Siege of Antioch (1268)
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- The "Siege of Antioch" may also refer to two battles in 1097 and 1098 during the First Crusade; see Siege of Antioch.
The Siege of Antioch occurred in 1268 when the Mamelukes under Baibars finally succeeded in capturing the city of Antioch. Prior to the siege, the Crusader Principality was oblivious to the loss of the city as demonstrated when Baibars sent negotiators to the leader of the former Crusader state and mocking his use of "Prince" in the title Prince of Antioch.
Prelude to the Siege
In 1260 Baibars, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, began to threaten the Principality of Antioch, a Crusader state, which (as a vassal of the Armenians) had supported the Mongols, the traditional enemies of the Turks. In 1265, Baibars took Caesarea, Haifa and Arsuf and massacred the inhabitants. A year later, Baibars conquered Galilee and devastated Cilician Armenia.
As Steven Runciman relates in his last book about the Crusades, time ago before the siege of Antioch (1268), prince Bohemond IV of Antioch had settled his court in the city of Tripoli, capital of his other state, the County of Tripoli. In 1268, the Antiochene knights and garrison were under the command of Simon Mansel, Constable of Antioch, whose wife was an Armenian Lady who was relative to Sybilla of Armenia, wife of prince Bohemond VI.
Siege of Antioch
In 1268 Baibars besieged the city of Antioch which was "badly defended by its patriarch and abandoned by most of its inhabitants," capturing it on 18 May (the citadel fell two days later) after a relatively feeble defense. Antioch had been weakened by its previous struggles with Armenia and internal power struggles, and Antioch's inhabitants were quick to agree to a surrender on the condition that the lives of the citizens within the walls would be spared.
Before Baibars' forces laid siege on Antioch, the Constable Simon Mansel, along with a group of knights led an unsuccessful attack against the Muslim army in order that the city could not be encircled. The defenses were in good conditions, but the garrison was unable to defend the long walls of the city. Mansel was captured during the Antiochene cavalry attack, and Baibars ordered him to command his lieutenants in Antioch to surrender immediately to him. The garrison refused to capitulate, and continued the defense of the walls.
Afterward, lamenting that Antioch's ruler had not been present either for the siege or the ransacking and murder, Baibars secretary (who was also his biographer) wrote a detailed letter describing exactly what had been done to the people and the city:
'Death came among the besieged from all sides and by all roads: we killed all that thou hadst appointed to guard the city or defend its approaches. If thou hadst seen thy knights trampled under the feet of the horses, thy provinces given up to pillage, thy riches distributed by measures full, the wives of thy subjects put to public sale; if thou hadst seen the pulpits and crosses overturned, the leaves of the Gospel torn and cast to the winds, and the sepulchres of thy patriarchs profaned; if thou hadst seen thy enemies, the Mussulmans trampling upon the tabernacle, and immolating in the sanctuary, monk, priest and deacon; in short, if thou hadst seen thy palaces given up to the flames, the dead devoured by the fire of this world, the Church of St Paul and that of St Peter completely and entirely destroyed, certes, thou wouldst have cried out "Would to Heaven that I were become dust!" '. (Michaud, 1853)
Michaud after quoting the letter of Baibar's concludes the sacking thus:
'Baibars distributed the booty among his soldiers the Mamelukes reserving as their portion the women girls and children [...] A little boy was worth twelve dirhems, a little girl five dirhems. In a single day the city of Antioch lost all its inhabitants and a conflagration lighted by order of Bibars completed the work of the barbarians. Most historians agree in saying that fourteen thousand Christians were slaughtered and a hundred thousand dragged away into slavery.'
The Hospitaller fortress Krak des Chevaliers fell three years later. While Louis IX of France launched the Eighth Crusade ostensibly to reverse these setbacks, it went to Tunis, instead of Constantinople, as Louis' brother, Charles of Anjou, had initially advised, though Charles I clearly benefited from the treaty between Antioch and Tunis that ultimately resulted from the Crusade.
By the time of his death in 1277, Baibars had forced the Crusaders to a few strongholds along the coast and the Crusaders were forced out of the Middle East by the beginning of the fourteenth century. The fall of Antioch was to prove as detrimental to the crusaders cause, as its capture was instrumental to the initial success of the first Crusade. The population of Antioch consisting primarily of Armenians was put to the sword. Later, the Mamelukes would repeat the same destruction in Acre where the massacre of the civilians there was frustrated by the evacuation attempts of the Templar Knights, who managed to save a number of civilians to the relative safety of Cyprus.
- Joseph Michaud, History of the Crusades, Wm. Robson, trans. 3 vols. (London: Routledge, 1881), Vol. 3, p. 17.
- Michaud, History of the Crusades, vol. 3, pp. 17-18; Jean Richard and Jean Birrell, The Crusades, c. 1071-c. 1291 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 419.
- The letter is excerpted in Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 310; Richard and Birrell, The Crusades, 419; Michaud, The History of the Crusades, vol. 3, p. 18.
- Richard and Birrell, The Crusades, 419.