Does “honour killing” have a religious background?

It is a common Western misunderstanding that honour killing or honour murder is a Muslim phenomenon. This delusion very likely has its roots the massive immigration of Muslims to Western Europe during the last fifty years. In the Middle East the murder of women because of “honour” as all too widespread and unfortunately this atrocious habit was taken along to the West with the immigration of the Middle Easterners.

The philosophy behind honour killings – or should we call it shame killing – is that a feudalistic community operates with two separate concepts of honour: the honour of women and the honour of men.

The honour of women, in Turkish called namus (decency, chastity) and in Arabic عرض ,is preserved by a conduct that does not cast doubt on their chastity. If this happens, they lose their namus and her husband or father loses his honour, in Turkish called şeref which is the same as the Arabicشرف . In this case the man who is regarded as the one responsible for the honour of the family has to prove his honourableness and that of his family by washing away the shame brought upon them. This is normally done by shedding the blood of the woman who is regarded as a source of shame.

In Islam there has been some discussion about what to do with women who commit adultery. In the Quran we find the following commands:

“As for those of you women who are guilty of lewdness (الفاحشة ), call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify then confine them to the houses until death take them ( الموت يتوفّاهنّ ) or Allah appoints for them a way.” Sura 4; 15.

It seems that this text does not warrant a death penalty passed by any family council in the absence of the perpetrator. Evidently official legal action with at least four witnesses was required.[i] provides us with this information:

“Chapter 24 of Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an, explicitly instructs believers to whip those found guilty of adultery. A leading Muslim scholar, Maulana Muhammad Ali noted that ‘stoning to death was never contemplated by Islam as a punishment for adultery.‘ Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Dr. Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, said that the ‘official text of the Qur’an only sanctions a punishment of so many lashes for such an offence not stoning to death…[the] punishment of stoning was introduced later by Omar, the second Calif for reasons best known to him.6Many Muslim scholars and judges agree that the Qur’an does not refer to executions by stoning.'”[ii]

It therefore seems that honour killing is not a religious but a sociological phenomenon peculiar to feudalistic communities. Consequently it is not surprising that this menace is also found among professing Christians who are living in or have their roots in patriarchal or feudalistic communities.

The following is a quotation from an article on the web site Stop honour killings!:

“So-called honour killings are also part of Italy’s legal history, where the idea was an admitted defense until 1981.

Prior to its reversal, an article existed in the Italian Criminal Code that provided a reduced penalty of imprisonment of only three to seven years for a man who killed his wife, sister or daughter to vindicate his or his family’s honour.

Such crimes were once a fairly widely accepted feature of highly traditional communities in southern Italy – and even sparked an Oscar-winning 1961 comedy called Divorce, Italian Style, starring Marcello Mastroianni.

The Mafia, clinging to the past, has much more recently killed women who ‘strayed’ sexually or had children without being married.”[iii]

The latest example on honour killing done by confessing Christians is a case from Turkey. Here is the story as told by UPI:

“ISTANBUL, Turkey, April 17 (UPI) — A criminal court in Turkey handed a sentence of life in prison Tuesday to a man convicted in the execution-style slaying of his sister and brother-in-law.

The young couple were found shot to death in their car 10 days after they married against the wishes of the bride’s family, Today’s Zaman reported.

Sonay Ogmen, 26, and Zekeriya Vural, 29, each died from a single bullet to the forehead.

Police determined the couple had been killed by someone they knew sitting in the back seat of their car.

“I shot both of them,” the bride’s brother, Gonay Ogmen, told police after he was arrested. “We didn’t want that groom.”

The groom’s uncle, Cemal Vural, said the bride’s family opposed the marriage because she was Christian and Zekeriya Vural was Muslim.”[iv]


[i] Marmaduke Pickthall, trans., The Glorious Qur’ân, Istanbul: Çağrı Yayınları, 1999, 80.

[ii] “Punishment for non-marital sex in Islam,” Religious Tolerance, accessed April 20, 2012,

[iii] Joanna, “Mafia still think they ‘own’ women,” Stop honour killings! accessed April. 22, 2012,

[iv] “Turkish newlyweds slain over religious difference,” UPI, accessed April 22, 2012,


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The Citadel of Antioch

A view from a point besides the Habib-i Neccar Mosque. The citadel is on top of the mountain to the right.

We do not know when the citadel on the top of Mount Silpius was originally built. Glanville Downey, though, has the following comment: “There is no specific literary or archaeological evidence for such a citadel, but the presence of citadels in the other major Seleucid foundations makes it almost beyond question that there was one in Antioch.”[1]

According to Libanius, Alexander the Great himself had a citadel built at a site called Emathia, but it is not clear where it was situated. At the time of the First Crusade, the citadel was there and the Crusaders tried to get inside, but to no avail. When the Crusaders finally took Antioch, the citadel remained on Muslim hands until they finally surrendered.

When the French traveller and orientalist Jean de la Roque came to Antioch about three hundred years ago, he visited the citadel. He claims that he saw remains of a temple up there.

Another visitor mentions a big pool or cistern between the citadel and the summit of Mount Silpius. This pool can still be seen inside the old city walls.

The ruins can be visited, but the approach is difficult. It is worth the effort, though. For obscure reasons nobody has sought to facilitate the ascent to the place. Consequently visitors are few.


Construction inside the citadel


A view from the citadel


Another view


The wall descending towards the Iron Gate


Looking down from the citadel. The torrent of Parmenius is in the centre of the picture. To the right you have Mount Staurin with the Grotto of St Peter. To the left is the area of the Forum of Valens. On top, on the other side of the street the Hilton Museum Hotel is being built. Lots of mosaics were found there.



The cistern


[1] Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961) 71.


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Ancient Antioch


1 Mount Staurin.

2 The citadel on Mount Cassius.[1]

3 Mount Silpius.

4 Ruins of walls.

5 The Iron Gate.

6 The torrent of Parmenius.

7 The Grotto of St Peter.

8 The site of the theatre (not excavated).

9 Aqueduct (Memekli Köprü).

10 The torrent of Phyrminus.

11 Christian cemetery in Byzantine times.

12 The site of the Daphne Gate.

13 The site of the Cherubim Gate.

14 The Colonnaded Street (from the Cherubim Gate to the Eastern Gate).

15 The approximate location of the Middle Gate. Besides this place mosaics were found where the Hilton Museum Hotel is being built. This is believed to have been the centre of ancient Antioch.

16 The approximate site of St Paul’s Gate.

17 The approximate site of the Eastern Gate.

18 The point where the Orontes split in two branches forming a big island in the middle of the river.

19 Ruins of the big hippodrome.

20 Temple ruin.

21 The location of the imperial palace.

22 Ruins of the Dog Gate.

23 Dried up riverbed of the eastern branch of the Orontes.

24 The location of the western wall at the time of the Crusades.

25 The approximate location of the Duke’s Gate at the time of the Crusades.

26 The market area. The street of Singon (or Siagon) where Paul used to preach[2] may have been in this area.

27 The Bridge

28 The Ulu Cami. Formerly the Church of the Forty Martyrs.

29 Ancient wall, Perhaps originally a pagan temple.

30 The Habib-i Neccar Mosque. Perhaps originally the Church of John the Baptist. It contains sarcophagi with the names of the prophet Jonah, John the Baptist and Simeon the Pure (Sham’on al-Safa). On a building opposite the mosque there is an inscription from the time of the Mameluke Sultan Baibars.


[1] Procopius, Buildings – Book 2, Ch. 10:15, 16: “Two precipitous mountains rise above the city, approaching each other quite closely. Of these they call the one Orocassias and the other is called Staurin. Where they come to an end they are joined by a glen and ravine which lies between them, which produces a torrent, when it rains, called Onopnictes.”


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With Kafka to Turkey

In 1925 the most famous book of Franz Kafka was published. With the title Der Prozess (The Trial)” it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor the reader.”[1] The experience of the protagonist of the book, called K., is not unlike the experience of my wife during our latest stay in Turkey.

About four years ago my wife was arrested in the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul and taken into custody. When we asked about the reason, we got no answer. About eight hours later at the office of the prosecutor, we were told that she was suspected of fraud committed in a small town of central Turkey. A male person had opened a phone line in the name of my wife and made somebody in the town buy him prepaid minutes for the phone pretending that he was a doctor who urgently needed the prepaid minutes.

As my wife is a woman, the prosecutor rightly saw that she was innocent. He took her statement and released her. However, during the eight hours of the ordeal she was sent to medical control and had her fingerprints taken. Besides, our flight had long gone and we had to pay extra for another flight. The business meeting she had planned was cancelled. I later wrote the prosecutor who had ordered her arrest without taking the trouble of sending a man to our address, asking him to have our loss reimbursed. More than three years have passed and I have not got any answer yet.

After one or two years a new case came up. This time it was in a town in central Anatolia. I learned about it by chance. Therefore we could go to the local police station where my wife could repeat her former statement without getting arrested at the international airport.

Then it happened again. Now the felon had moved out to the eastern part of Turkey where he in some obscure town had made a man buy him prepaid minutes. Also this case I managed to catch before any harm was done, so we went to our local police station where my wife for the third time gave her statement. Some weeks later an official came to our door and presented us with a nolle prosecui and we thought that now at last they would leave us in peace. But not so!

Evidently the aggrieved party in eastern Turkey had objected to the nolle prosecui and again my wife was arrested in the international airport and had to spend the night at the police station. This time they did not take her fingerprints. They had them already.

My wife was offered to spend the night with the other women in detention. First time this room had been behind iron bars. Now the bars had been exchanged with a large window. In spite of her age (she was born during the Second World War), my wife preferred to spend the night in a chair.

The next day my wife was taken to court. The judge saw that my wife is a woman and according to the aggrieved party the felon was a man. Thus she was released.

So far so good. I am sure, though, that this is not the end of it. The authorities do not make the effort of coming to our address with their questions. They simply leave the job to the airport police. Consequently, every time we have to leave the country, we have to go to the police to ask whether my wife is wanted or not. Otherwise she may face a night in the airport detention.

Here the intelligent reader may ask why the prosecution and the courts do not refer to our address, which is known and written in our residence permit. The answer is that I do not know.

The reader may also ask why the authorities keep harassing a woman when they from all the witnesses are being informed that the perpetrator is a man. Also here I must answer that I do not know.

What I know for sure is that all this is not due to bad intentions on the part of those in authority. We have met with unusual kindness and understanding from all the persons who have been involved in the case.

The only possible explanation I can think of is the lack of elasticity in the judicial system. Many changes have been observed in recent years, but the rigidity of the Byzantine bureaucracy (called Byzantinism by Bouchier[2]), that was taken over by the Ottomans, is still to be seen in certain procedures.

When the individual is up against the system, right or wrong, he is bound to be the loser.


[1] “The Trial,” Wikipedia, accessed on March 3, 2012,

[2] Describing the late fourth century AD Bouchier writes: “and Byzantinism, as it is customary to call that carefully organized but soulless system of administration, was already apparent.” – E. S. Bouchier, A Short History of Antioch (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1921), 163


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Irrational faith is based on abduction: You see something that matches your experience and draw conclusions based on similarity alone.


Rational faith is based on induction – and mind you, this is where we base most of our cognition. Deduction requires that we know all the premises involved, and this we seldom do. With induction you recognise that you know only some of the premises involved and you venture to draw a provisional conclusion. However, every time this provisional conclusion seems to match your personal experience, the stronger you faith becomes, all the way knowing that this certainty is subjective and does not put anybody else under any obligation.


And this is where we have the problem: People believe that their personal subjective certainty gives them the right to force others to follow their ideology (by means of legislation and otherwise). Please notice that I am not speaking of religious faith only. This subjective certainty is found in all areas of life such as in economics and politics. When people lose faith in the American dollar crisis is knocking at the door.


About fanaticism: This is a value-laden word you apply on people who wholeheartedly support a course you do not agree with, especially if you feel that they have based their personal certainty on abduction.


Do not fear people who know that they believe. Fear those who believe that they know!


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Table of contents of the book “Antioch on the Orontes – A History and a Guide”




A History

      1.   The beginning

      2.   The Seleucids

      3.   The Romans

      4.   The Byzantines

      5.   The Muslims

      6.   The Crusaders

      7.   The Norman Principality of Antioch

      8.   The Mamelukes

      9.   The Ottomans

      10.After World War I


A Guide

11.  Seven tours

12.  The religions

13.  Myths and legends

14.  Modern Antakya



A.    Lord, god and logos

B.     Monarchianism

C.     The School of Antioch

D.    The Church of St. Peter

E.     Topography

F.      Languages





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Antioch on the Orontes

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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).


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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 saw 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).


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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.


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