They assembled from all sides, one after another, with arms and horses and all the panoply of war. Full of ardour and enthusiasm, they thronged every highway; and with these warriors came a host of civilians, outnumbering the grains of sand on the sea shore or the stars in the heavens, carrying palms in their hands and bearing crosses on their shoulders. There were women and children too, who had left their own countries. Like tributaries joining a river, they streamed from all directions towards us.
The Alexiad, X, 5
Some time towards the end of 1094, Alexius Comnenus received an embassy from Rome. Urban II had now been seven years on the pontifical throne, years during which he had worked hard to improve relations between Constantinople and the Holy See. Some efforts had already been made on both sides to re-establish contact after the ridiculous and quite unnecessary schism of 1054,' notably on the part of the Emperor Michael and Pope Gregory VII; but on hearing of Michael's deposition Gregory had summarily excommunicated the usurper Nice-phorus Botaneiates, and in 1081 he had extended the sentence to Alexius. It is doubtful whether the ban of the Church caused the basileus much concern - although he was a deeply religious man, he had scant respect for the Pope's authority in matters spiritual - but such a gesture hardly made for good relations, and his esteem for Gregory had sunk still further when he heard of his alliance with the hated Duke of Apulia. The Pope, meanwhile, had been similarly appalled to learn that Henry IV was in the pay of Alexius, and by the time of his death in 1085 relations between Rome and Constantinople were as bad as they had ever been.
When Urban had succeeded to the papal throne three years later he
1 See Byzantium: The Apogee, pp. 316-22.
had been at first too preoccupied with his own affairs to bother overmuch with the Empire of the East. As a result of the struggle between Pope Gregory and Henry IV, Rome was still in the hands of an anti-Pope; it was five years before Urban succeeded, by patient diplomacy, in installing himself at the Lateran. Already in 1089, however, he had started the reconciliation by lifting the excommunication on Alexius; the Emperor, who had previously closed all the Latin churches in Constantinople, had responded by opening them again and by calling a synod which decreed that the Pope's name had been omitted from the diptychs1 'not by any canonical decision but, as it were, from carelessness' - an assurance that can have deceived nobody but at least showed a measure of goodwill. Letters were exchanged; theological and liturgical differences were discussed with a mildness almost unparalleled in Byzantine Church history; and thus the breach was gradually healed, until by the time the papal embassy reached Constantinople Emperor and Pope were once again on genuinely friendly terms.
The legates carried with them an invitation to send representatives to a great council of the Western Church, to be held in Piacenza the following March; and Alexius accepted at once. Most of the proceedings, he knew, would be concerned with domestic matters - simony, the adultery of King Philip of France, clerical marriage and the like - which would interest him only insofar as the views expressed might differ from those held by the Orthodox; but the council might also provide him with the opportunity he had long sought, to appeal for Western aid against the Turks. The situation in Anatolia was in fact a good deal more promising than it had been at any time since Manzikert: the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum had largely disintegrated, and the various Emirs who now held effective power were far more occupied with their own internecine squabbles - many of them carefully engineered by Byzantine agents - than with a united stand against the Empire. For the first time, the reconquest of Asia Minor seemed a distinct possibility. But until that should happen the Emperor remained desperately short of manpower, dependent on foreign mercenaries - most of them barbarians of varying degrees of reliability - on his largely Anglo-Saxon Varangian Guard, and on the occasional Western soldiers of fortune who took temporary service in his army. All these together were just capable of guarding his long frontiers to the west and north, and for keeping watch against
1 These were lists of names - read aloud during the Eucharist - of those dignitaries, living and dead, upon whom the divine blessing was particularly sought.
further Norman incursions from South Italy; but for a concerted campaign against the Seljuks they remained hopelessly inadequate. What he needed was military assistance from the West, on a considerable scale; and Piacenza promised to be just the place to say so.
The Byzantine spokesmen did their work well. Sensibly, in view of the circumstances, they laid their emphasis less on the prizes to be won -though we can be sure that these did not go unmentioned - than on the religious aspects of the appeal: the sufferings of the Christian communities of the East, the submergence of Asia Minor beneath the Turkish tide, the presence of the infidel armies at the very gates of Constantinople and the appalling danger they represented, not only to the Empire of the East but to all Christendom. The listening delegates were impressed -none more, perhaps, than Pope Urban himself. From Piacenza he travelled to Cremona to receive the homage of Conrad, Henry IV's rebellious son, and thence across the Alps to his native France; and, as his long and arduous journey progressed, a scheme gradually took shape in his mind - a scheme far more ambitious than any that Alexius Comnenus had ever dreamed of: for nothing less than a Holy War, in which the combined forces of Europe would march against the Saracen.
Piacenza, he had decided, was only a prelude. When he arrived in France he called another council, larger and far more important, to meet at Clermont1 on 18 November. It would last for ten days, most of which would be taken up with routine Church business; on Tuesday, 27 November, however, there would be a public session open to everyone, at which, it was announced, the Pope would make a statement of immense significance to all Christendom. This promise had precisely the effect that Urban had intended. So great were the crowds that poured into the little town to hear the Pontiff speak that the cathedral was abandoned, and the papal throne was erected instead on a high platform set in an open field outside the eastern gate.2
The text of Urban's speech has not come down to us, and the four contemporary reports that have are different enough to make it clear that none of them has any serious claims to accuracy. The Pope seems to have begun by repeating the points made by Alexius's delegates at
1 Clermont — which merged with its neighbour Montferrand in 1650 and has been known ever since as Clermont-Ferrand - appears at first sight to be depressingly industrialized and is consequently ignored by most tourists. This is a pity, since it boasts a magnificent thirteenth-century cathedral of the local black lava (the whole town is built over an extinct volcano) and a superb romanesquc church, Notre-Dame-du-Port, two hundred years older still.
2 The site is now occupied by the Place Delille.
Piacenza, developing their arguments and endorsing their appeal; unlike the Byzantines, however, he then turned to the plight of Jerusalem,1 where Christian pilgrims were being regularly robbed and persecuted by the city's Turkish overlords. Such a state of affairs, he declared, could no longer continue; it was the duty of Western Christendom to march to the rescue of the Christian East. All those who agreed to do so 'from devotion only, not from advantage of honour or gain', would die absolved, their sins remitted. There must be the minimum of delay: the great Crusading army must be ready to march by the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August 1096.
The response to his impassioned appeal was more enthusiastic than Urban can have dared to hope. Led by Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, several hundred people - priests and monks, noblemen and peasants together - knelt before his throne and pledged themselves to take the Cross. The First Crusade was under way.
Alexius Comnenus on the other hand, when he heard of the proceedings at Clermont, was appalled. A crusade such as Urban had preached was the last thing he had had in mind. To him as to his subjects, there was nothing new or exciting about a war with the infidel; Byzantium had been waging one, on and off, for the best part of five hundred years. As for Jerusalem, it had formerly been part of his Empire - to which, so far as he was concerned, it still properly belonged - and he fully intended to win it back if he could; but that was a task for his imperial army, not an obligation on Christendom in general. Now at last the Anatolian horizons were brightening and there seemed to be a real chance of regaining his lost territory; but instead of being allowed to do so in his own way, and in his own time, he was faced with the prospect of perhaps hundreds of thousands of undisciplined Western brigands pouring across his borders, constantly demanding food while almost certainly refusing to recognize any authority but their own. He needed mercenaries, not Crusaders.
Meanwhile, he did everything he could to limit the potential damage. In the hopes of preventing the rabble armies from ravaging the countryside and plundering the local inhabitants he ordered huge stocks of provisions to be accumulated at Durazzo and regular points along the Via
1 Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands since its first capture by the Caliph Omar in 638, but for most of the intervening period Christian pilgrims had been freely admitted and allowed to worship as and where they wished, without let or hindrance. The city had been taken by the Seljuk Turks in 1077.
Egnatia, while each party on arrival was to be met by a detachment of Pecheneg military police - presumably survivors from Levunium -and escorted to the capital. These precautions taken, he could only sit back and await the coming invasion; and the arrival of the first wave -preceded by a voracious swarm of locusts, from which the soothsayers of Constantinople drew their own conclusions - confirmed his direst fears.
Peter the Hermit was not in truth a hermit at all; he was a fanatical itinerant monk from the neighbourhood of Amiens, ragged and malodorous, and yet possessed of a personal magnetism that was both curious and compelling. Preaching the Crusade throughout northern France and Germany, he had quickly attracted a following of some forty thousand. It included large numbers of women and children, many of whom -confusing the Old Jerusalem with the New - believed that he would literally be leading them into that land flowing with milk and honey of which their priests had told them; but whereas the expeditions that were to follow were to be led and largely financed by the nobility, Peter's army was — apart from a few minor German knights - composed essentially of French and German peasants and their families. Somehow, this straggling and unwieldy company made its way across Europe, without serious mishap as far as the Hungarian town of Semlin - the modern Zemun - which faces Belgrade across the Sava river. There, however, the troubles began. A dispute said to have arisen over a pair of shoes led to a riot, in the course of which Peter's men - though almost certainly against his wishes - stormed the citadel and killed four thousand Hungarians. Crossing the river to Belgrade, they pillaged and set fire to the city. At Nish they attempted the same thing again; but this time Nicetas, the Byzantine governor of Bulgaria, sent in his own mounted troops. Against a trained and disciplined force, the Crusaders were powerless. Many of them were killed, many more taken prisoner. Of the forty thousand who had started out, a good quarter were lost by the time the party reached Sardica (Sofia).1
Thereafter there were no more incidents; nor - surprisingly - were there recriminations. The expedition, it was felt, had suffered enough for its misdoings - of which its leader himself and the vast majority of his followers had been in any case totally innocent - and was received graciously at Constantinople when it arrived on 1 August, Peter being
1 Numbers are notoriously uncertain in medieval history. The chroniclers invariably exaggerate; never, under any circumstances, do they agree. The above figures are taken from Albert of Aix (I, 9-12), who is probably more reliable than most.
even summoned to an audience with the Emperor. A single conversation with him, and a glance at his followers, was however enough to convince Alexius that, once in Anatolia and confronted by the Seljuks, this so-called army would not stand a chance. In other circumstances he might have forbidden Peter to continue so suicidal a journey; but from the outer suburbs in which the Crusaders were encamped - the rank and file were allowed through the gates only in small, strictly-controlled parties of sightseers — complaints were already pouring in of robberies, rapes and lootings. Clearly the army could not be allowed to remain; and since it refused to return whence it had come it must continue on its way. On 6 August the whole force was ferried across the Bosphorus under heavy escort and left to look after itself.
The end of the story can be quickly told. At Nicomedia - now Izmit -a mere fifty miles from the straits, the French and the German sections quarrelled and separated, a smaller Italian contingent siding with the Germans. Both sections then continued around the Gulf of Nicomedia to the village of Cibotus, a few miles east of the modern Yalova. With this as their base, they settled down to ravage the local countryside, the French penetrating as far as the walls of Nicaea itself - by now the Seljuk capital - killing, raping and occasionally torturing1 the local inhabitants, all of whom were Christian Greeks. Their success aroused the jealousy of the Germans, who pushed well beyond Nicaea - confining their bestiality, however, to the Muslim communities - and captured a castle known as Xerigordon. It proved to be their downfall. Xerigordon was set high on a hill, its only water supplies outside the walls; so that when at the end of September the Seljuk army laid siege to the castle the defenders were doomed. For a week they held out; on the eighth day, by which time they were drinking not just the blood of their horses and donkeys but even each other's urine, they surrendered. Those who apostatized had their lives spared and were sent off into captivity; the rest were massacred.
When the news reached Cibotus it caused something approaching panic; and morale was not improved by reports arriving soon afterwards that the Turks were advancing on the camp. Some advised that no action could be taken till the return of Peter, who had gone to Constantinople for discussions; but he gave no sign of coming, and as the enemy continued to approach it became clear that a pitched battle was inevitable.
1 The story that they roasted Christian babies on spits can probably be discounted, though it was widely believed at the time.
On 21 October, the entire Crusading army of some twenty thousand men marched out of Cibotus - straight into a Turkish ambush. A sudden hail of arrows stopped it in its tracks; the cavalry was flung back on to the infantry, and within a few minutes the whole host was in headlong flight back to the camp, the Seljuks in pursuit. For those who had remained at Cibotus - the old men, the women and children and the sick - there was little chance. A few lucky ones managed to take refuge in an old castle on the seashore, where they barricaded themselves in and somehow survived, as did a number of young girls and boys whom the Turks appropriated for their own purposes. The rest were slaughtered. The People's Crusade was over.
The rabble army that had followed Peter the Hermit across Europe in the summer of 1096, only to be annihilated on the plains of western Asia Minor a few months later, was in no way typical of the armies of the First Crusade. Over the next nine months Alexius Comnenus was to find himself the unwilling host to perhaps another seventy or eighty thousand men, and a fair number of women, led by some of the richest and most powerful feudal princes of the West. The challenges presented by this horde - economic, logistic and military, but above all diplomatic — were unparalleled in Byzantine history; the Empire was fortunate indeed in having at its head during this most critical period a man possessed of sufficient tact and intelligence to meet them, with what proved to be a quite extraordinary measure of success.
The basic problem was one of trust - or rather the lack of it. Alexius simply did not believe in the high Christian motives professed by most of the leaders of the Crusade. His unhappy experience of Roussel of Bailleul and later of Robert Guiscard had convinced him that the Normans at least were out for what they could get - ideally the Empire itself but, failing that, their own independent principalities in the East. This latter objective did not worry him unduly: a few Christian buffer-states between himself and the Saracen might prove to be no bad thing. The important points so far as he was concerned were, first, that such principalities should not be founded on territory that properly belonged to the Empire and, second, that their princes should acknowledge him as their suzerain. Feudalism in Western Europe was, he knew, based on solemn oaths of fealty; he therefore resolved to demand such an oath from all the leaders who should pass through Constantinople in respect of any conquests that they might make in the future.
The first of these leaders, Hugh of Vermandois, was the younger brother of King Philip I of France. He appeared in Constantinople in early November 1096, severely shaken by a disastrous shipwreck in the Adriatic; and after Alexius had loaded him with rich presents, willingly swore the oath required of him. The next two, however, proved somewhat less tractable. They were Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, and his brother Baldwin of Boulogne - who, as a younger son without a patrimony, had brought his wife and children with him and was determined to carve out a kingdom for himself in the East. With them were many prominent knights from northern France and the Low Countries, together with a large and well-trained army. They travelled via Hungary, with no serious mishap until they reached Selymbria1 on the Marmara where, for reasons unclear, morale suddenly broke down and the army ravaged the surrounding countryside for a week; but the brothers were finally able to reassert their authority and arrived two days before Christmas near the present Eyiip on the upper reaches of the Golden Horn, where they were required by the imperial authorities to pitch their camp.
A day or two later, Hugh of Vermandois arrived as a special emissary from Alexius, with an invitation to an audience at the Palace of Blachernae to take the necessary oath. Godfrey categorically refused, pointing out that in return for his Dukedom he had already sworn fealty to the Western Emperor Henry IV; besides, he had by this time heard of the catastrophe that had befallen Peter's army, which the few survivors were openly attributing to Byzantine treachery. Alexius, now seriously concerned, reduced the provisions that he had made available to the Crusaders' camp; but when Baldwin began raiding the neighbouring suburbs he was obliged to give in, and so the stalemate continued for three long months until the Emperor, learning that new Crusading armies were on their way, decided to cut off supplies altogether. He thus provoked his unwelcome guests into open aggression - which was almost certainly just what he had intended. He himself could not have initiated violence on a Christian army that had arrived - ostensibly at least - under the flag of friendship; but if he excused the brothers the oath of allegiance, how could he hope to impose it on those who would follow? Clearly the time had come for a showdown, and this was the best way to ensure it.
Godfrey and Baldwin - whom he had allowed to move their camp to the hill of Galata opposite Constantinople - now crossed the Golden
1 Now Silivri.
Horn and drew up their men at its junction with the northern end of the city walls, immediately outside Blachernae. Alexius, horrified by their lack of regard for religious proprieties - it was the Thursday of Holy Week - and convinced that they were making a bid for the Empire itself, brought out his own troops (though not before giving them strict and secret orders not to engage) and commanded his archers to fire from the walls over the enemy's heads. At first these tactics seemed to work: the Crusaders withdrew, having killed only seven of the imperial soldiers. But when they suddenly returned to the assault, the Emperor decided that he had had enough and sent in his crack regiments to do battle. Bewildered and demoralized, the Frankish troops turned and fled. The brothers had no choice but to capitulate. On Easter Sunday they and their leading knights swore their oaths at last. Immediately, amicable relations were restored. Alexius showered them with presents and entertained them all to a banquet. The next day he shipped the lot of them over the Bosphorus.
Of all the leaders of the First Crusade, there was one whom Alexius Comnenus mistrusted more than any other. Bohemund, now Prince of Taranto - who arrived in Constantinople on 9 April 1097, at the head of an army which included no fewer than four other grandsons and two great-grandsons of old Tancred de Hauteville - was the eldest son of Robert Guiscard who, had he not succumbed to that most fortunate epidemic twelve years before, might well have displaced Alexius on the Byzantine throne. The fact that Robert had divorced his first wife -Bohemund's mother - to marry the formidable Sichelgaita, and that he had subsequently left his Italian dominions to the latter's son Roger Borsa, made Bohemund arguably more dangerous than ever: having nothing to hope for in Italy, he could be expected to wreak still greater havoc in the East. Moreover, his military reputation - based as much on his brilliant leadership and the care with which he trained his men as on his own outstanding personal courage on the battlefield - was unmatched in Europe. As to his looks, even Anna Comnena finds it hard to withhold her admiration:
Bohemund's appearance was, to put it briefly, unlike that of any other man seen in those days in the Roman world, whether Greek or barbarian . . . His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest men. He was slender of waist and flanks, with broad shoulders and chest, strong in the arms; in general he was neither too slim nor heavily-built and fleshy, but of perfect proportions . . . To the acute observer he appeared to stoop slightly . . .
The skin all over his body was very white, except for his face which was both white and red. His hair was lightish-brown and not as long as that of other barbarians - it did not hang on his shoulders but was cut short, to the ears. Whether his beard was red or any other colour I cannot say, for the razor had attacked it, leaving his chin smoother than any marble; yet it gave an impression of redness. His eyes were light blue and gave some hint of the man's spirit and dignity. He breathed freely through broad nostrils ... He had about him a certain charm, but it was somewhat dimmed by the alarm inspired by his person as a whole; there was a hard, savage quality in his aspect — owing, I suppose, to his great stature and to his eyes: even his laugh sounded like a threat to others.
The Emperor received him the day after his arrival and, according to Anna, politely reminded him of his former hostility. Bohemund cheerfully admitted it, pointing out, however, that this time he had come of his own free will, as a friend. When asked to take the oath of allegiance, he agreed at once. Alexius's relief was admittedly somewhat mitigated when his guest then asked point-blank to be named Grand Domestic of the East - effectively commander-in-chief of the entire imperial army in Asia; but when he in turn suggested that such an appointment was not for the time being appropriate - although it might well in due course become so - the Prince of Taranto seemed to accept this obvious piece of prevarication philosophically enough. Bohemund was in fact playing his cards beautifully. A southerner himself, he knew and understood the Greeks and spoke their language; and, unlike the other Crusaders who preceded and followed him, he was well aware that success in his great enterprise - which, however it might turn out, must certainly begin by his being accepted as leader of the whole expedition - would largely depend on having the basileus on his side. To antagonize him at this stage would be folly. With this thought in mind he had specifically forbidden his soldiers, on pain of instant execution, any marauding or other misbehaviour on their way to Constantinople. So far they had shown themselves to be in every respect model Crusaders, and he was determined - at least for the time being - that they should remain so. A fortnight later he and his army were conveyed in their turn across the Bosphorus, while Alexius struggled to come to terms with the next arrival.
Raymond IV of Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse and Marquis of Provence, was the oldest, richest and most distinguished of the Crusaders. He was also the most experienced: as the husband of Princess Elvira of Aragon he had fought many a battle against the Moors in Spain. Finally, from the point of view of Alexius Comnenus, he was by far the most difficult. Though already in his late fifties, he had been the first nobleman to take the cross at Clermont and had publicly vowed never to return to the West; his wife and his son Alfonso had accompanied him. His was almost certainly the largest of the properly-organized Crusading armies — perhaps some ten thousand strong. He travelled with his friend Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, to whom Pope Urban had entrusted the spiritual well-being of the Crusade; and there can be little doubt that, like Bohemund, he coveted the military leadership for himself.
Unlike the Prince of Taranto, however, Raymond seems to have made little attempt to control his men, whose taste for indiscriminate rape and pillage brought them into repeated confrontation with their imperial Pecheneg escort. Within a few days of their arrival on Byzantine territory two Provencal knights had been killed. Soon afterwards the Bishop of Le Puy inadvertently strayed from the road; he too was attacked — and quite badly wounded - by the Pechenegs before they realized their mistake and returned him to his flock. Raymond himself narrowly escaped a similar fate as he passed Edessa, while at Roussa in Thrace his army actually forced its way into the town and plundered it. A day or two after this outrage, messengers arrived from Alexius urging him to come at once to Constantinople, in advance of the rest; in his absence the situation grew rapidly worse, until the Pecheneg escort decided that things had gone far enough. Supported by several Byzantine regiments stationed in the region, they attacked the Crusaders and defeated them in pitched battle, taking possession of their baggage and equipment.
News of the debacle was brought to Raymond just as he was preparing for his first audience with the Emperor. It did not improve his temper. At the outset, he made it clear to all concerned that he had no intention of taking the oath. To do so would not only have meant surrendering the special authority that he believed he had received from the Pope; it would also have risked his being subordinated to Bohemund if, as rumour in Constantinople had it, the latter was to be appointed by the Emperor to a senior imperial post. Raymond is unlikely to have made this last point directly to Alexius; he did however say that if the basileus himself were to assume personal command of the Crusading army, then he, Raymond, would be happy to serve under him. To this Alexius could only reply that much as he might wish to do so, in present conditions he could not leave the Empire. So the stalemate continued for the better part of a fortnight, while one Western leader after another pleaded with the Count of Toulouse to change his mind rather than imperil the success of the whole expedition. Finally, a compromise was reached: the Count agreed to swear a type of oath common in the Languedoc, promising to respect the life and honour of the Emperor and to see that nothing should be done to his detriment; and Alexius, realizing that this was the best he could hope for, very sensibly accepted.
And so we come to the fourth and last expedition of the Crusade -that of Robert, Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror, who set out in September 1096. With him rode his brother-in-law Count Stephen of Blois and his cousin Count Robert II of Flanders, the three of them sharing the command of an army which included Bishop Odo of Bayeux and many distinguished noblemen and knights from Normandy, Brittany and England. Travelling by way of Italy through Lucca (where Pope Urban granted them an audience), Rome and Monte Cassino, they finally reached the Norman Duchy of Apulia, where Duke Roger Borsa gave them a warm welcome. Thence Robert of Flanders - despite the fact that Roger was his brother-in-law - pressed on almost at once, taking ship from Bari to Epirus in the first week of December. For the Duke of Normandy and the Count of Blois, however, the delights of South Italy proved irresistible: it was April 1097 before they set sail across the Adriatic. Alas, the first ship to leave Brindisi almost immediately capsized and went, with some four hundred passengers and their horses and mules - to say nothing of many coffers stuffed with gold and silver - to the bottom: a disaster which sent a good many of the less enthusiastic Crusaders straight back to their homes.1
Those who persisted were rewarded by an agreeable and uneventful journey — apart from a flash flood in the Pindus mountains, which swept away a pilgrim or two. They reached Constantinople in early May. All their predecessors were by now safely in Asia Minor, and the leaders -none of whom made any difficulties over the oath of allegiance - were enchanted by the Emperor's generosity, as well as by the quality of the food, horses and silken robes that he pressed on them. 'Your father, my love,' wrote Stephen of Blois somewhat tactlessly to his wife Adela, the Conqueror's daughter, 'made many great gifts, but compared with this man he was almost nothing.'2 The rank and file were less lavishly
1 The discovery that every corpse washed up on the shore bore a cross miraculously inscribed on its shoulder-blade doubtless impressed them, but failed to make them change their minds.
2 Sir Steven Runciman, A History of tht Crusades, Vol. I, p. 168.
indulged; as usual, however, all those who wished to do so were allowed to enter in groups of half a dozen at a time to see the sights and worship at the principal shrines. There were no complaints. After a fortnight they followed the other armies over the Bosphorus - no worse, wrote Stephen, than crossing the Seine or the Marne - and joined them at Nicaea.
The relief of Alexius Comnenus, as he watched the last of the Crusaders embark on the vessel that was to carry them over to Asia, may well be imagined. He himself can have had little idea of just how many men, women and children had crossed his territory in the course of the past nine months; the total - ranging from Peter the Hermit's rabble to the great feudal lords like Raymond of Saint-Gilles - cannot have been far short of a hundred thousand. Inevitably, there had been a degree of desultory marauding and a few unfortunate incidents; on the whole, however, thanks to his preparations and precautions - in particular the regular food supplies which he had arranged and the admirable policing by his own troops - the armies had caused remarkably little trouble. Whether willingly or not, all the commanders except Raymond - with whom he had come to a private understanding - had sworn him their allegiance; even if they were later to break their oaths his own moral position would be immeasurably strengthened.
On this last score he had no delusions. The Crusaders were still within his Empire, and although they were at present engaged against his Turkish enemies there was no telling what long-term ambitions they might cherish. As they had already made all too clear, they had no love for the Byzantines. In the Balkans and Thrace, where they had expected to be welcomed as saviours, they had been received with suspicion and mistrust. In Constantinople itself, the small and carefully-shepherded groups of sightseers had been thoroughly shaken by what they had seen. For a French peasant or the burgher of a small medieval German town the first sight of the richest and most luxurious city in the world, of its markets of silks and spices redolent of all the exoticism of the East, of its extravagantly dressed noblemen with their retinues of slaves and eunuchs, of its great ladies borne along on gilded palanquins, their faces brilliant with paint and enamel beneath coiffures of astonishing elaboration, must have appeared first incredible and then profoundly shocking; while such religious services as they attended would have seemed unfamiliar, incomprehensible and deeply heretical into the bargain.
The Byzantines felt no more warmly disposed to the Crusaders.
Foreign armies, however friendly they might be in theory, were never welcome guests; but these dirty and ill-mannered barbarians were surely worse than most. They had ravaged their lands, ravished their women, plundered their towns and villages; yet they seemed to take all this as their right, unaccountably expecting to be treated as heroes and deliverers rather than as the ruffians they were. Their departure had occasioned much rejoicing; and when they returned they would, it was devoutly hoped, be considerably fewer in number than on the outward journey. Fellow-Christians they might be; but there must have been quite a number of the Emperor's subjects who secretly hoped for the success of Saracen arms in the encounters that were to come.
Alexius Comnenus did not share such hopes. He had not summoned the Crusade - he did not even approve of it - but now that it was there he was determined to give it all the help he could, provided only that it kept to its original purpose to deliver the Holy Places from the Infidel. Up to that point, the interests of Christendom and of his Empire went hand in hand. They would cease to do so only if the Crusaders began to forget the Cross that they bore on their shoulders and to act on their own initiative; as Alexius well knew, though it was an easy matter to allow foreign armies to enter one's territory, it was a good deal harder to get them out again.
Contrary to the expectations of many, the First Crusade turned out to be a resounding, if undeserved, success. In June 1097 Nicaea was besieged and captured, with the consequent restoration of Byzantine sovereignty in western Asia Minor; on 1 July the Seljuk Turks were smashed at Dorylaeum in Anatolia; on 3 June 1098 Antioch fell to Crusader arms; and finally on 15 July 1099, amid scenes of hideous carnage, the soldiers of Christ battered their way into Jerusalem, where they slaughtered all the Muslims in the city and burnt all the Jews alive in the main synagogue before, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, clasping their bloodstained hands together in prayer and thanksgiving. Two of their former leaders were not, however, by then among them: Baldwin of Boulogne had made himself Count of Edessa on the Middle Euphrates, while Bohemund - after a bitter quarrel with Raymond of Toulouse -had established himself as Prince of Antioch.
In Jerusalem itself, an election was held to decide upon its future ruler. The obvious candidate was Raymond: he was the oldest of the leading Crusaders, the richest and by far the most experienced. But, to everyone's surprise, he refused. His arrogance and his overbearing manner had made him unpopular with his colleagues: he would never be able to count on their obedience or support, and he knew it. The choice eventually fell upon Godfrey of Lower Lorraine. He had not shown any particular military or diplomatic ability during the Crusade, though he had fought bravely enough. A more important consideration was his genuine piety and - in marked contrast to most of his fellows - his irreproachable private life. He too made a show of reluctance; but he eventually agreed provided that, in the city where Christ had worn the crown of thorns, he was not obliged to bear the title of King. Instead, he would take the title of Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri, Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.
To Alexius Comnenus, devout Christian that he was, the news of the recovery of Jerusalem could not have been anything but welcome. It was not that he trusted the Crusaders; but the city had been in infidel hands for the best part of four centuries, and was anyway too far distant from Constantinople to be of major strategic importance. The situation in Antioch, on the other hand, caused him grave anxiety. This ancient city and patriarchate had also had a chequered history: it had been sacked by the Persians in the sixth century and occupied by them for nearly twenty years in the early seventh, before falling to the Arabs in 637; but in 969 it had been reconquered by the Empire, of which it had thereafter remained an integral part until 1078. Its inhabitants were overwhelmingly Greek-speaking and Orthodox; and in the eyes of Alexius and all his right-thinking subjects it was a Byzantine city through and through. Now it had been seized by a Norman adventurer who, despite his oath, clearly had no intention of surrendering it and was no longer making any secret of his hostility. He had even gone so far as to expel the Greek Patriarch and replace him with a Latin, Bernard of Valence, formerly Bishop Adhemar's chaplain.
There was, however, one source of comfort: Bohemund was every bit as unwelcome to his neighbours to the north, the Danishmend Turks' and Alexius's satisfaction can well be imagined when he heard, in the summer of 1100, that the Prince of Antioch was their prisoner and had been carried off in chains to the castle of Niksar - the Greek Neocaesarea - far away in the mountains of Pontus. There he was to remain for three
1 A Turkoman dynasty whose founder, the Emir Danishmend, had appeared in Asia Minor some fifteen years before and ruled in Cappadocia and the regions around Sebastcia (now Sivas) and Melitene. Over the next century, as we shall see, the Danishmends were to play a significant part in Byzantine history; but after the Seljuk capture of Melitene in 1178 they were to vanish as suddenly as they had appeared.
long years until he was finally ransomed by Baldwin, who had become King of Jerusalem - unlike his brother Godfrey, he had had no qualms about the title - on Godfrey's death in July 1100.
During these first years following the Crusaders' triumph, it became ever more clear that Bohemund was not alone in his attitude to Byzantium. After the capture of Jerusalem, the genuine pilgrims — many of them sickened by the atrocities they had seen committed in Christ's name - had begun to trickle home; the Franks who remained in Outremer (as the Crusader lands in the Middle East had come to be called) were the military adventurers who, having recaptured the Holy City, were now out for what they could get. Of all the leaders of the First Crusade, only Raymond of Toulouse - who, ironically, had alone refused to swear the oath at Constantinople - had acted in good faith and had returned to the Emperor certain conquests of what had formerly been imperial territory. The rest were proving little better than the Saracens they had supplanted.
None of this came as any surprise to Alexius; indeed, it confirmed what he had always known. But it could not have improved his temper when he saw, in IIOI, no fewer than four more expeditions arriving at his capital on their way to the East: a Lombard army of some twenty thousand under Archbishop Anselm of Milan; a large group of French knights - including poor Stephen of Blois, who had taken flight during the siege of Antioch and was now returning at the insistence of his formidable wife Adela - she was not the Conqueror's daughter for nothing - to redeem his reputation; another French army led by Count William of Nevers; and an immense Franco-German force under the joint command of William, Duke of Aquitaine and Welf, Duke of Bavaria - which also included Hugh of Vermandois, who had retired from the First Crusade after the capture of Antioch and was determined to fulfil his vow to reach Jerusalem. What would have been the consequences for Byzantium if these armies had met with the success of their predecessors is a question on which one would rather not speculate; in fact, all met with disaster. The Lombards - who, soon after their arrival, had forced an entry into the Palace of Blachernae and killed one of the Emperor's pet lions - joined up with Stephen and his knights and set off under the command of Raymond of Toulouse, who had been paying a visit to Alexius; they captured Ancyra (now Ankara) and duly returned it to the Empire, but shortly afterwards were ambushed by the Danishmends and their allies at Mersivan, near Amasea (the modern Amasya). Four-fifths of the army perished; the women and children - for once again many of the Crusaders were travelling with their families - were carried off as slaves; Raymond, his Provencal bodyguard and his Byzantine escort fled the field under cover of darkness and made their way back to Constantinople.
The other two armies fared no better. William of Nevers crossed the Bosphorus towards the end of June and led his men via Ancyra to Iconium (Konya), which he tried to capture without success. He then moved on to Heraclea Cybistra (Eregli), which the enemy had recently abandoned, having poisoned all the wells. The summer was now at its height; the Nivernais army, half-mad with thirst, searched desperately for some alternative water supply, but in vain. The Turks, under the joint command of the Seljuk Sultan Kilij Arslan and the Danishmend Malik Ghazi, allowed them a few days to exhaust themselves; then they struck. The Christian cavalry broke and fled, the infantry and non-combatants were slain or captured. William, his brother and a small company of knights managed to escape, and hired some local Turcopoles1 to take them to Antioch; but their guides betrayed them, stole their horses and all their possessions and left them to fend for themselves, naked in the wilderness. At last they reached the city, where Bohemund's nephew Tancred took pity on them and gave them shelter for the winter. The following spring they rode on, sad and dispirited, to Jerusalem.
The Crusaders from Aquitaine and Bavaria seem to have suffered much the same fate. They too encountered poisoned wells and the torments of thirst but, unlike the Nivernais, they found a river near Heraclea. Unfortunately, this was just what they were intended to do. No sooner had they flung themselves into the water than the Turks loosed a hail of arrows and charged out from their ambush. As usual it was the leaders, with their faster horses, who survived: William of Aquitaine escaped to Tarsus and thence to Antioch, while Welf of Bavaria threw away all his arms and armour and slipped off incognito through the mountains. Hugh of Vermandois was less fortunate. Badly wounded in the knee by an arrow, he too somehow reached Tarsus; but the effort was too much for him and he died there on 18 October, his vow unfulfilled.
The release of Bohemund of Antioch in 1103 was the signal for a renewed burst of activity on the part of those Crusaders who had now settled in Outremer. By this time they were fighting Arabs, Turks and Byzantines more or less indiscriminately, with occasional brief truces;
1 Turkish horsemen serving in the imperial army.
but they were not outstandingly successful, and in the early summer of 1104 they suffered a crushing defeat by the Turks beneath the walls of Harran, some twenty-five miles south-east of Edessa on the Balikh river. Bohemund's army managed to escape without serious losses - though Patriarch Bernard was so frightened that he cut off his horse's tail as he fled, lest some Turk should seize hold of it and catch him - but the forces of Edessa were massacred almost to a man. Both Baldwin and his cousin, Joscelin of Courtenay, were captured.
The catastrophe at Harran, together with the failures of the expeditions of 1101, dealt the military reputation of the early Crusaders a blow from which it never recovered. Together they virtually closed the overland supply line from the West, which was of considerable value to Antioch and essential to Edessa for its very survival. They also made it possible for Alexius Comnenus to recapture several vital fortresses, including Adana, Mopsuestia1 and Tarsus, and coastal cities from Laodicea (Lattakieh) as far south as Tripoli. Bohemund now felt dangerously threatened. Leaving Tancred to look after his principality and taking with him the Gesta Francorum - an account of the First Crusade written by a Norman and heavily biased in favour of his countrymen — he set sail in the late autumn for Europe, to raise reinforcements.2
Arriving in Apulia early in 1105, he stayed there eight months; after an absence of nearly a decade, there was much work to be done on his long-neglected estates; meanwhile he took every opportunity to encourage groups of young Normans to follow his example and seek their own fortunes in the East. Then, in September, he moved on to Rome to see Pope Paschal II, whom he effortlessly convinced that the arch-enemy of the Crusader states of Outremer was neither the Arab nor the Turk, but Alexius Comnenus himself. So enthusiastically did Paschal accept his arguments that when the time came for Bohemund to go on to France he found himself accompanied by a papal legate with instructions to preach a Holy War against Byzantium.
The Prince of Antioch had spent much of his life fighting the Eastern Empire, and would soon be doing so again; yet never, before or since, did he do the Empire - or indeed, the whole Christian cause - so much harm as in those conversations with Pope Paschal. Henceforth the
1This was its classical name; it later became Misis, then Mamistra. Now it is Yakapinar.
2Anna Comnena ludicrously claims that in order to avoid capture Bohemund feigned death and he was put on board his ship in a carefully ventilated coffin, together with a dead cockerel to provide the necessary smell of putrefaction. One sometimes thinks that she would believe anything.
narrow, predatory policy that had been pursued by his father and himself became the official policy of Christendom. Those Crusaders -and they constituted the vast majority - who disliked the Byzantines, whether for reasons of jealousy or resentment, puritanical disapproval or sheer incomprehension, now found their prejudices endorsed by the highest authority and given official sanction. As for Alexius and his subjects, they saw their worst suspicions confirmed. The entire Crusade was now revealed as having been nothing more than a monstrous exercise in hypocrisy, in which the religious motive had been used merely as the thinnest of disguises for what was in fact unashamed imperialism. Not even Cardinal Humbert and the Patriarch Michael Cerularius, half a century before, had struck a more telling blow against the unity of the Churches of East and West.1
In Paris, King Philip I gave Bohemund a warm welcome and granted him permission to raise recruits throughout his Kingdom; then, as a further sign of his benevolence, he bestowed on him the hand of his daughter Constance in marriage,2 simultaneously offering his younger, illegitimate daughter Cecilia to Tancred. Bohemund stayed in France throughout 1106 - at Easter he met the English King Henry I in Normandy — collecting men and materials; then at the end of the year he returned with Constance to Apulia. Cecilia had already sailed off to Antioch, but he was in no particular hurry to follow her, and it was not till the autumn of 1107 that his new army was ready to sail. His plan was basically the same as that of Robert Guiscard a quarter of a century before: to land on the coast of Epirus in what is now Albania, to ensure a bridgehead by capturing the mighty fortress of Durazzo and then to march eastward on Constantinople.
This time, however, the fates were against him. The Apulians landed successfully enough near Valona; but Alexius had reinforced Durazzo, and the mercenaries he had hired from the Seljuk Sultan stoutly resisted every attempt to take it by storm. Bohemund, not greatly perturbed, settled down to a siege; but almost immediately he found himself blockaded by a Byzantine fleet, cutting off his communications with Italy throughout the winter. Then, as spring approached, so did Alexius with the main body of his army. The invaders, now surrounded by land
1 See Byzantium: The Apogee, pp. 315-22.
2 Although such distinguished alliances obviously did much to enhance the prestige of the House of Antioch, it must in fairness be admitted that Constance's slightly chequered past she had previously been married to the Count of Champagne, from whom she was divorced — made her a slightly less desirable parti than she might otherwise have been.
and sea, slowly fell prey to famine and malaria, and by September the Prince of Antioch had no choice but to surrender. Brought before Alexius in his camp on the bank of the Devol river, he was obliged to put his name to a treaty of peace, in which he expressed regret at having broken his former oath, swore fealty to the Emperor and recognized him as his suzerain for the Principality of Antioch, the borders of which were meticulously defined. Finally he agreed that the Latin Patriarch of the city should be replaced by a Greek.
The Treaty of Devol marked the end of Bohemund's career. Such was his humiliation that he returned- at once to Apulia, leaving Antioch in the hands of Tancred, with his two sons by Constance to inherit after him. He had been a fine soldier and a charismatic leader of men; but his ambition had betrayed him and brought him low. He died three years later in relative obscurity, never again having dared to show his face in Outremer. He was buried at Canosa in Apulia, where visitors to the cathedral can still see, huddled against the outside of the south wall, his curiously oriental-looking mausoleum - the earliest Norman tomb extant in South Italy. Its beautiful bronze doors, engraved with Arabic designs and a eulogistic inscription, open to reveal an interior bare but for two little columns and the tombstone itself - on which is carved, roughly yet somehow magnificently, one word only: BOAMVNDVS.