The Fall Of Edessa

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The Fall Of Edessa

   The Fall Of Edessa

WHEN Baldwin du Bourg surrendered the sovereignty of Edessa to ascend the throne of Jerusalem, one of the barons to whom he owed his elevation was Joceline de Courtenay.

The circumstance was calculated to cause some surprise: for Baldwin and Joceline were not supposed to be on the most friendly terms. Indeed, Joceline, after being in other days loaded with favors by Baldwin, had manifested so little gratitude, that he was expelled by his patron from the Euphrates, and com-pelled to take refuge at Jerusalem. But when Baldwin became a candidate for the regal dignity, all quarrels appeared to be forgotten: and when Baldwin placed the crown of Jerusalem on his head, Joceline was gifted with the principality of Edessa.

For many years Joceline de Courtenay maintained feudal state at Edessa, and constant war with the infidels on the banks of the Euphrates. Even time did not tame his warlike energy: and, in old age, he continued terrible to the enemies of his faith. One day, however, while besieging a fortress near Aleppo, the old warrior was crushed beneath the ruins, and dragged out in so bruised a condition, that no hope was entertained of his recovery. Conveyed to Edessa, and placed on a couch, he there calmly awaited the destroyer, whom he had often defied in the ranks of battle.

While Joceline was passing his last hours wearily at Edessa, he received intelligence that the Saracens were besieging one of his strongholds, and sent for the heir of his name and his dominions.

"My son," said the aged warrior, "go instantly and attack the foe."

"I fear," said young Josceline, "that we have not men enough to encounter the enemy."

Indignant that, under such circumstances, a son of his should talk of fear, and determined to show a great example, the dying man caused himself to be placed on a litter, and carried at the head of his soldiers. On the way he was informed that the Saracens had retired from the siege, and smiled grimly, as if gratified at the terror associated with his name. Next moment he ordered the litter to stop; and he expired amid his soldiers, while his eyes turned towards heaven, as if rendering thanks for the flight of his enemies.

The defence of Edessa now devolved upon the son of the departed hero; but young Joceline was by no means equal to the duty. From boyhood he had been addicted to dissipation; and no sooner did the grave close over his father, than he took up his abode on the Euphrates, and indulged his inclinations without stint. In a delicious retreat on the banks of the river, he pursued a thorough system of debauchery, and neglected every measure essential for the security of the principality.

Meanwhile a Moslem warrior, named Sanguin, who had obtained the principality of Mossoul, with Aleppo and other Syrian cities, cast his eyes longingly on Edessa, and only awaited a favorable opportunity of taking the city. The prize was tempting to an ambitious soldier; and the walls had, from neglect, become so frail, that no formidable opposition was apprehended.

Joceline was still occupied with his debaucheries, when one day startled with intelligence that Sanguin had appeared before the city with a formidable army, with his nerves in disorder and his ideas in confusion, the youthful prince scarcely knew on which side to turn. In extreme perplexity, he sent to the Queen of Jerusalem and the Prince of Antioch, explaining his danger, and imploring aid. But no one was in a position to attend to the application; and the Christians of the East soon learned, that, after pressing the siege for a month, the Saracens had entered Edessa as conquerors, and put the inhabitants to the sword.

Soon after having captured Edessa, Sanguin, whose pride success had elevated to the highest pitch, perished by the hands of slaves whom he had oppressed; and Joceline de Courtenay, rousing himself from slothful indulgence, buckled on his armor to regain his inheritance. Fortune seemed to smile on Joceline's efforts. Availing himself of the confusion consequent on Sanguin's assassination, he led his men to Edessa in the darkness of night, and succeeded in re-taking the city. But unhappily he was less fortunate in regard to the citadel; and when Noureddin, the son of Sanguin, unexpectedly arrived before the walls, the Christians found themselves in a desperate situation between the garrison and the besiegers.

Joceline and his friends now perceived that their plight was the reverse of enviable. There appeared, indeed, no hope of safety but in flight, and they resolved to fly. At midnight, accordingly, the gates were thrown open; and the Christians, issuing forth in silence, endeavored to escape. But few were fortunate enough to accomplish their object. A signal made by the garrison roused the besiegers to arms; and the soldiers of Noureddin, rushing to the gates, intercepted the fugitives, and cut them down without mercy. Some thousands of warriors, closing their ranks, forced a passage through the Saracen host; but, pursued towards the Euphrates, they fell in heaps. Only a handful reached the abode of friends to tell that the Christians of Edessa were slaughtered, and that citadel and city remained in the possession of the foe.

The conquerors of Edessa used their victory without mercy, and without forbearance. Thirty thousand Christians are said to have perished by the swords of the Moslems; many thousands more were carried into slavery; and even the walls, the towers, and the churches were razed to the ground.

Joceline de Courtenay, after the loss of his principality, fell into the hands of the Saracens; and, having been carried captive to Aleppo, died there in misery, in prison, and in chains.

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From John G. Edgar
The Crusades and the Crusaders, 1860

   The Fall Of Edessa
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