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The First Crusade


Council of Clermont

Pope Urban II arrived in France in August 1095, to see to the reform of the Church there. He sent letters from Le Puy, calling for a general Church council in November at Clermont. He spent September and October visiting and reforming in various towns, arriving in Clermont in mid-November.

The Council met 18 through 28 November, 1095 with three hundred clerics attending. The Council passed reforming decrees in keeping with the Cluniac reform movement, including ones concerning simony and clerical marriage. At this Council, too, King Philip of France was excommunicated for adultery.

The pope also made an announcement that a public session would be held Tuesday 27 November at which the pope would make an important speech to the general public. This created a good deal of interest, and many people from the surrounding areas came to Clermont to hear the pope's words.

On the day of Urban's speech, the assembled crowd was so large that they could not fit everyone into the cathedral, so the papal throne was set up in an empty field outside the eastern gate of the town. Those in attendance included many commoners in addition to local nobility. The great nobles of Europe, however, the kings and dukes and so on, were not there. Urban's invitation had only gone out locally.

Urban's Speech

Pope Urban II was a powerful speaker; all our sources indicate that the speech he delivered that day was moving and memorable. We have several accounts that differ in detail, but the following delivers the general sense of his message that day.

The noble race of Franks must come to the aid their fellow Christians in the East. The infidel Turks are advancing into the heart of Eastern Christendom; Christians are being oppressed and attacked; churches and holy places are being defiled. Jerusalem is groaning under the Saracen yoke. The Holy Sepulchre is in Moslem hands and has been turned into a mosque. Pilgrims are harassed and even prevented from access to the Holy Land

The West must march to the defense of the East. All should go, rich and poor alike. The Franks must stop their internal wars and squabbles. Let them go instead against the infidel and fight a righteous war.

God himself would lead them, for they would be doing His work. There will be absolution and remission of sins for all who die in the service of Christ. Here they are poor and miserable sinners; there they will be rich and happy. Let none hesitate; they must march next summer. God wills it!

Deus vult! (God wills it) became the battle cry of the Crusaders.

The Call Goes Out

The day after Urban's speech, the Council formally granted all the privleges and protections Urban had promised. The red cross was taken as the official sign of the pilgrims, and Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy was chosen as papal legate and the spiritual leader of the expedition.

The pope spent several months in France, staying in the southern regions, but bishops and other preachers brought word of the crusade into northern France as well. Count Raymond of Toulouse sent his request to join, arriving in Clermont on December 5th. He hoped to be made the secular leader, but this was officially a pilgrimage and it was to be led by the Church in the person of Bishop Adhemar.

The Church quickly lost control of the movement. The call to the cross was taken up by all manner of people, including poor preachers. There was already a movement afoot in northern France that sought to imitate the life of Christ and to lead a life of pure poverty. When Urban said that rich and poor alike should go, he probably only meant that knights should not plead poverty as an excuse--he never intended that penniless rabble should swarm eastward into the teeth of trained Turkish armies.

The First Crusaders

The armies were to assemble in the spring of 1097, but as spring came and went, not one army appeared. The lords were slow to respond and once they did take the cross, they found that there were so many arrangements to make that the summer had slipped away.

But the poor had no elaborate provisions to make, and they responded immediately to the call of the preachers. Foremost among these preachers was a hermit called Peter, who lived in Flanders. He was a short, swarthy fellow, already rather old in 1095. By all reports, he was a powerful preacher and was utterly convinced that he was chosen by God to liberate the Holy Sepulchre.

Peter took the pope at his word, that rich and poor alike should go. His poverty, his eloquence, even the fact that he was barefoot and filthy and ate only fish and wine, all combined to mark him as someone extraordinary, and the poor flocked to him. He had no papal permission, and at least some of the bishops disapproved of his actions, mainly because all preaching was supposed to have the approval of the local bishop.

He began preaching in Berry in December 1095. He moved eastward into Lorraine, arriving in Cologne a little before Easter, on 12 April 1096. Other preachers were active, too, and a number of these converged on the city in April and May. Peter wanted to wait, to allow time for the Frankish nobility and others to gather as well, but some of his lieutenants grew impatient and left ahead of him.

Walter Sans-Avoir

One who left early was a Frankish knight called Walter. You will sometimes see him referred to as Walter the Penniless, from which some infer that he was a poor knight. In truth, Walter's family name was Sans-Avoir and he was almost certainly not penniless. In any case, Walter left Cologne just after Easter 1096, with a few thousand followers.

Walter marched up the Rhine River, then up the Neckar River. From its headwaters is only a short trek overland to the Danube River. It appears that Walter's army had sufficient finances to pay their way. They passed through Germany and then through Hungary without incident. They crossed into Byzantine territory at Belgrade at the end of May. With no disruptions and delays, then, it took just over a month to go from Cologe to Belgrade.

The military commander at Belgrade was not expecting the Crusaders. Unsure as to what to do with several thousand armed Franks and Germans, he did what provincial commanders have long done: he sent back to the provincial governor for instructions. The provincial governor at Nish in turn what provincial governers have long done: he sent back to the capital for instructions.

This may all sound like bureaucracy, but it had an immediate practical effect: shopping. Thousands of foreigners, with foreign currency and language, needed to have a special market set up. The granting of market privileges was a fundamental requirement for an army to pass peacefully through friendly territory. Refusal to grant a market was a standard way for a local power to tell the army to keep moving, that it was not welcome.

Belgrade had not exactly refused to grant a market, but the delay in waiting for instructions meant in fact there was no market. It did not take long before the Crusaders were running short on supplies and on patience. They began to take what they needed from the surrounding countryside, and Belgrade shut its gates. At a nearby town, sixteen knights were caught pillaging (they would have said "requisitioning"). The

Before the situation got out of hand, word arrived from Nish that the Crusaders should move on to that city. There the Crusaders acquired a Byzantine military escort. The Crusaders proceeded to Constantinople in good order, and Alexius Comnenus greeted them cordially. Walter was treated very well, even though he and his band were not really what the Emperor was expecting.

But Walter's band was nothing compare to what was coming, a little further up the road.

Incident at Belgrade

Peter left only days behind Walter, leaving Cologne on 20 April 1096, with about 20,000 followers. This was an enormous army by the standards of the day, perhaps the largest assembled in Europe in centuries. Most in the army were commoners, but a substantial number of knights had joined. The poor went on foot, of course, while the knights were mounted. We know there was a supply train with wagons, which included the army's treasury. Peter travelled as he always had, on a donkey.

These Crusaders, too, passed through Germany and Hungary without incident, leading us to conclude that they were paying their own way to the satisfaction of local merchants. At Semlin, however, trouble broke out.

This was the town that had punished the sixteen knights from Walter's army. The sixteen suits of armor were still nailed to the town walls, which did not please the new Crusaders. Peter tried to move his army quickly on, but an argument broke out in the rear, allegedly over payment for a pair of shoes--an important item for Crusaders!--and the quarrel escalated quickly into a full battle. Peter's army stormed the citadel and sacked the city, killing several thousand inhabitants and local Byzantine troops.

Semlin was across the Danube from Belgrade. The military commander quickly sent his few hundred Petchneg troops to prevent the Crusaders from crossing the river. He then ran for Nish, whereupon the citizens of Belgrade abandoned the city. The loyal Petchnegs died defending the crossing, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. Belgrade, too, was sacked.

Peter at Constantinople

The Crusaders went on to Nish, arriving there on 3 July. The provincial governor had fortified the town and refused to spare an escort. The Crusaders were invited to move along. Peter decided it would be wiser to keep going, and to find help closer to Constantinople. They broke camp the next morning and started to move out in good order, but again a fight broke out in the rear.

The main army rode back to help, whereupon the Byzantine forces sallied out from the city. This time, though, the Crusaders were routed. After losing his treasury (which was in the rear van) and as many as a quarter of his men, Peter broke off the engagement and fled south. They managed to go the rest of the way without incident, and they arrived at Constantinople on the first of August 1096.

Word of the problems preceeded the army. Alexius received Peter graciously enough, but he firmly kept the army outside the city walls. He did grant them a market, though the Franks complained bitterly over the prices, and were not at all above thievery to get what they wanted. Tensions were rising quickly and Alexius decided to get these troublesome Franks across the Bosporus as soon as he could.

Beginning on 6 August, the Crusaders began arriving in Asia Minor, marching to Civetot (Kibotos) which was to become the Crusader camp. Peter's idea was that they should wait for the main Crusading forces (which they knew had set out) to arrive before attempting to move into Turkish territory. He could not, however prevent raiding, and some of these raids penetrated well within lands held by the Turks.

End of the People's Crusade

The Franks were the first to raid, and they were very successful. They drove all the way to the gates of Nicaea, plundering the villages (many of which were Christian, but the Crusaders were indifferent to this). Nicaea was the capital city of Kilij Arslan, the Turkish sultan in Asia Minor. He was a typical Danishmend prince, however; he might park his treasury and his family in a city, but his real capital was with his army, and at this time the army was off in central Anatolia dealing with a rebellion. The city guard sallied out and drove away the Crusaders, but the Franks returned to Civetot laden with booty and regaling everyone with tales of their great "victory."

Naturally, the others in camp wanted a piece of the action. The Germans set out soon after. They came to an abandoned castle called Xerigordon, which seemed like a good spot to serve as base camp for extensive raiding, so they moved in. Local Turkish forces quickly invested the castle. It's doubtful that the Germans expected this, for the castle's water supply was at the base of the hill, now in Turkish hands. After eight days of terrible suffering, the Germans surrendered. They were given the choice: convert or die. Those that stayed true to their faith were executed, while the rest were sent as captives to distant cities, never to be heard from again.

Those at Civetot wanted to avenge Xerigordon, but the news was that Kilij Arslan was returning with his army, so Peter the Hermit returned to Constantinople to beg the Emperor to send regular troops to help defend the Crusaders. The Emperor was reluctant and negotiations dragged on for days. In the meantime, the hot-heads in the Christian camp slowly prevailed and it was agreed that the army would march on Nicaea before the Turkish army could arrive to reinforce it.

On 21 October, the Crusaders left Civetot and marched into a carefully prepared ambush. Kilij Arslan had already arrived, but he did not intend to hole up in a city, he intended to attack his enemies.

The road to Nicaea passed through a wooded valley a few miles from Civetot. As the lead contingent, which of course was comprised of the knights, moved through the valley, the Turks attacked. They killed the horses and then drove the knights back upon the rest of the army still filing in.

The rout was complete. Only a handful survived. The Turks killed everyone they encountered except for young girls and boys that would sell on the slave market. Of twenty thousand who marched that morning, barely three thousand managed to escape to a half-completed fort near the coast. A Greek managed to get to a boat and brought news to Constantinople, whereupon the Emperor sent ships over to rescue the survivors.


Kilij Arslan had won a great victory for Islam. The Turks had been hearing stories of a great army of the Franj (their name for all Latin Europeans) marching against Allah. He had met this fearful army and had annihilated it. To his mind, the Franj were not so fearful after all, but were hardly more than peasants.

He was both right and wrong, of course. The army he had beaten was in fact not much of an army, but he had not faced the real army yet. His victory near Civetot would cause the Turk to underestimate the next wave of Crusaders when the arrived, with serious consequences.

The disaster also had consequences for the Christians. It showed plainly that mere piety and fervor would not be enough to liberate the Holy Sepulchre. There would be no crusade of the common people to the Holy Land, but an organized invasion by armies. And Peter the Hermit would not be its leader. That role would fall to the princes who were beginning to arrive at Constantinople even as the Turks were crushing the People's Crusade.

Other Crusaders

Before turning to the main crusade, we should take note of some other leaders, none of whom got even so far as Constantinople, partly to show how these spontaneous movements failed and partly because these are the ones guilty of attacks on the Jews. These were all crusaders in the mold of Walter Sans-Avoir and Peter the Hermit: individuals who felt called by God to respond to Urban's plea to liberate the Holy Sepulchre. They were not in any sense sponsored by the Church; that is, they were not consecrated as pilgrims by their local bishop acting in accordance with the crusading bull issued at Clermont. But, then, neither was Peter. All these people certainly believed they had God's blessing, and they probably believed they would receive the same benefits of remission of sins and so on, for these promises were repeated widely in the months after Clermont.

We know a few leaders by name: a priest named Gottschalk, one Volkmar about whom we know very little, and Count Emich of Leiningen (in the Rhine River valley). Each of these operated independtly and gathered their own followers of some few thousands. Gottschalk set out from Cologne a few days after Peter in April 1096. They behaved themselves in Germany, but while negotiating for entry into Hungary some of the Crusaders got drunk and plundered the countryside. The locals retaliated, the Crusaders fortified their position, but they were overrun and the entire force dispersed. That was the end of Gottschalk's expedition.

Something similar happened to Volkmar. We know that he passed from Saxony into Bohemia. They were probably responsible for the attacks on Jews we know about at this time in Magdeburg and in Prague. This band, too, was attacked and dispersed when it tried to enter Hungary.

We know more about Count Emicho. He was a typical robber baron, preying on merchants and others. He claimed to have received divine revelations designating him the leader of the crusade. Other lords who joined him also had bad reputations, but the Count was nevertheless able to assemble a large force along the middle Rhine. He moved down the Rhine that spring, presumably because Cologne was serving as an assembly point. He arrived there on May 29, plundering and killing Jews in towns along the way. Finally, filled up with loot, he went back up the Rhine then across to the Hungarian border. Once again, King Coloman refused them entry, there was battle, and the Crusaders were routed. Emicho disappears at this point, but some of the survivors made their way to Italy and eventually to Constantinople, though there weren't many who did.

Why were the Jews being attacked? The Jews always held a distinctive and awkward place in medieval Europe. They were always treated as outsiders, strangers within the small communities that made up medieval towns. They had been encouraged to settle in the Rhenish towns by the bishops and by the emperors. Their money-lending practices gave the locals practical excuses for hating Jews. Their own religious and cultural practices kept the Jews a people apart. While the Jews were legally protected by the local authorities, in fact the Jews were highly vulnerable to outbreaks of mob action. In the excited atmosphere of 1096, mob action came easily.

Most of the Crusaders passed through these cities without attacking the Jews. This is not to say that they thought kindly of the Jews or even behaved well toward them, but that as long as the leaders of the crusader bands did not encourage it, there was no violence. Gottschalk may not have encouraged the attacks, but we know that his army had no money and expected to live off the land. Attacking and looting a Jewish community under the excuse of attacking the enemies of Christ was at the very least convenient.

Count Emicho attraced the worst elements. Even groups that came from France to join with Emicho were attacking Jews at Metz in May. The pattern there was typical: the Crusaders told the Jews to be baptised or face death. This pseudo-religious action was always accompanied by seizing the possessions of those killed. A massacre was prevented at Speyer because the local bishop gave the Jews refuge in his palace. The Bishop of Worms tried to do the same thing, but the Crusaders forced their way in and killed everyone (May 18). The first time we know Emicho was responsible was soon after, at Mainz. The Archbishop there closed the city gates against Emicho, having been paid by the Jews to protect them. Two days later, they were betrayed. The gates were opened, Emicho entered and killed all the Jews he found. The archbishop and the money both disappeared.

After these events, the Jews of Cologne, the richest city on the Rhine, were naturally worried. Many fled. There may have been a massacre of Jews there, though the sources are less clear. It is certain, however, that the Jewish quarter was plundered, further enriching Emicho and his followers. Having built a war chest by killing and looting the Jews all along the Rhine, Emicho's army marched off toward Hungary and eventual destruction there.

While the Jews were not attacked by all the Crusaders, these events show clearly that anti-semitism was a very real force at the time. We will see it appear again later. Having decided to fight the enemies of Christ in the Holy Land, the Crusaders seem to have readily generalized their definition of "enemy" to include anyone who opposed them, either as a group or individually. The First Crusade began with violence against innocents; it would end the same way.

Godfrey of Bouillon

Probably the most famous of all the leaders of the First Crusade was Godfrey, Count of Bouillon and Margrave of Antwerp. Godfrey was a fairly important lord in northern France with a proud heritage, for he was a direct descendant of Charlemagne. Despite all this, Godfrey did not prosper and had to mortgage much of his holdings in order to finance his expedition. We don't really know why he went. Later chroniclers give him a reputation as a pious man, but there is no contemporary evidence for this.

Among those accompanying Godfrey was his younger brother, Baldwin of Boulogne. Godfrey had an older brother, Eustace who also went on crusade, but it's not clear whether or not he travelled with Godfrey. Various other northern lords were in Godfrey's forces, but being the duke he was chosen as leader.

The army left around the middle of August 1096, taking the Rhine-Danube route. When he arrived at the Hungarian border, King Coloman delayed him for three weeks, evidently concerned by the arrival of yet another army from the West, Godfrey having arrived in the wake of Gottschalk and Volkmar and Count Emicho. The Crusaders were angered by Coloman's suspicions and the King and Count had a series of personal discussions. Godfrey volunteered his brother to act as hostage for the Crusaders' good behavior. Baldwin was not very happy about this, but grudgingly agreed.

The army moved through Hungary under a strong guard, but there were no incidents, and Baldwin was returned at the Byzantine border. Belgrade was still deserted, so the army marched to Nish, where they were accorded a plentiful market. From there they went to Sofia and Philippopolis. Some tension arose when Godfrey learned that Hugh of Champagne had been taken prisoner by the Emperor, but it was straightened out soon after the army arrived at Constantinople, just before Christmas 1096.

Bohemond of Tarentum

Although a lord in southern Italy, Bohemond was every bit as much a Frank as Godfrey and the others, for Bohemond was one of those Normans who had a generation earlier conquered all of Sicily and southern Italy. He was the eldest son of Robert Guiscard and had accompanied his father when he had invaded Byzantine territory in the 1080s. Bohemond was besieging the town of Amalfi when he heard of the crusade and was immediately moved to take the cross. So many men followed him that the siege had to be raised.

As with Godfrey, a number of his kinsmen accompanied Bohemond, most notably his cousin Tancred of Lecce, his brother William, and another cousin Richard of the Principate. They crossed the Adriatic in December and were still in Albania at Christmas time. A little after this, they skirmished briefly with Byzantine troops. Bohemond eventually went on to Constantinople ahead of the rest of his army, leaving it under the command of Tancred, arriving in the city on 10 April.

The Greeks were convinced that the Normans were their enemies; naturally so, in view of Guiscard's invasions. Bohemond wanted to make a good impression on the Emperor, but he in turn was suspicious of the Greeks. They never managed to get along. Anna Comnena, whose history of her father's reign is so invaluable, never wavered from her belief that Bohemond wanted nothing less than to conquer the Byzantine Empire and that for him all this crusading business was nothing more than a convenient cover.

Raymond of Toulouse

Certainly the most prestigious of all the barons to go on the First Crusade was Count Raymond of Toulouse. Already an old man at the time, around fifty-five, he was an experienced warrior against the infidel, having fought in Spain against the Muslims there. He took his wife and youngest son with him, and later reports say that he sold most of his possessions and took a vow never to return.

Toulouse was a wealthy county, and Raymond's was the largest of all the crusader forces. The fact that Bishop Adhemar accompanied Raymond, and that the crusade was first preached in southern France, must have helped recruiting. Raymond's army also had the largest contingent of non-combatants, so his expenses were very high.

We have to guess at Raymond's route, for the chronicles don't pick up Raymond until he entered Dalmatia; most likely, he went overland through southern France and northern Italy. They had a hard passage through Serbia because of lack of supplies. Once they entered Byzantine territory there were again quarrels and skirmishes; during one of these, Bishop Adhemar was seriously injured; during another, Count Raymond himself was nearly lost in an ambush.

They reached Thessalonica at the beginning of April. At Roussa, the Greeks evidently so angered the Franks that they stormed the city and looted it. Since the Normans had passed through only two weeks earlier, it is possible that the town was simply drained of supplies and that the Franks did not believe it.

As Bohemond had done, Count Raymond went on to Constantinople ahead of his army, arriving there on 21 April. While he and Alexius were talking on friendly terms, word came that the Proven­als had been routed by Byzantine troops. Raymond was furious and had to be restrained by his fellow lords. His army arrived at last on 27 April.

Bishop Adhemar

The papal legate for the First Crusade was Adhemar, Bishop of Le Puy. Adhemar was a bishop of the old school, well able to ride a horse and to wear armor. Adhemar would demonstrate his military ability more than once on the crusade.

A papal legate was someone chosen by the pope to act on his behalf in a certain matter. A legate might be sent to negotiate a treaty, to settle a dispute, even to crown a king if the pope himself could not go. In choosing a legate to accompany the crusade, Pope Urban was clearly signalling that the papacy should be represented in all that the crusade might accomplish.

More than this we do not know. Did Urban intend that the crusade should be led by the Church rather than by the laity? Did he mean that Adhemar should become the Patriarch of Jerusalem? The sources don't say, and Adhemar died at Antioch, so we cannot tell from his actions, either. All armies were accompanied by priests--perhaps since the pope had called this army into existence, he merely was providing a chief priest for the expedition.

We cannot know the answer to this question, but the larger question will recur throughout the twelfth century: who should lead a crusade? Was a crusade only called into existence by a pope? Should it be directed only toward those ends he set? What if the crusaders diverged from those ends? We will return to this question. In the case of the First Crusade, the lay lords took command early and kept it throughout.

Other Crusader Contingents

A number of other crusader armies set out in 1096. The very first one to leave was led by Count Hugh of Vermandois, brother to the King of France. When he set out, he sent an arrogant letter to Emperor Alexius announcing his departure and demanding a fitting reception. Hugh marched down through Italy, receiving the standard of St. Peter at Lucca from the Pope himself. He proceeded to Bari, where he crossed the Adriatic in September. Much of his army was scattered by a storm. Hugh survived and was picked up by Alexius' nephew, John Comnenus, who sent fed and clothed the survivors and sent them on to Constantinople under guard.

Robert Count of Flanders also went on crusade taking the Italian route. He was joined by Duke Robert of Normandy (one of William the Conqueror's sons and Count Robert's cousin) and Count Stephen of Blois (a cousin by marriage to the Conqueror's daughter, Adēle). One of Pope Urban's first letters after Clermont was addressed to the Flemings, so the response from here is not surprising. Robert of Flanders is a good example of those barons who went on crusade mainly out of pious zeal. Robert of Normandy mortgaged Normandy to William II of England in order to finance his participation. The army was mainly Flemish, as the Norman lords didn't think much of their duke and were unwilling to follow him.

The Flemings went from Rome to Monte Cassino, to visit the monastery of St. Benedict, then went to Bari. Robert of Normandy and Stephen of Blois decided to wait out the winter, for the Adriatic is a dangerous passage in winter. Robert of Flanders, though, crossed anyway, without incident. Robert of Normandy and Stephen followed the next spring. The army took ship on 5 April, but was struck by catastrophe. One of the larger ships broke up in full view of those on shore. About four hundred people, plus horses, supplies and money were lost. A large number of pilgrims decided on the spot to return home. The rest crossed safely and managed to go through Byzantine territory without fighting with the locals. The Flemish army arrived at Constantinople on 14 May 1097.

The Crusaders were now all assembled at Constantinople. Some of them had been there since the previous winter and were very anxious to move on. Moreover, relations between the Latins and the Greeks were becoming strained.

Alexius Comnenus

The Greek Emperor at the time was Alexius Comnenus, one of the greatest of the Byzantine emperors. He was the founder of the Comneni dynasty, having come to power after civil war and after the terrible defeat at Manzikert. It was Alexius who had saved some vestige of the Empire in Asia Minor. It was Alexius who had fought the Normans. And it was Alexius who had written a letter to the Bishop of Rome, asking that soldiers be sent to Constantinople to help in the fight against the Turks.

The Emperor was relatively secure by the time the First Crusade arrived at his doorstep. He had put the Empire back on a solid economic footing and could look forward with reasonable confidence to recovering portions of Asia Minor. He had a good army and was an adept diplomat. He understood the Turks and their rivalries. 

Everything, in fact, seemed to be in place for the Emperor to turn at long last from the defensive to the offensive. The Frankish warriors being sent by the Pope would prove a welcome addition--loyal barbarians from the West. 

But he was in for a severe disappointment.

Conflict between Emperor and Crusaders

Alexius' first contact with the regular armies of the First Crusade was with Hugh of Vermandois, younger son of the French king. He crossed the Adriatic from Bari in October and his little fleet was wrecked in a storm. The Emperor was obliged to send an escort to bring what was left to the capital.

Hugh was followed by Godfrey of Bouillon, who arrived in December, and who immediately fell out with Alexius. The problem was partly the bad behavior of Godfrey's men, but the real issue was an oath of loyalty that Alexius demanded the Franks take before going on into Asia Minor.

The Road to Antioch

The passage across Anatolia was a hard one, for the Turks blocked up the wells and burned crops. The army reached Iconium in the middle of August and skirmished with Turkish forces near Heraclea later that month. On 10 September, Tancred and some others left the main army in a dispute over the best route to take (Tancred being convinced that any route recommended by the Greeks guides had to be wrong). Baldwin followed him. The main army marched on to Cilician Caesarea, reaching there at the end of September and going on to Marash in early October. The weather was growing foul (Baldwin's wife died during this passage), but at least the locals were Armenians and were friendly to the Crusaders.

The Crusaders arrived in the vicinity of Antioch on 20 October 1097. The Turkish commander was Yaghi-Siyan, who was supposed to be the vassal of Ridwan of Aleppo but who openly intrigued against him with Kerbogha of Mosul. As the Franks approached, therefore, the obvious help of Aleppo was not forthcoming. Yaghi-Siyan frantically tried to secure his city, exiling many of the Greek and Armenian Christians who had hitherto lived in Antioch peacefully. The emir trusted only the Jacobites, because they hated both the Greeks and the Armenians. His garrison was not very large; his only hope was to hold out until a Turkish army might come to his relief.

The Crusaders attacked across the Iron Bridge of the Orontes River, easily carrying the two towers that guarded it. They moved up to the walls of the city the next day. Bohemond encamped opposite the Gate of St. Paul, Raymond at the Gate of the Dog to Bohemond's right, and Godfrey further on at the Gate of the Duke. The siege of Antioch had begun.

Baldwin at Edessa

The most significant event along the road to Antioch was the diversion of one portion of the army away from Jerusalem. Tancred and Baldwin had gone to Tarsus, held by a Turkish garrison. Tancred arrived first and was able to take the city, whose citizens were Greek and Armenian, friendly to the Crusaders. The very day he occupied Tarsus, though, Baldwin arrived with his much larger army. Baldwin had been involving himself in Armenian politics and was prepared to pose as their champion. He insisted that the city be handed over to him. Tancred was hopelessly out-manned and had to withdraw. They squabbled again further down the road, to the point where there was a brief battle between them at Mamistra. The whole affair ended with a reconciliation by which they both agreed they would not found a principality in Cilicia. Here is early evidence that at least some among the Crusaders were interested in using the Crusade as a means of establishing themselves as eastern lords.

Tancred eventually re-joined the main army, but Baldwin headed off in an entirely different direction. He had received a plea of Toros of Edessa, the imperial lord of the city. He was Greek Orthodox and so was disliked by many of the native Armenian and Jacobite citizens. He knew that Kerbogha might move to defend Antioch and could easily smash his city along the way. He offered to adopt Baldwin as his son, if the knight would only come right away to his defense.

Baldwin agreed, and set out early in February 1098. He had a grand total of eight knights, for most Crusaders were unwilling to turn aside from the road to the Holy Land. He arrived on 6 February. Toros adopted him immediately. Within a month, the old man was betrayed. The local Armenians hatched a plot to dethrone him and install Baldwin in his place. On 7 March, a mob stormed the palace. Toros' troops deserted him, and Baldwin refused to defend him. He tried to escape through a window, but he was caught and torn to pieces by the mob. On 10 March, Baldwin of Boulougne formally took possession of Edessa, making it the first of the Crusader States. It was not an edifying beginning.

The Siege of Antioch

The Crusaders did not attack immediately. Antioch was a very strong city, whose walls had originally been built by Justinian. The walls bow out from Mount Silpius in a long arc. Along one portion the Orontes River runs. Another portion climbs a ridge of the mountain. It is a difficult city to attack, and the Crusaders were leery of losing too many men (they initially lacked enough even to cover all the gates). They waited first for Tancred to come up from Alexandretta, then spent some time in securing various out-lying fortresses. So passed November and December.

By the end of December, supplies were running low, and Bohemond and Robert of Flanders set out with a large force to gather supplies. Yaghi-Siyan decided it was a good time for a sortie. His attack caught Raymond of Toulouse completely by surprise, but Raymond was able to organize a counter-attack quickly. He drove the Muslims back with such force that his men chased them over the bridge and some actually entered the city. But it was night-time. The horse of one of the lead knights threw its rider and bolted backward. The knights on the bridge behind were thrown into confusion, panicked, and retreated.

Meantime, an army had been marching to the relief of Antioch from Damascus. When they learned that Bohemond and Robert were nearby, they attacked. They caught Robert first and fierce fighting erupted. Bohemond came up but held back until the Muslims were well engaged. He then fell on them and inflicted heavy casualties. They had won another victory, but they had lost so many men that they had to return to Antioch with far fewer supplies than they had hoped for. But at least the battle, coupled with ugly weather, forced the Damascene army to return home as well. Yaghi-Siyan was still on his own.

January was grim indeed, with starvation stalking the camps. People began to desert, including Peter the Hermit (he was brought back by Tancred). In February, Ridwan of Aleppo arrived, having made peace with Yaghi-Siyan, but the Crusaders defeated him as well after another hard-fought battle. He returned to Aleppo.

Supplies and reinforcements arrived in March, and the Crusaders were at last able to seal off most of the city. Conditions inside Antioch grew steadily grimmer, even as spring brought better supplies to the besiegers. Yaghi-Siyan was still determined, however, for he had news that Kerbogha of Mosul was at last preparing an army. He set out in early May with a large army mostly made up of allies. His advance was delayed while he spent three weeks besieging Edessa, but Baldwin was able to hold the city.

It was during these weeks in May that Bohemond made contact with one Firuz, a captain of the guard in Antioch. There had been much buying of spies on both sides during the siege, but Firuz agreed to betray the city. Bohemond told none of the other Crusaders about this, for he was determined that he should rule Antioch. Instead, the Crusaders met to plan an assault on the city before Kerbogha could arrive. It was agreed that whoever should enter the city first would be its lord.

Many of the Crusaders were in despair. The city looked as impregnable as ever, and a huge Turkish army was only days away. Desertions increased. On 2 June, Stephen of Blois led a large contingent of French away. Only a few hours later, Bohemond received word from Firuz that the time was right. Bohemond at least revealed the scheme to his fellow captains. Just before sunset, the army decamped as if to go east to meet Kerbogha in the field. After a few hours, it turned around and came back under cover of darkness. Firuz saw to it that one section of the wall was unguarded and sixty knights entered. They opened the Gate of St. George, and the Crusaders streamed into the city. The Christian citizens joined the army in massacring every Turk they found. Yaghi-Siyan fled, but his son gathered a few troops and retreated to the citadel, which he was able to hold. By 3 June, the city, except for the citadel, was in the hands of the Latins.

They spent the next clearing the city of corpses and deciding on the defense of the walls. The day following, 5 June, the first of Kerbogha's troops began arriving, and by the 7th he was encamped. The Crusaders were now besieged within Antioch.


The situation was hardly better than it had been for the Crusaders. While they were able to hold off an initial assault on 9 June, they had few supplies and Kerbogha was able to seal the city off. He would starve the Christians into surrender.

Alexius Comnenus very nearly came to the rescue. The Greeks had secured western Anatolia, and the Emperor was on the march to Antioch, likely to make sure the Crusaders turned over the Byzantine territories as promised. In any case, he was met on the road by Stephen of Blois and other deserters who told him that the Crusaders were hopelessly trapped and that Antioch would fall any day. Moreover, the Danishmends were forming up again. Faced with the prospect of a Turkish army ahead of him and behind him, Alexius turned around and went home. To the Crusaders, it seemed as if the Emperor had abandoned them to the infidel. Stephen of Blois was branded a coward and upon his return to France his wife was so ashamed she refused to have anything to do with him.

Kerbogha continued to press the city hard. On 12 June he nearly captured one of the towers. The Crusaders were starving and were hard-pressed just to hold the 400 towers that lined the city walls.

And then, even as the situation seemed hopeless, a miracle occurred.

The Holy Lance

Several miracles, actually. On 10 June a poor peasant by the name of Peter Bartholomew, the servant of a member of Count Raymond's army, came before Raymond and Bishop Adhemar. He told of having received several visions over the preceding months from St. Andrew in which the saint told him that the Holy Lance--the spear that pierced Christ's side as he hung on the Cross--lay buried in St. Peter's Cathedral in Antioch. Raymond was convinced, but Adhemar was sceptical and there the matter sat.

But news of the vision spread, with everyone having his own opinion. That very evening, another Provencal, this one a priest, told of a vision he had had. Since he swore it was true, and as his reputation was good (Peter Bartholomew's was not), Adhemar believed him.

On 14 June, a meteor was seen to fall into the Turkish camp, a very good omen. On the 15th, a group that included Raymond of Toulouse, the historian Raymond of Aguilers, and Peter Bartholomew went to the cathedral and began to dig. The digging went on for hours, with various people taking turns. Count Raymond gave up and left. Then Peter Bartholomew jumped into the hole to take a hand. He very soon cried out that he had found the lance. Raymond of Aguilers says he himself touched the iron while it was still embedded in the ground.

Word of the discovery of the Lance spread rapidly and it was taken to Count Raymond. Bishop Adhemar still thought the man was a fake and refused to accept it, but so great was the rejoicing that he kept quiet.

The Christians were planning an attack anyway. They knew that there was serious dissension among various emirs in Kerbogha's camp, and in any case they could not stay much longer in Antioch for the army was starving. They set the date for 28 June.

The Crusaders carried the Holy Lance on a standard at the head of the army. When Kerbogha saw the Crusaders in full array, he tried to send out for a truce, but the Crusaders advanced anyway. The Turks tried their usual tactics, but the Crusaders kept on in good formation. As he feared, emirs began deserting Kerbogha on the field of battle. When Dukak of Damascus left, the entire army collapsed. For once, the Christians resisted the temptation to loot the enemy camp, but instead pressed the Turks hard, killing many. The battle ruined Kerbogha and saved the Crusade. As much as anything, the victory confirmed Peter Bartholomew's visions.


As soon as the Turks were gone, the Latins fell to quarreling, this time over who should rule Antioch. Raymond insisted that the city should be turned over to Emperor Alexius, as per their oaths. While he may have been genuine in the sentiment, there is no doubt that Raymond also would do almost anything to prevent Bohemond from having the city. In addition to all the other insults and irritations, Raymond had even been denied the honor of taking the citadel of Antioch. The emir's son watched Kerbogha's defeat and sent out an offer of surrender. But he refused to surrender to Raymond, who was in command of the troops set to guarding the citadel during the battle. Instead, he surrendered to Bohemond, probably by earlier arrangement, and so it was Bohemond's banners that flew there. He was openly claiming the city for his own, although he certainly had no real right to it.

Bohemond had no intention of leaving "his" city. Raymond did not want to leave so long as the situation was unresolved. So the Christians stayed at Antioch; they were in poor condition to march anyway. An epidemic broke out in August; its most prominent victim was Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy. He had often acted as a moderating influence on the princes. With his death, there was no one with the authority and prestige to mitigate their quarrels.

Peter Bartholomew continued to be visited by St. Andrew. The details of these visions irritated some among the Crusaders. For example, Peter was told that Antioch should be given to Bohemond, that the city should have a Latin patriarch, and that Bishop Adhemar (who had never believed Peter) would go to hell. Raymond was in an awkward position: possession of the Holy Lance was prestigious and Raymond was convinced it was genuine; at the same time, Peter Bartholomew's visions could be downright embarassing.

Over August and September, a number of the barons rode out from Antioch. They secured various towns and fortresses in the Orontes valley. Some went to Edessa to visit Baldwin. October passed. In November the leaders agreed they should go on to Jerusalem and Raymond at last yielded to Bohemond about Antioch. Another month passed and still they had not left. The common troops now began to exert pressure. They offered leadership of the Crusade to Raymond if he would lead them now. He accepted. A couple of weeks was spent reducing the last major fortress to the south of Antioch, then Raymond led the army southward on 13 January 1099. Seeing him leave, Robert of Normandy and Tancred immediately followed. Godfrey and Robert of Flanders left at the end of February, not wantng to admit that Raymond was their leader. Bohemond refused to budge from Antioch.

The army had now been reduced slightly by the departure of Baldwin to Edessa and more substantially by Bohemond and his Normans to Antioch. Even so, the Crusaders were well over ten thousand, perhaps as many as twenty thousand. The petty emirs along the route generally yielded, agreeing to pay some sort of tribute money. They ran into trouble, though, at Arqa, a town about fifteen miles from Tripoli, which refused to surrender. Godfrey and Robert joined the Crusade again there, but even with the additional men, the city held.

The siege had lasted from 14 February until 5 April, when Peter Bartholomew had another vision, in which St. Andrew said that the city must be taken by storm at once. Now at last, his doubters openly challenged him, declaring he was a fraud and so was the Holy Lance. Peter was furious and demanded to be tested by an ordeal by fire. If he was a fake, he himself obviously believed his visions were genuine.

On 8 April the ordeal was held. Logs were lined up in two parallel rows and were set alight. Peter, holding the Lance high, jumped into the fire and moments later came out the other end. He was terribly burned. He teetered at the edge of the flames and would have fallen back in had not a friend held him up. For twelve days Peter Bartholomew lay in agony, then he died. Those who still believed ih him claimed he had gone through unscathed but had been pushed back into the fire. Raymond still kept the Holy Lance. But much of the army believed it was not genuine.

Siege of Jerusalem

Arqa never fell. Raymond kept the army at the siege another month, but at last on 13 May he reluctantly moved on. The emir of Tripoli sent gifts and kept his city safe. Palestine was under the control of the Fatimids of Egypt and they did not keep troops to guard the province, so the Crusaders passed onward in safety. Beirut, Tyre, Acre, none of these cities offered any resistance and the Crusaders did not try to attack. They turned inland at Jaffa and passed through Ramleh on 3 June. Emissaries from Bethlehem met the army there and persuaded Tancred to come liberate that Christian town from the Turks. He complied and was back the next day.

The main army moved out on 6 June and encamped before Jerusalem on the 7th. The Egyptian commander had made sure the city was well-stocked and had expelled all the Christians from the city. He poisoned the wells around the city and settled in to await rescue from Egypt. The Crusaders numbered about 1500 knights and 12000 foot, an army that the Egyptians could easily overwhelm if they chose.

The Crusaders invested the city, but without siege engines they were unable to do anything effective. The walls were too strong to take by storm, and there was no one on the inside who might betray the city. A general assault on 12 June failed with heavy losses. They had to have siege engines.

Jerusalem is in the middle of a desert. It was over twenty miles to the nearest forests, but the Crusaders had no choice. Robert of Flanders and Tancred went to Samaria and began the work of cutting timber. The process took weeks. News came in early July that the Egyptians were at last on the move; the army had maybe a month before they arrived.

Acting in accordance with yet another vision, this one of Bishop Adhemar himself, the priests ordered a fast for the whole army. Following the fast, on 8 July, the entire army marched in solemn procession around the walls of Jerusalem. The Muslims watching from the walls mocked the Christians, for they were all dressed as penitents and were singing psalms. After the circuit, the army assembled on the Mount of Olives, where Peter the Hermit preached to them, followed by Raymond of Aguilers, then by Arnulf Malecorne. It was a moving experience for everyone.

The Final Assault

The next two days were spent preparing the three siege towers. On 10 July they were rolled into place. They began to bombard the walls. The assault was set for the night of 13-14 July.

All of the 14th was spent simply getting close enough to the walls to attack effectively. Raymond commanded one tower, but he was unable to gain a foothold. Godfrey commanded a second tower (the third was smaller and was used only as a diversion). About mid-day on the 15th, they were able to make a bridge from this tower to the wall. Two Flemish knights--Letold and Gilbert of Tournai--were first across. They were followed closely by Godfrey. As they secured a section of the wall, the Lorrainers were able to bring up scaling ladders, and Tancred was able to follow. Godfrey fought his way to the Gate of the Column to open it to the main army. Tancred meanwhile worked his way toward the Temple and the Dome of the Rock. The Fatimid commander surrendered to Tancred, and his banner was set on top of the mosque.

As the defense collapsed on the north side of the city, Raymond was able at last to break in on the south side. He occupied the Tower of David, next to the Jaffa Gate. The city had fallen, but the fighting went on into the night.

Fall of Jerusalem

There now began an orgy of killing. The Crusaders went on a rampage, killing everyone they met. They went into houses and dragged out the inhabitants to kill them. They stole everything they found. The princes lost all control.

Muslim refugees had taken refuge in the Dome of the Rock, the mosque of al-Aqsa, the one Tancred had taken. Despite his banner flying above, on the morning of the 16th a group of Crusaders broke in and slaughtered everyone inside. Similarly, the Jews of the city fled to their synagogue, only to have the Crusaders set it on fire, killing everyone.

The chroniclers tell of streets running with blood and of horses splashing blood up onto their riders' leggings. Order returned on 17 July not so much because the commanders regained control as there was simply no one left to kill. All the Jews of Jerusalem were dead. All the Muslims were dead. The Christians had been expelled before the siege began. The city was empty of all save its conquerors.

The western sources are briskly uncontrite in their descriptions of the carnage, indicating that the chroniclers were no more dismayed than were the perpetrators. But the Muslim world would never forget or forgive the Crusaders' behavior. Jerusalem was a holy city to the Muslims as much as it was to the Christians. The looting of sacred shrines and the slaughter of innocents confirmed the general Muslim opinion that the Westerners were savage barbarians with no faith at all save in blood and wealth.


The commanders met that Sunday (the 17th) to discuss plans. They gave orders to have the streets cleared of corpses and for the return of local Christians. The question of who should rule in Jerusalem was broached at this meeting, seemingly for the first time. No one could agree on who should be chosen as Patriarch and that decision was postponed.

The leading candidates for a governor were Raymond and Godfrey. The barons first offered to Raymond, who refused, saying that only Christ could be king in Jerusalem. They made the same offer to Godfrey, who showed an unexpected cleverness. He too declined the title of king, but he accepted the offer, taking as his title "Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre". The title of advocatus was a traditional one in northern France. An advocate was one who was given authority over a town or region by its overlord. The advocate acted on his lord's behalf until such time as the lord should return in person. Godfrey was thus able to lay claim to all the temporal authority of being a ruler of Jerusalem without threatening the theoretical superiority of the Church.

Raymond was furious. He holed up in the Tower of David and refused to yield it. He was finally persuaded to give it into the care of a bishop, but as soon as he moved out, the bishop turned it over to Godfrey. Raymond was now sure that everyone was conspiring against him. He left Jerusalem, never to return.

With Raymond gone, Arnulf Malecorne was now chosen as Patriarch of Jerusalem. He was not a particularly good choice. Most of the army liked him, but he banned all rites at the Holy Sepulchre except the Latin, alienating the local Christians, and his moral reputation was not good.

Still, Jerusalem now had its leaders. The First Crusade had been a tremendous success. It was to be the only crusade to succeed in its objectives.

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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.