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Medieval Sourcebook:
The Siege and Capture of Nicea:
Collected Accounts


MAY-JUNE, 1097

Nicea, which has been the scene of the destruction of the popular crusade was the capitla of t the Seljuq ruler Kilij Arslan. It was essential to capture it to gain access to the main land route through Asia Minor to Syria. The crusaders attacked and laid siege to Nicea on May 21 1097. On June 19 the city surrendered to an army of Alexius I (instead of dealing with the reputedly violent Latins). Nicea was the first major Crusader victory

 


1. The Gesta Account

And thus Duke Godfrey went first to Nicomedia, together with Tancred and all the rest, and they were there for three days. The Duke, indeed, seeing that there was no road open by which he could conduct these hosts to the city of Nicaea, for so great an army could not pass through the road along which the others had passed before, sent ahead three thousand men with axes and swords to cut and clear this road, so that it would lie open even to the city of Nicaea. They cut this road through a very Darrow and very great mountain and fixed back along the way iron and wooden crosses on posts, so that the pilgrims would know the way. Meanwhile, we came to Nicaea, which is the capital of all Romania, on the fourth day, the day before the Nones of May, and there encamped. However, before Lord Bohemund had arrived, there was such scarcity of bread among us that one loaf was sold for twenty or thirty denarii. After the illustrious man, Bobemund, came, be ordered the greatest market to be brought by sea, and it came both ways at the same time, this by land and that by sea, and there was the greatest abundance in the whole army of Christ.

Moreover, on the day of the Ascension of the Lord 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 message ran in this wise: that they might approach the city boldly and in security and enter through the middle gate, because on that side no one would oppose them or put them to grief. This gate was besieged on that very day - the Sabbath after the Ascension of the Lord - by 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. They came back again, reinforced by others, joyful and exulting in assured (outcome) of battle, and bearing along with them the ropes with which to lead us bound to Chorosan. Coming gladly, moreover, they began to descend from the crest of the mountain a short distance. As many as descended remained there with their heads cut off at the hands of our men; moreover, our men hurled the heads of the killed far into the city, that they (the Turks) might be the more terrified thereat. Then the Count of St. Gilles and the Bishop of Puy took counsel together as to how they might have undermined a certain tower which was opposite their tents. Men were assigned to do the digging, with arbalistae and bowmen to defend them on all sides. 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.

Now the Count of Normandy came up, Count Stephen and many others, and finally Roger of Barneville. At length Bohemund, at the very front, besieged the city. Beside him was Tancred, after him Duke Godfrey, then the Count of St. Gilles, next to whom was the Bishop of Puy. it was so besieged by land that no one dared to go out or in. There all our forces were assembled in one body, and who could have counted so great an army of Christ? No one, as 1 think, has ever before seen so many distinguished knights or ever will again!

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. This was done forthwith, and he sent his Turcopoles with them. They did not want to put the ships on the lake on the very day that they were brought across, but under cover of night they launched them on the lake itself, (The boats were) filled with Turcopoles well decorated with arms. 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.

The Turks, moreover, seeing that they could have no further aid from their armies, sent a message to the Emperor that they would willingly surrender the city, if he would permit them to go entirely away with their wives and children and all their substance. Then the Emperor, full of vain and evil thinking, ordered them to depart unpunished, without any fear, and to be brought to him at Constantinople with great assurance (of safety). These he cared for zealously, so that he had them prepared against any damage or hindrance from the Franks. 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, and these bore triumphantly to heaven their robes of martyrdom crying with one voice, "Avenge, Lord, our blood which has been shed for Thee, who are blessed and praiseworthy forever and ever. Amen." In the meanwhile, after the city had been surrendered and the Turks had been conducted to Constantinople, the Emperor, more and more rejoiced because the city had been surrendered to his power, ordered the greatest alms to be distributed to our poor.

Source:

August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 101-103

2. Raymond d'Aguiliers

Thereupon, we crossed the sea and went up to Nicaea. For the Duke, Bohemund, and the other princes had preceded the Count and were engaged in the labors of the siege. The city of Nicaea is very strongly fortified by nature, as well as by art. It has on the west a very large lake flowing up to the wall; on the remaining three sides is a moat filled with the overflow of certain little streams; in addition, it is encircled by walls so high that neither the assaults of men nor the attacks of any machine are feared. Indeed, the ballistae of the neighboring towers are so turned with reference to one another that no one can approach without danger; however, if anyone wants to approach nearer, he is easily overwhelmed from the top of the towers without being able to retaliate.

Accordingly, this city, such as we have described, was besieged by Bohemund from the north, by the Duke and the Alemanni from the east, by the Count and Bishop of Puy from the middle, for the Count of Normandy was not yet with us. But we believe this one incident should not be passed over - that when the Count was about to encamp there with his men, the Turks, descending from the mountains in two squadrons, attacked our army. Their plan, indeed, was that while one party of the Turks assailed the Duke and the Alemanni who were on the east, the other party, entering the middle gate of the city and passing out through another, would easily drive our men from the camp at a time when they were not expecting such an attack. But God, who is wont to reverse the plan of the impious, so altered their preparations that, as if it had been arranged, He sent the Count, who was preparing to encamp with his men, upon the squadron of Turks which was now about to enter the city. He put them to flight at the first charge and, after killing several, pursued the rest to the top of the mountain. The other party of Turks which wanted to attack the Alemanni was put to flight in the same way and destroyed. After this, machines were constructed and the wall attacked in vain, for it was very firm against us and was valiantly defended by arrows and machines. So we fought five weeks with no result. At length, through God's will, some men of the household of the Bishop and the Count dangerously enough approached the comer tower which faced the east, and having made a testudo, they began, after a struggle., to undermine one of the towers and by digging threw it to the ground. Thus the city would have been taken, had not the shadows of night prevented. However, the wall was rebuilt during the night, and this rendered our former labor vain. At length the city, terrified with fear, was compelled to surrender. One reason was that the ships of the Emperor which had been dragged over the land were let down into the lake. They therefore gave themselves up to the Emperor, since they now expected no further aid and saw the army of the Franks increasing daily, while they were cut off from their forces. The Count of Normandy had come. Alexius had promised the princes and the people of the Franks that be would give them all the gold, silver, horses, and goods within (the city), and that be would establish there a Latin monastery and hospice for the poor Franks; besides, that be would give to each one of the army so much of his own possessions that they would always want to fight for him. Accordingly, the Franks, placing faith in these promises, approved the surrender. And so, when Alexius had received the city, be afforded the army such an example of gratitude that as long as they live the people will curse him and proclaim him a traitor.

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.

Source:

August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 103-105

3. Anna Comnena

[Alexiad 11:2]

But though the Emperor wished to attach himself to the Gauls and advance with them against the barbarians, yet, fearing their countless multitude, he decided to go to Pelecanum, in order that by camping near Nicaea he might learn what was happening to the Gauls, and also learn the undertakings of the Turks outside, as well as the conditions in the city. . . .

[Alexiad 11:3]

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.

Tancred, however, nephew of Bohemund and a youth of most independent spirit, professed that he owed faith to Bohemund alone, and would serve him even to death. Rebuked by the loud protest of those of his own fellows who stood near, and of the Emperor's retinue, besides, he turned toward the tent in which the Emperor was then dwelling the largest and most capacious which anyone has ever seen and, as if to make sport of them, said, "if you give me this (tent) full of money and, in addition, all the other presents which you gave all the counts, I, too, will take the oath." But Palaeologus, full of zeal for the Emperor, could not endure the mocking speech of Tancred and pushed him away with contempt. Then Tancred, very ready with his arms, sprang upon him. Seeing this, the Emperor arose hastily from his seat and stood between them. Bohemund, too, restrained the youth, saying "It is not fitting shamefully to strike the kinsman of the Emperor." Then Tancred, recognizing the disgrace of his insolence toward Palaeologus, and persuaded by the advice of Bohemund and the others, offered to take the oath himself....

Source:

August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 109-110

4. Emperor Alexius I: Letter to the Abbot of Monte Cassino

How much you have written to my empire, most venerable servant of God, abbot of the monastery of Monte Cassino! I have read your letter which declares honor and praise to my empire. Toward me and my subjects there is, indeed, very great favor from Almighty and Most Merciful God, for many are His blessings. Through His compassion and by His grace He has honored and exalted my empire. However, not only because I have nothing of good within me, but because I sin above all men, I daily pray that His compassion and patience may be sent to sustain my weakness. But you, filled with goodness and virtue, judge me, sinner that I am, a good man, and truly you have the advantage of me. My empire, though it is praised without having work worthy of praise, holds the praise to its own condemnation.

"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! Besides, we ought not at all to regard them as dead, but as living and transported to life everlasting and incorruptible. As evidence of my true faith and my kind regard for your monastery, my empire has sent you an epiloricum, adorned on the back with glittering gold.

Sent in the month of June, (1098) sixth Indiction, from the most holy city of Constantinople.

Source:

Latin text in Hagenmeyer, 152-153

August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 110-111


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
halsall@murray.fordham.edu