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Medieval Sourcebook:
William of Tyre:
The Fall of Edessa

[Introduction from Brundage] So long as the wars of the Latin states were confined to minor conflicts with one or two petty Moslem princes, no grave danger was entailed. But when major combinations of Moslem powers appeared, then the situation could become perilous indeed. On such occasions, the safety of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other principalities absolutely demanded that they cooperate for mutual defense. As has often happened in more modern times, however, the necessity for common action against a common foe was uncommonly difficult for kings and princes to appreciate. And even when the necessity for common action was perceived by the leaders of the Latin East, petty domestic quarrels between them frequently made their combinations with one another tenuous and halfhearted affairs. Thus it was that when the first concerted Moslem attack upon one of the Latin states occurred, the other states were diffident and disinclined to lend assistance to the one attacked.

The occasion arose in 1144, when the easternmost of the Latin states, Edessa, fell prey to Zengi. Zengi, whose rise to power had begun at Mosul in 1127, bad gradually acquired authority through war, intimidation, and treaty over a whole host of Moslem principalities in Syria. When his large and powerful army turned its unwelcome attention upon Edessa in 1144, Zengi found the Latins divided. The count of Edessa, Joscelyn II, was at odds with the prince of Antioch. The count of Tripoli was only vaguely interested in events so far to the east, and in Jerusalem, King Fulk bad just died, leaving the government in the hands of Queen Melisende as regent for their thirteen year old son, Baldwin III.

Consequently, Zengi found his attack opposed only by the negligible forces of Edessa itself.

In that same year, [1144] during the time which elapsed between the death of King Baldwin's father and Baldwin's elevation to the throne, one Zengi, a vicious man, was the most powerful of the Eastern Turks. His city, formerly called Nineveh, but now known as Mosul, is the metropolis of the region which was earlier called Assur. Zengi, its lord and governor, at this time laid siege to the city of Edessa, more commonly called Rohas, the greatest and most splendid city of the Medes. Zengi did this, relying on the numbers and strength of his men and also on the very dangerous strife which had arisen between Prince Raymond of Antioch and Count Joscelyn. of Edessa. The city of Edessa lies beyond the Euphrates, one day's journey from the river. The aforesaid Count of Edessa, contrary to the custom of his predecessors, had ceased to live in the city and made his constant and perpetual abode in a place called Turbessel. He did this both because of the richness of the spot and because of his own laziness. Here, far from the tumult A the enemy and free to pursue his pleasures, the count failed to take proper care of his noble city. The population of Edessa was made up of Chaldeans and Armenians, unwarlike men, scarcely familiar with the use of arms and accustomed only to the acts of trade. The city was only rarely visited by Latins and very few of them lived there. The safekeeping of the city was entrusted solely to mercenaries and these were not paid according to he type of service they performed or the length of time for which they were engaged ­ indeed, they often had to wait a year or more for the payment of their stated wages. Both Baldwin and the elder Joscelyn, when they held the county, made their home permanently and customarily in Edessa and took care to have the city supplied with food, arms, and other necessary items from nearby places. They had thus been able both to maintain themselves in safety and also to overawe the neighboring towns with their strength.

There was, as we have said before, bad feeling between Count Joscelyn and the Prince of Antioch ­ a feeling that was not hidden, but rather had become an open hatred. For this reason, each of them took little or no care if the other were attacked or suffered misfortune. Rather they rejoiced at the other's catastrophes and were made glad by the other's mishaps.

The aforesaid great prince, Zengi, took the opportunity offered by this situation. He gathered innumerable cavalry forces throughout all of the East; be even called up the people of the cities neighboring Edessa and brought them with him to lay siege to the day. He blockaded all of the entrances to the city, so that the besieged citizens could not get out and so that those who wished to help them could not get in. The resulting shortage of food aid provisions caused great suffering for the besieged. The city, however, was surrounded by a formidable wall. In the upper town there were high towers and down below there was the lower town where the citizens could take refuge, even if the city itself were taken. All these defenses could be of use against the enemy only if there were men willing to fight for their freedom, men who would resist the foe valiantly. The defenses would be useless, however, if there were none among the besieged who were willing :o serve as defenders. Towers, walls, and earthworks are of little value to a city unless there are defenders to man them. Zengi found the town bereft of defenders and was much encouraged. He encircled the town with his forces, assigned the officers of his legions to appropriate stations, and dug in. The catapults and siege engines weakened the fortifications; the continual shooting of arrows tormented the citizens incessantly; and the besieged were given no respite. It was announced, meanwhile, and the news was also spread by rumor, that the city of Edessa, a city faithful to God, was suffering the agonies of a siege at the hands of the enemy of the faith and the foe of the Christian name. At this news the hearts of the faithful, far and wide, were touched and zealous men began to take up arms to harass the wicked. The Count, when he beard of it, was stricken with anguish. Energetically he assembled his forces. . . . He went around admonishing his faithful friends. Humbly he besought his lord, the Prince of Antioch and, through messengers, he forcefully urged the prince to assist him in his labors to free Edessa from the yoke of future servitude . Messengers bearing news of this sinister event came even to the kingdom of Jerusalem, bearing witness to the siege of Edessa and to the misfortunes suffered by its citizens. The queen, who had charge of the kingdom's government, on the advice of the council of the nobles which she consulted, sent her kinsman, Manasses, the royal constable, Philip of Nablus, and Elinander of Tiberius, together with a great multitude of soldiers with all speed to Edessa that they might give the Lord Count and the suffering citizens the comfort which they desired.

The Prince of Antioch, however, rejoiced in Edessa's adversity and paid small attention to his duties for the common welfare. He was little concerned that personal hatred ought not cause public harm and made excuses, while he put off giving the aid which bad been requested.

Zengi, meanwhile, pressed continual assaults on the city. He ran the gamut of attacks and left nothing untried which could harass the citizens and aid him in gaining control of the city. He sent sappers through trenches and underground tunnels to undermine the walls. As they dug passages beneath the walls, they buttressed these with posts, which were afterward set on fire. A great part of the wall was thus broken down. This breach in the wall, more than 100 cubits wide, gave the enemy an entrance into the city. The enemy now had the approach they had desired. Their forces rushed together into the city. They slew with their swords the citizens whom they encountered, sparing neither age, condition, nor sex. of them it might be said: "They murder the widow and the stranger, they slay the orphan, the youth, and the virgin, together with the old Man." The city, therefore, was captured and delivered to the swords of the enemy.

The more prudent or more experienced citizens rushed to the citadel which, as we have said, was in the city. This they did so that they might at least preserve their lives, their children, and their wives, if only for a short time. At the gate there was such a crush of people trying to enter that, because of the press of the crowd, many were suffocated and died miserably. Among these was the most reverend Hugh, the Archbishop of the city. He is said to have expired in this fashion together with several of his clerics. Some of those who were present would blame his miserable end on the Archbishop himself, for he is said to have collected a vast sum of money, Had he used this for soldiers, it would have been helpful to the city, but he preferred to heap up his treasure like a miser rather than to consider his dying people. Thus it happened that he received the reward of his greed by perishing with his people....

Thus while the Prince of Antioch, overcome by foolish hatred, delayed rendering the help he owed to his brothers and while the count awaited help from abroad, the ancient city of Edessa, devoted to Christianity since the time of the Apostles and delivered from the superstitions of the infidels through the words and preaching of the Apostle Thaddeus, passed into an undeserved servitude.


William of Tyre, Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum [History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea], XIV, 4-5, Patrologia Latina 201, 642-45, Translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 79-82
Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover he gave permission for use of his translations.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall December 1997
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