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The Crusade of 1101

In the Wake of Victory

Europeans were overjoyed to learn of the success of the First Crusade. With the news of the victory, however, came pleas for reinforcements and the people of Europe respond with enthusiasm. Rich and poor alike were eager to make their own pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to battle the infidel, and to win for themselves the earthly glory and the spiritual rewards that came with being being crucesignati.

A new crusade was already being preached in the spring of 1099 by the Archbishop of Milan, for Urban knew that the crusaders were in dire need of help. Thus, in Lombardy, the preaching was already well under way, and being met with strong response, when the news of the fall of Jerusalem reached Italy in late summer. The new pope, Paschal II (1099-1118), sent legates into France as well. Perhaps just as important, he re-issued Urban's threat to excommunicate anyone who had taken the crusading vow but who had not yet actually gone. By the end of 1099 armies were being raised from all over western Europe.

The Arabs were hardly more united in 1100 than they had been in 1096. There were at least as many crusaders in this second wave as had been in the first. The Latins were hopeful and confident, eager to equal the accomplishments of the great heroes who had won Jerusalem.

The Armies and their Leaders

As in the First Crusade, these pilgrims did not all leave together but rather moved out as national armies from their various regions. The most important groups were the Lombards, the Burgundians, the Bavarians under Duke Welf, the Aquitainians led by Duke William, and armies led by William of Nevers, Stephen of Blois and Raymond St. Gilles. With a few exceptions, these were all from regions only lightly affected by the preaching in the First Crusade, and there was a strong sense of having missed out. The armies all left at different times, with the Lombards being the first to go (September 1100) and the last of them leaving in the spring of 1101.

As in the First Crusade, too, this crusade had no effective leader and was, in truth, even more scattered and haphazard in its progress. The Lombards were a motley bunch, somewhat similar to those who marched in the People's Crusade. The leaders, mentioned above, were from about the same ranks of European nobility as the original leaders had been. There were still no kings leading, for much the same reasons as there had been no kings in 1096. Once again there was an archbishop designated by the pope as leader, and once again he was generally ignored.

The crusaders appeared to have no clear plans. Most were going to help out in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but there are some slight indications that some, at least, may have intended to invade Iraq and even to attack Baghdad. Certainly some hoped to win lands for themselves as the original crusaders had done, but it should be noted that the vast majority of crusaders did not remain in the Holy Land and the newcomers probably intended to imitate that model: go, win great battles, obtain spiritual grace, visit holy sites, perhaps come away with a relic or two, then return home.

The Lombards March

The Lombards left from Milan on 13 September 1100. They crossed through Carinthia and into Hungary, spending the winter in Bulgaria. They had already heard about the "treacherous Greeks" and relations with the Byzantines were sour from the beginning. They quarreled with the locals all along the route and when they finally arrived at Constantinople, Emperor Alexius, by now quite fed up with rag-tag Latin armies, refused to allow them to enter the city.

The Lombards cooled their heels for two months outside the city while their leaders negotiated for supplies and for transport across the Bosporus. They were such violent and demanding guests that Alexius finally ferried them over to get them out of his hair (21 April 1101). The Lombards waited at Nicomedia, having been advised they should not set out into Asia Minor without additional troops.

In the meantime, the crusaders learned of a great calamity that had befallen Outremêr: the great Prince of Antioch, Bohemond, had been captured by the Turks. Moreover, it was learned, he was being held in Khorassan (in Pontus). The Lombards naturally felt specially called to rescue their countryman. Before they set out, they were joined by the Burgundians, northern Frenchmen under Stephen of Blois, and a small group of Provençals under Raymond of Toulouse (being nursed to health after a serious illness by the Emperor's own doctor).

The French urged the Lombards to wait, but they could not prevail. Rather than see them go unaided, the French agreed to accompany them. It did not help that St. Gilles was urging caution, for the Lombards were convinced that he was the Emperor's lackey and that the Emperor would like nothing better than to let Bohemond languish in a Turkish prison.

The Turks, for their part, had managed to put aside their differences to meet this new invasion. They had learned their lesson from the previous disasters and were determined that the Christians should not get through. Kilij Arslan, who had personal grievances with the Franks, led the united tribes. The Lombards set out in June, and from Chankiri onward the Turks harassed them unmercifully. No one really knew where Bohemond was being held, and their guides proved somewhat unreliable (or so the Christian sources report), and the crusade wandered a bit though it headed generally eastward.


The Turks brought the crusaders to ground near the mountains of Paphlagonia at Mersivan. The terrain was well-suited to the Turks--dry and infertile, with plenty of open space for their horses. They had been harassing the Latins for some days, making sure they went where Kilij Arslan wanted them to go and making sure, too, that they did not find too many supplies.

The battle was spread out over several days. On the first, the Turks cut off the crusader advance and surrounded them. The next day, Duke Conrad led his Germans in a sortie that failed doubly. Not only did they fail to open the Turkish lines, they were unable to return to the main crusader army and had to take refuge in a nearby stronghold.

No serious fighting took place on the third day. Then, on the fourth, the crusaders made a concerted effort to break free of the trap. The crusaders fought fiercely, inflicting heavy losses on the Turks, but the attack ultimately failed. Kilij Arslan had been joined by Ridwan of Aleppo, Malik-Ghazi of Sebastia, and Karaja of Harran, all powerful Danishmend princes. The Latins were hopelessly outnumbered.

That night, the noble leaders of the crusade decided to abandon the fight and the army. They slipped away under cover of night in small bands, heading for the mountains. The Turks pursued as many as they could, and cut down those they caught. The next morning, the fifth day of the battle, the Turks assaulted the Christian camp. With the bulk of the knights gone, the army was helpless. Many were slaughtered, the rest were enslaved. Those who managed to escape were hunted down in the hills, though some few did manage to get away.

Aftermath of Mersivan

Raymond of Toulouse, Stephen of Blois, and many of the other great lords managed to escape the debacle and to return to Constantinople. They were widely criticized for the catastrophe by the other crusaders who were still in the city. Raymond was suspect. Emperor Alexius was blamed for failing to send his own troops. Some even said that Alexius had tipped off the Turks, not wishing to see the hated Bohemond freed.

This victory was a sweet one for Kilij Arslan, for it avenged his honor and restored his standing among the Danishmends. But he could not enjoy his victory, for he knew that more crusader armies were on their way.

The Nivernais Expedition

Count William of Nevers had in the meantime set out into Asia Minor on his own hook. He had come by way of Italy, crossing the Adriatic at Brindisi and arriving at Constantinople on 14 June 1101. Upon learning of the Lombard expedition, he set out almost at once, crossing the Bosporus on 24 June and setting out in pursuit.

By the time he reached Ankara it was plain that he was not going to catch up with them. Many in his army were not interested in rescuing the Norman, pointing out that their vows stated they were to go to Jerusalem. So William turned south, heading for Iconium. This was central Anatolia, a dry and harsh land ill-suited to the support of armies.

Finding Iconium too well-defended, and not wishing to risk a siege, William pressed on to Heraclea. This city was not defended at all, but the Turks had removed most of the supplies and had poisoned the wells. The army had no choice but to press on. It was now mid-August. The Lombard army had already been destroyed, though William did not know this.

The land south of Heraclea was a desert. The army struggled forward for a few days, for there was no other choice. Once they were sufficiently worn down, the Turks attacked. Once again the knights abandoned the foot soldiers, leaving the common people to be slaughtered and enslaved.

William and his knights hired locals to guide them through the desert, but their guides betrayed them. William and his men were robbed, stripped, and left on foot in the wilderness to perish. Amazingly, a handful of them, William included, managed to walk out of the desert, through the mountains and at last down to Antioch.

A second crusader army had been annihilated.

The Aquitainian Expedition

The third army consisted of Duke William of Aquitaine's men. William is rather famous as the troubador prince, for he was a great patron of the troubadors in southern France. He was a highly cultured individual who wrote poetry himself. He left his homeland in March and took the overland route, being joined along the way by the Poitevins and by Welf, Duke of Bavaria.

This army arrived in Constantinople in early June. They chose not to follow William of Nevers in pursuit of the Lombards; most felt they should proceed directly to Jerusalem. They were on hand to hear of the catastrophe in Paphlagonia. A portion, including most of the Germans, decided to go by sea rather than risk the overland route. The French now decided take the Nivernais route, marching into the interior and arriving at Heraclea in early September.

Kilij Arslan was fresh from his victory in the north. He ambushed the Aquitainians near Heraclea and wiped them out. At least here the knights actually stayed with the army and fought. The only result of their courage was that they, too, died.

William managed to escape, accompanied only by his squire, as did a handful of others. They made their way down to Tarsus and then returned to Constantinople. Alexius was bitterly disappointed in the poor showing of the Latin armies. Poor guests as they were, at least the previous crusaders had managed to defeat the Turks!

Effects of the Disasters in Outremêr

In the space of two months, three large crusader armies had been almost completely destroyed. There was now no one to rescue the Prince of Antioch. There would be no armies to reinforce Jerusalem in its struggle with Egypt. There would be no influx of settlers to populate the Holy Land with Latin Christians. And Emperor Alexius at last understood that the West would be of no assistance to him in his struggle to recover Greek territories from the Turks.

These losses made it plain to everyone that the Crusader States were on their own. While individuals and very small groups continued to make their way to Outremêr, some to settle, some for a single campaigning season, the Holy Land would have to be held by only a few hundred knights and a few thousand more footsoldiers. This forced Baldwin and the others to look for allies among their enemies, to enter into the complex politics of the Near East, and to become Oriental in their outlook. It also caused them to look eagerly to the Italian city-states, with their strong navies and promise of steady supplies, and to give into their demands for a near-monopoly on trade.

Effects of the Disasters in Europe

The effects in Europe were equally profound. Three whole armies destroyed. Thousands killed, and they never even made it out of Anatolia, much less arrived in the Holy Land. An objective observer might say that this was hardly more than to be expected, given the raw numerical superiority of the Islamic forces fighting on their home ground. But the success of the First Crusade had led Europeans rather to expect the miraculous, and the failures in 1101 seemed to need explaining.

The result was that Europe quickly lost its taste for crusading. There was some renewed effort around 1108, but there was no general call for crusade until the fall of Edessa in 1145. An entire generation passed in Europe, and the First Crusade passed into legend.

This long hiatus--the longest in the entire history of the Crusades--was due not only to the catastrophies of 1101, but also due to the fact that the papacy was entering into a renewed struggle with the Empire, first with the war between father and son (Henry IV and Henry V) and then in a bitter war with Henry V. This was not settled until 1122, by which time the initial enthusiasm for crusading had long past.

Final Fate of the Crusaders

There are some postscripts to the Crusade of 1101 that are worth recounting. The survivors who gathered back at Constantinople--Count Raymond, William of Aquitaine, Stephen of Blois, William of Nevers, Conrad the Constable of Germany, Welf of Bavaria, were still determined to fulfill their vows. Alexius was so glad to be rid of them that he gave them ships and sent them on to Syria.

They landed at Saint Symeon in January of 1102 and proceeded to Antioch. Raymond's ship had gone off course and landed instead at Tarsus. Immediately upon his arrival, a knight stepped up and arrested the Count for his flight from Mersivan. He was turned over to Tancred, regent of Antioch. He was eventually released, but this took Raymond out of the subsequent events.

The others went from Antioch down to Beirut, where they were met by a large armed guard sent north by King Baldwin for their protection. The Kingdom of Jerusalem still hung by a thread and armies were on the march that spring. In fact, Baldwin had just won a tremendous victory over an Egyptian army the previous September, even as the crusaders had been losing spectacularly in Asia Minor. But the Egyptians were said to be planning another invasion. Few as they were, these Latins were a welcome addition.

The newcomers at last fulfilled their vows and worshipped at the Holy Sepulchre. After visiting other holy sites, they decided to return home. They certainly did not linger to aid Baldwin: they had done their tour and were already ship-board by the end of April, 1102. William of Aquitaine and others made it home safely, but the ship carrying Stephen of Blois and Stephen of Burgundy was driven ashore by a storm off Jaffa. They were unable to find another ship, and in the meantime, word came that the expected second Egyptian invasion had arrived. Stephen decided to stay and help.

Second Battle of Ramleh

The Egyptians were determined to avenge their embarassing defeat of the previous year. The army amounted to about twenty thousand and was commanded by the Vizier's son, Sharaf al-Ma'ali. It arrived at Ascalon in mid-May, 1102, and advanced toward Ramleh.

Baldwin's forces, amounting to only a few thousand, were assembled at Jaffa (where Count Stephen found them). His reconnaissance was poor, however. He believed that he was facing only a raiding party and decided to advance without calling up his reserves, and to attack with only the knights. Stephen of Blois suggested caution and better reconnaissance, but of course his earlier cowardice ensured that no one would listen to him.

On 17 May, King Baldwin set out with about five hundred men. They rode straight into the Egyptian and their twenty thousand, and were spotted immediately. Before he had time to retreat, Baldwin found himself cut off. So he charged. The Egyptians could not believe that so few would charge so many and at first believed they were the forerunners of the full Christian army. But no one else showed up, and the Egyptians gathered their shaken resolve and attacked in full force.

A few managed to cut through to Jaffa, but many died on the field. Baldwin and others, including Stephen, were able to break out and reach Ramleh, where there was a small fortress, crowding into a single small tower. They were immediately surrounded, of course. During the night, Baldwin slipped out under cover of darkness and escaped. A few others did likewise, each scattering in separate directions. One of these made it to Jerusalem where he told of the disaster, but also encouraged the citizens to defend the city.

At dawn, the Egyptians piled wood around the tower. Rather than be burned alive, the Christians charged. Constable Conrad of Germany so impressed the Egyptians with his prowess that they spared his life, along with about a hundred others, who were all sent as captives to Cairo. Stephen of Blois died on the battlefield, at last redeeming his reputation.

The great crusade thus stumbled to an end in yet one more disaster. There would be no more grand expeditions for another four decades.

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Copyright 1999, Ellis L. Knox This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.