The Siege of Nicaea
The Siege of Nicaea took place from May 14 to June 19, 1097, during the First Crusade.
Nicaea, located on the eastern shore of Lake İznik, had been captured from the Eastern Roman Empire by the Seljuk Turks in 1081, and formed the capital of the Sultanate of Rüm.
Background to The First Crusade
The First Crusade (1096–1099) was the military expedition by Roman Catholic Europe to assist the Eastern Roman Empire and regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquests of the Levant (632–661). Ultimately The Crusade resulted in the recapture of Jerusalem in 1099.
It was launched on 27 November 1095 by Pope Urban II with the primary goal of responding to an appeal from Eastern Roman Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who requested that western volunteers come to his aid and help to repel the invading Seljuq Turks from Anatolia. An additional goal soon became the principal objective—the Christian reconquest of the sacred city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and the freeing of the Eastern Christians from Islamic rule.
|Alexios I Komnenos
The Emperor was deeply concerned
about this huge, aggressive and very
hungry western army looting and killing
their way right up to his city gates.
During the Crusade, knights and peasants from many nations of Western Europe travelled over land and by sea, first to Constantinople and then on towards Jerusalem.
The Seljuq Turks had taken over almost all of Anatolia after the Roman defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, with the result that on the eve of the Council of Clermont, the territory controlled by the Eastern Roman Empire had been reduced by more than half.
By the time of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, the Eastern Roman Empire was largely confined to Balkan Europe and the northwestern fringe of Anatolia, and faced Norman enemies in the west as well as Turks in the east. In response to the defeat at Manzikert and subsequent Byzantine losses in Anatolia in 1074, Pope Gregory VII had called for the milites Christi ("soldiers of Christ") to go to Byzantium's aid.
Until the Crusaders' arrival the Romans had continually fought the Seljuqs and other Turkish dynasties for control of Anatolia and Syria.
The four main Crusader armies left Europe around August 1096. They took different paths to Constantinople and gathered outside its city walls between November 1096 and April 1097; Hugh of Vermandois arrived first, followed by Godfrey, Raymond, and Bohemond. This time, Emperor Alexios was more prepared for the crusaders; there were fewer incidents of violence along the way.
The size of the entire Crusader army is difficult to estimate; various numbers were given by the eyewitnesses, and equally various estimates have been offered by modern historians. Crusader armies may have consisted of about 30,000–35,000 crusaders, including 5,000 cavalry. Raymond had the largest contingent of about 8,500 infantry and 1,200 cavalry.
|Pope Urban II
The princes arrived in Constantinople with little food and expected provisions and help from Alexios. Alexios was understandably suspicious after his experiences with People's Crusade, and also because the knights included his old Norman enemy, Bohemond, who had invaded Byzantine territory on numerous occasions with his father, Robert Guiscard, and may have even attempted to organize an attack on Constantinople while encamped outside the city.
The Crusaders may have expected Alexios to become their leader, but he had no interest in joining them, and was mainly concerned with transporting them into Asia Minor as quickly as possible. In return for food and supplies, Alexios requested the leaders to swear fealty to him and promise to return to the Byzantine Empire any land recovered from the Turks.
Godfrey was the first to take the oath, and almost all the other leaders followed him, although they did so only after warfare had almost broken out in the city between the citizens and the crusaders, who were eager to pillage for supplies. Raymond alone avoided swearing the oath, instead pledging that he would simply cause no harm to the Empire. Before ensuring that the various armies were shuttled across the Bosporus, Alexios advised the leaders on how best to deal with the Seljuq armies that they would soon encounter.
In 1096, the People's Crusade, the first stage of the First Crusade, had plundered the land surrounding the city, before being destroyed by the Turks. As a result, Sultan Kilij Arslan I initially felt that the second wave of crusaders were not a threat. He left his family and his treasury behind in Nicaea and went east to fight the Danishmends for control of the Melitene.
The First Crusade - Terry Jones
|Left to right: Crusaders Godfrey, Tancred, Raymond, Bohemund
The Crusaders began to leave Constantinople at the end of April 1097. Alexius’s first goal was to recapture Nicaea, southeast of Constantinople.
The Seljuk Turks had captured this city and their Sultan, Kilij Arslan brazenly declared Nicaea his capital. They posed the greatest threat to Byzantium because of Nicaea’s close proximity to Constantinople. For that reason, it wouldn’t take much effort for the Turks to march north and invade Constantinople. Determined and ferocious, the Turks resisted every Byzantine attempt to re-conquer Nicaea. But now, Alexius had an immense Latin army at his disposal and he was prepared to unleash them, confident that they would drive the Turks out of Nicaea for good.
Since summer was fast approaching, Alexius was anxious to move the Crusaders along, and the Crusaders, themselves, were growing impatient.
It was a perfect time for the crusaders to lay siege to Nicaea because Kilij Arslan was embroiled in conflict with the Danishmend princes over the suzerainty of Melitene on his eastern frontier. His easy defeat of Peter the Hermit’s army taught Kilij Arslan that the crusaders were nothing more than a bunch of unskilled, rabble-rousers, so he did not fear them. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Just as he was the first prince to arrive in Constantinople, Godfrey of Bouillon was the first to march on Nicaea. He left Pelecanum sometime the end of April, his army joined by that of Bohemond’s which as commanded by Tancred, as well as Peter the Hermit and what remained of his following. Bohemond stayed in Constantinople and arranged with the emperor provisions for the crusaders: siege engines, food, armor and Byzantine soldiers.
Godfrey and Tancred’s combined forces arrived at Nicaea in early May, followed by those of Robert of Normany, Raymond, Count of Toulouse, the Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Stephen of Blois one month later.
The Crusaders saw almost right away that, to conquer Nicaea, would be no easy feat. It was heavily fortified: encircling the city was a 10 meter (33 foot) tall wall that was nearly 5 kilometers (3 miles) long in circumference. The wall boasted 114 towers from which warriors could keep watch for enemy advancement, and the western wall rose almost right out of Askanian Lake.
The only way to attack the city at its west end was by boat, but the Crusaders had no boats. Neither did the 2,000 Byzantine infantry — commanded by General Tatikios — who accompanied them. So, the one and only option to lay siege was to encircle the south, north and east walls, cutting Nicaea off from the outside world. Godfrey’s army blockaded the northern wall; Tancred positioned his troops outside the eastern wall; Raymond of Toulouse and the remaining princes took the southern wall.
|The Walls of Nicaea
Southern gate; triumphal arches were incorporated when the walls
were built. About 10,000 Seljuk Turks defended the city.
|City wall around Nicaea
|A section of the 5 miles of Roman walls still surrounding Nicaea.
The Siege of Nicaea
When Kilij Arslan learnt that the Crusaders had besieged Nicaea, he was caught off guard. He hastened back to his army, then marched on Nicaea with the intention to launch a surprise attack on the south wall. Kilij Arslan hid his army in the thickly wooded hills close to the city and, when he thought he could take the enemy by surprise, Kilij ordered his troops to attack.
But the Crusaders were not to be fooled: they were fully prepared to engage the Turks in battle. Prior to the Turkish ambush, they had caught a Turkish spy in their camp, forced him to reveal Kilij Arslan’s plans and abandon his sultan under pain of torture.
On May 16, the Turkish defenders sallied out to attack the Crusaders, but the Turks were defeated in a skirmish with the loss of 200 men. The Turks sent messages to Kilij Arslan begging him to return, and when he realized the strength of the crusaders he quickly turned back. An advance party was defeated by troops under Raymond and Robert of Flanders on May 20, and on May 21, the Crusader army defeated Kilij in a pitched battle which lasted long into the night. Losses were heavy on both sides but in the end the Sultan retreated, despite the pleas of the Nicaean Turks.
Faced no longer with the threat from Turks in the surrounding countryside, the crusaders refocused all of their energy on the siege. “Our men hurled the heads of the killed far into the city, that they (the Turks) might be the more terrified thereat,” the Gesta Account suggested. To the Christian warriors, catapulting heads of their enemy’s dead wasn’t enough: they placed some of those heads on spikes and paraded them around the walls in effort to strike greater terror into the hearts of the Turkish garrison, hoping that they will capitulate.
The Turks, though, were not willing to submit: they put up a fierce resistance against the Crusaders. In retaliation, they strung up dead Christian warriors along the wall and left them there to rot.
After spending several weeks fighting, unable to breech the thick walls, the Crusaders realized that, if they were to capture Nicaea, they had to employ more than one strategy. They had effectively blockaded Nicaea from the outside world, but the west wall was left open, leaving that side of the city open to receive supplies from allies.
The Crusaders couldn’t scale the walls with ladders as earlier attempts to do so had failed. They also couldn’t bombard the walls with stones using mangonels; they couldn’t find stones large enough to penetrate those walls. So, instead, they bombarded the walls with light missiles while a contingent of troops attempted to undermine the walls by hand.
Another contingent of Christian warriors built a screen, made of oak that boasted a sloping roof. This screen was built to protect them from the onslaught of arrow heads, stones and boiling water or tar. They ran the screen up against the wall and began immediately to undermine the walls. “So they dug to the foundations of the wall and fixed timbers and wood under it and then set fire to it.
However, evening had come; the tower had already fallen in the night, and because it was night they could not fight with the enemy. Indeed, during that night the Turks hastily built up and restored the wall so strongly that when day came no one could harm them on that side.” This made the crusaders’ task at hand much more difficult because, faced with an equally formidable foe, they had to imagine a new and better strategy to take Nicaea.
Kingdom of Heaven Soundtrack
Nicaea Surrenders to Alexius I Comnenus
As June wore on, the early summer heat bore down upon the Crusaders, making their war against the Turkish garrison at Nicaea even more unbearable than it already was. But they were not all alone. All that time, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus made sure he was kept up to date on the siege. It was quite possible that his general commander, Tatikios, kept Alexius well informed. When no news of Nicaea’s capture came to his attention, Alexius decided to intervene.
The Crusaders, in the meantime, fought valiantly and ferociously, but the Turks displayed an equal level of military prowess. That was because Nicaea’s heavily fortified walls and aid from allies afforded them the ability to resist the Franks until Alexius showed up on the shores of Askanian Lake with a flotilla.
Emperor Alexius I chose not to accompany the Crusaders, but marched out behind them and made his camp at nearby Pelecanum. From there, he sent boats, rolled over the land, to help the crusaders blockade Lake Ascanius, which had up to this point been used by the Turks to supply Nicaea with food. The boats arrived on June 17, under the command of Manuel Boutoumites.
It was at that point the Turks realized that if they continued to resist the now combined forces of Latins and Byzantines, they would all be massacred. So, they sent a letter to Alexius, expressing their desire to surrender the city, and begged for mercy; to let them leave with their wives and children unharmed.
Without the Crusaders knowing, Alexius conducted terms of surrender with the Turkish garrison and graciously allowed them to purchase their freedom. The Byzantines also took much of the booty inside the city without the Crusaders knowing. Nicaea was, once again and to Alexius’s greatest delight, under Byzantine dominion.
The siege of Nicaea was a high point in Byzantine-Latin relations: Emperor Alexius was immensely satisfied because the crusaders had, thus far, accomplished what he had required, while the crusaders were – despite the heavy losses they suffered – revelling in their first victory.
Alexius planned to reward the Franks, but before he did so, he made those who did not swear the oath in Constantinople – namely Tancred and Baldwin of Boulogne – swear their oath of allegiance to him. They did so, but begrudgingly.
Regardless, all of the Crusaders – warriors and non-combatants alike — were grateful for the emperor’s generosity. According to Fulcher of Chartres, a chronicler of the First Crusade, “The Emperor ordered gifts to be presented to our leaders, gifts of gold, and silver, and raiment; and to the foot-soldiers he distributed brass coins, which they call tartarons.” The emperor also made sure the poorer Franks were rewarded.
That task complete, Alexius provided the Latin princes with valuable advice: how to draw a battle line and how to lay an ambush. He even educated them on Turkish strategy and ordered Tatikios to accompany the Latin army with a small contingent of Byzantine soldiers.
Because they were preparing for the march south, further away from Constantinople, Alexius did not need to direct them as closely as he had at Nicaea. That is not to say he released the Crusaders from their duty to his empire. Alexius had every intention to direct them. Until the Crusaders reached the walls of Antioch, Alexius kept in contact with the princes.
The Crusaders left Nicaea on June 26, in two contingents: Bohemond, Tancred, Robert of Flanders, and Taticius in the vanguard, and Godfrey, Baldwin of Boulogne, Stephen, and Hugh of Vermandois in the rear. Taticius was instructed to ensure the return of captured cities to the empire. Their spirits were high, and Stephen wrote to his wife Adela that they expected to be in Jerusalem in five weeks.
On July 1, they defeated Kilij at the Battle of Dorylaeum, and by October they reached Antioch; they would not reach Jerusalem until two years after leaving Nicaea.
|The First Crusade 1096-99
Siege of Nicea - The Gesta Account
". . . we began to attack the city on all sides, and to construct machines of wood, and wooden towers, with which we might be able to destroy towers on the walls. We attacked the city so bravely and so fiercely that we even undermined its wall. The Turks who were in the city, barbarous horde that they were, sent messages to others who had come up to give aid."
"The Count of St. Gilles and the Bishop of Puy. The Count, approaching from another side, was protected by divine might, and with his most powerful army gloried in terrestrial strength. And so he found the Turks, coming against us here. Armed on all sides with the sign of the cross, he rushed upon them violently and overcame them. They turned in flight, and most of them were killed."
"However, there was a large lake on one side of the city, on which the Turks used to send out their ships, and go back and forth and bring fodder, wood, and many other things. Then our leaders counselled together and sent messengers to Constantinople to tell the Emperor to have ships brought to Civitote, where there is a fort, and that he should order oxen to be brought to drag the ships over the mountains and through the woods, until they neared the lake."
"Moreover, at earliest daybreak the ships stood in good order and hastened through the lake against the city. The Turks marvelled upon seeing them, not knowing whether they were manned by their own forces or the Emperor's. However, after they recognized that it was the host of the Emperor, they were frightened even to death, weeping and lamenting; and the Franks were glad and gave glory to God."
"We were engaged in that siege for seven weeks and three days. Many of our men there received martyrdom, and, glad and rejoicing, gave back their happy souls to God. Many of the very poor died of hunger for the name of Christ."
Medieval Sourcebook: The Siege and Capture of Nicea
Account of Raymond d'Aguiliers
"We recognized, then, that the Emperor had betrayed Peter the Hermit, who had long before come to Constantinople with a great multitude. For he compelled him, ignorant of the locality and of all military matters, to cross the Strait with his men and exposed them to the Turks. Moreover, when the Turks from Nicea saw that unwarlike multitude, they cut them down without effort and delay to the number of sixty thousand. The rest, indeed, fled to a certain fortified place and escaped the swords of the Turks. The Turks, made bold and haughty by this, sent the arms and the captives which they had taken there to the Saracens and the nobles of their own race, and they wrote to the peoples and cities far off that the Franks were of no account in battle."
The Great Seljuk Empire
|Emperor Alexius I:
Letter to the Abbot of Monte Cassino
"I beseech you earnestly to furnish aid to the army of Franks, your most thoughtful letters state. Let your Venerable Holiness be assured on that score, for my empire has been spread over them and will aid and advise them on all matters; indeed, it has already cooperated with them according to its ability, not as a friend, or relative, but like a father. It has expended among them more than anyone can enumerate. And had not my empire so cooperated with them and aided them, who else would have afforded them help? Nor does it grieve my empire to assist a second time. By God's grace, they are prospering up to this day in the service which they have begun, and they will continue to prosper in the future as long as good purpose leads them on. A multitude of knights and foot soldiers have gone to the Eternal Tabernacle, some of which were killed; others died. Blessed, indeed, are they, since they met their end in good intent!"
Medieval Sourcebook: The Siege and Capture of Nicea
Princess Anna Comnena
"The august Emperor tarried about Pelacanum for some time, since he desired those Gallic counts who were not yet bound to him also to take the oath of loyalty. To this end, he sent a letter to Butumites, asking all the counts in common not to start upon the journey to Antioch until they had said farewell to the Emperor. If they did this, they would all be showered with new gifts by him. Bohemund was the first to prick up his ears at the mention of money and gifts. Quickly won by these words of Butumites, he strove industriously to force all the others to return to the Emperor - so greatly did cupidity move the man. The Emperor received them on their arrival at Pelecanum with magnificence and the greatest show of goodwill."
"At length, when they were assembled, he addressed them thus: "'You know that you have all bound yourselves to me by oath; if you do not now intend to ignore this, advise and persuade those of your number who have not yet pledged faith to take the oath." They immediately summoned the counts who had not sworn. All of these came together and took the oath."
|11th Century Seljuk Turk Soldiers
(European History) (Siege of Nicaea) (First Crusade) (Crusades)
(Anna Comnena - Alexiad)