Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Of the Besieging of Antioch

I had much talk with Cleon about his affairs, especially as to what it were better for him and his sister to do in view of the present necessity. "I like not these walled towns," said I. "That they are useful for the maintaining of a kingdom I would not deny; but they are, methinks, but ill places wherein to dwell. Let them be fortified as thoroughly as may be, yet are they taken sooner or later, whether by force of arms or by compulsion of famine. And when they are so taken, then are the inhabitants the most miserable of human creatures." To these things he assented, being, as I have said, a young man of a good understanding. So it was agreed that he would not await the coming of the Christian army. He would send the girl his sister to her foster-mother who dwelt, being the wife of one who had merchandise of timber, in the region of Lebanon. Further, we judged it well that he and I should travel westward, and take such occasion as might offer itself of joining ourselves to the army on its march. "For," I said, "I having this physician's craft of mine cannot fail to be welcome; never yet was army that had physicians sufficient for its need. As for you, you may, at the first, for more safety, make as though you were a helper in my work; afterward, if it seem good, you shall follow your own trade; a lender of money will find friends enough wherever he may be."

And this we did. It may be told that when the army departed from Nicaea, the leaders divided it into two parts, holding that the multitude of men and cattle were so great that the country would not by any means support it. Nor would I deny that in this they judged rightly. Nevertheless this same dividing had nearly ended in great trouble, for the enemy following hard on the lesser of the two parts, overtook it at a certain place that is called Dorykeum, and could not be beaten off till after many hours' fighting and much loss of men. We joined ourselves to the larger part when it had accomplished about half of its journey from Nicaea to Antioch. Nor had I misjudged when I said that the army was like to have need of physicians. There was in it most grievous sickness, so that many died from day to day. Also there was that which no art of the physician could heal, extremity of thirst, so that many, especially of the weaker sort, women and children, of whom there was a great multitude, perished miserably. Nevertheless, here also I was able to do some service to the host, for I knew sundry signs by the observing of which water may be found, and that in places which would seem to the unskilful to give no promise of the same.

But when we came to Antioch—and this was some six or seven days after the late equinox—there was much questioning and debate as to what it were best to do. There were many, and those not the least prudent among the chiefs, whose counsel was wholly adverse to the undertaking of a siege. They said that the year was already far spent, and that the time was at hand when our army must needs think of rest rather than of battles, that there was but a scanty store of food, and, finally, a thing that was plainly to be seen and beyond all denial, that a city so great of compass could not be beleaguered by so few. The counsel of these men was that the army should pitch a camp, and this as near to the sea as could be conveniently contrived. "For so," said they, "shall we most easily defend ourselves, having the sea, by which no one can approach save with our good will, on one side; also, we shall be quit of the fevers and other plagues that are gendered in the marshes; and finally we shall be sustained by the corn and other victual that will be brought to us from over sea, whether by friends who wish us well or by merchants in the hope of gain." But the word of those who were for pressing on prevailed, nor can it be doubted but that these latter were in the right. For if the Christians stood aside and left Antioch as being, forsooth, too strong for them, what hope was there that they should possess themselves of Jerusalem? It must be confessed that to besiege so great a city, that had walls and bulwarks and towers so strong, and was also so well provided both with fighting men and munitions of war, was against all common methods of warfare.

But these methods must yield to necessity, and, as I have said, it was a necessity that the Christians should set siege to Antioch. Yet there had not passed a week before it was seen how great a task had been therein undertaken. The land between the camp and the sea was mostly barren, so that little pasture could be found for the horses. But when the Christians went farther afield for forage, then the Turks from the town would set upon them and slay them, and this all the more readily because they were of necessity scattered over a great space of country, seeking for the things of which they had need. It would be long to tell of all these things; one notable example which I saw with my own eyes shall suffice. There went on a certain day about one month after the setting of the siege a company of three hundred men or thereabouts. Being so many, for commonly they that sought for forage went by tens or scores, they took little heed. The enemy, perceiving this from the walls, issued forth and fell upon the men while they were dispersed, and burdened also with loads of forage. They slew some, but when the Christians, being called together by their captains, made head against them, they in their turn fled. Then there came forth others from the town to help them, and others also from the camp crossed by the bridge of boats that the chiefs had made, for all these things were done on the farther side of the river; so there was, so to speak, a set battle, many fighting upon both sides, and not a few being slain. Then the chiefs could not but consider among themselves what would be the end, if, indeed, they must spend so many lives of men in seeking forage for their horses. Therefore they made it an ordinance that none should go a-foraging save under commandment and in a set order. And the order was this, that a hundred men or so should keep the guard. And this availed somewhat, for the men were not slain; yet but little forage was got, for they could not go far, and much also was trampled under foot and lost.

But there were greater troubles to be endured that these. For when the siege had been set about two months or a little more, the victual of the men began to fail. And this was the more grievous, because where things had been in great abundance, now there was want; for the common people, as is their custom, spent and wasted as if, forsooth, there could be no end to their stores. From this there followed many evils. First, the soldiers plundered even their friends, for there were not a few Christians in the country; for what will not hungry men do? so making enemies of them who otherwise had helped them. Secondly, not a few were slain while they sought for food, often at great risk of their lives. Such seeking was, indeed, forbidden by the chiefs; but what did forbidding avail? for the men said, "If we sit still we die; and if the enemy slay us, we die also." And indeed the scarcity was most grievous. A man might eat at a single meal four pennyworth of bread and yet be scarcely satisfied; and a lamb or a kid could scarce be bought for six shillings, whereas but two months before it had not cost more than so many pence. And now the horses fared worse than ever; for such grain as had been got together for them was consumed by the men; nay, they were themselves killed and eaten. Many men died, and they who made shift to live were much spent and weakened. Nor did they suffer from hunger only; for there were great rains, as there are wont to be at this season of the year in this land; and the ground on which the tents were pitched was ofttimes overflowed with water, and the tents themselves well-nigh perished with rottenness and decay. And so it fell out that what with them that were slain by the enemy, and them that perished by hunger and disease, and them that fled away from the camp, the host was minished by half, and yet nothing, so to speak, had been accomplished for the subduing of the city. What would have befallen the army I know not but that by good fortune, or shall I rather say, the good leading of God, two of the chiefs, to wit, the Earl Bohemond, and the Earl of Flanders, having gone far afield, came upon a certain town in which they found a great store of food, and this not guarded of any, so that they took it without let or hindrance, nor lost in the gaining of it so much as a single man. For a while this store held out; they that had money in their pouches fared well, and to them that had not, distribution was made by such as were charitably disposed. But there was end of this store also; then, when things were well-nigh as bad as before, a certain Latinus, whom the Emperor of Rome had sent to stand in his place, coming to the chiefs, said that, if they were willing, he would go to New Rome and advise the Emperor of the straits to which the army had been brought, and return again as speedily as might be with so much victual as could be gotten together. Now this Latinus was a man given to lies and treason, and of this the chiefs were well aware; only they had no testimony whereby to convict him, nor had they reason to deny him, when he proffered such service, therefore they suffered him to depart; but his going was a great discouragement to the army, for no man believed that he had it in his mind to return. "The ship sinks"—this I heard one man say to another, as I walked in the camp on a certain night about this time—"the ship sinks, and this rat would fain leave it."

And now, fortune, who, indeed, is ever mutable in her dealings with men, changed her face and looked with favour on the host. Three things there were which brought with them no small advantage, and these I will now set forth. First, then, the chiefs, by the counsels of the bishops—that is, the chief priests—made certain ordinances for the conduct of the host. It was a great scandal that men who made pretence of fighting in the cause of God should give themselves over to the service of the devil, as many did by all manner of evil living. Now, therefore, an ordinance was passed against drunkenness and lust, and gambling and violence, whether of speech or of act. Such ordinances are often made in vain; but the army was now disposed to repentance, for this mood is wrought in men by suffering and fear, of which there had been no lack in the months now past. And the second cause that worked for good was this, that Duke Godfrey, who had been sick for well-nigh a year, was now recovered. The cause of his sickness, as I heard it from a squire that waited upon him, was this.

It was as the host was passing through the Lesser Asia that the thing happened. Some of the chiefs on a certain day would go a hunting—these men must hunt whatever befall. Now Duke Godfrey, as he rode through the wood by himself alone, was aware of a husbandman that fled from a bear. The man had been felling trees to make fuel for the host, and being surprised by the beast, had much ado to escape. For the bear can overtake a man, run he as quickly as he may; nor will it avail to climb into a tree, by which device other beasts may be avoided, for the bear can climb right well. When the duke saw this husbandman fleeing for his life he drew his sword and took his standing in the way, and the bear left the man and addressed him to the duke. And first the beast, which was a mighty creature, both fierce and strong, smote the duke's horse with his paw on the shoulder so that it fell to the ground. Then the duke, who was as nimble a man as there was in the host, leaping clear of the horse, stood upon his feet, but the bear, running upon him with a most horrible cry, smote him very hardly on the thigh. Then, rising on his hind legs, cast his front paws about him. But the duke, for all that he had been grievously wounded, was not overcome by the beast. He caught him about the neck by the skin with his left hand, and with his right hand drave the sword into his body up to the cross, and so slew him. But no sooner had he so done but he fell to the earth, being faint with much bleeding. There he lay till there came certain men from the camp to fetch him, for the husbandman had advertised them of what had befallen. So they carried him in a litter to the camp. And for many days he lay sick almost to death, but now when the army was in a great strait he was restored to soundness of body, and this, as some said, not without a miracle. Of this I say nothing; but 'tis certain that the news of his well-being was heard with great joy, for the duke was a mighty warrior and a skilful leader of men, and a righteous man also and of a simple heart.

Godfrey of Bouillon


And the third thing that put the army in good heart was that great gifts both of money and of food came to the camp from the Sultan of Egypt. It must be understood that there was an ancient quarrel between the Sultan of Egypt and the Sultan of Syria. Verily it had gone ill with the Christians but for this division among their enemies. But this also must be said, that as they would have fared worse than they did if their adversaries had been at one among themselves, so they would have fared by far better if they on their part had been more at one. But there were many angers and jealousies and envyings, each man seeking his own, and having but little care for the common cause, only the Duke Godfrey was one that set not his own things before the things of the host.