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Deus le Veult: The Role of the Miraculous in the Critical Siege of Antioch
By Benjamin Cox
Published Online (2003)
Introduction: Autumn of the year 1097 found Pope Urban’s army of Frankish crusaders at the banks of the river Orontes on the outskirts of the great city of Antioch. Situated near the border of modern day Turkey and Syria, Antioch was the gateway to the Near East, and its successful capture was vital to the continuation of the Crusade. This formidable city resisted the efforts of the Franks, who faced not only their Turkish opponents, but also unprecedented famine and the desertion of many of their own troops. But as a result of the hardships the crusaders encountered at Antioch, we see in the works of the chroniclers of the time an abundance of miraculous events in a variety of forms. As the siege became progressively more hopeless, God’s involvement in its execution increased in potency. Whether invented by inspiring leaders, divined by sages from omens, or conjured by the hopeful, these signs undoubtedly played a critical role in maintaining the morale of the beleaguered crusaders, and helped lead them on to victory.
In just two years, the pilgrims and warriors of the First Crusade had successfully waged war across the whole of Anatolia, from the Straits of Bosporous to the river Euphrates. With the capture of such cities as Nicaea and Edessa and numerous victories over the Turkish armies to their credit, the crusaders had reclaimed much of modern Turkey in the name of Christianity and were poised to begin the long march to the Holy Sepulchre.
Strategically, the capture of Antioch was essential to the crusaders’ aim of securing a route of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. To secure the city would be to open the Holy Land to further conquests, and to the flood of European pilgrims who would follow in the crusaders’ footsteps. Simply by virtue of its geographic location, Antioch exercised control over a critical portion of the most direct overland route to the Holy Land.