Nicaea was a heavily fortified city located fifty miles from Constantinople, one of the cities targeted by Crusaders after Pope Urban II (1088-1099) gave one of the most influential speeches in the Middle Ages of what has befallen fellow Christians in the Holy Land under the aggression of Moslems (The Christian Crusades para. 1).
Even though Moslems had taken command of Constantinople and Jerusalem since 638, the Seljuk Turks took control over the two cities and prevented Christian pilgrims from visiting Jerusalem at a time when the number and frequency of pilgrimages to the city was rising (The Christian Crusades para. 1).
To gain access to the mainland route through Asia Minor to Syria from where Christians could be liberated the from the massacres perpetrated by the Turks in Constantinople and Jerusalem, the Crusaders had to first capture Nicaea, previously a city under Byzantine but which had fallen into the hands of the Seljuk Turks under the leadership of Kilij Arslan 1, the ruler of Seljuk (Halsall para. 1).
Nicaea was sturdily defended by four miles of walls, and its location on a lake side complicated matters further for the Crusaders. As luck would have it, the Crusaders, led by Bohemund, Alemanni and the Bishop of Puy reached Nicaea at a time when Arslan had left behind his wealth and family to join in the war against the Danishmends in central Anatolia.
On May 21 1097, Bohemund commenced the siege of Nicaea from the north, Alemanni from the east, and the Bishop of Puy from the middle, attacking the city so bravely and so ferociously that they even undermined and destroyed one of its walls (Halsall para. 8).
However, the Turks hastily built it the same night to curtail entry. Although attempts to seize the city had occasioned heavy losses from both sides, it was the walls and the lake that presented challenges to the Crusaders as they could neither launch direct attacks into the city due to the walls nor cut off the Turks from getting the much needed supplies and assistance using the lake (Halsall para. 5).
It was at this juncture when the leaders of the Crusaders counseled and undertook to send people to the Emperor of Constantinople to have ships and oxen brought to the fort of Covitote, from where the oxen were to be used to drag the ships over the mountainous ridges until they were in close proximity to the lake (Halsall para. 5).
The ships together with Turcopoles and arms dispatched by the Emperor were launched on the lake under the guise of darkness in readiness to attack the city at daybreak. At first, the Turks marveled upon seeing the ships since they could not tell whether they were manned by the own men or the Emperor’s, but they soon chickened out after realizing the ships were ferrying enemy forces (Halsall para. 5).
Surrounded from all fronts and unable to receive any more suppliers and assistance using the lake, the Turks sent a message to the Emperor that they would willingly surrender if permitted to go away with their families and belongings (Halsall para. 6). The Emperor instead ordered them to be brought to Constantinople and on June 19 1097, the Turks in the city surrendered to an army of Alexius.
Halsall, P. Medieval Sourcebook: The Siege and Capture of Nicaea: Collected Accounts. 1997 Retrieved 21 May 2011
The Christian Crusades 1095-1291. (n.d.). Retrieved 21 May 2011