The Conquest of Edessa
Compiled by: Syed Muhammad Bokreta
History recalls that the First Crusade began formally on Tuesday, 27 November 1095, in a field just outside the walls of the French city of Clermont-Ferrand, south of France, (see our diary regarding this event); it was said on that day that Pope Urban II preached a sermon to crowds of lay people and clergy attending a church council at Clermont-Ferrand, in that sermon, Urban outlined a plan for a Crusade and called on his listeners to join its ranks.
The response was positive and overwhelming, as Pope Urban then commissioned the Bishops at the council to return to their homes and to enlist others in the Crusade, he also outlined a basic strategy: Individual groups of Crusaders would begin the journey in August 1096, and each group would be self-financing and responsible to its own leader.
The groups would make their separate ways to the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, where they would meet, from there, they would launch a counterattack against the Muslim Seljuk Turks conquerors of Anatolia along with the Byzantine emperor and his army and once that region was under Christian control, the Crusaders would campaign against the Muslims in Syria and Palestine, with Jerusalem as their ultimate goal.
The origin of the Crusades is rooted in the political upheaval that resulted from the expansion of the Muslim Seljuk Turks in the Middle East in the mid-11th century, the conquest of Syria and Palestine by the Muslim Seljuks alarmed the Western Christians, other Muslim Turks also penetrated deep into the Christian Byzantine Empire and subjected many Greek, Syrian, and Armenian Christians to their rule.
The Crusades were, in part, a reaction to these events, they were also the result of ambitious popes who sought to extend their political and religious power and in general Crusading armies were, in a sense, the military wing of the papal policy, beyond all this, the Crusades coincided with a time of dramatic growth of European population and commercial activity.
Crusading provided an area of expansion to accommodate part of this growing population; they also offered an outlet for the ambitions of land-hungry knights and noblemen, at the same time, the expeditions offered rich commercial opportunities to the merchants of the growing cities of the West.
Also crusading thus had a broad appeal to numerous Europeans, some went on Crusades out of greed, some out of religious fervour; almost all Crusaders sought adventure, and many of them believed that their participation would virtually guarantee personal salvation.
In the year 1144 the Count of Edessa, Jocelyn II, was at odds with the prince of Antioch, though he was able to make an alliance with Kara Aslan, the Ortoqid ruler of Diyarbakir, against the growing power and influence of Zangi, Jocelyn marched out of Edessa with almost his entire army to support Kara Aslan against Aleppo. Zangi, already seeking to take advantage of Fulk's death (king of Jerusalem ) in 1143, hurried north to besiege Edessa ; he managed to arrive on November 28, 1144.
The city had been warned of his arrival and was prepared for a siege, but there was little they could do while Joscelin and the army were elsewhere, the defence of the city was led by the Latin Archbishop Hugh II, the Armenian Bishop John, and the Jacobite Bishop Basil; John and Basil ensured that none of the native Christians would desert to Zangi, when Joscelin heard of the siege he took the army to Turbessel, knowing that he could never dislodge Zangi without help from the other crusader states.
In Jerusalem, Queen Melisende responded to Joscelin's appeal by sending an army led by Manasses of Hierges, Philip of Milly, and Elinand of Bures, Raymond of Antioch ignored the call for help, as his army was already occupied against the Byzantine Empire in Cilicia, Zangi surrounded the entire city, realizing that there was no army defending it, he built siege engines and began to mine the walls, while his forces were joined by Kurdish and Turcoman reinforcements.
The inhabitants of Edessa resisted as much as they could, but had no experience in siege warfare; the cityís numerous towers remained unmanned, they also had no knowledge of counter-mining, and part of the wall near the Gate of the Hours collapsed on December the 24th 1144 (Christmasí eve), it was precisely on that date that Zangiís troops rushed into the city and triumphantly entered the city.
The native Christians were allowed to live freely, the citadel was handed over on December 26, and one of Zangiís commanders, Zayn ad-Din Ali Kutchuk, was appointed governor, while Bishop Basil, apparently willing to give his loyalty to whomever ruled the city, was recognized as leader of the Christian population, the conquest of Edessa led to the Second Crusade, and later Muslim chroniclers noted it as the start of the jihad against the Crusader states.
Though he continued his attempted to take Damascus in 1145, Zangi was assassinated by a Frankish slave named Yarankash in 1146, while besieging Qalat Jabar, and was succeeded in Aleppo by his son Nour Addin, Joscelin attempted to take back Edessa following Zangi's murder, and recaptured all but the citadel in October of 1146, however, he had no help from the other crusader states, and his poorly planned expedition was driven out of Edessa by Nour Addin Zangiís son in November.
This time, the entire population was exiled, and the city was left deserted, by this time, news of the fall of Edessa reached Europe in 1145, and Pope Eugenius III was already organizing the Second Crusade, this crusade was led by Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany, but by 1148 it had ended in total disaster, and Edessa was never recovered.