The Crusader Army Crosses into Asia Minor III

The crusader leaders acted quickly. Nicaea fell on 19 June. On 26 June the first contingents left Nicaea, amongst them the Normans of South Italy. Various groups left subsequently, the last being the Provençals on 28 June and the army gathered at a place where there was a bridge, which Anna Comnena identifies as Lefke, about twenty-five kilometres east of Nicaea. A number of crusaders had stayed behind at Nicaea and took service with the emperor, while Anselm of Ribemont was sent to the imperial court by the leaders in order to settle outstanding business. They had already decided to go to Antioch, so necessarily they had to direct their path towards the old Byzantine fortress at Dorylaeum (Eskişehir) which was the gateway to the Anatolian plateau. The sources are quite clear that in the two days of march after the concentration of the army they broke into two groups, a vanguard and a main force. Raymond of Aguilers says that this happened after one day’s march, which suggests that the Provençals had left Nicaea a day later than the first contingents. We know how they divided; the vanguard was led by Bohemond, Tancred, Robert of Normandy and Stephen of Blois, probably fewer than 20,000 in all. The second, larger force, comprising the rest of the army was under Robert of Flanders, Hugh of Vermandois, Godfrey de Bouillon and Raymond of Toulouse, – rather more than 30,000 strong. It is more difficult to suggest why this happened. Fulcher, who was in the vanguard, simply confesses that he does not know; the Anonymous says there was confusion in the dark as the army left its place of concentration, while Raymond of Aguilers says that it was the fault of Bohemond and his companions who rushed on rashly (temere). Albert of Aix says that it was the result of a deliberate decision of the princes who after two days of marching the army together, now felt the need to divide it for foraging. Ralph of Caen tells us that some thought the division deliberate, and specifically denies this, which suggests that even after the crusade the matter was still being debated. It is likely that sheer size and the lack of any overall commander were the real reasons. The army of Frederick Barbarossa on the Third Crusade was 100,000 strong and seems to have taken three days to pass any single point. The sources for the battle of Dorylaeum make clear that most of the casualties were suffered by stragglers between the two forces, which would suggest that the host became strung out simply as a result of the natural frictions of the march. The disagreements and uncertainty of the three eyewitnesses – Raymond with the main force, Fulcher and the Anonymous with the vanguard, support this view. It also reflects the incoherence of the crusade’s command arrangements. It is worth remembering that the baggage train of Peter the Hermit’s much smaller force straggled a mile along the road and that the crusader army at its maximum strength was well over twice that size. But perhaps the leaders conferred at some point and gave their blessing to a division already becoming apparent. At the time of the battle Raymond of Aguilers says quite clearly that the two parts of the army were two miles apart – over five kilometres.

The crusaders had now begun a march which would result in what is conventionally called the battle of Dorylaeum, for Anna Comnena says that it took place when Kilij Arslan ambushed Bohemond and the vanguard ‘on the plain of Dorylaeum’. In a letter of the leaders to the West on 11 September 1098, they referred to the battle at ‘Dorotilla’ which sounds very like the same place. One manuscript of the chronicle of Raymond of Aguilers refers to the battle ‘in campo florido’. Albert says that the battle took place ‘in vallem Degorganhi’, now called the Orellis, but later has Bohemond’s messenger to the other leaders say that the enemy attacked down the Orellis into the Degorganhi: neither of these place names can be identified and Albert does later use the name Orellis to mean somewhere quite different. However, there are grave difficulties about the idea that the battle was fought at or near Dorylaeum. The Anonymous says that the army marched one day from Nicaea and encamped for two days by a bridge while all the contingents gathered, then marched for two days until the battle on the third day. Raymond of Aguilers says that on the third day after the concentration of the army they met the enemy. Anselm says that after a two day march they encountered the enemy on the morning of the third day which was ‘kal. Iulii’, 1 July; Fulcher confirms the date and confirms that the battle began in the morning. Thus the crusade began to leave Nicaea on 26 June and concentrated at a river crossing, from which it departed on 29 June. It then marched for two days and fought the enemy in the morning of 1 July. When we examine the distances and the likely rates of march of the crusader army it is evident that they could not have reached the close vicinity of Dorylaeum in this time. Anna Comnena says that the army concentrated at the bridge of Lefke, which probably means the bridge over the Göksu, a western tributary of the Sakarya Nehri. Nicaea to Lefke on the Roman road is twenty-five kilometres, and Dorylaeum another ninety kilometres. If, as has been suggested, the army marched south to the Göksu and crossed it in the vicinity of Yenişhehir (a distance of thirty kilometres) they still had to cover roughly the same distance to Dorylaeum. A study of the rates of march of the individual armies across Europe to Constantinople suggests that, in the most favourable circumstances, the forces of Godfrey and Peter the Hermit never did more than twenty-nine kilometres per day. The army which left Nicaea was much larger and lacked a clear overall command and is likely to have progressed much more slowly. Barbarossa’s army probably managed about twenty-nine kilometres per day in Europe.86 Even at these rates the army would have been about thirty kilometres short of Dorylaeum after two days of marching, but they were probably moving much more slowly for they were in the presence of the enemy and encumbered with a heavy baggage-train. We can reasonably accurately date the departure of the army from Dorylaeum and its arrival at Antioch as being 4 July to 20 October. In 105 days of marching (with fifteen days of rest) they travelled 1180 kilometres, an average of thirteen kilometres per day which the Chronologie of Hagenmeyer suggests varied between eight and eighteen kilometres. There is no point in seeking comparison with events after Antioch when the army was much smaller. Furthermore, the crusaders knew the enemy were about and this would have restricted their speed, even if the vanguard did push on somewhat. All this suggests that the battle could not have taken place more than forty kilometres, or just conceivably fifty kilometres, south of Lefke or the Göksu crossing. Hagenmeyer recognised the problem and suggested Bozüyük just over fifty kilometres south of Lefke and about the same from Yenişhehir. This is probably as far as the army could conceivably have reached and it certainly could be regarded as being in the valley of Dorylaeum, as suggested by the letter of the leaders. Runciman points out that a Byzantine road runs further north through Sögüt and enters the plain ten kilometres short of Dorylaeum, where he thinks the battle took place. However, as Runciman admits, although this road does cross rivers, the countryside was very steep indeed and this probably rules out any of these crossings. But more simply, this was most certainly further than the army could have reached. What is clear is that the battle took place in a wide valley, for Albert says that Bohemond’s force was well to the right of the main force as well as ahead of it. Moreover, there was a river, for Albert mentions streams and Ralph of Caen, whose description is detailed, says that it was fought after a river crossing. William of Tyre follows Albert for the most part but with some variations. He says that the army followed a river in the valley of Gorgoni, and that the main force was to the right of Bohemond’s, reversing Albert’s statement. Albert’s account of a battle fought where two valleys join, taken together with Raymond’s mention of the ‘flowered field’ and the general description of the battle, suggests that it was fought in open land on the road towards Dorylaeum, and the comments of Albert and Ralph indicate not far from a river crossing or crossings, although these played no role in the major action. In fact to understand the battle we need to understand fully the circumstances in which the army found itself, the country and its road system.

After the capture of Nicaea it is clear from Stephen’s letter that the leaders had decided to march to Antioch, and evidently they had decided not to take the coastal route. They also rejected the ‘Pilgrim Road’ due east from Nicaea via Iuliopolis (near the modern village of Çayirbano) and Ancyra (Ankara) down through the heart of Asia Minor and across the Cilician Gates to Tarsus. Instead they decided to mount the Anatolian plateau towards the Byzantine military station at Dorylaeum (modern Eskişehir) which, at 800 metres commands the obvious point of entry to the plateau via a broad valley the sides of which rise to 1,200 metres and beyond. Because Anna Comnena mentions the bridge at Lefke it has been assumed that the host marched east from Nicaea up the gently sloping plain, over the watershed and into the valley of the Sakarya and then up that of its southern tributary, the Kara Su, to its upper reaches just north of Bozüyük, where the land opens out into the wide valley which leads to Dorylaeum. But it is difficult to believe that the army would have taken this route, for the valley of the Kara Su, even in its lower reaches, is very steep and difficult and at Bilecik enters a spectacular gorge before narrowing even further into a grim steep defile which would have formed a perfect ambush site. The Byzantine road forked at Bilecik providing a road via modern Sögüt to Dorylaeum, but this road too is dangerously scenic and offers no open sites until it is very close to Dorylaeum. It is far more likely that the crusaders marched south from Nicaea. The first stage of this journey over the Avdan Dagi, whose peaks rise to 835 metres would have been quite difficult but thereafter they could cross the Göksu in the vicinity of modern Yenişehehir. From there a Roman road crossed the Ahl Dag, which rise to 1000 metres and emerged into the broad valley above Bozüyük, roughly where the modern Ego road from Bursa meets route 650 from Bilecik, just south of the narrow gorges of the Kara Su and some three to five kilometres north of Bozüyük. While by no means easy this route is no longer and offered a much more open approach to the high plateau. It is very likely that it was at this junction of roads in the plain that the battle of Dorylaeum took place. Albert clearly indicates that the site was where two valleys meet, and the open ground here is about the right distance from the crossing of the Göksu. Moreover, the Anonymous says that when the crusader force came it formed up to the right of Bohemond’s trapped vanguard – it was, therefore, from the right that the attack came. This is also the force of Albert’s insistence on telling us that the vanguard moved to the right of the main force and William of Tyre’s careful correction that they were to the left, which fits with the Anonymous’s account. Both are explaining the subsequent alignment of the battle. This would fit with the suggestion made here that the crusaders approached along the gentle valley from the west and were ambushed by the Turkish army lying in the southern valley to their right. The logic of the battle is clear. Kilij Arslan and his Turks were returning to the fray. This time he had concluded an alliance with the Danishmend Emir and together they were ready to attack the Franks. They chose to do so on the approaches to the high plateau and at a point of maximum advantage where they could lay an ambush and destroy an isolated part of the crusader force before its main weight could be brought to bear. It was the strategy of the Nicaea attack, but this time in less confined ground where Turkish speed of manoeuvre could be maximised. The Turkish army was probably much smaller than the total force of the crusaders and so had to avoid direct conflict with the main force and defeat their enemy in detail. Fulcher’s 360,000, though supported by the Anonymous, is sheer fantasy. In the accounts of the Crusade of 1101 we hear of the 700 knights in the rearguard of the main Lombard army being savaged by 500 Turks, while the army which destroyed the Bavarian and Aquitainian army was only 4,000 in all. The Turkish force was entirely mounted and was probably roughly equal to the knights in the whole crusader host. Therefore, a battle of movement involving the cavalry element would nullify the huge numeric advantage of the western forces and, in the attack on the crusader vanguard, Kilij Arslan would actually outnumber the western knights. If the Franks had marched up the gorge of the Kara Su they would surely have attacked them there, just as they would later destroy the Byzantine army at Myriokephalon in 1176.

On the evening of 30 June Fulcher and Ralph of Caen both say that the vanguard saw Turkish forces, substantiating intelligence which had already suggested that they were in the vicinity; this last comment suggests that Tatikios was with the vanguard, although no chronicler mentions him. Clearly at least, the vanguard, more than five kilometres ahead of the main force, were aware of the enemy presence.95 Albert of Aachen places the battle in the evening – starting as the army camped at the ninth hour, late afternoon. However, Albert here seems to be trying to make sense of his sources, hence perhaps his error on which side of the valley the vanguard was following, for his suggestion of an evening battle is connected with the act of making camp. But the Anonymous says that the battle raged from the third to ninth hour, and Fulcher suggests that the vanguard was on its own from the first to sixth hour (6–7am–noon). As these writers were actually with the front force they should be preferred, particularly as Ralph of Caen confirms their story that contact was made with the enemy on the evening before the battle and that the march was resumed the next morning when the crusaders were forced to pitch camp when it became apparent that a large enemy army was present. It was probably making sense of this sequence of events which confused Albert whose account, however, contains much valuable information. Fulcher’s account is peculiarly vivid for he was in the camp where: ‘We were all indeed huddled together like sheep in a fold, trembling and frightened, surrounded on all sides by enemies so that we could not turn in any direction’, while the Anonymous was with the knights of the vanguard who were outside the camp from which the women brought water.97 Ralph says that after an anxious night the army moved on and forced the passage of a river after which the appearance of the enemy compelled them to pitch their camp; Fulcher says they camped by a marsh which gave them some protection from the enemy and that later the enemy broke across the marsh. His account of murderous fighting in the camp is supported by Albert, who says that Robert of Paris died there trying to help the rank and file and adds the picturesque detail that young women tried to make themselves look beautiful so that they would be spared the sword. Ralph of Caen shows the knights depressed by their inability to save the others. Crusader sources therefore suggest two distinct actions within the battle. Fulcher speaks of the leaders fighting while those like him in the camp desperately resisted. Albert says that at the sight of the enemy Bohemond and the knights rode forward but were unable to prevent the Turks getting into the camp. Ralph tells us that when the camp was pitched the knights attacked the enemy, but were driven back in disorder and saved only by Robert of Normandy who rallied them with scornful words – subsequently they were involved in heavy fighting in which Tancred’s brother William was killed. The Anonymous says that when the enemy were sighted Bohemond ordered the foot to pitch camp and the knights to attack the enemy, and then makes it clear that the cavalry were driven back on the camp, for he says that in the subsequent fighting the women brought water to them. Raymond of Aguilers suggests that the camp was sacked by the enemy. Ralph says that thereafter the knights fought hard, commanded separately by Bohemond and Robert of Normandy, and appears to show these men imposing solid discipline upon their followers. The Anonymous tells us that from the first the vanguard was surrounded – ‘we are encircled’ he has Bohemond say – yet Fulcher speaks of a marsh on one side of the camp protecting them and the subsequent development of the battle was to the vanguard’s right. This can be explained by reference to the lie of the land. The convergence of the two valleys forms a natural basin against the northern rim of which Bohemond was pinned by the Turkish main force, but smaller troops of the enemy probably menaced from the surrounding hills, for the Anonymous mentions the enemy presence there.

Bohemond is 5 km ahead of the main army in company with Robert of Normandy and the Counts of Blois and Flanders together with the Byzantines; having descended from Nicaea to the northwest they enter the main valley leading to Dorylaeum and see the Turks. Bohemond orders his foot to make camp quickly and throws forward his cavalry to protect them.

The Franco-Norman cavalry is driven back on the camp, rallied by its leaders, and forms the outer shell of resistance in a ‘wearing-out fight’. The crusader army is surrounded, though partially protected by a marsh (location conjectural). They cling on, relying on their compact mass hoping for help from the main force.

Godfrey and the Provençals of the main army arrive forcing the Turks to break off their attack and turn to meet the new threat to their left. The new arrivals form up to the RIGHT of Bohemond’s beleaguered force.

The Count of Toulouse enters the main valley through the Drumlins which mark its western shoulder, and his attack on their rear and left forces the Turks to flee leaving victory to the Crusaders.

Throughout the morning there was heavy and unpleasant fighting at close quarters. The western knights seem to have been pinned against the southern side of their camp holding off the Turks who, however, were able to penetrate from other sides despite the difficulties presented by a marsh on one side and the considerable resistance of the crusader footmen. About noon, after five to six hours of this bitter fighting, the knights of the main force came up to relieve their comrades. The Anonymous describes the formation of a battle line, but this is the tidiness of hindsight. The main force was probably well out of sight of the battle in the western valley and, although messages seem to have been sent back early, it was not until about noon that they appeared. This is not surprising, for the main army’s knights had to prepare themselves for battle and then to ride five kilometres along a road which was probably choked with transport and stragglers. It is unlikely that they had much time to form into line. Far to the right, the bishop of Le Puy seems to have charged behind a small hill and come upon the enemy now turning to face the new threat on their left, from the rear. At the convergence of the two valleys there are a number of glacial drumlins and one of these was probably the hill to which reference is made. There is no reason to believe that this was planned; rather a pell-mell battle developed in which skirmishes such as that in which Godfrey with 50 sodales attacked what they believed to be Kilij Arslan and his household on a low hill were the rule. A running fight ensued in which the enemy often turned to fight causing casualties like Gerard of Quiersy. The enemy’s camp was sacked and the nomads were pursued along the road so that, for two or three days after, the army passed enemy soldiers and horses fallen by the wayside. Casualties appear to have been heavy although how far we can regard Albert’s 4,000 Christians and 3,000 Turks as precise figures is a different matter. They do, however, sound small enough to be credible and large enough to suggest heavy fighting. Large numbers of the main force, the foot, the non-combatants generally and presumably some knights, were never engaged at all. It is interesting that Fulcher says that most of the casualties were those caught straggling between the two crusader armies, a comment substantiated by Raymond of Aguilers.

Dorylaeum was a nasty experience for the crusaders. They were not caught totally by surprise in that they knew the enemy were near, but it is odd that the leaders in the vanguard did not warn the main force behind them. Presumably, they simply took it for granted that the enemy was around but could not guess that his main force was so close. It is unlikely that Kilij Arslan was ignorant of the whereabouts of the crusader main force. He attempted to destroy their smaller element in favourable circumstances, counting on numeric superiority to bring victory in a mobile battle over the knights in the vanguard. The crusaders were alert and their foot prepared to pitch camp while an element of the knights confronted the enemy and were put to flight, falling back on the camp where their solid formation, and the fact that the site was confined by the edge of the plain and a marsh, enabled them to resist the Turks. The Turks were drawn into close quarter fighting both against the knights and in amongst the tents and baggage. ‘The enemy were helped by numbers’, says Ralph, referring to the knights, ‘we by our armour’, which suggests that the knights adopted a solid formation and refused to be broken up by the enemy’s attacks with arrows and missiles. The stall-fed horses of the western knights may have been larger than the ponies of the Turks, and this weight advantage may have helped to solidify their resistance but, in general it was of no more use to them than it had been to the Byzantines. The western knights in the vanguard must have been quite helpless and the progress of the Turks in the camp would have destroyed their entire position, but relief came. Both sides seem to have been surprised by the enemy. The crusaders were appalled by the enemy tactics which struck the Anonymous as menacing and daring and Fulcher as totally new: ‘to all of us such warfare was unknown’. He was also struck by the fact that the enemy were entirely mounted: ‘All were mounted. On the other hand we had both footmen and bowmen.’ Albert of Aix remarks time after time in his account on Turkish use of the bow which clearly struck the crusaders as novel. But the leaders had been warned by Alexius and Frankish contact with the east, and even those in the vanguard managed to keep control of their forces – though luck played its part in this. Furthermore, they seem to have made sure that all were alert, for although the timing of the attack was a surprise, as probably was its direction, when it came, camp of a sort was made quickly. From the viewpoint of the crusaders, what is striking is that the battle evolved and was never directed. Although only a fraction of the crusader army was engaged, their advantage in numbers had much to do with their victory – just as it had at Nicaea. For Kilij Arslan seems to have repeated the error made at Nicaea; he counted on the enemy panicking under a surprise attack. When they resisted he was drawn into a bloody close-quarter battle in which the crusader footsoldiers in the camp made stiff resistance, partly because of their very numbers. As at Nicaea the appearance of a relief force, in this case one part of which under Adhémar came from an unexpected direction, drove his men from the field. That this was a pell-mell affair with no evidence of overall command (which led to the division in the crusader ranks in the first place) should not be allowed to detract from the quality of the crusader leadership. The army was alert and when the surprise attack came managed to establish a camp which subsequently formed a fortress. Robert of Normandy rallied knights alarmed by the novel methods of the enemy and subsequently he and Bohemond imposed a discipline upon them. The enemy broke into the camp and did much destruction, but the foot evidently fought hard, otherwise the camp which anchored the cavalry in their struggle would have been swept away. All of this suggests a formidable coherence in the crusader army and a considerable will to fight. It must be remembered that the terror which they inspired had served the Turks well in their fights with the Byzantines and others who found their missile tactics difficult to counter. Above all, the sense of isolation created by encirclement panicked large forces time after time. At Dorylaeum some of the knights did panic – those under Bohemond – but they were rallied by Robert of Normandy. Once discipline and solidity of formation was reimposed, partly because they simply couldn’t do anything else pinned against their own tents, the knights found that they could resist – though fairly passively. It was a lesson Nicephorous Botaneiates had learned as a general under Constantine IX during a retreat in the presence of the Patzinacks:

[Botaneiates] ordered his men not to spread out as the rest of the men were seen to be doing and not to turn their backs to the enemy making themselves into a target for Pecheneg arrows. … The Pechenegs on seeing a small group which advanced information and in battle order, made a violent sortie against them. … retired when they saw it was impossible to disperse the Byzantines…. They were unable to engage the Byzantines in hand-to-hand combat for having made a trial of close fighting, they had many times lost a great number of men.

In any case, there was a limit to the losses the Turks were prepared to take. The loss of Nicaea was a blow to the Seljuk Kilij Arslan for like his father he aspired to be something more than a ruler of nomads – hence the acquisition of Nicaea as a capital and the effort to seize Antioch under Sulayman. But he was a lord of nomads and for them murderous casualties were simply not worthwhile before an enemy who could be evaded and whose departure would allow them to return to their pasture-lands. If Albert’s figure of 3,000 is in any way to be believed they had suffered badly enough for their leader’s ambitions. Only once again would they stand and fight – at Heraclea where an ambush was attempted and failed but it seems to have been so feeble that most of the sources do not mention it. But if the Turks were now in no position to check the crusaders, they did not know that and Fulcher says that from this time the army proceeded very carefully, while Albert says they resolved not to break up again. The Turks of Anatolia had been defeated, in so far as that means anything when speaking of a nomadic people who had clearly not been driven out of Asia Minor. Their ruling house had suffered a severe blow. They had lost a capital which gave them prestige, access and control over the emirates of western Asia Minor who were now at the mercy of the Byzantines. It opened the way, as we shall see, for a Byzantine reconquest in western Asia Minor. It was a stunning triumph for the crusaders for hitherto the onward march of the Turks had been unstoppable, as they themselves recognised for, as the Anonymous says, ‘the Turks… thought that they would strike terror into the Franks, as they had done the Arabs and Saracens, Armenians, Syrians and Greeks by the menace of their arrows’.

In part they had been defeated by luck. Kilij Arslan had mistaken the People’s Crusade for the totality of the western effort and had to return from Melitene when they besieged Nicaea. His attack on the Provençals at Nicaea was mistimed, as was that against the vanguard near Bozüyük. But the victors made their own luck. It was their solid resistance that Kilij Arslan underestimated, hence their victory and his defeat. This rested on their manner of war in the west, which called for disciplined close-quarter fighting in which heavily armoured men played a key role. Ultimately, however, they differed from earlier enemies of the Turks by their motivation, their religious fanaticism which underpinned their fighting style. In the crisis of the battle at Dorylaeum that zeal showed in their password, ‘Stand fast altogether, trusting in Christ and in the victory of the Holy Cross. Today, please God, you will all gain much booty’. And so of course they did, and their spoils were much more than merely the pickings of the nomad camp. For the defeat at Dorylaeum seems to have sparked off revolts in some of the cities along the crusader line of march. The Anonymous says that as the Sultan fled he had to trick his way into the cities which his forces then looted. By contrast, the Christian army was welcomed in the vicinity of Iconium and this reception would become even warmer in east. These were truly the fruits of victory, for as a later eastern source commented, ‘The land was shaken before them.’

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