The Siege of Ascalon (1153) According to Contemporary or Near-contemporary Western European Sources


Translated by Helen Nicholson from the editions in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores, ed.Bill Zajac.


In 1153, Baldwin launched a major attack on Ascalon, with an army large enough to invest the great city completely. The siege dragged on for months, with the Egyptians unable to challenge the Franks on land, but the Christians unable to gain superiority over the Egyptians at sea. But eventually the garrison realized that there was no rescue in sight. The city surrendered on August 10, on condition that the garrison be allowed to leave peacefully. This was allowed, and the Christians occupied the city, gaining a great store of treasure. 1153 thus marks the high-tide of Outremer, at least as far as the Kingdom of Jerusalem was concerned. The victory caused Damascus to reaffirm its friendship and it opened up the possibility of conquering Egypt. Please see The Crusaders’ Strategy Against Fatamid Ascalon and the “Ascalon Project” of the Second Crusade by Martin Hoch (PDF file: hoch).  Additional explanatory material inserted by Helen Nicholson is in square brackets.


Translation of the account of the siege and capture. of Ascalon in 1153 from the Auctarium Aquicinense, MGH SS, vol. 6: p. 396.

1153. … Ascalon was captured by the army of the Lord, that is by the men of Jerusalem, and occupied by our people; first, however, the army was afflicted with great labour and lengthy war, besides many dangers and grievous losses. For, in the days following the purification of the holy mother of God [the Blessed Virgin Mary: 2 February], the king of Jerusalem [Baldwin III], moving his array, invested the city with his army spread around, and remained until the feast of the assumption of the same most blessed Virgin [15 August]. On the day following that most sacred feast, he moved the belfry [siege tower] with its military engines to the wall; and by subterranean artifice it was brought about that the falling wall furnished a wide entrance to our men. The chief leader and commander of that army, which serves from the Temple under the profession of fraternal fellowship, rushed in with his troop, and, reaching an open space in the city surrounded by his band of men, he established a position; there, limited by the narrowness of the streets, closed in by walls and the overhanging roofs of the buildings, and beset from every side by a growing crowd, he was overwhelmed and slain with the entire body of his men. The heads of whom were gathered in one heap so they might be displayed to the king of Babylon [i.e., of Egypt] as a sign of victory; they hung the bodies on the walls, taunting us and provoking the army of God with words of blasphemy. Finally, our men much strengthened in the Lord, committing themselves to the Lord with most devout prayers and making vows to the holy mother of God, attacked the wall on the third day; standing firm in faith, they moved forward warlike implements, machines and balistas [missile-hurling siege machines]. Truly, the True Cross went before the army in the hands of the patriarch. Then, indeed, by the manifest power of the Lord, all were struck by blindness, so that when a balista by its force shot millstones into their midst, no one saw the incoming stone so he might move from the place and avoid the blow of the stone. Finally, hard pressed, they delivered the city into the hand of the king, and from that time Ascalon was made ours and possessed by our people; the city is fortified with 150 very strong towers, covered over with ceilings from the upper stories of the buildings in its streets like a crypt, and in a measure inexpugnable.


Translation of the account of the siege and capture of Ascalon in 1153 from the Auctarium Affligimense, MGH SS, vol. 6: pp. 401-2.

N.B. The underlined passages in this text mark places where the account differs from that contained in the Auctarium Aquicinense.

1153. … Ascalon was captured by the army of the Lord, that is by the men of Jerusalem, and occupied by our people; first, however, the army was afflicted with great labour and lengthy war, besides many dangers and grievous losses. For, in the days following the purification of the holy mother of God, the king of Jerusalem moved his array, besieged the gates and invested the walls of the city with his army spread around, menacing them incessantly with watches by night and battle by dayremaining and continuing indefatigable until the feast of the assumption of the same most blessed Virgin. On the day following that most sacred feast, he moved the belfry with its military engines to the wall; and by subterranean artifice it was brought about that the falling wall furnished a wide entrance to our men. Consequently, our men rushed forward and forced their way in; the chief leader and commander of that army, which serves from the Temple under the profession of fraternal fellowship, rushed in with his troop, and, reaching an open space in the city surrounded by his band of men, he established a position; there, limited by the narrowness of the streets, closed in by walls and the overhanging roofs of the buildings, and beset from every side by a growing crowd, he was overwhelmed and slain with the entire body of his men. The heads of whom were gathered in one heap so they might be displayed to the king of Babylon as a sign of victory; they hung the bodies on the walls, taunting us and provoking the army of God with words of blasphemy. Finally, our men, much strengthened in the Lord, said to the king that he should fight manfully, and should not despair of the mercy of God, whose aid is especially wont to be present at such a time when human aid fails or is unhoped for. Therefore, because it is particularly the protection of Christians, committing themselves to the Lord with the confession of sins, the largesse of alms and most devout prayers and making vows to the holy mother of God, they attacked the wall on the third day; standing firm in faith, they moved forward warlike implements, machines and balistas. Truly, the True Cross went before the army in the hands of the patriarch,a most certain pledge of victory that was always with our men in every battle. Then, indeed, the power of the Lord was manifested; He silenced the blasphemous tongues, and He cast down the impudence of the proud, and He dispersed their councils. That man, who was present and remained in the army during the whole time of the siege, related to us what he saw. All were struck by blindness, so that when a balista by its force shot millstones into their midst, no one saw the incoming stone so he might move from the place and avoid the blow of the stone. What more? They were compelled to acknowledge the power of God, which they had denied, and Him, whom they blasphemed, to be the faithful protector and aid of His people. Therefore, not being able to delay further, they delivered the city into the hand of the king, and from that time Ascalon was made ours and possessed by our people. It was seen to be a miracle among miracles especially worthy of wonder that a city fortified with 150 very strong towers, covered over with ceilings from the upper stories of the buildings in its streets like a crypt, and in a measure inexpugnable could finally be conquered, which is to be found nowhere in the histories of the ancients.


This page © Helen Nicholson, 2002. Extracts from this translation should not be reproduced in any form without acknowledging the translator.  We thank Helen Nicholson for her permission to republish this text.


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