Raymond’s Prize: The City of Tripoli

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The Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1102. Photo credit: Odejea.

Raymond turned his attention to Tripoli once again. That city was his prize and he was determined to capture it. However, since his force was so small and since there was no Genoese fleet present to help him, Raymond was unable to lay siege to Tripoli. So, he built a fortified castle on a ridge — known as Mount Pilgrim — located about 2 miles east of Tripoli along the main route from the north and the east (Malcolm Barber, 86). The castle was named Qal at Sanjil (or Saint-Giles). It was used as a residence and as a fortress from which to threaten Tripoli. Raymond did so by forcing the Tripolitans to pay an annual tribute. Meanwhile, Raymond extended his conquests, effectively creating a new crusader state in the Levant. Sometime in the spring of 1104, he captured Gibelet, a maritime city located south of Tripoli. That time he had help from a Genoese fleet.

Even though Tripoli remained out of Raymond’s grasp, he began to call himself the Count of Tripoli. He even appointed one of his followers, Albert, abbot of St. Evrard, as Bishop of Tripoli (Barber, 87). Throughout his newly conquered territory, Raymond established various religious institutions that took care of pilgrims and holy shrines. He also oversaw the construction of a church on Mount Pilgrim — which he had granted to the canons of the Holy Sepulchre — as well as the Church of St. George, a church located somewhere in the Lebanese Mountains. Raymond made no secret of his intention of making Tripoli the capital of his principality. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his dream become a reality.

On 12 September 1104, Fakhr al-Mulk launched a surprise attack on Mount Pilgrim. Many Frankish soldiers and pilgrims were killed. A portion of the settlement was razed to the ground and a large amount of the settlement’s treasury was raided, including livestock and other provisions. Raymond himself died from injuries received after a burning roof collapsed underneath him.

Tripoli would not fall to the crusaders until July 1109.

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Raymond of Toulouse: Founder of the County of Tripoli

Of all the crusaders who set out for the Holy Land in 1096, Raymond, Count of Toulouse was by far the wealthiest. Many people at that time, including Pope Urban and Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy believed that Raymond would lead the Crusade. But that did not happen. Raymond’s lust for power and inadequate leadership skills cost him that opportunity. Instead, the less wealthy princes, Baldwin I (Boulogne), Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto and his feisty nephew Tancred, gained power, wealth and prestige.

By the summer of 1099, Raymond was the least liked of all the crusader princes. Although he had fulfilled his vows, Raymond had not obtained a lordship like he wanted to, but Raymond was a determined man. He could have returned to his county in France; it would have offered him all the comforts most people in those days only dreamt of having. But Raymond did not want it. His heart’s desire was to spend the rest of his life in the Holy Land, fighting for the Cross.

Unfortunately Raymond’s friendship with the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus had hurt his already damaged reputation. The Franks didn’t like or trust Alexius, especially after he had abandoned them at Antioch in 1098, so they considered Raymond’s friendship with Alexius as treacherous. The Franks also didn’t trust Raymond’s ambitions. Regardless, Raymond was not going to end his friendship with Alexius. He recognized Alexius as a powerful ally; one who could help him obtain a lordship in the Levant. Tripoli was that principality Raymond wanted for himself.

Once Tancred released Raymond from prison, Raymond set out with Stephen of Blois, Welf of Bavaria and William of Acquitaine to Jerusalem. They were accompanied by a sizeable Genoese fleet. For that reason alone, they were able to capture Tortosa in mid-February 1102. According to Fulcher of Chartres, the Muslim governor of the city willingly surrendered Tortosa to Raymond. The possession of Tortosa was Raymond’s first stepping stone to carving out a reasonably sized principality in the Levant.

Raymond coveted the wealthy city of Tripoli, so for that reason, he did not continue the journey to Jerusalem with his companions. Instead, Raymond assembled his troops — those who had remained with him — and prepared to launch an attack on Tripoli. But the Emir of Tripoli, Fakhr al-Mulk, refused to capitulate. The fact that the Frankish army numbered no more than 300 must have bolstered al-Mulk’s confidence. Regardless, al-Mulk called upon Duqaq of Damascus and Janah al-Daula of Homs for help. They responded promptly and assembled an army much larger than Raymond’s in a short period of time.

As was so often the case in the early years of Latin settlement in the Levant, the crusaders were forced into battle when the odds were stacked heavily against them. Battle was joined outside of Tortosa in April 1102. Once again the crusaders’ prudent military strategy and expertise, combined with disunity within the Muslim ranks worked in the crusaders’ favour. Neither Muslim or Christian chroniclers wrote about the outcome of this battle, but what is known is this: the contingent from Homs, for reasons unknown, retreated, allowing the Franks to close in on the Tripolitans. Raymond did not succeed in capturing Tripoli, but he did manage to beat off the Tripolitans into submission. More importantly, his victory ended the threat posed by Homs and Damascus on the fledgling principality of Tripoli. Raymond’s victory also restored his reputation and bolstered his confidence.

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Bohemond’s Crusade Against Byzantium

According to Anna Comnena, the Emperor Alexius’s daughter, Bohemond sailed back to Europe in a coffin. Apparently, to make his feigned death authentic, Bohemond had his men kill a cockerel and then stick its carcass inside the coffin with him so that it emitted the pungent smell of death. That was how Bohemond escaped capture by the Byzantine navy as his ship sailed through the Eastern Mediterranean waters.

It’s impossible to imagine Bohemond spending several weeks cooped up inside a coffin with a dead and rotting cockerel lying next to him. The toxic fumes emitted from the corpse would have made him extremely ill. It’s more likely that that was a story fabricated by the Byzantines to explain their inability to capture the wily Norman prince. Regardless of Bohemond’s strategy, he managed to escape the Byzantines and arrived in Italy in 1105.

Bohemond arrived to a hero’s welcome. Everyone in all of Latin Europe was overjoyed to learn of Latin victory over the Saracens in the Holy Land. They were particularly impressed by Bohemond’s success at Antioch. To them, Bohemond was a larger-than-life figure, a courageous warrior for Christ. His instant star status propelled Bohemond into the highest echelons in Western European society.

True to the promise he had made while in prison, Bohemond travelled to Noblat in France and paid homage to the shrine of St. Leonard. At the same time, Bohemond sponsored the writing of his victories and struggles in the Holy Land. His account was as vivid as the Gesta Francorum. In this account, Bohemond viciously condemned the Greeks, blaming them for all the hardships the crusaders endured at Antioch.

Bohemond’s narrative captured the interests of many people; it became the medieval version of a best-seller. More importantly to Bohemond, it caught the interest of Pope Paschal II, Pope Urban’s successor. In 1106, Bohemond secured a marriage alliance with the French king’s daughter, Constance while the king’s second daughter, Cecillia was betrothed to Tancred.

Pope Urban’s desired outcome for Holy War was to unite all of Christendom – The Greek Orthodox East and the Latin West – against the Muslims, a people he considered as the enemies of Christ. For that reason, he would have never sanctioned a Crusade against the Byzantines, fellow Christians. It’s highly doubtful Paschal would have strayed from Urban’s goal for Holy War. Historian Thomas Asbridge suggests that Pope Paschal II never sanctioned a Crusade against Byzantium. Rather, Bohemond tricked him into believing that the Crusade was against the Muslims in the Levant. However, given all the hype Bohemond caused in Europe, particularly in France and Italy, it’s highly doubtful Paschal would have remained ignorant of Bohemond’s real ambitions. Bohemond’s portrayal of Alexius Comnenus and the Greeks as vile, traitors must have been quite convincing. Moreover, his popularity and high status in Western Christendom gave him a lot of credit. Those were reasons enough for Pope Paschal to sanction Bohemond’s Crusade against Byzantium.

Once Bohemond received the Pope’s blessing, he set right to work, making preparations necessary to set his Crusade in motion. Bohemond and his most ardent supporters travelled throughout Italy and France, preaching Crusade against the Greeks. Once more, the call to take up the Cross was heard in every corner of Western Europe. Men from all regions of Europe heeded the call to Holy War against their new sworn enemy. Nobody cared that the Greeks were Christians themselves. Most likely they didn’t even question the validity of Bohemond’s Crusade. As far as they were concerned, anyone — be they Christian, Muslim or Jew – who betrayed them and blasphemed them was an enemy of Christ.

Somehow Alexius caught wind of what Bohemond was doing. He wrote a letter to Pope Paschal, attempting to exonerate himself from the accusations Bohemond had made against him. He urged Paschal to stop Bohemond’s expedition, but it was too late. By spring 1107, Bohemond had assembled a large army and had overseen the building of dozens of ships for which to carry men, horses and supplies. His goal was to attack Byzantium via sea. Historians differ over the exact size of Bohemond’s fleet. Though one thing is known for certain: it was large.

With no other recourse, Alexius had to prepare to defend his empire against his arch enemy. Fortunately for him, his martial skills paralleled those of Bohemond. But Alexius could also take pride and comfort in the fact that he commanded a large, strong navy. While Bohemond planned his strategy for attack, Alexius drew up his own battle plan.

In October 1107, the Latin fleet crossed the Adriatic Sea and laid siege to the city of Durazzo (modern day Albania). Durazzo was then considered the western gate of the Byzantine Empire. But Durazzo was no small, un-garrisoned outpost as Bohemond likely expected it to be. It was heavily fortified and garrisoned. As big as Bohemond’s force was, they could not breach the walls and they certainly could not outwit Alexius.

The imperial fleet blockaded the Adriatic, cutting off the Latin fleet from Italy. Soon hunger and starvation gripped the Latin camp which eventually compelled them to lift the siege. Treachery within the Latin camp dealt an even nastier blow to Bohemond’s bruised confidence. Several leading knights deserted the army after Alexius had promised them gold, silver and other treasure in return for their promise to surrender. Unable to hold out any longer, Bohemond capitulated in September 1108. Standing, humiliated, before the Emperor, Bohemond was forced to accept the Treaty of Devol, a peace accord that included the following terms which Bohemond was obliged to accept: he would hold Antioch as Alexius’s vassal and the Greek patriarch was to be restored to power in the city.

The Treaty proved ineffective because Bohemond never returned to the Levant. He returned to Apulia, a broken man; his reputation ruined. In 1109, Constance bore him a son, also christened Bohemond. But two years later, in March 1111, Bohemond, the once great prince of the First Crusade, died.

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Antioch on the Brink of Collapse

The county of Edessa was saved but at a heavy cost. The fatal battle at Harran not only cost the Franks thousands of skilled fighting men, it cost them their reputation. The Armenian and Syrian Christians already distrusted and disliked the Franks, but the debacle at Harran gave them even more reason to dislike their new rulers because it demonstrated that the Franks were not invincible. As a result, the Armenians, Syrians, Greeks and Muslims took matters into their own hands. Consequently, the Principality of Antioch teetered on the brink of collapse.

In the weeks following the battle of Harran, the Byzantines re-conquered Latakia and Cilicia. Only the citadel in Latakia remained in Latin hands. In the Summaq region, south-east of Antioch, the Armenian and Syrian Christians expelled their Latin garrisons from their cities. To make matters worse, they made an alliance with the Muslims of Aleppo. The Armenian and Syrian Christians at Artah, a city north-east of Antioch followed suit. By the summer of 1104, all that remained of the Principality of Antioch was the city itself and a small tract of territory surrounding it.

That fall, a disheartened Bohemond held a council meeting in the Basilica of St. Peter and announced his intention to leave Antioch. Raoul d’Caen, a 12th century chronicler, reported Bohemond’s speech: “We are surrounded. On the East we are invaded by the Turks of the interior; on the West a Greek fleet has just debarked. We are only a handful of men diminishing every time there is an attack. We need reinforcements from France. It will be there that our salvation will come and not from anyone anywhere else. I will go there to find reinforcements” (quoted in Rita Stark, 47).

While Bohemond was in prison he had prayed to St. Leonard for intervention. So, at the council meeting, he expressed his intention to fulfill his vows to St. Leonard – the saint who was responsible for Bohemond’s release – by visiting his shrine at Noblat in France. Everyone at the council meeting believed Bohemond and they looked forward to the day he returned with a sizeable force. No doubt Bohemond had planned to pay his respects to St. Leonard. Really though, he had no intention of returning to Antioch. His ambitions for his hard-won principality had failed, so he was prepared to leave it all behind forever.

The bitter taste of failure fueled Bohemond’s hatred for the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus and for the Greeks in general. The resentment between the two men dated back to the days Bohemond fought alongside his father, Robert Guiscard, in the Balkans against the Byzantines. More than anything though, Bohemond wanted land and wealth in large portions. Bohemond had always desired the Byzantine crown, so he refocused his energy on that goal: to conquer Constantinople; the entire Byzantine Empire. There was only one problem: Alexius I Comnenus stood in his way and Alexius was not a man who could so easily be disposed of. Bohemond had to find some way to conquer his foe.

Bohemond kept his real intentions a secret until he left Antioch. He appointed Tancred as Antioch’s governor and then left, taking with him all the gold, gems and fine clothing, leaving Tancred with nothing for which to strengthen and defend the principality.

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The Battle of Harran, 1104

Once Bohemond was back in Antioch and his role of governor restored, he cultivated a close friendship with Baldwin le Bourcq, Count of Edessa. Over the next year, the two men planned a series of campaigns aimed to conquer and secure control over the territory between Edessa and Antioch. In doing so, Bohemond and Baldwin would effectively isolate the Muslim-held city of Aleppo, cutting off its communication with Mesopotamia.

In early May 1104, the weather ripe for a campaign, Bohemond and Baldwin set their plan in motion. The two men and their forces combined marched east of the Euphrates River. Somehow though, the Turkish leaders of Mosul and Mardin learnt about their plan. Fearful of a Frankish invasion deep into the heart of Syria, they raised a large army and launched a counter-attack.

Battle was joined around 7 May on the plains of Harran. Unbeknownst to the Franks, several thousand Muslim troops hid in the thickly forested area near Edessa. Bohemond and Tancred commanded the right flank while Baldwin le Bourcq led the left flank with his cousin Joscelin d’Courtenay* (Asbridge, 138-139).

Almost immediately a contingent of Turkish warriors feigned retreat. The Edessene cavalry, believing they were victorious, hotly pursued the Turks. But they were horribly duped. The rest of the Turkish army – those warriors who had concealed themselves in the forest – emerged from their hiding spots and massacred the Edessene troops to a man.

Meanwhile, on the plain of Harran, Baldwin and Joscelin were taken captive while many of their troops were massacred or taken as prisoner, only to be sold in the slave markets later on. The exact numbers of Frankish survivors is unknown, but Bohemond and Tancred escaped the bloodbath with a number of other Frankish warriors: Tancred retreated to Edessa to defend the city while Bohemond hastened back to Antioch to gather reinforcements.

The Turks, high on their victory, followed Tancred to Edessa, determined to take back that county from the Franks. Tancred quickly realized that Edessa was in serious trouble. Not only were there thousands of Turks camped outside the city walls, Edessa was practically defenseless. There were few, if any Frankish warriors present to defend the city. The Armenians were poorly skilled warriors and, to make matters worse, they distrusted Tancred.

Tancred had to do something quick if he was going to save his life and the County of Edessa. So, he sent a letter to his uncle, explaining the situation and urging him to come to Edessa’s relief. In response, Bohemond raised a small army – about 700 men – and set out for Edessa despite the fact that the Turks of Aleppo had just invaded his principality.

Bohemond’s arrival at Edessa was timely. It was early in the morning; the sun had scarcely begun to rise and the Turks were still sleeping soundly in their tents. In fact, many of them were intoxicated after having drunk much wine and ale the previous night. Bohemond, his men and Tancred seized the opportunity and pounced on the Turks. They killed most of them; only a few Turkish warriors escaped the slaughter.

*Joscelin d’Courtenay was a wealthy nobleman who hailed from Northern France. He made his way to the Holy Land sometime after the ill-fated 1101 crusades. Like most other crusaders, Joscelin decided it was his duty to fight for the cross, but with the intention to obtain an eastern lordship for himself. His close relation to Baldwin le Bourcq made his quest for land and wealth a rather easy accomplishment because he was awarded the lordship of Tell Bashir. Until the fall of Jerusalem to Salah-ad-Din in 1187, the d’Courtenay’s would play a significant role in the affairs of the Eastern Monarchy.

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Tancred: Prince of Antioch

While Baldwin I worked tirelessly to expand the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in Syria Tancred ruled the principality of Antioch. Just like Baldwin, Tancred invested a lot of energy and devotion. He was also a skilled warrior himself and he was ambitious.

Tancred quickly gained the respect and trust of Antioch’s inhabitants. He also made Antioch more secure by enlarging its garrison and, like Baldwin, he worked tirelessly, expanding the principality. When Bohemond was in power, the Armenian Christians of Cilicia switched their allegiance to the Byzantine Emperor. Determined to keep Cilicia under Latin control, Tancred put them to the sword, forcing the Armenian Christians to recognize him as their overlord.

Tancred realized that, in order to open up communications with the west and with the Kingdom of Jerusalem – two things that would fill his coffers and stimulate Antioch’s economy – he needed to control the neighboring port cities. Latakia was the nearest, largest and wealthiest port city in western Syria. For those reasons, Tancred wanted to add Latakia to his principality’s domain, but Latakia belonged to the Byzantiens. Though, it wouldn’t be that way for long. After a lengthy siege, Latakia fell to Tancred in 1103.

As successful as Tancred was, he still lived in his Uncle Bohemond’s shadow. Most, if not all of the Antiochenes viewed Tancred as a regent, ruling in Bohemond’s place. Tancred knew this and that’s most likely why he didn’t bother to help raise money for his uncle’s release. “It seemed that Bohemond’s return would be a hindrance to his (Tancred’s) continued prosperity,” wrote Ralph of Caen (quoted in Barber, 81). Ralph was right in his assumption of Tancred’s ambitions: Antioch was Tancred’s principality and he had no intention of giving it back to Bohemond. The task of raising money was left solely up to Baldwin le Bourcq, Count of Edessa and Bernard, Patriarch of Antioch. The Armenian Kogh Vasil, lord of two cities in the Upper-Euphrates, gave one-tenth of his income. His generosity was borne out of his desire to make an alliance with the Franks. It was a gesture that the Franks eagerly accepted.

Within a few years, the 100,000 gold coin ransom fee was raised and the Franks were able to pay for Bohemond’s release. Upon his release in 1103, Bohemond returned immediately to Antioch. Word of Tancred’s refusal to help raise money must have gotten back to Bohemond somehow because the day he returned to Antioch, he ousted Tancred and resumed control over the principality. He also stripped Tancred of his conquests in Cilicia and Latakia.

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Expansion and Consolidation: Growing the Kingdom

King Baldwin I used his military prowess, leadership skills and Muslim disunity to the Kingdom’s greatest advantage. Between 1104 and 1110, the Franks captured all of the coastal cities except for Tyre and Ascalon. Given how small Baldwin’s force was, it’s quite possible he wouldn’t have been able to capture all those towns and cities on his own. Sizeable fleets from Genoa, Pisa and Scandinavia came to King Baldwin’s aid and besieged the Muslim-held cities by sea while Baldwin’s force attacked by land.

Sometime in 1110, Baldwin turned his attention to Petra, a town located east of the Jordan River, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Not far from Petra was the Muslim caravan route that ran from Mecca to Asia Minor. The caravans that passed through the region, laden with silks, spices, jewels and pack animals, posed to make the young kingdom very wealthy. That’s why Baldwin coveted Petra. So, in December 1110, he rode at the head of an expeditionary force to Petra. However, Petra wouldn’t be the first city Baldwin would capture.

In 1115, Baldwin captured the city of Aqaba, a city located on the northern shores of the Dead Sea, in what is known as the Transjordan region. That same year, he built at castle on top of a hill that overlooked Aqaba and the plan of Edom. The castle – named Montreal – overlooked the Muslim caravan route. This enabled Baldwin to control commerce by obliging Muslim merchants and pilgrims passing through the Transjordan region to pay a toll fee.

Until Reynald of Chatillon took control of the castle Montreal in the latter half of the 12th century, caravans passed through Transjordan unharmed. The addition of Transjordan (known then as Oultrejordain) to the Kingdom of Jerusalem geographically divided the Muslim world in half. Aqaba’s somewhat close proximity to Egypt allowed the Franks to conduct raids into Egyptian territory, actions that would keep the Fatimid threat at bay for decades.

Populating the Kingdom

In every city Baldwin conquered, the Muslims inhabitants either fled or they were slaughtered. That left the Franks with empty cities. So, within the first decade of the 12th century, Baldwin encouraged western warriors and pilgrims to settle in Outremer by offering them incentives. Such incentives included houses and shops for cheap rent and trading enclaves. Baldwin extended those same incentives to Greek and Syrian Christians living throughout the Kingdom.
These incentives would create a kingdom that was vastly different than Europe.

A new race of people was bred. Frankish warriors who came to defend the kingdom settled, married Greek and Syrian women and had litters of children. Moreover, western warriors, especially those who had stayed in the Holy Land after the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, adapted quite quickly to the new climate and culture of the region. They adopted the lighter, brighter clothing styles of the Orient and learnt how to speak Farsi – some even learnt how to speak Greek. The intermingling of Greeks, Syrians and Europeans made Outremer a multi-cultural kingdom.

Baldwin’s Death

In March 1118, Baldwin led an expedition to the delta of the Nile River to see what key towns he could capture. However, not long into the expedition, Baldwin fell seriously ill. Weary, unable to fight off his illness, Baldwin was carried on a litter back towards Jerusalem. Unfortunately he never made it back to the Holy City. He died at el-Arish, a frontier fort located just beyond the borders of the very kingdom he had expanded and consolidated. His body was brought back to Jerusalem where it was buried in the Holy Sepulcher beside his brother, Godfrey.

Native and Latin Christians alike grieved deeply over Baldwin’s passing. Even the Muslims lamented over his death. Baldwin I was a harsh king; his ambitions knew no limits and he used them aggressively to expand the kingdom geographically. Yet, he was a generous and just king. Baldwin also displayed immense courage and prowess on the battlefield. Everyone – even his enemies – greatly admired and respected him, so his death seemed untimely. Fortunately for the Franks and for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, there were courageous and seasoned warriors fit for the job as King.

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Expansion and Consolidation

In the summer of 1105, three years after the Egyptians nearly crushed the crusaders in the plains of Ramla, they decided to strike again. This time, Baldwin was better prepared: his army consisted of 500 knights and 2,000 foot soldiers. But they were still vastly outnumbered. For the third time, the Franks confronted Al-Afdal’s forces on the plans near Ramla and for the third time, they narrowly escaped defeat. So, how was it the Franks were able to beat back Al-Afdal’s numerically superior army three times in a row?

Al-Afdal never thought to appoint a prudent and skilled military commander to lead his army. It takes much more than just strategy and artillery to ensure victory. Every army must have a military commander who demonstrates strong leadership skills and who instills disciplined behavior in the ranks, despite their success or failure in battle. Every Egyptian commander Al-Afdal appointed was weak and indecisive. Those character defects showed every time the Egyptians confronted the Franks. Al-Afdal himself was not talented in the warfare department. After suffering another humiliating defeat, the Egyptians retreated and did not attempt a fourth invasion of Palestine.

What about the Sunni Muslims at Damascus, on the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s eastern border? Had the Sunnis united with Fatimid Shi-ite Egypt, the Franks would have been driven out of Palestine in the opening years of the 12th century. But that was not to be because there was disunity within the Muslim realm. After suffering a defeat at the hands of the Franks at the Dog River in the fall of 1100, Duqaq of Damascus decided to leave the Franks alone. An enemy of Egypt, he decided he did not also want to become the Franks’ worst enemy. So, for that reason and also because he wanted to keep Egypt from invading Palestine, he let the Franks block Al-Afdal’s efforts of invasion and occupation.

When Tughtegin took control of Damascus after Duqaq’s death in 1104, Tughtegin pursued the same policy of neutrality with the Franks as had Duqaq. In 1109, Tughtegin and King Baldwin signed a treaty in which both Christians and Muslims agreed on the establishment of a demilitarized zone. Both Baldwin and Tughtegin recognized the lands east of the Sea of Galilee as the demilitarized zone. There would be no raids or any type of warfare in that region and both Muslim and Christian farmers were permitted to settle and till the land. This treaty was a strategic and lucrative move for both Muslims and Christians because the region east of the Sea of Galilee was very fertile and arable and it extended from the Yarmuk River in the south to the Golan Heights in the north.

Baldwin’s reciprocation of Tughtegin’s policy of neutrality was his method of pacifying the Muslim population without bloodshed. His policy also ensured expansion and consolidation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

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Battle of Ramla 1102

The Egyptians’ humiliating defeat near Ramla was not an end to the threat they posed to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Al-Afdal had the money to raise another large army and the determination to oust the Franks from Palestine. Sometime in May 1102 an Egyptian army under the command of Al-Afdal’s son, Sharaf al-Ma’ali arrived at Ascalon. Rather than advance on Jerusalem all together, Sharaf sent a contingent of knights ahead of the main army to raid the countryside.

Meanwhile, in Jaffa, King Baldwin was seeing off the surviving participants of the failed 1101 Crusade who had stopped in Jaffa to celebrate Easter before they made the overseas journey back to Europe. Among the 1101 Crusaders were Count Stephen of Burgundy, William of Acquitane, Hugh of Lusignan, Conrad, Constable of Germany and Stephen of Blois, a First Crusader who had abandoned the army during the siege of Antioch in 1098 and returned home, scorned as a coward by many, including his wife. Unfortunately for those crusaders, a storm blew up shortly after they left port, forcing them to turn back to Jaffa.

The time they re-entered the port at Jaffa, Baldwin learnt that another Egyptian force had entered Palestine. What he didn’t know was that the Egyptian force was a large field army. Baldwin falsely believed it was nothing more than a raiding party. Overconfident, Baldwin rode out to the plains near Ramla with only 200 knights, which included members of his household and the survivors of the ill-fated 1101 Crusade.

Much to their greatest dismay, the small Frankish force encountered a large army; modern historians estimate the Egyptian army at 20,000 troops. Baldwin must have been absolutely horrified and somewhat humiliated when he realized the error of his decision. But it was too late to turn back. The moment Sharaf al-Ma’ali spotted the tiny Frankish force, he pounced on them. Only Baldwin and a handful of knights managed to break through enemy lines. They fled to Ramla where they took sanctuary in a small, fortified tower. But they were quickly surrounded by the Egyptians, cut off entirely from all potential help and unable to mount any offensive. Death was certain. Either the Franks surrendered and died or died fighting. However, in the middle of the night, the Arab sheik whose pregnant wife Baldwin had spared and treated well, secretly slipped inside the tower and offered to help King Baldwin escape. For reasons unexplained Baldwin chose only five of his closest and fiercest knights to escape with him. It’s quite possible the men who remained inside the tower chose instead to fight to the death.

Under the cover of darkness, the Arab sheik led the six Franks out a small postern gate. But they were quickly spotted by some Egyptian warriors, hotly pursued and massacred almost to a man. Only King Baldwin managed to escape, but the Egyptians were determined to put him to the sword as well.

What followed was a wild goose chase. Baldwin hid in an overgrown thicket of canes, but the Egyptians set the undergrowth on fire. Baldwin narrowly escaped with minor burns. He then spent the next several days on the run, dodging Egyptian patrols who were riding up and down the rugged Judean countryside, searching for him.

Eventually Baldwin found his way to Arsuf. He entered the city utterly exhausted, hungry, dirty and in emotional distress. There were no doubts in his mind that what remained of his army were all massacred in the small tower at Ramla, but Baldwin feared the worst for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In the meantime, he was quickly overwhelmed by the urge to fulfill his basic needs, so he ate, drank and slept.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem, though, was not completely under siege. Somehow Hugh of Flachenberg, Lord of Tiberias learnt of the Egyptian invasion. So, he mustered a force of 80 knights and rode out at once to Arsuf, arriving just in time to renew a haggard Baldwin’s confidence.

Before Baldwin had reached Arsuf, the Egyptian army struck out North West and besieged Jaffa. Once again Queen Arda and her subjects found themselves trapped inside the city, surrounded on all sides by the enemy and not knowing what befell the king and his knights.

To strike deeper terror into their hearts, Sharaf employed a ruthless tactic. He had Gerbod of Windeke – a Frank who looked like King Baldwin – slaughtered. Sharaf’s men then cut Gerbod’s corpse to pieces, dressed them in purple robes and paraded them before the city walls, declaring King Baldwin’s death and ordering the Franks to surrender Jaffa.

Just as the Queen and her subjects planned for their escape, a fleet appeared to the north, bearing King Baldwin’s oriflamme. His oriflamme fluttered and shimmered in the bright May sunlight. The very sight of it filled the besieged Franks with hope. With the help of Hugh of Falchenberg, Baldwin saved Jaffa and the Kingdom of Jerusalem from near annihilation once again. At the sight of the strengthened Frankish force, the Egyptian army retreated to Ascalon.

Unfortunately, Baldwin’s prediction about what had happened to his army at Ramla came true. The morning after his escape, the Egyptians stormed the tower and butchered all of the Franks. Among the slain was Stephen of Blois. His bravery and courage finally blotted out the shame of his escape from Antioch four years previous.

It is presumed that the Egyptians took their time in Ascalon, preparing for a third invasion of Palestine. Their efforts gave the Franks time to recoup and reassemble their army. Having nearly lost his life and his kingdom, Baldwin was determined not to repeat that same mistake. Early that summer of 1102, Baldwin rallied troops from across the kingdom, including the Holy City itself. The contingent from Jerusalem brought with them the relic of the True Cross. All believed that it would bring about divine intervention on their behalf. Around the same time, a large pilgrim fleet from the west arrived in the port of Jaffa. They had come to defend the kingdom. King Baldwin was glad for their presence because they greatly strengthened his army. He now had the resources and a sufficient number of troops to launch a counter-attack on the Egyptians.

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Video: Military Strategy, Tactics Used During the Crusades

In this video on Real Crusades History, J Stephen Roberts and guest speaker Rand talk about military tactics and strategy used during the Crusades.

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