Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

How the Christians were Besieged in Antioch

Thus it came to pass that the host of the Christians gained the city of Antioch. But as it often falls out that a man finds cause to repent him of having accomplished his device, so was it in this matter.

In the first place the city was not wholly taken, for there yet remained to the Turks a strong fortress that was built upon a hill in the midst of the city. So strong was it that the chiefs concluded that it might not be taken, save only by hunger. The Christians, therefore, had the city, yet was there an enemy hard at hand, and watching ever when he could do them the most grievous harm.

In the second place, there was no food in the city, no, nor in the country round about, so that the Christians made no gain save only that they could dwell under roofs rather than in tents.

In the third place, and this was by far the worst trouble of all, they had been in the city but two days or so when they were themselves besieged. For Baghasian had sent messengers while the siege was yet a-doing to all the princes of the countries round about, begging help of them. And now there came a great army, of which Kerboga, Lord of Aleppo, was the chief commander, and took up its lodging before the town. And when one of the knights, being the chief under Duke Robert of Normandy, went out to meet them, his name being Roger de Bounville, he was slain by an arrow from a bow. His companions made great lamentation over him, for he was a very valiant knight and much beloved. And on the next day also Duke Godfrey himself, sallying out against the enemy, suffered greatly at their hands, so that he went back into the town with two hundred less in his following than when he had gone forth. By these things the Christians were greatly disheartened and the Turks put in good courage. Also they that were in the citadel became the bolder and did not a little damage; at the same time the blockade was broken, for the Sultan Kerboga was able to come and go freely as he would.

But the very worst of all the things that the Christians suffered was the famine, which now was so grievous that it was well-nigh past bearing. That men should eat camels and horses and asses was but a small matter, for the flesh of these creatures is not wholly distasteful. Nay, I doubt not but that many eat of them without knowing. But now there was such hunger that cats and dogs, yea, and fouler creatures than these, as rats and the like, were greedily devoured. And herein there was plainly to be seen how great was the difference between man and man; for some, though gently born, could not endure the craving of hunger, but without shame would beg and even steal, and others chose rather to shut themselves up in their houses, and die without any having knowledge of their pain. Then you might see men, once valiant and strong, scarce able to walk for weakness. Nor was there any difference between rich and poor; for food could not be bought for money, how great soever the sum.

And now some of the chiefs stole away by night, seeking for some place where they might eat a morsel of bread; and doubtless many more had so gone, but that the Turks, sending some horsemen to the port of the city, slew all the seamen whom they found, and burnt all their ships. And this turned out both for good and evil; for good, because without doubt many more had fled, to the great weakening of the army, but that they could no more go by sea; for evil, because there no longer came any victual by this way into the city.

And now the Christians were disappointed of yet another hope. For the Emperor of New Rome had gathered together an army wherewith to succour them. But even when he was on his way, having accomplished something about half of his journey, there met him one of the captains, who turned him from his purpose. This man told him how that the Christians had lately taken Antioch, and this by the treachery of a citizen, after a nine months' siege, and how that they were themselves besieged in the city, and could not by any means hold out till help should come. So the Emperor turned back, not wholly against his will, for he was one who sought to gain his ends by craft rather than by force. This was a great discouragement, though there were some who said that the coming of the Emperor would have been for ill rather than for good, because he would have sought to take for himself all the glory and profit of the war. But such, I take it, were of those who are wise after the event. None looked for glory or profit in the days of which I now write. It was enough if a man kept his faith, and did that which it was his duty to do. Not all, indeed, were so minded. As for the common men, they were so negligent and so hung back when they were called to go forth against the enemy that Bohemond was constrained to set fire to the houses in which they had hidden themselves. As for the chiefs and captains, many, as I have said, did secretly flee from the place, and others were minded to do the same, but that shame held them back, and that the better sort were instant with them that they should not so break their oath.

Chief among those who stood firm in their own purpose and kept up the hearts of others were Bohemond, who was styled Prince of Antioch, for the city had been given to him, and he was loath to give up so noble a possession, and Duke Robert of Normandy, and, chiefest and most honourable of all, the Duke Godfrey. But it was a time of sore trouble. I do remember a day when it was noised abroad through the city that one of the bravest knights of the army had died of hunger. I do believe that if the enemy had come up to the gates that day there were many that would have opened them to him, thinking that it would be more tolerable to die speedily by the sword than to perish slowly by hunger.

And now there came to pass a thing of which I will not take it upon myself to judge, but which I will relate as far as my knowledge serves. The chiefest church in the city of Antioch bears the name of the Apostle Peter, and stands in the chief square of the city. Now on a certain day there was made a proclamation to this purpose: "Let all men that are minded to hear good tidings assemble at noon in the great square." So the whole multitude was gathered together, and to them came forth one of the chief men of the army, a certain bishop from the land of France. He stood upon one of the towers of the church, where he could be seen of all and heard of many, for the square is very great, and no voice of mortal man could by any means reach to the farthest part. Now this is what I, who stood within a stone's cast of the said tower, heard and saw. The bishop spake thus: "Yesterday there came to me a certain clerk of my company who said that he had seen in a vision Andrew the Apostle, and that the said Apostle would have the captains of the army search in the church for a great treasure that was there hidden. The said clerk told me that the vision had been seen of him three times, that he had feared to tell the matter lest he should be scorned, and that the third time the Apostle had made as if he would smite him with a staff which he bore in his hand. So under constraint of fear he came to me and related to me the vision, and I told it to the captains of the host. So we went together to the church, to the place of which the clerk made us aware, for he had given me signs by which I might know it, and then, having first put up prayers to Almighty God, we dug, and after a while we came to a flat stone, whereon was graven in letters such as men were wont to use a thousand years ago, HERE IS LAID THE SPEAR WITH WHICH THE LORD CHRIST WAS PIERCED.

And when the Bishop had said these words, the Duke Godfrey, who stood by him, knelt upon his knees, and held out to him the part of a spear, some seven feet in length, and the Bishop, first bending his knees to the earth, then took the spear in his hands, and kissed it three times, and held it so that it might be seen of the multitude. And all they who had heard the words of the Bishop fell upon their knees, and they who stood too far away for hearing took them for an example and did the same. Then the Bishop cried aloud, "This is the Spear of the Lord's deliverance." And it came to pass that in a marvellous short time every man, not in the square only, but in the whole city, knew what had befallen.

So much I heard, and to this I give my witness. And I give my testimony also to this, that from this finding of the spear there came a marvellous encouragement and renewing of strength to the whole army. There were some who said that the whole matter was a cunningly contrived device of the captains. Be that as it may, 'tis most certain that a new spirit came upon all men. It seemed as if they were no more troubled with sickness or hunger or trouble, but were as lusty in body and confident in spirit as they had ever been in the time of their greatest prosperity.

These things being so, the chiefs and captains of the host were minded to make good use of the occasion. First, division was made of all stores that yet remained in the city; 'twas but a scanty supply, yet there was enough that all should have a little. And this also was a great encouragement. Then word went through the city that all should prepare themselves for battle on the morrow, and there was much sharpening of swords and spears, and the getting ready of such other things as were needed.

On the morrow, therefore, at break of day, the host went forth in twelve battalions, each under its proper leader, of which it will suffice to make mention of the first, which was led by Hugh, brother of the King of France; and the third, which had Duke Robert of Normandy for its leader; and the fourth, under the bishop of whom I have spoken above; and the seventh, under Duke Godfrey; and the twelfth, which followed Bohemond, Prince of Antioch. And in each battalion were to be seen the priests clad in white robes and other vestments such as they are wont to bear, and before all, the Spear of Deliverance.

There is no need to write many things of the battle of that day. The Turks fought valiantly, at the first as being confident of victory, for they thought to themselves, "How can these Christians, being almost dead of hunger, stand up against us?" and afterwards as loath to lose that which they had counted upon as being already gained. Nor did they fail, in one place and another, to hold their ground, and even to drive back their adversaries. So, for example, the battalion of Bohemond had been routed but for the present help which Duke Godfrey brought to it. But, on the other hand, the Christians fought as men moved by the very Spirit of God. They that were the bravest among them showed such courage that they may be said to have surpassed themselves, and they that had at other times but common courage, might now be counted among the bravest; and the cowards—for cowards there are in every multitude of men—were moved that day, if never on any other day in their whole lives, to be brave. And so it fell out that they won a great victory. For many hours the armies contended not unequally, though from the very first the Christians had somewhat the advantage. But when the sun began to decline, then the leader of the Turks, the Sultan Kerboga, fled from the battle. And when his men knew that they were without a leader, they were greatly troubled. No man thought but of his own life and how he might best save it, and fled with all the speed that he might use. There was a great slaughter that day, and there had been a greater but that the horsemen of the Christians dared not to follow the Turks, for fear lest their horses should fail beneath them. Only the Lord Tancred, and some four thousand men with him, pursued after the enemy. And these slew till they were weary of slaying, for, indeed, there befell that which was spoken by a prophet of old time, "A thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one."

It was a great victory, and the reward was great, for the camp was as richly furnished and as full of good things as was ever camp in the world, and I have seen many. There was a great abundance of gold and silver, both in ingots and in money, and tapestry and garments of silk. Oxen there were also, and sheep and goats, and wheat and meal, so much that they who but on the morning of this day would willingly have given a gold piece for a handful, had now more than they cared to carry away. But of all the marvels in the camp was the pavilion of the Sultan Kerboga. This was made in the fashion of a city, with the towers wrought of fine silk. There were streets within it as of a town, and one great tent in which there might have sat two thousand men. This great victory was won at the time of the summer solstice.