Victory in the East by John France
Victory in the East by John France

The Siege of Antioch (1097-1098)

Strategic Importance of Antioch

Antioch, located in modern Antakya, played a crucial role in the First Crusade as a strategic point on the route to Palestine through the Syrian coastal mountain range. Control over the city meant authority over supplies, reinforcements, and retreats for the Crusaders.

First Siege: Crusaders vs. Seljuk Empire (20 Oct 1097 – 3 June 1098)

The initial siege of Antioch commenced on October 20, 1097, as the Crusaders confronted the Seljuk-held city. Despite formidable Byzantine walls, the Crusaders persisted in their siege, leading to a desperate situation with dwindling supplies.

Challenges and Encounters

Facing unsuccessful sorties by the city’s garrison and an encounter with a relief army led by Duqaq on December 31, the Crusaders struggled to sustain themselves. As starvation set in, one in seven crusaders succumbed to the dire conditions, prompting some to desert the cause.

Second Siege: Seljuk Relieving Army vs. Crusader-Held Antioch (7-28 June 1098)

Following the capture of Antioch by the Crusaders on June 3, 1098, the Turkish defenders in the citadel held their ground. Kerbogha, atabeg of Mosul, initiated a second siege against the occupiers, lasting from June 7 to June 28.

Crucial Battles and Victory

The turning point came on June 28, when the Crusaders exited the city to engage Kerbogha’s army in battle. The Crusaders succeeded in defeating the Turkish forces, prompting the defenders in the citadel to surrender upon witnessing the rout of the relief army. This marked the conclusion of the second siege and the establishment of the Principality of Antioch, ruled by Bohemond of Taranto.

Contemporaneous Sources

There are various historical accounts and letters detailing the events surrounding the siege of Antioch and the First Crusade.

Narrative Accounts and Letters

Four narrative accounts from individuals such as Fulcher of Chartres, Peter Tudebode, Raymond of Aguilers, and the anonymous Gesta Francorum provide insights into the siege. Additionally, nine surviving letters, five written during the siege and another in September following the city’s capture, offer further perspectives.

Uncertainty of Crusader Numbers and Composition

Determining the exact number of people involved in the crusade proves challenging due to fluctuating figures and the presence of non-combatant pilgrims accompanying the soldiers. Historian Jonathan Riley-Smith provides an estimate, suggesting around 43,000 participants in the siege of Nicaea and as few as 15,000 in the siege of Jerusalem.

Geography and Fortifications of Antioch

Antioch, situated in the Orontes Valley, covered over 3.5 square miles and was surrounded by walls boasting 400 towers. The city had six gates for entry, with challenging terrain on the south, east, and west sides, making the northern approach the most practical. The defenses, dating back to the 6th century, had withstood changes in ownership through betrayal rather than structural weakness.

Fortifications and Historical Context

Following the Byzantine reconquest in 969, fortification efforts were undertaken, including a citadel on Mount Silpius. Yaghi-Siyan, the governor when the crusaders arrived, was aware of the approaching army and took measures to strengthen the city’s defenses.

Yaghi-Siyan’s Response and Preparations

As the crusaders approached, Yaghi-Siyan, initially tolerant of the Christian population, changed his stance. He imprisoned the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch, desecrated St. Paul’s Cathedral, and expelled leading Christians. Seeking reinforcements, Yaghi-Siyan found support from various regional nobles and rulers.

Crusader Strategies and Decision-Making

Aware of the need to capture Antioch, the Crusaders debated strategies. Tatikios suggested a Byzantine-style blockade, while Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, advocated for a direct assault. Despite considering waiting for spring reinforcements, the Crusaders ultimately chose to advance and establish a siege near Antioch.

The First Siege

The siege of Antioch, from a 15th-century miniature painting

The siege of Antioch, from a 15th-century miniature painting

Strategic Objectives and Initial Success

Before the commencement of the siege, securing control over three crucial locations was imperative: Artah, the Iron Bridge, and the harbor of St. Symeon. Artah’s significance lay in its strategic position, linking vital routes between the Euphrates and Orontes valleys and key cities like Apamea, Aleppo, and Antioch. A detachment led by Robert of Flanders initially encountered a welcoming reception from the local Armenian population, which had expelled the Turkish garrison.

The Iron Bridge Crossing and Initial Crusader Advancements

On October 20, 1097, the Crusaders reached the fortified Iron Bridge across the Orontes River, 12 miles outside Antioch. Robert II and Adhemar of Le Puy led the charge, paving the way for the advancing army. Bohemond of Taranto established a vanguard along the river’s south bank, while the crusaders positioned themselves outside Antioch’s north wall. The subsequent siege, lasting nine months, is renowned as one of the great sieges of its time.

Fortifications and Strategic Considerations

Recognizing the formidable defenses of Antioch, the Crusaders refrained from a direct assault, opting to maintain the siege until the city submitted. The defenders boasted a formidable force, and the proximity of the Crusaders to the city exposed them to garrison sorties and missile attacks. Initially, the besiegers foraged successfully, but Yaghi-Siyan’s strategic shift from defense to harassment disrupted their supply efforts, prompting retaliatory actions and the need for a blockade on the Dog Bridge.

Challenges and Reinforcements

Yaghi-Siyan’s cavalry harassment and successful sorties challenged the Crusaders, forcing them to seek further supplies. The Genoese reinforcement, arriving at the port of St. Symeon on November 17, added strength to the crusader ranks. However, the journey from St. Symeon to Antioch was not without challenges, resulting in significant casualties for the Genoese. Bohemond’s construction of the counterfort “Malregard” and the arrival of Tancred further fortified the Crusaders during the ongoing siege.

Crusaders’ Divided Forces: December Challenges

In December, as the crusaders faced critical food shortages, Godfrey’s illness further complicated their situation. Bohemond and Robert of Flanders, realizing the urgency, embarked on a foraging mission with 20,000 men upstream of the Orontes on December 28. This division of forces became an opportunity for Yaghi-Siyan, who launched a sortie on the night of December 29. Despite a surprise attack on Count Raymond’s encampment, the Crusaders managed to repel Yaghi-Siyan’s forces. However, a chaotic incident near the city gates led to a temporary setback as the Crusaders withdrew across the bridge, maintaining a stalemate with losses on both sides.

Duqaq’s Challenge and Unfavorable Conditions

Simultaneously, while Count Raymond defended against Antioch’s garrison, Duqaq of Damascus marched to relieve Antioch. Unaware of this, Bohemond and Robert’s foraging party inadvertently approached Duqaq’s forces. On December 31, the two armies clashed at the village of Albara, with the Crusaders inflicting heavy casualties but suffering losses themselves. Despite their victory, the crusaders, unable to sustain their foraging efforts, returned to Antioch, losing the gathered food supply. The month concluded ominously with an earthquake on December 30 and adverse weather conditions that forced Duqaq to abandon further engagement.

Famine and Desperation: January 1098

As the new year dawned, the Crusaders faced dire circumstances. Food supplies dwindled, and local Christians, charging exorbitant prices, exacerbated the situation. The famine affected both men and horses, with only 700 horses remaining. Approximately one in seven men succumbed to starvation, damaging morale within the crusader ranks. The severity of the famine led Adhemar of Le Puy to order a three-day fast as an act of atonement for perceived sins such as pillaging. Desertion became a growing concern, with prominent figures like Peter the Hermit and William the Carpenter abandoning the cause. Bohemond, in response, dispatched forces to bring back deserters, granting pardon to some and reprimanding others. The challenging winter conditions continued to test the resilience of the crusaders besieging Antioch.

Improved Food Situation with the Arrival of Spring

In February, the arrival of spring marked an improvement in the food situation for the Crusaders. Despite Tatikios’ repeated advice for a long-distance blockade, which went unheeded, he eventually left the army and returned home. Tatikios informed the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos about a plot to kill him, alleging that Bohemond suspected Alexios of secretly supporting the Seljuks. Bohemond, aiming to keep Antioch for himself, exploited the situation as a Seljuk army approached.

Bohemond’s Bid for Antioch and Strategic Maneuvers

Bohemond, aware of the impending Seljuk threat, declared his intention to leave unless he could retain Antioch for himself upon its capture. Despite Godfrey and Raymond resisting his demands, Bohemond garnered support from minor knights and soldiers, setting the stage for tension within the crusader ranks.

Battle of the Lake of Antioch and Tactical Decisions

Under Yaghi-Siyan’s command, a reconciled force with Ridwan of Aleppo posed a threat. The crusaders, acting on Bohemond’s suggestion, dispatched their cavalry to confront the advancing army while the infantry stayed behind to guard Antioch. The ensuing battle near the Iron Bridge on February 9th saw the Crusaders strategically position themselves, leading to the defeat of Ridwan’s army. Simultaneously, Yaghi-Siyan attacked the crusader infantry but retreated into the city upon realizing Ridwan’s defeat.

Strategic Movements and Supply Challenges

An English fleet, led by Edgar Ætheling, arrived at St. Symeon on March 4th, bringing supplies from the Byzantines. The fleet faced challenges on its way to Antioch, with part of the garrison sallying out. Bohemond and Raymond, escorting the materials, suffered losses but managed to return to the crusader camp. Rumors of their deaths reached Godfrey, prompting him to prepare a rescue mission. A successful counter-attack by the Crusaders resulted in the deaths of many defenders.

Siege Operations and Building Fortifications

Following the counter-attack, the Crusaders focused on building siege engines and a fort named La Mahomerie to block the Bridge Gate, preventing Yaghi-Siyan from attacking their supply line. Tancred garrisoned a monastery referred to as Tancred’s Fort, while Count Raymond of Toulouse took control of La Mahomerie. The crusader siege began to have an impact on the well-defended city, improving food conditions as spring approached and securing the city from raiders.

Diplomatic Efforts: The Fatimid Embassy

In April, an embassy representing the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt arrived at the crusader camp, aiming to broker peace with the Christians. Despite viewing the Christians as adversaries, the Fatimids saw them as potential allies against the common enemy, the Seljuks. Peter the Hermit was chosen as the envoy for negotiations, but these efforts ultimately proved fruitless.

Unsuccessful Negotiations

The Fatimids, perceiving the Crusaders as mere mercenaries of the Byzantines, proposed an arrangement where the Crusaders could retain control of Syria if they refrained from attacking Fatimid Palestine. This proposal mirrored historical agreements between Egypt and Byzantium before the Turkish invasions. However, the Crusaders, unwavering in their quest for Jerusalem, could not accept any settlement that did not grant them the coveted city. Despite the lack of a definitive agreement, the Fatimids were treated hospitably, receiving numerous gifts plundered from the defeated Seljuks in March.

Diplomatic Lessons and Further Endeavors

The encounter with the Fatimids underscored the importance of diplomacy for the Crusaders. In response, they decided to send their embassy to Duqaq of Damascus, seeking his neutrality and assuring him that they harbored no ambitions on his territory. Unfortunately, their appeal was rejected by Duqaq, signaling the challenges that lay ahead in their diplomatic endeavors.

The Fall of Antioch

A 14th-century depiction of the crusaders' capture of Antioch from a manuscript in the care of the National Library of the Netherlands

A 14th-century depiction of the crusaders’ capture of Antioch from a manuscript in the care of the National Library of the Netherlands

Turkish Threat Approaches: May 1098

As the siege persisted, a formidable Turkish army from Mosul, led by Kerbogha, neared Antioch by the end of May 1098. This force, larger than previous attempts, was a combination of Kerbogha’s troops, reinforcements from Ridwan and Duqaq, and additional soldiers from Persia and the Ortuqids of Mesopotamia.

Strategic Delays and Intrigues

Fortunately for the Crusaders, they gained crucial time as Kerbogha detoured to Edessa for three weeks, attempting but failing to recapture it from Baldwin of Boulogne. During this period, Bohemond engaged in covert negotiations with Firouz, an Armenian guard controlling the Tower of the Two Sisters within the city.

Bohemond’s Bargain: June 2, 1098

Bohemond, driven by motivations unclear even to himself, struck a deal with Firouz. In exchange for money and a title, Firouz agreed to facilitate Bohemond’s entry into the city. Bohemond presented this opportunity to the other Crusader leaders, proposing that he be made the Prince of Antioch in return for access through Firouz.

Treachery and Tactical Maneuvers

On June 2, Stephen of Blois and some Crusaders deserted, adding to the challenging circumstances. Firouz instructed Bohemond to deceive Kerbogha by simulating a march south, then doubling back at night to scale the walls at the Tower of the Two Sisters. This ruse succeeded, as a group of Crusaders, led by Bohemond, entered the city and overwhelmed the garrison.

Chaos and Conquest

While Bohemond aimed to capture the citadel, the remaining Crusaders engaged the Turkish defenders. Simultaneously, less affluent Crusaders seized valuables in a disorderly manner. Amidst the chaos, Armenians and Greeks joined the fray against the Turks, resulting in casualties among non-Turkish civilians, including Firouz’s brother.

Fate of Yaghi-Siyan

Yaghi-Siyan attempted to flee but was captured by Armenian and Syrian Christians outside the city. His severed head was then presented to Bohemond, marking a decisive turn in the capture of Antioch.

The Second Siege

An illustration of Kerbogha besieging Antioch, from a 14th-century manuscript in the care of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

An illustration of Kerbogha besieging Antioch, from a 14th-century manuscript in the care of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Crusader Advancements and Challenges

By the end of the day on June 3, significant progress had been made by the Crusaders in gaining control of the city. However, the citadel remained elusive, still held by Yaghi-Siyan’s son, Shams ad-Daulah. John the Oxite found himself reinstated as patriarch by Adhemar of Le Puy, the papal legate, driven by the desire to maintain positive relations with the Byzantines, especially given Bohemond’s apparent intentions to lay claim to the city.

Food Shortages and Kerbogha’s Approach

Despite their territorial gains, the Crusaders faced immediate challenges. The city now grappled with shortages of food, while the formidable army of Kerbogha was steadily advancing. Kerbogha’s arrival a mere two days later, on June 5, marked a critical turning point.

Desertions and Fears: Stephen of Blois and the Exodus

As the threat of Kerbogha’s army became apparent, a wave of desertion among the Crusaders ensued. These deserters, led by Stephen of Blois, sought refuge in Tarsus. Stephen, having witnessed Kerbogha’s encampment near Antioch and swayed by the deserters’ accounts, believed all hope was lost. The situation prompted Stephen and other defectors to encounter Alexios on their way back to Constantinople.

Alexios and the Crusaders

In a crucial moment of miscommunication, Alexios, unaware of the Crusaders’ success in capturing the city and their subsequent siege, encountered Stephen and the other deserters. Convinced that the remaining crusaders were doomed, Alexios, informed of another Seljuk army in Anatolia, chose a strategic retreat to Constantinople, avoiding the risks of impending battles.

The Claim of the Holy Lance in Antioch

In Antioch, a seemingly inconspicuous priest named Peter Bartholomew, hailing from southern France, made a significant claim on June 10. He asserted that he had visions of St. Andrew, who revealed to him the presence of the Holy Lance within the city. The crusaders, facing starvation and susceptible to visions, experienced other reported hallucinations, including those of Christ and the Virgin Mary, by a monk named Stephen of Valence. A meteor seen landing in the enemy camp on June 14 was interpreted as a favorable omen. Although Adhemar expressed skepticism, having seen a relic of the Holy Lance in Constantinople, Raymond chose to believe Peter.

The Discovery Unfolds

On June 15, Raymond, along with Raymond of Aguilers, William, Bishop of Orange, and others, commenced excavation in the cathedral of Saint Peter. When their efforts yielded no results, Peter descended into the pit and miraculously produced a spear point. Interpreting this discovery as a divine sign of survival, Raymond prepared for a final battle rather than surrender. Peter, continuing his revelations, instructed the crusader army to observe a five-day fast despite their existing state of starvation, promising victory at the end.

Skepticism and Morale Boost

While Bohemond remained skeptical about the authenticity of the Holy Lance, its discovery undeniably bolstered the morale of the Crusaders. Some suggest that the object Peter found might have been a local relic believed by the population to be the Holy Lance, with historical evidence of its possession and veneration in Antioch dating back to the tenth century. Alternatively, it is proposed that Peter might have conveyed what Bohemond desired to hear, given the internal discord among Kerbogha’s factions. Despite attempts at negotiation, Bohemond realized that conflict with the Seljuks, led by Kerbogha of Mosul, was inevitable. The strategic divisions were drawn up, and on June 27, Peter the Hermit’s diplomatic efforts proved futile, setting the stage for a decisive battle. 

A 13th-century depiction of battle outside Antioch from William of Tyre's Histoire d'Outremer, in the care of the British Museum

A 13th-century depiction of battle outside Antioch from William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer, in the care of the British Museum

Crusaders’ March and Initial Engagement

On the 28th of June, the Crusaders made their way out of the city gate, led by Raymond of Aguilers, who carried the Holy Lance at the forefront. Despite pleas from his generals, Kerbogha hesitated, aiming to confront the Crusaders collectively rather than dealing with one division at a time. However, he miscalculated the size of the crusader forces.

Strategic Maneuvers and Seljuk Resistance

In an attempt to gain an advantage, Kerbogha feigned retreat, drawing the Crusaders into rougher terrain while incessantly showering them with arrows from his archers. A detachment targeted the crusader’s left wing, which was vulnerable without the protection of the river. Yet, Bohemond swiftly organized a seventh division, successfully repelling the attackers. The Seljuks, inflicting numerous casualties, including Adhemar’s standard bearer, resorted to setting fire to the grass between them and the Crusaders.

Divine Intervention and Seljuk Retreat

Undeterred by the obstacles, the crusaders, guided by visions of saints—St. George, St. Mercurius, and St. Demetrius—pressed on. The battle, though brief, proved disastrous for the Seljuk empire. The desertion of key figures such as Duqaq, Soqman, and the Emir of Homs significantly diminished the numerical advantage the Turkish army held over the Christian forces. The defeated Seljuk troops found themselves in a panicked retreat, marking a pivotal moment in the unfolding conflict.


Depiction of Bohemond in the "Hall of Crusades" in Versailles, by Merry-Joseph Blondel

Depiction of Bohemond in the “Hall of Crusades” in Versailles, by Merry-Joseph Blondel

Bohemond’s Takeover and Political Intrigues

As Kerbogha fled, Ahmed ibn Merwan’s citadel finally surrendered, but an unexpected twist occurred: it submitted to Bohemond personally, sidelining Raymond. This arrangement seemed premeditated, catching Raymond off guard. Despite objections from Adhemar and Raymond, Bohemond asserted his claim to the city.

Political Maneuvers and Discontent

Hugh of Vermandois and Baldwin of Hainaut were dispatched to Constantinople, but Baldwin mysteriously vanished after an ambush. Alexios, uninterested in a late-summer expedition, declined involvement. Back in Antioch, Bohemond accused Alexios of abandoning the crusade, challenging their oaths. The city witnessed internal strife as Bohemond and Raymond disputed control, reflecting potential regional divisions among the Franks.

Epidemic and Papal Appeal

An epidemic, possibly typhus, struck, claiming Adhemar’s life on August 1. In September, the crusade leaders urged Pope Urban II to assume control of Antioch, but he refused. Throughout 1098, the Crusaders controlled the surrounding countryside, facing dwindling resources and a restless army. Starvation loomed, prompting threats to proceed to Jerusalem without unified leadership. In November, Raymond yielded to Bohemond to preserve crusade unity.

Renewed March and Jerusalem Siege

In 1099, the Crusaders resumed their march, leaving Bohemond as the first Prince of Antioch. The siege of Jerusalem commenced in the spring under Raymond’s leadership.

Peter Bartholomew’s Ordeal and Demise

The success at Antioch intensified skepticism about Peter Bartholomew’s visions. Accused of deception, Peter proposed an ordeal by fire to prove divine guidance. Walking through flames, he suffered severe burns, succumbing to agony twelve days later, on April 20, 1099. The Holy Lance’s fate remained ambiguous, with conflicting accounts about Peter’s ordeal.

Legendary Status of the Siege

The siege of Antioch gained legendary status, inspiring chansons de geste such as the chanson d’Antioche and the Siège d’Antioche in the 12th-century Crusade cycle.


Source: (BazBattles, 2017)


  • France, J. (1996). Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521589871

  • Asbridge, T. (2000). The Creation of the Principality of Antioch, 1098–1130. The Boydell Press. ISBN 978-0-85115-661-3

  • BazBattles. (2017). First Crusade: Siege of Antioch 1098 AD [YouTube Video]. In YouTube.

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, November 17). Siege of Antioch. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

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