Post-classical history



Debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.’ II CORINTHIANS XII, 20

When the news of the coming of the Crusade first reached Constantinople, the Emperor Manuel was engrossed in Anatolian affairs. Despite his father’s and his grandfather’s campaigns, the situation in the Asiatic provinces of the Empire was still worrying. Only the coastal districts were free from Turkish invasions. Farther inland almost yearly a Turkish raiding force would sweep over the territory, avoiding the great fortresses and eluding the imperial armies. The inhabitants of the frontier-lands had abandoned their villages and fled to the cities or to the coast. It was Manuel’s policy to establish a definite frontier-line, guarded by a closely knit line of forts. His diplomacy and his campaigns were aimed at securing such a line.

1146: Manuel’s Campaign against Konya

The Danishmend emir Mohammed ibn Ghazi died in December 1141. He had been the chief Moslem power in Asia Minor; but his death was followed by civil wars between his sons and his brothers. Before the end of 1142 the emirate was split into three. His son Dhu’l Nun held Caesarea-Mazacha, his brothers Yakub Arslan ibn Ghazi and Ain ed-Daulat ibn Ghazi Sivas and Melitene respectively. The Seldjuk Sultan of Konya, Mas’ud, saw in the division his chance of establishing a hegemony over the Anatolian Turks. He invaded Danishmend territory and established his control over districts as far east as the Euphrates. Frightened by his aggression the brothers Yakub Arslan and Ain ed-Daulat sought the alliance of Byzantium, and by a treaty, probably concluded in 1143, they became to some degree his vassals. Manuel then turned his attention towards Mas’ud, whose raiders had penetrated to Malagina, on the road from Nicaea to Dorylaeum. He drove them back, but returned soon to Constantinople owing to his own ill-health and the fatal illness of his beloved sister Maria, whose loyalty to him had been proved when her husband, the Norman-born Caesar John Roger, had plotted for the throne at the time of his accession. In 1145 Mas’ud invaded the Empire again and captured the little fortress of Pracana in Isauria, thereby threatening Byzantine communications with Syria, and soon afterwards raided the valley of the Meander, almost as far as the sea. Manuel decided that the time had come to strike boldly at Mas’ud and to march on Konya. He had recently been married, and it was said that he wished to show to his German wife the splendours of Byzantine chivalry. In the summer of 1146 he sent the Sultan a formal declaration of war and set out in gallant style along the road past Dorylaeum down to Philomelium. There Turkish detachments attempted to check him but were repulsed. Mas’ud retired towards his capital but, though he strengthened its garrison, he kept himself to the open country and sent urgently for reinforcements from the East. The Byzantine army encamped for several months before Konya, which was defended by the Sultana. Manuel’s attitude towards his enemies was courteous. When it was rumoured that the Sultan was killed, he sent to inform the Sultana that the story was untrue; and he attempted, vainly, to make his soldiers respect the Moslem tombs outside the city. Suddenly he gave the order to retire. It was said later that he had heard rumours of the coming Crusade; but he could hardly have been notified yet of the decision made at Vezelay that spring. He was definitely suspicious of Sicilian intentions, and he may already have realized that something was afoot. He learnt, too, that Mas’ud had received a considerable addition to his army, and he was afraid of being caught with long and risky lines of communication. He retreated slowly in perfect order back to his own territory.

Before there could be another campaign against Konya, Manuel was faced with the actual prospect of the Crusade. He was disquieted, with reason; for the Byzantines’ experience of Crusaders was not reassuring. When, therefore, Mas’ud sent to him in the spring of 1147 to suggest a truce and to offer to give back Pracana and his other recent conquests, Manuel agreed. For this treaty he has been called a traitor to Christendom. But Conrad’s hostility, demonstrated before news of the treaty could have reached the Germans, shows that his precautions were wise. He had no obligations towards a fellow-Christian who openly thought of attacking Constantinople. Nor could Manuel be pleased by an expedition which would undoubtedly encourage the Prince of Antioch to forget his recent homage and subservience. If he were engaged in a serious war against the Turks it might help the Crusaders in their passage across Anatolia, but it would permit them to do infinite harm to the Empire that was the bulwark of Christendom. He preferred to have no entanglement that might weaken him at so delicate a time, especially as a war with Sicily was imminent.

1147: The Germans cross into Asia

With Conrad, Manuel’s relations had hitherto been good. A common fear of Roger of Sicily had brought them together; and Manuel had recently married Conrad’s sister-in-law. But the behaviour of the German army in the Balkans and Conrad’s refusal to take the route across the Hellespont alarmed him. When Conrad arrived before Constantinople he was allotted as his residence the suburban palace of Philopatium, near the land-walls; and his army encamped around him. But within a few days the Germans so pillaged the palace that it was no longer habitable; and Conrad moved across the head of the Golden Horn to the palace of Picridium, opposite to the Phanar quarter. Meanwhile his soldiers committed violence against the local population, and Byzantine soldiers were sent out to repress them. A series of skirmishes ensued. When Manuel asked for redress Conrad at first said that the outrages were unimportant; then he angrily threatened to come back next year and take over the capital. It seems that the Empress, Conrad’s sister-in-law, was able to pacify the two monarchs. Manuel, who had been urging the Germans to cross quickly over the Bosphorus, as he feared the consequences of the junction with the French, suddenly found the Germans amenable, as the Germans were already beginning to quarrel with the first French arrivals. An outward concord was restored; and Conrad and his army passed over to Chalcedon, enriched by costly presents. Conrad himself received some handsome horses. But he refused the suggestion that he should leave some of his men to take service with the Emperor and should in return be allotted some of the Byzantine troops in Cilicia, an arrangement that Manuel would have found convenient for his war against Roger of Sicily.

When he arrived in Chalcedon, Conrad asked Manuel to provide him with guides to take him across Anatolia; and Manuel entrusted the task to the head of the Varangian Guard, Stephen. At the same time he advised the Germans to avoid the road straight across the peninsula but to go by the coast-road round to Attalia, thus keeping within imperial-controlled land. He also suggested that it would be wise to send home all the non-combatant pilgrims whose presence would only embarrass the army. Conrad took no notice of this advice, but set out to Nicaea. When his army arrived there, he thought again and decided to divide the expedition. Otto of Freisingen was to take a party, including most of the non-combatants, by a road through Laodicea-on-the-Lycus to Attalia, while he himself and the main fighting force would follow the route of the First Crusade through the interior.

Conrad’s army left Nicaea on 15 October, with Stephen the Varangian as chief guide. For the next eight days, whilst they were in the Emperor’s territory, they were well fed, though they later complained that his agents mixed chalk with the flour that was provided and also gave them coins of a debased value. But they made no provisions for their march into Turkish territory. In particular they lacked water. On 25 October, as they reached the little river Bathys, near to Dorylaeum, close to the site of the great Crusader victory half a century before, the whole Seldjuk army fell upon them. The German infantry were weary and thirsty. Many of the knights had just dismounted, to rest their exhausted horses. The sudden, swift and repeated attacks of the light Turkish horsemen caught them unawares. It was a massacre rather than a battle. Conrad vainly tried to rally his men; but by evening he was in full flight with the few survivors on the road back to Nicaea. He had lost nine-tenths of his soldiers and all the contents of his camp. The booty was sold by the victors in the bazaars throughout the Moslem East, as far as Persia.

1147: The French cross into Asia

Meanwhile King Louis and the French army had passed through Constantinople. They arrived there on 4 October, to find their advance-guard and the army of Lorraine disgusted on the one hand by the savagery of the Germans and on the other by the news of Manuel’s truce with the Turks. Despite the pleading of Louis’s envoy, Everard of Barre, Grand Master of the Temple, the Byzantine authorities made difficulties about the junction of the Lorrainers with the French. The Bishop of Langres, with the un-Christian intolerance of a monk of Clairvaux, suggested to the King that he should change his policy and make an alliance with Roger of Sicily against the perfidious Greeks. But Louis was too scrupulous to listen, to the disappointment of his barons. He was satisfied by his reception at the Byzantine Court and preferred the suave advice of the humanist Bishop of Lisieux. He was lodged at Philopatium, which had been cleaned after the German occupation, and he was welcomed to banquets at the imperial palace at Blachernae and conducted by the Emperor round the sights of the great city. Many of his nobility were equally charmed by the attentions paid to them. But Manuel saw to it that the French army passed soon over the Bosphorus; and when it was established at Chalcedon he used the pretext of a riot caused by a Flemish pilgrim who thought he had been cheated to cut off supplies from the French. Though Louis promptly had the culprit hanged, Manuel would not revictual the camp until Louis at last swore to restore to the Empire its lost possessions that he might help to recover, and agreed that his barons should pay homage in advance for any that they might occupy. The French nobility demurred; but Louis considered the demand reasonable, considering his urgent need for Byzantine assistance, particularly as rumours came through of the German disaster.

At the beginning of November the French army reached Nicaea. There they learnt definitely of Conrad’s defeat. Frederick of Swabia rode into the French camp to tell the story, and asked Louis to come at once to see Conrad. Louis hastened to the German headquarters; and the two Kings consulted together. They decided both to take the coast route southward, keeping within Byzantine territory. For the moment there was amity between the two armies. When the Germans could find no food in the area where they were encamped, as the French had taken all that was available, and they therefore began to raid the neighbouring villages, Byzantine police-troops at once attacked them. They were rescued by a French detachment under the Count of Soissons, who hurried up at Conrad’s request. Conrad was meantime able to restore some sort of order among his troops. Most of the pilgrims who survived left him to struggle back to Constantinople. Their further history is unknown.

The armies moved on together. On 11 November they encamped at Esseron, near the modern Balikesri. There they made a further change of plan. It is probable that reports had come to them of the journey made by Otto of Freisingen along the direct route to Philadelphia and Laodicea. We know little of that journey save that his expedition arrived at last at Attalia weary and reduced in numbers, leaving by the wayside the many dead whom their own privations or Turkish raiders had slain. The Kings decided to keep closer to the coast, through more fertile country, and to remain in touch with the Byzantine fleet. They marched on down through Adramyttium, Pergamum and Smyrna and came to Ephesus. Louis’s army was in the van, and the Germans struggled on about a day behind, taunted by their allies for their slowness. The Byzantine historian Cinnamus records the cry of ‘Pousse Allemand’ which was hurled at them by the contemptuous French.

1147-8: The French in Asia Minor

When they arrived at Ephesus Conrad’s health was so bad that he remained there. Hearing this the Emperor Manuel sent him costly presents and persuaded him to return to Constantinople where he received him kindly and took him to lodge in the palace. Manuel was passionately interested in medicine and insisted on being his guest’s own doctor. Conrad recovered, and was deeply touched by the attentions shown him by the Emperor and the Empress. It was during this visit that a marriage was arranged between his brother, Henry, Duke of Austria, and the Emperor’s niece, Theodora, daughter of his brother Andronicus. The German King and his household remained in Constantinople till the beginning of March 1148, when a Byzantine squadron conveyed them to Palestine.

During the four days that he spent at Ephesus King Louis received a letter from Manuel informing him that the Turks were on the war-path and advising him to avoid any conflict with them but to keep as far as possible within the range of shelter afforded by the Byzantine fortresses. Manuel clearly feared that the French would suffer at the hands of the Turks and he would be blamed; at the same time he had no wish, with the Sicilian war on his hands, that anything should occur to break his peace with the Sultan. Louis returned no answer, nor did he reply when Manuel wrote to warn him that the Byzantine authorities could not prevent their people from taking vengeance for the damage caused to them by the Crusaders. The discipline of the French army was breaking down, and complaints were reaching the capital of its lawlessness.

The French army wound its way up the valley of the Meander. At Decervium, where Christmas was spent, the Turks made their appearance and began to harass the Crusaders till they reached the bridge across the river, at Pisidian Antioch. There was a pitched battle there; but the Frenchmen forced their way over the bridge, and the Turks retired behind the walls of Antioch. Under what circumstances the Turks were able to take refuge within this Byzantine fortress is unknown. The French not unnaturally saw it as treason to Christendom; but whether the local garrison had yielded to superior force or had made some private arrangement with the infidel, it is unlikely that the Emperor himself had sanctioned the plan.

The battle before the bridge at Antioch took place about 1 January 1148. Three days later the Crusaders arrived at Laodicea, to find it deserted; for their reputation had driven the inhabitants to the hills, with all their provisions. It was difficult for the army to collect any food for the arduous stage that lay ahead. The road to Attalia wound over high desolate mountains. It was a hard journey at the best of times. For a hungry army, struggling through the January storms, with the Turks relentlessly hanging on its flanks and picking off the stragglers and the sick, it was a nightmare. All along the road the soldiers saw the corpses of the German pilgrims who had perished on their march a few months before. There was no longer any attempt at discipline, except with the company of the Knights Templar. The Queen and her ladies shivered in their litters, vowing never again to face such an ordeal. One afternoon, as the army began to descend toward the sea, the advance-guard, under Geoffrey of Rancon, disobeyed the King’s orders to camp on the summit of the pass and moved down the hill, losing touch with the main army, which the Turks at once attacked. The Crusaders held their ground; but it was only the falling of darkness that saved the King’s life, and the losses among the Frenchmen were heavy.

1148: The French at Attalia

Thenceforward the way was easier. The Turks did not venture down into the plain. At the beginning of February the Crusade arrived at Attalia. The Byzantine governor there was an Italian called Landolph. On the Emperor’s orders he did what he could to succour the Westerners. But Attalia was not a large town with great resources of food. It was set in a poor countryside ravaged recently by the Turks. Winter stocks were low by now; and the German pilgrims had taken what there had been to spare. It was no wonder that few provisions were available and that prices had soared high. But to the angry disappointed Frenchmen all this was just another proof of Byzantine treachery. King Louis now decided that the journey must be pursued by sea, and negotiated with Landolph for ships. It was not easy at that time of year to assemble a flotilla at a port on the wild Caramanian coast. While the transports were being collected, the Turks came down and made a sudden attack on the Crusader camp. Once again the French blamed the Byzantines; who indeed probably made no effort to defend the unwanted guests to whose presence they owed these Turkish raids. When the ships arrived they were too few to take all the company. Louis therefore filled them with his own household and as many cavalrymen as could be taken, and sailed off to Saint Symeon, where he arrived on 19 March. To salve his conscience for his desertion of his army, the King gave Landolph the sum of five hundred marks, asking him to care for the sick and wounded and to send on the remainder, if possible, by sea. The Counts of Flanders and Bourbon were left in charge. The day after the King’s departure the Turks swept down into the plain and attacked the camp. Without sufficient cavalry it was impossible to drive them off effectively; so the Crusaders obtained permission to take refuge within the walls. There they were well treated and their sick given treatment; and Landolph hastily tried to collect more ships. Again he could not find sufficient for all the expedition. So Thierry of Flanders and Archimbald of Bourbon followed their King’s example and themselves embarked with their friends and the remaining horsemen, telling the foot-soldiers and the pilgrims to make their way by land as best they could. Deserted by their leaders the unhappy remnant refused to stay in the camp prepared for them by Landolph, who wished to move them out of the town. They thought that they would be too badly exposed there to attacks from Turkish archers. Instead, they set out at once along the eastern road. Ignorant, undisciplined and distrustful of their guides, continually harassed by the Turks, with whom they were convinced the Byzantines were in league, the miserable Frenchmen, with what remained of Conrad’s German infantry dragging on behind, made their painful way to Cilicia. Less than half of them arrived in the late spring at Antioch.

1147-8: Byzantine Policy during the Crusade

In one of his many letters home to the abbot Suger, letters whose unvaried theme is a request for more money, King Louis ascribed the disasters in Anatolia to ‘the treachery of the Emperor and also our own fault’. The charge against Manuel is repeated more constantly and more passionately by the official French chronicler of the Crusade, Odo of Deuil, and it has been echoed by western historians, with few exceptions, to this day. The misfortunes of the Crusades did so much to embitter relations between western and eastern Christendom that the accusation must be examined more closely. Odo complains that the Byzantines provided insufficient food-supplies for which they charged exorbitant prices, inadequate transport and inefficient guides and, worst of all, that they allied themselves with the Turks against their fellow-Christians. The first charges are absurd. No medieval state, even one so well organized as the Byzantine, possessed sufficient stocks of food to be able to supply two exceptionally large armies which had arrived uninvited at short notice; and when food is scarce, its prices inevitably rise. That many local merchants and some government officials tried to cheat the invaders is certain. Such behaviour has never been a rare phenomenon in commerce, particularly in the Middle Ages and in the East. It was unreasonable to expect Landolph to supply a sufficient number of ships for a whole army at the little port of Attalia in mid-winter; nor could the guides, whose advice was seldom taken, be blamed if they did not know of the latest destruction of bridges or wells by the Turks, or if they fled before the threats and hostility of the men that they were conducting. The question of the Turkish alliance is more serious, but it must be regarded from Manuel’s viewpoint. Manuel neither invited nor wished for the Crusade. He had good reasons for deploring it. Byzantine diplomacy had learnt well by now how to play off the various Moslem princes against each other and thus to isolate each of them in turn. A well advertised expedition like the Crusade would inevitably again bring together a united front against Christendom. Moreover, for Byzantine strategy against Islam it was essential to control Antioch. Byzantium had at last won this control, when Prince Raymond made his abject submission at Constantinople. The coming of a Crusade with his niece and her husband at its head would inevitably tempt him to throw off his vassalage. The behaviour of the Crusaders when they were guests in his territory was not such as to increase the Emperor’s liking for them. They pillaged; they attacked his police; they ignored his requests about the routes that they should take; and many of their prominent men talked openly of attacking Constantinople. Seen in such a light his treatment of them seems generous and forbearing; and some of the Crusaders so recognized it. But the westerners could not comprehend nor forgive his treaty with the Turks. The broad needs of Byzantine policy were beyond their grasp; and they chose to ignore, though they certainly were aware of the fact, that while they demanded help from the Emperor against the infidel his own lands were being subjected to a venomous attack from another Christian power. In the autumn of 1147 King Roger of Sicily captured the island of Corfu and from there sent an army to raid the Greek peninsula. Thebes was sacked, and thousands of its workers kidnapped to help the nascent silk-industry of Palermo; and Corinth itself, the chief fortress of the peninsula, was taken and bared of all its treasures. Laden with spoil the Sicilian Normans fell back to Corfu, which they planned to hold as a permanent threat to the Empire and a stranglehold on the Adriatic Sea. It was the imminence of the Norman attack that had decided Manuel to retire from Konya in 1146 and to accept the Sultan’s overtures for peace next year. If Manuel was to rank as a traitor to Christendom, King Roger certainly took precedence over him.

The Byzantine army was large but not ubiquitous. The best troops were needed for the war against Roger. Then there were rumours of unrest in the Russian Steppes, which was to result in the summer of 1148 in a Polovtsian invasion of the Balkans. With the Crusade at hand, Manuel could not denude his Cilician frontier of men; and the passage of the Crusaders through the Empire meant that a large increase must be made in the military police. With these preoccupations, the Emperor could not provide full frontier forces to cover his long Anatolian borderlands. He preferred a truce that would enable his Anatolian subjects to live their lives free from the menace of Turkish raids. The Crusaders endangered this truce. Conrad’s march on Dorylaeum was a direct provocation to the Turks; and Louis, though he kept within Byzantine territory, publicly announced himself as the enemy of all Moslems and refused the Emperor’s request to remain within the radius guarded by Byzantine garrisons. It is quite possible that Manuel, faced by this problem, made an arrangement with the Turks by which he condoned their incursions into his territory so long as they only attacked the Crusaders, and that they kept to the bargain, thus giving the clear impression that they were in league with the local inhabitants; to whom indeed it was indifferent whether their flocks and foodstocks were stolen by Crusaders or by Turks, and who under these circumstances would naturally prefer the latter. But it is impossible to believe with Odo of Deuil that they definitely attacked the Crusaders at the Turks’ side. He makes this accusation against the inhabitants of Attalia immediately after saying that they were later punished by the Emperor for having shown kindness to the Crusaders.

1147-8: The Role of the Emperor

The main responsibility for the disasters that befell the Crusaders in Anatolia must be placed on their own follies. The Emperor could indeed have done more to help them, but only at a grave risk to his Empire. But the real issue lay deeper. Was it to the better interest of Christendom that there should be occasional gallant expeditions to the East, led by a mixture of unwise idealists and crude adventurers, to succour an intrusive state there whose existence depended on Moslem disunity? Or that Byzantium, who had been for so long the guardian of the eastern frontier, should continue to play her part unembarrassed from the West? The story of the Second Crusade showed even more clearly than that of the First that the two policies were incompatible. When Constantinople itself had fallen and the Turks were thundering at the gates of Vienna, it would be possible to see which policy was right.

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