Siege of Damietta (1218–19)

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Frisian crusaders attack the tower of Damietta in a painting by Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen.

The Siege of Damietta of 1218 was part of the Fifth Crusade, the city, under the control of the Ayyubid Al-Kamil, was besieged by and taken by the Crusaders in 1219.

The knights laid siege to the Egyptian port city of Damietta with the aid of a Frisian fleet and a flotilla from the Republic of Genoa under father and son, Simone and Pietro Doria. One of the galleys was captained by the notorious pirate Alamanno da Costa. Even after being reinforced to 35,000 men however, the crusaders were heavily outnumbered by the 70,000 Muslims; in an interesting twist, the Crusaders formed an alliance with Kaykaus I of the Seljuk sultanate of Rum. Kaykaus attacked the Ayyubids in Syria so that the Crusaders wouldn't have to fight on two fronts.

The siege took part in several steps; in order to approach the castle of Damietta through the river Nile, the Crusaders first had to take the defensive tower in the middle of the river, which anchored one end of a chain across the harbor.


The Crusading force included a group of Knights Templar, Knights of St. John Hospitaller, fleets from Frisia and Italy.


The Tower of Damietta[edit]

The first objective of the Crusaders was to take the river tower that protected the fortress of Damietta. However, repeated assaults upon the tower failed, in part because of the limited approaches, as a result, the Crusaders created a new type of naval siege weaponry, sometimes attributed to the chronicler Oliver of Paderborn; two ships were bound together, and a siege tower and ladder were constructed atop the masts. The use of this engine aided the Crusaders in taking the tower, and opening the way for the fleet to attack the fortress.

The Castle of Damietta[edit]

Once the river tower was captured, the fleet of the Crusaders was able to support the land forces with an attack on the castle from the river.

The Town of Damietta[edit]

In early November of 1219, the Crusaders were ceded the town of Damietta, which had been devastated by the lack of supplies and disease.



  • Madden, Thomas F. The New Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. ISBN 0-7425-3823-0