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Siege of Antioch, 1098

The account of Ibn al-Qalanisi of the actual battle of Antioch when the Muslims came to recapture the city-

The relieving army of Syria besieged the Franks until “they were reduced to eating carrion” He continues ‘Thereafter the Franks, though they were in the extremity of weakness, advanced in battle order against the armies of Islam, which were at the height of strength and numbers, and they broke the ranks of the Muslims and scattered their multitudes.”

Al-‘Azimi, the contemporary of Ibn al-Qalanisi, blames the Muslims squarely for the defeat at Antioch- ‘The Franks went out to them. They [the Franks] were extremely weak and the Muslims were strong. The Muslims were defeated, because of the evil of their intentions.”

As for the actual battle of Antioch, its contours are extremely blurred in the account of Ibn al-Athir. He explains that the Franks came out of Antioch in small groups and that the Muslims wanted to pick them off as they emerged. Kirbogha forbade this, preferring, instead to wait for all the Franks to have left the city. The battle is minimised; the Muslim defeat is not in a military encounter-
“When a good quantity of the Franks had come out and not one of them was left behind in Antioch, they attacked strongly, and the Muslims turned and fled. . . They were completely defeated, without any of them striking a single blow with the sword or a single spear being thrown or a single arrow being fired. . . There had not even been any fighting from which to flee.”

Ibn al-Athir singles out the ruler of Antioch, Yaghisiyan, for special praise for his treatment of the local Christian population of the city at the time of the siege Antioch in 1098. Ibn al-Athir points out first that Yaghisiyan was afraid of the Christians who were in Antioch. So he made the Muslims and then the Christians build the trench outside the city. When the Christians wanted to go home at the end of the day he would not let them-

“He said to them- ‘Antioch belongs to you. Give it to me so that I can see what will become of us and the Franks.’ They said to him- ‘Who will look after our children and our wives?’ He said to them- ‘I swear to you about them.’ So they kept away and stayed in the Frankish camp. They [the Franks] besieged it for nine months” Ibn al-Athir concludes- ‘Yaghisiyan protected the Christian population of Antioch whom he had sent away and prevented hands from reaching them.”

Hillenbrand, Carole, The Crusades- Islamic Perspectives, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1999, p.57-58, 68.

Posted in: Early Arab Period

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