THE SIEGE OF ANTIOCH
The faithful armies sang
"Hosanna to the Highest." . . . Now storming fury rose
And clamour, arm on armour clashing brayed
MILTON: Paradise Lost.
HE city of Antioch, capital of Syria, towards
which the faces of the Crusaders were now set,
was one of the most famous and beautiful
cities of the East. Behind it lay the rugged ranges of
Lebanon; lion; part of its wide girdle of walls and turrets was
washed by the river Orontes, towards which sloped
gardens fragrant with roses; and it was intersected by
a spacious street adorned with double colonnades. But
it was yet more famous for its associations with St
Peter, its first bishop, and for having been the birthplace
of St Chrysostom, "the golden-mouthed" teacher of
A few days after the march from Nicaea to Antioch
had commenced, the great army divided itself into two
parts, one led by Raymond, Baldwin, and Godfrey; the
other by Bohemond, Tancred, and Robert of Normandy.
This division suited the plans of the Sultan David, who,
since the fall of Nic aea, had been watching operations
from the surrounding heights.
 No sooner was Bohemond's army seen to halt for
rest and refreshment beside a river, than, with a terrific
uproar, thousands of Turks hurled themselves upon them
from the heights above. Hasty messages were sent to
summon the other army, and meantime the Crusaders
fought with desperate valour.
"Even the women were a stay to us, for they carried
water for our warriors to drink, and ever did they
strengthen the fighters."
The numbers of the foe were overwhelming, however,
and only the courage and energy of the leaders prevented
a panic-stricken flight. The tact of Robert of Normandy,
who, at a critical moment, snatched off his helmet and
cheered on his men in the thick of the fight, is said to
have turned the scale of victory. Even then success
seemed hopeless, but just as evening drew rapidly on,
the second army came upon the scene. Seeing this, the
Sultan fled, and many of his followers with him, but he
left behind so rich a spoil of gold, jewels, silks, and other
luxuries, that it was with difficulty the victors were
induced to leave the booty and resume their march
without too much encumbrance.
ROBERT OF NORMANDY AT DORYLAEUM
Such was the first pitched battle between the
Crescent and the Cross, of which one of the combatants
writes: "Had not the Lord been with us, and sent us
speedily another army, not one of our men would
And now the Crusaders were free to pass on to Antioch,
though the march thither probably cost them more
lives than did that battle of Dorylaeum.
The heat of the desert wastes during the month of
July left many prostrate by the wayside, never to rise
again. Terrible thirst tormented them, and the sight of
 a welcome stream was the signal for such excesses of
drinking that both men and horses died by hundreds.
It was almost impossible to obtain food, for the son of
Sultan David had marched before the Crusading host,
destroying all supplies and leaving the towns upon the
track empty and famine-stricken.
At length the fertile district of Cilicia was reached, and
relief was obtained from these woes. But here arose
those unfortunate dissensions which were a lamentable
feature both in this and later Crusades.
Meantime Tancred and Baldwin with a part of the
army had pushed on to Tarsus. This city, the birthplace
of St Paul, though held by a small band of Turks, was
largely inhabited by Christians, who eagerly claimed
Tancred as their protector and lord. Just as the Turks
were about to surrender to him, the forces of Baldwin,
who had been exploring elsewhere, appeared on the
distant heights, and being mistaken by the Turks for
their allies, encouraged them to delay giving up the city.
The arrival of the new-comer before the walls gave rise
to a quarrel with Tancred, the heat of which was only
intensified by the discovery that the unscrupulous Baldwin
was busy intriguing with the inhabitants with the object
of winning their allegiance.
In disgust, Tancred, the weaker but more upright
of the two, left him to take possession of the city and
marched to Messis. But thither, too, the grasping
Baldwin followed, and the sight of his tents pitched beneath
the walls was the signal for a conflict between the two
hosts of Crusaders which reflects little credit on either
Finally, since reconciliation was impossible, Baldwin
gladly accepted an invitation from the famous Armenian
 city of Edessa to take up its cause against the Turks.
The prince adopted him as his son, and was ill rewarded
by a rebellion of his people in favour of the new-comer,
which soon cost their ruler his life. Thus, while the
main army was pressing on to Antioch, Baldwin, married
to an Armenian princess, was busy in establishing in
Edessa the first Latin kingdom of the East.
On October 21st, 1097, the host of the Crusaders at
length encamped around the walls of Antioch and made
their preparations in anticipation of an early victory.
The gates, however, were blocked by huge masses of
rock from neighbouring quarries, and it seemed an easier
task to break the walls than to force the gates.
But both proved to be impossible, even with the aid of
a new instrument of war, a huge tower, the outcome of
great toil and expense, which, full of troops, was wheeled
against one of the gateways. This proved a failure
before the showers of Turkish arrows, and was burnt to
ashes as it stood.
Three months of fruitless effort passed, and the host
of the Crusaders began to suffer from lack of food. They
dared not venture far to look for it, for the Turks were
always on the watch, and no man could with safety
leave his post.
Finding, moreover, that the Crusaders generally got
the worst of it when the Turks made a sally from the
city, the native Christians of the country transferred the
provisions they had been wont to bring to the former, to
those from whom they now believed they would reap
the greater advantage in the near future.
Then hope began to fail the besiegers, whose camp,
owing to the heavy rain, had now become a fever-haunted
swamp. One or two of the meaner-spirited leaders
 tried to get quietly away with their troops; even Peter
the Hermit lost heart, and would have deserted the host
had he not been forcibly turned back by Tancred.
Meantime the Seljukian Turks had been expelled by
the Saracens from Jerusalem and Tyre, and the Caliph of
the latter now sent envoys to the leaders of the Crusade,
of whose evil condition he had been informed, to
express his surprise that the Christians, while rightly
warring against the fierce Seljuks, should desire to attack
Jerusalem also. He promised, moreover, to extend his
protection for a whole month to any peaceable pilgrims
who should wish to visit the Holy City, on condition that
the Crusaders would acknowledge his supremacy in
Syria; and he warned them that if they refused his terms
his whole power would forthwith be directed against
The Caliph's envoys expected to find the camp in sorry
plight; but, to their surprise, they were entertained in
lordly fashion, and found every sign of prosperity and
plenty. They were sent back with an absolute refusal
to relinquish the right of Christendom over the whole of
Palestine, and quite in ignorance of the terrible straits
in which the army really stood, in spite of its outward
appearance of prosperity. It was true that when the
en-my attacked them in the open, the Crusaders were
more than able to hold their own; it was the hopeless
inaction, the dread of disaffection in the camp, and the
pangs of actual famine that were sapping the courage of
the besiegers; and now the news that an immense army,
led by the Sultan of Persia, was coming to the relief of
the city was the last and most crushing blow.
At this crisis, Bohemond, whose movements had for
some time been full of mystery, assembled the leaders
 and asked for a solemn oath from them that the man who
succeeded in taking the city should be its future ruler.
Very unwillingly they gave their consent, upon which
Bohemond revealed the fact that he had for some time
past been in communication with an officer of the city
guard, who was in the full confidence of the governor, and
could obtain possession of Antioch whenever he wished.
So, on the 2nd of June 1098, nearly six months after the
beginning of the siege, a little band of Crusaders quietly
approached the gate of St George and gave their signal.
A rope ladder was silently lowered from the top of the
wall, up which Bohemond promptly sprang. But at the
summit he found himself alone; for in their distrust of
him, the rest had waited to see what would happen. The
sight of his safe arrival gave them confidence, and about
sixty swarmed up the ladder, which then broke. Those
at the top, however, undeterred by their isolated position
on the walls of a hostile city, found their way in the
darkness to a gate, and broke it open. In rushed the
invading army with their battle-cry of "Deus vult!
Deus vult!" and the city, taken quite unawares, was
soon in their hands.
The sun rose on the third day of June upon a city red
with blood, the governor of which had paid with his head
for his courage in holding out so long. Dawn also
revealed the blood-red banner of Bohemond floating from
the highest tower. Only the citadel, by a strange
oversight on the conqueror's part, was still in the hands of a
small body of Turks.
The news of the fall of Antioch gave rise to general
alarm throughout the East. The followers of Sultan
David, their former foe, joined with those of the Sultan
of Persia against the Crusaders, and led by the famous
 general Kerboga, flung themselves against the walls
of the city. Flushed with success, the victors had
over-looked the fact that there was scarcely any food within
the gates, and also they had allowed their means of
access to the Mediterranen ports to be cut off. Within
a few days the besiegers were the besieged and in far
worse plight than before. Many, even of the nobles,
were seized with panic, and letting themselves down by
ropes from the walls, fled to the sea-coast. Even
Stephen of Chartres, son-in-law of William the Conqueror,
who, through illness, had retired before the city fell, and
who was now entreated to return with his troops to its
aid, lost his nerve when he looked down from the hills
upon the sea of tents that lay before the walls. Not only
did he rapidly retreat, but meeting the Emperor Alexios
marching with an army to aid the Crusaders, he actually
prevailed upon the latter, not at all against his will, to
retire from the hopeless conflict.
With foes outside the walls, and foes holding the
citadel within, the unfortunate host of Crusaders was
indeed in evil case.
"We who remained," writes one, "could not hold out
against the arms of those within the castle, so we built
a wall between ourselves and them, and watched it day
Despair led to loss of nerve and discipline; many of the
soldiers refused to bear arms or even leave their abodes,
and had to be " burnt out " by the orders of Bohemond.
The destruction of a great part of the city to which this
inadvertently led, did not improve matters.
The situation was relieved at this apparently
hopeless juncture in a most remarkable manner. Into the
midst of the council at which the chiefs were hurriedly
 considering what could best be done to prevent further
demoralisation, appeared a certain priest, Peter
Barthelemy, chaplain to Raymond of Toulouse, who
declared unto them a marvellous dream or vision. He
had, he said, been carried in his sleep by St Andrew to
the Church of St Peter within the city, and had been
shown there the head of the lance which had pierced the
sacred side of the Saviour. This, the saint had told him,
if borne at the head of the army, was certain to bring
Great was the power of religious faith in those days.
Whether the story was true, or merely a device to drive
out panic and awaken enthusiasm, matters not; the
effect remains the same. Marching in solemn procession
to the Church of St Peter, they made excavations at the
spot indicated, at first with no success. Then as the dusk
began to fall, Peter the priest himself descended
barefooted and dressed only in a tunic, and after digging for
some time, declared with a joyful shout that the sacred
relic was discovered.
"At last," says the historian, "seeing that we were
fatigued, the young man who had told us of the lance
leapt into the pit, all ungirt as he was, without shoes, and
in his shirt. He adjured us to call upon God to render
us the lance for our comfort and our victory. At last
the Lord, moved by such devotion, showed us the lance.
And I, who have written these things, as soon as ever
the blade appeared above ground, greeted it with a kiss,
nor can I tell how great joy and exultation then filled
Such was the effect of this discovery, that, in their
certainty of victory, the Crusading chiefs forthwith
sent a message to Kerboga, offering him a chance of
with-  drawal before he was utterly demolished. Peter the
Hermit was the chosen ambassador, who, in spite of the
courteous hospitality with which he was received, so
disgusted the leaders of the host of Islam by his
haughtiness and insolence, that no such peaceful arrangement
could be entertained. "So much the better," said the
rank and file, who were now as keen to fight as they had
before been to escape. And so, very early on a perfect
June morning, the army marched out through the rose-
scented air in twelve battalions, according to the number
of the twelve apostles, led by Bishop Adhemar with the
Holy Lance held on high.
Some say that Kerboga was taken by surprise, others
that he welcomed the opportunity, long hoped for, of
drawing them into the open plain, and that he had
planned to surround them from the rear, and cut them off
from the city. However that may have been, a desperate
struggle now began, which, from the overwhelming
numbers of the foe, must in the ordinary course have
gone against the Crusaders, weakened as they were by
want of food. But it was the old story of the victory
of mind over matter.
When Adhemar, deserted by Godfrey and Tancred,
who had been summoned s to the aid of Bohemond,
hard pressed by David the Sultan, found himself
surrounded by the dark face of the infidel, the sight of the
Holy Lance moved his handful of followers to fight with
such desperate valour, that for a moment the foe fell
back. Raising his eyes to the encircling mountains, the
Bishop saw, or thought he saw, three radiant figures
riding upon milk-white horses to their aid.
"Behold, soldiers, the succour that God has provided
for you!" he cried, and at once a shout went up from
 all parts that St George, St Theodore, and St Maurice had
come to their help.
"Deus vult! Deus vult!" they cried, and Islam
shrank before the extraordinary enthusiasm of their
The story of the battle is a monument to religious
faith, and illustrates in a wonderful way what miraculous
deeds of valour can be wrought under its influence.
Ere long the Turks fled in confusion to the mountains,
leaving the ground strewn with the bodies of the slain.
"But us the Lord multiplied," says he who tells the
tale, "so that in battle the were more than they, and
returning to the city with great joy, we praised and
magnified God, who gave the victory to His people."
It is a pity that the sequel of the story fails to preserve
this high level of enthusiasm and devotion. Had it been
possible to march directly to Jerusalem, such might have
been the case; but the burning heat of summer forbade
such a course. Left idle in Antioch, the soldiers grew
mutinous, and their leaders quarrelsome. Bohemond
excited jealousy by his conquests of neighbouring cities.
Hugh of Vermandois deserted with his troops and
returned home. A pestilence, caused by the thousands of
unburied bodies of the slain, fastened upon the Crusaders,
and claimed amongst its victims the good Bishop
Adhemar, the first to take up the Cross in the Holy War.
Not till January 1099 did the army march out towards
the South, leaving Bohemond behind as Governor of
It was upon this journey that Peter Barthelemy once
more became prominent by reason of many new visions
and dreams. But his master, Count Raymond, was
unpopular at that time, and the occasion was seized by his
 opponents to accuse him indirectly of fraud in the matter
of the Holy Lance. Whether this was true it is impossible
to say; but it must be remembered that Peter himself
never ceased to affirm his sincerity, and confidently
offered to go through the terrible Ordeal by Fire in proof
of the latter.
"Make me the biggest fire you can, and I will pass
through the midst with the Lord's Lance in my hand.
If it be the Lord's Lance may I pass through unharmed;
if not, may I be burnt up."
A vast crowd of Crusaders gathered to witness the
ordeal early on the morning of Good Friday. Peter, clad
only in his tunic, passed fearlessly through the midst of
two blazing piles of dead olive branches, a foot apart
from one another. "God aid him!" cried a thousand
throats, and when he emerged, apparently unhurt, a
thousand hands were stretched out to feel his limbs and
flesh. For the moment faith again seemed to have
triumphed, and the followers of Raymond rejoiced. But
presently it was seen that the unhappy priest was in
terrible suffering, some say from burns, others from the
too eager handling he had received from the crowd.
He died a few days later, confident in his honesty to the
last, and leaving those who had scoffed and those who
had believed exactly in the same frame of mind.
Yet this much attacked and possibly deluded priest had
done an important work; for, as far as we can see, the
Holy War would have come to an abrupt end during
the latter part of that remarkable siege of Antioch, had it
not been for the almost miraculous spirit of zeal and
devotion aroused by his alleged discovery.