Sometime in June 1119, news reached Roger at Antioch that Il-ghazi, the Artuqid Turk, had raised a large army and was marching on the Principality of Antioch. Upon hearing of this news, Roger appealed to Pons of Tripoli and to Baldwin II for aid. Pons and Baldwin II began at once to assemble their armies. They also advised Roger to wait for their arrival. However, the Antiochene landowners living near the Orontes River were under constant attack. Bands of Turks were raiding their land, destroying crops and no doubt, killing and raping the Antiochene Christians. They begged Roger to assemble his army and repel the Turkish army.
Roger himself did not want to wait until the grand Frankish coalition arrived to his relief. So, against the wishes of the Patriarch of Antioch, Bernard of Valence, Roger gathered a small army of about 3,700 warriors, including a corps of Turcopoles* and marched east of the Belus Hills, thinking that would be the best area to launch a surprise attack on Il-ghazi’s army (Thomas Asbridge, 163).
It was an ill fated and completely rash move on behalf of Prince Roger because, unbeknownst to him, Il-ghazi had planned a three-pronged attack on the crusaders. Though, highly confident in his military might and ardently believing he would win a smashing victory against the Turks like he had before, Roger camped his army in a valley located half way from Aleppo. This valley was known as the Bloody Camp. Roger thought this valley was well defended by rocky hills, but he did not know that Il-ghazi had planned to launch his attack in that very area.
On the night of 27 June 1119, “Roger learnt that the Turks had sacked the small village of Arthareb nearby” (Rita Stark, 62). That news greatly disturbed him and the rest of his army, but it was too late to turn back. The next morning, the few scouts who Roger had sent out to spy on the Turkish army, returned with the news that Il-ghazi had camped his army, 40,000 strong, at Athareb and was preparing to launch an assault on the Bloody Camp from three sides.
The crusaders sounded the bugle horns just as Il-ghazi closed in on them. Roger had scarcely enough time to assemble his troops in the formation ideal for a ruthless counter-attack. At first, victory seemed to be within his reach. The right flank of Roger’s army charged ahead of the rest of the small army and beat back the Turks. However, the Turkish army was so large and well organized, Il-gahzi’s troops effortlessly surrounded the Frankish army.
Historian Rita Stark writes that a strong wind blew up from the north, blowing sand in the Franks’ eyes, temporarily blinding them. This hardly seems a plausible reason for the Antiochene Franks’ bloody defeat because many Turks would have also been halted by the sand being blown in their eyes. In any case, the Antiochene army was utterly crushed at the Bloody Camp.
Roger must have realized in the last minutes of his life that he would never be able to face his comrades and be treated with the same valor and respect as he had before. Nor, could he live with the guilt of the fatal mistake he had just made. Rather than flee the battle scene, Roger charged the Turks. He was killed instantly when a Turkish warrior thrust a sword through his nose and into his brain. Roger fell dead before the fragment of the True Cross, but his death was far from heroic. The priest who had carried the fragment of the True Cross was slain shortly after.
According to 12th century chroniclers, following the death of the priest who had carried the True Cross, the Turks went so mad with greed over the gold and precious stones that adorned the crucifix, they began slaughtering each other (Asbridge, 164). Whether that actually happened is unknown. Most likely the medieval chroniclers of the time propped the disastrous battle up to make it not so catastrophic.
Only a few Antiochene soldiers survived. A Muslim chronicler from Damascus declared the battle as ‘one of Islam’s finest victories’ (Asbridge, 165). It was a defeat like no other. It was so bloody and devastating, the Antiochene’s named the Bloody Camp the Field of Blood.