An­ti­och 1097-98

Nor­man com­man­ders largely led the epic siege in the Le­vant, where the First Cru­sade forces fought to se­cure the road to Jerusalem

History of War - - ISSUE 60 -

Nor­man com­man­ders were at the fore­front of this epic siege dur­ing the First Cru­sade

The First Cru­sade was the bloody be­gin­ning of a the­o­log­i­cally based mil­i­tary move­ment that changed the course of his­tory and whose ef­fects we still live with to­day. When Euro­pean Christian war­riors launched cam­paigns to wrest con­trol of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Mus­lim con­trol, they had no idea they were sow­ing di­vi­sions that would poi­son East-west re­la­tions into the 21st cen­tury. That dark legacy hints at what a huge move­ment the Cru­sades were, and Nor­man knights spear­headed the first Cru­saders into the Le­vant.

The dra­matic Siege of An­ti­och was the de­ci­sive en­gage­ment that marked the ar­rival of the First Cru­sade in the Holy Land. In Oc­to­ber 1097, tens of thou­sands of Euro­pean Cru­saders ar­rived at the gates of An­ti­och, which is now An­takya in Turkey. They had pre­vi­ously marched through en­emy Seljuk lands in Ana­to­lia and cap­tured Edessa in Up­per Me­sopotamia. An­ti­och was the strate­gic nut the Cru­saders had to crack if they were to pro­ceed to­wards Jerusalem.

An­ti­och was im­por­tant for Chris­tians. The saints Peter, Paul and Barn­abas had formed the first Christian com­mu­nity there, and the pa­tri­arch of the city ri­valled both Jerusalem and Con­stantino­ple in au­thor­ity. Even the word ‘Christian’ was first used in An­ti­och. It was also strate­gi­cally im­por­tant. The city con­trolled the route from Asia Mi­nor into Syria and had kilo­me­tres of walls and hun­dreds of tow­ers. The sur­round­ing ter­rain meant that An­ti­och could never be fully sur­rounded, and it had an ex­cel­lent water sup­ply. In short, the Byzan­tineb­uilt de­fences sur­round­ing the city were con­sid­ered im­preg­nable, and it had only fallen to Mus­lim Turks in 1085 through treach­ery.

Among the be­sieg­ing Cru­saders were sev­eral prominent Nor­mans: Bo­he­mond of Taranto, Robert, Duke of Nor­mandy and Tan­cred de Hauteville. Bo­he­mond and Ray­mond of Toulouse each com­manded a sec­tion of the blockad­ing lines. They came un­der con­stant at­tack from the Turk­ish gar­ri­son over the next four months, and the rulers of Da­m­as­cus and Aleppo also at­tempted to break the siege. These at­tacks were driven off, but over the winter of 1097-98 the be­siegers ran out of food faster than the be­sieged, and thou­sands of the poorer Cru­saders starved to death.

Some re­lief ma­te­ri­alised when a Byzantine fleet (which was led by Edgar Aetheling, an ex­iled An­glo-saxon claimant to the English throne) ar­rived with sup­plies for the Cru­saders in the spring. In May, word reached the be­siegers that Ker­bogha, Atabeg of Mo­sul was march­ing to lib­er­ate the city. The Cru­saders’ only hope was to take An­ti­och, but more Cru­saders de­serted, in­clud­ing Stephen of Blois, Wil­liam the Con­queror’s son-in-law.

The day af­ter Blois’s de­ser­tion, the Cru­saders achieved a ma­jor break­through. Like the siege of 1085, Bo­he­mond’s spies made con­tact with a traitor who would let them into An­ti­och. Firouz was an Ar­me­nian ar­mourer who wanted re­venge against his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer at the Tower of


the Two Sis­ters. He of­fered to let the be­siegers in for money. Bo­he­mond took this in­for­ma­tion and in­formed the Cru­saders that he wanted to rule An­ti­och if the op­er­a­tion suc­ceeded.

Firouz let Bo­he­mond’s Nor­man troops in through a win­dow, and the Cru­saders ram­paged across the city, killing all in their path. But they soon dis­cov­ered to their hor­ror that there was al­most no food left in An­ti­och. 20,000 Cru­saders were now starv­ing to death, and Ker­bogha’s army was com­ing. The be­siegers had be­come the be­sieged and awaited re­lief from a Byzantine army led by Tatikios. Un­for­tu­nately, Tatikios en­coun­tered Stephen of Blois en route, who in­formed him the Cru­saders had prob­a­bly failed at An­ti­och. Tatikios turned back and the Cru­saders were left to their fate.

A ‘mirac­u­lous’ vic­tory

By June 1098, the Cru­saders were on the cusp of de­struc­tion, but sal­va­tion was soon

at hand. On 14 June, a cru­sad­ing peas­ant called Peter Bartholomew ‘dis­cov­ered’ the

Holy Lance in An­ti­och Cathe­dral, and Cru­sader morale was boosted. The rem­nants of the army then stag­gered out of An­ti­och on 28 June to face Ker­bogha’s newly ar­rived force. They saw white-clad cavalry in the dis­tance that they mis­took for charg­ing Christian saints. In re­al­ity, the dis­tant soldiers were Ker­bogha’s dis­united and de­sert­ing army, which dis­in­te­grated be­fore the Cru­saders. The Cru­saders scat­tered the re­main­ing Mus­lim cavalry. Bo­he­mond then rushed back into the city and oc­cu­pied the citadel. He de­clared him­self prince of An­ti­och and a Nor­man-led prin­ci­pal­ity was es­tab­lished.

The First Cru­sade could now con­tinue, and Jerusalem fell in July 1099. Bo­he­mond’s An­ti­och be­came a pow­er­ful Cru­sader state whose Christian set­tlers were mostly of Nor­man ori­gin. It sur­vived for over 150 years, un­til 1268.

Robert Curthose, Duke of Nor­mandy, fight­ing at the Siege of An­ti­och. Wil­liam the Con­queror’s el­dest son was the most prominent Nor­man at the siege

The Cru­saders fi­nally broke into An­ti­och when an Ar­me­nian traitor let Bo­he­mond’s men into one of the city’s tow­ers

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