Crusade for Jerusalem 1169-1172. Part 1
Kingdom of Jerusalem consisted of 4 Duchies. First and foremost, Jerusalem itself, the pearl of Holy Land. Norman since 1157, for about 12 years. Then, there is Dukedom of Galilee, first target of the Normans. Conquered by Asclettin the Great in 1145, being bridgehead of Europe and the target of the First Crusade. Then there is Ascalon, latest of the Norman conquest and the first successful war of Bohemond III, ended in 1165, just 4 years ago. For over 2 decades, Normans had been spilling their blood in the name of the Holy Land. They have not taken only the last Duchy, the Duchy of Oultrejordain. Not as much because the Duchy was hard to take, but because it offered no value. Poor provinces, desert, not much strategic value. And then the Pope had audacity to call for a Crusade for the Holy Lands! No matter though- Bohemond would show other European rules how to fight.
Dukedoms of Jerusalem. Picture taken at a bit later date.
By June 1169, most of Bohemond’s personal troops had arrived in Holy Lands. Rest of Sicily was following close behind. Papal and Croatian troops were moving toward Negev, and they fought the first battle of the war there, beating small Caliphate forces in the province. There, they laid siege on the province. Normans on the other hand split into two. 12 000 under command of Bohemond himself marched to Kerak while smaller army of other Sicilians marched to Madaba.
The main main enemy in Oultrejordain is not the bravery of soldiers or the might of fortresses. The main enemy is the land itself. Desert, few oasis, no shade from the scorching sun. Lack of water and lack of food made the troops suffer, their armour did not offer as much protection, but was more like frying pan, the heat was unbearable for even Normans who have had over 100 years to get used to southern climate.
Kerak fell in October 1169 and Normans marched on to Monreal. Meanwhile, smaller army had made progress in Madana, capturing one holding there. Indeed, Normans showed the world how to fight- by December, three of four provinces had been taken by Normans. But the losses were almost unbearable- the cruel desert had claimed more then half of Normans lives. Still, Bohemond had saw, came and conquered, making him the topmost Crusader and showing that Jerusalem is his and he will defend it. Meanwhile, other Crusaders were either aimlessly marching around in Holy Land (and occasionally marching right into province Bohemond was sieging, making the supply situation even worse) or sitting in Negev, trying to siege the province. But armies of the Caliph were marching in...
Battle of Negev, January 1170
The battle wasn’t that big. There was about 5000 Muslims and 4000 Christians. The odds were still not in Christian favor. Though Bohemond detested the troops for not being under his command and actually wished they would be dead, he decided to help out. The siege had been going on for about half a year and there would be hope that the castle would fall soon. So, Normans marched to Negev in order to reinforce the Christians there.
Just in time too- Muslim forces were already in the process of encircling the Christians and the battle was well lost when Bohemond’s cavalry crashed their rearguard, blew them aside and attacked the main force. Followed by infantry that poured into gaps in Muslim defences, a melee begun and soon a certain Muslim victory was turned into total defeat. Other Christians who had been prepared to die were in shock from Norman assault and it took them awhile to gather their bearings. Only then did they charge on their own and the Muslim forces were crushed between anvil and hammer. Just a few survived and the battle was won.
The Battle of Negev
And the result of the battle
To Bohemond’s great surprise, Bartol I was crowned as the victor of the battle. Despite some bad tactical choices of the King that had lead to encirclement and the fact that it was the Normans who won the day and beat the enemy, the Pope refused to acknowledge Normans as the rightful winners of the day.
Even worse- the defenders of Negev saw the battle from the castle. There was still enough Christians guarding it so they couldn’t join the battle, but they saw the Muslim relief force arriving, slowly pushing Christians back and finally going for a total victory. They cheered on their walls, for the siege had been going on for a bit over half a year and they were starving, thirsty and tired. Looked like it was going to end soon. They were also the first ones to see the dust clouds on the horizon, coming from direction of Monreale. And they were the first to see that the ones arriving were the Normans. They watched from their ramparts, helpless, and Bohemond and his soldiers massacred the relief army.
Imagine what that sight did to the morale of the defenders... Bohemond, still covered in blood of the heathens, noticed that too. He eyed the castle, saw the formidable defences. Still, it was nothing special, for he and his men had assaulted worse ones. Plus, the demoralized and exhausted garrison would not be able to put up a tough fight. He turned towards Bartol, King of Croatia and said: “Assault?”
It was Bartol’s time to eye the fortress. He had done much of that during the half a year and saw the impenetrable defenses. High walls, towers above them, moat, portcullis, kill zones, all meant to slaughter him and his men. He did not see beyond walls, did not see men who were starving and who just witnessed their relief army massacred. He did not see the cracks in walls, did not see the perfect place to put siege ladders. He just saw walls with men with nasty bows and deadly arrows on top. He shrugged.
“As the leader of this siege,“ Bartol declared, “I see no need to risk the lives of my men on a castle that is already ready to surrender.”
Other Christian leaders looked at the castle, shuddered and nodded. It was obvious that there would be no glorious assault, so Bohemond left. Norman troops were loudly mocking the cowardly Christians as the Norman army marched North. It took Negev for about a half a year to surrender. It happened in late June 1170.
A bit after the battle of Negev- Bohemond resting in Jerusalem (and that 4000 soldiers is all that is left from 12 000), but most of the Crusade targets safely in Norman hands.
The Pope Loves to Siege!
Normans with their quick assaults took most of the Crusade targets, leaving only Negev, a 1 holding county, to other Crusaders. Since the lands of Oultrejordain and neighbouring Syria were not the most hospitable, then Bohemond’s plan would be to wait out, defending the current holdings and not to risk an invasion into these inhospitable lands.
Pope disagreed. To him, any day away from the front lines was a travesty, a sign of person not being true Christian. He had declared before that the Kingdom would go to the ruler who did the most in this war, and to him Bohemond’s quick and efficient sieges did not matter that much. Instead, he should have waited for month outside the walls, for sieges make the war score go up.
At the moment, Sicily was leading, but Croatia was coming close, for the siege of Negev still continued and Pope confused incompetence and cowardice with competence. To make it simple- to win this war, Bohemond had no choice but to move his armies to the east, into territory of Syria. He did not like it, for the war would be won without invasions there, but he was forced to do that. So, he moved his armies east. Bigger one to Maan, smaller one to Irbid and instead of assaulting, started the sieges as a proper Christian should do.
The tactic was meant that the advance was slow and sieges took the toll out of both armies, until there was together a bit over 10 000 Normans in the Holy Lands. But the Pope approved and the position of Bohemond was clearly on a top as a winner of the Crusade. But the troops he had had became so low on numbers that he hired mercenaries to fight with him.
Time moved on, sieges slowly advanced, year passed. Seeing the success of the Crusade, even more European rulers joined, including the Holy Roman Emperor. By the way, a new one, called Otto IV and first Emperor from Nordheim family. The Salian rule was over. But the war still continued.
Battle of Irbid, June 1171
It was actually a small battle. 4000 Normans versus 5000 Caliphate soldiers. The siege had been going on for over a year and Normans just got careless and lazy. They had lost over 1000 men to small skirmishes, hunger, diseases and all other things that make long sieges bad. Plus, they had left their guard down, so the Muslim army did surprise them before they could retreat.
Normans abandoned the siege and met the enemy in the field of battle, but the sheer number of fresh Muslims against exhausted and bored Normans meant that the battle could only end up in one way. Soon, the lines of Normans were broken and instead of more or less disciplined soldiers, the Normans became a panicked mass that fled for their lives. Over 1/4th of the Norman army was obliterated that day and rest fled back to the Norman holdings in Holy Land.
Now there is a screen Normans have never ever before seen.
The importance of the battle was that it was the first battle ever lost by Normans. The legend of them being invincible, ferocious warriors was broken that day. Of course, that was just a legend, showing that Norman rulers always knew how to pick their battles. Bohemond and Normans, being forced to fight with a slow style that was not to their liking just to keep the Pope happy was probably the main reason for that defeat.
But the Crusades continued, despite the defeat. More soldiers arrived from Europe every day and the battles went on...