Battle of Iconium (1190)

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The Battle of Iconium (sometimes referred as the Battle of Konya) took place on May 18, 1190 during the Third Crusade, in the expedition of Frederick Barbarossa to the Holy Land. As a result, the capital city of the Sultanate of Rûm fell to the Imperial forces.


After the disastrous Battle of Hattin and the Siege of Jerusalem, much of the Crusader states had been seized by Saladin's forces. Pope Gregory VIII called for a new crusade to restore the city to Christian hands and help the remaining crusader strongholds. Barbarossa responded to the call immediately. He took up the Cross at Mainz Cathedral on March 27, 1188 and was the first to set out for the Holy Land in May 1189 with an army of about 100,000 men, including 20,000 knights[1] (some historians think these numbers are exaggerated and propose 15,000 men, including 3,000 knights). He was also joined by a contingent of 2,000 men from the Hungarian prince Géza, the younger brother of the king, Béla III of Hungary.

After passing through Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire, the forces arrived to Anatolia, held by the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm. The Turks offered to let Barbarossa and his army pass through their territory for the price of 300 pounds of gold and "the lands of the Armenians". Barbarossa refused, supposedly saying "Rather than making a royal highway with gold and silver, with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose knights we are, the road will have to be opened with iron".[2]

As a result, the Turks continuously harassed the German forces, laying ambushes and using hit-and-run tactics. The Germans, in turn, launched attacks against whatever Turkish forces they could find. On May 7th, a Turkish army was destroyed by a Crusader detachment under the Duke of Swabia and the Duke of Dalmatia near Philomelium, supposedly resulting in 4,174 deaths for the Turks.[3] More important than the battles was the logistical situation; supplies were running out, and morale was very low. Desertion was frequent among the foot soldiers, as was death from dehydration. Despite this, the crusaders continued their march until they reached Iconium. They arrived on May 13th.


On May 14th, the Crusaders found and defeated the main Turkish army, putting it to rout. Turkish records attribute the Crusader victory to a devastating heavy cavalry charge which supposedly consisted of 7,000 mounted lancers.[4] Frederick insisted on taking the city, so on May 17 the army camped in the "garden and pleasure ground of the sultan", outside the city.[5] Meanwhile, Qutb al-Din regrouped and rebuilt his forces after the first defeat, and retaliated on May 18th. Barbarossa divided his forces into two: one commanded by his son Frederick leading the assault to the city, and the other commanded by himself facing the Turkish field army.[6] The city fell easily; Duke Frederick was able to assault and take the walls with little resistance, and the garrison failed to put up much of a fight before surrendering altogether.

The pitched battle was a much harder fight, and it required the presence of the emperor to defeat the larger Turkish force.[6] He is reported to have said to his soldiers: "But why do we tarry, of what are we afraid? Christ reigns. Christ conquers. Christ commands".[7]Although the fighting was intense, the Germans managed to crush the Turks with relative ease.[8] The Seljuks were routed yet again, leaving the city at the mercy of the crusaders.


After the victory, the crusaders rested for five days in the city, and continued their march on 23 May, taking Turkish hostages to safeguard themselves. The success of the Imperial army greatly alarmed Saladin, who even dismantled the walls of the Syrian ports lest they were used by the crusaders against him. But this proved unnecessary as, on 10 June, Barbarossa drowned while crossing the Saleph river. Most of his army disbanded. Barbarossa's son, Frederick VI of Swabia, carried on with the remnants of the German army, along with the Hungarian army under the command of prince Géza, with the aim of burying the Emperor in Jerusalem, but efforts to conserve his body in vinegar failed. Hence, his flesh was interred in the Church of St Peter in Antioch, his bones in the cathedral of Tyre, and his heart and inner organs in Tarsus.


  1. Tyerman p.418
  2. Wolff, p. 112
  3. Wolff, p. 112
  4. Wolff, p. 111
  5. Wolff p.112
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tyerman p.426
  7. Wolff p.113
  8. Wolff p.116: "Even an enfeebled and decimated German army had managed to dispose of [the Seljuks of Iconium] with comparative ease"


  • Tyerman, C.(2006):God's war: a new history of the Crusades
  • Kenneth M. Setton, Robert Lee Wolff, Harry W. Hazard (1962):A History of the Crusades, Volume II: The Later Crusades, 1189–1311