Monday 5 August 2013

The Battle of Dorylaeum

After their first victory at Nicaea, the crusading armies prepared for the tedious march south, deeper into the heart of Asia Minor. Even though the emperor Alexius would no longer direct them as closely as he had, he did send a contingent of Byzantine warriors, under the command of Tatikios, to accompany the crusaders. Whether the Franks liked it or not -- many distrusted and even disliked the Byzantines -- they needed the support of those warriors because they knew the land well: which passes to travel and which ones to avoid. Since the Byzantine guides spent most, or all, of their military careers fighting the Seljuk Turks, they undoubtedly reminded the crusaders of their emperor's advice on numerous occasions.

The first strategy the leading war lords (otherwise known as princes) had to figure out was how they were going to feed an army of about 70,000 people, which also included women and other non-combatant pilgrims. The territory south of Nicaea had been extensively plundered by the Turks, so those lands would not produce enough food to feed such a large army. Also, because Kilij Arslan posed a great threat, they could not divide the army up into several small contingents. So, the princes decided to divide the army in half: The first contingent was made up of Norman warriors from southern Italy and northern France and commanded by Bohemond, Tancred, Robert of Normandy and Stephen of Blois; the second contingent was composed of warriors from southern France and the Lorraine and commanded by Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Flanders and Hugh of Vermandois -- brother of the French king. The first half of the army departed Nicaea.

Meanwhile, Kilij Arslan retreated back east, made peace with the Danishmend Emir and secured an alliance with the goal to repel this new and foreign formidable foe. He then marched westward with his own army and that of the Danishmend Emir to Dorylaeum where they lay in wait for the crusaders.

Figure 1
As the first contingent of the crusader army entered Dorylaeum, the sun began to set, signaling the end of the day. Exhausted, the four princes commanded their troops to set up camp, not realizing that Kilij Arslan was hiding quietly in the thickly wooded hills with his army.

At the crack of dawn, the Turks poured down the mountainside, into the valley below where the Franks were camped. Kilij Arslan was thrilled he had caught the Franks off guard and was ready for the kill. Or so it seemed. The crusaders, though, were not caught off guard. They heard their war cries in the distance and saw them advancing.

According to the Gesta Account, 'The wise man, Bohemund, seeing innumerable Turks whistling and shouting from afar with demoniacal voices, straightway ordered all the knights to dismount and quickly pitch their tents. Before the tents had been pitched, he spoke again to all the knights: "Seignors and bravest knights of Christ, behold the battle is now close about us on all sides. Therefore, let all the knights advance manfully against the enemy, and let the foot-soldiers spread the tents carefully and very quickly."'

Hastily, the princes and their troops put on their armor, then engaged the Turks in battle. As custom, the Turkish archers raced ahead of the main army and discharged arrows at the enemy. Fortunately for the crusaders, because their armor was heavier and sturdier, it managed to deflect the arrow heads. However, they were not prepared for the onslaught that quickly followed and before midday, they were surrounded on all sides. "We were all huddled together, indeed, like sheep shut in a pen, trembling and frightened, surrounded on all sides by enemies, so that we were unable to advance in any direction," Fulcher of Chartres recalled.

Figure 2
Just when a crushing defeat seemed imminent, Godfrey, Raymond, Robert and Hugh arrived in the valley with their army and attacked the Turks, breaking through their rearguard. The Turks, exhausted from the fierce fighting, frightened and now surrounded on all sides by the Franks, scattered and retreated to the east, leaving their camp abandoned where the Sultan and Emir's tents stood intact.

Even though the crusaders suffered heavy losses -- among the fallen was Tancred's brother, William -- the battle of Dorylaeum was a significant victory for them. They gained immense treasure -- gold and jewels -- from the Sultan and Emir's tents, but more importantly to them, the victory opened up Asia Minor, allowing for safe passage. Yet, the ferocity of the battle taught the Franks to respect the Turks' might as warriors. Many Franks even admired the Turks for their military prowess. In any case, the battle of Dorylaeum forced them to further enhance their strategy. In order to accomplish that, they needed to be well equipped and fed. But since the crusaders were exhausted, they decided to stay in Dorylaeum for a few days to rest up before preparing for their next journey.

-Contributed by Deanna Proach

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. Ecco; New York, 2011.
Hindley, Geoffrey. A Brief History of The Crusades. Constable & Robinson, Ltd; London, 2003.
Krey, August C. The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-Witnesss and Participants. Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1921.

Fig. 1: La bataille de Dorylée (Histoire d'Outremer, XIVe siècle, BN MS Fr. 352 f. 49)
Fig. 2: Guillaume de Tyr, Historia et continuation (BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 68, folio 38) (William of Tyre, Historia and continuation (BNF Richelieu French manuscripts 68, folio 38).

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