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This Week In History

The Capture of Sidon. December 4, 1110.

 

The Siege of Sidon took place in the aftermath of the First Crusade. The coastal city of Sidon was captured by the forces of Baldwin I of Jerusalem and Sigurd I of Norway, with assistance from the Ordelafo FalieroDoge of Venice.

With Baldwin I as King of Jerusalem, the Egyptians failed to launch any major military campaigns against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but they continually raided Baldwin‘s southern frontier. They massacred hundreds of pilgrims near Jaffa and defeated the governor of the town while Baldwin was fighting against Damascene troops in Galilee in October 1106. In 1107 the Egyptians attacked Hebron, but Baldwin forced them to lift the siege. The Egyptian raids did not prevent Baldwin from pursuing an expansionist policy. He compelled the governor of Sidon to pay a large tribute for a two-year truce in early 1106. Early the following year, he made a raid into Oultrejordain and forced the enemy to destroy a fortress recently built by Damascene troops to control the caravan routes. In August 1108 Baldwin and a band of Italian adventurers laid siege to Sidon, but the arrival of an Egyptian fleet and Turkish horsemen from Damascus forced him to abandon the siege. In late 1108, he concluded a ten-year truce with Toghtekin in exchange for one-third of state revenues from the northern regions of Oultrejordain.

Bertrand, Count of Toulouse came to Syria to claim the lands that his father, Raymond of Saint Gilles, had conquered around Tripoli. Bertrand’s cousin, William Jordan, who had ruled these lands since Raymond’s death, refused to cede them to him. Bertrand sought Baldwin’s assistance, while William Jordan secured Tancred’s support. Tancred had already outraged Baldwin II of Edessa through refusing to abandon Turbessel. Baldwin convoked an assembly to put an end to the crusader leaders’ conflicts. Since neither Tancred nor Jordan were his vassals, he summoned them in the name of the “whole church of Jerusalem” to the castle of Mount Pilgrim near Tripoli. At the assembly in June 1109, Tancred agreed to abandon Turbessel in return for his restoration to his old domains in the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Galilee, Haifa and the Temple of the Lord). Tancred did not take possession of his old domain, which remained under Baldwin’s control. Raymond’s inheritance was distributed between Bertrand and Jordan, with Bertrand swearing fealty to Baldwin, and Jordan to Tancred.

The crusader leaders united their forces to complete the conquest of Tripoli begun by Raymond. On 26 June, the Egyptian governor, Sharaf ad-Daulah, offered to surrender the town if a safe passage for those who wanted to leave the town was guaranteed. Baldwin accepted the offer, but he could not prevent the Genoese from killing all those inhabitants whom they could capture. Two thirds of the town was granted to Bertrand of Toulouse who again took an oath of fealty to Baldwin. Baldwin captured Beirut on 13 May 1110, with the assistance of Bertrand and a Genoese fleet. He was again unable to prevent a general massacre of the townspeople.

Mawdud, the atabeg of Mosul, and his allies invaded the County of Edessa during the siege of Beirut. After the fall of Beirut, Baldwin and Bertrand hurried to Edessa to fight against the invaders. Baldwin II of Edessa accused Tancred of having incited the Muslim rulers to take actions against him. Regarding himself as the leader of all the Crusaders, Baldwin ordered Tancred to join the campaign and make peace with Baldwin II, otherwise he would declare Tancred the enemy of Christianity. Since most crusaders supported the king, Tancred had no choice but to obey. The incident strengthened Baldwin’s suzerainty over Edessa. After the new reconciliation, the crusaders pursued Mawdud, but rumours about Muslim attacks against Antioch and Jerusalem forced them to stop the campaign. Before leaving the county, Baldwin suggested that the Christian (mainly Armenian) peasants should be transferred to the lands west of the Euphrates, because the Seljuq rulers had frequently raided the eastern regions.  While the peasants were gathering at a ferry on the river, Mawdud made a sudden raid and massacred most of them.

In the summer of 1110 a Norwegian fleet of 60 ships arrived in the Levant under the command of King Sigurd, the first king to visit the Kingdom of Jerusalem, that had landed at Acre, where he was received by Baldwin I. Together they made a journey to the river Jordan, after which Baldwin asked for help in capturing Muslim-held ports on the coast. Sigurd’s answer was that “they had come for the purpose of devoting themselves to the service of Christ”, and accompanied him to take the city of Sidon, which had been re-fortified by the Fatimids in 1098.

Baldwin’s army besieged the city by land, while the Norwegians came by sea. A naval force was needed to prevent assistance from the Fatimid fleet at Tyre. Repelling it was however only made possible with the fortunate arrival of a Venetian fleet. The city fell after 47 days.

 

The Icelandic skald Einarr Skúlason gives the following account.

 

The Norsemen’s king, the skalds relate,

Has ta’en the heathen town of Saet:

The slinging engine with dread noise

Gables and roofs with stones destroys.

The town wall totters too, — it falls;

The Norsemen mount the blackened walls.

He who stains red the raven’s bill

Has won, — the town lies at his will.

 

 

 

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