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