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Bohemond of Taranto versus Kerbogah: A Crusader army under various leaders besieges a Seljuk garrison under Yaghi Siyan in Antioch for months. Just as the Crusaders capture the city though, a final, massive Seljuk relief army under Kerbogah arrives to besiege the Crusaders in turn. As newly elected leader of the Crusaders, can Bohemond by some miracle break out with his exhausted troops?
The Crusaders’ victory at Antioch allowed them to continue the advance south and capture Jerusalem, held for under a century. While it is easy to label this as another chapter in the conflict between Christians and Muslims, it is the perfect example of why this “Clash of Civilizations” type of framing is inaccurate and ignorant. There is simply no reason to refer to a monolithic Christian or Muslim side. The Byzantines appealed to Western, Christian kingdoms in terms of religion but their motives were clearly self-interested. Moreover, the various factions represented within the Crusader camp were at war with each other soon after the First Crusade ended. The Muslims were just as divided. For starters, two Seljuk dominions resisted the Crusaders before agreeing to terms and colluding with them. The Muslim Fatimids also took advantage of the Seljuk defeat to seize Jerusalem from them. The Seljuk Empire viewed the Persians to the east as the primary threat, not the Crusaders, and it was further internal divisions among Seljuk dominions that prevented an effective response to the Crusader invasion. Religion is simply not a sufficient motivating or uniting factor among participants to be the defining label.
Internal fractures within the Seljuk Empire caused its defeat at Antioch. Three different Seljuk leaders sent relief armies, engaging the Crusaders piecemeal, and all for different considerations. Kerbogah commanded the largest effort to defeat the Crusaders but was undermined when many of his allied units abandoned him because they felt he would be too powerful if he captured Antioch (Nicolle, 2005: 88).
In a tactical sense, it is still a miracle the Crusaders captured Antioch, considering their near-disastrous decision to starve out the Seljuk garrison with a close blockade without completely isolating it; Tatikios, leader of the Byzantine contingent, recommended a long distance blockade in October 1097 and February 1098. If the chroniclers wrote accurately, it is Bohemond’s tactical genius and initiative which saved them, first by quickly defeating two small relief armies at little cost, then finding someone within Antioch to help them capture the city, and finally by defeating a large relief army.
Sieges are a challenge to animate. There’s not a lot of movement but this means I need to keep the viewer’s interest other ways and still show what’s going on. For this one, I became a little lazy and narrated rather than animated a lot of actions that took place off-map away from Antioch. Other times, I’ve flattened or exaggerated certain actions to provide a proper visual. Readers of detailed histories of the siege, such as Rubenstein’s Armies of Heaven, will find some events have been completely omitted. Sieges are also long and require a lot of sequences even if there’s not a lot of animation work for each one.
Numbers were at first hard to come by but were eventually dug up in various sources. As usual, I’ve taken the lowest modern estimates for all armies and simply estimated the size of Duqaq’s relief army based on typical Seljuk armies of the period. Information about Kerbogah’s actions and intentions during the break-out battle are detailed but only provide hypotheses without definitely arguing either side. For example, authors are unsure whether Kerbogah reacted slowly to the Crusader break-out out of arrogance or to lure the Crusaders out. I have assessed the latter as more likely and framed his defeat in terms of cohesion problems in a fractious coalition army rather than incompetence.
I have taken great care narrating this animation to present the battle from both sides’ perspectives, considering dilemmas and challenges each faced. Relying on Western sources, even when objective and academic, there is always a danger of accidentally omitting the adversary’s plans and actions and focusing on the glory of the historically Western side. Simply assuming there is not enough information on the non-Western side because some authors pay less attention to it is not acceptable.
It seems with every battle I find a gem of a book. In this case, it is Rogers’ Latin Siege Warfare in the Twelfth Century, which provided invaluable information on the less exciting, but important description of siege operations.
I have given rough estimate of casualties for the Seljuks by compiling casualty estimates from each engagement. I emphasize that it is extremely rough and based on scanty details and deductions.
– Jonathan Webb
France, John. The Crusades and the Expansion of Catholic Christendom, 1000-1714. London: New York, 2005.
Jestice, Phyllis G. “Antoch, 1098.” In Battles of the Crusades 1097-1444. London: Amber, 2007.
Nicolle, David. The First Crusade, 1096-1099: Conquest of the Holy Land. Westport: Praeger, 2005.
Rickard, J. “First Crusade, 1096-1099.” History of War. http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_crusade1st.html (Mar. 25, 2001).
Rogers, Randall. Latin Siege Warfare in the Twelfth Century. New York: Clarendon Press, 1992.
Rubenstein, Jay. Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse. New York: Basic, 2011.
Bohemond of Taranto: http://www.nobledynasty.com/antiochhistory.htm
Crusader soldiers: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_138_figure_1.htm
Godfrey de Bouillion: http://tylerdrdn.blogspot.ca/2012_04_01_archive.html
Map of Europe and Mediterranean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Crusade
Robert II of Flanders: http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Henri-Decaisne/Robert-II-Le-Hierosolymitain-Count-Of-Flanders.html
Turkish soldiers: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_124_figure_1.htm
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