Antioch 1097-1098

One of the Most Horrendous Battles in History

One of the Most Horrendous Battles in History

It is generally known that the First Crusade attained its goal, the capture of Jerusalem. But what happened along the way left a taste of ashes in the mouths of its survivors. I have just finished reading Thomas Asbridge’s The First Crusade: A New History. What stuck in my mind was what happened along the way to Jerusalem, at Antioch.

Antioch was one of the great cities of Jerusalem, but it was under the firm control of the Turks. It was a huge city, well fortified, and incorporating portions of two mountains and a powerful citadel. The Crusaders set up for a protracted siege, and protracted it certainly was: It lasted for a year and a half. It was only when Bohemond of Taranto managed to persuade a traitor to let the Latins into the city that the first stage of the siege was ended.

Yes, there was a second stage. After the Crusaders were ensconced within the walls, they were in turn besieged by the huge army of Kerbogha, the Atabeg of Mosul (the same Mosul that is now under the control of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Asbridge thinks that he commanded some 35,000 fighters (some said as many as 300,000, which is unlikely), which at that time far exceeded the diminished ranks of the Crusaders.

However greedy and petty the Crusade leaders may have been, they did not lack for bravery. There was some mummery about the lance with which the Roman centurion Longinus had pierced the side of the crucified Christ being found buried in a church. The discovery of this relic raised the spirits of the besieged, such that they sallied forth from the walls of Antioch and routed the Turks, raising the second siege and clearing the way to Jerusalem.

We don’t think much about the Crusades, but the memory of them has not faded from the Muslim man in the street. Are we destined forever to be Crusaders in the Middle East?