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The taking of the city of Antioch, 1098

Submitted by Andre Luiz Clinio

I n October 20th, 1097, the Crusade troops laid siege to Antioch. At that time, it was not possible to ensure the siege's success because Antioch was full of provisions and could be supplied with soldiers, food, and weapons by its allies at any time. Moreover, the Christians foolhardily spent their provisions and came to starvation in less than two months. For these reasons, the siege represented a meaningless enterprise despite the Crusaders' strength. Winter used to be hard at that region, but it was specially harsh that year. Cold and torrential storms turned the Christian camp into a big mud pond. Dirty, wet, hungry, and sick the fighters were suffering and dying.

I nside Antioch, on the other hand, Yaghi-Syan, the lord of the city, was organizing the defense, recruiting more soldiers and appealing to other Muslim princes like Dukak and Kurbuka, from whom he obtained promises of reinforcement. Everything seemed to be turning into a disaster...

T he siege came to its third month under the worst of conditions. All the Crusaders could expect was the arrival of an even stronger Turkish army to defend the city and a humilliating withdrawal, apart from the risk of being massacred on their way home. Tired, sick, and hopeless, the Christians were strong enough to sustain the siege. Little by little and supplied through the sea, they could blockade almost the entire city. However, the Turkish army did not lose their courage; besides, Kurbuka, the undefeated warrior, was coming with his entire army to reinforce the city's defense.

A n unique opportunity arose. Firuz, an agent from Antioch, contacted a Crusade leader (Bohemond) and offered him the possibility of invasion by betrayal. He accepted the offer and Antioch fell under Christian control more easily. However, since Kurbuka arrived just one day after the taking, the Crusaders had time to invade the city but not to get organized.

Y et, far away from a victory, the Christian army faced a even more critical situation than the taking: their men were exhausted, almost decimated and with no provisions. Furthermore, Kurbuka insisted on his hard attacks. The Crusaders were in such a distress that they refused to get off their quarters. Desertions occurred frequently, the desertors spread panic. The retaking of Antioch by the Turkish prince seemed imminent.

T he worst desertions were those of the great baron Itienne and Guilherme de Grandsmesnil altogether with their troops. Both went back and took refuge with Alex Comeno, the Byzantine emperor and Christian ally, who was marching to Antioch with his army. The barons told Comeno that the Crusade was over. It would be wasteful to continue, they said, as the rest of the Crusaders were probably dead. Therefore, it would be better for Comeno to stay in a safe position.

T The emperor stopped his march. The Christians in Antioch, not knowing what the desertors had done, believed that Comeno had abandoned them. Desperation laid over the Christians. At that moment only a miracle could save ``God's Army''. The soldiers refused to execute any order and only got out of their accomodations when Bohemond set fire on them. Scared with the smoke and the fire, there had no choice but to fight and defend the city. But, an unusual event saved them. And it was something that all historians believe to be a miracle regardless of their different beliefs.

T he miracle's author was so unimportant until that moment that Muslim historicians cannot precise his identity. His name was Peter Barthelemy and he was neither a monk nor a soldier, but simply a servant of a poor burgess. He had such a terrible reputation that his colleagues considered him immoral. He said, however, he had been visited by Saint Andrew and Jesus in his dreams.

B arthelemy became so obsessed by these dreams that he insisted to tell them to the Christian leaders. In these `fantasies'', Jesus and Saint Andrew ordered Peter to tell the Crusaders that their immoral relationship with pagan women brought God's anger. Nevertheless, God was ready to forgive their sins by sending a sign of His pardon. God revealed the location of the Holy Spear, which had been used against Jesus during the Crucifixion. According to Peter's dreams, the spear was buried under the Church of Antioch. It was known that the authentic spear was in Constantinople. However, the Crusaders' state of mind provoked the appearance of other phenomena. Many other soldiers had visions, or dreams in such a wave that the Christian barons allowed Peter to look for the spear under the Saint Jacques' Church.

T he spear was just a rusty piece of iron found under the old church. When Peter came out of the hole with the ``spear'', everybody fell to their knees and cried. The bishop of Puy had to, against his will, admit the possibility of having found the real spear. Morover, the barons thought it was clever not to disappoint the soldiers. There is no explanation for the incredible transformation on the soldiers' enthusiasm. Desperate men became mighty warriors, ready to kill a much better and numerous enemy. The Crusaders then decided to leave small troops to defend the city and perform a massive attack in the field -- a desperate enterprise. Kurbuka made the mistake of letting them prepare formation in the battlefield; he wanted to kill them all, with one shot.

U nder the Christian's attack, Kurbuka and his men scattered, leaving all the treasure behind. But, following Peter's instructions, the Crusaders did not lose time in pillage. Instead, they went after the enemy and killed the most part of Kurbuka's army. The Turkish prince returned to Turkey with few men, desperate and telling that nothing could defeat the brave men from the North. The Turkish reputation was enormous and the Christians gave all credits of victory to the Divine Grace. Despite the value of the Christian soldiers and the energy of their leaders, The Crusades' moral was the main factor of their resistance.In conclusion, Kurbuka was defeated by Peter and the ``Holy Spear'' rather than by Bohemond and his leadership.

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