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  Home >> The Crusades >> The First Crusade >> Nicaea

The Crusaders attacking NicaeaThe first elements of the crusader army arrived at Nicaea on May 6, 1097. As they approached the city from the north, they fanned out around the wall. Bohemond positioned his forces along the north wall, while Robert of Flanders and Godfrey took up positions on the east wall. The southern wall was left unblockaded, awaiting the arrival of Raymond of Toulouse, while the North French had not yet even arrived at Constantinople.

Alexius had sent his general, Tatikios, to represent him with a token force during the siege. It seems likely that the reason for Alexius' reluctance to be involved directly with the reconquest was political. If the crusaders failed, it would make relations with Kilij Arlsan impossible, and so leave him in a very dangerous position. Alexius was hedging his bets.

When the army arrived, Kilij Arslan had left his family at Nicaea and was a thousand miles away fighting the Danishmend for control of Melitene. As soon as he heard news of the attack, he broke off the battle and hastened back.

The first incident occurred as Raymond's force was making its way around the wall. Just as it had reached its positions, and was preparing to make camp, Turkish forces swooped out of the wooded hills to the south. Although taken unprepared, Raymond's army fought stoutly, giving Godfrey's men enough time to come to the rescue. Kilij Arslan retreated his men to regroup.

The crusaders set to building siege equipment. Raymond also ordered a group of his men to begin digging the foundations out from one of the city's towers, protecting them with a wooden tower which had an armoured, sloping roof. Archers and crossbowmen were grouped in strategic positions to keep the defender's heads down. The tower fell late one evening - too late for the crusaders to begin an assault and, by the morning, the Turkish defenders had plugged the gap. Raymond tried to renew the attack but the Turks set fire to the siege equipment and destroyed it.  On Godfrey's side of the siege, two of his men - Henry of Esch and Count Herman - also built a tower to help undermine the wall. They managed to bring this tower, which they called 'The Fox', up to the wall, but once there it collapsed killing all twenty inside.

During this time the crusaders were well supplied from Byzantium. Alexius also knew that the Nicaea could never be truly be truly surrounded unless there was a naval blockade. He agreed to provide a flotilla of small boats under the command of one of his admirals, Boutoumites. The boats were shipped overland, reassembled of the shores of the Ascanion Lake, and launched to blockade the city. Alexius also sent agents into the city to open negotiations for its surrender. He kept this initiative secret - the crusaders would be expecting to ransack the city when it fell, the standard procedure when a medieval city fell. Alexius, however, did not want to see the second city of his empire pillaged in this way, and so worked hard to persuade the defenders to surrender before the Crusaders breached the walls.

Meanwhile, back at the crusader's camp, a man from Lombardy who was an expert in making siege equipment offered to build a more sturdy tower. His price was 15 in Chartres money out of the common fund. This tower did its job - the wall was breached and it seemed that the city was doomed to fall.

Alexius' behind-the-scenes bargaining had paid off, however, and the crusaders were startled one morning to see his banner flying over the city. The city had surrendered to him, and was swiftly garrisoned with Byzantine troops. The crusaders were well rewarded for their efforts - it had been a long, hard siege, and many had died. Alexius gave a large sum of money into the common fund, and gave away plenty of food for the common soldiery. At the time, the crusaders were happy enough with the outcome, but the underhand way in which Alexius had taken control of the city rancoured with them. It was the beginning of an enmity which would become increasingly overt as the campaign continued.

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