Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Of the Taking of Antioch

And now all things seemed to work together for the advantage of the besiegers. The governor of the city, Baghasian by name, thought to attack them from all sides at one and the same time, for he knew that they were much wasted by hunger and disease. He sent messengers, therefore, to the chiefs and governors of the country round about, asking of them to gather together by a certain day as many soldiers as they could and with these to approach as secretly as might be the camp of the Christians. But this thing coming to the ears of the Christians that were in the city—and they were both many in number and full of zeal—they sent to the Duke Godfrey warning him of what was about to be done. So the duke, calling the other chiefs, laid a great ambush, six battalions of men, hiding them in a certain place which was the farther side of the river Elper, for this same river was between the camp and the city. So when the enemy approached, not thinking that they should be attacked, for the Christians had not been wont to abide on the farther side of the river, but to cross it only for this occasion or that, then the men that were in ambush rose up suddenly, and fell upon them, and made a great slaughter among them, for they scarce could strike a blow for fear and astonishment. For ten miles or so did the Christians pursue them that fled, and as they came back they threw some heads that they had cut off from the slain over the walls of the town.

After this the Christians established themselves on the far side of the river aforesaid, and for their better protection built two forts, of which the one was kept by a chief of the name of Tancred and the other by the Earl of Toulouse. So a great advance was made, for now the city was besieged not in name only but also in fact, for the inhabitants could no more go in and out freely, as they had been wont to do, neither could they receive provisions of food from the country round about. Also the besiegers possessed themselves of many horses which they found feeding in pastures hard by the city wall. So it came to pass in divers ways that on the one hand the citizens of Antioch were more hardly pressed than before, and on the other hand the besiegers had greater ease and plenty. About this time also, for the year was now more advanced, ships could go to and fro without danger, so that many cargoes of food and other necessary things came to the host. Also there came from a great prince in the west fifty thousand pieces of gold.

And now, again, the Christian men that were in the city of Antioch greatly helped them that were without. Chief among them were two brothers, of an ancient house that was, by origin, of the land of Armenia. These were armourers by occupation, and held in high esteem by the townsfolk for their skill in the making of arms and for their prudence in affairs and also for their riches, for I have noted, having had experience of many years, that poor men, be their virtues how great so ever, are but lightly esteemed. Now the elder of these two brothers was named Pherrus—'twas said that he had professed the faith of Mahomet but was in heart a Christian, but of this I know nothing. This man had a great quarrel with the Turks in Antioch, because of the oppressions wherewith they oppressed his nation, and because also of a private wrong that one of their chief men had done to him. Therefore he sent a messenger to one of the chiefs of the army, Bohemond by name, saying that he would deliver the city into his hand, if he, on his part, would set the matter in order. "And," said he, "whatever you do you must do quickly, for before many days are past, there will come such succour to the Turks that you will not be sufficient to hold your own camp, far less to take the city."

For a while Bohemond said nought to the other chiefs, for his desire was that Antioch should be given over to him for his own possession. In the first place, therefore, he made interest with the chiefs that this should be established by a common agreement. And to this, after a while, all the other chiefs, save only the Earl of Toulouse, gave their consent. About this time the chief men of the city began to have suspicion of treachery. Of certain proof they had none; but they reckoned that the Christians in the city could not but have designs against them, seeing what they had suffered at their hands. They planned, therefore, that there be a common slaughter of them. And when this came to the ears of the said Pherrus, he sent to Bohemond, saying that what he did he must do quickly. "Come, therefore," for such was the message, "to the tower you wot of, and bring with you some stout men armed, and this at midnight, neither before nor after." When the chiefs heard this message, for Bohemond caused the man to deliver it aloud in their presence, they were very glad.

Meanwhile, Baghasian, the governor of the city, sent for Pherrus, thinking that he was well affected to him, and asked him what it were best to do. "For," said he, "I have it in my mind to put all the Christians to death; but this is a great business and cannot be put in hand without much preparation. Come now and say what, in your wisdom, you think it well to do at this present." Then Pherrus said, "If the towers of the wall be safe, then the city cannot be taken. Take care, therefore, that the charge of the towers be committed to trusty men; and, for the greater security, see that the guards of the said towers be often changed." And this he said without changing countenance, and when the governor heard him so speak he put away out of his mind all suspicion, if he had any such, for the counsel was manifestly good.

That same day about the time of sunset it fell out that Pherrus and his brother were together in the principal tower. Now Pherrus had not made trial of his brother in this matter, and, indeed, he doubted not at all but that he would be of one mind with him, for this had been their habit of life to have the same thought about all things. So he said, pointing his hand to the camp of the Christians, "I have a pity of these men, for they have come from far, on a good errand, for so they think it, and now they will all perish miserably." But his brother answered him in much heat, "Your pity, brother, is but ill bestowed; for my part I should much rejoice if the Turks should strike off the heads of all these villains. For surely since they came into the land we have not had peace either by day or by night." When Pherrus heard him speak in this fashion, he was in a strait, for "Now," said he to himself, "my brother being an adversary in this matter, both I and the chief with whom I have made agreement must perish miserably." And then he did a most dreadful deed, for he smote his brother with a dagger, he being wholly unaware, and the man fell to the ground stone dead, without so much as a groan.

When it was midnight Bohemond came, as had been agreed, to the bottom of the tower, and he carried with him a ladder of cords, with hooks of iron wherewith it might be fastened to the wall. And when the guard that walked upon the wall had passed by, then Pherrus let down from the tower a rope wherewith he drew up the ladder of cords, and made the hooks fast in the wall. Then Bohemond climbed up the ladder, and when he came to the top, said Pherrus to him, "Come now, and I will give you such proof of my good faith as never has been shown to any man before." And he drew away a cloak that he had laid on the dead body of his brother, saying, "See this man; he was my brother; we never had strife since we were children, yet I slew him because he was not of one mind with me in this matter."

Now the other chiefs that had come to the place with Bohemond doubted. And when they delayed to climb into the tower by the ladder, then Bohemond descended, and said to them, "This man is faithful if ever man was. Even now he has showed to me the dead body of his brother, whom he slew for our sakes, because he was his adversary in this matter. Come now, and spend no more time in vain, for even yet, if we make not good haste, the whole enterprise will come to nothing." So Bohemond mounted the ladder, and the other chiefs followed him without more ado, and they mastered the tower, and slew the watch.

Now the chiefs had given commandment that companies of men should be ready within cry of the walls, so that, so soon as the signal should be given, they should be ready to bear aid. So Bohemond and his comrades, having slain the warders of the gates, set them wide open, calling to the companies that waited outside. Thus it came to pass that after a siege of nigh upon nine months the city of Antioch was taken, and that without the losing of so much as a single man. How many of the citizens and soldiers were slain I know not. This I can write of my own knowledge, that the streets were full of dead bodies, when I passed into the town on the day following. 'Twas said by some that as many as ten thousand were slain on that night. This I know not; but 'tis certain that many perished, and not fighting men only. As for Baghasian he was overtaken when he sought to fly, and was slain.