The Crusades were so to say not a highlight in Western civilization: gruesome atrocities, the sacking of Constantinople, mass murder, feuds between the various leaders and in the end it did not achieve its goal. Rather than supporting the Byzantines, its fall was hastened. Having said that, it is also a fascinating epoch of history. I am now reading Steven Runciman’s classic A History of the Crusades.. For the first Crusade he uses extensively the anonymous Gesta Francorum, an eyewitness account of someone who took part in the expedition. The Latin is quite simple, but as an historic account it is invaluable.
The following extract tells about the siege of Antioch. At Antioch there was a Turkish garrison under siege since October 1097. This siege was quite to the pleasure of the Emir of Egypt. Though Arabs and Turks were brothers in faith in theory, the Fatimid Arabs at Cairo were greatly troubled by the increasing power of the Seljuk Turks.
As circumstances became critical, there was an outbreak at 6 March 1098. The Turks however were repelled and had to withdraw within the gates of the city, but not without suffering heavy losses. Early next morning they came out again to bury their deaths near a mosque outside the city. The army of the crusaders left them untouched, but once the Turks had returned within Antioch, the soldiers hastened to destroy the tombs, take all precious items and beheaded the corpses.
On 3 June Antioch fell through treachery from inside. The gates were opened and crusade soldiers poured into the city and started killing and ransacking indiscriminately, not taking care whether one was Muslim or Christian.
Gesta Francorum 7, XVIII (extract)
Crastina uero die summo diluculo exierunt alii Turci de ciuitate, et colligerunt omnia cadauera foetentia Turcorum mortuorum, quae reperire potuerunt super ripam fluminis, exceptis illis quae in alueo latebant eiusdem fluminis; et sepelierunt ad machumariam quae est ultra pontem ante portam urbis; simulque illis consepelierunt pallia, bisanteos aureos, arcus, sagittas, et alia plurima instrumenta, quae nominare nequimus. Audientes itaque nostri quod humassent mortuos suos Turci, omnes sese preparauerunt, et uenerunt festinantes ad diabolicum atrium, et iusserunt desepeliri et frangi tumbas eorum, et trahi eos extra sepulchra. Et eiecerunt omnia cadauera eorum in quandam foueam, et deportauerunt cesa capita ad tentoria nostra quatinus perfecte sciretur eorum numerus, excepto quod onerauerant quatuor equos, de nuntiis ammirali Babiloniae, et miserant ad mare. Quod uidentes Turci doluerunt nimis, fueruntque tristes usque ad necem. Nam cotidie dolentes, nichil aliud agebant nisi flere et ululare.
crastinus (adj.): morning
foeteo: to smell
reperio repperi repertum: to find
alveus: bed of a river
sepelio sepelivi sepultum: to bury
bisanteos aureos: golden byzantine coins
nequeo nequivi nequitum: to be unable to
diabolicum atrium: i.e. the mosque
festino festinavi festinatum: to hasten
frango fregi fractum: to break
cesa = caesa (caedo cecidi caesum: to chop, hew)
quatinus perfecte sciretur eorum numerus: in order to know exactly how great the number of them
onero: to load
ammirali Babiloniae: of the Emir of Egypt (ammiralis from Arabic amīr-al-baḥr `commander of the sea, admiral. But here it must simply mean emir. As for admiral, this word was misunderstood aa derived from Latin admirari `to admire’).
miserant ad mare: probably to a ship of the emir as a kind gesture
nex necis (f.): death
ululo: to howl
Translation by A.C. Krey (1921)
On the next day, at earliest dawn, other Turks went out from the city, and, collecting all the fetid corpses of the dead Turks which they could find on the bank of the river, except those which
lay hidden in the sand of the same river, they buried them at the mosque which is across the bridge in front of the city gate. At the same time they buried with them their garments, gold besants,
bows, arrows, and very many other instruments which we were unable to name. And so, when our men heard that the Turks had buried their dead, all made preparation and came in haste to the
diabolical temple and ordered the bodies to be exhumed, the tombs broken open, and the corpses dragged forth from the sepulchre. They cast all the cadavers into a ditch and carried off the severed
heads to our tents, in order to find out their number exactly — all the heads, that is, except those loaded upon the four horses of the envoys of the Emir of Babylon and sent to the sea. The Turks
grieved exceedingly upon beholding this, and were sad even to death ; grieving daily, they did nothing else except weep and lament.