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The Siege of Antioch
By Rider, 17 August 2007; Revised
Category: Medieval Europe: Military History
The Siege of Antioch was one of the most important battles in the First Crusade. Not only was Antioch a rich and important city, it was a secure fortress and it was nigh impenetrable. Yet, it was taken...
Antioch was situated in a well defended position – marches and the River Orontes defended the north west; mountains the south west and sea was in the west. The city had been largely fortified in the era of Justinian I of the Eastern Empire and the Arabs had fortified the well (rumours speak that a four-horse chariot was able to ride upon the walls). The walls held 450 towers. The city also had a fortified citadel in the southern part, on the foothills of Mount Sylpius.
The Emir, Jaghi Sijan (whom the Crusaders named Cassian in their chronicles) had achieved political independence from Damascus and Aleppo and the relations with those places weren’t too warm.
The Crusaders had been travelling through hostile territory for some time. The lead was in the hands of Bohemund of Taranto and Raymond IV of Toulouse. Both of these wanted Antioch as their property. The Crusaders numbered some twenty to thirty thousand although the exact numbers can be disputed.
After the Crusaders had arrived, a dispute over further actions arose – Raymond wished a storm and hoped to take the city with it; others disagreed and hoped for a siege for the casualties would be too high in case of a sudden assault.
The siege however was terribly flawed – the Crusaders didn’t create an effective blockade to the south of the city, not to mention the fact that they had no siege engines. The besieged ones resulted to quick sorties out which infuriated the Crusaders. To stop these sorties, a tower was built to the Iron Gates. It was named the tower of Malregard.
Due to the burning and looting knights, the outlying villages were empty of supplies rather soon. By the third month of the siege, there was a general lack of food in the Crusader camp. Seeing this and that there was a large possibility of losing their lives, many knights left with their loot.
In November of 1097, 14 Genoese ships with supplies and men reached the port and helped to continue the siege. In the March of 1098, 4 English ships under Edgar Aetheling reached Antioch as well. These brought in material for siege engines. Soon, the Crusaders had built needed equipment and continued the siege in a better mood.
The besieged had requested help from neighbours – Duqaq of Damascus and Ridvan of Aleppo complied. Duqaq was defeated at al-Bara in the December of 1097 by a company of twenty thousand knights under Robert of Flanders and Bohemund of Taranto. However, Robert of Flanders was nearly killed for he led his knights to deep into the enemy lines. Ridvan was defeated in February 1098 at the Iron Bridge.
Crusaders also sent messengers to Egypt in request for aid. The terms were however too terrible (most of Outremer for the Egyptians, including Jerusalem) and the help was rejected.
Bohemund also managed to scare the Byzantine official Tatikios so much that he (and his troops) left to Cyprus. Bohemund said that other knights were planning to kill him. To others, Bohemund said that it was a betrayal from the Byzantines that their troops left.
Kerbogha (Latin chroniclers name him Curbara) had however in time managed to assemble a large army and was aiming to relieve the city. Upon hearing this, many other knights fled and some became desperate. Bohemund who had a plan said that he would instruct them in taking the city if he would be given it. Raymond was reluctant to agree but others did. Bohemund then issued a general assault but only after he and 60 of his knights had infiltrated from a tower that Firuz commanded. Firuz had been bribed and much due to his betrayal, the city fell. The citadel didn’t however and the Seljuqs held out there. Jaghi Sijan was killed before reaching the citadel. Most of the population was annihilated. (It happened on July 2 1098)
Kerbogha reached Antioch three days later. The Crusaders had immediately eaten themselves through the city and they again faced a shortage of food. Kerbogha had come through Edessa but he hadn’t managed to retake it due to the large walls Edessa had. Kerbogha settled to a isege himself after noticing that the Crusaders were safely behind the walls. Some people fled the city by lowering themselves from the walls by ropes and fleeing to the harbour.
Then a lowly soldier, Pierre Barthélemy, claimed that he had seen a vision that the Holy Spear (which was used to kill Jesus) was buried in Antioch and finding it would bring great luck to the Crusader armies. He told of this to Raymond and he ordered digs in one of the Churches.
They soon found a rusty spearhead and a ’religious thrall’ came over the armies. On the 28th of June, the besieged Crusaders went for an all-out sorty against Kerbogha and managed to make him flee. The fleeing was partly due to the inconsistencies in their army and parts of it had already left. The previous eve, Kerbogha had rejected any terms for the end of the siege. Bohemund of Taranto was in the head of the sorty, and all others followed in six groups.
They also managed to take the citadel which was commanded now by Ahmed ibn Meruan. They surrendered most likely due to a private treaty with Bohemund.
It is generally (even amongst contemporaries) that the Holy Spear was only a trick by Raymond to obtain general control over the army. He failed however and Antioch went into the hands of Bohemund. In the 18th century, representatives of the Pope (cardinal Prospero Lambertini) rejected the authentity of the story of the Holy Spear.
Antioch proved a good harbour for the Crusading armies – they stayed in it for several months and went on reluctantly. Also, the issues of Bohemund and Raymond IV continued on for quite some time between those two men. Antioch later became the capital of the County of Antioch – one of the four Crusader states.
M. Zaborov, ’Ristisõdijad Hommikumaal’