This narrative concerns only the first crusade, but there
were many, stretching from 1095 until the mid-thirteenth century,
with occasional efforts as late as the 1400s. The textbook gives
a decent overview of the entire phenomenon; this narrative affords
a closer look at the only one of the crusades that was ever successful.
The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II in 1095. The
reason why he did this has long been a cause of debate among
historians. We know that the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus,
had sent letters and an embassy to the West asking for military
aid to combat the Turks in Asia Minor. We know that Urban was
a reforming, activist pope who was looking for some great event
or cause. My own interpretation is that Alexius' very limited
request sparked a grander plan in Urban's mind, which he undertook
without bothering to consult with the emperor or indeed with
very many people at all.
Preaching and Preparation
The events themselves are much clearer than the motivations.
Urban called a church council for November 1095 at Clermont in
southern France. The council was typical of Urban and of the
past generation of reformist popes. It was a kind of court at
which proclamations were read and papal policy could be made
known. Here, too, Urban heard the many complaints and petitions
that always attended a court.
But this council was unusual in one regard. Urban announced
that he intended to close the council with an important public
speech. Everyone was invited to this speech, which was to be
held in the cathedral.
This cause a good deal of local excitement, for it was known
that Urban intended to speak regarding the Holy Land. Everyone
knew about Jerusalem, although they had only the foggiest of
ideas of its location and situation. But they knew well that
Jerusalem was in the hands of the Muslims, and that the Turks
were a new and fearsome presence in the region.
The word spread and when the day came, the crowd, which included
many laymen, was too large for the cathedral. So the speech was
moved outside. The papal throne was set on a platform in an empty
field outside the city walls, and the crowd assembled there.
Urban was, by all reports, a powerful and gifted speaker,
and he brought all his rhetorical skills to bear. His speech
is recorded in at least four sources; I will give a conglomerate
The noble race of the Franks must aid their co-religionists
in the East. The infidel Turks are advancing into the heart of
eastern Christendom (which they were: Byzantines had lost Asia
Minor at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071; these were the Seljuk
Turks - new converts to Islam and full of militant zeal).
Christians are being oppressed and attacked; the holy places
are being defiled; and Jerusalem itself is groaning under the
Saracen yoke. The Holy Sepulchre is in Muslim hands.
The West must march in defense of the Holy Land. All should
go, rich and poor alike. God himself will lead them, for they
will be doing His work.
There will be absolution and remission of sins for all who
die here they are poor and miserable sinners - there they will
be rich and happy, true allies of God. Let them march next summer.
God wills it! (deus vult)
Reaction to Urban's Speech
Upon the completion of the speech, the local bishop immediately
knelt before the throne and begged permission to be the first
pilgrim. Urban presented him with a cross of red cloth to be
sewed onto his clothes as a sign. Hundreds followed on the spot,
in such numbers that the town merchants ran out of red cloth.
The Council next day granted privileges and protections to
those who take the cross, and these were confirmed by papal letters.
Word of the event swept across Europe, and many knights took
The vow itself was quite simple. A crusader was technically
a pilgrim, and his vow was to visit the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
But both the Holy Land and the way there was in the hands of
enemies, so the crusader went armed, ready to do battle and with
the blessing of the Church. This set the crusader apart from
the usual sort of pilgrim.
The crusader was legally protected from foreclosure on debts,
and from attack by Christian enemies. Should he die on his pilgrimage,
he was assured of complete remission of sins; that is, he would
not have to suffer in purgatory for them. Should he survive,
glory and praise would be his -- and, with a little luck, fortune
It was a potent tool and it roused thousands. It mobilized
far more warriors than Alexius Comnenus wanted or desired, and
for a purpose well beyond his interests. But it went even further,
for the crusading call of Urban struck a responsive chord in
every level of medieval society, with results that surprised
The People's Crusade
The call for crusade was spread by letter among the clergy
and to the people in general by preaching. Urban had said that
rich and poor alike should go, though by that he certainly meant
only that a knight should not plead poverty as an excuse. He
cannot have meant that poor peasants ought to walk away from
their farms and march off to Jerusalem.
But that is exactly what happened. Preachers of the crusade
emerged from numerous sources whose constant message was that
all should go and God shall lead them. What need was there of
military skill in such a holy cause? Moreover, the nobles of
Europe were laggard; Urban had called for them to leave in the
summer of 1096, but that summer came and went and no army was
But the commoners did not delay. One of the most influential
leaders was a hermit called Peter, who roused thousands to his
cause. From Flanders he moved up the Rhine River valley, gathering
strength and joined by other preachers with their forces. By
the time he reached Cologne, there were 15,000 crusaders. Among
these were a number of poor knights who added at least some military
skill as leaven, one of whom was Walter the Penniless, a knight
who joined forces with Peter at Cologne.
Of Armies and Mobs
Other leaders and groups were hardly more than mobs. Emich
of Leiningen and Volkmar, led groups that moved through the Rhenish
towns murdering hundreds of Jews and looting their possessions.
These bands travelled separately from Peter and Walter's army.
Their ill-discipline brought them to a bad end in Hungary. There
they tried the same bullying and plundering tactics and soon
found themselves facing a Hungarian army. The crusaders were
completely routed and disbanded.
The largest force belonged to Peter and Walter, and this
army entered Byzantine territory in the summer of 1096. It was
not at all what the emperor had envisioned. Alarmed by reports
of looting and pitched battles, Alexius sent an army to escort
the crusaders. Disagreements escalated to conflict and by the
time he reached Constantinople, Peter had lost a quarter of his
The crusaders behaved badly in Byzantine territory, had little
money, and were embarassing and unwelcome guests. Alexius got
rid of them as quickly as he could, having them ferried across
the Bosporus in August 1096.
There the army was delayed while Peter the Hermit tried to
gain Byzantine backing for a march on Jerusalem, but that hope
was vain. In October 1096 a French force won booty on a raid.
A German contingent tried to imitate their success and became
trapped in a stronghold at Xerigordon without water. When the
main army tried to help them, it marched into a well-prepared
Most were killed. Many more were enslaved, and only a handful
(about 3,000 out of a force of 20,000) managed to escape. Peter,
still in Constantinople, learned that his great armed pilgrimage
of God's poor was over and that he was without an army.
That was the end of the so-called People's Crusade. The real
crusader army had not yet arrived.
The Leaders of the First Crusade
The First Crusade proper was supposed to have a churchman
as its leader. Pope Urban selected Bishop Adhemar of Puy for
this role, but he was generally overshadowed by the lay lords
Foremost among them was Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine.
He was the perfect material for legend: a descendant of Charlemagne,
Godfrey was a good warrior and a pious Christian. Later chroniclers
would turn him into the perfect knight.
His younger brother went, too: Baldwin of Boulogne. Baldwin
was a contrast with his brother. Where Godfrey was personable,
Baldwin was cold and aloof. He had a taste for luxury and power,
and an arrogance that did not warm others to him. He was meant
for a career in the Church, but that did not suit his taste.
More important than either of these two was Count Raymond
IV of Toulouse; at least, he was more important in his own estimation.
He was the oldest, being near sixty when he set out. He had served
in the Reconquista in Spain and so had the credentials as a soldier
of Christ. Well-mannered and cultured, Raymond could well have
been the revered leader that Godfrey became, but he was greedy,
vain and obstinate. His grasping nature made others wary of him
even though they valued his leadership.
The last major player was Bohemond of Tarentum, a Norman
of southern Italy. He was the best commander and politician of
the group, and he had the most experience with Eastern affairs.
Bohemond had invaded Byzantine territory fifteen years before
under his uncle's leadership.
Bohemond and Baldwin almost certainly were setting out in
part to win new lands for themselves. Godfrey may or may not
have: he sold some estates before setting out, but he kept most
of his traditional family lands. Raymond would never have given
up Toulouse, and he surely did not need more honors, but his
actions once in the East show he must have been thinking about
the possibilities, at least.
These were not the only lords who set out with their own
armies, but I'll restrict the narrative to these five.
Relations with Constantinople
Alexius Comnenus wanted warriors, but he wanted to control
them himself and to employ them pursuing his goals, not theirs.
The arrival of the People's Crusade had been unfortunate and
embarassing, but the arrival of the real crusaders did not much
impress the emperor, either.
The crusaders behaved badly, arguing with Byzantine merchants
and getting into fights with the locals. They were loud, rude,
demanding, and very well armed. Alexius needed them, but he found
that he had to try to control them without angering them.
The sticking point came when Alexius insisted the crusaders
swear an oath of allegiance to him. They lands they conquered
that had been under Byzantine control were to be returned to
him. Anyone gaining title to new lands were to become his vassals.
If these barbarians were going to become his neighbors, he wanted
to make sure they were not independent of Constantinople.
Most of the crusaders refused outright. The Greeks, they
said, had lost their lands to the Turks. If the Franks won the
lands from the Turks, then those lands would be Frankish by right
of conquest. Negotiations were delicate if not always polite.
In the end, only Raymond of Toulouse took the oath, though
Bohemond and others promised they would do so. The stay in Constantinople
created a rift between the Greeks and the Franks that never fully
healed. The Franks remained suspicious, the Greeks remained contemptuous,
but both needed the other.
The crusader army finally crossed into Asia Minor in March
1097. Operating together for the time being, crusaders and Byzantines
lay siege to Nicaea, the capital of the Turk.
The Byzantines took the city by stealth one night. The Franks
woke the next morning to find Greek flags flying from the city
walls. The crusaders were furious because they had been denied
booty, prisoners for ransom, and glory.
This incident furthered the bad feelings toward Alexius,
but Christendom was overjoyed at the victory - Nicaea was a holy
place and its return to Christian hands boded well. The victory
at Nicaea was also important because it was from this time that
the Italian cities began to take the movement seriously, and
to offer aid.
The crusaders faced as decision about routes after their
victory at Nicaea. The Greeks wanted them to proceed down the
Aegeancoast, where they could be supplied by sea. The Franks,
however,chose to travel the inland route. This was riskier, for
it played to the strengths of the Turks, but it had the advantage
that there would be no long sieges. The coastline was filled
with well-defended cities and progress was sure to be slow. The
Greeks wanted this route because it meant winning back valuable
resources. When the Franks chose the inland route, the emperor
refused to risk his army in what he regarded as a foolish venture.
So the crusaders went on without Byzantine assistance.
The interior of Turkey is arid and open, the perfect sort
of place for the highly mobile Turks. But they were still disorganized
and the crusader army advanced some distance before Kilij Arslan
was able to meet them.
The two armies met in July 1097 near the town of Dorylaeum
in Anatolia. The crusader army was rather strung out along the
line of march, with Bohemond and his Normans in the van. He encountered
the main Turkish army near the end of the day. Bohemond's small
force was immediately surrounded, but the Turks waited for dawn
They attacked thinking they had surrounded the entire crusader
force, and they were confident of victory. After all, they remembered
how easily they had defeated the previous Frankish army (Peter
the Hermit's rabble). But these Franks (the Arabs and Turks alike
persisted in calling all Europeans Franks, regardless of their
nationality) these Franks turned out to be another matter altogether.
The Normans fought on foot. Fully armored, despite the July
sun, they were protected from the light arrows of the Turks,
who used their usual tactic of swooping in upon the enemy, discharging
a volley of arrows, then riding away again.
Reinforcements begin arriving around noon. The first to arrive
was Godfrey of Bouillon, in the comapany of about fifty knights.Godfrey
took one look at the situation and charged. He broke through
the Turkish lines and arrived at Bohemond's side.
Now they were both surrounded. As the afternoon wore on,
other contingents arrived and followed the same tactic. While
each group became alike surrounded, each group also added to
the strength of the defenders and inflicted heavier and heavier
casualties upon the Turks. Fighting became fierce.
One of the last to arrive was the good bishop of Le Puy,
Adhemar. He sized up the situation and decided on a different
course. He took his men around the battlefield and proceeded
to loot theTurkish camp. When the Turks saw their camp going
up in flames, it unnerved them and they at last broke and fled.
This was all the proof any of the crusaders needed that their
armed pilgrimage was indeed ordained by God. They had met a superior
enemy and had triumphed. Nothing could stop them.
Dorylaeum instilled a new respect on both sides for their
enemies. The crusaders discovered that the Turks were honorablewarriors
and thought it a pity that they were not Christian. TheTurks,
for their part, revised their estimate of the fighting ability
of the Franks and generally tried to avoid further battle.
As the crusaders approached Syria,
they were approached by Christians from the city of Edessa. These
men begged the crusaders to turn aside from Jerusalem, or at
least to send some portion of their army, to rescue their city,
which was in the hands of the Turks. Edessa had long been a Christian
city, had only recently fallen to the infidel, and its citizens
were suffering greatly.
Most of the crusaders insisted that Jerusalem must take precedence,
promising to attend to Edessa once the Holy City had been freed.
Baldwin, however, agreed to go. This caused much consternation
among the crusaders, who said they needed every knight they could
get, but Baldwin was determined.
So, he turned aside from the main crusading army, and freed
the city, and was adopted by the grateful Christian ruler. Within
months, however, Baldwin had deposed the count and claimed the
title for himself, which he very likely had planned to do from
Thus the County of Edessa became the first of the crusader
states, and Baldwin of Boulogne its first ruler. Although he
had promised to go to Jerusalem as soon as he had liberated Edessa,
he in fact did not go until after Jerusalem had fallen to the
crusaders. Baldwin is one of the clearest examples we have of
a knight who went on the First Crusade in order to win lands
Antioch In northern Syria, twelve
miles inland from the coast, stands the city of Antioch. It was
a powerful fortress, with four hundred towers along its miles
of walls, and a citadel that stood a thousand feet above the
town. The crusaders reached the city late in 1097 and settled
in for a siege. Antioch was vital to any advance further south;
despite its strength, it had to be taken.
Even with such a clear danger, and even with the crusaders
firmly fixed in one spot, the Turks could not quiet their internal
rivalries long enough to do the Franks in. Instead, month after
month dragged by. Both besiegers and besieged faced starvation,
but in June 1098 the city finally fell when the Franks were able
to bribe someone on the inside to leave a gate open.
The city was a shambles after the long siege, and there was
still no food. The crusaders barely had time to get themselves
organized before a new Turkish army showed up, under the command
of Kerbogha. Now the crusaders were the besieged.
Their position was immediately desperate. The entire surrounding
countryside had long been scoured clean of supplies. They city
itself of course was empty of food. The walls stood and the gates
held, but the defenders themselves had little hope.
At this point, still in
June 1098, something extraordinary, something miraculous occurred.
A monk named Peter Bartholomew reported that he had been visited
by an angel who had shown him where the Holy Lance was buried.
This was the Roman soldier's spear that pierced Jesus's side
as he hung on the cross. The lance was actually located in a
church right there in Antioch!
The Holy Lance
The crusaders divided almost immediately between those who
believed Peter's claims and those who rejected them. He was questioned
carefully by Adhemar and others, and while the bishop was skeptical,
Peter was believed by Count Raymond, whose support proved decisive.
The alleged location was at a nearby church. Men went there
and, directed by Peter Bartholomew, began digging in the floor
of the church. They dug some distance down, but found nothing.
Peter himself went down to dig and, not long after, he pulled
out of the ground the head of a spear.
News that the Holy Lance had indeed been found raced through
the city. Such a miracle surely portended victory, and plans
were made on the spot to sally out to meet the Turks.
There were still skeptics, of course, but in the general
enthusiasm, they remained silent. The Christians gathered their
forces, set a day for the attack, and prepared. The Holy Lance
was affixed to a pole. During the actual battle it was carried
before the Christians as a sort of banner.
The day came, in early July, and the Christians attacked
with a furious cavalry charge, the infantry managing as best
it could. The Turks fought briefly, then abandoned the field.
In truth, Kerbogha had been able to raise an army only by dangling
the prospects of easy victory before the eyes of his emirs. Once
it became obvious that there would be serious fighting, the Arab
princes faded away and the Turkish princes followed.
To the Christians, of course, this was plain evidence of
the miraculous power of the Holy Lance. It was time to move on
On to Jerusalem
Settlement of Antioch
Yet, it was not until January 1099 that the crusaders finally
set out, and even then it was at reduced strength. Antioch had
been won from the infidel and someone was needed to rule it.
Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond of Tarentum maneuvered for the
prize, but it was Bohemond who won it. Antioch became the second
crusader state, and Bohemond remained there with his Normans.
The End of a Holy Man
The march southward was difficult
and took months more. Several towns fell to the crusaders, some
requiring a formal siege to win. Peter Bartholomew began experiencing
regular visits from the angel, who advised him on all manner
of details regarding the advance. At one siege, Peter even began
giving military advice.
This was too much for his skeptics. Peter's visions were
far too convenient and too martial, and he was openly accused
of lying. Challenged, Peter offered to undergo ordeal by fire
to prove that he was divinely guided. Being in Biblical lands,
they chose a Biblical ordeal: Peter would pass through a fiery
furnace and would be protected by an angel of God.
The crusaders constructed a path between walls of flame;
Peter would walk down the path between the flames. He did so,
and was horribly burned. He died after suffering in agony for
twelve days. There was no more said about the Holy Lance, although
one faction continued to hold that Peter was genuine and that
this was indeed the true Lance.
finally arrived before Jerusalem in the evening of 7 June 1099.
Jerusalem is a city on a hill or bluff, in the middle of wide
deserts. There are pools and springs around the city, but beyond
that both water and good forests are miles distant, making this
a difficult city to besiege for long.
The Siege of Jerusalem
Jerusalem was held by Arab, not Turkish, defenders. Inside
the city, too, were a large number of Jews and Christians, who
were tolerated by their Arab rulers. But Jerusalem was not well
defended, and no Arab lord from Damascus or Cairo or Bagdad was
willing to come to its rescue.
The crusaders besieged Jerusalem for a month, and were in
turn assaulted by wind and heat. They very quickly managed to
pollute the best water sources, thereby rendering themselves
even more miserable. Siege engines could be built only by dragging
great logs from the distant mountains, harassed by Arab marauders
all the while.
It was discouraging and more than discouraging: why had God
granted them such victories, only to deny them the final prize?
The priests in the army had an answer: God would not allow
them to liberate the city because the army was guilty of great
sins. There was gambling and prostitution and theft and worse
rampant in the ranks of the crusaders, and such men could not
liberate the Holy Sepulcher.
So, early in July, the Christian army underwent a three day
fast. At the end of it, on 8 July, they marched around the city
on a footpath in a complete circuit, bishops and priests in front,
with crosses and relics, then princes and knights, then soldiers
and pilgrims. All were barefoot, and they sang psalms as they
went. And the Muslims jeered from the walls. The penitent crusaders
then ascended the Mount of Olives and listened to inspired sermons.
The assault began night
of 13-14 July, 1099. The attack came from several quarters, although
they really didn't have an army numerous enough for this type
of attack. Even so, their eagerness carried the day. Around noon
on the 15th, Godfrey of Bouillon carried the wall at one point
and the crusaders were inside. Not long after, Raymond of Toulouse
likewise broke in.
The Fall of Jerusalem
What ensued was an orgy of slaughter. The crusaders killed
all they met, regardless of age, sex or religion. The killing
went on all that night and through the next day and into the
next night. Order was not restored until the 16th of July. When
the killing was over, all Muslims and Jews had either been killed
or driven out. The crusaders had liberated Jerusalem, but the
streets ran with blood and their prize was very nearly a corpse.
The Muslims would never forget the sack of Jerusalem, a city
as sacred to their religion as to the Christians (Jerusalem is
where Mohammed ascended to Heaven). This was the crowning event
in a string of incidents that convinced the Arabs that these
Franks were ferocious barbarians. Any Arab leader seeking to
rally his people against the Christians had only to remind them
The crusaders were now in possession
of Jerusalem plus two other states. What next? The representative
of the pope was Bishop Adhemar, but he had died during the siege
of Antioch. The crusaders chose Godfrey to be king of Jerusalem,
but Godfrey declared that only Christ could be king in that city
and chose instead the title of Defender of the Holy Sepulcher.
Many of the crusaders visited the holy sites, including trips
as far afield as the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, then
they returned home to Europe. Within a few months, all Godfrey
had left was about fifty knights.
News went back to a joyous Europe, but Urban II himself died
on 29 July without ever knowing the results of his crusade. There
were immediate calls for reinforcements for the Holy Land, and
three more armies set out. All three separately met disaster
in 1101 in Anatolia; only a handful reached the Holy Land.
The one crusading leader
who was without a realm was Raymond of Toulouse. He had been
outmaneuvered at Antioch, and was not popular enough to be chosen
for Jerusalem. Instead, he turned his attention to the cities
along the coast, and in particular upon Tripoli. Raymond died
in 1105, but his Provencals took the city in 1109, forming the
fourth and final Crusader state.
The Latin Kingdom
Godfrey died in 1100. His kinsman, Baldwin, was called down
from Edessa. A papal representative crowned Baldwin King of Jerusalem
on Christmas Day, 1100. Edessa was already his, but it was a
separate state. Antioch and Tripoli in theory recognized Jerusalem
as their superior, but in actual practice they went their own
way. The Christians were no better than the Muslims at creating
stable, central governments.
In sharp contrast to Europe, the nobles in Outremer (literally,
beyond the sea) mainly lived in the cities. They soon set to
work building castles, but the greater number of "Franks"
were city dwellers. The countryside remained Arab Muslim (or,
certain areas, Syrian Christian). The Franks were always a tiny
minority, but their military prowess was respected and feared.
Still, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem survived as much through
Muslim disunity as through Frankish arms. Time and again the
Muslims produced a great leader who united them (or some of them,
at least) -- Zengi, Nuradin, Saladin, Baybars, Kulavan -- and
every time these leaders were able to push the Christians back.
But, every time save the final, rivals within the Muslim world
emerged and the great leaders had to turn their attentions elsewhere,
and Outremer was preserved for another generation.
Moreover, Europe produced
more crusader armies, which sometimes served to recover lost
ground, to bolster positions, and to dismay or at least distress
the Muslims. The formally numbered crusades set out in these
years: Second Crusade, 1147; Third Crusade, 1189; Fourth Crusade,
1204; Fifth Crusade, 1217; Sixth Crusade, 1228; Seventh Crusade,
1249; Eighth Crusade, 1270. The last outpost of Outremer, the
city of Acre, fell in 1291.
Even after the final collapse of Outremer, crusades continued
to be preached. Among the more notable were an expedition against
Egypt in 1334, and crusades that ended in terrible defeats at
Nicopolis in 1391 and at Varna in 1444.
And these are only the more notable. All through the 12th
and 13th centuries, smaller efforts were undertaken by individuals
or groups. Crusades were preached against other enemies as well,
including the pagan Slavs in northeastern Europe, the Muslims
in Spain, heretics in southern France and in Bohemia, and even
against political enemies of the popes in Italy.
But crusading had long since ceased to have the power to
move all Europe to action. Crusades, even by the mid-13th century,
were undertaken largely at the instigation of one or two princes.
The crusades of 1249 and 1270, for example, were essentialy the
crusades of King Louis IX of France. A king or great prince did
most of the financing and raising of arms, and the Church merely
gave its approval and support.
It is common for textbooks to talk about the results
of the crusades: increased contact with the East, opening up
of markets, Arab influence on styles and customs, changes in
military practice. While all these certainly came about at one
time or another, crusades were preached from the end of the eleventh
century on into the sixteenth century. One has to be cautious
in assigning any sort of result to a movement that covers five
Results of the
Crusading activity simply became a part of European culture,
the idea of making war on the enemies of the Church became part
of European thinking. In a sense, the religious wars of the Protestant
Reformation are the logical result of this mentality; by the
time Europeans had exhausted themselves in internal religious
war, we hear no more about wars against the infidel.
If we can assign specific results anywhere, it must be to
the First Crusade. By creating formal states in the Holy Land,
the First Crusade created a tie between Europe and the Near East.
It was from this crusade that the consequences listed in the
first paragraph above resulted, and that is why this crusade
has received the attention of this narrative.