The first crushing loss: Melitene of Armenia

In 1100, Bohemund Prince of Antioch was called on to fulfill his feudal vows and help protect a northern part of Armenian Cilicia. A tribe of Turks called the Danishmends (after their leader, whose name “Danishmend” in Persian means “wise man”) who lived north of the Armenians were pushing southward. They were attacking the town of Melitene, ruled by an Armenian named Gabriel. We know Gabriel was part of the Armenian-Crusader network because in 1101, the new Count Baldwin II of Edessa married his daughter Morphia. But for now, Gabriel and Morphia were in danger.

Bohemund left Antioch in the hands of his nephew, Tancred Prince of Galilee, and collected knights with his cousin, Richard of Salerno. Bohemund, Tancred, and Richard were all Normans whose fathers had conquered and settled in Sicily and southern Italy. It’s said that Richard and Tancred could speak some Arabic, certainly a plus in ruling Antioch.

The Danishmend ruler Ghazi had met the Crusaders once before, while they were crossing Anatolia. He didn’t intend to lose this time. His men ambushed the Normans as they went north across unfamiliar ground, and many Crusaders were killed. Bohemund and his cousin Richard, though, were captured alive. Ghazi personally kept Bohemund for ransom, but he sold Richard to Emperor Alexios I Comnenos. Now two Crusader enemies had valuable hostages.

Having Bohemund, a leading prince, captured alive by barbarians was humiliating, and it also signaled to the surrounding Turkish emirs and beys that if they were a bit more clever, they too could win battles with the Franks. The Crusaders seemed invincible when they first arrived, but now their numbers were badly reduced. The hostage-taking also tested the unity and resources of the Crusaders. If they couldn’t come up with the sum that Ghazi and Alexios were demanding, just how rich were they? And if they didn’t have the unified will to ransom some of their top commanders, how much of a “state” were they? If they were as disunified as the Turkish rulers, they could be picked off one by one, or tempted into alliances against each other.

Bohemund and Richard were finally ransomed and released in 1103, but for the next set of stories, they should be considered sidelined. Bohemund might have been held in a yurt, for all we know; I like to picture him there. Did he learn some Turkish over the course of three years? I hope so. And while they were both released, it didn’t end happily for Gabriel, Baldwin II’s father-in-law. He was killed by the Danishmends while trying to negotiate the ransom payments.

This series picks up with an entry for May 6, 2017, titled “Two Horrific Battles.”

This entry was posted in Crusades, Muslim Empire. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply