The Crusader Army Crosses into Asia Minor IV

Dorylaeum was a great Roman way-station and the key to the route system of the Anatolian plateau. From there they had a choice of routes to Antioch. From Dorylaeum ran the great military road through Ancyra to Sebasteia and the far frontiers, towards Lake Van and the Caucasus. At Ancyra the traveller could turn south to the ‘Pilgrims’ Road’ to Tyana, the Cilician Gates and on to Antioch. This road forked east for Caeserea-in-Cappadocia, whence it led down to Comana, Germanicea Caeserea (Marasch) and thence to Antioch. It was along this road network that the Byzantine emperors had gathered the forces of the provinces on their way to the frontiers. They could have taken this route, which they would have known from earlier pilgrimage, direct from Nicaea; that they did not reflects serious political considerations. The Byzantines were, above all, interested in the south and west of Anatolia, and it can hardly be a coincidence that the route chosen facilitated the campaign by Alexius and his generals which would carry them to Philomelium by June of 1098. However, there was a choice of routes south from Dorylaeum: the quickest lay via Pessinus (near modern Ballihisar), Archelais (modern Aksaray), Tyana (Kemerhisar, south-west of modern Nigde) and the Cilician Gates, but this would have taken the army across the arid heart of Anatolia with all the problems of watering and the extremes of temperatures which we have noted. It was possible to fork south and east at Pessinus and descend via Philomelium (modern Akşehir) towards Iconium (modern Konya), or south and west via Amorium to the vicinity of modern Afyon. Another road ran due south via Nacolia (modern Seyitgazi) to join the route to Iconium just north of Afyon, while further west was another route via Cotiaeum (Kütahaya) to Afyon. The sources are very vague about this early part of the journey: they all wrote long afterwards when the memory of hard marching had been eclipsed by much later doses of the same thing, and many more spectacular events. There is, however, some indication that they took the route via Nacolia. Albert of Aachen says that on the fourth day of their march, having suffered terrible thirst, they rested in the Malabranias valley, which cannot be certainly identified, where many died of drinking too much. Nacolia (Seyitgazi), on the river Seydi, is eighty kilometres from the battlefield of Dorylaeum, very roughly four days march, and could thus be Malabranias – though there could be no certainty. This tale of hardship and suffering is confirmed by Fulcher and the Anonymous who was very worried by the heavy loss of horses. Here in high summer with temperatures around the 30° centigrade mark, the crusaders were crossing the Anatolian plateau; this is not flat land, but highly scenic, scarred by deep scarps and dry valleys, and almost waterless. It is a majestic, rather frightening landscape, and a harsh environment for a large force to traverse. Albert tells us that the army divided after a while, with Godfrey’s brother, Baldwin, and Bohemond’s nephew, Tancred, setting off on a different route from the main army. Baldwin took a difficult road into the valley of the Orellis, while Tancred went to Philomelium and thence to Iconium and Heraclea (modern Erégli), and the main army proceeded to Antioch-in-Pisidia (Antiochetta, now modern Yalvaç) which lies to the south of the Sultan Daglari. At this point, however, Albert’s account is at its worst. Antiochetta is described as being next to Heraclea, which is listed on Tancred’s journey as coming before Iconium. Moreover, there is no further mention of the journey of the main army until it reaches Marasch, presumably because Albert’s informants were with Baldwin on his diversions to Cilicia and Edessa. Fulcher confirms that the army went to Antiochetta, but offers no information on the route taken. In fact the army could have taken any of the routes from Dorylaeum. However, no source describes anything remotely resembling the crossing of the Sultan Daglari mountain range which rises suddenly and sharply out of the steppe to over 2,600 metres; the accounts of suffering reflect the passage across the dry steppe, not that over a formidable mountain barrier. Therefore, the likelihood is that they took a western route, probably via Nacolia approaching Antioch-in-Pisidia roughly via the modern Afyon and passing to the south of the Sultan Daglari via their western foothills, which are relatively gentle. Tancred and Baldwin probably left the main army in the vicinity of Afyon and pushed along the more direct route to Iconium north of the Sultan Daglari via Philomelium, presumably watching for enemy attack; perhaps one took the road via the ancient Hadrianopolis (south-east of Akşehir) and the other that through Laodicea (modern village of Halici, east of Akşehir).

The really interesting question is why the army went to Antioch-in-Pisidia at all, for the road from Dorylaeum via Polybotus (modern Bolvadin) and Philomelium (modern Akşehir) to Iconium is shorter (by at least three days march) and more direct. Albert attributes the splitting of the army to the needs for supply. He and Fulcher stress that Pisidia was a fertile and pleasant land, where the army enjoyed a brief rest and Godfrey was injured by a bear while out hunting. After his account of the hardships and want on the dry steppe the Anonymous mentions a ‘fertile country, full of good and delicious things to eat’ which may well be Pisidia. Indeed, Pisidia is a fertile rolling country, a great contrast with the steppe to the north of the Sultan Daglari, and this must have been a real consideration in planning the route of the army. At the same time, the Anonymous indicates that the populations of the cities of Asia Minor rose against the Turks and that, for the Byzantines, Antioch, the chief city of Pisidia, was a desirable prize. The foraging needs of the army, together with the cooperation with Byzantium, probably combined to draw the army along this route. Hagenmeyer suggests that they left Antioch about 5 August, arriving at Iconium on 15 August, a rate of march of about twelve to thirteen kilometres per day through this relatively flat country, though the last forty kilometres into Iconium pass through harsh and waterless hills.

Tancred and Baldwin seem to have rejoined the main army at Iconium which the Turks made no effort to defend, although its Byzantine defences were probably still intact. The local population welcomed the crusader army and advised them to carry much water because the land to the east was dry. The road to Heraclea passes over a featureless plain, probably then something of a salt desert, but now brought back to life by irrigation. We do not know which of three possible routes they took from Iconium to Heraclea, which vary in distance between 140 and 170 kilometres for the only clue is that they spent two days resting at a river after two days march eastwards. This must refer to the Çarasamba which, however, cuts all the routes, but there is no reason to believe that they did not take the shortest route. At Heraclea the Turkish garrison attempted to ambush them but their scouts had warned them and the enemy were brushed aside easily and the city captured. The army rested there for four days. They now faced a very important choice of route, for east of Heraclea lay the Taurus mountains, in a great arc from south-west to north-east, dividing Anatolia from Syria. They could either journey south-east on the ‘Pilgrim Road’ via the Cilician Gates, Tarsus, Adana and Alexandretta (Iskenderun) to Antioch which was the more direct route, or they could take the road to Caeserea-in-Cappadocia (Kayseri) across the Taurus and down via Coxon (Göksun) and Marasch (Kahramanmaraş). The difference between these two routes was considerable: Heraclea to Antioch via the Cilician Gates is a journey of some 350 kilometres, but via Caeserea over 630 kilometres. It was extraordinary that they chose the latter route for the main army, while dispatching Tancred and Baldwin into Cilicia. Why was this strange choice made?

It needs to be stressed how difficult travelling overland was in this period. Although the road system of Asia Minor was basically that of the Romans, it is unlikely that the roads were in good condition after thirty years of political chaos and then Turkish domination. Though sometimes the journey was relatively easy there were other occasions, as in the pass south of Göksun, when every step was a calvary. For most of the time it must have been simply very unpleasant and dangerous, even without considering the possibility of enemy attack. The death of horses and pack animals must have been appalling and militarily disastrous; just after Dorylaeum, we hear of knights mounted on oxen, their horses having perished on the dry steppe. Only the strongest of motives could have led the army to march northwards to Caeserea, deliberately ignoring a much shorter route. Historians have been strangely slow to grasp the scale and importance of the diversion via Caeserea. It has been suggested that the narrowness of the famous Cilician Gates – only twenty-five metres at one point, and the hostile climate of Cilicia explain the decision. However, although the road to Caeserea is less abrupt than that over the Cilician Gates, the long sustained climb (Caeserea is at 1,254 metres) would have been sapping, while the road down to Marasch offers going every bit as difficult and narrow as either the Cilician Gates or the Belen pass from Cilicia to Antioch over the Ammanus Mountains, often called the ‘Syrian Gates’. Further the road rises to a maximum of over 1,700 metres, while the Cilician Gates never rise above 1,000 metres. The real military risk of the direct route was that the garrison of Antioch might challenge their crossing of the Belen Pass but from their perspective at Heraclea there were unknown risks of a similar kind facing them in the mountains. Moreover, the season was quite advanced and, while the army was now hardened, the loss of animals must have slowed it down. This opened the risk of being caught by the snows which can come as early as October in the high passes, for the road to which they were committed rises to 1,700 metres.

It is likely that what we see is the development of an Armenian strategy which had been discussed with Alexius, either at Constantinople or at Pelekanum after the fall of Nicaea. As the Crusade advanced many of the cities in their path ejected their Turkish garrison and welcomed the crusaders. In addition, they had contact with Armenians as we have noted and, at Iconium, Christians gave them intelligence about local conditions. The Christian population of Asia Minor had suffered badly at the hands of the nomadic Turks, whose violent and arbitrary dominion was resented. Raymond of Aguilers knew that Antioch had only fallen to the Turks some fourteen years before, and he catalogues the sufferings of its Christian people. When the Emperor Alexius retreated from Philomelium, about 20 June 1098, most of the local population chose to leave with him rather than again face their Turkish masters. In a passage which has received surprisingly little attention, Stephen of Blois says that in Cappadocia the army directed its march against a powerful local emir, Hasan, who is probably more correctly called Baldajii. His brother, Abu’l-Qasim, had ruled at Nicaea after the death of Sulayman, whose son Kilij Arslan was held captive by Malik Shah (1086–92). Hasan himself briefly held power at Nicaea after his brother, but Kilij Arslan escaped from prison on the death of Malik Shah in 1092 and resumed power at Nicaea. The crusaders, therefore, were prepared to confront real opposition in pursuit of what we may call their Armenian strategy, and they drove into his lands as they advanced towards Caeserea and then turned south to Antioch.

The long uphill march took the army past the area of modern Nigde over a series of dramatic scarps into wide upland plains, often watered by great lakes. Towards Caeserea they captured a strong place which was given to Simeon, a local man whose presence in the army points to forethought. Beyond Caeserea, which they reached about 21 and left about 24 September, they travelled through steep and broken country for some eighty-six kilometres to a city which had held out for three weeks against Turkish siege; there Peter d’Aups, a westerner in the service of Alexius, was given control. This place has been identified as ‘Plastencia’, on the authority of Bauldry of Dol, and recent research identifies the Greek place of that name with Elbistan, a city well off the crusaders’ path to the east on the road to Melitene. The likelihood is that this was Comana where the army seems to have arrived about 30 September. The army left Bohemond to pursue the besiegers of Comana and went on to Coxon (Göksun) on 4 October, which the local Christians promptly surrendered to them. There a false rumour that the enemy were deserting Antioch led Raymond of Toulouse to send a force of 500 knights, under Peter of Castillon, to seize the city; at a settlement of heretic Christians near to Antioch they were informed that the rumour was false whereupon some of them under the command of Peter de Roaix, went on to establish a Provençal base in the valley of Ruj, parallel to the Orontes valley on the eastern side of that river. Rugia was about seven kilometres from Rusa to the south of Antioch. The main army followed along down the bitter and painful pass near what is now called the Püren Geçidi, which rises to 1,630 metres, the downward slope of which is a penance even in modern transport. The Anonymous records that horses and animals died in falls and knights sold off their arms at any price rather than carry them across this ‘damnable mountain’.

At Marasch the Turkish garrison had fled and the army was welcomed by its Armenian ruler, Tatoul, who, as a supporter of Alexius, continued to hold the place. The army had now emerged from the mountain passes and stood at the head of a great flat valley, the Amouk, which stretches down to Antioch and the coast beyond, between the Ammanus range to the west and the Kartal Daglari range to the east on the edge of Syria. The success of their Armenian strategy had delivered the mountain cities over to them, and now the army was able to set out on the last leg of the journey down the Amouk. But before they set out, local inhabitants told the leaders that ‘Artāh, which the crusader sources call Artasia, would welcome them but had a strong Turkish garrison. The leaders sent Robert of Flanders ahead with 1,000 knights, on whose arrival the Armenian population butchered the Turkish garrison and opened the gates. Ralph of Caen suggests that Baldwin and Tancred commanded this expedition and never mentions Robert, but his account confirms that of Albert in its main outlines. Once the Franks were installed they were besieged by a force which Albert numbers at 20,000. They provided a lesson in tactics for the crusaders. A small number of lightly armed Turkish horsemen trailed their coats outside the walls and when a lot of Franks, foot and horse, rushed out they fled drawing their enemies into an ambush which cut them off from the city. Robert of Flanders rescued them by a charge from the city, but Christian losses in men and horses were heavy. Ralph of Caen also tells us that many Franks were lured out of the city and suffered heavy losses in close-quarter combat with the Turks. The survivors retreated into the city where the depleted garrison now had to face a close siege. The siege was lifted with the arrival of 1,500 reinforcements and the city was given a Frankish garrison, which Ralph says was in the control of Baldwin. The bitter fight underlines the importance of ‘Artāh to the crusaders and the fact that it later changed hands, for it was captured by Kerbogah, strengthens the point. From this it would appear that the main army had marched down the Amouk until it was just north of the great lake to the north of Antioch. There the road forked; to the west it passed the Belen Pass and arrived before the Bridge Gate on the west side of Antioch. The eastern fork led the army to ‘Artāh, which Ralph of Caen would later describe as the ‘shield of Antioch’. It stood close to the modern Reyhanli across the road to ’Azāz, and just north of its junction with the Antioch-Aleppo road to the east of the Iron Bridge, which controlled the crossing of the Orontes to the north of Antioch. The capture of ’Artāh helped to secure the eastern approaches to Antioch as a prelude to a siege, thus isolating the city from its obvious source of support. The Armenian strategy provided a friendly hinterland and a springboard for this isolation of Antioch, which was increased by the expedition of Tancred and Baldwin to Cilicia. Albert emphasises that all this was done with the agreement and consent of the leaders of the army and this must include the Byzantine representative, Tatikios, whose man took over Comana and, presumably, at least some of the other cities. This was much more than mere individual opportunism, the reason usually given for the expedition to Cilicia.

Tancred and Baldwin of Boulogne’s expedition to Cilicia is very well known and has generally been treated as a private enterprise affair. The sources are often not very informative on how it came about. Raymond of Aguilers never discusses this event, perhaps because the Provençals were not involved; Fulcher was much more concerned about the expedition to Edessa, in which he participated, and says that Baldwin took his own men into Cilicia, while the Anonymous, as so often, simply reports the events without explanation. Ralph of Caen, who likes to present Tancred as an emerging leader, tells us that Tancred chose to undertake this expedition. Albert of Aix reports that, probably in the region of Afyon, Tancred and Baldwin were sent along the northern road to Iconium, but that Tancred was ahead after Heraclea and went down to the coast through Cilicia, leaving Baldwin who got somewhat lost following behind. This presents events in a different light and it should be noted that each of these young men seems to have had substantial forces at his disposal. When they came to blows at Mamistra Tancred attacked with 500 men but was defeated by the larger force of Baldwin. Earlier, at Tarsus, Tancred had been reinforced by 300 men from Bohemond, and in the quarrel over this city both young men claimed that they were acting in the name of their superiors, Bohemond or Godfrey, in passages which smack of the ‘my big brother is bigger than yours’ syndrome. The impression is of an expedition in which the ardour and greed of two young men got out of hand. It is interesting that friendly locals once more appear in a notable role. Tancred had with him an Armenian whom he had known earlier and it was perhaps this influence, and their fear of Bohemond, that led the Armenian population of Tarsus to prefer his rule – though they eventually submitted to Baldwin. At Adana Tancred found a city already half-liberated by the local Armenian prince Oschin and partly occupied by a Burgundian, Welf; given Oschin’s good relations with Alexius it would seem likely that Welf was another westerner in imperial service. At the end of the Cilician adventure Baldwin was persuaded by Bagrat, an Armenian whom he had got to know at Nicaea and who was the lord of Ravendan, to strike east into the Armenian territories towards Edessa to Tell-Bashir, but we know from Fulcher that he first returned to the main army. Baldwin then became embroiled in the complex politics of the Armenian princes and in February of 1098 received a request from Thoros, the Armenian ruler of Edessa, to go to that city which after many adventures he reached on 20 February. By 8 March 1098 Baldwin had intrigued with disaffected citizens to overthrow Thoros and was in effective control of the city. Local Christians, as we have already noted, delivered over many key cities as far south as Ruj to the Franks and this is corroborated by the Damascus Chronicle which specifically mentions the fighting at ‘Artāh. It was no wonder that Anselm of Ribemont would boast in a letter to the west that the army held 200 forts and cities, while Stephen put the figure at 160. This should be seen as the fruits of a deliberate policy of which the Cilician expedition was a part.

At Heraclea, or shortly thereafter, the princes must have decided to implement their Armenian strategy which probably aimed to reproduce the principality which Philaretus had ruled in the years before 1085, elements of which (such as Edessa) remained independent and in some sense attached to the empire. Gabriel of Melitene seems to have held aloof from the crusade. The idea of creating such a liberated zone was probably developed in discussions with Alexius – Tatikios was his man on the crusade and he seems to have aided and abetted the process – but it was made possible by the success at Dorylaeum and the reaction of the native population to it. After Heraclea the leaders decided to capitalise on their success and launched the main army into a long diversion over very difficult territory, driving back the forces of Hasan. Into the more sheltered area of Cilicia a small force led by Tancred and Baldwin was dispatched. It was a risk, but one which succeeded handsomely. The establishment of a great bastion of Byzantine power on the Syrian border was welcome to both Alexius and the crusader leaders. It would enable the Byzantines to conquer southern Asia Minor. For the crusaders liberation of the persecuted Christians of the east was one of the objectives of their journey. Furthermore, such a Byzantine bulwark would provide a secure base for the real objective of their endeavour – Jerusalem. We have to remember that they had come for Jerusalem, for Palestine, not Antioch or some North Syrian domination. It is a point which the mass of the army would make forcibly to its leaders in the later months of 1098. As things turned out this plan was never properly realised. Its central assumption was a common interest between the Byzantine empire and the crusaders; the stress of events undermined this. Even so, despite a heavy price in garrison troops detached from their force the conquests paid off handsomely for the First Crusade. Food, useful intelligence and supplies reached the crusade from the Armenians whose merchants frequently visited the city and Armenians helped in the routing of Turkish forces and the slaying of Yaghisiyan. The possession of so many bases in the general area of Antioch, the old dominion of Philaretus, gave the crusade a much needed platform for their assault on Antioch. Baldwin’s possession of Edessa enabled him to send aid and supplies to the army at Antioch. It was also a powerful distraction for local Islamic leaders. In May 1098 this factor caused Kerbogah to divert his huge relief army for a three-week siege, which was fatal for his chances of success against Antioch. Militarily, the policy was a striking success and the choice made on the road from Heraclea proved to be a correct one, dangerous though it must have appeared. It enabled the crusaders to confront their second enemy, the Turks of Syria, with a considerable territorial base and much assistance which was extremely valuable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *