Episode Detail

Script


  • Hello and Welcome to the History of the Copts. Episode 82. A Kingdom is born.
  • So last time – we stopped neatly at the fall of Jerusalem to the crusaders on 1099 – just before the start of the 12th Century
  • Their surprise victory came while Al Afdal was preparing a large 20,000 man army to defend his territory – which was ready - exactly - 3 weeks after Jerusalem fell
  • So, talk about a close call
  • Nonetheless, even after Jerusalem fell - with the army ready, Al Afdal moved it to Ashakalon – a Strategic city that lay in-between Jerusalem and Sinai with plans to take back Jerusalem
  • The Crusaders – rather than waiting to be besieged in Jerusalem and die of starvation, decided to go ahead and take the fight to Al Afdal -
  • Which was a little crazy – because one – they again fought internally who would rule Jerusalem and there was lots of bad blood between the warlords that were left by this point
  • And two – They were easily outnumbered 2 to 1
  • Which is exactly why they succeeded – Al Afdal was literally caught asleep when they attacked at dawn in early August 1099
  • Waking up to a surprise attack, Al Afdal panicked, abandoned his troops and jumped on a ship, sailing back to Egypt
  • with their general gone – the army went into a state of panic and started running – which is the worst thing you can do facing lance wielding charging knights
  • Heavy losses were suffered but a few survivors managed to get to the city and lock the gates.
  • Surviving the quick death of battle, for the likely prolonged death of a siege
  • With slim hopes of relief from Cairo - given that Al Afdal just hightailed it
  • And so – almost immediately that sought terms to surrender to the city in return for their safety
  • Alas, despite the garrison literally doing everything in their power to give Ashakalon away, the Crusaders didn’t take it. Leaving it under the control of Al Afdal
  • We are told that the richest warlord of the bunch – a certain Raymond of Toulouse was left with nothing to rule after a series of missteps on his part resulting from him being a little too greedy and egotistical for the optics of a holy journey
  • Ashkalon – was his last chance of getting something material from his adventure and so, he was an eager negotiator with the garrison
  • His rival – the guy who led the group that conquered Jerusalem and eventually its ruler – a certain Godfrey, had absolutely no desire to have Raymond as his neighbor
  • And so – he went out of his way to ensure that the city didn’t surrender. Basically, better the Fatimids, than Raymond
  • And so - for the careful listener, we have now introduced 3 out of our 4 leaders of the Crusades
    1. Bohemond - Guy who raided Byzentium before Crusading - Now in charge of Antioch
    2. Raymond - The rich guy, who ended going back empty handed
    3. And Godfrey - the conqueror of Jerusalem and its first ruler
  • What about the fourth you ask - well, we will get then in a sec - as he will require far more than a blip in our narrative
  • Anyway, now that you know about Godfrey, its time to say goodbye to him
  • Conquering Jerusalem and squandering Ashkalon was basically - more or less, all his legacy – as he died shortly after while negotiating a tribute from the governor of Ceaserea where he may or may not have been poisoned
  • For now – the one thing that I wanted to emphasize, is that leaving Ashkalon to the Fatimids was a big mistake! As it allowed them to put a lot of pressure on Jerusalem
  • I put up a map on Patreon – but basically, Jerusalem is an inland city – faraway from Europe. To keep it, you must keep the ports around it. That’s how you can get fighters and pilgrims – both needed to keep the city alive
  • No ports, no Jerusalem.
  • Ashakalon was one of the ports to keep – and for the Egyptian army, it was the only one that mattered, since it was the closest
  • Without Ashkalon – an Egyptian army would have to trek a long hostile road through the western desert and then Sinai - making constant raiding and campaigning expensive and impractical
  • But with Ashakalon – a few ships can transport that army quickly through the Mediterranean with ease – like every single spring
  • So keep that in mind – As there would be a long running game over that city – especially when we get to future crusades
  • But – for now – the victory but not really victory at Ashkalon is considered the end of the 1st Crusade by traditional accounts.
  • Not because the wars ended, nope. The fighting never really stopped for the next 250 years or so   
  • But because, almost all of the Crusaders went back after this point - leaving only a skeleton crew of about 2000 men to defend their newly acquired territory
  • Remember – this whole thing was an armed pilgrimage and so, the expectation was to go back – most had family and things to take care off in Europe
  • Unlike the Suljuks or past/future new arrivals to the Middle East - this wasn’t suppose to be a mass migration conquest or colonization project
  • It turned out to be the latter - eventually - but that was later on
  • At this point - the whole thing was about quote unquote liberating Jerusalem and being able keep the holy city
  • As an exercise to appreciate the scale of the whole thing – if you were to pick a 100 random crusaders and follow them
  • The vast majority - about 80 would have died or deserted before reaching Jerusalem, 15 would have went back home after making their pilgrimage – absolutely broke and exhausted but with a celebrated reputation and a fancy nickname – so and so of Jerusalem
  • And only 5 – would have stayed in the newly annexed lands to protect it
  • Which made the whole operation extremely rickety and unstable – and thus – the fighting never stopped
  • In 1101 as the old crusaders returned and word reached Europe of the exploits of those crusaders – a bunch folks jumped on the bandwagon, encouraged by a new Pope
  • And so - a new crusade was launched
  • Unfortunately for these guys - they were even more disunited than the first group and by now, the Suljuk turks appreciated the existential threat that continued crusades presented and so – they all fell in line behind the Sultan of Rum rather than continue their infighting
  • To make a long story short – the new Crusaders never made it out of Anatolia, picked off small group after another by the Turks
  • This epic failure – remembered in the primary sources as the Crusade of the Faint-hearted resulted in a couple of things
  • First – the Sultante of Rum was consolidated and – essentially recovered from the humiliating losses of the 1st crusade
  • They lost some of the coastal cities in Anatolia, but that was it.
  • Second – in Egypt, Al Afdal realized that Crusaders can be defeated and so – rather than seek peace with new arrivals
  • Year after year he raided and attacked Jerusalem and other than one early close call– his efforts were a total failure
  • Like a gambler – he doubled down every time he lost, hoping for just 1 win that will make him break even but he never got it
  • We will get into the details of his campaigns in a second, but in the big picture his failures and the rabidly increased expenses of his campaigns would take a toll, especially as the Caliph died suddenly as the crusade of the faint-hearted was fizzling out and Al Afdal, appointed a 5 year old child as the new Caliph
  • When the new Caliph, Al Amir grows up, unlike his father and grand-father before him, he wouldn’t be intertest in playing the role of a puppet.
  • Unfortunately – He would be totally unprepared to handle the large army and the constant warfare that was left to him by Al Afdal
  • Anyway – He still only 5 for now – so we have a while to get there
  • In Jerusalem – like I said – the whole thing stood on such a rickety foundation that every day it survived – it was a like a miracle
  • So – when the kingdom’s first ruler Godfrey died – barely lasting a year, it was like an earthquake that shook those foundations
  • Godfrey was never really anointed king – merely the protector of the city, so who is going to follow him was a big open question
  • Enter - our 4th leader of the Crusade. Baldwin. The guy who split from the Crusaders early on to capture Edessa
  • Now - Baldwin, was really by far the best man for the job. An ambitious younger son shut out of Europe who knew his way around an army camp
  • He was exceedingly hungry for power, conniving, and with a quick horse and an even quicker temper
  • As his personal priest put it – Baldwin quote “grieved somewhat at the death of his brother, but rejoiced more over his inheritance” –
  • Like I said - the best man to lead a tiny army surrounded by enemies
  • As the quote implied, he was Godfrey’s younger brother, and so, had a slight advantage when competing for Jerusalem with the other factions fighting for it – the most threating of them being a bishop from Rome who wanted the city to be ruled by God – I.E – by the Pope in Rome and his representative – the same bishop
  • Baldwin not only managed to push the bishop suggestion out of the discussion, he through some impressive victories and crisis – won enough support to force the same bishop to anoint him as King – Baldwin the 1st of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
  • And he got to his job, almost right away
  • First, like I said earlier, for Jerusalem to survive it needed ports on the Meditreanean and so, 3 months into his reign – Baldwin made plans to get some of these ports – using a Genoese fleet that happened to land in the holy lands around his coronation looking for trade opportunities
  • He made a deal with those sailors – in return for their aid in sieging ports, they will get a 1/3 share of any booty taken – as well as open, no tax trade into special zones in the holy land
  • The sailors – with little downside to the whole operation. Agreed and the first campaign of reign began
  • First – a small city named Arsuf, upon seeing the fleet on the sea and army on land – surrendered within 3 days
  • Baldwin – rather than work something out with the Muslim population he just conquered. He decided to kick them out, granting them safe passage as far as Ashaklon as well as the right to take whatever they can carry with them
  • Moving from there – he went toward a bigger port. Caesarea
  • By then – word have gotten out that Al Afdal was on his way, in the first of his yearly campaigns – and so, the governor of Caesarea held out  
  • Unfortunately for the inhabitants, the crusaders had several advanced siege weapons and made quick work of the city walls
  • What followed then was another systemic massacre – where the city was stripped of everything valuable – the men butchered and every single woman or child was enslaved and sold to the Genoese sailors
  • As an eye witness put it – quote
  • “How much property of various kinds was found there, it is impossible to say, but many of our men who had been poor became rich”
  • If you are curious, the exact number comes to about forty-eight gold coin to each man plus two pounds of spices
  • With a total of about 8000 men between the Crusaders and the Geneose. So - yea, the soldiers were happy
  • Al Afdal again – was just 2 weeks behind – with his army arriving in Ashakalon in late May 1101
  • Led, not by Al Afdal who was managing the transition to the 5 year old Caliph and to be honest, probably a little shell shocked from his last round – but, by an underling Sa’ad al-Daulah
  • Now – rather than push into Crusaders territories quickly and try to besiege them in Caesarea, Sa’ad just hanged around in Ashakalon.
  • And that is – despite having anywhere between 5 to 1 or 20 to 1 numerical advantage – depending on the source 
  • It’s hard to tell why! Maybe he was waiting for Al Afdal to come – or maybe, he hoped the Suljuks – relatively close by at Damascus would make a move
  • Whether the case. Sa’ad just didn’t move waiting all the way until September - the end of the fighting season - to finally make a move
  • Giving Baldwin and his knights plenty of time to regroup and plan for the eventual advance – picking their spot. Ramala – where the terrain was perfect for charging knights
  • What followed was an impressive victory – that saw Sa’ad al-Daulah killed – by Baldwin himself if we are to believe the account of his personal priest an eyewitness to the battle
  • Despite the victory, the overwhelming numerical superiority of Al Afdal’s army meant that a whole unit of them – 500 in total, ended up being separated and thinking that they have won – since they ended up at the gates of Jaffa – a Crusader city – with no resistance
  • And so did the citizen of Jaffa – seeing only Fatimid soldiers at their gate and no signs of the king
  • The next day – in almost comical manner – as Baldwin was going back to Jaffa with his victorious army, the Fatimid unit thought it was their own army that was coming – and ran toward them
  • Only to realize in the last minute – that it wasn’t and turn around and run in the opposite direction
  • Now – the reasons the Crusaders were able to cut through a 20,000 strong army with only 2000 men again and again – was simple
  • The Egyptian army had a fast dwindling core of experienced Armenian soldiers – but everyone else, was raw recruits
  • Either Nubian archers purchased at slave auctions – who were completely useless against the heavy armoured European knights
  • Or North African light horsemen – who were far less organized and experienced than the Crusaders
  • The heavy charge – the signature move of the Crusaders consisted of a long row of heavily armored knights charging altogether toward an enemy as fast as horses can go
  • The natural response for those raw recruits was to run – which was also, the worst thing you can do
  • Even veteran Suljuk fighters had trouble with facing a head on heavy charge – eventually perfecting a technique of feigning a long retreat to make the Crusaders overextend themselves and then isolate smaller units outside the heavy charge
  • So yea – Al Afdal was the proverbial knife holder in a gun fight
  • He may have had quit right now and then, and made peace with the new arrivals – if it wasn’t for what came next – a rare close call
  • You see – almost right away, Al Afdal mounted a second invasion of Palestine – again with a large army – this time – led not by an underling, but by a promising young man – none other than Al Afdal oldest son – a certain Sharaf
  • He – as one should – pushed his army as quickly as possible to surprise the Crusaders and catch them separated in various garrisons before they can organize themselves as one fighting unit
  • In a shocking speed – he managed to take Ramala – the site of the last defeat before Baldwin even realize that an army was invading his land
  • If Sharaf made it to Jaffa – where Baldwin was staying, it will be bad
  • Knights are great in an open field, but not so much enduring or breaking a siege
  • And so, he moved – erroneously thinking that there is no way a full Fatimid army would be moving that quickly
  • He reasoned that this is either a smaller army or just the vanguard – so, his best shot was attack them now – before they reach Jaffa
  • He only had 200 knights on hand though – basically his personal guard plus a few guys who managed to escapes the carnage of the Crusade of the Faint-hearted and just happened to visit Jerusalem at this inopportune time –
  • These guys – were super unlucky. Literally they were already on the ship leaving, when unfavorable wind forced them to go back
  • But anyway - Baldwin rode out, full of confidence that he can turn back the Fatimids
  • Only to realize - when they came into the distance, that he was facing - at least, 20 thousand men
  • Yeb - 200 knights vs. 20 thousands foot soldiers
  • And here is the crazy part - the 200 knights rather than turn back and take their chances at a siege - they charged with Baldwin at the head of the charge
  • Like some unrealistic scene from a bad movie or something
  • As you would expect though - the numerical advantage was too much
  • Within minutes - Sharaf ordered an encirclement of the knights and the bulk of them were hopelessly fighting for their lives
  • One small group figured out what was going on - and got out quick before the encirclement. Making it to Jaffa and shutting the doors
  • The rest - well - they concentrated all their efforts in protecting Baldwin and making him get out of the encirclement alive - an effort that barely succeeding as night fell and Baldwin and few knights - probably less than 50 made to an old tower nearby
  • Knowing that the tower wouldn’t withstand an assault when the day comes - Baldwin and five of his closest lieutants, disguised themselves and tried to sneak through the Fatimid lines
  • They were naturally caught - and a hand to hand fight in the middle of the night took place
  • Baldwin got on his horse and ran with one of his liutants - while the other 4 held down the Fatimid continuing the melee while the king got away
  • What followed was a massive manhunt for the king - an entire army, chasing one man who had neither food or water
  • It was so close - that Baldwin ended up getting burned when the Fatimids burned a field he was hiding in
  • The smoke gave him cover though and he managed to slip through again
  • Finally - 2 days later, he made it to Arsuf - the city that he kicked out its muslim population earlier
  • Totally exhausted - he asked for food, water and then - as of nothing else mattered. He slept
  • While he was sleeping though - Sharaf moved his army and besieged Jaffa - the closest and the most important port to Jerusalem
  • If Jaffa fell - Jerusalem would follow
  • Further - a small fleet of 30 ships - closed off the city from the sea. Making the situation desperate
  • Sharaf also made sure to pick up a corpse from the field and mutilate enough that it resembled the king and paraded it in front of knights that were left in Jaffa
  • That was it - and Baldwin wife - the queen as well as the knights defending the city started making plans to get in a ship and try to escape through the naval blockade
  • And - it was in this exact moment, a ship appeared from the north bearing the standard of Baldwin
  • And, not only it appeared, to the absolute shock of Fatimid sailors - the ship seemed to be going toward them - rather than away
  • In the confusion and the chaos - the ship managed to slip through and make it into the harbor - again - despite overwhelming odds
  • And Baldwin - strolled into Jaffa to the absolute amazement of everyone - who have concluded that he died given everything that they have seen
  • You see - after sleeping for most of the day - Baldwin awoke to quite the surprise
  • A pirate ship - all the way from England just happened to be in Arsuf in this exact moment
  • And what you know - the sailors for whatever reasons, were open to the idea of Baldwin borrowing their ship
  • And so - like a messianic figure rising from the dead - Baldwin showed up in Jaffa in late-May 1101
  • Now - this was a huge psychological boost to the population of Jaffa - but still, practically the situation hasn’t really changed
  • Jaffa was still besieged on land and on sea
  • The elite core of the crusaders knights was decimated
  • And - the Genoese navy was long gone by this point having made their profits in the previous year
  • Ultimately - what saved the kingdom of Jerusalem was that Sharaf had lost his resolve
  • Something has broken him and sapped his confidence
  • Maybe it was Baldwin’s many close calls and his miraculous return,
  • Or maybe when his army tried to force out the remnant of Baldwin’s force from the tower he escaped from - only to see them rushing in a suicidal charge and fighting ferociously to the last man, or maybe it was the pilgrimage fleet that was on its way and threatened to break naval blockade of Jaffa and give Baldwin a few extra knights
  • Whether the case - he moved away from the walls of Jaffa - retreating a sizable distance
  • With the flimsy excuse of needing to build siege weapons
  • But - I really think that he was scared. He has seen too much to sleep peacefully with Baldwin and his knights within an ear shot
  • And so - two weeks later, when Baldwin launched a half-hearted counter-attack with whatever men he could gather
  • The Fatimids immediately packed their bags and went home
  • Given how the actual battles played out - You can’t really call it a defeat. The Fatimids technically didn’t lose  
  • Rather - they suffered a worse outcome. They were broken.
  • Thank you for listening, Farwell, and until next time.

References


  • The History of the Patriarchs by" multiple
  • The Coptic Encyclopedia by" Aziz S. Atiya (editor)
  • The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by" Thomas Asbridge
All episodes

Comments



Must be logged in to comment. Log in or Sign up.