Siege of Antioch

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Siege of Antioch
Part of the First Crusade

The Siege of Antioch, from a medieval miniature painting
Date 20 October 1097 - 28 June 1098
Location Antioch
Result Crusader victory
Crusaders Seljuk Turks
Raymond of Toulouse
Godfrey of Bouillon
Bohemund of Taranto
Unknown Unknown
Unknown Unknown
First Crusade
Nicaea – Dorylaeum – Antioch Jerusalem – Ascalon
The "Siege of Antioch" may also refer to the battle in 1268 when Baibars captured Antioch from the Crusader States; see Siege of Antioch (1268).

The Siege of Antioch took place during the First Crusade in 1097 and 1098. The first siege, by the crusaders against the Muslim city, lasted from October 21, 1097, to June 2, 1098. The second siege, against the crusaders who had occupied it, lasted from June 7 to June 28, 1098.


Antioch had been captured from the Byzantine Empire by the Seljuks only very recently, in 1085. The Byzantine fortifications dated from the time of Justinian I and they had recently been rebuilt and strengthened; the Seljuks had taken the city through treachery and the walls remained intact. Since 1088, its Seljuk governor had been Yaghi-Siyan. Yaghi-Siyan was well aware of the crusader army as it marched through Anatolia in 1097, and he appealed for help from neighbouring Muslim states, but to no avail. To prepare for their arrival, he imprisoned the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John the Oxite, and exiled the Greek and Armenian Orthodox population, although the Syrian Orthodox citizens were permitted to stay.

Arrival of the crusaders

The crusaders arrived at the Orontes River outside Antioch on October 20, 1097. The three major leaders of the crusade at this point, Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemund of Taranto, and Raymond IV of Toulouse initially disagreed over what to do next: Raymond wanted to make a direct assault, while Godfrey and Bohemund preferred to set siege to the city. Raymond reluctantly acquiesced and the crusaders partially encircled the city on October 21. The city's Byzantine fortifications were strong enough to resist a direct attack, although Yaghi-Siyan may not have had enough men to adequately defend the city, and he was relieved and emboldened when the crusaders did not attack immediately. Bohemund encamped on the northeast corner of the city at the Gate of St. Paul, Raymond set his camp further to the west at the Gate of the Dog, and Godfrey placed his troops at the Gate of the Duke, also further to the west, where a bridge of boats was built across the Orontes to the village of Talenki. To the south was the Tower of the Two Sisters and at the northwest corner the Gate of St. George, which was not blockaded by the crusaders, and were used throughout the siege to supply Yaghi-Sian with food. On the southern and western side of the city was the hilly area known as Mt. Silpius, where the citadel and the Iron Gate were located.

First siege

By mid-November Bohemund's nephew Tancred had arrived with reinforcements, and a Genoese fleet had sailed into the port at St. Symeon, bringing extra food and supplies. The siege dragged on, and in December Godfrey fell ill and food supplies that had been plentiful were running out with the approaching winter. At the end of the month Bohemund and Robert of Flanders took about 20,000 men and went foraging for food to the south, but while they were gone, Yaghi-Siyan made a sortie out of the Gate of St. George on December 29 and attacked Raymond's encampment across the river at Talenki. Raymond was able to turn him back but was not able to capture the city itself. Meanwhile, Bohemund and Robert were attacked by an army under Duqaq of Damascus, which had marched north to come to Antioch's aid. Although the crusaders were victorious here as well, they were forced to retreat to Antioch with little food. The month ended inauspiciously for both sides: there was an earthquake on December 30, and the aurora borealis the next night, and the following weeks saw such unseasonably bad rain and cold weather that Duqaq had to return home without further engaging the crusaders.


Due to lack of food there was a famine in the crusader camp, killing both men and horses, one in seven men was dying of starvation and only 700 horses remained. Supposedly some of the poorer soldiers, the remnants of the People's Crusade led by Peter the Hermit and called Tafurs, turned cannibal, eating the bodies of dead Turks. Others ate horses, although some knights preferred to starve. Local Christians, as well as the exiled Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Simeon, now living on Cyprus, attempted to send food but this did not relieve the famine. Some knights and soldiers began to desert in January of 1098, including Peter the Hermit, although he was quickly found and brought back to the camp by Tancred, his prestige tarnished.

Taticius departs

In February, the Byzantine general and legate Taticius, who had remained with the crusaders as an advisor and a representative of Emperor Alexius I, suddenly left the crusader army. According to Anna Comnena, who presumably spoke with Taticius personally, the crusaders refused to listen to his advice and Bohemund had informed him that the other leaders were planning to kill him, as they believed Alexius was secretly encouraging the Turks. Bohemund, on the other hand, claimed that this was treachery or cowardice, reason enough to break any obligations to return Antioch to the Byzantines, and he too would leave unless he was allowed to keep Antioch for himself when it was captured. Knowing fully that Bohemund had designs on taking the city for himself, and that he had probably engineered Taticius' departure in order to facilitate this, Godfrey and Raymond did not give in to his blackmail, but the minor knights and soldiers wanted to recognize his demands and he gained their sympathies. During these events, Yaghi-Siyan continued to seek help from his neighbours, and an army under Ridwan arrived at Antioch from Aleppo. Like Duqaq before him, he too was defeated, at Harim outside Antioch, on February 9.

English reinforcements

In March an English fleet led by Edgar Atheling arrived at St. Simeon from Constantinople, where Edgar was living in exile. They brought with them raw materials for constructing siege engines, but these were almost lost on March 6 when Raymond and Bohemund (neither of whom trusted the other enough to deliver the material alone) were attacked on the road back to Antioch by a detachment of Yaghi-Siyan's garrison. With Godfrey's help, however, the detachment was defeated and the materials were recovered. Although Edgar had been given his fleet and the siege materials by emperor Alexius, the crusaders did not consider this to be direct Byzantine assistance. The crusaders set to work building siege engines, as well as a fort, called La Mahomerie, to block the Bridge Gate and prevent Yaghi-Siyan attacking the Crusader supply line from the ports of Saint Simon and Alexandretta, whilst also repairing the abandoned monastery to the west of the Gate of Saint George, which was still being used to deliver food to the city. Tancred garrisoned the monastery, referred to in the chronicles as Tancred's Fort, for 400 silver marks, whilst Count Raymond of Toulouse took control of La Mahomerie. Finally the crusader siege was able to have some effect on the well-defended city. Food conditions improved for the crusaders as spring approached and the city was sealed off from raiders.

Fatimid embassy

In April a Fatimid embassy from Egypt arrived at the crusader camp, hoping to establish a peace with the Christians, who were, after all, the enemy of their own enemies, the Seljuks. Peter the Hermit, who was fluent in Arabic, was sent to negotiate. These negotiations came to nothing. The Fatimids, assuming the crusaders were simply mercenary representatives of the Byzantines, were prepared to let the crusaders keep Syria if they agreed not to attack Fatimid Palestine, a state of affairs perfectly acceptable between Egypt and Byzantine before the Turkish invasions. But the crusaders could not accept any settlement that did not give them Jerusalem. Nevertheless the Fatimids were treated hospitably and were given many gifts, plundered from the Turks who had been defeated in March, and no definitive agreement was reached.

Capture of Antioch

The Massacre of Antioch, by Gustave Dore
The Massacre of Antioch, by Gustave Dore

The siege continued, and at the end of May 1098 a Muslim army from Mosul under the command of Kerbogha approached Antioch. This army was much larger than the previous attempts to relieve the siege. Kerbogha had joined with Ridwan and Duqaq and his army also included troops from Persia and from the Ortuqids of Mesopotamia. The crusaders were luckily granted time to prepare for their arrival, as Kerbogha had first made a three-week long excursion to Edessa, which he was unable to recapture from Baldwin of Boulogne, who had taken it earlier in 1098.

The crusaders knew they would have to take the city before Kerbogha arrived if they had any chance of survival. Bohemund secretly established contact with Firouz, an Armenian guard who controlled the Tower of the Two Sisters but had a grudge with Yaghi-Siyan, and bribed him to open the gates. He then approached the other crusaders and offered to let them in, through Firouz, if they would agree to let him have the city. Raymond was furious and argued that the city should be handed over to Alexius, as they had agreed when they left Constantinople in 1097, but Godfrey, Tancred, Robert, and the other leaders, faced with a desperate situation, gave in to his demands.

Despite this, on June 2, Stephen of Blois and some of the other crusaders deserted the army. Later on the same day, Firouz instructed Bohemund to feign a march out to meet Kerbogha, and then to march back to the city at night and scale the walls. This was done. Firouz opened the gates and a massacre followed. The remaining Christians in the city opened the other gates and participated in the massacre themselves, killing as much of the hated Turkish garrison as they could. The crusaders, however, killed some of the Christians along with the Muslims, including Firouz's own brother. Yaghi-Siyan fled but was captured by some Syrian Christians outside the city. He was decapitated and his head was brought to Bohemund.

Second siege

The ramparts of Antioch climbing Mons Silpius during the Crusades
The ramparts of Antioch climbing Mons Silpius during the Crusades

By the end of the day on June 3, the crusaders controlled most of the city, except for the citadel, which remained in hands of Yaghi-Siyan's son Shams ad-Daulah. John the Oxite was reinstated as patriarch by Adhemar of Le Puy, the papal legate, who wished to keep good relations with the Byzantines, especially as Bohemund was clearly planning to claim the city for himself. However, the city was now short on food, and Kerbogha's army was still on its way. Kerbogha arrived only two days later, on June 5. He tried, and failed, to storm the city on June 7, and by June 9 he had established his own siege around the city.

More crusaders had deserted before Kerbogha arrived, and they joined Stephen of Blois in Tarsus. Stephen had seen Kerbogha's army encamped near Antioch and assumed all hope was lost; the deserters confirmed his fears. On the way back to Constantinople, Stephen and the other deserters met Alexius, who was on his way to assist the crusaders, and did not know they had taken the city and were now under siege themselves. Stephen convinced him that the rest of the crusaders were as good as dead, and Alexius heard from his reconnaissance that there was another Seljuk army nearby in Anatolia. He therefore decided to return to Constantinople rather than risking battle.

Discovery of the Holy Lance

Meanwhile in Antioch, on June 10 an otherwise poor and insignificant monk by the name of Peter Bartholomew came forward claiming to have had visions of St. Andrew, who told him that the Holy Lance was inside the city. The starving crusaders were prone to visions and hallucinations, and another monk named Stephen of Valence reported visions of Christ and the Virgin Mary. On June 14 a meteor was seen landing in the enemy camp, interpreted as a good omen. Although Adhemar was suspicious, as he had seen a relic of the Holy Lance in Constantinople, Raymond believed Peter. Raymond, Raymond of Aguilers, William, Bishop of Orange, and others began to dig in the cathedral of St. Peter on June 15, and when they came up empty, Peter went into the pit, reached down, and produced a spear point. Raymond took this as a divine sign that they would survive and thus prepared for a final fight rather than surrender. Peter then reported another vision, in which St. Andrew instructed the crusader army to fast for five days (although they were already starving), after which they would be victorious.

Bohemund was skeptical of the Holy Lance as well, but there is no question that its discovery increased the morale of the crusaders. It is also possible that Peter was reporting what Bohemund wanted, rather than what St. Andrew wanted, as Bohemund knew, from spies in Kerbogha's camp, that the various factions frequently argued with each other, and they would probably not work together as a cohesive unit in battle. On June 27 Peter the Hermit was sent by Bohemund to negotiate with Kerbogha, but this proved futile and battle with the Turks was thus unavoidable. Bohemund drew up six divisions: he commanded one himself, and the other five were led by Hugh of Vermandois and Robert of Flanders, Godfrey, Robert of Normandy, Adhemar, and Tancred and Gaston IV of Béarn. Raymond, who had fallen ill, remained inside to guard the citadel with 200 men, now held by Ahmed Ibn Merwan an agent of Kerbogha.

Battle of Antioch

On Monday, June 28, the crusaders emerged from the city gate, with Raymond of Aguilers carrying the Holy Lance before them. Kerbogha hesitated against his generals' pleadings, hoping to attack them all at once rather than one division at a time, but he underestimated their size. He pretended to retreat to draw the crusaders to rougher terrain, while his archers continuously pelted the advancing crusaders with arrows. A detachment was dispatched to the crusader left wing, which was not protected by the river, but Bohemund quickly formed a seventh division and beat them back. The Turks were inflicting many casualties, including Adhemar's standard-bearer, and Kerbogha set fire to the grass between his position and the crusaders, but this did not deter them: they had visions of three saints riding along with them, led by St. George, St. Demetrius, and St. Maurice. The battle was short. When the crusaders reached Kerbogha's line, Duqaq deserted, and most of the other Turks panicked. Soon the whole Muslim army was in retreat.


As Kerbogha fled, the citadel under command of Ahmed ibn Merwan finally surrendered, but only to Bohemund personally, rather than to Raymond; this seems to have been arranged beforehand without Raymond's knowledge. As expected, Bohemund claimed the city as his own, although Adhemar and Raymond disagreed. Hugh of Vermandois and Baldwin of Hainaut were sent to Constantinople, although Baldwin disappeared after an ambush on the way. Alexius, however, was uninterested in sending an expedition to claim the city this late in the summer. Back in Antioch Bohemund argued that Alexius had deserted the crusade and thus invalidated all of their oaths to him. Bohemund and Raymond occupied Yaghi-Siyan's palace, but Bohemund controlled most of the rest of the city and flew his standard from the citadel. It is a common assumption that the Franks of northern France, the Provencals of southern France, and the Normans of southern Italy considered themselves separate "nations" and that each wanted to increase its status. This may have had something to do with the disputes, but personal ambition is more likely the cause of the infighting.

Soon an epidemic broke out, possibly of typhus, and on August 1 the legate Adhemar died. In September the leaders of the crusade wrote to Pope Urban II, asking him to take personal control of Antioch, but he declined. For the rest of 1098, they took control of the countryside surrounding Antioch, although there were now even fewer horses than before, and Muslim peasants refused to give them food. The minor knights and soldiers became restless and starvation began to set in and they threatened to continue to Jerusalem without their squabbling leaders. In November, Raymond finally gave into Bohemund for the sake of continuing the crusade in peace and to calm his mutinous starving troops. At the beginning of 1099 the march was renewed, leaving Bohemund behind as the first Prince of Antioch, and in the spring the Siege of Jerusalem began under the leadership of Raymond.

The success at Antioch was too much for Peter's skeptics. Peter's visions were far too convenient and too martial, and he was openly accused of lying. Challenged, Peter offered to undergo ordeal by fire to prove that he was divinely guided. Being in Biblical lands, they chose a Biblical ordeal: Peter would pass through a fiery furnace and would be protected by an angel of God. The crusaders constructed a path between walls of flame; Peter would walk down the path between the flames. He did so, and was horribly burned. He died after suffering in agony for twelve days. There was no more said about the Holy Lance, although one faction continued to hold that Peter was genuine and that this was indeed the true Lance.

The Siege of Antioch quickly became legendary, and in the 12th century it was the subject of the chanson d'Antioche, a chanson de geste in the Crusade cycle.

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