The Decline of Christian Power in the Holy Land, 1164
Letter from Aymeric, patriarch of Antioch, to
Louis VII of France
[Bernard and Hodges] Capturing the Holy Land was hard enough;
preserving Christian rule there was even more difficult. There
were never enough knights to form an adequate garrison, and the
Christian settlements were widely scattered and easily isolated.
The fall of the County of Edessa to the Moslems in 1144 marked
the beginning of the end. The Second Crusade failed completely.
This left Christians in the Levant in a desperately weak position.
Aymeric of Antioch, in this appeal to King Louis VII of France,
depicts the plight of the badly outnumbered Christian knights
in the face of a resurgent Moslem unity under Nureddin (Nourrddin).
Aymeric, by the grace of God, patriarch of the holy Apostolic
See of Antioch, to Louis, illustrious king of the French,-greeting
and Apostolic benediction.
It would be fitting that we should always write joyful tidings
to his royal majesty and should increase the splendor of his heart
by the splendor and delight of our words. But the reverse has
ever been our lot. The causes for tears, forsooth, are constant,
the grief and the groaning are continuous, and we are unable to
speak except of what concerns us. For the proverb says: "Where
the grief is, there is also the tongue and hand." The deaths
of the Christians are frequent and the captures which we see daily.
Moreover, the wasting away of the church in the East afflicts
with ineradicable grief us who, tortured internally even to our
destruction, are dying while living in anguish of soul, and, leading
a life more bitter than death, as a culmination of our miseries,
are wholly unable to die. Nor is there anyone who turns his heart
towards us and out of pity directs his hand to aid us. But not
to protract our words, the few Christians who are here cry out
to you, together with us, and implore your clemency, which with
God's assistance is sufficient to liberate us and the church of
God in the East.
And now we will tell you of all the events which have happened
to us. In the Lent which has just passed, a certain one (N0ureddin)
of the men who are about us, who is held as chief among the Saracens,
and who oppresses our Christian population far more than all who
have gone before, and the leader of his army [Schirkuh] . having
gotten possession of Damascus, the latter entered Egypt with a
great force of Turks, in order to conquer the country. Accordingly,
the king of Egypt, who is also called the sultan of Babylon, distrusting
his own valor and that of his men, held a most warlike council
to determine how to meet the advancing Turks and how he could
obtain the aid of the king of Jerusalem. For he wisely preferred
to rule under tribute rather than to be deprived of both life
The former, therefore, as we have said, entered Egypt, and favored
by certain men of that land, captured and fortified a certain
city. In the meantime the sultan made an alliance with the, lord
king [Amalric] by promising to pay tribute each year and release
all the Christian captives in Egypt, and obtained the aid of the
lord king. The latter before setting out, committed the. care
of his kingdom and land, until his return, to us and to our, new
prince, his kinsman Bohemond, son of the former prince, Raymond.
Therefore, the great devastator of the Christian people, who rules
near us, collected together from all sides the kings and races
of the infidels and offered a peace and truce to our prince and
very frequently urged it. His reason was that he wished to traverse
our land with greater freedom in order to devastate the kingdom
of Jerusalem and to be able to bear aid to his vassal fighting
in Egypt. But our prince was unwilling to make peace with him
until the return of our lord king.
When the former saw that he was not able to accomplish what he
had proposed, full of wrath, he turned his weapons against us
and laid siege to a certain fortress of ours, called Harrenc,
twelve miles distant from our city. But those who were besieged
- 7000 in number including warriors, men and women-cried loudly
to us, ceasing neither day nor night, to have pity on them, and
fixed a day beyond which it would be impossible for them to hold
out. Our prince having collected all his forces, set out from
Antioch on the day of St. Lawrence and proceeded as far as the
fortress in entire safety. For the Turks in their cunning gave
up the siege and withdrew a short distance from the fortress to
some narrow passes in their own country.
On the next day our men followed the enemy to that place and while
they were marching without sufficient circumspection, battle was
engaged and they fled. The conflict was so disastrous that hardly
anyone of ours of any rank escaped, except a few whom the strength
of their horses or some lucky chance rescued from the tumult.
Those captured were our prince [Bohemond III], the count of Tripoli
[Raymond II], a certain Greek, Calaman, [Governoe of Cilicia,
in the Service of the Byzantine Emperor] a duke of illustrious
lineage, Mamistrensis, Hugh of Lesiniaco, and some
of the brethren of the Templars and Hospitalers who bad come from
the county of Tripoli with the count. Of the people, some were
killed, others captured; very few escaped; men, horses and weapons
were almost entirely destroyed.
After the slaughter of the Christians the Turks returned to the
above mentioned fortress, captured it, and by compact conducted
the feeble multitude of women, children and wounded as far as
Antioch. Afterwards they advanced to the City, devastated the
whole country as far as the sea with fire and sword and exercised
their tyranny according to their lusts on everything which met
God is witness that the remnant which is left us is in no way
sufficient to guard the walls night and day, and owing to the
scarcity of men, we are obliged to entrust their safety and defense
to some whom we suspect. Neglecting the church services, the clergy
and presbyters guard the gates. We ourselves are looking after
the defense of the walls and, as far as possible, are repairing,
with great and unremitting labor, the many portions which have
been broken down by earthquakes. And all this in vain, unless
God shall look upon us with a more kindly countenance. For we
do not hope to bold out longer, inasmuch as the valor of the men
of the present day has been exhausted and is of no avail. But
we do, in order that whatever can be done may not be left undone
Above all, the only anchor which is left in this extremity for
our hope is in you. Because we have heard from everybody of your
greatness, because we have understood that you, more than all
the other kings of the West, always have the East in mind. From
that we are given to understand that your joy will not be full
until you accomplish at some time what we are unable through our
misdeeds to accomplish. And it is our hope that by your hand the
Lord will visit His people and will have compassion on us.
May the sighings and groanings of the Christians enter the ear
of the most high and incomparable prince; may the tortures and
griefs of the captives strike his heartl And, not to make our
letter too long, lest we should waste away in this vain hope and
be for a long time consumed by the shadow of death, may his royal
majesty deign to write to us and tell us his pleasure. Whatever
we undergo by his command will not be difficult for u s. May our
Lord Jesus Christ increase in the heart of the king the desire
which we desire, and may He in whose hand are the hearts of kings
enkindle that heart! Amen.
Letter from Aymeric, patriarch of Antioch, to Louis VII of France,
1164, in Dana C. Munro, "Letters of the Crusaders", Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European
History, Vol 1:4, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania,
1896), 14-17. Reprinted in Leon Bernard and Theodore B. Hodges,
eds. Readings in European History, (New York: Macmillan,
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.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the
document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying,
distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal
use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source.
No permission is granted for commercial use.
© Paul Halsall June 1997