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Antioch Falls...?
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  Home >> The Crusades >> The First Crusade >> Antioch Falls

The formidable defenses of AntiochThe Crusaders did not attack immediately. Antioch was a very strong city, whose walls had originally been built by Justinian. The walls bow out from Mount Silpius in a long arc. Along one portion the Orontes River runs. Another portion climbs a ridge of the mountain. It is a difficult city to attack, and the Crusaders were leery of losing too many men (they initially lacked enough even to cover all the gates). They waited first for Tancred to come up from Alexandretta, then spent some time in securing various out-lying fortresses. So passed November and December.

By the end of December, supplies were running low, and Bohemond and Robert of Flanders set out with a large force to gather supplies. Yaghi-Siyan decided it was a good time for a sortie. His attack caught Raymond of Toulouse completely by surprise, but Raymond was able to organize a counter-attack quickly. He drove the Muslims back with such force that his men chased them over the bridge and some actually entered the city. But it was night-time. The horse of one of the lead knights threw its rider and bolted backward. The knights on the bridge behind were thrown into confusion, panicked, and retreated.

Meantime, an army had been marching to the relief of Antioch from Damascus. When they learned that Bohemond and Robert were nearby, they attacked. They caught Robert first and fierce fighting erupted. Bohemond came up but held back until the Muslims were well engaged. He then fell on them and inflicted heavy casualties. They had won another victory, but they had lost so many men that they had to return to Antioch with far fewer supplies than they had hoped for. But at least the battle, coupled with ugly weather, forced the Damascene army to return home as well. Yaghi-Siyan was still on his own.

January was grim indeed, with starvation stalking the camps. The women were banished from the Crusader encampmentsPeople began to desert, including Peter the Hermit (he was brought back by Tancred). In February, Ridwan of Aleppo arrived, having made peace with Yaghi-Siyan, but the Crusaders defeated him as well after another hard-fought battle. He returned to Aleppo.

Supplies and reinforcements arrived in March, and the Crusaders were at last able to seal off most of the city. Conditions inside Antioch grew steadily grimmer, even as spring brought better supplies to the besiegers. Yaghi-Siyan was still determined, however, for he had news that Kerbogha of Mosul was at last preparing an army. He set out in early May with a large army mostly made up of allies. His advance was delayed while he spent three weeks besieging Edessa, but Baldwin was able to hold the city.

It was during these weeks in May that Bohemond made contact with one Firuz, a captain of the guard in Antioch. There had been much buying of spies on both sides during the siege, but Firuz agreed to betray the city. Bohemond told none of the other Crusaders about this, for he was determined that he should rule Antioch. Instead, the Crusaders met to plan an assault on the city before Kerbogha could arrive. It was agreed that whoever should enter the city first would be its lord.

Many of the Crusaders were in despair. The city looked as impregnable as ever, and a huge Turkish army was only days away. Desertions increased. On June 2nd, Stephen of Blois led a large contingent of French away. Only a few hours later, Bohemond received word from Firuz that the time was right. Bohemond at least revealed the scheme to his fellow captains. Just before sunset, the army decamped as if to go east to meet Kerbogha in the field. After a few hours, it turned around and came back under cover of darkness. Firuz saw to it that one section of the wall was unguarded and sixty knights entered. They opened the Gate of St. George, and the Crusaders streamed into the city. The Christian citizens joined the army in massacring every Turk they found. No Turks were left alive

Yaghi-Siyan fled, but his son gathered a few troops and retreated to the citadel, which he was able to hold. By June 3rd, the city, except for the citadel, was in the hands of the Latins.Antioch Falls - Click to see larger version

They spent the next clearing the city of corpses and deciding on the defense of the walls. The day following, June 5th, the first of Kerbogha's troops began arriving, and by the 7th he was encamped. 

The Crusaders were now besieged within Antioch.


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