda had its effect, especially among the Franj. While the basileus, wearing his golden helmet, personally directed the firing of the catapults, the lords of Edessa and Antioch sat in their tents and played interminable games of dice. This pastime, popular back in Pharaonic Egypt, was equally widespread throughout East and West in the twelfth century. The Arabs called it al-zahr, a word the Franj adopted to designate not the game itself, but chance (hasard).
It was a resounding victory for ZangÐ. The atabeg now appeared as a saviour throughout the Arab world, where the alliance of the RÙm and the Franj had caused great dread. Naturally, he was now determined to use his prestige to seek a quick solution to a number of problems that had been gnawing at him, in the first place the question of Homs. At the end of May, as soon as the battle of Shayzar ended, ZangÐ reached a curious agreement with Damascus. He would marry the princess Zumurrud and receive the city of Homs as a dowry. Three months later, the mother who had murdered her own son arrived with an entourage to join formally with her new husband. Guests at the ceremony included representatives of the sultan and of the caliphs of Baghdad and Cairo, and even ambassadors sent by the RÙm, who, having experienced ZangÐ’s displeasure, had decided to maintain more friendly relations with him.
Now that he had become master of Mosul, Aleppo, and all of central Syria, the atabeg set himself the objective of taking Damascus too, with the aid of his new wife. He hoped that she would be able to convince her son MaÎmÙd to hand over his capital without a fight. The princess hesitated, stalled. Once he found that he could not rely on her, ZangÐ abandoned her. But in July 1139, while in ÍarrÁn, he received an urgent message from Zumurrud: MaÎmÙd had just been assassinated, stabbed to death in his bed by three of his slaves. The princess begged her husband to march on Damascus without delay to take the city and punish her son’s murderers. The atabeg set out immediately. Although not indifferent to the tears of his wife, he mainly believed that the death of MaÎmÙd could be used finally to unite all Syria under his authority.
That was to reckon without the immortal ÝUnar, who had returned to Damascus after the cession of Homs and had taken personal charge of the city’s affairs upon the death of MaÎmÙd. Expecting an offensive by ZangÐ, MuÝÐn al-DÐn quickly worked out a secret plan to deal with it. For the moment, however, he left the plan in abeyance and saw to the city’s defence.
ZangÐ did not march directly on the city he coveted. He began by attacking the ancient Roman town of Baalbek, the only agglomeration of any importance still held by the Damascenes. His intention was to encircle the Syrian metropolis and simultaneously to demoralize its defenders. In August he set up fourteen mangonels around Baalbek, which he then pounded relentlessly, hoping that he would be able to take the city in just a few days and then begin the siege of Damascus before summer was out. Baalbek itself capitulated with little resistance, but the defenders of the citadel, built with stones taken from an ancient temple of the Phoenician god Baal, held out for two long months. ZangÐ became so irritated that, when the garrison finally surrendered at the end of October after being assured that their lives would be spared, he ordered the crucifixion of thirty-seven fighters and had the commander burned alive. This act of savagery, meant to convince the Damascenes that any resistance would amount to suicide, had just the opposite effect. Solidly united behind ÝUnar, the population of the Syrian metropolis was more determined than ever to fight to the end. In any case, it would soon be winter, and ZangÐ could not contemplate any serious attack before spring. ÝUnar would use these few months of respite to perfect his secret plan.
In April 1140, as the atabeg stepped up his pressure and prepared for a general attack, ÝUnar decided that the time had come to implement his plan: he would ask the army of the Franj, under the command of King Fulk, to come to the rescue of Damascus. Thiswas not to be a one-off operation, but the inauguration of a proper treaty of alliance that would last beyond the death of ZangÐ.
Indeed, back in 1138, ÝUnar had sent his friend the chronicler UsÁmah Ibn Munqidh to Jerusalem to explore the possibility of Franco-Damascene collaboration against the master of Aleppo. Well received by the Franj, UsÁmah had worked out the principles of an accord. Once embassies were established, the chronicler returned to the holy city at the beginning of 1140, carrying detailed proposals with him: the Frankish army would force ZangÐ to withdraw from the vicinity of Damascus; the forces of the two states would unite in the event of any fresh danger; MuÝÐn al-DÐn would pay twenty thousand dinars to defray military expenses; finally, a joint expedition would be mounted, under ÝUnar’s command, to occupy the fortress of BaniyÁs, which had recently fallen into the hands of one of ZangÐ’s vassals, and to restore it to the king of Jerusalem. As a demonstration of good faith, the Damascenes would send the Franj hostages selected from the families of major city dignitaries.
In practice, all this amounted to living under a Frankish protectorate, but the population of the Syrian metropolis was resigned to it. Frightened by the atabeg’s brutal methods, they unanimously approved the treaty negotiated by ÝUnar, whose policy proved undeniably effective. Fearing that he would be caught in a pincer movement, ZangÐ withdrew to Baalbek, which he entrusted as a fiefdom to a reliable man, AyyÙb, father of Saladin. He then headed north with his army, promising AyyÙb that he would soon return to avenge this setback. After the departure of the atabeg, ÝUnar occupied BaniyÁs and handed it over to the Franj, in accordance with the terms of the treaty. He then made an official visit to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
UsÁmah, who had become the leading Damascene specialist on Frankish affairs, went with him. Fortunately for us, this emirchronicler did more than simply participate in diplomatic negotiations. He had an inquisitive mind and was a keen observer who left us unforgettable testimony about mores and daily life during the time of the Franj.
When I was visiting Jerusalem, I used to go to al-AqÒÁ mosque, where my Templar friends were staying. Along one side of the building was a small oratory in which the Franj had set up a church. The Templars placed this spot at my disposal that I might say my prayers. One day I entered, said AllÁhu akbar, and was about to begin my prayer, when a man, a Franj, threw himself upon me, grabbed me, and turned me toward the east, saying, ÝThus do we pray.’ The Templars rushed forward and led him away. I then set myself to prayer once more, but this same man, seizing upon a moment of inattention, threw himself upon me yet again, turned my face to the east, and repeated once more, ÝThus do we pray.’ Once again the Templars intervened, led him away, and apologized to me, saying, ÝHe is a foreigner. He has just arrived from the land of the Franj and he has never seen anyone pray without turning to face east.’ I answered that I had prayed enough and left, stunned by the behaviour of this demon who had been so enraged at seeing me pray while facing the direction of Mecca.
If the emir UsÁmah did not hesitate to call the Templars Ýmy friends’, it was because he believed that their barbarian mores were gradually being refined by contact with the Orient. Among the Franj, he explains, we find some people who have come to settle among us and who have cultivated the society of the Muslims. They are far superior to those who have freshly joined them in the territories they now occupy. He considered the incident in al-AqÒÁ mosque Ýan instance of the vulgarity of the Franj’. And he mentioned others as well, gathered during his frequent visits to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
I happened to be in Tiberias one day when the Franj were celebrating one of their holidays. The knights had come out of the city to engage in a jousting tournament. They brought with them two decrepit old women whom they stood at one end of the field; at the other end was a pig, hung suspended over a rock. The knights then organized a foot-race between the two old women. Each one advanced, escorted by a group of knights who obstructed her path. The old women stumbled, fell, and picked themselves up at almost every step, amid loud bursts of laughter from the spectators. Finally, one of the old women, the first to finish, took the pig as the prize for her victory.
An emir as well-educated and refined as UsÁmah was unable to appreciate this burlesque Gallic humour. But his condescending pout shrivelled into a grimace of outright disgust when he witnessed what the Franj called justice.
In Nablus, he relates, I had the opportunity to witness a curious spectacle. Two men had to meet each other in individual combat. The cause of the fight was this: some brigands among the Muslims had invaded a neighbouring village, and a farmer was suspected of having acted as their guide. He ran away, but was soon forced to return, for King Fulk had imprisoned his children. ÝTreat me fairly’, the farmer had asked him, Ýand allow me to compete against my accuser.’ The king then told the lord who had been granted this village as a fiefdom, ÝBring the man’s adversary here.’ The lord had selected a smith who worked in the village, telling him, ÝIt is you who will fight this duel.’ The possessor of the fiefdom wanted to make sure that none of his peasants would be killed, for fear that his crops would suffer. I looked at this smith. He was a strong young man, but was constantly asking for something to drink, whether he was walking or sitting. As for the accused, he was a courageous old man who stood snapping his fingers in a gesture of defiance. The viscount, governor of Nablus, approached, gave each man a lance and shield, and had the spectators form a circle around them.
The struggle was joined. The old man forced the smith back, pressed him towards the crowd, and then returned to the centre of the arena. There was an exchange of blows so violent that the rivals seemed to form a single column of blood. The fight dragged on, despite the exhortations of the viscount, who was anxious to hasten its conclusion. ÝFaster’, he shouted at them. The old man was finally exhausted, and the smith, taking advantage of his experience in handling the hammer, dealt him a blow that knocked the old man down and caused him to lose his lance. He then leapt upon him and tried to dig his fingers into his eyes, but he could not manage it, for there was too much blood. The smith then rose and finished off his opponent with a thrust of his lance. A rope was immediately wound around the neck of the corpse, which was dragged to a gallows and hanged. In this example you may see what justice is among the Franj!
The emir’s indignation was quite genuine, for justice was a serious business among the Arabs in the twelfth century. The judges, or qÁÃÐs, were highly respected men who were obliged to adhere to a meticulous procedure fixed by the Koran, before rendering their verdict: first came indictment, then plea, then testimony. The Ýjudgement of God’ to which the Occidentals often resorted seemed a macabre farce to the Arabs. The duel described by the chronicler was only one of the forms of trial by ordeal. The test of fire was another. There was also the water torture, which UsÁmah described with horror.
A large cask had been set up and filled with water. The young man who was the object of suspicion was pinioned, suspended from a rope by his shoulder-blades, and plunged into the cask. If he was innocent, they said, he would sink into the water, and they would pull him out by the rope. If he was guilty, it would be impossible for him to sink into the water. When he was thrown into the cask, the unfortunate man made every effort to descend to the bottom, but he could not manage it, and thus had to submit to the rigours of their law, may God’s curse be upon them! He was then blinded by a red-hot silver awl.
The Syrian emir’s opinion of the Ýbarbarians’ was hardly modified when he discussed their science. In the twelfth century the Franj lagged far behind the Arabs in all scientific and technical fields. But it was in medicine that the gap between the developed East and the primitive West was greatest. UsÁmah observed the difference.
One day, he relates, the Frankish governor of Munaytra, in the Lebanese mountains, wrote to my uncle the sultan, emir of Shayzar, asking him to send a physician to treat several urgent cases. My uncle selected one of our Christian doctors, a man named ThÁbit. He was gone for just a few days, and then returned home. We were all very curious to know how he had been able to cure the patients so quickly, and we besieged him with questions. ThÁbit answered: ÝThey brought before me a knight who had an abscess on his leg and a woman suffering from consumption. I made a plaster for the knight, and the swelling opened and improved. For the woman I prescribed a diet to revive her constitution.’ But a Frankish doctor then arrived and objected, ÝThis man does not know how to care for them.’ And, addressing the knight, he asked him, ÝWhich do you prefer, to live with one leg or die with two?’ When the patient answered that he preferred to live with just one leg, the physician ordered, ÝBring me a strong knight with a well-sharpened battleaxe.’ The knight and the axe soon arrived. The Frankish doctor placed the man’s leg on a chopping block, telling the new arrival, ÝStrike a sharp blow to cut cleanly.’ Before my very eyes, the man struck an initial blow, but then, since the leg was still attached, he struck a second time. The marrow of the leg spurted out and the wounded man died that very instant. As for the woman, the Frankish doctor examined her and said, ÝShe has a demon in her head who has fallen in love with her. Cut her hair.’ They cut her hair. The woman then began to eat their food again, with its garlic and mustard, which aggravated the consumption. Their doctor affirmed, ÝThe devil himself must have entered her head.’ Then, grasping a razor, he cut an incision in the shape of a cross, exposed the bone of the skull, and rubbed it with salt. The woman died on the spot. I then asked, ÝHave you any further need of me?’ They said no, and I returned home, having learned much that I had never known about the medicine of the Franj.
Scandalized as he was by the ignorance of the Occidentals, UsÁmah was even more deeply shocked by their morals: ÝThe Franj’, he wrote, Ýhave no sense of honour. If one of them is walking in the street with his wife and encounters another man, that man will take his wife’s hand and draw her aside and speak to her, while the husband stands waiting for them to finish their conversation. If it lasts too long, he will leave her with her interlocutor and go off!’ The emir was troubled: ÝImagine this contradiction! These people possess neither jealousy nor honour, whereas they are so courageous. Courage, however, comes only from one’s sense of honour and from contempt for that which is evil!’
The more he learned of their ways, the more wretched did UsÁmah consider the Occidentals to be. He admired nothing about them except their martial qualities. One may thus readily understand that when one of the Ýfriends’ he had made among them, a knight in King Fulk’s army, proposed to take UsÁmah’s young son to Europe to initiate him in the rules of chivalry, the emir politely declined the invitation, muttering under his breath that he would prefer that his son go Ýto prison rather than to the land of the Franj’. Fraternization with these foreigners had its limits. Besides, the famous collaboration between Damascus and Jerusalem, which had afforded UsÁmah the unexpected opportunity to get to know the Occidentals better, soon appeared as a brief interlude. A spectacular event would now rekindle all-out war against the occupier: on Saturday 23 September 1144 the city of Edessa, capital of the oldest of the four Frankish states of the Middle East, fell into the hands of the atabeg ÝImÁd al-DÐn ZangÐ.
If the fall of Jerusalem in July 1099 marked the climax of the Frankish invasion and the fall of Tyre in July 1124 the completion of the phase of occupation, the reconquest of Edessa has gone down in history as the capstan of the Arab riposte to the invaders and the beginning of the long march to victory.
No one expected that the occupation would be challenged in such a striking manner. Admittedly, Edessa was no more than an outpost of the Frankish presence, but its counts had succeeded in thoroughly integrating themselves into local politics. The last Western ruler of this majority-Armenian city was Joscelin II, a short, bearded man with a prominent nose, protruding eyes, and a malformed body, a man who had never been known for his courage or wisdom. But he was not detested by his subjects, primarily because his mother was Armenian, and conditions in his realm did not seem at all critical. He and his neighbours indulged in routine raids which usually ended in truces.
But the situation changed dramatically in that autumn of 1144. A clever military manoeuvre by ZangÐ put an end to a half century of Frankish domination in this part of the Middle East, as he scored a victory that rocked powerful and humble alike, from Persia to the far-off country of the ÝAlmÁn’ and served as a prelude to a fresh invasion led by the greatest kings of the Franj.
The most stirring account of the conquest of Edessa was bequeathed to us by an eyewitness, the Syrian bishop Abu’ l-Faraj Basil, who was directly involved in the events. His attitude during the battle graphically illustrates the tragedy of the Oriental Christian communities to which he belonged. Since his city was under attack, Abu’ l-Faraj actively participated in its defence; but at the same time, his sympathies were more with the Muslim army than with his Western Ýprotectors’, whom he did not hold in high esteem.
Count Joscelin, he relates, had gone pillaging along the banks of the Euphrates. ZangÐ found out. On 30 November he arrived at the walls of Edessa. His troops were as numerous as the stars in the skies. All the fields around the city were filled with them. Tents were erected everywhere, and the atabeg pitched his own to the north of the city, facing the Gate of Hours, on a hill overlooking the Church of the Confessors.
Even though it lay in a valley, Edessa was a difficult city to take, for its powerful triangular walls were solidly anchored in the hills ringing the town. But, as Abu’l-Faraj explains, Joscelin had not left any troops behind. He had only shoemakers, weavers, silk merchants, tailors, and priests. It was therefore the Frankish bishop who took charge of the defence of the city, with the help of an Armenian prelate and the chronicler himself, who, however, favoured reaching some accommodation with the atabeg.
ZangÐ, he writes, constantly sent peace proposals to the besieged, telling them, ÝO, unfortunate people! You can see that all hope is lost. What do you want? What can you still expect? Have pity on yourselves, your women, your homes! Act now, that your city may not be devastated and emptied of its inhabitants!’ But there was no commander in the city capable of imposing his will. ZangÐ was answered with stupid rodomontade and insult.
When he saw that sappers were tunnelling under the ramparts, Abu’ l-Faraj suggested writing a letter to ZangÐ proposing a truce, and the Frankish bishop agreed. ÝThe letter was written and read to the people, but a madman, a silk merchant, reached out, grabbed the letter, and tore it up.’ Nevertheless, ZangÐ reiterated: ÝIf you desire a truce for several days, we will accord you one, to see whether you will receive any aid. If you do not, surrender and survive!’
But no help arrived. Although Joscelin had been alerted to the offensive against his capital, he did not dare match forces with the atabeg. He preferred to camp at Tel BÁshir, expecting that troops from Antioch or Jerusalem would come to his aid.
The Turks had now dismantled the foundations of the northern wall, and in their place had erected great quantities of wood, joists and beams. They filled the interstices with naphtha, animal fat, and sulphur, so fire would spread more easily and the wall would collapse. Then, on ZangÐ’s orders, the fire was started. The heralds of his camp gave the call to prepare for battle, telling the soldiers to rush in through the breach as soon as the wall collapsed, promising to allow them to pillage the city at will for three days. The fire caught in the naphtha and sulphur, and soon the wood and melted fat were in flames. The northerly wind was blowing the smoke towards the defenders. In spite of its great solidity, the wall tottered, then collapsed. After losing many troops passing through the breach, the Turks penetrated the city and began massacring people indiscriminately. About six thousand inhabitants perished on that day. Women, children, and young people fled to the upper citadel to escape the massacre. They found the gate barred—the fault of the bishop of the Franj, who had told the guards, ÝDo not open the gate unless you see my face!’ Groups of people climbed up in succession, trampling one another. It was a lamentable and horrifying spectacle: about five thousand people, perhaps more, died atrociously, twisted, suffocating, pressed together into a single, compact mass.
But ZangÐ intervened personally to halt the killing, and then dispatched his top lieutenant to see Abu’ l-Faraj. ÝVenerable Abu’ l-Faraj’, he said, Ýwe want you to swear to us, on the cross and the New Testament, that you and your community will remain loyal. You know very well that this city was a thriving metropolis during the two hundred years that the Arabs governed it. Today, the Franj have occupied it for just fifty years, and already they have ruined it. Our master ÝImÁd al-DÐn ZangÐ is prepared to treat you well. Live in peace, be secure under his authority, and pray for his life!’
In fact, Abu’l-Faraj continued, the Syrians and Armenians were brought out of the citadel, and they all returned to their homes safe and sound. Everything was taken from the Franj, however: gold, silver, holy vases, chalices, patens, ornamented crucifixes, and great quantities of jewels. The priests, nobles, and notables were taken aside, stripped of their robes, and led away in chains to Aleppo. Of the rest, the artisans were identified, and ZangÐ kept them as prisoners, setting each to work at his craft. All the other Franj, about a hundred men, were executed.
When news of the reconquest of Edessa spread, the Arab world was gripped with enthusiasm. The most ambitious projects were attributed to ZangÐ. The refugees from Palestine and the many coastal cities in the atabeg’s entourage had already begun to speak of the reconquest of Jerusalem, an objective that would soon become the rallying cry for resistance to the Franj.
The caliph lost no time in heaping prestigious titles upon the hero of the moment: al-malik al-manÒÙr, Ývictorious king’; zaynat al-IslÁm, Ýornament of Islam’; nÁÒir amÐr al-mu'mÐn, Ýprotector of the prince of the faithful’. Like all leaders of the time, ZangÐ proudly strung these various titles together, as symbols of his power. In a subtly satirical note, Ibn al-QalÁnisi asks readers of his chronicle to excuse him for writing merely Ýsultan’, Ýemir’, or Ýatabeg such and such’, without appending the full lists of titles. For, he explains, there had been such a proliferation of honorific titles since the tenth century that his text would have become unreadable had he tried to list them all. Discreetly lamenting the epoch of the first caliphs, who were content with the title Ýprince of the faithful’, superb in its simplicity, the Damascene chronicler cites a few examples to illustrate his point, ZangÐ himself among them. Ibn al-QalÁnisi recalls that every time he mentions ZangÐ he ought, strictly speaking, to say:
The emir, the general, the great, the just, the aid of God, the triumphant, the unique, the pillar of religion, the cornerstone of Islam, ornament of Islam, protector of God’s creatures, associate of the dynasty, auxiliary of doctrine, grandeur of the nation, honour of kings, supporter of sultans, victor over the infidels, rebels, and atheists, commander of the Muslim armies, the victorious king, the king of princes, the sun of the deserving, emir of the two Iraqs and of Syria, conqueror of Iran, Bahlawan, Jihan Alp Inassaj Kotlogh Toghrulbeg atabeg AbÙ SaÝÐd ZangÐ Ibn Aq Sunqur, protector of the prince of the faithful.
Whatever their pompous character, at which the Damascene chronicler smiles irreverently, these titles nevertheless reflected the primordial place ZangÐ now held in the Arab world. The Franj trembled at the very mention of his name. Their disarray was all the greater in that King Fulk had died shortly before the fall of Edessa, leaving two children who were both minors. His wife, who assured the continuity of the crown, quickly sent emissaries to the land of the Franj to bring news of the disaster that had just befallen his people. In all their territories, Ibn al-QalÁnisi writes, calls were issued for people to assemble for an assault on the land of Islam.
As if to confirm the fears of the Occidentals, ZangÐ returned to Syria after his victory, giving rise to rumours that he was preparing a broad offensive against the major cities held by the Franj. At first, these projects were greeted with enthusiasm in the cities of Syria. But gradually the Damascenes began to wonder about the atabeg’s real intentions, for he had settled in Baalbek, just as he had done in 1139, and was busy building siege machinery. Was it not perhaps Damascus itself that he intended to attack, using thejihÁdas a pretext?
We will never know, for in January 1146, just as his preparations for a spring offensive seemed complete, ZangÐ found himself compelled to turn north again. His spies had informed him that a plot to massacre the Turkish garrison had been hatched by Joscelin of Edessa and some of his Armenian friends who had remained in the city. The atabeg took the situation in hand immediately upon his return to the conquered city, executing the supporters of the former count. Then, in an effort to strengthen the anti-Franj party withinthe population, he moved in three hundred Jewish families of whose indefectible support he was certain.
This alert, however, convinced ZangÐ that it would be better to renounce any attempt to extend his domain, temporarily at least, and to concentrate on consolidating it instead. In particular, an Arab emir who controlled the powerful fortress of JÁbar, situated on the Euphrates along the main route from Aleppo to Mosul, had refused to recognize the atabeg’s authority. Since this insubordination could easily threaten communications between ZangÐ’s two capitals, he laid siege to JÁbar in June 1146. He hoped to take it in a few days, but the enterprise proved more difficult than expected. Three long months passed, and the resistance of the besieged forces failed to weaken.
One night in September the atabeg fell asleep after imbibing a great quantity of alcohol. Suddenly he was awakened by a noise in his tent. When he opened his eyes, he saw one of his eunuchs, a man of Frankish origin named Yarankash, drinking wine from his own goblet. This infuriated the atabeg, who swore he would punish the eunuch severely the following day. Fearing the wrath of his master, Yarankash waited for him to fall asleep again, and then riddled his body with dagger-strokes and fled to JÁbar, where gifts were lavished upon him.
ZangÐ did not die immediately. As he lay half-conscious, one of his close aides entered his tent. Ibn al-AthÐr reports his testimony:
When he saw me, the atabeg thought that I had come to finish him off, and with a gesture of his finger, he asked for the coup de grâce. Choked with emotion, I fell to my knees and said to him, ÝMaster, who did this to you?’ But he was unable to answer, and gave up his soul, may God have mercy on him!
ZangÐ’s tragic death, coming so soon after his triumph, made a deep impression on his contemporaries. Ibn al-QalÁnisi commented on the event in verse:
The morning found him sprawled upon his bed, lying where his eunuch had slaughtered him,
And yet he slumbered amidst a proud army, ringed by his braves with their swords.
He perished, neither riches nor power of use to him,
His treasures now the prey of others, by his sons and adversaries dismembered.
At his death did his enemies ride forth, grasping the swords they dared not brandish while he lived.
Indeed, when ZangÐ died there was a mad dash for the spoils. His soldiers, so well-disciplined only a short time ago, now became a horde of uncontrollable plunderers. His treasury, his arsenal, even his personal effects, disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. Then his army began to break up. One after another, the emirs assembled their men and hurried off to occupy some fortress, or to await the sequel of events from some more secure position.
When MuÝÐn al-DÐn ÝUnar learned of the death of his adversary, he immediately led his troops out of Damascus and seized Baalbek, reestablishing his suzerainty over all of central Syria in a few weeks. Raymond of Antioch, reviving what seemed a forgotten tradition, launched a raid under the very walls of Aleppo. Joscelin was plotting to retake Edessa.
The saga of the powerful state founded by ZangÐ seemed over. In reality, it had only just begun.