Chronicle of James the Conqueror, Siege of Burriana (1233)


James I, King of Aragon (1208-76), king of Aragón and count of Barcelona (1213-76), was nicknamed the Conquerer because of his many wars and conquests, which included the capture of the Balearic Islands (1229-35) and Valencia (1238) form the Moors, and through his aid to Castile in their attempt recover control of Murcia after a Moorish rebellion (1266).  Like other Iberian monarchs, James composed his own chronicle of his reign.  In the following section, James details a major siege against the city of Burriana.


And when I was out of Tudela and had got to Tahuste, I determined, since the king did nothing well for himself or for me, to go into the Moors’ country and take Burriana. I fixed a day for my people to meet me at Teruel in the beginning of May, that is the barons (richs homens), the Master of the Temple, the Master of the Hospital, and such of the knights of Ucles and Calatrava who happened to be in my dominions.  But not one of these came on the day appointed for them to Teruel. But there came, however, the Bishop of Zaragoza, named En Berenguer de Montagut, Don Pedro Ferrandes de Agagra, and men of my own household, with Don Ximen Perez Darenos, also of our household. I thus made up a hundred and twenty knights, besides the townsmen of Teruel. On the third day after leaving Teruel, I was about to take up my quarters at Exerica, when from seven to eight hundred Moors came out of the town. I dared not quarter my army in the plain where the castle stands, for the Moors hindered our approach and defended themselves with crossbows and lances, in the fields close to us. Thereon that same night I resolved to lay waste the country beyond the castle, towards Viver, leaving behind me thirty horse in armour, besides all those who remained in the tents, fully a thousand men, and with the rest of my force lay waste the surrounding country; and so I did. The Moors perceiving the horse in armour, would not venture out. Next day I lay waste below the town as I had done above it, leaving the horse in armour at the tents.

As I came in from the foray there came to me En Ramon Camenla, knight commander of Aliaga, and another knight of the Temple, also a commander, whose name I do not recollect at this moment. Both entered the camp on horseback, lightly armed, but lance in hand, and came to me. I sent for the bishop, the nobles, the townsmen of Teruel, and others of my train, and they spoke thus: “My lord, the Masters of the Temple and of the Hospital, the commander of Alcanic, who is here with all the townsmen of Alcanic and Montalba, salute you; they say that they have got as far as the hill of Pascuas, two miles on this side of Murviedro, and have been there for two days according to orders, and have harried the valley of Segon. Now they are sending you a message and pray you to go to them quickly, else they will be unable to stay there, for they are few, and the power of Valencia, which is great, is coming down upon them.” I answered, “I will consider it;” and they left the tent saying plainly, that unless I went to the assistance of my people, they would all come away.

I then held a council, and all those present said, “It were well to succour them and go there.” With that answer the messengers went away. Then I said to my councillors: “What then is to be done with these fine wheat-fields before us? Are we not to lay them waste? And are the Saracens to keep us from them by force of arms? Let us send message to the knights to beg them to wait a day for us; next day we will be with them; I will tell you how we can in the meantime destroy these cornfields.” “So help us, God!” said all with one voice, “it were well not to go hence before destroying the fields, but how can that be done?” “I will tell you,” said I; “I was never before on this frontier, but it seems to me as if these Saracens understood arms and were masters in them. Now there is a certain way of using arms which becomes a custom; and with whatever skill one may attack, if the enemy knows well how to abide it he will surely be beaten. This shall be our way; we carry only lances, and the Saracens have lances and crossbows; yet we are faster than they. I will tell you how to destroy their fields without their being able to help it. Let us put twenty horse in armour in the upper road, and twenty more in the road below; we will give the shields to the esquires; the crossbowmen shall go behind the esquires, and the men who are to cut down the wheat will be just behind the crossbowmen.” It was done as I proposed. Next day the crops were destroyed, for the Moors knowing that if they came to fight in their defence, the meeting would be to our advantage and to their loss, dared not stir, and in this manner we wasted the whole of two districts. Next day early we took up quarters at Torres Torres, where we laid the country waste, after which a message was sent to the masters and to the others to say that we were coming.

Next day after mass we started for the valley of Segon, where we met the masters of the Temple and of the Hospital, the commanders of Alcanic and of Montalba, and all together we went to lay siege to Burriana. The siege of Burriana began in the middle of May, when we made a “fonevol” and a “manganel” to batter its walls with. The Saracens in the place sallied out sometimes to skirmish. When they saw that we had sheep and cattle near their town, they came out‑sometimes a hundred footmen and sometimes seven horsemen – which was all the force they had inside. Before the sally, they generally posted crossbowmen to shoot at our men if they should approach the gate. At times they were successful, got some of the cattle, and took it in; at other times our people got possession of theirs. I, therefore, forbade the men to pasture cattle and sheep between the camp and the town. One day, however, seven of our mules and pack-horses (atzembles), though I do not remember to what company of the army they belonged, happened to be grazing in front of the town. The Moors of Burriana saw them, and the seven horsemen came out of the gate on the Valencia side to try and get at them. At that time a knight, named Guillen Dasin, of the train of Don Blasco de Alagon, was guarding the pasture with his men, in his pourpoint, with his horse and an esquire who had his arms. When he saw the Moors come out he armed himself, put on his iron cap and went against the Moors, who were actually driving away the beasts. Had he been willing to attack the enemy and recover the mules he might easily have done so, for the army was coming up to help him; but his heart was not stout enough for him to set on the Moors, so they got four of the beasts into the town, and the other two (sic) returned to the camp.

Now I will name the nobles who were with the army; first there was my uncle Don Fernando, the Bishop of Lerida, En Berenguer de Aril of Tortosa, the Master of the Temple, the Master of the Hospital. There were also Don Blasco, de Alago, and En G. de Cervera, lord that was of Juneda, En. G. de Cardona, the brother of En R. Folch; and there were Don Rodrigo Liana, Don Pedro Fernandez de Acagra, Lord of Albarracin, Don Exemen de Urrea, Don Blasco Malta, Don Pedro Corneyl, En Berenguer Guillem, father of the present lord and an uncle of mine; the Prior of Santa Christina, the commanders of Alcanic and Montalba, the townsmen of Daroca and of Teruel. Those of Zaragoza were on their way, but Burriana was taken before they arrived. There came also to me a master workman of Albanguena, named Nicoloso, who made our “trebuchet” at Mallorca, and he said: “Micer, you need not stay long here to take this place if you do not wish; you can have it if you like in a fortnight.” I asked in what way? He said, “Give me timber; there is plenty here of the lote tree, and other kinds; and in eight days I will build for you a castle of wood, and I will make it move on wheels up to the place, as you know I made the `trebuchets’ move up at Mallorca.” I told him that he spoke well; but that I must first hold council on it with my barons.

I, therefore, sent for Don Fernando, the bishops and the barons to come to me, and said: “Here is a master‑workman, who was with us at the siege of Mallorca, and made our `trebuchet’ there. He says that he can make a castle of wood in eight days, with which we can take Burriana.” I then told them that I had already seen such a thing, and knew for certain that if it were made, the town would soon be taken. They asked, how could that be made? I said, “That I know well; but let us send for the man, and he himself will explain.” While the man was coming, I described to them the way it was made, as I had seen at Mallorca: the wooden castle (said I) will have two supports on each side, which will make four, besides two more in front of each (at the back and in front), to steady the other four.  There will be two platforms, one halfway up the castle and the other on the top. The upper platform will hold a number of men, one-half crossbowmen, the other half slingers, to fling stones at the Saracens manning the wall. The wall-towers will thus be thrown down, and the Christians then will scale them. The Moors will not be able to defend them owing to the crossbows and stones from the wooden castle. In this manner shall the town be taken.

Then the master workman himself came, and told it to them in the same way I had told it. All said that he must make the castle, and that I should see that he made it and was provided with all he wanted. Workmen were hired in the camp; timber was cut down and brought to the place, and the castle was built. All that time the “fonevol” did not cease throwing big stones into the town. On the other hand, two very powerful “algarradas,” which the besieged had, were shooting at the “fonevol”; but this was well covered with hurdles, and stood lower than the “algarradas,” besides, when the “fonevol” began to throw, the “algarradas” left off throwing, from fear of it. When the wooden castle was made, we had full a hundred sleepers for ways ready, well greased and prepared. The master-workman fixed two anchors in the ground under cover of a mantlet of hurdles pushed forward, and fixed near the side of the ditch by men with shields and in armour. The points of the anchors were next driven into the ground by mallets; through the ring of each anchor large stakes and irons were driven in by mallets; to these we fastened the ways on which the wooden castle should move. The master told us to have men to draw it next morning, that he would show how it should go.

At sunrise I mounted and rode to that part of the camp occupied by the people of Daroca and Teruel, to ask them to send me each two hundred men. They sent them immediately, and I said, “Master, are you ready?” He said he would be ready immediately; he had to fix the ropes for working the ways. I said, “Master, by my advice you would delay moving the castle for two whole days.” He said, “Why, Micer?” “For this reason,” said I. “The enemy has two `algarradas;’ if they work them against the wooden castle, it has no screen, and they are sure to hit it as they would a board.” He said, “Please you let it go; if there were ten `algarradas,’ the castle would not care more for them than for a piece of cheese.” Yet I said, “If you like, I could very well in the course of today put up defences to it; I could send many carriers to the sea to bring the warps and cables of the ships; thirty of them would be enough; I could easily put beams of timber on the top of the wooden castle, standing out a fathom; I then would tie the ropes to these and let them hang down, and they would most efficiently parry the blows of the ‘algarradas’.”  He said, “Micer, it is unnecessary; this is not a time for such niceties.” I said: “You know best of this matter; I will not oppose you in what you think right.”

I then set to work, ordering men to pull at the ropes; I called out “Ayos,” as sailors do, when they launch a ship, or haul her in; and I thus moved the castle. But when it had gone some way in that manner, it stopped, for the supports (wheels) could not move; arrows came down on us, and wounded four of our people at the very beginning. I had on my pourpoint and my “gonyo” at the time; my iron helmet on my head, and a shield with which I covered myself; there were besides full twenty men with shields shielding those who were pulling at the ropes. I kept them so close together that I did not allow the wounded even to leave the ropes, but made them sit down under cover, and then had their wounds looked to secretly. Eight or ten of them were wounded, for I could not cover them so as to prevent arrows passing between the shields the men were holding. When the wooden castle had moved half the distance it had to go, the master-workman said to me: “Send these men away, for they are no good at all, and they do great harm; I will manage so that in the morning all will be set right.” If you will give me picked soldiers, experienced men, who will obey my orders quietly, matters will be mended.” I told him that he was right, and so left him. No one ever drank so much in a day as I then did; I swallowed two great cups of wine and water before dinner, and then dined.

And in that business no one helped or offered to help me. No sooner did I go to my dinner than the “fonevol” left off working, and then the Saracens set to work the best of their “algarradas” and struck [the castle] ten times before I had done eating. That grieved me so much that had one struck me ten blows in the side he would not have hurt me so much as did each blow aimed at the wooden castle while I was eating my dinner. I sent for the master-workman to come to me as soon as he had done his dinner, and when he came, said to him: “Would it not have been better to do what I told you, and follow my advice? Now it is too late.” I could not at that hour get men to go and draw it back to a place where it might be repaired; so I left it exposed all that night; and the “algarradas” did not cease throwing stones at the castle, hitting it more than a hundred times.

When day came I saw very plainly that the castle would be completely destroyed if it remained where it was; so I sent word to the master-workman before dawn to have ropes put into the rings so that we might in the early morning draw it back. All my own retainers were armed, and at morning, before the sun was up, I had the castle drawn back towards the camp, and so far off that the “algarradas” of the enemy could no longer reach it. I and the rest of my people plainly saw that the castle could be of no use, for the blows of the “algarradas” had greatly injured it, and so it was given up; and thereafter we would not employ again that device of a castle. Then I, the bishops and the barons, resolved that our “fonevol” should batter, and that mines should be made, and that there should be no change from that; so the “fonevol” and the “manganel” battered, and we had mines made.

After a short interval, where James discusses the arrival of two galleys from Tarragona, he resumes his description of the events of the siege

One night, between the first sleep and midnight, the Saracens, carrying fire-torches in their hands, sallied out against the mantlet of En Bernard Guillem de Entenca, where the hurdles stood. There were fully two hundred of the enemy, and others were on the walls with two-footed crossbows ready to shoot at those who came to protect the hurdles. The cry arose in the camp, “To arms! to arms! the Saracens have made a sally against En Bernard Guillem’s hurdles.” I heard the noise, and they who lay beside me in my tent asked if they should saddle the horses. I said, “Not by any means, but let each of you go to the spot on foot as fast as he can.” Meantime, at once put on my quilted coat (perpunte) over my shirt – I did not wait to put on the “gonella” – and with some ten who lay beside me, with shields on our arms, and iron caps on our heads, ran to the hurdles where Don Bernard Guillem was. I asked on my arrival, “What is the matter, Don Bernard Guillem? and how goes it with you?” He said, “My lord, well and fairly; lo! the Moors here tried to set fire to the hurdles, but by the grace of God we have defended them well.”

Then one of the esquires said to me, “My lord, Don Bernard Guillem is wounded by an arrow in the leg.” I said, “Let us get lint from the camp, draw out the arrow and dress the wound.” I myself took lint, dipped it in water, and put it to the wound; I then bound it up with a piece of the shirt of an esquire who was there. And when the wound was bound up I asked Don Bernard to go to the camp, for I myself would remain and take care of the hurdles till he was better. And he said, “My lord, I will not do that, I shall get on here as well as, or better than in the camp.” No baron but me would assist Don Bernard; I saw that, and said to him, “Courage, Don Bernard! bear it like a man.”

Meantime I set up some of the hurdles that had been made in the camp. On the left, where Don Bernard Guillem de Entenga was stationed, I had two mantlets made, and every night knights and esquires on foot came to watch the “fonevol.” I placed the mantlets there that they might be nearer to Don Bernard Guillem. One Friday, after dinner, my men sent me word that the mantlets had been left without guards, and that I ought to send a company to guard them. I immediately put on a quilted coat (perpunte), and an iron cap, and sword in hand, with eight knights equipped in the same fashion, went to the hurdles. I had previously sent there a mattress and a bolster. As I lay thus with my quilted coat (perpunte) unlaced, the Saracens saw that the camp was asleep; they knew that my pennon was there, and that I myself must be in my tent. They therefore made a sally, with fully forty men with shields, and up to a hundred and seventy more in all. On the wall and on the barbican the Saracens had crossbows ready, and the others brought fire with them. There were two esquires at two of the hurdles on the look-out against the town, and when they saw the enemy they said, “To arms! to arms! lo! here are the Saracens!” All got up instantly and put on their iron caps; I myself had brought a sword from Monzon called Tizo, which was a very good one and lucky to those who handled it. I would rather use it than a lance, and therefore gave mine to an esquire who attended me. When my people in the camp heard the noise, all went out accoutred as I was; the Saracens left two torches fully burning near the hurdles a little in front of us. We drove them before us; they turned their backs and fled till in the direction of the barbican into which we actually drove them. We saw that we could not reach them, for they were quicker than we, for they did not carry either breast-plates (gonios), or quilted coats (perpuntes); they had only shields and lances, and so they got into the barbican, the other Saracens defending them by throwing stones from the wall. Seeing that we could not do them harm, and that we might receive it ourselves, we returned to the camp protecting ourselves by our shields. And believe me, reader, when I say this to be truth, that twice did I uncover my whole body that the Saracens might wound me, so that, if I had to raise the siege, I could say that it was my wound that made me raise it. But our Lord Jesus Christ knows how things should be and should be done. He makes those to whom He wishes well, act for the best. He took such care of me that 1 received no wound, and took the town as will be told afterwards.

When the mines had advanced so that they actually opened into the moat, I made my plan. I posted a hundred men in armour between the hurdles and the mines in the night, before daybreak, and ordered that at dawn all in the tents should quietly and noiselessly arm themselves. At the sound of trumpets all were to sally from the mines to assault the town; they were to storm the tower which the “fonevol” had battered down, for it could be done. I sent word the night before to the bishops and barons of what was to be done in the morning, and told them, if they kept the secret, the town would be taken next day. They said, “May it so please God! tell us how?” They were told of the plan I had made, which they thought very good; and they said they would set their companies in order, and that when daybreak came they would all be ready. I said, “God speed you, and take care to do so.” And I myself set about preparing the thing.

At morning they sent me word that they were ready, and asked for orders how to act. I told them to stand in readiness, for the trumpets would presently sound; when they heard them sound they were to push on. Daylight was coming on when I ordered the trumpets to sound; the men sallied from the mines and began to ascend the wall. When the Saracens heard the trumpets sound, and saw the camp in motion, they set up cries, and sounded their horns, and before our men could get up [the breach], six or seven of them came who had no other arms but maces. One of them drew up his sleeves, took a great stone and threw it at the man who was foremost, but though it struck him, the man was too near to be hurt. However, the man got five sword-wounds in the legs, and therefore could not go on whilst this was going on. The other Saracens on the wall threw stones down so that all the shields were broken, and my men could not get up, do what they would, though on the other hand the Saracens were greatly disheartened by our assault, as well as by the “fonevol” that kept battering the wall, and the mines close to it.

At the end of two days the Saracens of Burriana began a parley; they offered to surrender the town at the end of a month if the King of Valencia did not succour them before that time. I told them I would not wait three days, much less one month; if they did not choose to surrender, they must prepare for battle, which they would have to their grief. They then asked me to allow them fifteen days; I said I would not give them fifteen, nor eight, nor five. When they saw how things stood, they said they would agree to this, that I should let them leave the town with what they could carry with them, and they would surrender; they should have five days for doing that, as time to make ready their things to depart. I should besides give them a guard to escort them to Nules, and swear that no one should interrupt them on the road, but allow them to reach that town safe and sound. I said I would consider of it.

That was my conclusion; in view of the expenditure that was going on every day, and because Burriana was a better place for the conquest of Valencia than any other, there might be at the storming of the town a great fight between Catalans, Aragonese, and many foreigners who were in the camp; again, there was in the town much corn that would serve for those who then guarded the frontier. For all these and many other things and reasons, I thought it well to accept the proposal; and so it was done, the terms being that they should leave within four days with what they could carry on their backs and in their hands. In that way did I have Burriana. And that men may know how many souls there were in it, men, women, and children, there were seven thousand and thirty-two. The siege lasted two months from the day we pitched our tents till the town was taken.


This text was originally from John Forster (trans.), James I (the Conqueror), King of Aragon: Chronicle.  The entire of edition of this work is available from the In Parentheses website.


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