The Nicopolis Crusade

In 1389, the Ottoman Sultan Murad, I led his army into Serbia following a defeat at the hands of a Serb-led coalition at Plocnik some years previous. In the battle that followed at Kosovo polje, the Field of Blackbirds, the Ottomans won a great victory and Serbia became a vassal of the young Ottoman Empire. However, it came at a high price. In the course of the battle, Murad was assassinated by a Serbian knight making a false surrender. While this is the common belief, the circumstances of Murad’s death remain unclear. His oldest son, Bayazid, quickly took control after executing his younger brother Yakub. After marrying the Serbian princess Olivera Despoina and setting her brother Stefan Lazarevic on the Serbian throne, Bayazid made his way back into Anatolia. However, the Ottoman state had no peace, and the new Sultan was forced to move at a pace most would find unbelievable, earning him the nickname, Yildirim, the Thunderbolt.


Sultan Bayazid the Thunderbolt from an Ottoman family tree. By Ottoman miniature painter (Badisches Landesmuseum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

By 1391, Bayazid had won control of all of Western Anatolia, bringing the Ottoman Empire to direct borders with the Emirate of Karaman, ruled by his troublesome brother-in-law Ala ud-Din Beg. To celebrate his conquests, Bayazid called for a conference at Edirne (formerly Adrianopolis, conquered by Murad), the Ottoman capital in Europe. This conference highlighted a rising tension between Bayazid and the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor, Manouel II. Earlier in life Manouel had been an enemy of the Ottomans, and the passage of time had done nothing to smooth his hostility. Bayazid for his part had already begun to cast his eyes on Constantinople, the Queen of Cities and capital of the Roman Empire. Other matters in the Balkans soon drew Bayazid’s attention.

In 1393, Bayazid moved into the remnants of the Second Bulgarian Empire, having heard of Bulgarian negotiations with Ottoman enemies. With the fall of Tarnovo in the summer, he had nipped this threat in the bud and Ivan Shishman, the former Tsar, was kept under close watch at Nicopolis. Bayazid continued to move, dealing with border skirmishes with the Sultan of Sivas, Qadi Burhan al-Din in Anatolia. By winter he was back in the Balkans, and called for another conference, this time in Serres, a Roman princedom in Macedonia. News that Manouel II was plotting to reconcile with his nephew and rival for the throne, Ioannes, was a cause for concern. So Bayazid called Manouel, all of the Roman princelings, and Stefan Lazarevic, to report to him. Strangely enough Bayazid did nothing more than berate the assembly for not governing their lands well and sent them on their way.

In the spring of 1394 his intentions became clear: Ottoman forces began to move into Thrace and construct a series of castles to encircle Constantinople. Bayazid was going to lay siege to the city. However when the Roman and Latin princes of Greece decided to move toward independence Bayazid left his preparations and struck west. Macedonia and Thessaly were both annexed outright, and the Latin Duchy of Athens forced into vassalage.

In 1395, Bayazid seemed intent on reducing the Despotate of Morea when news from the north called him back. Mircea cel Batran, or Mircea the Old, was Voivode of Wallachia and self-proclaimed champion of Balkan Christianity. He was also allied to the powerful Sigismund I of Luxembourg, the king of Hungary. Taking advantage of the Ottoman focus on Greece, Mircea had launched an invasion. Bayazid replied in kind, living up to his nickname by striking like a thunderbolt into Wallachia. While ultimately ending in a stalemate the invasion had the aftereffect of destabilizing Wallachia and sending Mircea straight into the arms of Sigismund.

  Ottoman success had finally caught Western Christendom’s attention. The rapid rise of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans since they first entered the area under Murad I had been a cause of concern in Europe. By 1395, Bayazid was almost in complete control of the Balkans. Bulgaria was dying a slow death, the Roman Empire’s authority extended little beyond Constantinople’s famed triple walls, and now with Mircea the Old pleading in Buda for aid the situation had reached a critical stage.  However, Western Christendom had problems of its own.

The Western Schism, which had begun in 1378 when two popes, both elected by the Curia following Gregory XI’s death, had split Europe in two. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France had also flared up again, creating further chaos. With the threat of the Ottomans looming over them though, a strange thing began to happen. Richard II of England and Charles VI of France agreed to a cease-fire in 1384 and started to plan for a joint Crusade to end the Hundred Years’ War permanently and heal the Western Schism.

A desire for a real chivalric culture of peace, love, and understanding had become popular in both England and France and the two kings realized that all this energy needed a powerful outlet. Richard and Charles reaffirmed the peace in 1389 and headed by Charles’ tutor Philip of Mezieres preparation and organization for a Crusade was underway.

  In 1392, Charles VI laid down the first concrete plans for what was to become the Nicopolis Crusade with his uncle, Philip II the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Sigismund had already started calling for aid by this time, and the first joint Anglo-French army arrived in Hungary. In 1394, Richard II, Philip II, and the French king’s brother Louis I, Duke of Orleans organized a joint planning session with Sigismund. A massive Anglo-French army would be gathered to wage a Crusade for the salvation of Constantinople.

Philip II, Louis I, and the English king’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster were appointed to hold joint command of the Crusade. The following year was set as the departure date. Crusade taxes were levied in Burgundy, France, and England. By the end of the year, Philip II had the money needed to fund the Crusade and John of Gaunt had gathered 1,500 men-at-arms. Contracts with Venice to provide naval support were agreed on. Finally in June and again in October that year the Roman Pope Boniface IX issued a papal bull for the Crusade, preaching it to the masses. The Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII, did not like being left out and copied him, preaching the Crusade to his flock as well.

However in 1395 the plan began to fall apart. Negotiations to finalize the contracts with Venice dragged on for months, and it was not until May the planned summit between Sigismund, Philip II and Louis I at Lyons could take place. This ended all hopes of the Crusade getting off on schedule. Further problems resulted as France experienced internal turmoil while bickering with England over whom Richard II should marry, now that his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, was dead. This moved John of Gaunt to cancel his Crusade obligations, and he delegated his responsibilities to John Beaufort, his eldest illegitimate son. However, Beaufort never went on Crusade, due to a revival in Anglo-French tensions. Philip II followed his lead and pulled out, delegating his obligations to his eldest son, Jean I, Count of Nevers. Louis I then pulled out entirely and the Crusade, which had stood as the best hope for peace in Western Europe, had become little more than a Burgundian expedition.

In April 1396, the Crusade finally left France for Hungary, under the command of Jean. By late July, the Western Crusaders had reached Buda, the capital of Hungary, and the leadership met with Sigismund and Mircea the Old to decide how to proceed.


An older Sigismund of Hungary. Pisanello [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

From the start, the campaign was fraught with problems. Sigismund feared Bayazid and knew the Ottoman Sultan would attempt to invade Hungary. He had called the Crusade in hopes of having at his disposal the force necessary to defend his lands. However, the Crusaders had come to lift the Siege of Constantinople, not to support Hungary and overruled the angry Sigismund at the Buda conference. Instead, they opted for a massive strike into Ottoman territory, forcing Bayazid to meet them on the field of battle as soon as possible. This choice seemed to be the right one in the eyes of the Western leaders as Sigismund’s much-feared invasion never materialized. As a result, they labeled him a coward. The territory the Crusaders chose, with the aid of Mircea, was the former lands of Ivan Shishman.

Meanwhile on the other side of the line Bayazid had hardly been sitting still.  He ended the possibility of Bulgarian collaboration with Mircea by having the former tsar, still at Nicopolis, beheaded and the city invested with an Ottoman garrison. He then turned to Constantinople and with the ring of castles now complete settled in for a siege. However, the Ottoman fleet was unable to cut off the Romans by sea and even with the ring of castles cutting them off by land the Queen of Cities remained supplied. Bayazid was quickly growing impatient and attempted to assault the city, but the triple walls, which had saved Constantinople so many times before, saved the city again. News reached Bayazid relatively quickly of the Crusade, and he left only a small holding force behind while rallying an army at Edirne. In the meantime, he issued orders to his irregulars and scouts to not engage. The Crusaders were at this time advancing into former Bulgaria.

When they arrived at Vidin, the city surrendered to them. As it turned out, Vidin was ruled by Ivan Sratsimir, the younger half-brother of Ivan Shishman. While technically an Ottoman vassal, Ivan Sratsimir had claimed the title of tsar following the execution of his half-brother and had aspirations to restore the Bulgarian Empire. After negotiations with Ivan Sratsimir were concluded the Crusader-Hungarian force proceeded to the next fortress, Rahowa. Here they encountered resistance from the Ottoman garrison. Rahowa held out for five days before surrendering. When the Crusaders entered the city, they massacred the Turkish population before moving on.

On September 12th, the Crusaders and their allies arrived at Nicopolis, the last major fortress to besiege. Unfortunately the Ottoman commander, Dogan Beg, proved far more skilled then the Western leaders expected. Neither the Crusaders nor the Hungarians had brought siege weapons, probably hoping to reduce any obstacles by starvation. Alternatively the Crusaders hoped to force Bayazid to break the blockade. While the siege continued, the Ottomans made real progress and Bayazid met Stefan Lazarevic on the 22nd. That same day a Hungarian scouting party encountered the main body. The Crusader-Allied army, surprised, dispatched more scouts and located Bayazid’s newly fortified camp on the 24th, just south of Nicopolis (he had just arrived the previous day). In reaction, the Crusaders prepared to leave Nicopolis (executing their prisoners beforehand) to face Bayazid on the open field the morning of the following day, September 25. The battle of Nicopolis had begun.

The Crusader army was a diverse group of men drawn together from all walks of life. The central component of the Crusader forces at Nicopolis was the Franco-Burgundian cavalry.  Jean I, Count of Nevers and his personal household contingent and Burgundian vassals formed the core part. The other leading commanders, the epitome of French chivalry and valor, were Jean Boucicaut, the Marshal of France, Philip de Artois, the Constable of France, and Jean de Vienne, the Admiral of France. Enguerrand VII de Coucy, Henri de Bar, and James I de Bourbon were other prominent knights and lords present with the main body but had joined the Crusade after the march had begun.

Jean I, Count of Nevers

Jean I of Nevers, later duke of Burgundy. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

While the Crusade was passing through Germany, it was joined by men from the Palatinate of the Rhine, the Duchy of Bavaria, and the city of Nuremberg. Many other Germans besides joined the Crusade. Also, there may have been a small English detachment serving under the Earl of Huntingdon, but this is disputed. Lastly, we know of contingents from Aragon, Poland, and many other Christian powers. Naval support was provided by the Hospitallers, Venice, and Genoa.

On reaching Buda in Hungary King Sigismund joined his men, mostly light infantry, and cavalry, to the Crusader forces. The Hungarian army was remarkably varied and while centered around a superficial knightly class was made up predominantly of horse archers and mixed infantry (especially crossbowmen).

The Wallachians of Mircea the Old also joined the Crusade with what remained of his army, though he was Orthodox, not Catholic like the Crusaders. While organized along tribal lines rather than feudal the Wallachians were known as some of the best soldiers in the Balkans. The Crusader army in total then numbered somewhere in the ballpark of 16,000 men.

The Ottoman army was the living legacy to the brilliance of Murad I. Bayazid Yildirim owed much of his success to the new model army that his father devised and that he perfected. This new army was not based on tribal ties, but instead on a professional, standing, basis. The core was the Ottoman ruler’s household, divided into an inner and outer “service”. These men were called the kapikulu, or slaves though most of those in service would have long since been manumitted. This included the elite palace cavalry corps (the Six Regiments) and the Yeni Ceri (Janissary) infantry battalions.

The majority of the Ottoman troops were divided up between two large formations, the Anatolian, and Rumelian corps. Comprised of men from the eastern and western halves of the state respectively, the organization of these troops was much more streamlined than in the West. The cavalry were divided into timariots, (regulars maintained by Latin-style fiefs called timars), maasli, (regulars supported by the state) akinjis, (irregular frontier warriors) and musellems (irregular mounted pioneers). Infantry were divided up between the yayas (irregular spearmen) and the azaps (semi-regular skirmishers).

To this forces must be included the Serbian army of Stefan Lazarevic. Latin feudalism had entered the Balkans earlier in the century and had been embraced by the Serbs. Stefan Lazarevic’s army was organized into a mainly heavy cavalry force supported by mercenaries and a general levy though it appears that only the Serbian knights themselves took the field at Nicopolis. The Ottoman army in total then numbered somewhere in the ballpark of 15,000 men.

The final preparations were underway. The previous evening Sigismund had advised caution to his allies, suggesting to first of all discover whether or not the Ottomans planned to attack and second to send Mircea’s troops out in front to clear the field of akinijs ahead of the main assault by the Franco-Burgundians. This plan was met with resistance by the other leaders, angered at being denied the right to lead the charge.

Jean, I was more outraged then anyone and countered that Sigismund wanted the glory for himself. This brought to a head what had so far been the Crusade’s biggest problem: Sigismund and Mircea thought in the mold of eastern style warfare. The Hungarian king’s plan was backed by a belief that he could harass the Ottoman lines into weakening enough to collapse upon contact with the Franco-Burgundian knights. The concept of first man in combat gains the most glory, so dear in the contemporary West, was foreign in the Balkans, even with Hungary fielding knights of its own. The matter reached its height when Robert de Artois, Count d’Eu, made the following speech:

“Yes, yes, the king of Hungary wishes to gain all the honor of the day. He has given us the vanguard, and now he wishes to take it away, that he may have the first blow. Let those who will believe what he sends to us, but for my part I never will… In the name of God and Saint George, you shall see me this day prove myself a good knight.”

This brought the second problem to the fore. Western thought in general and French thought, in particular, focused on the superiority of the knight over all others on both the battlefield and in society. Even though this certainly did not hold true even in Europe itself anymore, the lesson was hard learned. Sigismund was caught in a vice, but could not risk alienating the French and Burgundians. He caved to their demands, allowing the knights to take vanguard.

The line was organized thus: The Franco-Burgundian knights all took a position out in front. King Sigismund took command in the center with the Hungarians and the German Crusaders. The Transylvanians under Stephen Laczkoivc (subject to Sigismund) took a position on the right, and the Wallachians took a position on the left.

Bayazid had none of the problems that afflicted the Crusaders and already formed his men in a classic crescent formation. He had established a fortified camp with the purpose of forcing the Crusaders to attack him, another classic move. The Rumelian regulars were deployed on the right, the Anatolians on the left. In the center, behind the stake barricade, were the azaps and Yeni Ceri. In front of the barricade were the akinjis. Behind the main lines, hidden from view, was the household division of Bayazid with his personal guard in the center and the Six Regiments divided into three each on his right and left. On the further left was the knights of Stefan Lazarevic.

Sigismund was reluctant to engage the Ottoman lines and intended to play a waiting game with Bayazid. However, the French had no such ideas. Jean had lost all patience and unable to hold it in any longer shouted the charge straight into the Ottoman light cavalry. Surging forward on their great horses the greatest warriors of Western Christendom collided head on with the akinjis. Jean himself commanded from the front, earning him the nickname ‘sans Peur’, the Fearless. The Ottoman skirmish cavalry at first appeared to have broken on impact, but it was, in fact, a clever ploy by Bayazid.


The battle of Nicopolis. By J. Schiltberger (J. Schiltberger, Ein wunderbarliche…) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Turning around the skirmishers led the Crusader knights into the wall of stakes. At first they attempted ride over the wooden barricade but their horses were not bred for leaping, especially over sharpened logs. Realizing they would have to dismount, the knights began to leave their horses. On that signal, the azaps and Yeni Ceri took out their bows and opened fire. Under a hail of arrow fire, the French and Burgundians tore the stakes out of the ground and took many casualties. Finally, they managed to clear a path through the barricade but because they could not remount their horses Jean ordered his men to advance on foot. The other knights followed his lead and engaged the azaps and Yeni Ceri. Some of the akinjis and regular cavalry were also drawn into the melee. Even without horses the Western knights were still formidable opponents, and the Ottoman infantry was devastated, especially the azaps, who soon broke and fled for real. In a testament to their skills, the Yeni Ceri managed to maintain their cohesion and begun an orderly retreat, drawing the dismounted Crusaders with them.

When they reached the hills, the main body of the Ottoman regular cavalry moved to engage. However, they withdrew almost as quickly as they came. The Franco-Burgundians continued to struggle uphill only to walk into an ambush by the Ottoman household troops led by Bayazid. The regulars then rejoined, to surround the Crusaders on three sides. Within minutes, the entire body was either dead or captured. Among the first group was Jean de Vienne, who was slain defending the French banner and among the latter group Jean I, Count of Nevers.

Meanwhile on the other side of the field the horses of the French and Burgundian knights had begun to return to camp. King Sigismund, who had already ordered the center forward in an attempt to support the charging knights, now knew something was wrong. The fresh troops first encountered the reformed Ottoman infantry on the plateau before facing the mounted regulars. The resulting contest was far more equally matched, but Bayazid had one last trick up his sleeves. As the day passed into the late afternoon, the Serbian knights of Stefan Lazarevic burst from cover and hit the king of Hungary’s undefended flanks.

The Transylvanians and Wallachians had retreated during the march (neither Mircea nor Steven Lazarevic felt any great loyalty to Hungary, and were more concerned about their people), and left the center exposed. The Serbian knights threw themselves toward the main Hungarian banner and overthrew it. Seeing the lead banner fall, the Hungarian commanders prevailed on Sigismund to disengage. The King agreed, and his forces retreated in good order to the banks of the Danube, where the joint Hospitaller and allied Italian fleet was waiting. The remaining Crusader-Allied senior leadership was able to embark safely, but many others were not so fortunate as there was not enough room for everyone on the ships. As word of this spread, a panic broke out in the ranks. A few ships were sunk in the chaos by overloading. As the water was low in September, many Crusader-Allied troops were able to ford the river safely by swimming or crossing further downstream where it was broken up by islands. The Ottomans took advantage of the chaos, isolating bodies of Crusaders on hill tops (including the famous incident of the “Knight of Poland”, who sacrificed himself to keep the Ottomans from being able to fire on the fleet from the heights), or hunting them in the space between the hills. However, Bayazid was largely content to watch his enemy self-destruct. Observing this as his ship sailed for Constantinople, Sigismund famously remarked on the French:

“If only they had listened to me… We had men in the plenty to fight our enemies.”

The battle of Nicopolis, the last great battle of the Crusading Era was over. The Ottoman dominion was reaffirmed.

In the aftermath of the battle much happened. The outcome of the Nicopolis Crusade was a surprise to the powers of Western Europe. In one single horrific afternoon, the flower of the west were either struck down or captured. For those who were caught the culture shock left a profound and lasting effect. Islamic culture did not have the same codes toward the treatment of prisoners that Christian culture had.

The worst came when Bayazid, in a fit of anger over the massacres and the heavy casualties his men suffered in the first phase of the battle executed a large number of Crusaders he had taken prisoner. Only the most wealthy (Like Jean I) or young (like Johann Schiltberger) survived. The exact number is unknown (ranging from 300 to 10,000), but it seems likely that Bayazid wanted to execute even more, holding off out of awe from the peaceful way in which the executed went to their deaths. This was perhaps an even wider shock to Western Europe, and never again would a Crusade be launched against the Ottomans. Left alone the Ottoman Empire continued to expand, only to be nearly destroyed in 1402 when Bayazid was defeated and captured by the great Turko-Mongol conqueror Timur-e Lang, or Tamerlane at Ankara.



Norman Housley, The Later Crusades, 1274-1580: From Lyons to Alcazar.  New York, 1992.

Aziz Atiya, The Crusades of the Later Middle Ages. New York, 1965.

Aziz Atiya, The Crusade of Nicopolis. New York, 1978.

George  Nafziger and Mark Walton, Islam at War: A History. Westport, 2003.

Buchan Telfer, trans, The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger. London, 1979.

David Nicolle, Nicopolis 1396: The Last Crusade, illustrations by Christa Hooks. Oxford, 1999

Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire. New York, 2005.

The Seljuqs of Rum

The Seljuqs of Rum, or Anatolian Seljuqs (Turkish: Anadolu Selcuklulari), were the first major Turkish state in what was to become Turkey. An offshoot of the greater Seljuq Empire, the Rum Seljuqs would eventually outlast their kin, and their legacy would be an inspiration for all future Turkish realms in Anatolia.

All branches of the Seljuqs had a common origin. Among historians, it is widely accepted the Seljuqs were a ruling clan of a significant section of a vast Turkish tribal confederacy known as the Ghuzz or Oghuz. In the 11th Century two Seljuq leaders, brothers, Tughrul Beg and Chagri Beg, defeated the Ghaznavids in northern Iran. With the floodgates open the Ghuzz poured into Iran and within less than a decade they had captured Baghdad, the center of Sunni Islamic legitimacy and invested with vast authority by the Abbasid caliph. In 1063, the architect of the newfound Seljuq Empire, Tughrul, died. For a time it seemed war would break out between the successors of Tughrul, endangering all they had gained. Eventually, the conflict boiled down between Qutlumish and Alp Arslan, Tughrul’s cousin and nephew respectively. Alp Arslan won the contest, but he mourned the death of a member of his family and vowed to treat Qutlumish’s heirs well. Alp Arslan would go on to expand Seljuq power, bringing it into conflict with the premier superpower in the Middle East, the Roman Empire (incorrectly known as the Byzantine Empire). In 1071 Alp Arslan won a decisive victory over the Romans at the battle of Manzikert, changing the region forever. The Seljuqs would divide the spoils of victory between the commanders who contributed the most to victory. Among these was the son of Qutlumish, and the founder of the Sultanate of Rum, Suleiman.

Within a year of Manzikert the great Alp Arslan was dead and was succeeded by his son Malik Shah. The new sultan was wary of Suleiman, and with good reason, he was ambitious and had the talent to back it up. To keep his cousin away from Baghdad, Malik Shah made Suleiman and his sons the leaders of all Turkmen in Anatolia. The decision was met with much grumbling from the other leaders, but Suleiman was able to quiet them. Taking advantage of the civil wars in Roman territory Suleiman played the differing candidates to the purple off each other and used the distraction to conquer vast swaths of Anatolia. Asia Minor was now lost to the empire and to drive this point home Suleiman made the city of Nicaea, a scant sixty miles from Constantinople itself, his capital. In 1081, the Roman Empire stabilized with the ascension of Alexios Komnenos to the purple. Suleiman and Alexios reached an agreement to stay clear of the other, allowing the Seljuq leader to turn his attention east. In 1084, he captured Antioch, which had been thought unconquerable (every attempt by Muslims to conquer the city since 969 had failed). Within two years, Suleiman believed his power, which encompassed nearly the entirety of Anatolia, plenty enough to warrant independence from Isfahan, the capital of the greater Seljuq empire. To make this clear to Malik Shah, Suleiman laid siege to the city of Aleppo, an important stepping-stone to Damascus, the key to the Holy Land. As it turned out Tutush, the Sultan of Syria, would march to Aleppo’s relief. During a battle with Tutush Suleiman was slain (in some accounts he took his own life). His family was captured and sent to Malik Shah. With the death of Suleiman the first period of the Sultanate of Rum ended.

Several years would pass before the recreation of the sultanate. In 1092 Malik Shah died and civil war between his brothers and sons broke out, splitting the Greater Seljuqs. Taking advantage of the chaos the son of Suleiman, Kilij Arslan, escaped to Anatolia. Even though he was just thirteen Kilij Arslan regained the city of Nicaea, and from there he rebuilt his father’s sultanate. In just four years, he had recovered nearly all the territory his father once held, and Kilij Arslan would triumphantly declare himself Sultan of Rum. But his triumph was short-lived, the Danishmendids, who had been among those given land by Alp Arslan following Manzikert, posed a threat that Kilij Arslan could not ignore. But this too was short lived. For unknown to the Seljuqs and the Danishmendids alike the Roman Emperor Alexios had called for aid from the West.

The Pope, the spiritual leader of Western Christianity, had responded to this plea with an appeal for a crusade, a holy war, to reclaim the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. In 1096, the first wave of this crusade, the Peasant’s Crusade of Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, arrived in Anatolia. Suddenly a threat bigger than anything he could have imagined was here. The Seljuq army abruptly changed directions, and the young sultan destroyed the Peasant’s Crusade masterfully. With that taken care of Kilij Arslan turned his attention to the Danishmendids. Unbeknownst to the Seljuqs a much larger and well-organized crusade was coming. But when Kilij Arslan was told of the arrival of this new body of Crusaders he dismissed them, after all he had crushed the first Crusaders that arrived, what had he to fear of these new men? But that was perhaps the biggest mistake he would ever make. In 1097, Kilij Arslan received word that a combined force of Crusaders and Romans were besieging his capital at Nicaea. The sultan rushed to his capital but arrived too late to do anything, the Crusaders defeated him handily, and the city fell. Alexios took possession of the city to the chagrin of the Crusaders and custody of Kilij Arslan’s family. In a much-criticized decision the Emperor later returned the sultan’s family unharmed, because of their mutual respect for each other. Realizing by now that these new Crusaders were different than anything he had known before Kilij Arslan formed an alliance with the Danishmendids to stand united against this foe. At the battle of Dorylaeum, the united Turkish army was destroyed. To those that survived it seemed like a reverse Manzikert had been inflicted on the Turks. The Crusaders pressed on, and the Sultanate of Rum was reduced to little more than the plains of eastern Anatolia.

The First Crusade was perhaps the Sultanate of Rum’s darkest hour. To Kilij Arslan, it seemed like the end was near as the Crusaders reduced his territory bit by bit, but once it became apparent the destruction of the Seljuqs was not their goal he rebuilt his power. When the Crusade of 1101 began, the Seljuqs had already adapted to the Western style of warfare. In several months, Kilij Arslan broke the myth of Crusader invincibility that had settled over the Muslim world, by wiping out three crusader armies one after the other. With these victories, Seljuq power spread once more and central Anatolia was regained from the Romans. Even the Danishmendids began to falter, and the Seljuqs made gains against them. In 1107, the great conqueror turned his attention to Baghdad, and he marched towards that city. However at Mosul the Great Seljuqs were able to halt his advance and Kilij Arslan died shortly after that by drowning.

The Seljuqs were on the rise once more. The successor of Kilij Arslan was named, ironically, Malik Shah. But this Malik Shah was weak and none too bright. His reign was dominated by an ill-advised war with the Romans. Taking advantage of his brother’s unpopularity another son, named Mas’ud, dethroned Malik Shah in a coup in 1116. In contrast to Malik Shah, Mas’ud was more interested in rebuilding domestically and making friends with the Romans. But he was also a warrior. In 1134, Mas’ud made significant gains against the Danishmendids (who had backed his rise to power). When the Second Crusade was launched in reaction to the fall of the County of Edessa to Zengi of Mosul, Mas’ud, and his Anatolian Seljuqs played a major role in their defeat. The destruction of the German and French Crusaders was their doing. In the years that followed Mas’ud would oversee a gradual expansion of his domain, with the Sultanate of Rum absorbing both the remnants of the Greater Seljuqs and the Danishmendids. In 1153, the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya was completed and remains Mas’ud’s greatest legacy, as well as the best-preserved example of Seljuq architecture still in existence. The Sultan Mas’ud died in 1156, the first Seljuq sultan to die peacefully.

File:Alaedin Camii.JPG

The Alaeddin Mosque in modern Konya, Turkey. The Rum dynastic mausoleum, Mas’ud was the first of eight sultans buried here. By Christian Mathis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Mas’ud left behind a growing, prosperous, realm. Mas’ud was succeeded to the throne by his son Kilij Arslan II. Like his grandfather, this Kilij was a full-blown warrior and a fighter, and it was in his reign the Third Crusade was faced. At the start of his reign, Kilij Arslan II was threatened by his brother, who was supported by the Danishmendids. There was also the matter of the Romans. Eventually, Kilij Arslan II decided to focus on the Romans first. In 1159, he attacked Manouel I as he was returning home from a conference with Nur ad-Din, the successor of Zengi. The attack resulted in a war that ended in Roman victory in 1161. Or so it seemed. In reality, Kilij Arslan II was setting the stage for what he hoped to be a great victory over the Romans. In 1175, the Sultanate of Rum destroyed the hated Danishmendids, annexing their territory. By the terms of their treaty, Manouel demanded land he believed Roman by right. But Kilij Arslan II refused, and, as a result, the whole Roman army marched against him. In the resulting battle of Myriokephalon even though the Roman army had avoided being wiped out the psychological impact was enormous.

After this battle no more attempts were made to conquer Anatolia, the tide of time had turned in favor of the Seljuqs. Following the battle Kilij Arslan II took a page from his father’s book and focused on the internal affairs. The famous ‘hans’ or trading centers that marked the beginning of the first great Turkish economic flourishing appeared at this time. In 1180 following the death of his old enemy Manouel Kilij Arslan II launched an offensive against Roman territory, capturing the southern Anatolian coastline. During this conquest, the Seljuqs negotiated an alliance with the rising power of Salah ad-Din, whom we know as Saladin. In 1186, Kilij Arslan II made the most controversial decision of his life. He decided to abdicate his throne to his ten sons, he would nominally remain sultan for the rest of his life, but the day-to-day ruling would be their domain. It was in this political climate that Frederick Barbarossa and his soldiers captured Konya, the capital of the Seljuq realm. Kilij Arslan II died two years later, watching as his sons tore the sultanate apart in their petty squabbles.

The first son to claim the Seljuq throne was Kai Khusrau, who took it in 1192. In 1194, the last remnants of the Great Seljuqs collapsed, bringing the Seljuq period of Persia to an end. But Kai Khusrau had not been on the throne for long before he was sentenced to exile with his family to Constantinople in 1196. He was replaced by Suleiman II, who conquered the Artukid and Saltukid begliks in his reign. In 1204, he died and was succeeded by his three-year-old son Kilij Arslan III. But the infant sultan was replaced by his returning uncle and cousins later that year, after the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade.

Kai Khusrau had inherited a real mess. In 1204, with the aid of his Roman father-in-law, Kai Khusrau was at last able to conquer the Seljuq throne for good. Under this new sultan, the Seljuqs began to recover from the civil war and rebuild their shattered realm. Kai Khusrau even called on his sister Nesibi Hatun, to help out by overseeing a building spree on his behalf. In 1207, Kai Khusrau captured Antalya, an important Mediterranean port. With the taking of Antalya the great economic boom that characterized the reigns of Kai Khusrau and his sons Kai Qavus and Kai Qubad began. He then embarked on a campaign against the Roman successor states in Anatolia and died in battle with the Emperor of Nicaea, Theodoros Laskaris, in 1211.

The next sultan improved on his father’s legacy. Kai Qavus was much like his father in how he ruled the Sultanate of Rum, in that he balanced the economy with military conquests. One of the first actions he took was to imprison his younger brother Kai Qubad. Much as Malik Shah had feared Kilij Arslan, Kai Qavus feared for his throne. In 1214, the Black Sea port city of Sinope was captured by Seljuq armies, which opened new trade opportunities with the Far East. When the city of Antalya was captured by a Crusader invasion Kai Qavus was able to recapture it quickly. Holding these two trade cities put the sultanate right on the middle of the trade routes, which strengthened the coffers of Rum. He also forced the Roman successor state of Trebizond to bow to him. However, that would not have been possible if not for Kai Qavus’ army reforms. He enlarged the Seljuq armies and instilled a new sense of discipline. Kai Qavus was also a builder, and his buildings inspired his brother later. In the last years of his reign, Kai Qavus became a poet, and he encouraged the study of the Persian classics. He died of a disease in 1219.

Kai Qubad was perhaps the greatest of the Sultans of Rum. When Kai Qavus died in 1219, his brother Kai Qubad was released from prison in Ankara, and as his brother had no sons, he was allowed to succeed. Kai Qubad soon proved himself full of such unbridled energy, self-confidence, and ambition that he was unlike any Seljuq ruler since the early days of the sultanate. He was also obsessed with military matters. Even if the Sultanate of Rum was wealthy it was still small, not yet to the size it had been under his grandfather. Starting in 1221 he embarked on a series of campaigns that would when they ended brought all Anatolia save for Diyarbakir and the Christian kingdoms, as well as the Crimea under Seljuq dominion. For fifteen years, the Sultanate of Rum was never defeated on the field of battle.


Statue of Kai Qubad in modern Alanya, Turkey. By user:ozgurmulazimoglu (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

But it was in the domestic arena that Kai Qubad received his greatest glory. No other man in the entire Seljuq dynasty was as great a builder as he. No other man was as great a trader then he also. It is said that Kai Qubad transformed all Anatolia into a market garden during his reign, backed by vast sugar refineries and farms. Nearly all the cities under his command received a makeover: Konya was rebuilt, surpassing all of her old glory. Sivas was transformed into one of the greatest trading centers in the Middle East. The walls of Kayseri were rebuilt. Kai Qubad built more hans in his reign than any other sultan. And every major crossing had a bridge. More palaces were built; two examples (Keykubadiyye and Kubadabad) remain today. It was in this era of unsurpassed glory the first envoys of the Mongols arrived, but what they felt on seeing this splendor we do not know. This glorious reign was ended in blood when Kai Qubad was assassinated in 1237 with all of his sons save one.

The reign of the surviving son would mark the beginning of the end. Following the assassination of his father and brothers Kai Khusrau II ascended to the Seljuq throne. In 1237 when he began his reign he was master of nearly all of Anatolia when he died it was divided. Kai Khusrau II was not suited to rule, he was interested only in wine and poetry. Nevertheless he started his reign off with conquest, bringing Diyarbakir to the fold. With this conquest, all that stood between the Seljuqs and domination was the Christian kingdoms of Lesser Armenia and the Roman successor state of Trebizond. But just as he was about to go to war a massive revolt broke out. In 1239 the Turkmen (that is those people that did not want to settle down into a sedentary lifestyle) rose in revolt under a Sufi mystic (Dervish) named Baba Ishaq. This uprising was massive, and grew and changed purpose. Soon what had started as just the revolt of the discontented turned into a religious revolution, and people from all walks of life joined in. It took three years to put down the uprising, and the damage would be irreparable. All levels of Turkish society had been affected by the rebellion, throwing it into an uproar. Also the army Kai Qavus and Kai Qubad had built up so proudly no longer existed. And finally the Crimea, the sultanate’s first possession outside the Middle East, had been lost in the chaos.

Still Kai Khusrau II was optimistic, but not for long. In 1242, the Mongol general and the representative of the Great Khan in the Middle East, Baiju, attacked the Sultanate of Rum. The Sultanate was well aware of the Mongols; Kai Qubad had even invited them to parley with him at Konya. But no one had taken their threat seriously, even as they continued their conquests undefeated from Mongolia all the way to Persia. Now the great scourge from the east descended on Anatolia like a plague. When Erzurum suddenly fell to Baiju, the Seljuqs finally realized what they faced. A panicking Kai Khusrau II hastily put together an army; later to be joined by Georgian refugees fleeing westwards from the Mongols, and a Roman force from Trebizond. This army met the Mongol army of Baiju at a place known as Kose Dag, in the mountains of eastern Anatolia. In this battle, the Seljuq-Allied army was destroyed by the Mongols, and the broken sultan fled to Antalya and never left. With the destruction of their army, there was nothing to protect the Seljuqs as the Mongols surged forth. Sivas and Kayseri were captured, large swaths of land were burned, and all Anatolia was thrown into chaos. But Baiju did not conquer the whole sultanate. Instead, he merely forced Kai Khusrau II to bend his knee to the Great Khan and pay a hefty tribute. Kai Khusrau II died a broken man, with a broken sultanate, in 1246, possibly strangled by his nobles.

The death of Kai Khusrau II was a great blow. Following the death of Kai Khusrau II there was a crisis in Seljuq territory. The old sultan had never named a successor, and he had three sons: Kai Qavus II, Kilij Arslan IV, and Kai Qubad II. Under the wise guidance of the brilliant Vizier Celaddin Karatay, the remaining lands of the Sultanate of Rum were divided between the three heirs in 1249. When Hulagu Khan, brother of Mongke, the Great Khan, arrived in the area a few years later he reaffirmed the arrangement between the brothers and appointed Baiju to watch Anatolia carefully. But despite this the three co-rulers conspired and schemed between one another for control of the entire sultanate, as well as a solution to the Mongol problem. In 1257, Kai Qubad II was ready to surrender his third of the sultanate to Mongke, preferring to live under Mongol rule. The nobility was shocked by this news and prevented his surrender by assassinating him. With the death of Kai Qubad II, the balance of power between the brothers was broken. The remaining brothers did not have much time to think though as Hulagu demanded their aid in his campaign against Baghdad, which resulted in the destruction of that city a year later (1258). Following this Hulagu intervened in Anatolia and divided the sultanate in two between Kai Qavus II and Kilij Arslan IV.

The division marks the entrance of one of the most prominent figures of later Seljuq history, the Pervane. Technically Pervane is a title (Turkish: Butterfly), but it is one the man is best known. The Pervane was an arch schemer and manipulator, as we will see. In 1261, the Romans regained Constantinople from the Latin usurpers, and Kai Qavus II soon visited the city to seek the aid of Michael Palaiologos against the Mongols. His mother was a Roman princess, so Kai Qavus II felt kinship with the new Emperor. But the Pervane leaked the plan to the Mongols, leading to exile in Crimea where Kai Qavus II died in 1279. Kilij Arslan IV died soon afterward in 1264 (because of the intrigues of the Pervane), leaving behind a six-year-old boy to inherit. This child was set up by the Mongols as the new sole ruler of Anatolia for them, but in reality the Pervane called the shots.

The Sultanate of Rum was unified but would never grow strong. When the six-year-old Kai Khusrau III came to the throne following the death of his father he was the sultan of all that was left of the Seljuq lands. But even then his control spread little outside Konya. The nobility no longer owed their loyalty to the Rum Sultans any longer, ruling on their own. All actual power was held by the Pervane, who after marrying Kai Khusrau’s III mother became his stepfather. The Pervane, through his political power, was able to hold the Sultanate of Rum together and kept the peace in Anatolia, but he was also by nature an ambitious man. As a result, he was unable to pass up any opportunity for more power. In 1276, he entered into a secret deal with Baibars, the mighty Mamluk Sultan of Egypt (the Mamluks displaced the Ayyubids in 1250). When Baibars entered Anatolia, the Pervane saw to it the Seljuqs aided him in defeating the Mongol presence. But for reasons unknown to this day Baibars did not complete his conquest, instead he turned back and died in Syria soon after (1277). Baibars’ death left the Pervane high and dry, and he was executed later that same year for treason by the Mongols, freeing the Seljuqs from his intrigues. The power vacuum set off a civil war that did not end until the final fall of the Seljuqs. When Kai Khusrau III matured, he chose to focus on a building program, rather than concentrate on the problems plaguing the Sultanate of Rum. Nevertheless, the young sultan was given the epithet Fahreddin, the Pride of Islam, by his people following his execution in 1283.

The end of the Rum Seljuqs was near. When Kai Khusrau III died the Sultanate of Rum no longer existed as a practical entity. All of what is now Turkey had been divided among many squabbling begs, provincial lords, who were loyal only to themselves. Few of these lords owed their support to the Seljuq Sultan, whose existence depended on the begs’ good will. Not long after the death of Kai Khusrau III he was succeeded by his nephew Mas’ud II. He tried to in vain to preserve the sultanate. Mas’ud II was removed from office in 1297 and was succeeded by his brother and rival Kai Qubad III, who was assassinated in 1302. Mas’ud returned to the throne the following year and established himself at Kayseri, lasting until 1308 when he was assassinated. With Mas’ud’s death the Sultanate of Rum ended, bringing to close one of the most momentous periods in Turkey’s history.

The First Crusade

In AD 1071, the Battle of Manzikert shattered the fragile and tense peace that had settled over the Middle East. The arrival of the Sunni Seljuq Turks had reenergized Islam and led it on the greatest military offensive in centuries. The Roman (Byzantine) Empire was defeated so disastrously at Manzikert that while not the slaughter it is often made out to be the empire never recovered. Civil war broke out, and Asia Minor fell before the onslaught of a Seljuq migration. The Islamic world similarly suffered when the Seljuqs turned on the Shi’a Fatimid dynasty based in Egypt and the Levant was thrown into bloody turmoil. Most horrifying of all from the perspective of the Christian kingdoms was the total disregard the Seljuqs showed regarding the status of the Holy Land. Existing agreements, negotiated by the Roman Emperors, had secured the rights of Christian pilgrims to visit the holiest sites of the faith, especially Jerusalem. However, Muslim antagonism had been rising against the pilgrims for decades, even before the arrival of the Seljuqs. Their appearance on the scene added an unforeseen wild card that finally shattered the image of peace in the Middle East.

In 1081, the civil wars in the Roman Empire ended with the ascension of Alexios Komnenos. A strong soldier-politician Alexios I proved to be exactly the leader to fit the times. Soon he recognized that he could not hope to take the offensive against the Seljuqs with the empire in its current state. In early 1095, following the general pacification of the modern Balkans, he sent a request for aid to Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza. Urban responded with enthusiasm and at the Council of Clermont that November, he preached Crusade, a holy war waged for the defense of the Christian faith. Latin Christendom responded with the cry ‘Deus lo Vult!’ God wills it!


The Council of Clermont. By meh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Following the first, unplanned, People’s Crusade of Peter the Hermit and Walter of sans Avoir, the Crusade moved forward in August 1096. Motivated more by genuine piety than anything else the great lords of Europe moved to the aid of the Roman Empire, Urban’s official reason for his sermon at Clermont. The leaders of the First Crusade were Raymond IV of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto, and Godfrey of Boullion. Many other lords took part as well, many of them kinsmen of the leaders.

After reaching Constantinople, the Crusaders began to run into problems. Because of bad experiences with the People’s Crusade, the Emperor Alexios was leery of a large army, estimated 35,000, entering Constantinople. There was also the affair of Bohemond, who with his father, Robert Guiscard had fought Alexios over a decade earlier. Eventually, the diplomacy of Godfrey and Raymond prevailed in creating an arrangement suitable to both sides. Alexios promised full military and logistical support to the Crusade for Christian unity. In return, the Crusaders pledged to swear an oath of fealty to the Roman Emperor and restore any lands they captured to Constantinople’s control. The Crusaders agreed, and they gradually moved on to Asia Minor throughout the early part of 1097, finally finishing around late April.

The armies of the First Crusade, in fact, medieval armies, in general, were hardly the unorganized mob of popular imagination and were competently led. In the Crusades, the armies of Latin Christendom were also motivated. Pope Urban II had promised the full remission of sins for any man, regardless of his status in life that died on Crusade. Also, he had, a made a stirring call for Christian unity and the common defense of the faith regardless of denominational differences with the east. As expected, many that could take part did. Members of the knightly class, in particular, took to the idea so enthusiastically that many sold all of their possessions to take part. Entire families left to go on Crusade, both knightly and lower classes.

In siege weaponry, the Crusaders had many choices at their disposal. For our purposes, we will cover one such weapon. Because of the short duration of the siege, the Crusaders were unable to bring to bear many of their heavier weapons, including the siege tower. However, one weapon that did see use, more a defensive measure, was the use of armored mobile roofs. These roofs were large wooden shields armored with hides and interwoven willow rods, called osiers and often mounted onto wheeled frames. Their uses were many, and the armored roof saw use in nearly every major action during the siege.

On the Muslim side of affairs, they were in much worse shape. The Seljuq Turks that had won such a great victory at Manzikert and turned the existing order upside down had shattered. Malik Shah, the son of the victor of Manzikert, had died in 1092 and with his death the stability of the Seljuq state, the dominant power in the Middle East, collapsed. The Seljuq Empire had already been giving signs of internal unrest even while Malik Shah lived, but he managed to hold it together. Now it fell apart into many successor states. The successor state met by the Crusader-Roman alliance at Nicaea were the Rum Seljuqs. Under the leadership of the young Kilij Arslan, the Rum Seljuqs had set up a powerful state in western Anatolia that represented a direct threat to the Romans. It was with good reason that Alexios sought to cripple them

After the arrival of the last of the major Crusader contingents, the question of a target became apparent. Nicaea was a city of major importance both spiritually and strategically. It was at Nicaea the fundamental principles of the Christian faith were laid out in formula (the Nicene Creed). Nicaea was also a great fortress that had been the principal bulwark against attacks on Constantinople from the east. In the present case, the city laid direct in the Crusader line of advance, to leave it in Seljuq hands would be foolhardy.

On May 6th, the armies of Godfrey and Bohemond (under the command of his nephew Tancred) arrived at Nicaea and encircled the city on its northern and eastern sides. The southern side was left unattended to allow Raymond’s troops to take position there. The western wall sat in the water of the Ascanian Lake, making Nicaea impossible to surround conventionally. Nevertheless, the Crusader blockade would prove effective.

Nicaea would prove to be a challenge to the Crusaders. Circuit walls stretching four miles protected the city, and a double ditch in turn surrounded the walls. Along the circuit, some 240 towers ensured that no stretch of wall was left uncovered by arrow fire. However, there were problems. The Seljuqs had not been expecting an attack of this size. Kilij Arslan personally was dismissive of the Crusaders after his experience with the People’s Crusade. As a result when word initially reached him of their arrival in Asia Minor, he turned his attention east to internecine feuding with a neighboring amir. Once reports came in of the real Crusade, he hurried westwards, as the Seljuq garrison was not prepared to handle a siege.

On May 16th, Raymond and his troops arrived at Nicaea. With the arrival of the southern French contingent, the landward encirclement of the city was complete, leaving it cut off by land. Shortly after that the first elements of Kilij Arslan’s field army arrived but was driven off by Raymond’s men. By this time, the Crusaders received much-needed food supplies through camp markets opened by the Romans near Nicaea, according to one account through the efforts of Bohemond, who arrived now in person. Alexios also sent his general Manouel Boutoumites to serve as his principal liaison on the field and to provide technical support to the Crusaders.

File:Siege of Nicaea.jpg

The siege of Nicaea, 1097. By unidentified 13th century ms.Killroyus at pl.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

On May 21st, the main Seljuq army arrived at Nicaea. The Christian generals met in council and decided to focus on keeping the siege lines intact. Raymond and Robert II of Flanders, who served under Godfrey, were tasked with repulsing the Rum Sultan. In the following battle the Seljuqs, unaccustomed to warfare as practiced in the Latin West, found they were unable to make any headway against the Crusader lines. That night Kilij Arslan decided to abandon Nicaea to whatever fate should occur.

Following the retreat of Kilij Arslan the Crusaders turned their attention to Nicaea again. The Crusaders had already tried breach the walls with tunneling before the arrival of the Sultan but were forced to call it off without making any significant progress. In the final days of May, a concerted effort was made to storm the northern wall but this failed. The most celebrated episode of the Siege of Nicaea occurred when Raymond attempted to breach the “Gonatas Tower” along the southern side with his personal troops. Under the cover of a massive armored roof, his men succeeded in breaching the wall. However, the assault had been poorly timed and night fell before the Crusaders could take advantage of the gap. The Crusader leadership then sent word to the Emperor Alexios asking him for military aid. The Romans responded by putting out a fleet on the Ascanian Lake commanded by Boutoumites. As well as sending a force of archers and infantry commanded by Tatikios, a well-known general.

Now the last phase of the siege took place. The exact circumstances and sequence of events that surround the fall of Nicaea is not apparent and is under dispute. Nevertheless, it seems the appearance of a Roman fleet on the Ascanian Lake was the turning point of the siege. Several chroniclers mention a general assault on Nicaea as causing the city’s surrender, making mention of a Lombard siege engineer who designed a sloping armored roof that allowed the Crusaders to reach the walls. However, they also say the city surrendered to Alexios, not the Crusade leaders. What may have happened was the Crusaders began to launch increasing determined assaults on the city after Boutoumites completed the blockade by sea. The Romans were already determined to make sure Nicaea became theirs again and started negotiations. A combination of these two events may have resulted in the city surrendering on June 19th, 1098 to Manouel Boutoumites. While the Crusaders were angry at being cheated out of sacking Nicaea, the charge of treachery on the part of Alexios would not be made until after the end of the Crusade.

Following the fall of Nicaea, the armies of the Crusade surged onwards. At the battle of Dorylaeum that July the Crusaders managed to inflict a significant defeat on a coalition of Seljuq lords led by Kilij Arslan. Because of the Christian victory, the Anatolian branch of the Seljuqs would no longer pose a threat to the Crusader advance. The following three months advance through Asia Minor in the heat of summer and dwindling supplies proved a far more serious enemy than the Seljuqs had ever been. Relations became tense with Tatikios and his Roman soldiers as the Crusaders became suspicious of their guides, and friction between the sides grew.

They found limited relief in the southeast and east. This region of Anatolia was still mainly Christian; of those Christians, the Armenians were most numerous. Not even a decade previous, the area had been ruled by an independent Armenian warlord state. A series of Crusader misadventures in these lands would result in two important events. First, Baldwin of Boulogne (the brother of Godfrey) would set up the first Crusader state in the east at Edessa, which would become the template for all further Crusader states. Second, the Crusaders’ sweep through Cilicia cleared that region of the Seljuqs, paving the way for the creation of the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia, a state heavily influenced by the Latin presence in the Levant. Finally, in mid-October 1097 the Crusader vanguard breached into the territory of Antioch, held by a Seljuq amir named Yaghi Siyan.

When they reached Antioch, the armies of the First Crusade were still motivated, but physical concerns had taken their toll. As mentioned above the alliance with Constantinople was breaking down and during the siege it would break entirely. Supplies were no longer as forthcoming as the Crusaders had moved beyond the range of Alexios’ ability to provide for them safely. Roman naval activity would soon adjust that problem. Foraging in Anatolia during the summer months had been largely unfruitful because of the retreating Seljuqs taking their supplies with them. The Crusade had come to depend on the goodwill of the local Armenian and Greek Christians. One hope the Crusaders had, supply wise, was that of a possible Crusader fleet.

During the siege of Antioch, the Crusaders had no siege weapons. Unlike at Nicaea, the Crusaders lacked the resources to build siege weapons for most of the siege. However, during the last phase of action at Antioch ladders were used. Instead of weapons, on several occasions the Crusaders built towers at critical locations. As we will see below, these proved to be of great use to the Christians.

On the Muslim side disunity once again wracked their cause. In Syria (a much larger geographic region than the modern nation-state), this was especially bad. Malik Shah’s quarrelsome brother Tutush had once ruled here but on his (Tutush’s) death it split between his sons Duqaq in Damascus and Ridwan in Aleppo. Other lords also dotted the land such as Janah ad-Daula, amir of Homs, Karbuqa, atabeg of Mosul, and the sons of Ortoq Beg, an ally of Tutush. Yaghi Siyan, the amir of Antioch, had been direct answerable to Malik Shah and after the Seljuq sultan’s death; he played a dangerous game of shifting alliances between Duqaq, Ridwan, and Karbuqa. As a result, when it became apparent the Crusade was marching to Antioch Yaghi Siyan was left scrambling for allies and found them scarce.

The main body of the Crusaders arrived on October 20th. To cross the Orontes River that divided the city proper from the rest of its territory, the Crusaders would have to cross a fortified bridge, known as the Iron Bridge. After a hard day of fighting, the bridge was crossed, and Bohemond moved on ahead to set up camp at the walls the following day.

Antioch awed the Crusaders. It was a massive city, with the civilian sections alone stretching three miles long and going as deep as a mile in depth. The walls, like at Nicaea, were circuit walls but on a greater scale. Some 450 towers were interspaced evenly to leave nothing uncovered by arrow fire. However, Yaghi Siyan’s garrison was too small to use the entire length of the defense leaving him to have to put strategic choices to where he put his men.

For the next several days, the Crusaders would set up camp. The Christian leadership soon discovered they could not blockade Antioch in its entirety due to not only its sheer size but also because of geographic constraints. The entire southern part of the city rested on a mountain; it would difficult to traverse such terrain. Nevertheless, a blockade was set up on the northeastern and western sides opposite the gates. Bohemond set up camp in the west, opposite the Gate of St. Paul. Raymond and Godfrey took position on the northeastern side opposite the Gates of the Dog and the Duke respectively. The remaining gates were left unintended, with the rest of the Christian army either waiting behind Bohemond or spread across the countryside. Godfrey took the initiative and built a bridge of boats across the Orontes behind his camp to give the Crusaders access to the village of Talenki. A camp built there would allow the Crusaders access the roads to the ports of St. Symeon and Alexandretta (which Tancred had captured).

Almost immediately, arguments broke out among the Crusaders. Raymond counseled a direct assault on the walls as soon as the camps were set up. He proclaimed that faith would grant them victory at Antioch. However, the other leaders, led by Bohemond, were not so sure. They wanted to wait. Bohemond had his reasons for urging patience. The success of Baldwin at Edessa had inspired him to set up a kingdom of his own, and Antioch was a prime choice. The arguments of Raymond were ignored; the Crusaders would wait. To keep up with news inside the city, Bohemond organized a network of informants made up of Christian men expelled from Antioch. Yaghi Siyan, who used those same Christians to spy on the Crusader camp, exploited this. By the following month, the Seljuqs became bold enough to raid the besiegers, usually as a form of cover for supply caravans coming into Antioch. In November, Bohemond successfully took the castle of Harenc, which supported Antioch and turned it into a Crusader outpost. About the same time, the much hoped for Crusader fleet arrived at St. Symeon, allowing them to secure the port. However, even though the fleet carried much-needed reinforcements and new weapons, it did not bring food. The Crusade leaders had failed to restrain their men early in the siege, and now food supplies were rapidly running out. Foraging expeditions were forced to go out further and further afield from the safety of the camps, making them choice targets for Seljuq raiders. A decision was reached to build a fortified tower on the hills near Bohemond’s camp, dubbed Malregard. The responsibility of maintaining and operating the tower was shared equally.

By Christmas Day, 1097, the supply situation had become critical. Food had nearly run out by this time and Godfrey fell ill. On December 28th, Bohemond and Robert of Flanders led a party of knights out of the camps to forage around the vicinity of the Muslim fortress-city of Hama. Raymond assumed over-all command in their absence and had already moved his camp up around Godfrey’s area, as his former camp had been rendered unusable by rain. This news cheered Yaghi Siyan. The amir of Antioch was already aware that Duqaq had finally answered his pleas for aid and his route of advance would intersect with the Crusader foragers. This left Raymond, who Yaghi Siyan was confident he could dislodge. The following day the garrison charged out, but Raymond repulsed them handily once the shock wore off and made his assault in turn. Only the fall of night prevented Raymond from taking the city. Meanwhile Bohemond and Robert had encountered Duqaq’s relief force and routed it at al-Bara on December 31st.

1098 opened badly on the Crusade. Even with recent battlefield success, spirits in the Crusader camp was still low. Starvation set in within days and at the lowest ebb of the siege about mid-January some of the besiegers even tried to desert, only to be brought back. Aid from the local Christians, especially the Armenians, brought some relief, but this aid was not enough to fix the Crusaders’ supply problems. Within Antioch, Yaghi Siyan managed to convince Ridwan to come to his aid after the failure of Duqaq, as well as the Ortoqid brothers. In early February, the Roman general Tatikios suddenly left the siege camps and the Crusade. The exact reason for Tatikios’ withdrawal is unclear, and later propaganda further obscures the issue. Bohemond exploited the moment for all it was worth, building up support for his planned seizure of the city. Not long afterward, Harenc fell to the arriving forces of Ridwan and his allies. The Christian leadership reacted swiftly, and on February 8th the battle was joined. The Latin knights defeated Ridwan, and the infantry repulsed Yaghi Siyan’s breakout. It would prove to be the beginning of the end. On March 4th, a second Crusader fleet arrived at St. Symeon with much-needed building material and engineers. On the 6th, a series of skirmishes resulted in the defeat of the Seljuq raiding parties, allowing the Crusaders to bring in the material and engineers. A fortified tower was then built to give the Crusaders control over the roads to St. Symeon and Alexandretta as well as the Gate of the Bridge in late March. Only the Gate of St. George remained in Seljuq hands. This was corrected the following month with the construction of the Tancred’s Tower, overseeing the gate. The tide had turned decisively. While the Iron Gate on the southern side remained open, the mountainous terrain made it impossible to get through supplies. All caravans meant to provide the garrison with food now supplied the besiegers and with the beginning of spring, the food problem was over.

However, problems arose on the horizon. By May, it was clear a third attempt to break the siege was mobilizing, led by Karbuqa. Of personal threat to Bohemond was the news of a new Roman offensive led by the emperor, which threatened his plans to claim Antioch. Clearly, Bohemond would have to hurry the fall of the city. As it was, he found a way to make it happen with the aid of an Armenian Muslim named Firuz. With his help, a plan was made allowing Bohemond to scale the walls and take the city. Karbuqa’s delay in Edessa through the majority of May allowed the project to be hammered out and refined. On June 2nd, Bohemond revealed his plan to the other Crusade leaders. They all agreed to take part. That evening the Crusaders moved into position, masking their movements as quitting the siege to confront Karbuqa and waited for the Gates of St. George and the Bridge to open. As promised Firuz allowed Bohemond’s men to scale his tower and the gates flew open. The garrison and Muslim population were surprised. Yaghi Siyan was killed in the confusion, and the Christians took the entire city save the fortified citadel on the southern side. However now the Crusade held Antioch it would have to defend it.

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Antioch falls to Godfrey and Robert II of Flanders. By Jacob van Maerlant [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By June 3rd, the Crusade had invested Antioch, but this was not the end of events there. The remnants of the garrison, now under the command of Shams ad-Daula (the son of Yaghi Siyan), were a problem from their position in the citadel. While too weak to contest the city with the Crusaders, Shams, and his men still posed a threat that had to be watched, taking away men who could be used for other purposes. The Crusade leaders soon realized that they could not cut off all contact between the citadel and the outside world. The Crusaders had problems of their own. The food was running low again, and the much hoped for supplies within the city had already been eaten during the sack. Bohemond and Raymond had begun to quarrel again over the ownership of Antioch. However, the threat of counter-siege by the Muslims forced all petty concerns off the table for the moment. The Crusade leadership agreed to concentrate on clearing the city of the dead and the manning of the walls by their separate contingents. On June 5th the army of Karbuqa, with the might of much of Muslim Syria (Seljuq and Arab) behind him, arrived at the Iron Bridge.

The Crusaders, despite their problems, were still in high, but declining, spirits. The capture of Antioch had been an impressive feat, and many took heart from simply being in the city in which their spiritual ancestors were first called ‘Christian.’ It had been for the defense of the faith that Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond put aside their differences. However, the supply problem still loomed high in the minds of many, as did fear of the Muslim army attempting to dislodge them. Hope, while small, was found for many in the specter of possible military support from the Emperor Alexios, campaigning in Anatolia.

In terms of siege weaponry, the Muslims brought none. While it is probable that they brought the materials needed for construction, he opted for a strategy of blockade similar to what the Crusaders had used. Also like the Crusaders, Karbuqa made use of ladders to scale the walls.

While large, the Muslim army was not unified, and division continued to afflict their cause. Karbuqa’s leadership of the army was owed largely to his personal prestige and the support of such men as the Ortoqid brothers, but few accepted his leadership. Karbuqa acted like a sultan and attempted and behaved high-handedly with the other leaders. This they resented, as many of them were amirs while Karbuqa was but an atabeg. Previously existing friction between the leaders further hurt the Seljuq-Arab forces and only added to the commander’s problems.

Within two days of their arrival, the Muslim army encamped around Antioch. Using the same camps the Crusaders used, the relieving army arrayed themselves to assault the city. Karbuqa was confident that he possessed the numbers to carry the death easily. His plan was to attempt to breach into Antioch through the citadel. For this purpose, he removed Shams ad-Daula from command and placed his sub-commander, Ahmad ibn Marwan in charge. Raymond and Bohemond caught on to this plan and built a wall to cut off the citadel from the rest of Antioch. On June 9th, ibn Marwan launched an attack on the wall, only to be repulsed with much bloodshed. The failure of June 9th convinced Karbuqa a direct assault would not work and decided to encircle the city and starve the Crusaders out. This was completed the next day, June 10th, despite fierce resistance from inside Antioch.

Morale plummeted among the Christians. Supplies had run out and talk of desertion spread throughout the city. That night a body of Crusaders abandoned Antioch and broke through the Muslim siege lines, making way for St. Symeon. Once there they convinced the fleet at anchor that all was lost, and fled further on to Tarsus. From Tarsus the deserters made their westwards, eventually meeting the Roman Emperor at Philomelium, in ancient Pisidia. There they convinced him the Crusade had failed, and as a result, the Roman offensive to the east turned back. Alexios’ decision was to earn him the hostility of the Crusaders, and they never forgave him or his empire for what they perceived as treachery.

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Karbuqa besieges Antioch, 1098. By Maître de Fauvel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile back at Antioch Karbuqa was meeting limited success. An assault on June 12th momentarily gave the Seljuqs control of one of Antioch’s towers, only to be cast out before they could take hold. Following this Bohemond proposed to his fellow princes that they burn down the streets near the walls, to allow themselves more room for maneuver. The others agreed, taking care to evacuate the inhabitants beforehand. About this time, rumors began to spread that the Holy Lance, the spear that was used to pierce Christ’s side at the Crucifixion had been revealed to be in Antioch by visions. Initially, Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, the spiritual leader of the Crusade, was not inclined to believe in the first vision brought to his attention on the 10th. His reluctance was because Peter Bartholomew, the man who had the vision, was ill regarded. However, now more visions had occurred, and the rumors spread. The Bishop accepted these later visions as genuine. Adhemar called together the leaders of the Crusade on the 13th and proposed they swear an oath not to abandon the siege. All did so, and morale began to soar. On the 15th, a delegation led by Raymond of Toulouse began to dig at the Cathedral of St. Peter, where the visions had pointed to the Lance being buried. Initially nothing was found, but then Peter Bartholomew went into the trench and lifted up an iron spearhead. This was taken to the Lance, and it was mounted on a spear shaft and paraded through the streets of Antioch. The effect was electrifying, and the whole city erupted in religious euphoria. Latin and Greek Rite alike sang out hymns of thanks to God.

This marked the turn of the tide in the siege. While the Christians were strengthened, the Muslims were weakened. Karbuqa was finding it increasing harder to hold his coalition together, and desertions became widespread. In desperation, he appealed to Ridwan of Aleppo, who had thus far remained neutral, and angered Duqaq in the process. This ignited several similar arguments among the other lords, and it looked as though the Seljuqs and Arabs would defeat themselves with no intervention from their enemies. On June 27th, a Crusader delegation arrived to negotiate. The Crusade leaders were no strangers to negotiation and had, during their siege of Antioch, negotiated with the Fatimid regime in Egypt as well as intrigued into the Ridwan-Duqaq feud. Karbuqa rejected the embassy out of hand made it clear he would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender. The negotiators returned far from empty-handed, however, as they had taken advantage of the truce to scout out the enemy camp. Following this Bohemond proposed a general charge of the six leading armies of the Crusade. The other leaders agreed, but Raymond due to his illness would be left behind to watch the citadel. On June 28th, the Crusaders crossed the Iron Bridge to challenge Karbuqa. The field battle following was a total victory for the Christians as neither the Seljuqs nor Arabs proved able to withstand a Latin cavalry charge. Karbuqa’s army fractured into its constituent pieces and scattered. Back in Antioch, the remaining defenders in the citadel surrendered, only to take it back once they realized Raymond was in charge. Ahmad ibn Marwan surrendered for real once the Norman leader returned to the city, converting to Christianity with many of his men shortly after that. Antioch had withstood the Islamic counterstroke, the question of what do now presented itself.

Following the defense of Antioch and the shattering of the Syrian Seljuqs the Crusade seemed to fail. Infighting among the principal leaders of the Crusade over secular concerns in a war of faith was a great blow to morale and put the offensive into limbo. Raymond and Bohemond jockeyed over control of Antioch and attempted to outmaneuver the other. Matters finally reached the boiling point when the footmen and knights of the Crusade refused to take part in the bickering in December; 1098.They demanded the Crusade make for the city of Jerusalem, to liberate the holy city from Islam. First Raymond and then Robert of Flanders and Godfrey of Boullion agreed to the army’s demands and on January 13th, 1099 Raymond left Syria for the Levant, a month later Robert and Godfrey followed. Bohemond and Baldwin of Boulogne stayed in Syria.

Meanwhile in the Levant the political situation had changed dramatically. The Christian success against the Seljuqs had weakened them, and the Fatimids took advantage. In the autumn of 1098, they conquered the entire Levant up to modern Beirut, Lebanon. The Crusaders’ course soon brought them in territory still under Arab control in February-March, resulting in a series of diplomatic negotiations that led to either ensuring the neutrality or outright alliance with the local powers. A series of adventures occurred leaving the Crusaders in control of the port of Tortosa and besieging Arqa.

Eventually, the attack came to nothing and on May 19th after rejecting the last peace missives from the Fatimids the Crusade crossed into the Holy Land. As had happened in southern Syria and Tripoli the cities of the Holy Land were eager to negotiate and avoid a battle with the Crusaders. In the morning of June 7th, the Crusade leaders gathered on the hill of Mountjoie for their first look at Jerusalem. By that evening, they had encamped.

Much had improved for the Crusaders since the days at Antioch. The supply problem had been solved during the march south as the Crusaders stocked up on supplies from the Levantine cities. Contact was also kept as long as possible with Crusader fleets patrolling the region. Large herds of pack animals and livestock also came into the possession of the Crusaders, through various means. The arrival at Jerusalem at lifted the spirits of many in the Christian camp and made the sacrifices and suffering they had endured over the past two years feel worth it. While Jerusalem had not been on Pope Urban’s mind when he called the Crusade, for many, poor and noble alike, there had never been any question of what their purpose was.

In terms of siege weapons, the siege of Jerusalem would see many machines. Most common of all was the use of the mangonel. Much controversy surrounds the mangonel, as no two sources agree on what it was. For our purposes, we will suppose the mangonel was a rotating beam throwing weapon with a fixed counterweight hutch. The other major machine used at Jerusalem was the siege towers of Godfrey and Raymond. The siege tower was a favored weapon in siege assaults in Europe, and the Levantine kingdoms would use them extensively after the First Crusade.

On the Muslim side, the Fatimids would prove to be different foes then the Seljuqs had been. The Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt had once contested control of the Middle East with the Roman Empire and commanded a formidable navy and army. However, the caliphate had declined since then but under a succession of competent grand viziers had begun a revival. Unlike the Seljuqs, the Fatimids were not wracked by internal dissension. Also, the Fatimid military had a degree of professionalism in the manner of the Romans.

The Crusaders moved quickly to surround Jerusalem. However, this would not be easy. The holy city was one of the greatest fortresses in the world in that time, and its walls were formidable, dating from the age of Hadrian and improved since by every power to occupy it. Natural features also protected Jerusalem, on the eastern side the valley of Kedron protected the walls. On the southeast side was the Vale of Gehenna. A third valley protected the western wall, but it was not as formidable as Kedron and Gehenna. Only the southwestern (cutting across Mt. Zion) and northern stretches of the wall was open enough for a full-scale assault.

Nevertheless, the Crusaders took up position opposite the gates of the city they considered most vulnerable or strategic. Robert of Normandy took position opposite Herod’s Gate, Robert of Flanders opposite of the Damascus Gate. Godfrey of Boullion did not take position around any of the gates but encamped around the whole of the northwestern part of the defenses. Near the Jaffa Gate, which the Tower of David protected, was the camp of Tancred and to his south was Raymond and his men. On June 9th, Raymond moved his camps to Mt. Zion itself, as he judged his original position too far away from Jerusalem. Meanwhile Iftikhar ad-Daula, the Fatimid governor of the whole region, had not been slack. He had expelled the Christian population of Jerusalem and poisoned the water supply outside the city in anticipation of the arrival of the Crusade. Also, Iftikhar had driven into Jerusalem any herds of livestock to be found nearby. Finally, he had word sent to Egypt for reinforcements.

On June 12th, the first major assault was launched on the advice of a hermit living on the Mount of Olives. The attack was repulsed, and the Crusaders feared it was because of a lack of adequate machinery to back up their attacks. On June 15th, the Crusade leaders agreed to hold off any further assaults until they had a better supply of mangonels and ladders. However, they found they lacked the building materials and expertise necessary. The arrival of a fresh fleet at Jaffa provided much of the needed equipment as well as food and engineers. These were all escorted back the camps under guard, resulting in skirmishes with Fatimid garrisons all along the road. However, the Christians were still short on wood. This was solved by the actions of Tancred (in the best imitation of his uncle) and Robert of Flanders who brought down plentiful wood from Samaria. Ladders, batteries of mangonels, and even two siege towers were all put under construction.

The rest of the month would go badly for the besiegers. By this time thirst had set in, and foraging parties were forced to go further and further outward in search of fresh water. The Pool of Siloam was close by, but it was in range of Jerusalem’s southern wall. The local Christians were more than willing to show the Crusaders to fresh water, but the Muslims knew of these spots and ambushes were common even out as far as the Jordan. Within Jerusalem, Iftikhar had taken measures against bombardment by the mangonel batteries by using bales of cotton and hay to strengthen the towers. The herds of livestock and pack animals began to die off as a combination of thirst, and the heat of a Judean summer took their toll on the besiegers. To make matters worse Raymond, Tancred, and the other leaders began to bicker over the division of territory. Morale plummeted and eventually some troops started to desert. As June ended, and July began, news arrived that al-Afdal Shahanshah, the vizier of the Fatimids, was marching to relieve the city. Something had to be done.

As at Antioch, a timely vision served the Crusaders’ cause well. A priest named Peter Desiderius claimed to have received a version of Adhemar of Le Puy (who had since died) scolding the Crusaders for being bogged down in secular concerns. He called for a fast and for them to circle Jerusalem barefoot, saying that if they did this with a repentant heart God would give Jerusalem over to them in nine days. The vision was initially dismissed until the brother of Adhemar announced his acceptance of it. The Crusaders went on fast and circled Jerusalem on July 8th. When the garrison heard of this, they lined the walls to mock the barefoot besiegers, but the Crusaders simply took this in stride. A sermon on the Mount of Olives was then held, and the leaders agreed to put their quarrels aside. On July 10th, Iftikhar ad-Daula and his men beheld to their shock two siege towers being rolled toward the walls, a third joining them later. Raymond and Godfrey had done a good job in masking the construction of these engines. Almost immediately, the garrison tried to bring them down, but the Crusaders had fortified the towers well with wood and ox-hide (and occasionally camel-hide). The attack was planned for the night of July 13-14th.

The final assault of the First Crusade had begun. Godfrey’s tower would assault the northern wall with the third tower pulling off a diversionary attack on the northwest corner. Raymond’s tower was tasked with attacking the walls opposite Mt. Zion, but this would prove difficult because of a ditch between Zion and the walls. The defense of Jerusalem was fierce especially in Raymond’s sector where the governor led the Fatimid troops personally. In the morning of July 15th, Godfrey’s tower successfully bridged the wall near Herod’s Gate. As the Crusaders poured in the Damascus Gate was opened to allow the troops of the two Roberts (Flanders and Normandy) to enter. Ladders scaled the walls all along the breached sector. Tancred soon became the effective leader on the ground, and the Muslims fell back. By early afternoon, Iftikhar had become aware resistance was useless and surrendered his last post, the Tower of David, to Raymond. Jerusalem had fallen, and the First Crusade ended in triumph. The massacres that followed remain controversial to this day, as much remains unclear.


Godfrey’s tower assaulting Herod’s Gate, July 15th, 1099. By Anonymous ([1][2]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.