Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Sword of the Lion

When the First Crusade approached the Holy Land, they were met by the Seljuk Sultan of Rum, Kilij Arslan I. His first encounter with the Europeans came when the Peasants' Crusade, led by Peter the Hermit, overran the castle of Xerigordon at Nicaea. They did so because Arslan sent his spies to give them the impression that the castle was easy pickings. In fact, it was inconsequential to him, but a German contingent raced to take their prize. Once they were settled in it, Arslan sent a force to besiege it and starve them out, knowing that the place had few supplies. He offered a choice: renounce Christianity and become captives, or be put to death.

The tables turned on Arslan after this, because the easy victory led him to believe that all the Crusaders would be easily handled. Unfortunately for him, a far more organized and strategy-oriented army was headed his way. He decided to refocus his attention on his rivalry with the Danishmend Turks, ignoring the soon-to-arrive actual First Crusade. 

As a result, he was away from Nicaea when the Crusaders besieged it in May 1097. Returning to Nicaea, he was defeated by the Crusaders on 21 May. Nicaea was then held by the Byzantines, and Arslan's wife and family were taken captive. She was sent to Constantinople to be held for ransom, but was returned without ransom (for reasons which are a separate chapter of Arslan's story).

Kilij Arslan means "sword lion," and he had a reputation for being a great soldier and leader, but in this case he decided not to go it alone and to ally himself with his Danishmend rivals (as he would later to deal with the Crusade of 1101), attempting to ambush the Crusaders at the end of June near Dorylaeum. The defensive line created by the disciplined Europeans, however, proved too strong for the Turkish mounted archers. The Turkish camp was captured on 1 July by the arrival of Bohemond with reinforcements. According to the Gesta Francorum, the Europeans gained respect for Aslan's tactics and soldiers, claiming "had the Turks been Christian, they would be the finest of all races."

Realizing he could not stop the conquest of the Holy Land, Arslan decided to spend his time on hit-and-run attempts on the Europeans. He also destroyed crops and water supplies in their path, but could not stop them. His experience here is what made him take the approach of the Crusade of 1101 much more seriously, but in that case he was facing a less-organized group that was easier to defeat.

Why, however, was his wife returned from Constantinople without the ransom the Europeans demanded? There were Byzantines in the Crusade, so clearly the Byzantines were enemies of Arslan. Or were they? I'll explain in the next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.