Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Crusaders take Antioch

In May 1098 Kerboğa, the Emir of Mosul, left his city to help the Turks in Antioch besieged by the Crusaders. It was now urgent for the Crusaders to take the city so as not to be squeezed between the army of  Kerboğa and that of Yağı Siyan who was defending the city.
In the meantime Bohemund, the Prince of Taranto in Italy, had "made friends" with a Muslim behind the walls. This man named Firouz was an Armenian who had converted to Islam. However, it seems that he had not been granted the social status he had expected from his conversion, and as he realised that his wife was cheating him with one of his Muslim co-religionists, he was ready hand over the city to Bohemund.
Firouz was supposed to defend the Tower of the Two Sisters. This tower on the wall was located at the torrent valley of Phyrminus on the slopes of Mount Silpius opposite the Tower of Tancred. 

The piece of wall where the Tower of the Two Sister was located.

The ruin of a tower still standing, who knows, perhaps the Tower of the Two Sisters

One night some of the knights climbed the wall at the Tower of the Two Sisters and were let in by Firouz. From there the knights ran down along the wall to the St. George's Gate and the Bridge Gate and had them opened to their comrades.
The Crusaders did not manage to take the citadel on Mount Silpius, so it stayed on Muslim hands. In Antioch itself the "Christian" army was killing the Muslims and pillaging everybody. (This was in fact the standard procedure of armies back then. The Mameluke Sultan Baibars was to behave equally uncivilised when he conquered the city in 1268.)
About one week later the army of Kerboğa arrived and started to lay siege to Antioch. The Crusaders were in a desperate situation. They were under siege and whatever there may have been left to eat, had already been eaten by the Turks they had killed when taking the city. On top of it, there was no army on the way to help them. The Byzantine army had turned around when the Emperor had heard the news of Kerboğa's arrival being sure that the Franks had been butchered. The solution to the problem was presented by a man of humble origin and a bad reputation. His name was Peter Bartholomew.
Peter Bartholomew claimed that St. Andrew had appeared to him. This is how the chronicler Raoul tells us the story:
In the city, also, the quarrel did not decrease, but rather increased, for when the besieged people were in the throes of famine, as mentioned above, there arose from the army of Raymond a versatile fabricator of lies, Peter, who preached that the salvation of the people had been revealed to him in this way: "St. Andrew, the apostle," he said, "appeared to me, when I was half asleep, and spoke this command in my ear.  'Arise and announce to the people who are laboring that consolation has come from heaven, which the Lance that opened the side of the Lord will confer when it is found. It lies hidden beneath the soil within the church of St. Peter. Break the pavement at such a place (and he pointed out the place), and by digging there you will find the iron mentioned. When the horror of battle threatens, turn that against the enemy, and you will conquer through it/ Terrified, I thought that I had been deceived by a dream; and that I would not disclose it, but would remain silent forever, unless I was warned the second and the third time. The quiet of the next night was again enfolding me when the same apostle again returned, uttering the very statement which he had made before, but like one scolding and in wrath. 'Wherefore' he said, 'didst thou shun me and remain silent? Thou alone art delaying the safety of many. The people have cried out to the Lord and have been heard; and still thy negligence leaves them as if neglected. Hasten, therefore, as quickly as possible to correct this, that thou mayest continue to live.' Frightened at these words, when I had emerged from the sleep, I was at the same time more certain and more troubled; yet, still I hesitated whether to keep the secret or disclose it. In this worry I passed a whole day, and half the night, with prayer and fasting, begging the Lord for the third visit, if the first two had really been from him. The cock had twice acclaimed the morning, when, at length, just before the third crow, sleep bound my tired limbs; then without delay he who had come a first time, who had come a second time, appeared there again, ever more terrible, ever more commanding. 'Rise up, go, lazy brute, mute dog, delayer of safety and victory, menace to your fellows, solace of your enemies. Thou hast trembled with fear where there was no fear; where it is thou hast no fear.' Threats and curses still continued, when my spirit, terrified with fear at the threats, carried me away from sleep; perspiration and trembling coursed over my body at the same time, and if fire was burning one side, the other was stiff with ice. By these steps I came to teach what I had learned; you, however, fathers and brothers, do not stop to test the truth of the matter; it remains for me to point out the place for you to dig."
When this rumor was brought to the ears of Raymond, he called a council and had Peter summoned to the church of St. Peter. When asked about the place, he pointed behind the altar, true to his story, and advised them to dig; and that his words might have weight, he likewise composed his expression. They dug, but without avail; the upturned earth could not return what had not been committed to it, and what it had not received. However, the man had secreted about him an Arabic spear point, from the chance finding of which he had contrived material for his deception. Therefore, seizing the hardened, worn, and aged point, which was in form and size unlike those which we used, he was encouraged thereby to believe that people would put faith in his new creations. Accordingly, when the time for the deception came, he took a spade, jumped into the pit and, turning to a corner, said, "Here we must dig. Here lies hidden what we seek. Here it will come forth." Then, multiplying blow on blow, often and more often, he pulled forth from the dug up ground the spear which had been fraudulently dropped by him. The darkness conspired in the deception; likewise, the throng of people with the darkness, and the narrowness of the pit with the throng. But when the sound of metal striking upon metal was heard, this same fabricator of lies held out the iron and filled the excited ears of the simple with these words: "Lo, behold! Heaven promised what the earth preserved; the apostle revealed what the prayer of the people obtained!" Scarcely had he said this when they went outside and, following the trophy with hymns and chants, showered it with gifts and wrapped it up in cloth of gold. [1]
It should be mentioned that two other "Holy Lances" are known: one of them was kept in Italy about a hundred years before the siege of Antioch, the other had been kept in  Constantinople for about four hundred years.
With this newly acquired weapon the Crusaders made ready for facin Kerboğa outside the walls of Antioch. The showdown took place on June 28.
During the battle some of the Crusaders allegedly saw St. George on a white horse coming to their aid [v] and the Muslims betook themselves to their heels. The reason was hardly the vision of the starved Crusaders. Some of the Muslim generals evidently felt that it would not be an asset to them if Kerboğa had the day. So they simply left the battlefield. Whatever the case, the Crusaders pursued them as far as the Iron Bridge after which they let the return to the places they came from.
All this had been witnessed by the Muslim garrison in the citadel on the peak of Mount Silpius. When the commander så how the situation developed he found it practical to surrender to Bohemund and convert to Catholicism.[vi]

The Citadel is on the peak of Mount Silpius towards the centre.
The small mount to the left is Mount Staurin.

The Crusader army stayed in Antioch for another six month, but in January 1099 they set out towards Jerusalem. Bohemund, however, stayed and became the first prince in the Norman Principality of Antioch that was to last until 1268 when the city was totally destroyed by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars.

[1] August C. Krey, The first crusade; the accounts of eye-witnesses and participants (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1921) 237 - 239 (Raoul).

Monday, 21 November 2011

The siege of Antioch

The picture depicts the Bridge and the Bridge Gate.
The Citadel is located on the left peak of Mount Silpius in the background.
The southern wall is clearly seen to the right

      Among the leaders of the first Crusade were noblemen like Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, who later became king of Jerusalem, and Baldwin of Boulogne. Bohemund, Prince of Taranto in Italy, his nephew Tancred and Robert of Normandy, however, were warlords descending from the Vikings.
      Although the Franks, as the Muslim called the newcomers, were used to warfare Antioch proved to be a challenge: The walls of the city were very long and part of them was standing on Mount Staurin and Mount Silpius. The Crusaders simply did not have enough men to surround the city. Besides, Yağı Siyan could sit in the citadel on the peak of Mount Silpius and watch every movement of the Franks.

The walls of ancient Antioch.
The Citadel is located on the peak of Mount Silpius to the right

      Antioch had at least five gates: the Beroea Gate on the road to Aleppo, also called St. Paul's Gate, the Dog's Gate behind the present municipality building of Küçükdalyan, the Duke’s Gate, the Bridge Gate in front of the mosque called Ulu Cami and St. George's Gate somewhere towards the south.

St. Paul's Gate (the Beroea Gate) was situated
close to the white building in the left side of the picture.

       Bohemund and his men had arrived at St. Paul's Gate (the Beroea Gate), so that was where they encamped.  Raymond settled in front of the Dog's Gate and Godfrey at the Duke’s Gate. The place chosen for his camp was swampy as it was situated between the wall and the River Orontes where the western and eastern branches of the Orontes used to meet. Later Godfrey moved his men to the western bank of the river.

What is left of the Dog's Gate

The Duke's Gate was located at the end of the broad street with the green centre strip.
The city walls used to run along this street.
Godfrey camped in the green area to the left.

An old map showing the Crusader camps outside Antioch.

      The Crusaders did not have enough soldiers to guard the Bridge Gate and St. George's Gate. Consequently, the siege was a rather half-hearted affair. Inside the city, Yağı Siyan had arrested the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and occasionally he put him in a cage on the wall to mock the Crusaders.
      Furthermore, those inside the walls were well fed while the Crusaders outside had a problem. In December, Bohemund and Robert of Flanders found it necessary to leave to find provisions for the Crusaders.
      They left at night on December 29, but the Turks immediately found out that about 20.000 soldiers were missing from the camp. Consequently Yağı Siyan and his men made it across the Bridge at the Bridge Gate and fell upon the Franks at the Duke’s; Gate but the Crusaders managed to beat them back.
      Later Bohemund and Robert had to return to Antioch more or less empty-handed.
      And now as the torrential winter rain of Antioch set in, people started to die from adverse weather conditions and hunger.
      In March ships from Europe arrived at Seleucia (Çevlik) with provision and material for siege engines. When the Muslims inside Antioch got to know of it they ambushed the Crusaders who returned with goods from Seleucia. As the ambushers returned to the city Antioch, the Muslims there came out to chase away the interfering Crusaders. Godfrey, however, made his stand and about 1.500 Turks were killed. Very likely this battle was fought in the area between the Bridge (Köprü) and the modern Park of Antakya (Antakya Belediye Parkı).
      The Crusaders now decided to build a tower at the Bridge to be able to check the sorties of the Muslims from the Bridge Gate. The tower was called the Tower of Raymond.[1] We guess that it was located close to the roundabout in front of the Bridge (Köprü).
      At the southern wall Tancred, the nephew of Bohemund, fortified a monastery outside the Gate of St. George. It was called the Tower of Tancred.

If we are to believe the old map above, the Tower of Tancred must have been located somewhere on this slope. In the background we see the three peaks of Mounn Silpius. The Citadel is on the one farthest off.

      In May Kerboğa, the Emir of Mosul, set out for Antioch. Thus the Crusaders had to take the city as soon as possible. Otherwise they would have to face the army of Kerboğa with Yağı Siyan and his army at their rear.

[1]. August C. Krey, ed., The first crusade; the accounts of eye-witnesses and participants (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1921), 149, 150 (Raymond).

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The First Crusade arrives at Antioch

Less than ten years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad Antioch was taken by the Muslims and its name was change into Antakiya. After more than three hundred years on Muslim hands Antioch fell to the Ortodox Byzantines in 969. They kept the city until 1084. In this year Antioch was taken by the Muslim Seljuq Turks and towards the end of the 11th century the city was ruled by Yağısıyan who held it as a fief.
In the meantime something happened in France. In 1095 a council was held in Clermont. It was the Pope Urban II who presided. Before the council started the Pope had received Byzantine ambassadors who asked for western support in their fight against the Seljuq Turks. In 1071 the Seljuqs had crushed a Byzantine army at Manzikert in eastern Anatolia and within the next 20 years they had conquered most of the Middle East, Jerusalem and Antioch included.
This meant a considerable loss to the Byzantine Empire, but also the Catholic West felt the change as the pilgrims to Jerusalem now had to pass through Seljuq territory.
The Pope gave a speach and according to the chronicler Fulcher of Chartre, who may have been present, he said:

"Since, O sons of God, you have promised the Lord to maintain peace more earnestly than heretofore in your midst, and faithfully to sustain the rights of Holy Church, there still remains for you, who are newly aroused by this divine correction, a very necessary work, in which you can show the strength of your good will by a certain further duty, God's concern and your own. For you must hasten to carry aid to your brethren dwelling in the East, who need your help, which they often have asked. For the Turks, a Persian people, have attacked them, as many of you already know, and have advanced as far into the Roman territory as that part of the Mediterranean which is called the Arm of St. George; and, by seizing more and more of the lands of the Christians, they have already often conquered them in battle, have killed and captured many, have destroyed the churches, and have devastated the Kingdom of God. If you allow them to continue much longer, they will subjugate God's faithful yet more widely.
"Wherefore, I exhort with earnest prayer not I, but God that, as heralds of Christ, you urge men by frequent exhortation, men of all ranks, knights as well as foot-soldiers, rich as well as poor, to hasten to exterminate this vile race from the lands of your brethren, and to aid the Christians in time. I speak to those present; I proclaim it to the absent; moreover, Christ commands it. And if those who set out thither should lose their lives on the way by land, or in crossing the sea, or in fighting the pagans, their sins shall be remitted. This I grant to all who go, through the power vested in me by God. Oh, what a disgrace, if a race so despised, base, and the instrument of demons, should so overcome a people endowed with faith in the all-powerful God, and resplendent with the name of Christ! Oh, what reproaches will be charged against you by the Lord Himself if you have not helped those who are counted, like yourselves, of the Christian faith! Let those who have been accustomed to make private war against the faithful carry on to a successful issue a war against infidels, which ought to have been begun ere now. Let these who for a long time have been robbers now become soldiers of Christ. Let those who once fought against brothers and relatives now fight against barbarians, as they ought. Let those who have been hirelings at low wages now labor for an eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out to the detriment of body and soul now labor for a double glory. On the one hand will be the sad and poor, on the other the joyous and wealthy; here the enemies of the Lord; there His friends. Let no obstacle stand in the way of those who are going, but, after their affairs are settled and expense money is collected, when the winter has ended and spring has come, let them zealously undertake the journey under the guidance of the Lord." [1]

It seems that this affair from the outset was to be a rather unchristian business. It seems that the Pope had forgotten the words of Jesus to the Apostle Peter: "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." [2] In fact, it seems that the early Christians had a completely different approach to those persecuting them that that of the Pope. For instance, Jesus was quoted saying: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." [3] The Pope evidently ignored this. As to his co-religionists: only few of them knew Latin and it was only in this language the Bible was distributed in the eleventh century.
As the spiritual leader of the First Crusade Urban chose Adhemar de Monteil, Bishop of Le Puy-en Verlay, who at least should be able to read the words of Jesus in Latin. As we shall see this did not damp his bellicosity.
The Crusaders got on their way, a curious mixture of rabble and nobility. As described by a chronicler named Albert: "Bishops, abbots, clerics, and monks set out; next, most noble laymen, and princes of the different kingdoms, then, all the common people, the chaste as well as the sinful, adulterers, homicides, thieves, perjurers, and robbers; indeed, every class of the Christian profession, nay, also, women and those influenced by the spirit of penance all joyfully entered upon this expedition." [4]
On the way they gave proof of their peculiar idea of godliness by killing off the Jews. A certain chronicler named Ekkehard wrote: "As they were led through the cities of the Rhine and the Main and also the Danube, they either utterly destroyed the execrable race of the Jews wherever they found them (being even in this matter zealously devoted to the Christian religion) or forced them into the bosom of the Church." [5]
This was the horde that on October 21, 1097 stood at the walls of Antioch.
The day before, when the Crusaders had reached the Iron Bridge [Demir Köprü] northeast of Antioch they met with the first opposition from soldiers on their way to defend Antioch and bring provision to the army of Yağısıyan. The bridge was heavily fortified with a tower on each side. In Gesta Francorum (an anonymous work written by a person close to the Crusader Prince Bohemund) we read: "When we had begun to approach the Iron Bridge, our advance guard, who were accustomed to precede us, found innumerable Turks assembled to meet us. They were on their way to give aid to Antioch. Accordingly, our men rushed upon them with one heart and one mind and overcame the Turks." [6]

The Iron Bridge.
The city of Antioch (Antakya) is seen in the left side of the picture, west of Mount Silpius

"The next day Bohemund at the head of the vanguard arrived before the city walls; and the whole army followed close behind." [7]

The ruins of the Beroea Gate (or Aleppo Gate).
This was where the Crusaders arrived after the battle at the
Iron Bridge.
In the background to the left we see Mount Staurin and Mount Silpius behind it.

[1] August C. Krey, ed. The First Crusade (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1921), 30, 31.
[2] The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26, verse 52 (King James Version).
[3] The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 43, 44.
[4] Krey, The First Crusade, 48.
[5] Ibid., 53.
[6] Ibid., 124.
[7] Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971), 216.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A trip to Syria

When you live in Antakya you are not far from Syria. And you feel it. Often you see Syrian cars in the streets. You meet Syrians in Harbiye (Daphne) and in the market area of Uzun Çarşı in downtown Antakya. Furthermore, people in Antakya are very interested in the recent developments in Syria. This especially applies to the religious community of the Nusayri Alawites.
The Nusayris have a lot of sympathy for their co-religionists on the other side of the frontier. In Syria the Nusayris are a minority, but they are the ones who are in power. I have been told that the family of the president originally came from Samandağ close to Antakya. Whether it is true or not, I do not know. People say a lot of things around here. I was also told that when Syrians who had fled to Turkey because of unrest at home were asked what they needed, the men wanted condoms and the women make-up. It does not sound credible, but it illustrates the local attitude towards the new-comers.
As things worked out we had to go to Syria for a week. Naturally we wondered what situations we would run into once on the other side of the border. Should we believe what we saw on the al-Jazeerah television programmes, all Syria was in a mess. On the other hand, taxis and busses regularly went from Antakya to Damascus and back again without any problems. Still, on the highway we should have to pass Homs and Hama, and this is where - according to the press - the problems are concentrated. Consequently we decided to take a taxi to Aleppo ($ 43) and from there take an airplane to Damascus. However, the taxi driver told us that some foreigners had been denied entry into Syria, so if that should happen to us we would have to pay the return fare as well. We agreed.
On the way to the frontier we passed a tent camp for Syrian refugees. According to some, the number of refugees is dwindling but there still seem to be some left. We asked the taxi driver whether we could expect any problems on the way. He told us that the fact that he was taking us to Aleppo proved that things were calm. Otherwise he would not have gone.
At the border crossing we were treated well. We got our visa and entry stamp without any discussion at all. At custom we had to wait for a while as the custom officials had a meeting.
From the frontier to Aleppo the journey was uneventful. At one of the checkpoints a young soldier got confused when he saw out passports, but otherwise nothing happened.
Aleppo was as usual. The only difference was that we saw no foreigners during our stay. Two shop owners in the bazaar independently told us that they had had no foreign customers for seven weeks. One should have expected the shop owners to be more aggressive in their quest for customers, but not so. We could walk all the way from the one end of the bazaar at Bab Antakiye to the other end at the Citadel without anybody but a handful addressing us.
At the exit from the bazar, however, we were met by a completely new spectacle: A Syrian flag had been wrapped around the Citadel.

The Citadel
The absence of foreign tourist was also felt by restaurant owners. The restaurant Sisi House in the quarter of Jdaida was closed due to renovation, but its cafe on the pavement in front was open.

The view from the cafe of Sisi House
Later we found several of the waiters from Sisi House in the restaurant of Cantara.


This, and more nationalistic songs on the radio, was the only difference notice compared to earlier visits.
A couple of days later there was a huge demonstration in favour of the government on a square close to our hotel. According to the local press more than one million attended. Loud music started early in the morning and continued until the talks began. The streets around our hotel were closed to traffic and filled with people with flags, banners and pictures of the president.

Part of the demonstration
According to what we were told, people in Aleppo do not join in the rebellion against the government. A man (whom I have good reason to believe to be neutral) told us that one day he witnessed some anti-government demonstrators starting to cry out slogans in the street. Immediately local shop owners came rushing out of their shops and beat them up.
This would explain a photo shown by the foreign press where a boy in one of the cities of unrest carries a poster with the text: ﺣﻠﺐ ﻭﻳﻨﻚ  [waynak Halab: Aleppo, where are you?].
We chose to continue to Damascus by plane as we were told that traffic at times was stopped on the highway close to the cities of Homs and Hama. It seems though, that waiting on the highway is the only problem. The Turkish bus company HAS Turizm has busses between Antakya and Damascus every day and they report of no unpleasant experiences.
Damascus looked as always. The only difference was that no foreign tourists were to be seen. The covered part of the Street called the Straight (Madhat Basha Street) looked as before as the shops are catering for local customers. However, as soon as you leave the covered area and continue towards Bab Sharqi you notice that many of the shops that sell various articles to tourists are closed. The bar After Seven is still open and well visited, but the clientele mostly consists of local Damascenes.
The Christian area at Bab Touma looked as it always does: people were coming and going, eating and drinking and the Bab Touma Street was filled with cars and its pavement with people.
We had our evening meal at the restaurant called Hâretnâ. It was filled although people were not yet having their supper. They were mostly busy smoking their water pipe.

The next day we had a discussion with two men from Damascus. They seemed to be annoyed because of foreign meddling in Syrian affairs. Especially the initiative of the Arabic League was criticised. They found it odd that undemocratic countries as Saudi Arabia should come up with suggestions and advice.
One of the two is a businessman and he grumbled about the difficulties had in transferring money to and from other countries. We ourselves felt the problem as our visa cards cannot be used in Syria for the time being. If you have to go to Syria, you have to carry a lot of money in your pocket. Fortunately crime is less common in Syria than in the West.
One evening we met some people who were acquainted with the situation. We were told that violations of human rights do happen, but also that some of the demonstrators are armed and that "bad boys" from Iraq have oozed into the country.
Back in Aleppo we were told that a "tourist" had been killed in Damascus. After some questioning, though, we found out that it was not a "tourist" but a "terrorist."
But what about the shooting at civilians and the violation of human rights?
While in Syria, we did not visit the cities where the media has reported confrontation between protesters and the security forces. Consequently we have nothing to say about who is shooting at whom. The only thing we can say with any certainty is that we did not see anything of that sort in Aleppo and Damascus. People looked calm and relaxed.
As to the violations of human rights: This phenomenon is common in all the Middle East, also in so-called democratic countries and in some of the countries the West likes to rub shoulders with.
This is not meant as an excuse for perpetrators; but one cannot help wondering at the lack of consistency in western criticism.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Habib-i Neccar and Sham'un

Who was Habib-i Neccar? Honestly, I do not know. As mentioned earlier, the Muslims tend to identify him with a person mentioned in the Yasîn sura in the Qur'an. There we read:
And there came from the uttermost part of the city a man running. He cried: O my people! Follow those who have been sent!
"Obey those who ask no reward of you (for themselves), and who have themselves received guidance.
"It would not be reasonable in me if I did not serve Him Who created me, and to Whom ye shall (all) be brought back.
"Shall I take (other) gods besides Him? If (God) Most Gracious should intend some adversity for me, of no use whatever will be their intercession for me, nor can they deliver me.
"I would indeed, if I were to do so, be in manifest error.
"For me, I have faith in the Lord of you (all): listen, then, to me!"
It was said: "Enter thou the Garden." He said: "Ah me! Would that my people knew (what I know)!-
"For that my Lord has granted me forgiveness and has enrolled me among those held in honour!"
—Qur'an, sura 36, Ya Sîn, verses 20-27. [i]
The explanation is as follows:
HABIB AL-NADJDJAR (the carpenter), legendary character who gave his name to the sanctuary below mount Silpius at Antakiya [q.v.] where his tomb is reputed to be. He is not mentioned in the Kur'an; nevertheless Muslim tradition finds him there, in sura XXXVI, 12 ff., under the description of the man who was put to death in a city (karya) not otherwise specified, having urged its inhabitants not to reject the three apostles who had come to proclaim the divine message to them. According to Muslim tradition the "city" was Antioch and the anonymous believer was called Habib. According to al-Tabari he was not a carpenter but a silk-worker, yet the epithet of nadjdjar is applied to him by all the other ancient sources (al-Mascudi, Mutahhar [ps.-Balkhi], Balcami, al-Thaclabi) and by more recent authors. He was stoned or trampled to death by his executioners. More recent legends, such as the one preserved by al-Dimashki (Cosmographie, ed. Mehren, 206), embroider the story of his martyrdom with strange new details (walking about with his severed head in his hand). There is nothing to prove that Habib was the Agabus of Acts, xi, 28 and xxi, 10-11, for although the latter suffered martyrdom according to several hagiographic texts (Synaxaire de Constantinople, in H. Delehaye, Propylaeum ad Ada sanctorum Nouembris, col. 591, cf. 783 f. and Synaxaire arabe Jacobite, ed. R. Basset, PO, xi/5, 788 f.), it is not stated that this was at Antioch, but either at Jerusalem or in some place not specified The prehistory of the Muslim legend is not therefore entirely clear. [ii]
As stated in an earlier post, it is extremely unlikely that the Christians in Antioch met with any persecution until the turn of the first century. In fact, the Christians fled to Antioch from Jerusalem to avoid persecution. [iii]
The only Christian martyr with the name Habib I have been able to find is a certain Habib from Edessa (Urfa or Şanlıurfa). He was executed by burning during the persecution of Diocletian towards the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth ("the year six hundred and twenty of the kingdom of Alexander the Macedonian"). [iv]

Interestingly he was buried with an earlier martyr named Shamuna: "And they pulled and drew him out of the fire, throwing over him fine linen cloths and choice ointments and spices. And they snatched away some of the pieces of wood [which had been put] for his burning, and the bretheren and some persons of the laity bore him away. And they prepared him for interment, and buried him by Guria and Shamuna the martyrs, in the same grave in which they were laid, on the hill which is called Baith Allah Cucla ..." [v]
About Shamuna and his friend Guria we read:
"So he, taking the saints out at night by the Roman gate, when the citizens were buried in profound slumber, conveyed them to Mount Bethelabicla on the north of the city. On their arrival at that place, having alighted from the carriage with joy of heart and great firmness of mind, they requested the halberdier and those who were under his orders to give them time to pray; and it was granted. For, just as if their tortures and their blood were not enough to plead for them, they still by reason of their humility deemed it necessary to pray. So they raised their eyes to heaven and prayed earnestly, concluding with the words: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, receive in peace our spirits to Yourself. Then Shamuna, turning to the halberdier, said: Perform that which you have been commanded. So he kneeled down along with Guria, and they were beheaded, on the 15th of November. This is the account of what happened to the martyrs." [vi]
It will be remembered that two of the coffins kept in the Habib-i Neccar Mosque in Antakya have the names of Habib and Sham'un on them. Might they be identical with the two Edessan martyrs?
If they are, their remains must at some point of time have been moved from Edessa (Urfa) to Antioch (Antakya).
We know that the remains of martyrs became an object of veneration under and after the persecution at the time of Diocletian. We also know that members Catholic and Orthodox churches found it important to keep these relics at a safe place.
When the Muslim Arabs conquered Mesopotamia in AD 639, Edessa came under their rule. The Arabs, however, did not interfere much with their Christian subjects. They regarded them as ahl ul-kitâb [people of the book (the Bible)] and let them pay a special tax called jizyah. They also took over some of the churches and converted them into mosques.

It seems that the church members in Edessa were allowed to keep some of their relics. In

AD 944 the Byzantine Emperor abstained from capturing the city in return for a piece of cloth on which there said to be imprint of the face of Jesus. (It was called the Holy Mandylion and had been declared a fake by Pope Gelasius in 494.) This somehow illustrates how important relics were to people in the early Middle Ages.
Later, after half a century under Crusader control, the city was again lost to the Muslims. This happened in 1144, and this time it seems that the new overlords we not as tolerant as the Arabs had been. Whether some of the Christians in the city decided to leave for Antioch, still on Crusader hands, we do not know. If they did, some of them may have decided not to leave their objects of veneration in the hands of the Muslims.
Perhaps we shall never know.
It would be interesting, however, to know if the corpse in the coffin of Habib in the Mosque of Habib-i Neccar exhibits traces of burning and whether the corpse in the coffin of Sham'un originally was beheaded.

[i] Quoted from Wikipedia, "Habib the Carpenter," accessed October 9, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habib_the_Carpenter#cite_note-10
 [ii] G. Vajda, "Habîb al-Nadjdjâr," The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume III (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), 12.
[iii] The Bible book of Acts, chapter 11 verses 19, 20.
[iv] "The Martyrdom of Habib the Deacon," The Saint Pachomius Ortodox Library, accessed October 9, 2011, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/habib.asp.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] "Martyrdom of Shamuna, Guria and Habib," New Advent, accessed October 9, 2011, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0858.htm.
See also: Suraiya Faroqhi, "Al-Ruhâ," The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume VIII (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995), 589 – 593.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Simeon Stylites the Younger

            Simeon Stylites the Elder may have been the first ascetic to climb a pillar and stay there until his death (in 459), but he was not the last one.
            Simeon Stylites the Younger was born in Antioch in 521. We are told that he grew up in the neighbourhood called Cherubim. This quarter was close the old Daphne Gate where Titus has placed cherubs taken from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem at its destruction in the year 70. During the time of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II the southern part of the city wall had been moved further south so that it followed the torrent Phyrminus opposite to where the barracks are located today. What happened to the cherubs is not known, but the quarter kept the name of Cherubim. It was situated somewhere in the area between the Habib-i Neccar mosque and the mosque called Sarımiyye.[i]
           About Simeon Stylites the Younger we are told that "from his childhood he was under the special guidance of Saint John the Baptist and adopted an extremely ascetical way of life."[ii] If the assertion is true that the Habib-i Neccar Mosque used to be the Church of St. John the Baptist, it is safe to conclude that Simeon's home was close to that spot. It will be remembered that a side chamber to the mosque has a sarcophagus with the name of John the Baptist on it.
            Simeon was an ambitious boy. When he climbed his first pillar he was only about seven years old. We are told that he chose a spot close to another stylite named John. But Simeon grew, and so did his pillars. When John died, the asceticism of Simeon became even more austere. Eventually he ended up on a pillar between twelve and sixteen tall on the top of a small mountain between Antioch and the Mediterranean. The Mountain of Miracles it was called, due to the miracles Simeon was believed to have worked.
           In time a small group of buildings somehow materialised around the pillar on the otherwise empty mountain top. East of the pillar there was a church dedicated to the Trinity. To the west there was an atrium, an entrance to the complex and places where monks and pilgrims could stay. Later on, churches were built to the north and to the south of the octagonal square where the column was standing.

A plan of the complex
(Verdier, "A Medallion of Saint Symeon the Younger")

What is left of the column today

Today the locals call the ruins Manastır (Monastry) and between the mountain and the Mediterranean there is a small town called Samandağ (Turkish for the Mountain of Simeon). From the mountain there is a marvellous view: towards the west is the Mediterranean, to the south Mount Casius (Arabic: جبل الأقرع  [jabal al-aqra']) with its 1.700 metres, and to the northwest the Orontes valley and Antakya (Antioch). When the weather was good Simeon could spend hours just enjoying the view – if this is something stylites do. At least he could scrutinise all what was going on inside the monastery. The problem was bad weather, gale and rain.
           It has been claimed, though, that the stylites had a roof over their head. The peculiar roof of the minarets of old mosques in Antakya may have been inspired of the roof of the stylites. [iii]

Minaret in Antakya

Medallions with pictures of the stylite made to his honour, though, indicate that all there was on the top of the pillar was a wooden platform of about five square metres with a railing around it. Besides the column there was a sort of staircase carved out of rock. People who for various reasons wanted to consult Simeon could climb the stairs and converse with him. This block of stairs can still be seen beside the remains of the column. [iv]

            We are told that Simeon climbed his pillar on the Mountain of Miracles in 551. He died in 597 and was buried close to his pillar where his mother Martha had been buried in 551. At his death he was about 76 years old. [v]
            We may wonder what makes a man spend most of his life on the top of a pillar. At least we know that the inspiration was not from Christianity as we know it from the New Testament. Jesus and his apostles did not advocate asceticism and although the apostle Paul said: "I give blows to my body, and keep it under control," [vi] he did not speak about asceticism. The context and Paul's own life show us that he spoke of self-control and self-sacrifice. Interestingly Wallace-Hadrill has this comment about Manichaeism (a non-Christian dualistic religion that flourished in the East from the third century onward): "The ascetic demands which were an offence to Persians and Muslims were precisely the attraction for the Christian monks in Syria." Very likely asceticism was a notion imported from the East. [vii]
            It seems, though, that some other influence was at work as well: If a boy five or seven years old finds it interesting to sit on a column, somebody must have made the idea look attractive. The name the parents had chosen for their son had been taken from the other stylite named Simeon who had been sitting on a pillar halfway between Antioch and Aleppo. We are told that it was Simeon's mother Martha who suggested that a monastery was built around the column on the Mountain of Miracles. Martha spent most of her time at the base of the column and she was depicted on some of the medallions made in honour of the stylite. She has even been regarded as a saint. Whatever her motives may have been, she came to share the fame of her son.

Lately a platoon of huge windmills has been put up around the ruins on the Mountain of Miracles. It is a weird experience.

[i] Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 553-557.
[ii] Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Online Chapel, accessed September 25, 2011, http://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=65.
[iii] M. Grazia Zambon, Domenico Bertogli & Oriano Granella, Antioch on the Orontes (Parma: Eteria, (no year)), 95.
[iv] Philippe Verdier, "A Medallion of Saint Symeon the Younger," The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Jan., 1980), 17-26, accessed September 25, 2011, http://asketikos.info/pdfarticles/verdier.pdf
[v] According to Catholic Encyclopedia, accessed September 27, 2011, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13795b.htm. According to Verdier Simeon died in 592.
[vi] First letter to the Corinthians chapter 9 verse 27 (The Bible in Basic English).
[vii] D.S. Wallace-Hadrill, Christian Antioch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 25.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Colonnaded Street / Kurtuluş Caddesi

            Antioch was founded in 300 B.C. by the Seleucid king Seleucus I (d. ca. 281 B.C.). The city was built according to the so-called Hippodamian plan where the streets were straight and met at right angles. The city was fairly rectangular. To the one side a long wall followed the river Orontes and parallel to this there was a wall following the present streets of Kurtuluş Caddesi and Süreyya Halefoğlu Caddesi from the point where the street Kırk Asırlık Türk Yurdu Caddesi meets Kurtuluş Caddesi to the point close where Süreyya Halefoğlu Caddesi meets İzmir Caddesi. At this point a road is coming in from Beroea (today: Aleppo). This road most likely continued along the city wall towards the south. Most travellers very likely entered Antioch through the Eastern Gate (later changed to the Middle Gate as the city grew towards the north).

            The ill-famed king Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.) incorporated the city quarters between the wall and Mount Silpius into the city calling it Epiphaneia after himself. A new gate was built close to the present junction of Kurtuluş Caddesi and Kırk Asırlık Türk Yurdu Caddesi. This gate was later called the Cherubim Gate as the Roman general Titus is said to have put up cherubs from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem at this gate.

            With this new addition to the city, the road from Beroea (Aleppo) to Daphne (Harbiye) some kilometres further south went right through the city.

As mentioned above, the city had grown towards the north and a big bean-shaped island in the middle of the river Orontes had been incorporated. The Eastern Gate was now situated close to where Mount Staurin meet Antakya Reyhanlı Yolu near its junction with Atatürk Caddesi. This made the thoroughfare through Antioch more or less three kilometres long.

            As time went by, this street was to grow in importance. Herod the Great, the ruler of Judaea, financed some improvement of the street, and also the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) has been credited with some contribution. When the street was finished it was 27 metres wide: nine metres for the street itself and nine metres for the colonnades on each side of the street where shops of various sorts were located. The saying goes that the Roman Emperor Anthonius Pius (A.D. 138-161) had the street paved with Theban granite.

On the picture above we see the course of the Colonnaded Street from the Cherubim Gate (that was located at the crossroad near the bottom of the pictures) up to Mount Staurin (the small mountain just beside the street). The densely populated area to the left used to be the original Seleucid city. The populated area to the right, up the slopes of Mount Silpius, is roughly equivalent to Epiphaneia. On the left side of the street, opposite Mount Staurin, there is a green area. This is where the bean-shaped island used to be. Today there is no island as the eastern branch of the Orontes has dried up.

            During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (A.D. 408-450) the street was extended towards the south and a new wall was built from a point close to the present waterworks on the slopes of Mount Silpius to a point close to where the streets Kurtuluş Caddesi and Hastane Caddesi meet. There a new gate called the Daphne Gate, or the Golden Gate, was built. Thus the quarters of Rhodion (today probably the quarter of Güllü Bahçe: Rose Garden) and Kerateion were incorporated into the city.

The picture above shows the quarters that were added to the city by Theodosius II. The Daphne Gate was located just behind the building with the white roof in the foreground. The quarter of Kerateion was somewhere in the area to the right of Kurtuluş Caddesi and Rhodion most likely to the left. The torrent of Phyrminus came down through a gorge in Mount Silpius. Now it is hidden under the street that is entering our picture above the barracks in the front. It is continuing down towards the Orontes under the houses between the two curved streets in the left side of the picture.

            Today the part of Antioch or Antakya that is situated east of the river Orontes has shrunk. Consequently, only about half of what used to be the Colonnaded Street runs through densely populated parts of town. In the downtown area the old street is hidden several metres under the present level. Furthermore, Kurtuluş Caddesi is a very narrow street compared to the Colonnaded Street, measuring only about a third of the old street.

Nearly a hundred years ago and during the time of the French occupation in the thirties, beautiful houses were built in this street. Later ugly concrete boxes were put up beside them.

            Lately some renovation of the Kurtuluş Caddesi has begun. At least the facades of the old houses are being renovated and it is said that also the shops eventually will have a front similar to that of old.

            Some discussion has been going on about closing the street to traffic turning it into a sort of pedestrian street as has been done with Hürriyet Caddesi (popularly called Saray Caddesi) close to the Bridge. It has been suggested that a "nostalgic" tram like the one in İstiklal Caddesi in Istanbul should run along the street. Also horse drawn gigs like those on the islands across from Istanbul have been suggested. [i] However, this solution would leave the city with the same stench as that on the island Büyükada.

            It is sad that Antakya, like many other Turkish cities, has suffered from the widespread lack of appreciation for history. Nevertheless, it is good to see that many locals now try to preserve the values they have inherited from the past.

Kurtuluş Caddesi towards the south

Kurtuluş Caddesi, the southern extension

[i] "Antakya tarihi ve kentsel SİT alanları sürdürülebilir koruma-geliştirme planı," Güney Rüzgarı, sayı 140, August 2011, pages 9-12.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Province and capital

The practice of naming a province after the provincial capital and vice versa is not something new. It reminds me of the prophet Jonah whose sarcophagus allegedly stands in a room next to the Habib-i Neccar mosque in Antakya. [a]

According to the biblical account the prophet Jonah had to go to Nineve, the capital of Assyria, and proclaim its doom. In the book of Jonah (chapter 3 verse 3) it is said that Nineve "was an exceeding great city of three days' journey." (מהלך שׁלשׁת ימים)

This has been taken as a wild exaggeration. The Commentary on the Old testament of Keil and Delitzsch ventures this explanation:
"But Nineveh was a great city to God (lē'lōhı̄m), i.e., it was regarded by God as a great city. This remark points to the motive for sparing it (cf. Jon_4:11), in case its inhabitants hearkened to the word of God. Its greatness amounted to “a three days' walk.” This is usually supposed to refer to the circumference of the city, by which the size of a city is generally determined. But the statement in Jon_3:4, that “Jonah began to enter into the city the walk of a day,” i.e., a day's journey, is apparently at variance with this. Hence Hitzig has come to the conclusion that the diameter or length of the city is intended, and that, as the walk of a day in Jon_3:4 evidently points to the walk of three days in Jon_3:3, the latter must also be understood as referring to the length of Nineveh. But according to Diod. ii. 3 the length of the city was 150 stadia, and Herodotus (v. 53) gives just this number of stadia as a day's journey. Hence Jonah would not have commenced his preaching till he had reached the opposite end of the city. This line of argument, the intention of which is to prove the absurdity of the narrative, is based upon the perfectly arbitrary assumption that Jonah went through the entire length of the city in a straight line, which is neither probable in itself, nor implied in בּוֹא בָעִיר. This simply means to enter, or go into the city, and says nothing about the direction of the course he took within the city. But in a city, the diameter of which was 150 stadia, and the circumference 480 stadia, one might easily walk for a whole day without reaching the other end, by winding about from one street into another. And Jonah would have to do this to find a suitable place for his preaching, since we are not warranted in assuming that it lay exactly in the geographical centre, or at the end of the street which led from the gate into the city. But if Jonah wandered about in different directions, as Theodoret says, “not going straight through the city, but strolling through market-places, streets, etc.,” the distance of a day's journey over which he travelled must not be understood as relating to the diameter or length of the city; so that the objection to the general opinion, that the three days' journey given as the size of the city refers to the circumference, entirely falls to the ground. Moreover, Hitzig has quite overlooked the word וַיָּחֶל in his argument. The text does not affirm that Jonah went a day's journey into the city, but that he “began to go into the city a day's journey, and cried out.” These words do not affirm that he did not begin to preach till after he had gone a whole day's journey, but simply that he had commenced his day's journey in the city when he found a suitable place and a fitting opportunity for his proclamation. They leave the distance that he had really gone, when he began his preaching, quite indefinite; and by no means necessitate the assumption that he only began to preach in the evening, after his day's journey was ended. All that they distinctly affirm is, that he did not preach directly he entered the city, but only after he had commenced a day's journey, that is to say, had gone some distance into the city. And this is in perfect harmony with all that we know about the size of Nineveh at that time. The circumference of the great city Nineveh, or the length of the boundaries of the city of Nineveh in the broadest sense, was, as Niebuhr says (p. 277), “nearly ninety English miles, not reckoning the smaller windings of the boundary; and this would be just three days' travelling for a good walker on a long journey.” “Jonah,” he continues, “begins to go a day's journey into the city, then preaches, and the preaching reaches the ears of the king (cf. Jon_3:6). He therefore came very near to the citadel as he went along on his first day's journey. At that time the citadel was probably in Nimrud (Calah). Jonah, who would hardly have travelled through the desert, went by what is now the ordinary caravan road past Amida, and therefore entered the city at Nineveh. And it was on the road from Nineveh to Calah, not far off the city, possibly in the city itself, that he preached. Now the distance between Calah and Nineveh (not reckoning either city), measured in a straight line upon the map, is 18 1/2 English miles.” If, then, we add to this, (1) that the road from Nineveh to Calah or Nimrud hardly ran in a perfectly straight line, and therefore would be really longer than the exact distance between the two parts of the city according to the map, and (2) that Jonah had first of all to go through Nineveh, and possibly into Calah, he may very well have walked twenty English miles, or a short day's journey, before he preached. The main point of his preaching is all that is given, viz., the threat that Nineveh would be destroyed, which was the point of chief importance, so far as the object of the book was concerned, and which Jonah of course explained by denouncing the sins and vices of the city. The threat ran thus: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed.” נֶהְפָּךְ, lit., overturned, i.e., destroyed from the very foundations, is the word applied to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The respite granted is fixed at forty days, according to the number which, even as early as the flood, was taken as the measure for determining the delaying of visitations of God." [b]

This may all be very correct. Another explanation, though, might be that the three days journey relate to the whole province. The book of Daniel (chapter 3 verse 1) speaks of an image of gold set up "in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon." The word translated "province" is מדינה (medîne) and does not refer to the city itself. If the Babylonian Dura in question is close to Tell Hariri in Syria it is rather far from the city of Babylon.

It reminds me of the Turkish workers who came to Europe many years ago. When you asked them where in Turkey they came from many answered: "From the capital, from Ankara." Nevertheless, it showed up that they came from Haymana about a hundred kilometres south of the capital.

I have had a similar experience in Egypt although in the reverse. Once we took a taxi from Cairo to Memphis but when we had to return to Cairo the driver lost his way. Consequently he started to ask people on the road: "Which way to Egypt [Misr]?"


[a] For reasons unknown this Antiochene Jonah has been identified with the apostle Paul. However, Paul's Jewish name was not Jonah but Shaul. Stories run wild in this area. See http://wowturkey.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=17883.

[b] Keil & Deltizsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, e-Sword, Version 9.6.0.