Siege of Nicaea, 14 May-19 June 1097

Siege of Nicaea, 14 May-19 June 1097

Nicolle, David, The First Crusade 1096-1099: Conquest of the Holy Land , Osprey Campaign Series, vol 132. The Osprey volume for the first crusade. Nicolle had a great depth of knowledge of middle-eastern history, which is reflected in this book.


THE SIEGE OF NICAEA I

In early May 1097 about two-thirds of the crusading army set out for Nicaea. The forces led by Godfrey, Robert of Flanders, Hugh of Vermandois, and the southern Italian Normans, currently in the care of Tancred, first congregated at the town of Nicomedia. Here they were joined by Peter the Hermit, beleaguered leader of the People’s Crusade, who had been eking out an existence around Constantinople and Bithynia since October 1096. Peter must have been glad to approach Nicaea from the north, rather than retrace his ill-fated steps from Civetot – a group of crusaders who took that route some weeks later were horrified and saddened to discover ‘many severed heads and bones of the dead lying on the plains near [the] sea’, the unholy graveyard of Peter’s followers. Coming from Nicomedia, the main army chose to follow the ancient Roman road running south over the mountains to Nicaea. This route was direct, but heavily overgrown, so 3,000 men were sent ahead to clear the way with axes and swords, and then mark the route with crosses, establishing a well-defined line of communication back towards Constantinople. On 6 May Godfrey and his companions reached Nicaea, but even at this late stage, as the crusaders approached their first Muslim target, they were woefully unprepared for what one contemporary would later call ‘the first storm of war’.

Serving the emperor

The crusade was still operating as a rough conglomeration of Latin armies, with little or no central co-ordination, much less organisation. Godfrey, Hugh, Tancred and Robert of Flanders seem to have moved on Nicaea without establishing a coherent plan of action, and their arrival was badly mistimed. When the city was reached on the 6th, their forces were left camped before it, isolated and inert, for eight dangerous days. It was not until the 14th, by which time Bohemond had arrived to solve the initial logistical problems surrounding the supply of food, that the crusaders moved in to lay siege to Nicaea. Even then they were fighting under strength, and it would be another two weeks before the full complement of the First Crusade’s armies was brought to bear. This rather ramshackle, piecemeal deployment was extremely risky. Only Kilij Arslan’s continued absence prevented an uncomfortable delay from becoming a potential disaster. The crusaders’ lack of co-ordinated action and purposeful leadership was to some extent a symptom of their relationship with Byzantium.

In besieging Nicaea, the crusaders were carrying out the emperor’s will. They had come to Constantinople with half-formed ideas of aiding the eastern Churches and marching on Jerusalem, perhaps expecting the emperor himself to take personal command of the expedition. Alexius had other ideas. He certainly wanted to direct and make use of the crusading armies – after all they had come east, at least partially, in response to his call for military aid – and his primary goal was the recovery of Nicaea. The Seljuq capital was far too close to Constantinople for comfort, but the city had stubbornly resisted all of Alexius’ attempts to recapture it. Indeed, one Greek source even suggested that ‘the emperor, who had thoroughly investigated Nicaea, and on many occasions, judged that it could not possibly be captured’. His plan was to throw his new weapon, the crusading horde, against the city, and then watch what happened from a safe distance. Alexius had absolutely no intention of leading the campaign in person, judging the ‘barbarian’ Franks to be too unpredictable and suspecting that this weapon might turn on its master. By avoiding direct involvement, Alexius was also able to maintain a thin façade of impartiality, leaving a door open for diplomacy and détente with Kilij Arslan should the siege fail. So it was that Alexius, ever the shrewd and calculating politician, established his camp at Pelekanum, to the west of Nicomedia.

It is true that the emperor put the interests of his empire above those of the crusade, even that he coldly exploited the Franks to further his own ambitions, and, on this basis, most modern historians have painted a picture of immediate tension and distrust when characterising the crusaders’ relationship with Byzantium at Nicaea. This image has been shaped by eyewitness sources, who wrote with the benefit of hindsight, knowing how later events would poison relations. In reality, the siege of Nicaea was a largely collaborative venture, in which Latins and Greeks co-operated effectively, and the crusaders willingly fought for the Byzantine Empire. Even though Alexius refused to participate in person, it was of course in his interests to see the crusaders succeed at Nicaea. To this end, he nominated military advisers to support and oversee the Franks. Manuel Boutoumites, one of his most experienced lieutenants, accompanied Godfrey and the first group of crusaders to arrive at Nicaea. Indeed, Manuel was initially granted entry into the city to discuss a negotiated surrender, but, when this fell through, he lent his military expertise to the Latin siege preparations. A few weeks later, a second adviser, Taticius, arrived at the head of 2,000 Byzantine troops, to command the Nicaea campaign. Later he would become Alexius’ chief representative among the crusaders. Taticius was an interesting choice a member of the imperial household and experienced in battle, he was reportedly ‘a valiant fighter, a man who kept his head under combat conditions’, but he was, at the same time, a eunuch. He had an excellent knowledge of Nicaea’s defences, having led the last Greek assault on the city more than a decade earlier. Taticius was a striking figure – born of half-Arab, half-Greek parentage, his nose had been cut off earlier in his military career and he wore a metal replica in its place.

Alexius also took steps to ensure that the crusaders had ready access to food and supplies. On his orders, the poorer Franks were given money and free provisions. Merchant ships were brought from across the Mediterranean to set up markets at the port of Civetot, where corn, meat, wine, barley and oil could be bought, while the traffic along the road back to Nicomedia must have been nearly constant. The Greeks were obviously committed to this complex web of logistical support, because, in spite of the immense size of the crusader army, we hear few reports of severe shortages or starvation. Later sieges would not always be so efficient.5

Even with Byzantine support, Nicaea’s defences presented a formidable challenge. Today the ancient city has crumbled to become little more than a backwater village. Iznik, as it is now named in modern Turkish, is still surrounded by decrepit fortifications, but its quiet, unassuming pace of life gives little sense of its place in history. It is hard to imagine that this was once one of the great cities of Rome and Byzantium. In 325 CE the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great, held a monumental Church council at Nicaea, attended by more than 300 bishops from across the known world, at which the Nicene Creed, which still serves to define the Christian faith, was adopted. When the First Crusade arrived in 1097 Nicaea remained an imposing stronghold. One Frankish eyewitness later recalled:

Nicaea [was] a city well protected by natural terrain and clever fortifications. Its natural defences consisted of a great lake lapping at its walls and a ditch, brimful of runoff water from nearby streams, blocking the entrance on three sides. Skilful men had enclosed Nicaea with such lofty walls that the city feared neither the attack of enemies nor the force of any machine.

Located in a fertile basin, surrounded by hills, Nicaea lies on the eastern shore of the massive Askanian Lake, which stretches to more than forty kilometres in length. To the north, east and south a defensive wall, five kilometres long, enclosed the remaining three sides of the city, reaching to ten metres in height, punctuated by more than a hundred towers, and reinforced by a double ditch. Its capture would be no simple task, but the crusaders had one major advantage – sheer weight of numbers. When the siege began, in mid-May, the Franks were able to blockade only the city’s northern and eastern gates, but by early June, with the majority of the crusader forces now assembled, it became possible to encircle Nicaea’s land walls.

In command of the masses

This was the first time that the main army of the First Crusade had come together. Franks, Greeks and Muslims alike were awestruck by the spectacle. One Byzantine contemporary described the crusaders as ‘a countless multitude of locusts, so great as to resemble clouds and overcast the sun when it flew’. A Latin eyewitness recalled, ‘Then the many armies there were united into one, which those who were skilled in reckoning estimate at 600,000 strong for war. Of these there were 100,000 fully armed men [and a mass of] unarmed, that is clerics, monks, women, and little children.’

Medieval writers were notoriously poor judges of manpower, and these figures were probably a gross exaggeration, wild guesses designed to convey the enormous scale of the army. Even so, the First Crusade did represent the largest single mobilisation of European troops in centuries. At our best estimate, some 75,000 Latins gathered at Nicaea, of whom perhaps 7,500 were fully armed, mounted knights and a further 5,000 were infantry. This was, of course, a composite force, one mass made up of many smaller parts. All shared a common faith – Latin Christianity – but in other ways they were quite disparate, drawn from across western Europe, born into diverse political and cultural surroundings. Many had been enemies before the expedition began. They even faced a profound communication barrier: Fulcher of Chartres remarked, ‘Who ever heard such a mixture of languages in one army, since there were French, Flemings, Frisians, Gauls, Allobroges, Lotharingians, Allemani, Bavarians, Normans, English, Scots, Aquitanians, Italians, Dacian, Apulians, Iberians, Bretons, Greeks and Armenians? If any Breton or Teuton wished to question me, I could neither understand nor answer.’

To make matters worse, the crusade had no single leader. The pope’s legate, or representative, Adhémar of Le Puy, could claim spiritual primacy, but overall strategic command could be contested by up to seven of the most powerful crusading lords, or princes. By the dictates of military logic, this would appear to have been a recipe for disaster. At Nicaea, the crusaders were, for the first time, forced to confront this problem. The Emperor Alexius might be the nominal leader of the campaign, but he had absented himself from the siege and, while his lieutenant Taticius was the official commander-in-chief, in practice he never wielded total power. From Nicaea onwards, the crusaders were forced to feel their way towards an organisational structure, through a process of experimentation and innovation. Within a few weeks they instituted a new decision-making structure – a council of princes – in which the highest echelon of crusade leaders, men such as Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond of Taranto, met to discuss and agree policy. On the whole, this system was remarkably successful. One of its first pronouncements saw the creation of a common crusader fund through which all plunder could be channelled and redistributed.

It was the council of princes that decided to adopt what might be termed a combined siege strategy to overcome Nicaea’s defences. In this method two styles of siege warfare were deployed simultaneously. On the one hand, the Franks sought to blockade the city, cutting it off from the outside world and grinding it into submission through physical and psychological isolation, in a close-encirclement siege. At the same time, the crusaders actively pursued the more aggressive strategy of an assault siege. This involved building various machines of war – catapults, battering-rams, bombardment screens – which might allow them literally to bludgeon their way into the city through direct attack. On 14 May 1097 Bohemond and the southern Italian Normans made camp before Nicaea’s northern gate, while Godfrey of Bouillon and Robert of Flanders were deployed to the east, and work began on a series of siege engines.

The crusaders’ arrival terrified the Turkish garrison of Nicaea. The city would probably have been manned by no more than a few thousand troops, each aware that Nicaea offered irresistibly ripe pickings to the massive Frankish horde. Kilij Arslan’s capital stood not only as a bastion of the sultan’s military and political pride, it was also home to his treasury. Under these circumstances, the garrison rightly judged that the crusaders would throw every resource into the siege. Against such odds, the Turks could not hope to prevail, and so in the second week of May they came close to agreeing terms with Manuel Boutoumites, the emperor’s envoy. But, suddenly, they changed their minds and expelled him from the city.


Siege Of Nicaea

The Siege of Nicaea took place from May 14 to June 19, 1097, during the First Crusade.

Nicaea, located on the eastern shore of Lake Ascanius, had been captured from the Byzantine Empire by the Seljuk Turks in 1077, and formed the capital of the Sultanate of Rüm. In 1096, the People's Crusade, the first stage of the First Crusade, had plundered the land surrounding the city, before being destroyed by the Turks. As a result, Sultan Kilij Arslan I initially felt that the second wave of crusaders were not a threat. He left his family and his treasury behind in Nicaea and went east to fight the Danishmends for control of the Melitene.

The crusader armies crossed over into Asia Minor throughout the first half of 1097, and were joined by Peter the Hermit and the remainder of his little army. Alexios also sent two of his own generals, Manuel Boutoumides and Taticius, to assist the crusaders. Their first objective was Nicaea, an old Byzantine city, but now the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rüm under Kilij Arslan I. Arslan was campaigning against the Danishmends in central Anatolia having left behind his treasury and his family, and having underestimated the strength of these new crusaders. The city was subjected to a lengthy siege, and when Arslan heard of it, he rushed back to Nicaea and attacked the crusader army on 16 May. He was driven back by the unexpectedly large crusader force, with heavy losses being suffered on both sides. The siege continued but the crusaders had little success, as they could not blockade the lake on which the city was situated, and from which it could be provisioned. Alexios therefore sent them ships, rolled over land on logs, and at the sight of them the Turkish garrison surrendered on June 18. The city was handed over to the Byzantine troops, which has often been depicted as a source of conflict between the Empire and the crusaders Byzantine standards flew from the walls, and the crusaders were forbidden from looting the city or even entering it except in small escorted bands. However, this was in keeping with the oaths made to Alexios, and the emperor ensured that the crusaders were well-paid for their support. As Thomas Asbridge says. "the fall of Nicaea was a product of the successful policy of close co-operation between the crusaders and Byzantium." The crusaders now began the journey to Jerusalem. Stephen of Blois, in a letter to his wife Adela, wrote that he believed it would take five weeks In fact, the journey would take two years.


Defeat of Kilij Arslan

On May 16, the Turkish defenders sallied out to attack the crusaders, but the Turks were defeated in a skirmish with the loss of 200 men. The Turks sent messages to Kilij Arslan begging him to return, and when he realized the strength of the crusaders he quickly turned back. An advance party was defeated by troops under Raymond and Robert of Flanders on May 20, and on May 21, the crusader army defeated Kilij in a pitched battle which lasted long into the night. Losses were heavy on both sides but in the end the Sultan retreated, despite the pleas of the Nicaean Turks. The rest of the crusaders arrived throughout the rest of May, with Robert Curthose (accompanied by Ralph de Guader) and Stephen of Blois arriving at the beginning of June. Meanwhile Raymond and Adhemar built a large siege engine, which was rolled up to the Gonatas Tower in order to engage the defenders on the walls while miners mined the tower from below. The tower was damaged but no further progress was made.


The crusaders had left Nicaea on 26 June 1097, with a deep distrust of the Byzantines, who had taken the city without their knowledge after a long siege. In order to simplify the problem of supplies, the Crusader army had split into two groups the weaker led by Bohemond of Taranto, his nephew Tancred, Robert Curthose, Robert of Flanders, and the Byzantine general Tatikios in the vanguard, and Godfrey of Bouillon, his brother Baldwin of Boulogne, Raymond IV of Toulouse, Stephen II, and Hugh of Vermandois in the rear.

On 29 June, they learnt that the Turks were planning an ambush near Dorylaeum (Bohemond noticed that his army was being shadowed by Turkish scouts). The Turkish force, consisting of Kilij Arslan I and his ally Hasan of Cappadocia, along with help from the Danishmendids, led by the Turkish prince Gazi Gümüshtigin. Contemporary figures place this number between 25,000-30,000, more recent estimates are between 6,000 and 8,000 men. [1] [2] However, several sources give absurdly high Turkish numbers: 150,000 men according to Raymond of Aguilers and 360,000 men reported by Fulcher of Chartres, neither of which were possible due to the lack of supplies for so many men and horses, and the Turkish use of hit-and run horse archer tactics, indicating a smaller army.

Bohemond's force probably numbered about 10,000 (not counting a large number of noncombatants), the majority on foot. Military figures of the time often imply perhaps several men-at-arms, spearmen, archers or crossbowmen per knight (i.e., a stated force of 500 knights is assumed to contain an additional 1,500 soldiers), so it seems reasonable that Bohemond had with him approximately 2,000 cavalry and 8,000 foot soldiers.

On the evening of 30 June, after a three-day march, Bohemond's army made camp in a meadow on the north bank of the river Thymbres, near the ruined town of Dorylaeum (many scholars believe that this is the site of the modern city of Eskişehir).

On 1 July, Bohemond's force was surrounded outside Dorylaeum by Kilij Arslan. Godfrey and Raymond had separated from the vanguard at Leuce, and the Turkish army attacked at dawn, taking Bohemond's army (not expecting such a swift attack) entirely by surprise, shooting arrows into the camp. Bohemond's knights had quickly mounted but their sporadic counterattacks were unable to deter the Turks. The Turks were riding into camp, cutting down noncombatants and unarmoured foot soldiers, who were unable to outrun the Turkish horses and were too disoriented and panic-stricken to form lines of battle. To protect the unarmoured foot and noncombatants, Bohemond ordered his knights to dismount and form a defensive line, and with some trouble gathered the foot soldiers and the noncombatants into the centre of the camp the women acted as water-carriers throughout the battle. While this formed a battle line and sheltered the more vulnerable men-at-arms and noncombatants, it also gave the Turks free rein to maneuver on the battlefield.

The Turkish mounted archers attacked in their usual style - charging in, shooting their arrows, and quickly retreating before the crusaders could counterattack. The archers did little damage to the heavily-armoured knights, but inflicted heavy casualties on their horses and on the unarmoured foot soldiers. Bohemond had sent messengers to the other Crusader army and now struggled to hold on until help arrived, and his army was being forced back to the bank of the Thymbris river. The marshy riverbanks protected the crusaders from mounted charge, as the ground was too soft for horses, and the armoured knights formed a circle protecting the foot soldiers and noncombatants from arrows, but the Turks kept their archers constantly supplied and the sheer number of arrows was taking its toll, reportedly more than 2,000 falling to horse-archers. Bohemond's knights were impetuous - although ordered to stand ground, small groups of knights would periodically break ranks and charge, only to be slaughtered or forced back as the Turkish horses fell back beyond range of their swords and arrows, while still shooting at them with arrows, killing many of the knights' horses out from under them. And although the knights' armour protected them well (the Turks called them 'men of iron') the sheer number of arrows meant that some would find unprotected spots and eventually, after so many hits, a knight would collapse from his wounds.

Just after midday, Godfrey arrived with a force of 50 knights, fighting through the Turkish lines to reinforce Bohemond. Through the day small groups of reinforcements (also from Raymond, and Hugh, as well as Godfrey) arrived, some killed by the Turks, others fighting to reach Bohemond's camp. As the Crusader losses mounted, the Turks became more aggressive and the Crusader army found itself forced from the marshy banks of the river into the shallows. But the Crusaders held on, and after approximately 7 hours of battle, Raymond's knights arrived (it is unclear if Raymond was with them, or if they arrived ahead of Raymond), launching a vicious surprise attack across the Turkish flank that turned them back in disarray and allowed the Crusaders to rally.

The Crusaders had formed a line of battle with Bohemond, Tancred, Robert of Normandy, and Stephen on the left wing, Raymond, Robert of Flanders in the centre and Godfrey, Robert of Flanders, and Hugh on the right, and they rallied against the Turks, proclaiming "hodie omnes divites si Deo placet effecti eritis" ("today if it pleases God you will all become rich"). Although the ferocity of the Crusader attack took the Turks by surprise, they were unable to dislodge the Turks until a force led by Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, the Papal legate, arrived in mid-afternoon, perhaps with Raymond in the van, moving around the battle through concealing hills and across the river, outflanking the archers on the left and surprising the Turks from the rear. Adhemar's force fell on the Turkish camp, and attacked the Turks from the rear. The Turks were terrified by the sight of their camp in flames, and by the ferocity and endurance of the knights, since the knights' armour protected them from arrows and even many sword cuts, and they promptly fled, abandoning their camp and forcing Kilij Arslan to withdraw from the battlefield.

The crusaders did indeed become rich, at least for a short time, after capturing Kilij Arslan's treasury. The Turks fled and Arslan turned to other concerns in his eastern territory. Arslan punitively took the male Greek children from the region extending from Dorylaeum to Iconium, sending many as slaves to Persia. [4] On the other hand, the crusaders were allowed to march virtually unopposed through Anatolia on their way to Antioch. It took almost three months to cross Anatolia in the heat of the summer, and in October they began the siege of Antioch.

With the Crusader army moved onwards towards Antioch, the Emperor Alexios I achieved part of his original intent in inviting the Crusaders in the first place: the recovery of Seljuk-held imperial territories in Asia Minor. John Doukas re-established Byzantine rule in Chios, Rhodes, Smyrna, Ephesus, Sardis, and Philadelphia in 1097–1099. This success is ascribed by Alexios' daughter Anna to his policy and diplomacy, but by the Latin historians of the crusade to his treachery and falseness.

The Gesta Francorum did praise the Turkish army's bravery and superhuman efforts at Dorylaeum. It mentioned:

Had the Turks been Christian, they would have been the finest of races.


Byzantine Military

The Siege of Nicaea took place from May 14 to June 19, 1097, during the First Crusade.

Nicaea, located on the eastern shore of Lake İznik, had been captured from the Eastern Roman Empire by the Seljuk Turks in 1081, and formed the capital of the Sultanate of Rüm.

Background to The First Crusade

The First Crusade (1096�) was the military expedition by Roman Catholic Europe to assist the Eastern Roman Empire and regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquests of the Levant (632�). Ultimately The Crusade resulted in the recapture of Jerusalem in 1099.

It was launched on 27 November 1095 by Pope Urban II with the primary goal of responding to an appeal from Eastern Roman Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who requested that western volunteers come to his aid and help to repel the invading Seljuq Turks from Anatolia. An additional goal soon became the principal objective—the Christian reconquest of the sacred city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and the freeing of the Eastern Christians from Islamic rule.

Alexios I Komnenos
The Emperor was deeply concerned
about this huge, aggressive and very
hungry western army looting and killing
their way right up to his city gates.

During the Crusade, knights and peasants from many nations of Western Europe travelled over land and by sea, first to Constantinople and then on towards Jerusalem.

The Seljuq Turks had taken over almost all of Anatolia after the Roman defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, with the result that on the eve of the Council of Clermont, the territory controlled by the Eastern Roman Empire had been reduced by more than half.

By the time of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, the Eastern Roman Empire was largely confined to Balkan Europe and the northwestern fringe of Anatolia, and faced Norman enemies in the west as well as Turks in the east. In response to the defeat at Manzikert and subsequent Byzantine losses in Anatolia in 1074, Pope Gregory VII had called for the milites Christi ("soldiers of Christ") to go to Byzantium's aid.

Until the Crusaders' arrival the Romans had continually fought the Seljuqs and other Turkish dynasties for control of Anatolia and Syria.

The four main Crusader armies left Europe around August 1096. They took different paths to Constantinople and gathered outside its city walls between November 1096 and April 1097 Hugh of Vermandois arrived first, followed by Godfrey, Raymond, and Bohemond. This time, Emperor Alexios was more prepared for the crusaders there were fewer incidents of violence along the way.

The size of the entire Crusader army is difficult to estimate various numbers were given by the eyewitnesses, and equally various estimates have been offered by modern historians. Crusader armies may have consisted of about 30,000󈞏,000 crusaders, including 5,000 cavalry. Raymond had the largest contingent of about 8,500 infantry and 1,200 cavalry.

Pope Urban II

The princes arrived in Constantinople with little food and expected provisions and help from Alexios. Alexios was understandably suspicious after his experiences with People's Crusade, and also because the knights included his old Norman enemy, Bohemond, who had invaded Byzantine territory on numerous occasions with his father, Robert Guiscard, and may have even attempted to organize an attack on Constantinople while encamped outside the city.

The Crusaders may have expected Alexios to become their leader, but he had no interest in joining them, and was mainly concerned with transporting them into Asia Minor as quickly as possible. In return for food and supplies, Alexios requested the leaders to swear fealty to him and promise to return to the Byzantine Empire any land recovered from the Turks.

Godfrey was the first to take the oath, and almost all the other leaders followed him, although they did so only after warfare had almost broken out in the city between the citizens and the crusaders, who were eager to pillage for supplies. Raymond alone avoided swearing the oath, instead pledging that he would simply cause no harm to the Empire. Before ensuring that the various armies were shuttled across the Bosporus, Alexios advised the leaders on how best to deal with the Seljuq armies that they would soon encounter.

In 1096, the People's Crusade, the first stage of the First Crusade, had plundered the land surrounding the city, before being destroyed by the Turks. As a result, Sultan Kilij Arslan I initially felt that the second wave of crusaders were not a threat. He left his family and his treasury behind in Nicaea and went east to fight the Danishmends for control of the Melitene.


The Collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The Roman defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 saw the total collapse of Roman eastern armies and provinces to the invasion of the Muslim Turks.
.
In a short 25 year period the Roman frontier was pushed back from Armenia in the far east to the walls of Constantinople itself. The Empire lost all all of their military recruiting grounds and the tax base of Asia Minor. It was a vicious body blow that the Empire never was able to recover from.
.
Eastern Roman Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, requested that western volunteers come to his aid and help to repel the invading Muslim Seljuq Turks. Pope Urban II put out a call for help. The result was the Crusades.

The First Crusade - Terry Jones

Left to right: Crusaders Godfrey, Tancred, Raymond, Bohemund

March to Nicaea

The Crusaders began to leave Constantinople at the end of April 1097. Alexius’s first goal was to recapture Nicaea, southeast of Constantinople.

The Seljuk Turks had captured this city and their Sultan, Kilij Arslan brazenly declared Nicaea his capital. They posed the greatest threat to Byzantium because of Nicaea’s close proximity to Constantinople. For that reason, it wouldn’t take much effort for the Turks to march north and invade Constantinople. Determined and ferocious, the Turks resisted every Byzantine attempt to re-conquer Nicaea. But now, Alexius had an immense Latin army at his disposal and he was prepared to unleash them, confident that they would drive the Turks out of Nicaea for good.

Since summer was fast approaching, Alexius was anxious to move the Crusaders along, and the Crusaders, themselves, were growing impatient.

It was a perfect time for the crusaders to lay siege to Nicaea because Kilij Arslan was embroiled in conflict with the Danishmend princes over the suzerainty of Melitene on his eastern frontier. His easy defeat of Peter the Hermit’s army taught Kilij Arslan that the crusaders were nothing more than a bunch of unskilled, rabble-rousers, so he did not fear them. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Just as he was the first prince to arrive in Constantinople, Godfrey of Bouillon was the first to march on Nicaea. He left Pelecanum sometime the end of April, his army joined by that of Bohemond’s which as commanded by Tancred, as well as Peter the Hermit and what remained of his following. Bohemond stayed in Constantinople and arranged with the emperor provisions for the crusaders: siege engines, food, armor and Byzantine soldiers.

Godfrey and Tancred’s combined forces arrived at Nicaea in early May, followed by those of Robert of Normany, Raymond, Count of Toulouse, the Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Stephen of Blois one month later.

The Crusaders saw almost right away that, to conquer Nicaea, would be no easy feat. It was heavily fortified: encircling the city was a 10 meter (33 foot) tall wall that was nearly 5 kilometers (3 miles) long in circumference. The wall boasted 114 towers from which warriors could keep watch for enemy advancement, and the western wall rose almost right out of Askanian Lake.

The only way to attack the city at its west end was by boat, but the Crusaders had no boats. Neither did the 2,000 Byzantine infantry — commanded by General Tatikios — who accompanied them. So, the one and only option to lay siege was to encircle the south, north and east walls, cutting Nicaea off from the outside world. Godfrey’s army blockaded the northern wall Tancred positioned his troops outside the eastern wall Raymond of Toulouse and the remaining princes took the southern wall.


The Walls of Nicaea
Southern gate triumphal arches were incorporated when the walls
were built. About 10,000 Seljuk Turks defended the city.

City wall around Nicaea

A section of the 5 miles of Roman walls still surrounding Nicaea.

The Siege of Nicaea

When Kilij Arslan learnt that the Crusaders had besieged Nicaea, he was caught off guard. He hastened back to his army, then marched on Nicaea with the intention to launch a surprise attack on the south wall. Kilij Arslan hid his army in the thickly wooded hills close to the city and, when he thought he could take the enemy by surprise, Kilij ordered his troops to attack.

But the Crusaders were not to be fooled: they were fully prepared to engage the Turks in battle. Prior to the Turkish ambush, they had caught a Turkish spy in their camp, forced him to reveal Kilij Arslan’s plans and abandon his sultan under pain of torture.

On May 16, the Turkish defenders sallied out to attack the Crusaders, but the Turks were defeated in a skirmish with the loss of 200 men. The Turks sent messages to Kilij Arslan begging him to return, and when he realized the strength of the crusaders he quickly turned back. An advance party was defeated by troops under Raymond and Robert of Flanders on May 20, and on May 21, the Crusader army defeated Kilij in a pitched battle which lasted long into the night. Losses were heavy on both sides but in the end the Sultan retreated, despite the pleas of the Nicaean Turks.

Faced no longer with the threat from Turks in the surrounding countryside, the crusaders refocused all of their energy on the siege. “Our men hurled the heads of the killed far into the city, that they (the Turks) might be the more terrified thereat,” the Gesta Account suggested. To the Christian warriors, catapulting heads of their enemy’s dead wasn’t enough: they placed some of those heads on spikes and paraded them around the walls in effort to strike greater terror into the hearts of the Turkish garrison, hoping that they will capitulate.

The Turks, though, were not willing to submit: they put up a fierce resistance against the Crusaders. In retaliation, they strung up dead Christian warriors along the wall and left them there to rot.

After spending several weeks fighting, unable to breech the thick walls, the Crusaders realized that, if they were to capture Nicaea, they had to employ more than one strategy. They had effectively blockaded Nicaea from the outside world, but the west wall was left open, leaving that side of the city open to receive supplies from allies.

The Crusaders couldn’t scale the walls with ladders as earlier attempts to do so had failed. They also couldn’t bombard the walls with stones using mangonels they couldn’t find stones large enough to penetrate those walls. So, instead, they bombarded the walls with light missiles while a contingent of troops attempted to undermine the walls by hand.

Another contingent of Christian warriors built a screen, made of oak that boasted a sloping roof. This screen was built to protect them from the onslaught of arrow heads, stones and boiling water or tar. They ran the screen up against the wall and began immediately to undermine the walls. “So they dug to the foundations of the wall and fixed timbers and wood under it and then set fire to it.

Nicaea Surrenders to Alexius I Comnenus

As June wore on, the early summer heat bore down upon the Crusaders, making their war against the Turkish garrison at Nicaea even more unbearable than it already was. But they were not all alone. All that time, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus made sure he was kept up to date on the siege. It was quite possible that his general commander, Tatikios, kept Alexius well informed. When no news of Nicaea’s capture came to his attention, Alexius decided to intervene.

The Crusaders, in the meantime, fought valiantly and ferociously, but the Turks displayed an equal level of military prowess. That was because Nicaea’s heavily fortified walls and aid from allies afforded them the ability to resist the Franks until Alexius showed up on the shores of Askanian Lake with a flotilla.

Emperor Alexius I chose not to accompany the Crusaders, but marched out behind them and made his camp at nearby Pelecanum. From there, he sent boats, rolled over the land, to help the crusaders blockade Lake Ascanius, which had up to this point been used by the Turks to supply Nicaea with food. The boats arrived on June 17, under the command of Manuel Boutoumites.


Byzantine Infantry
For the front line infantry the Composition
on Warfare (965 AD) describes a set of
minimal equipment consisting of a turban
over a thick felt cap and a coat (kavadion)
made of coarse silk quilted with cotton
wadding “as thick as can be stitched”. Leo's
Taktika implied that such troops might have
mail or lamellar, helmets and other armor.

“The Turks marvelled upon seeing them, not knowing whether they were manned by their own forces or the Emperor’s. However, after they recognized that it was the host of the Emperor, they were frightened even to death, weeping and lamenting,” the Gesta recorded.

It was at that point the Turks realized that if they continued to resist the now combined forces of Latins and Byzantines, they would all be massacred. So, they sent a letter to Alexius, expressing their desire to surrender the city, and begged for mercy to let them leave with their wives and children unharmed.

Without the Crusaders knowing, Alexius conducted terms of surrender with the Turkish garrison and graciously allowed them to purchase their freedom. The Byzantines also took much of the booty inside the city without the Crusaders knowing. Nicaea was, once again and to Alexius’s greatest delight, under Byzantine dominion.

The siege of Nicaea was a high point in Byzantine-Latin relations: Emperor Alexius was immensely satisfied because the crusaders had, thus far, accomplished what he had required, while the crusaders were – despite the heavy losses they suffered – revelling in their first victory.

Alexius planned to reward the Franks, but before he did so, he made those who did not swear the oath in Constantinople – namely Tancred and Baldwin of Boulogne – swear their oath of allegiance to him. They did so, but begrudgingly.

Regardless, all of the Crusaders – warriors and non-combatants alike — were grateful for the emperor’s generosity. According to Fulcher of Chartres, a chronicler of the First Crusade, “The Emperor ordered gifts to be presented to our leaders, gifts of gold, and silver, and raiment and to the foot-soldiers he distributed brass coins, which they call tartarons.” The emperor also made sure the poorer Franks were rewarded.

Aftermath

That task complete, Alexius provided the Latin princes with valuable advice: how to draw a battle line and how to lay an ambush. He even educated them on Turkish strategy and ordered Tatikios to accompany the Latin army with a small contingent of Byzantine soldiers.

Because they were preparing for the march south, further away from Constantinople, Alexius did not need to direct them as closely as he had at Nicaea. That is not to say he released the Crusaders from their duty to his empire. Alexius had every intention to direct them. Until the Crusaders reached the walls of Antioch, Alexius kept in contact with the princes.

The Crusaders left Nicaea on June 26, in two contingents: Bohemond, Tancred, Robert of Flanders, and Taticius in the vanguard, and Godfrey, Baldwin of Boulogne, Stephen, and Hugh of Vermandois in the rear. Taticius was instructed to ensure the return of captured cities to the empire. Their spirits were high, and Stephen wrote to his wife Adela that they expected to be in Jerusalem in five weeks.

On July 1, they defeated Kilij at the Battle of Dorylaeum, and by October they reached Antioch they would not reach Jerusalem until two years after leaving Nicaea.


Results of the Siege of Nicaea
The Crusader-Roman victory at Nicaea had captured the capital of the Seljuk Turks. The Crusader forces then poured into central Anatolia taking the battle to the Turks. The Roman forces of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos fanned out behind the Crusaders re-capturing towns and lands in western Anatolia from the Muslims.
.
The push into Western Asia and the Holy Land by the Crusaders provided the Romans a much needed breathing spell to regroup and reorganize their Empire.

The First Crusade 1096-99
Siege of Nicea - The Gesta Account
.
". . . we began to attack the city on all sides, and to construct machines of wood, and wooden towers, with which we might be able to destroy towers on the walls. We attacked the city so bravely and so fiercely that we even undermined its wall. The Turks who were in the city, barbarous horde that they were, sent messages to others who had come up to give aid."
.
"The Count of St. Gilles and the Bishop of Puy. The Count, approaching from another side, was protected by divine might, and with his most powerful army gloried in terrestrial strength. And so he found the Turks, coming against us here. Armed on all sides with the sign of the cross, he rushed upon them violently and overcame them. They turned in flight, and most of them were killed."
.
"However, there was a large lake on one side of the city, on which the Turks used to send out their ships, and go back and forth and bring fodder, wood, and many other things. Then our leaders counselled together and sent messengers to Constantinople to tell the Emperor to have ships brought to Civitote, where there is a fort, and that he should order oxen to be brought to drag the ships over the mountains and through the woods, until they neared the lake."
.
"Moreover, at earliest daybreak the ships stood in good order and hastened through the lake against the city. The Turks marvelled upon seeing them, not knowing whether they were manned by their own forces or the Emperor's. However, after they recognized that it was the host of the Emperor, they were frightened even to death, weeping and lamenting and the Franks were glad and gave glory to God."
.
"We were engaged in that siege for seven weeks and three days. Many of our men there received martyrdom, and, glad and rejoicing, gave back their happy souls to God. Many of the very poor died of hunger for the name of Christ."
Medieval Sourcebook: The Siege and Capture of Nicea
.
.
Account of Raymond d'Aguiliers
.
"We recognized, then, that the Emperor had betrayed Peter the Hermit, who had long before come to Constantinople with a great multitude. For he compelled him, ignorant of the locality and of all military matters, to cross the Strait with his men and exposed them to the Turks. Moreover, when the Turks from Nicea saw that unwarlike multitude, they cut them down without effort and delay to the number of sixty thousand. The rest, indeed, fled to a certain fortified place and escaped the swords of the Turks. The Turks, made bold and haughty by this, sent the arms and the captives which they had taken there to the Saracens and the nobles of their own race, and they wrote to the peoples and cities far off that the Franks were of no account in battle."

The Great Seljuk Empire


Byzantine arrival [ edit | edit source ]

Byzantine emperor Alexius I chose not to accompany the crusaders, but marched out behind them and made his camp at nearby Pelecanum. From there, he sent boats, rolled over the land, to help the crusaders blockade Lake Ascanius, which had up to this point been used by the Turks to supply Nicaea with food. The boats arrived on June 17, under the command of Manuel Boutoumites. The general Tatikios was also sent, with 2,000 foot soldiers. Alexius had instructed Boutoumites to secretly negotiate the surrender of the city without the crusaders' knowledge. Tatikios was instructed to join with the crusaders and make a direct assault on the walls, while Boutoumites would pretend to do the same to make it look as if the Byzantines had captured the city in battle. This was done, and on June 19 the Turks surrendered to Boutoumites.

When the crusaders' discovered what Alexius had done, they were quite angry, as they had hoped to plunder the city for money and supplies. Boutoumites, however, was named dux of Nicaea and forbade the crusaders from entering in groups larger than 10 men at a time. Boutoumites also expelled the Turkish generals, whom he considered just as untrustworthy (and indeed, these men tried to take their Byzantine guides hostage on their way to meet with the emperor). Kilij Arslan's family went to Constantinople and were eventually released without ransom. Alexius gave the crusaders money, horses, and other gifts, but the crusaders were not pleased with this, believing they could have had even more if they had captured Nicaea themselves. Boutoumites would not permit them to leave until they had all sworn an oath of vassalage to Alexius, if they had not yet done so in Constantinople. As he had in Constantinople, Tancred at first refused, but he eventually gave in.


Sources

    , Alexiad , Historia Hierosolymitana
  • Gesta Francorum (anonymous) , Historia francorum qui ceperunt Jerusalem
  • Hans E. Mayer, The Crusades. Oxford, 1965. , The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia, 1986. , The First Crusaders, 1095-1131. Cambridge University Press, 1951. , ed., A History of the Crusades. Madison, 1969-1989 (available online).
  • Warren Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, 1997.
  • David Nicolle, The First Crusade 1096-1099: Conquest of the Holy Land, Osprey Publishing, 2003.
  • John H. Pryor, Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 2006.

This entry is from Wikipedia, the leading user-contributed encyclopedia. It may not have been reviewed by professional editors (see full disclaimer)


The Christian Siege of Muslim Nicaea

Today in history, on May 14, 1097, witnessed the first clash between Western Crusaders and Muslim Turks: the siege of Nicaea.

In the years following the decisive Battle of Manzikert (1071), which saw the Seljuk Turks defeat the Eastern Roman Empire and conquer that ancient bastion of Christianity, Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), mindboggling atrocities followed. Whether an anonymous Georgian chronicler tells of how “holy churches served as stables for their horses,” the “priests were immolated during the Holy Communion itself,” the “virgins defiled, the youths circumcised, and the infants taken away,” or whether Anna Comnena, the princess at Constantinople, tells of how “cities were obliterated, lands were plundered, and the whole of Anatolia was stained with Christian blood” — the same scandalous tale of woe reached the West.

As a result, what came to be known as the First Crusade was launched. Paraphrasing Pope Urban II’s famous call at Clermont in 1095, Crusades historian Thomas Madden writes, “The message was clear: Christ was crucified again in the persecution of his faithful and the defilement of his sanctuaries.” Both needed rescuing both offered an opportunity to fulfill one of Christ’s two greatest commandments: “Love God with all your heart,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

Christians from all around Europe hearkened to the call and took the cross. By 1097, the major lords and knights had reached Constantinople, whence they were ferried into the lion’s den, Turkic-controlled Asia Minor. By May they reached Nicaea, site of Christendom’s first ecumenical council (325), where the Nicaean Creed, which is still professed by all major Christian denominations, was articulated. Now the capital of the Seljuk sultanate and occupied by the “enemies of the cross,” the Crusaders quickly laid siege to Nicaea, 924 years ago on this date, May 14.

It was long and brutal, but the Turks held their own from their high walls, the Muslims “shouted their war-like battle-cry in the horrible tones of their language” — the contemporary chronicler, Albert of Aachen, could not decipher the shrill cries of “Allahu Akbar!” — and “fired poisoned arrows so that even those lightly wounded met a […]


Episode 215 - The Siege of Nicaea

Alexios directs the Crusaders to Nicaea where they set up a siege. Behind the scenes though the Emperor was busy negotiating with the city's garrison.

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Avsnitt

An update on the schedule of the podcast, May 2021

An Update on the schedule of the podcast, May 2021

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Backer Rewards Episode 16 - Russia and Byzantium with Professor Sergey Ivanov

Our sixteenth Kickstarter backers reward episode looks at the relationship between Byzantium and the Rus and later Russia in conversation with Professor Sergey Ivanov.

Professor Ivanov is a Russian scholar who has been studying Byzantium for many decades. He currently works in the Institute of Oriental and Ancient Studies at the National Research University “Higher School of Economics” in Moscow.

He has written several books about Byzantium as well as contributing hundreds of articles to the field. His areas of study include Byzantine religious missions, the cultural influence of Byzantium on the Rus', Holy Fools and Constantinople itself. He has also taken part in public lectures and debates on the legacy of Byzantium in modern Russia.

To see his full list of publications please click here . His books ‘Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond’ and ‘Pearls before Swine: Missionary Work in Byzantium’ have been translated into English. As have a number of articles and other book chapters.

To read a public lecture which Professor Ivanov gave in 2009 about “The Second Rome as Seen by the Third: Russian Debates on the “Byzantine Legacy” please click here.

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Merchandise

High Speed History have Byzantine-themed merchandise available!

The good people over at Highspeedhistory.com have produced a range of delightful items featuring our beloved Byzantium. We’re talking t-shirts, hoodies, bags, clocks, towels and stickers amongst many other items.

I’m very pleased to say that some of your ideas have made their way into the collection. I asked for your input on social media and you came up with great ideas. If you want to celebrate your love of Justinian or Belisarius then an Empire Strikes Back t-shirt could be yours. Or if you’ve been dying to show your support for the Green faction or the Blues but they won’t let you in the Hippodrome anymore then fear not because a Green or Blue iphone case or mouse mat or t-shirt could be yours. Or what about the most adorable item of all – a baby grow with porphyrogennitos on it. Come on, how could you resist?

Please go to www.highspeedhistory.com/byzantium to check out the full range. If you decide to buy something then use the code ‘byzantium’ at checkout to get a pound or dollar off each item you purchase. And you’ll be helping out the podcast as I will get a little something for sending you there. Anyone can buy these items – they ship worldwide. And this discount also applies to any items you purchase from the Greek or Roman sections of the website. Yes High Speed History has merch from a variety of historical eras check them all out at highspeedhistory.com.

I also did a written interview for the site to lure in those of you who find me weirdly interesting. So if you want to know my favourite film or what I’d put on a billboard in a busy city then check out the interview here.

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Episode 225 - Belisarius in Metal

When I announced I would be taking a break back in the Autumn I received an email from listener Brian Sherry offering to produce an episode of the show for me. He told me about the metal band Judicator recording an entire album about Belisarius. And he very kindly offered to interview them on my behalf.

I said yes and Brian got lead singer and writer John Yelland on the phone and they talked about turning the life story of Justinian’s most trusted General into a full metal album.

Today's episode is an edited version of that interview. They talk through the concept and the choice of moments in Belisarius’ life to capture in song. And they play a few snippets of music to give you an idea of what the album sounds like.

If you’d like more then the full 2 hour interview is available on Judicator’s Youtube channel. And of course if you’d like to buy the album - Let There Be Nothing – go to judicatormetal.bandcamp.com or check it out on Amazon, Apple Music, Spotify or wherever you get your music.

I am still working on the bonus content I owe many of you. I will be back at some point in Spring with the narrative. For now enjoy the interview.

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Episode 224 - The Coup of Anna Komnene with Leonora Neville

Our final episode on Alexios' reign returns us to our first. Back in episode 197 we interviewed Professor Leonora Neville about Anna Komnene. That interview set us up to cover Alexios' reign and the First Crusade with Anna as our primary source. But the last question I asked that day was about the succession from Alexios to John and Anna's supposed coup attempt. Here we finally hear Professor Neville's argument that Anna did no such thing. We also briefly look at our main historian for our next period of narrative - Niketas Choniates.

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Episode 223 - Questions VIII

We look at your questions about Alexios and the Crusades. Listeners wanted an update on the state of Byzantium's army, economy and administration. How much credit or blame should Alexios get for the events of his reign? What about his relationship with his family? Were the Latins tougher fighters than the Byzantines? And several more.

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Schedule and Patreon Update.

Three new episodes are coming your way in the next three weeks. New narrative episodes will come at some point in the Spring. I am still busy working on the Istanbul videos and Byzantine Stories. Also we have a new Patreon https://www.patreon.com/historyofbyzantium. Bonus episodes will no longer be available at thehistoryofbyzantium.com from October 2021.

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An update on the schedule of the podcast

This is a short update about the podcast and the likely schedule for the next few months.

- The narrative will resume around Spring 2021

- In the meantime I will be producing bonus episodes and videos from Istanbul. As well as doing work for my Dad and taking a little time out for my mental health.

- At least two more free episodes about Alexios will be coming soon. Including a Q&A about his reign and the Crusades so do send your questions in. You can comment on the thread below.

Thanks for your support and understanding,

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Episode 222 - The Good Helmsman

Alexios tries to forge a coalition against Antioch but has to abandon his plans when Anatolia comes calling again. The Emperor leaves this world frustrated by his failure to outmanoeuvre the Normans but his record in office is impressive nonetheless.

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Episode 221 - The Triptych

Bohemond heads back to Western Europe to recruit a new army. He leads them back to the Balkans to capture Dyrrhachium but Alexios is waiting for him.

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Episode 220 - The Crusade of 1101

More armed pilgrims arrive at Constantinople in the wake of the fall of Jerusalem. Alexios advises them to avoid the Turks of Anatolia but they ignore him. Meanwhile Alexios' attempts to put pressure on Antioch are thwarted by Bohemond's nephew Tancred. Finally we return to Constantinople to check in with the Komnenian regime and watch a man get burnt to death.

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Episode 219 - A Spectacular Interruption or Jerusalem is now available

It's the end of the First Crusade and this episode is for sale. Either at the website or at https://www.patreon.com/thehistoryofbyzantium

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Episode 218 - The Siege of Antioch

The Crusaders set up a siege of Antioch. The vast size of the city makes it impossible to fully encircle. What follows is a battle of attrition as the Crusaders wait for the Turkic garrison to make a mistake and the garrison await reinforcements. Meanwhile Alexios makes his way to the centre of the Anatolian plateau to consolidate the return of Byzantine power. He also awaits news from Antioch.

Time Stamps - each section is broken up by our drum sound effect

03.06-08.47 Why did the Crusaders have to capture Antioch?

08.48-14.22 Baldwin at Edessa

14.23-17.14 The political fragmentation of Syria

17.15-27.35 The geography of Antioch

27.36-33.52 Early stages of the siege

33.53-46.35 Winter stalemate. Suffering and desertions. Bohemond and Robert of Flanders drive off forces from Damascus

46.36-54.42 Victory over the forces of Aleppo

54.43-62.18 More fully surrounding the city

77.10-84.24 The Crusaders besieged. Kerbogah attacks from the Citadel

84.25-87.46 Desperation and talk of surrender

87.47-92.03 Alexios goes home

92.04-100.19 The final battle

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Episode 217 - Diverging Paths

The Byzantines recover the West Coast of Anatolia while the Crusaders cross the plateau. As they travel the Westerners begin dropping like flies and come to hate the land they've come to liberate.

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Episode 216 - The Battle of Dorylaeum

The Crusaders march out from Nicaea on their way to Antioch. First stop is at Dorylaeum on the Anatolian plateau. But the forces of Kilij Arslan are lying in wait.

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Final reminder about the Intelligent Speech Conference

This is your final reminder about the Intelligent Speech Conference taking place this Saturday 27th June. I'll be taking part in two sessions and if you want to be there go to https://www.intelligentspeechconference.com/ to get tickets

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Episode 215 - The Siege of Nicaea

Alexios directs the Crusaders to Nicaea where they set up a siege. Behind the scenes though the Emperor was busy negotiating with the city's garrison.

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Basil II may have been gay! Intelligent Speech tickets still available for $10

Basil II may have been gay! Just one of the 'Hidden Stories' I'll be talking about at the Intelligent Speech Conference in a week's time. Tickets are still available for $10 until the 19th June.

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Buy Intelligent Speech tickets now! Prices going up!

I'm a part of two sessions at the Intelligent Speech Conference on June 27th. Please consider buying your ticket today before prices go up! https://www.intelligentspeechconference.com/

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Episode 214 - The Prince's Crusade

The senior nobles of the First Crusade make the journey to Constantinople. There Alexios asks them to swear an oath of allegiance to him.


Invasion of 727 and the siege of Nicaea

In summer 727, another large-scale invasion was led by Mu'awiyah, with Abdallah al-Battal heading the vanguard of the army.

The Byzantine chronicler Theophanes the Confessor claims that the vanguard alone numbered 15,000 men and the entire invasion force 100,000, clearly a grossly inflated number.

What is clear is this was a major invasion directed against The Opsician Theme , one of the most powerful themes in the Empire and located right next to Constantinople itself. In the chart above the Roman troops near Constantinople could have been in the 40,000 man range. Those Roman forces would have been divided among many cities to fend off Arab attacks.

The Arabs came prepared for battle with siege engines to knock down the walls of cities that opposed them. It is fair to assume if the Arabs came to take cities then they would have brought enough troops to outnumber the Romans. You do not lay siege to cities if the defenders outnumber you. Call the size of the Arab army at no less than 40,000 men.

The Arab army moved west into northwestern Asia Minor, and the vanguard under al-Battal attacked and sacked the town of Gangra in Paphlagonia and a place called in Arab sources Tabya (possibly the fort of Ateous in Phrygia).

Gangra was razed to the ground, but during the attack on Tabya the Arabs, especially the Antiochene contingent, are said to have suffered heavy losses.


Arab Cavalry


Arab Mailed Archer

The 7th century was another period from which few illustrations survive. The best-equipped infantry appear to have had short-sleeved mail hauberks and remarkably large shields, plus spears and swords. This man's helmet is based upon one found in Central Europe which may be of Byzantine form. The addition of the mail aventail is hypothetical, reflecting a high degree of Turkish and specifically Avar influence. His sword is based upon an unusual Scandinavian form which is itself likely to reflect Byzantine origins.

This trooper has been given a plumed cap over his helmet, as worn by warriors from Iran and the Caucasus. This could be the explanation for the otherwise extraordinary outlines of many helmets seen in 7th-9th century Byzantine art. Turkish and Avar influences can be seen on the belt, sword and bowcase, as shown by surviving fragments and pictorial sources.

3. Noble commander, late 7th century:

The first defensive campaigns fought against the first Islamic armies took a certain form, with the imperial forces struggling to match the mobility and speed of the Arab raiders, who were able to deprave the Roman commanders of the initiative not simply by virtue of their fast-moving, hard-hitting tactics, but also because the type of warfare they practised made any notion of a regular front untenable.

The Arab Islamic conquests radically altered the strategic and political geography of the whole east Mediterranean region. The complete failure of attempts to meet and drive back the invaders in open battle induced a major shift in strategy whereby open confrontation with the Muslim armies were avoided. The comitatenses field armies were first withdrawn to north Syria and Mesopotamia, shortly thereafter back to the line of the Taurus and Anti-Taurus ranges.

By the mid-640s the armies which had operated in Syria, Mesopotamia and Palestine had been withdrawn into Anatolia. The regions across which they were based were determined by the ability of these districts to provide for the soldiers in terms of supplies and other requirements. The field forces thus came to be quartered across Asia Minor and Thrace, where they were referred to by the Greek term for these districts, themata or themes.


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