In the following letter, the Patriarch of Antioch describes events in the Crusader States that took place in 1164. To describe briefly, the King of Jersualem, Amalric I, joined forces with a Kurdish emir, Shirkuh, to besiege the Egyptian city of Bilbais. While Amalric was gone, the ruler of Damascus, launched an invasion of northern Syria, starting with a siege of Harim. Bohemed III of Antioch, who was left in charge of the kingdom while Amalric was in Egypt, was captured, forcing Amalric to give up the siege and return home.
Aymeric, by the grace of God, patriarch of the holy Apostolic See of Antioch, to Louis, illustrious king of the French, greeting and Apostolic benediction.
It would be fitting that we should always write joyful tidings to his royal majesty and should increase the splendor of his heart by the splendor and delight of our words. But the reverse has ever been our lot. The causes for tears, forsooth, are constant, the grief and the groaning are continuous, and we are unable to speak except of what concerns us. For the proverb says : “Where the grief is, there is also the tongue and hand.” The deaths of the Christians are frequent and the captures which we see daily. Moreover, the wasting away of the church in the East afflicts with ineradicable grief us who, tortured internally even to our destruction, are dying while living in anguish of soul, and, leading a life more bitter than death, as a culmination of our miseries, are wholly unable to die. Nor is there anyone who turns his heart towards us and out of pity directs his hand to aid us. But not to protract our words, the few Christians who are here cry out to you, together with us, and implore your clemency, which with God’s assistance is sufficient to liberate us and the church of God in the East.
And now we will tell you of all the events which have happened to us. In the Lent which has just passed, a certain one [Nur al-Din] of the men who are about us, who is held as chief among the Saracens, and who oppresses our Christian population far more than all who have gone before, and the leader of his army [Shirkuh] having gotten possession of Damascus, the latter entered Egypt with a great force of Turks, in order to conquer the country. Accordingly, the king of Egypt, who is also called the sultan of Babylon, distrusting his own valor and that of his men, held a most warlike council to determine how to meet the advancing Turks and how he could obtain the aid of the king of Jerusalem. For he wisely preferred to rule under tribute rather than to be deprived of both life and kingdom.
The former, therefore, as we have said, entered Egypt and favored by certain men of that land, captured and fortified a certain city. In the meantime the sultan made an alliance with the lord king [Amalric] by promising to pay tribute each year and to release all the Christian captives in Egypt, and obtained the aid of the lord king. The latter, before setting out, committed the care of his kingdom and land, until his return, to us and to our new prince, his kinsman Bohemond, son of the former prince Raymond.
Therefore, the great devastator of the Christian people, who rules near us, collected together from all sides the kings and races of the infidels arid offered a peace and truce to our prince and very frequently urged it. His reason was that he wished to traverse our land with greater freedom in order to devastate the kingdom of Jerusalem and to be able to bear aid to his vassal fighting in Egypt. But our prince was unwilling to make peace with him until the return of our lord king.
When the former saw that he was not able to accomplish what he had proposed, full of wrath, he turned his weapons against us and laid siege to a certain fortress of ours, called Harim, twelve miles distant from our city. But those who were besieged – 7,000 in number including warriors, men and women – cried loudly to us, ceasing neither day nor night, to have pity on them, and fixed a day beyond which it would be impossible for them to hold out. Our prince having collected all his forces, set out from Antioch on the day of St. Lawrence and proceeded as far as the fortress in entire safety. For the Turks in their cunning gave up the siege and withdrew a short distance from the fortress to some narrow passes in their own country.
On the next day our men followed the enemy to that place and while they were marching without sufficient circumspection, battle was engaged and they fled. The conflict was so disastrous that hardly anyone of ours of any rank escaped, except a few whom the strength of their horses or some lucky chance rescued from the tumult. Those captured were our prince [Bohemond III], the count of Tripoli [Raymond II], a certain Greek, Calaman, a duke of illustrious lineage, Mamistrensis, Hugh of Lesiniaco, and some of the brethren of the Templars and Hospitalers who had come from the country of Tripoli with the count. Of the people, some were killed, others captured; very few escaped; men, horses and weapons were almost entirely destroyed.
After the slaughter of the Christians the Turks returned to the above-mentioned fortress, captured it, and by compact conducted the feeble multitude of women, children and wounded as far as Antioch. Afterwards they advanced to the City, devastated the whole country as far as the sea with fire and sword and exercised their tyranny according to their lusts on everything which met their eyes.
God is a witness that the remnant which is left us is in no way sufficient to guard the walls night and day, and owing to the scarcity of men, we are obliged to entrust their safety and defense to some whom we suspect. Neglecting the church services, the clergy and presbyters guard the gates. We ourselves are looking after the defense of the walls and, as far as possible, are repairing, with great and unremitting labor, the many portions which have been broken down by earthquakes. And all this in vain, unless God shall look upon us with a more kindly countenance. For we do not hope to hold out longer, inasmuch as the valor of the men of the present day has been exhausted and is of no avail. But we do, in order that whatever can be done may not be left undone by us.
Above all, the only anchor which is left in this extremity for our hope is in you. Because we have heard from everybody of your greatness, because we have understood that you, more than all the other kings of the West, always have the East in mind. From that we are given to understand that your joy will not be full until you accomplish at some time what we are unable through our misdeeds to accomplish. And it is our hope that by your hand the Lord will visit His people and will have compassion on us.
May the sighings and groanings of the Christians enter the ear of the most high and incomparable prince; may the tortures and griefs of the captives strike his heart! And, not to make our letter too long, lest we should waste away in this vain hope and be for a long time consumed by the shadow of death, may his royal majesty deign to write to us and tell us his pleasure. Whatever we undergo by his command will not be difficult for us. May our Lord Jesus Christ increase in the heart of the king the desire which we desire, and may He in whose hand are the hearts of kings enkindle that heart! Amen.
From Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History v.1 n.4, ed. by Dana C. Munro (University of Pennsylvania, 1894).