Today on October 20, 1097, the first Crusader Army arrives in the Holy Land to begin the Siege of Antioch.
The Siege of Antioch marked the formal beginning of the First Crusade. This ancient Muslim-held city held a strategic position as one of the main gateways to Europe. Once conquered, it would serve as a beachhead for receiving additional supplies and reinforcements. It was also located on the main route to Palestine and Jerusalem. On the first day, the Crusaders successfully took control of an important fortified river crossing, known as the Iron Bridge (located outside of Antioch). On the following day, the army reached the northern wall of the city and formally began the siege. The Christians had nearly 40,000 soldiers (including non-combatants) and were reinforced with light infantry and naval support from Byzantine.
Antioch was a heavily fortified city with a series of massive walls. Anticipating an attack, the Governor of Antioch spent months stockpiling food and supplies. With an initial garrison of 5,000 troops, his city was ready for a prolonged siege. After two long months, Muslim forces attempted to break the siege by attacking the Crusaders but were repulsed. While the defenders were quickly running low on supplies and morale, so too were the Christians. Thousands of Crusaders would die from starvation and disease before the eventual end of the siege. Over the next few months, two different Muslim armies tried to relieve the city. Both relief forces were defeated on the battlefield, including Duqaq of Damascus.
After nearly eight months, city officials finally capitulated on June 3, 1098. The city’s seemingly impregnable citadel remained under Muslim control for another month before surrendering. The Siege of Antioch was one of the longest of the entire Crusader period. One the Christian monks had a vision that an important relic was being safeguarded within the city. They eventually discovered the Holy Lance, the spear that pierced the side of Jesus as he died on the cross. The Christian Army continued conquering new territory and cities in the Holy Land for another two years before finally capturing the ultimate prize of Jerusalem.