THE SIEGE OF ANTIOCH
THE CHRISTIAN ARMIES REACH ANTIOCH
After the Crusader victory over Muslim forces at Dorylaeum in 1097 AD, the Crusader army marched unopposed across Anatolia until they came upon the fortified city of Antioch in 1098 AD. The commander of the cities 6,000 strong garrison, Yagi Siyan, would prove a very gifted and cunning foe as the Crusader’s would inevitably find out.
Siyan would not abandon the city but instead chose to repel the Crusader’s long enough for a Muslim relief force to arrive. As the Crusader army approached, Siyan banished all the Christian men from the city, keeping their wives and children as hostages to assure they would not rise up and bear arms against him.
The Crusader army numbering 20,000 men (12,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry) arrived at the walls of Antioch in early October. The city was very large and possessed formidable defences, the crusader’s decided on surrounding the city and laying siege to force its inhabitants to surrender.
One by one the Christian forces sealed off the gates to the great city, although the Crusaders had a plentiful supply of food, a Muslim fort at Harran just east of Antioch, was mounting repeated attacks against the Crusader’s lines of communication and supply.
As a result the Crusader’s food supply began to slowly run out and they could not spare the troops to attack the fort directly, instead they were forced to dispatch large forces to guard the supply routes, thus weakening their siege at Antioch.
This tactic did not work however, as fierce local resistance in the outlying areas began to rise up to the Crusader’s presence thus forcing even more troops engaged in the siege, to re deploy and guard the armies flanks.
As the surrounding areas became stripped of food, the Crusader’s situation became desperate. In December the army council made the decision to launch a major foraging expedition, sending 5,000 cavalry under the command of Robert of Flanders, southward along the coastline in search of supplies.
As this force entered the Orentes valley, much to their surprise they were confronted by a Muslim army of 12,000 men comprising (9,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry) sent from Damascus to relieve the trapped garrison at Antioch. The Muslim commander Duqaq, decided to launch an attack before the Crusader’s could fully deploy their forces.
Duqaq launched his entire cavalry force towards the enemy center, the Crusader’s held the initial assault but were hard pressed as Muslim infantry began to arrive in support. Robert therefore ordered his remaining forces to withdrawal. Casualties on both sides were quite heavy considering the brief period in which the two forces were engaged. The Crusaders lost 1,500 cavalry while the Muslims suffered 2,500 horsemen.
Although the Christian’s were driven from the battlefield, they had inflicted enough damage on the Muslim cavalry, that Duqaq believed his army now lacked the cavalry support needed to effectively lift the siege at Antioch and returned with his army back to Damascus. Robert’s force also gave up their expedition and returned to Antioch empty handed.
With the complete failure of Robert’s mission, the Crusader’s situation was now critical, as many of the men now began to die from starvation and exposure to the winter that was now upon them. As morale within the Crusader camp quickly declined, soldiers began deserting, including some high ranking commander’s most notably William the carpenter and Peter the hermit.
Tatikos, the commander of the 4,000 strong Byzantine forces, believed the siege increasingly untenable and chose to take his troops and return to Byzantine controlled territory. By January the Crusader’s had lost so many horses from battle and consumption, that they could no longer escort the foraging parties.
ROBERT OF FLANDERS
To add to the Crusaders desperate plight, a second Muslim relief force numbering 5,000 men (4,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry) under the command of Prince Ridwan, began to approach Antioch. The Christian army was by now mostly infantry and they had few mounted knights left to face Ridwan.
The Crusader’s amalgamated every available horseman and placed them under the command of Bohemond ( Prince of Taranto ) who was considered one of the finest cavalry commanders in all of Europe. Under the cover of darkness this force of 1,000 horsemen slipped out of camp and laid an ambush for the approaching Muslim’s.
Bohemond divided his small force into five squadrons of 200 men and hid them behind a series of low hills surrounding Ridwan's approach, as the Muslim’s arrived, Bohemond gave the order for four of his squadrons to attack.
The mounted knights charged over the hills and slammed into the Muslim's advance infantry guard, which was easily pushed back upon their advancing countrymen. Ridwan quickly called up his cavalry units from the rear and ordered them to attack immediately. The appearance of cavalry managed to rally the Muslim infantry and it looked as though the Crusader’s would soon be routed.
It was at this critical moment, that Bohemond launched his last reserve squadron into the fight. With the Muslim cavalry already heavily engaged, the sight of fresh mounted knights bearing down on their positions, made the Muslim infantry believe that the main Crusader army was approaching and just beyond the hills, this panicked the Muslim infantry and they began to flee in all directions.
Ridwan had no choice but to concede the field and gave the order for his remaining cavalry units to withdrawal. Loses for the Muslim forces numbered 1,200 men (800 infantry and 400 cavalry). Although it was a victory, the Crusader’s had lost 400 horseman in which they could ill afford.
As spring arrived, Byzantine forces had finally captured the Muslim fort at Harran. With the fall of this Muslim stronghold, the supply routes to the Crusader’s vastly improved, and they began to receive much needed supplies of food, horses and reinforcements. The Christians good fortune would not last however as scouts reported the approach of a third relief army, approximately four days away.
This new Muslim army was very formidable and comprised 30,000 Turkish regulars (25,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry) it did not bode well for the Crusader’s that this army was also commanded by Kerbogha, the leading general in the Muslim world.
Kerbogha's force was far more powerful than any other army the Crusader’s had faced before and the news of its approach began to terrify the Christians who began to desert in large numbers. The most notable of these was Stephen of Blois, who rode off to warn Emperor Alexius, who was approaching with the Byzantine army from Harran, of the dire situation before him.
The Crusader leadership knew that there remaining 11,000 troops (10,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry) would be massacred if they were to face Kerbogha in open battle, therefore the decision was made to make one last good attempt at storming the city.
That night the Crusader’s concentrated their entire force and attacked the main city gate in one massed attack, the gate was forced open and the Europeans finally entered the walls of the great city.
ANTIOCH FALLS TO THE CRUSADERS
The Crusader’s expected fierce resistance from the cities garrison of 6,000 men, but were astonished to find that the Muslim troops were suffering from starvation and lack of water, they were in no condition to offer any resistance. Yagi Siyan, seeing that all was lost, fled the city accompanied by his body guards. The lack of Muslim opposition left the Crusader’s with a free hand and they began to sack the city, killing thousands of Christian and Muslim’s alike.
The sacking of Antioch continued throughout the night and much into the next day, but with the news of Kerbogha's army fast approaching, the Crusader’s packed up their plunder and fled the city. When Kerbogha arrived the next day, the destruction and overwhelming stench of death enraged his troops who pleaded with their General to pursue and destroy the European invaders.
But news from Kerbogha's kingdom of Mosul was not good, Alexius and his Byzantine army were ravaging the countryside unopposed in his absence. Kerbogha decided to return to his kingdom and deal with Alexius, thus sparing the fleeing Crusader’s who were to continue retreating down the coast to the holy city of Jerusalem.
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