Surrender of Aleppo from BL Royal 15 E I, f. 317v
Detail of a miniature of citizens of Aleppo giving the keys of the city to the Turks. Image taken from f. 317v of Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, in French, with continuation to 1231. Written in French.
William of Tyre has always been considered one of the greatest medieval writers. An archbishop of Tyre, he grew up in Jerusalem at the height of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which had been established in 1099 after the First Crusade, and spent twenty years studying the liberal arts and canon law in the universities of Europe. in In 1165, King Amalric made him an ambassador to the Byzantine Empire. After Amalric's death, William became chancellor and archbishop of Tyre, two of the highest offices in the kingdom, and in 1179 he led the eastern delegation to the Third Council of the Lateran. William wrote an account of the Lateran Council and a history of the Islamic states from the time of Muhammad. Neither work survives. He is famous today as the author of a history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. William composed his chronicle in excellent Latin for his time, with numerous quotations from classical literature. The chronicle is sometimes given the title Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum ("History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea") or Historia Ierosolimitana ("History of Jerusalem"), or the Historia for short. It was translated into French soon after his death, and thereafter into numerous other languages. He is considered the greatest chronicler of the crusades, and one of the best authors of the Middle Ages.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world. From its early origins, Aleppo was a place where people grew wealthy. Cuneiform tablets from roughly four thousand years ago tell of a settlement called ‘Halabu’ — eventually Aleppo — that was even then a center for the manufacture of garments and cloth. Located not far from the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the river valley of the mighty Tigris and Euphrates on the other, the city found itself in the middle of ancient Egyptian and Hittite trade routes. The Seleucids, a Greek dynasty descended from one of the lieutenants of Alexander the Great, developed the area further, while certain colonnaded avenues and courtyard homes in Aleppo today bear the tell-tale signs of Roman craftsmanship and Hellenistic urban planning. Following the advent of Islam and into the medieval era, Aleppo became a hub of the Silk Road, a giant entrepot pooling in all the riches of China and India for buyers further west, north, and south. The city’s Great Mosque and Citadel is built by Turco-Arabs atop earlier Roman and Byzantine structures. The city was on the frontlines of the Crusades. In 1119, an army comprising Aleppans, Kurds and Arab tribesmen annihilated a whole Crusader force in a battle remembered by Latin chroniclers as Ager Sanguinis — “field of blood.” For centuries thereafter, Aleppo was a prize competed over by various warring Turkic and Arab dynasties. In 1400, the Mongol warlord Timur overran the city. One chronicler described the raid “like a razor over hair” and “locusts over a green crop.” Timur, according to accounts, piled high a mountain of thousands of skulls outside the city gates. Aleppo endured, and would go on to be ruled for nearly four centuries under the suzerainty of the Ottoman empire and later, in the early 20th century, by French imperial mandate. It remained a busy mercantile center until Syrian civil war of 2010s.