Monday, June 5, 2023

The Siege of Nicaea

When the First Crusade was on their way to free the Holy land from the "infidel," they passed through Constantinople and asked for help from Emperor Alexios I. They left Constantinople in stages, starting in April 1097. Their first target was the city of Nicaea (now İznik), held by Seljuk Turks on the shore of Lake Ascania in Turkey.

Godfrey of Bouillon arrived first on 6 May, followed by other parts of the army including Raymond IV of Toulouse, Tancred, and Peter the Hermit with the remains of the People's Crusade.

The ruler of Nicaea, Sultan Kilij Arslan, was away, but rushed back when he got word the siege, but he was unsuccessful in breaking through the Crusaders. Nicaea had to make a decision.

Alexios had not joined the Crusading army for the siege, but stationed his forces at a nearby town. He had boats transported over land to the Crusaders to aid in a blockade on Lake Ascania, to prevent the Turks from getting food. The boats were sent with general Manuel Boutoumites. Following them was general Tatikios with 2000 foot soldiers. This was not simple support of the siege, however. Alexios instructed Tatikios to join the assault on the walls while Boutoumites from the lake side of the city secretly negotiated with Nicaea to surrender, making it appear that the Byzantines had captured Nicaea themselves and could dictate what happened in the aftermath. Here's how they pulled it off.

Boutoumites sent messages to the city rulers, offering them amnesty for surrender but promising destruction if they did not. Boutoumites was even allowed into the city (all out of sight from the land-side Crusaders). When Nicaea learned that Kilij Arslan was on his way, they forced Boutoumites out, but with the failure of Arslan's attack, they re-considered the Greek's offer. On the morning of 19 June, when the Crusading army prepared a large assault, the Byzantines on the lake-side were allowed into Nicaea; they raised their standard above the city walls, showing that they—not the Western Europeans—had control of the city.

Nicaea surrendered peacefully to Boutoumites, who as its new leader protected the city by forbidding plundering. Groups of Crusaders were allowed in of no more than 10 at a time. Arslan's family were sent to Constantinople, but were released with ransom once the Crusaders had moved on from Nicaea. Alexios did supply the Crusade with money and horses, but the wealth they might have had by ransacking Nicaea was denied them.

Part of Boutoumites' negotiation included showing Nicaea the chrysobull, which I suppose needs some explanation. I'll be happy to do that...tomorrow.

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