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Medieval Sourcebook:
Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi:
The Siege and Capture of Acre, 1191


[Adapted from Brundage] The capture of Cyprus was an unexpected by­product of Richard's Crusade and the island was later to prove of great value to the Latin states in the East. At the moment, however, there was urgent need of Richard's presence with his army and his fleet in the Holy Land itself. Since 1189 the city of Acre had been under siege by the knights and soldiers remaining in the Latin Kingdom. The capture of Acre was to mark, it was hoped, the first stage in a Latin reconquest of the Holy Land. The siege, however, had not gone well and after a year and a half of fighting the city still held out. The explanation of the prolonged resistanceof Acre and its garrison lay, in part, in the physical situation of the town. Lying on the coast below Tyre, possessed of an excellent harbor and strong fortifications, Acre was virtually impregnable so long as its defenders had control of the sea, over which food, materials, and reinforcements could be brought to the town. Furthermore, Saladin had moved his field army to the vicinity of the city shortly after the siege of Acre had begun, so that the besiegers bad both to deal with the garrison of the town and with a field army which continually harassed them and hampered their communications and their supply routes. The arrival of the French fleet and army in April 1191 had somewhat relieved the situation. The speedy arrival of the English forces was now urgently desired. Accordingly, after pacifying Cyprus, Richard hurried to Acre.

At dawn the anchors were raised and the sails were hoisted. King Richard had not gone far when . . . Scandelion appeared. Then, after he had passed by Casal Imbert, the highest towers of the city of Acre appeared in the distance. Little by little the other defensive works of the town came into view.

Acre was hemmed in on all sides, besieged by an infinite multitude of people, people from every Christian nation under heaven, people chosen from all the Christians, people well fitted for war and unremitting labor. The people had now besieged Acre for a very long time and they had been troubled by many afflictions, by constant labors, by shortages of food, and by many adversities, as has in part been pointed out above.

There appeared beyond them, furthermore, an innumerable army of Turks, who covered the mountains and valleys, bills, and plains. Here and there they fixed their tents, made of various patterns of flowing colors.

They also saw the pavilions of Saladin and the tents of his brother, Saif ad­Din, and of Taki ad­Din, the steward of paganism. The latter superintended the sea and the fort, and he frequently set up assaults and serious attacks against the Christians.

King Richard seemed to be sizing up all their armies. When he put into port, the King of France and the magnates, commanders, and great men of the armies there marched out to him. They received him with joy and exultation, for they had very much desired his arrival…

The King of France, loathing so much delay in making anattack, signified to King Richard that the time was now opportune for making an assault and for having the criers order the army to move forward to attack. King Richard informed him, however, that he was not yet able to undertake this project, both because he was grievously sick and because of the absence (due to adverse winds) of some of his men. They hoped that the latter would arrive with the next fleet of ships and would bring material for building siege machinery.

The King of France, however, was unwilling to give up his project. He ordered the criers to announce throughout the army that an assault was to be made. On the Monday next after the feast of St. John the Baptist [July 1, 1191, but probably the Monday before the feats is meant - i.e. June 17] the French King had his engines set up and ordered his men to be armed. You could see there an incomprehensible multitude of armed men, outfitted respect ably with weapons. There were so many shining coats­of­mail, so many glittering helmets, so many noble horses neighing, so many white­colored mantles, so many select knights, so many assistants of great probity and daring, so many banners of various kinds that never bad so many appeared to be reckoned tip. When the men stationed at the barricades had organized their defenses, because of the threat of an attack by Saladin and the outer Turkish army, the armed men approached the city walls and delivered a terrific assault, firing stones and missiles without interruption from their balistas and engines. But, when they perceived that they were surrounded, the Turks made such a tumult with their shouting and the sounding of their trumpets that their yells must have reached the stars, for the air resounded with a clamor such as follows a lightning flash. Some of them were appointed by the officers to strike upon the timbrels and pots, to beat the drums, and in other diverse ways to make noise and send up smoke from the fires to let Saladin and the outer army know that, as arranged, they were supposed to come to the help of the town.

When they had seen and heard all this, the outer Turks at tacked in groups. The Turks assembled all kinds of material in order to cover the barricades so that they could more easily cross Survey over to attack our men, but they were unable to carry this into effect. Geoffrey of Lusignan, an exceptionally worthy knight, resisted them and very quickly drove them out of the barricades which they had occupied above us. Wielding a two­edged sword with his hand he killed more than ten of them and none whom he struck escaped alive. He captured many alive. He bore himself with such agility and perseverance that everyone said that no one, since the time of those famous knights Roland and Oliver, had been so deserving of praise. He recovered one of the barricades, though with great labor and travail, because of the great multitude of Turks who were fighting doggedly against him. They fought a dual contest for a long time. The violent battle was joined and an insufferable conflict ensued. The contending parties clashed horribly and with great clamor. Those who were fighting against the city, after leveling the barricades, made a hot assault outside the city walls, but they were forced to retreat and to give up the attack altogether. They were unable both to attack the city and, at the same time, to keep up their defense in the face of an attack by the Turks outside the town. Many of the Franks were killed there by the spears, by the missiles and stones of the balistas, and by the spreading of Greek fire. There was great mourning among the people, with wailing and lamentation. . . . After the French had laid down their arms, the Turks vilely reproached our men, taunting them with the fact that the Franks were unable to finish what they had begun. They furthermore shot Greek fire and, little by little, destroyed the engines as well as the other implements of war which the French king had had made with such tender care.

On this account the French king was so overcome with wrath and rage that, so it is said, he fell into a fit of melancholy and, in his confusion and desolation he would not even mount a horse....

King Richard had not yet fully recovered from his illness. He was anxious to be doing things and he was free especially to attend to the capture of the city. He saw to it therefore that the city was attacked by his men so that, perchance, by divine grace the deed might be accomplished in accord with his vow. He had a latticework shed (commonly called a "cercleia") made. It was made solid with many joints, and when it had painstakingly been put together, he ordered it to be taken to the trench outside the city walls. When his most experienced balistarii were in position, he had himself carried out on a silken litter, so that the Saracens might be awed by his presence and also so that he could encourage his men for the fight. His balista, with which he was experienced, was then put into action and many were killed by the missiles and spears which he fired. His miners also made an underground passage to the tower at which his siege engines were firing. The miners sought out the foundations of the tower and hacked out part of it. They filled up the hole with timbers which they set afire. Then the repeated hits of the stone missiles suddenly knocked the tower to bits.

The King pondered the difficulties of proceeding in this enterprise and the great bellicosity of his opponents. He decided that, since in the business world work makes progress through excellence, he might more readily attract the spirits of the young by posting a reward than by giving orders through the commanders. Who, indeed, is not attracted by the scent of money?

The King ordered the criers to proclaim that anyone who removed a stone from the wall next to the aforesaid tower would receive two pieces of gold from the King. Later he promised three gold pieces and then four, so that however many stones anyone removed, he received a payment of four gold pieces for each. Then you could see the young men rush forward and the courageous followers swarm to the wall. When the stones were taken out they would go on eagerly, greedy for praise as well as for payment. Even in the midst of the enemy's missiles they worked on bravely at tearing down the wall. Many of them were wounded, however, and were put out of action. Others, in fear of death, stayed away from danger. But some of them manfully pushed the Turks back from the wall and some of these men were protected neither by shields nor weapons. The wall was extremely high and immoderately thick. The men, however, inspired with courage, overcame danger and removed a great many stones from the massive wall....

Saladin concluded that further delay would be dangerous. He therefore agreed to the requests of the besieged men [to allow them to surrender]. He was persuaded to take this course especially by his emirs, satraps, and powerful friends, some of whom were parents, relatives, and friends of the besieged. . . . He also recalled the wives of the besieged men and the sorrows of their families whom they had not seen now for the three years during which the siege had continued. They said, further, that he would only be losing a city, rather than such upright people.

Saladin's princes persuaded him on these and similar scores and, lest their last state be worse than the first, he agreed that they should make peace on the best terms they could get. It was therefore provided and declared that they would agree to the better peace terms. When the messengers [from the garrison of the town] announced the decision of Saladin and his counsellors, the besieged men were overjoyed. The principal men among them came out to our Kings. Through an interpreter they offered to give up the city of Acre, free and clear, and to give up the Holy Cross and two hundred of the Christians whom they held captive and to surrender fifty men.

When our people found these terms unacceptable, the Muslims offered two thousand noble Christians and five hundred lesser captives, whom Saladin would seek out throughout his domains. The Turks were to leave the city, each man taking with him nothing except his clothing. They were to leave behind their weapons, food, and everything else. As ransom for their captives, moreover, they were to give two hundred thousand Saracen talents to the two Kings. To assure faithful performance of these terms they were to give as hostages the more noble and important Turks who were to be found in the city.

Our Kings conferred with their wiser men and with each other over whether they should allow these terms to be granted. The universal decision on the matter was that the offer was to be received and the conditions accepted. Oaths were taken and the agreement was put into writing as security. Then, when the hostages had been handed over, the Turks left the city empty-handed.

On the Friday next after the feast of the translation of St. Benedict, [The feast is July 11, the Friday next would be July 12] the hostages, that is, the wealthier and more noble emirs, were delivered and accepted. It was arranged that the Holy Cross was to be delivered at the end of the month; also, the captives who were being sought out were to be delivered at the same time. When these arrangements for the city's surrender were made known by rumor (since they affected everyone) the ignorant mob was inflamed with anger. The wiser men, however, were filled with a not unmerited joy, because they had obtained expeditiously and without danger the aim which they had previously been unable to obtain for such a long time.

It was then announced by the criers that it was forbidden for anyone, by word or deed, to revile the Turks with insults or to injure the conquered men. Nor was anyone to hurl missiles at the wrecked walls or at the Turks whom they might happen to see atop the fortifications. On this critical day the probity of these Turks was admirable, as was their great bravery, for they were most vigorous in military enterprises, distinguished in their magnificence. Now, as they crossed over their high walls on their way out of the city, they were regarded by the deeply curious eyes of the Christians, who admired them especially as soldiers and who recalled their memories. Their appearance, as they emerged almost empty­handed from the city was, nonetheless, amazing in its gracefulness and dignity. They were unconquered by their adversities. Although extreme necessity had just vanquished them, reducing them almost to beggary, the defeated men who emerged were not broken up by gnawing worry nor dejected by the loss of their possessions. Their constancy had not disappeared; rather, in their spirited appearance they seemed victorious. Their lying, superstitious cult, however, had perverted their powers as men. Their miserable error was corrupted into idolatry.

When all the Turks had left the city, the Christians, on the orders of the two Kings, opened the gates and freely entered the city, joyfully dancing and exulting at the top of their voices. They glorified the Lord and gave thanks, for God had showed his great mercy to them and he had visited and worked redemption for his people. The banners and manifold flags of the Kings were run up atop the walls and towers. The city was equally divided by the two Kings. They also made a proportionally equal distribution of the supplies of arms and of food. The captives of the highest degree of nobility were divided between them by lot.... The King of France, moreover, for his part had the noble palace of the Templars with all its appurtenances. King Richard got the royal palace, to which he sent his queens with the children and their servants. Thus each of the Kings peacefully secured his position. The army was housed throughout the city. After the prolonged day­by­day agonies of the siege, they now quietly refreshed themselves in much desired peace. On the night following our entry, Saladin and his army, out of fear of our people, left the place where they had camped and occupied a mountain further away.


Source:

Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, ed. William Stubbs, Rolls Series, (London: Longmans, 1864) III, 1, 5, 13, 17-18 (pp. 210-11, 214-17, 224-26, 231-34), translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 175-81

For this text see also The Crusade of Richard the Lionhearted, ed. and trans. John L. LaMonte, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1941)

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
halsall@murray.fordham.edu