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First Crusade (Crusader Success)

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A Plea for Help

In 1096, Pope Urban II preached a crusade in response to an envoy from Alexius I, Emperor of Byzantium, requesting military assistance against the Seljuk Empire. The cause was taken up enthusiastically. The following were notables on the Crusade;

  • Lord Geoffrey Neville, brother of the Earl of Northumberland
  • Raymond, Count of Toulouse
  • Sergei of Banat
  • Godfrey of Lorraine
  • Robert, Duke of Normandy
  • Marshall Justiniani, Papal Legate
  • Stephen of Blois
  • Bohemond, son of the King of Sicily
  • Alexius, Byzantine Emperor
  • Heraclius of Trebizond

Plan of Campaign

The armies met at Adrianople, a few miles from the capital of Alexius' empire, since Alexius did not trust the Crusaders, particularly Bohemond, who had dedicated his young life to wresting Southern Italy from Byzantine hands. However, he was surprised to find them amicable enough, and so was able to co-operate in an attack on the Sultanate of Rum (by this point, the Seljuk Empire had begun to fragment). Whilst the main bulk of the Crusaders attacked from the West, Alexius and his lieutenant fell upon Seljuk dominions from the North, bloodlessly seizing the town of Kirsehir. Meanwhile, Qilich Arslan I, the Sultan, was obliged to flee for his life at the Battle of Dorylaeum; he shut himself up in his capital at Iconium, anticipating the Crusader onslaught.

Principality of Antioch

The Crusaders, however, were eager to press on; they abandoned Alexius to his attack on Iconium whilst they moved on through nominally Byzantine lands to Antioch. Turkish mounted archers were continually repulsed by volleys from Genoese archers in the pay of Marshall Justiniani, the Papal Legate, so the Crusader force, some 30,000 strong, reached Antioch in good order. Only Sergei, Duke of Banat, stayed in Anatolia; he later became King of Van as a result of his conquests in the name of Byzantium.

Antioch was defended by a garrison of 5,000 under the command of Al Ashraf Ahmed, Atabeg to Seljuk Prince Alp Rashid, who was only 5 years of age. Incapable of holding off the Crusaders on his own, he sent letters to the more powerful atabegs of Damascus, Aleppo and Mosul asking them to come to his aid. Only one, the Atabeg Kerbogha of Aleppo, came to his aid, but even he was too slow, by his arrival in the November of 1098, Antioch and Tripoli had already fallen.

Jerusalem

Antioch and Tripoli had been easy targets; isolated from Hamadan and poorly defended. Jerusalem was a different bet. Taken by the Fatimids in 1097, it was defended by a well trained army, led by vigourous leader General Dhirgham al-Mansour. As a result, the initial assaults on the city were not the anticipated success. However, at the suggestion of Godfrey of Lorraine, new siege towers were constructed. Godfrey led the way and the city duly fell, though Dhirgham led a fighting retreat of the best of the Fatimid cavalry and left for Ascalon. Such was the end of the First Crusade.

Clearing Up

A few things had been neglected by the Crusade, however. The notable problems were posed by Kerbogha, Atabeg of Aleppo, and Dhirgham al-Mansour, now commander in chief of the Caliph's Levantine Army. The former was disposed of by a cunning counter attack by knight named Joscelin, who seized the town of Edessa. Kerbogha, who was anxious to retake Antioch, suddenly abandoned by a good half of his army, who - being predominantly Edessan - were upset about the impotence of their overlord. Kerbogha was caught unawares in a night attack by Bohemond, now Prince of Antioch, and his remnant army was routed. Kerbogha killed himself as a result of this defeat; his defeat was left in turmoil and was finally annexed to Mosul in 1102.

The Fatimid problem was not of such great concern - and was ultimately solved in 1100 when the Caliph in Cairo disowned Dhirgham. A pious man, Dhirgham preferred to die in penitence than to live in shame. He was succeeded in Ascalon by his son, Lajeen al Mansour, whom we shall hear more of presently during the Ascalon Campaign.

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