Aleppo was in a state of disarray in the second decade of the 12th century. The Sultan of Baghdad, seeing that as an opportunity to enhance his power in the Middle East, funded a new invasion into Frankish Syria. This time, he placed a Persian warlord, Bursuq of Hamadan in command of the army.
Luckily for the Franks, the feuding Muslim leaders of Syria felt threatened by Baghdad’s quest for more power. Tughtegin allied with his son-in-law, Il-ghazi of Mardin, the leader of the Artuqid dynasty. The two men seized control of Aleppo and then sent messages to Antioch to negotiate a peace treaty with Roger.
At first, Roger didn’t trust Tughtegin’s motives, but it seems that one of his leading vassals, Robert Fitz-Fulk the Leper had cultivated a close friendship with Tughtegin. On Robert’s advice, Roger accepted Tughtegin’s request for friendship. An alliance with Tughtegin and Il-ghazi worked to the Franks’ advantage because it acted as a buffer against their enemies. It also gave them a measure of time to prepare for the latest Turkish invasion.
Bursuq marched on Aleppo with the intention of using the city as a place from which to launch an invasion into the Principality of Antioch. However, he discovered that it was closed off to him. Tughtegin and Il-ghazi refused entry to him. So, he sought support from Shaizar for an attack on Antioch’s southern frontier (Asbridge, 157).
Meanwhile, Roger assembled an army of about 2,000 men and, accompanied by Baldwin of Edessa and Tughtegin, they marched to Apamea. There they set up camp and held their position until they were joined by the remaining forces of the Grand-Frankish alliance (known then as the Frankish-Muslim coalition). Tughtegin’s force of 10,000 men greatly enlarged the Frankish army, evening out the odds with their enemy.
Camped not far from the Franks, Bursuq led frequent raids into the Summaq plateau in attempts to provoke the Franks to engage in open battle. Maintaining order and restraint under such circumstances must have been exceptionally difficult for the Christian Knights – even their Muslim allies – to do, especially since they were keen in the destruction of their enemy. However, Roger commanded with an iron fist. He threatened to blind any man who broke his rank and pursued the enemy. Despite every effort of Bursuq to antagonize them, the Frankish-Muslim alliance held steadfast. Exhausted, Bursuq retreated with his army back towards Hama.
Believing that they had triumphed once again, the Frankish-Muslim coalition disassembled.
In the opening days of September, Roger learnt, much to his horror, that Bursuq’s withdrawal was a ruse. Bursuq had waited in Hama until the Frankish-Muslim coalition left Apamea and assumed their every-day activities in their respective counties. Bursuq then descended on the Principality of Antioch, cutting across the northern reaches of the Summaq Plateau and surrounding Antioch. Roger found his principality cut off from his allies, on the brink of being captured by the Turks. Baldwin of Edessa had remained in Antioch with a contingent of his troops, but Edessene presence wasn’t enough to repel the Turkish onslaught.
Roger was faced with the same dilemma as King Baldwin had two years previous: should he wait for the Frankish-Muslim coalition to come to his aid or risk direct confrontation with the Turks? Unwilling to let the Turks pillage Antioch’s south-eastern frontier, Roger chose the latter. He assembled a small army of around 500-700 Knights and between 2,000 and 3,000 infantrymen (Asbridge, 158). His force was small, no match for Bursuq’s numerically superior army. Roger stood a strong chance of being severely defeated and the Principality of Antioch, swiftly captured by the Turks. Roger was not ignorant of those potential consequences, but he pressed on with hot-headed tenacity. From Rugia, his army marched to intercept the Turks. They took with them the Antiochene relic of the True Cross, which was carried by the Bishop of Jabala. Like they had many times before, the Franks put all their faith in the holy relic and prayed – not doubt repeatedly – for divine intervention.
This time, luck was on their side, though military prudence preserved the Franks from near annihilation. As Roger and his army advanced through the Ruj Valley, Roger sent ahead scouts to search for Bursuq’s army. In the middle of September those scouts reported that Bursuq’s army was camped in the valley of Sarmin, not knowing that the Frankish army was nearby. Those scouts must have hid quite well so as not to be seen by Turkish warriors. Also, Bursuq had failed to send his own scouts to search the countryside for the Franks.
Roger launched a surprise attack, sending the Turks in a chaotic retreat to Tell Danith. The loot plundered from the Muslim camp was so plentiful that it apparently took Roger three days to split it amongst his men (Asbridge, 159). No doubt, Roger had enough left over to fill his own coffers.
Roger’s victory over the Muslims boosted his confidence and status amongst his contemporaries. Many historians have even likened him to Richard the Lionheart. Unfortunately for Roger, he would not gain another victory.