OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Chapter XXXV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 3

Pages: 1 2 <3> 4

The church of St. Sophia, which once contained so many splendours, now retains within it but few traces of its former glory. The imposing proportions of the building still remain, but the walls are bare, and upon the dome the crescent has replaced the cross.

The narrative of Benjamin of Tudela goes on to describe "a place where the king diverts himself, called the hippodrome, near to the wall of the palace (Now called Al-Meidan, or horse marked). There it is that every year, on the day of the birth of Jesus the Nazarene, the king gives a grand entertainment. There are represented by magic arts before the king and queen, figures of all kinds of men that exist in the world; thither also are taken lions, bears, tigers, and wild asses, which are made to fight together, as well as birds. There is no such a sight to be seen in all the world."

According to Gibbon, the great palace, the centre of the imperial residence, was situated between the hippodrome and the church of St. Sophia; and the gardens descended by many a terrace to the shores of the Propontis. The new palace, erected in the tenth century by the Emperor Theophilus, was accompanied with five churches, one of which was conspicuous for size and beauty. The square before the portico of the church contained a fountain, the basin of which was lined and encompassed with plates of silver. In the beginning of each season the basin, instead of water, was replenished with the most exquisite fruits, which were abandoned to the populace for the entertainment of the prince. He enjoyed this tumultuous spectacle from a throne resplendent with gold and gems, which was raised by a marble staircase to the height of a lofty terrace. Below the throne were seated the officers of the guards, the magistrates, and the chiefs of the factions of the circus; the inferior steps were occupied by the people; the space below was covered with troops of singers, dancers, and pantomimists. The fanciful magnificence of the emperor employed, in various fantastic designs, the skill and patience of such artists as the times could afford; but the taste of Athens would have despised their frivolous and costly labours - a golden tree with its leaves and branches, which sheltered a multitude of birds warbling their artificial notes, and two lions of massy gold, and of the natural size, which looked and roared like their brethren of the forest.

Such were the scenes of magnificence which were presented to the view of Godfrey and his companions as they entered the Greek capital. The emperor received the great leader of the Crusade with the highest distinction, clothed him with imperial robes, and called him his son (The ceremony of the "adoption of honour," as it was called, was a curious custom of the time.). The character of Godfrey is shown to us in so high and noble an aspect, that it is not probable he was much affected by these flatteries; but whatever may have been his motives, he consented to do homage to the emperor, according to the feudal laws of France.

Alexius now made costly presents to the Crusaders, and gave them honourable conduct from the city. After having refreshed themselves for several days, the army passed the Hellespont and encamped at Chalcedon, there to await the other divisions of the Crusade.

Soon after the departure of Godfrey from Lorraine, Bohemond, Prince of Tarentum, and his relation Tancred, had quitted Italy with an immense body of troops, including 10,000 horse. While the character of Bohemond was ambitious, grasping, and unprincipled, the virtues of Tancred have been unanimously extolled by the historians of the day, and have been celebrated in undying verse from the pen of Tasso.

The army under these leaders landed at Durazzo, and passed through Epirus to Adrianople. Although Alexius had communicated with Bohemond, promising him assistance, the Greek troops harassed the advancing forces, and various engagements took place, with considerable loss on both sides. Bohemond then, at the invitation of the emperor, visited Constantinople, leaving his army behind under the command of Tancred. Influenced by large gifts of money and lands, Bohemond did homage to the emperor, and became one of his firmest allies.

Impressed with a sense of the humiliation of a concession which had been bought with gold, Tancred determined not to submit to similar demands. On receiving the news, the young knight immediately marched his army towards Constantinople, and crossing the Hellespont, without giving any notice of his intention, joined the forces of Godfrey at Chalcedon. Alexius made many efforts to bring back Tancred to Constantinople, and to induce him to do homage, but without success; and the attention of the emperor was presently drawn in another direction, by the arrival of Raimond of St. Gilles, Count of Toulouse, with an army of Crusaders from Languedoc.

Raimond, who is represented as being revengeful and avaricious, but possessing considerable moral firmness, in conjunction with pride, refused to pay his allegiance to the emperor. The troops of the Count of Toulouse were at a considerable distance from the army of his friends, and Alexius did not hesitate to order a night attack to be made from the city upon the French camp. The Languedocians, however, repulsed their assailants with great loss, and further negotiations, which afterwards took place, only resulted in a second refusal on the part of Raimond to pay the required homage. He, however, consented to take a vow that he would make no attempt against the life or honour of the emperor.

Alexius then changed his conduct, and invited the count to the palace, where the luxury and magnificence which surrounded him produced its effect, and Raimond remained for some time amidst the pleasures of the court. Bohemond and Godfrey, however, had already marched from Chalcedon towards Nicaea, the capital of the Turkish kingdom of Rhoum. On receiving the news of their departure, the Count of Toulouse quitted Constantinople and hastened to follow the main body of the army.

Another army, forming the last division of the first Crusade, soon afterwards appeared before Constantinople. Robert of Normandy had at length tore himself away from the pleasures of Italy, and had brought with him a well-appointed army, though fewer in numbers than those which had preceded him. Robert took the oath of allegiance, satisfied with the assurance that the other leaders had already done so, and his army having received supplies from the emperor, passed the Hellespont, and marched towards Nicaea, in the path of their companions.

During the successive visits of the Crusaders to Constantinople, the Greek emperor had lost no opportunity of sowing jealousies and dissensions among them. Nevertheless, during the siege of Nicaea, which was the first combined undertaking of the army of the cross, there seems to have been no want of harmony among the various leaders. This city, which was occupied by the Seljuk Turks, was strongly fortified by a solid wall, from which rose 350 towers.

When the Christian leaders had united their forces, and had been joined by Peter the Hermit with the remnant of his multitude, the army of the cross is said to have numbered 600,000 men, exclusive of those who did not carry arms. The number of knights is estimated as having been 200,000. Soliman, the Soldan or Sultan of Rhoum, had quitted his capital on the approach of the Crusaders, and having collected throughout the country a large body of horse, he made a sudden attack upon the Christian forces, but was defeated with great loss.

The siege of Nicaea was now pressed with vigour, but the town was obstinately defended, and many of the assailants were shot down by the arrows of the Turkish bowmen. One Turk in particular was seen to present himself repeatedly on the walls, and to deal death wherever his aim was directed. The best aimed arrows having failed to touch him, the Christian soldiers were seized with a superstitious terror, and attributed to him the possession of some supernatural power. It is related by Albert of Aix, that Godfrey of Bouillon at length took a crossbow himself, though that weapon was considered as fit only for a yeoman, and having directed it against the Turkish archer, sent an arrow to his heart.

The supplies of the town were obtained by means of the Lake Ascanius, which lay beneath its walls, and when this circumstance was discovered by the Crusaders, they established a blockade. Alexius meanwhile had privately communicated with the Turks, who agreed to surrender the city into his hands on condition of receiving immunity and protection. When, therefore, the besieging forces expected the submission of the garrison, the imperial ensign suddenly appeared upon the walls. It had been previously determined between the emperor and the Christian leaders that on the fall of the city it should be given up to Alexius, and that the riches it contained should be distributed among the troops. The treachery of the emperor, in having forestalled this arrangement, excited the greatest indignation among the soldiers of the Crusade, and their leaders found great difficulty in restraining them from that vengeance which they demanded.

The army having resumed its march, the divisions headed by Bohemond and Robert of Normandy became separated from the main body. After crossing arid plains and barren hills, they encamped for the night in a pleasant valley watered by a running stream. On the following morning they were suddenly attacked by an army of 200,000 men, who rushed down upon them from the mountains with shouts that shook the air.

The Crusaders made a gallant resistance, but they had to deal with an enemy whose superiority lay not less in numbers, than in the fleetness of their steeds and the position of the ground. The Christian soldiers were mown down by flights of arrows and by the charges of the Turkish cavalry; and on being attacked simultaneously in the front and the rear, they gave way and fell into confusion. The Turks forced their way into the camp of Bohemond, where they massacred the old, the women, and the helpless.

At this juncture the stout heart of Robert of Normandy saved his companions from the disgrace of utter defeat. Spurring his horse among the flying troops, he uncovered his head, and through the din and confusion of the fray sounded his battle-cry of "Normandy!"

"Bohemond!" he shouted, "whither fly you? Your Apulia is afar! Where go you, Tancred? Otranto is not near you! Turn upon the enemy! God wills it! God wills it!" And with these words he rallied the troops, drove back the Turks, and maintained a firm line of defence. The battle raged during many hours with great slaughter on both sides, and the Christian troops were gradually giving way before overwhelming numbers, when the Red Cross banner appeared upon the hills, and the army of Godfrey of Bouillon advanced to change the fortune of the day. The Paynim host were compelled to fly in disorder, and their camp, containing great booty of food and provisions, fell into the hands of the Crusaders.

In the subsequent march through Phrygia, the Christians had to pass over a large tract of country which had been completely ravaged by the enemy. Their provisions soon became exhausted, and under the burning rays of a southern sun they found themselves without water. The accounts given by the chroniclers of the sufferings of the troops are too dreadful to be repeated here in detail. Men, women, and horses fell by thousands on the way, and perished by a lingering and painful death.

At length water was found, and the host of the Crusade reached the city of Antiochetta. Here, surrounded by a fertile district, the main body of the troops rested for a while from their fatigues, while detachments under the command of Tancred and Baldwin, brother of Godfrey Bouillon, made incursions through the country, and became possessed of the towns of Tarsus and Mamistra. Subsequently Baldwin crossed the Euphrates, and was elected King of Edessa, in which city he remained until the conquest of the Holy Land was completed.

The great army of the Crusade continued its march through uninhabited wilds and barren mountains, and having taken possession of Artesia, advanced towards Antioch. Situated on the hills above the river Orontes, the town of Antioch was so strongly fortified by nature as well as by art, that all efforts to take it by assault proved fruitless, and the movable towers, mangonels, battering-rams, and other engines, which were brought to bear by the besieging army, were used without effect. (October 21, 1097.)

Meanwhile famine and disease spread their ravages in the camp without the walls, and the storms of winter proved more fatal to the troops than the arrows of the enemy. Rendered reckless by their sufferings, the soldiers cast aside all the obligations of morality; crimes of the worst description became common, and even the ties of nature were forgotten. We are told by William of Malmesbury, that such was the extremity to which the Crusaders were reduced, that many of them fed upon the dead bodies of their companions. Some of the inferior leaders deserted the army, and among these was Peter the Hermit, whose impulsive enthusiasm gave way before continued misfortunes. He, however, was brought back by Tancred, and was compelled to take a vow that he would not again abandon the enterprise until the army had reached Jerusalem.

After various encounters had taken place before the walls, during which the knights of the Crusade performed extraordinary feats of valour, the town of Antioch was surprised in the night, and the Turkish inhabitants were slaughtered indiscriminately. The victors, however, found their condition but little improved by the conquest. The city was rich in booty of various kinds, but contained only a scanty store of provisions, of which the Crusaders stood most in need.

Reduced to a state of famine within the walls, the Christians found themselves attacked from without by the forces of the Persian Sultan, who had advanced to rid the country of the invaders. The army of Godfrey had the choice between giving battle to their assailants, or of perishing miserably in the city. Various means having been resorted to of arousing the superstitious feelings of the soldiers, the Christian host marched out from the gates and began the attack. The ghastly faces of men worn down by famine and misery were lighted once more by the flame of fanaticism, and the wild multitude threw themselves with desperate vigour upon the splendidly appointed host of the Moslem.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 <3> 4

Pictures for Chapter XXXV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 3

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About