In the Shadow of Zengi: Diplomatic Relations between Damascus and the Crusader States during the Reign of King Fulk of Jerusalem

In the Shadow of Zengi: Diplomatic Relations between Damascus and the Crusader States during the Reign of King Fulk of Jerusalem

Paper by Basit Hammad Qureshi, University of Minnesota

Given at the Crusades I session at the 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2010)

Until recent years, the image of Imad ad-Din Zengi, Atabeg of Mosul (1128-1146) was that he was an ardent enemy of the Crusaders and struggled continuously to fight the Christian presence in Syria and Palestine after the First Crusade. Newer scholarship has shown that their is little evidence to support this view.

Qureshi examines a question that has arisen from this new view of Zengi – was he the main reason behind the alliance formed between King Fulk of Jerusalem and Damascus in 1140? The presenter shows that Zengi was not seen in particular as a threat to either the Franks or Damascenes, but rather a nuisance.

He points to Zengi’s military campaigns, which in the early years of King Fulk’s reign were not directed towards the Crusaders or Damascus, but instead against the Abbasids in Iraq. Zengi did launch attacks into Syria, but his operations were limited and he seems to have made sure that his forces avoided any pitched battles.  Qureshi points out that in some engagements, Zengi’s armies were easily dispersed in the face of Crusader or Damascene pressure.

Zengi did launch a siege of Damascus in 1135, but the circumstances of this episode do not confirm that he presented a serious threat to the city. Zengi was invited by the local ruler of Damascus to take over, but this was because this sultan either feared that the population would overthrow him or because according to some sources he was mad. In any event, before Zengi could arrive to take over the city, the ruler was murdered by his own family, and the gates of the Damascus were closed to the army from Mosul. Zengi did arrive on the scene and attempted a siege, but this only lasted about a month and was not very effective.

In later years, the rulers of Damascus did make agreements with Zengi, who often betrayed them, but the Damascenes seemed to believe that he was not a sufficient enough threat to their city.  In fact, a treaty signed just before 1140 shows that Damascus and Zengi exchanged territory that put Zengi in a closer position to the Syrian capital.

Therefore, what were the reasons behind the Damascus-Crusader alliance of 1140? Qureshi suggests that it had more to do with each side’s internal situations. He also states that the Damascenes wanted to avoid Crusader skirmishes. Meanwhile King Fulk received more territory through the deal, which gave him a foothold in Syrian lands.

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