Post-classical history



‘But they said, We will not hearken’ JEREMIAH VI, 17

The news that the Christians had recovered Jerusalem reached western Europe during the late summer of 1099. It was received with enthusiasm and rejoicing. Everywhere chroniclers interrupted their story of local happenings to record the great instance of God’s mercy. Pope Urban himself had died before he could learn of it; but his friends and helpers throughout the Church praised God for the success of his policy. During the winter that followed, many of the Crusading leaders returned home with their men. As is the wont of returning soldiers, the Crusaders no doubt exaggerated both the hardships of their journey and the splendours of the land to which they had penetrated; and they made much of the miracles with which they had been encouraged by Heaven. But they all declared that warriors and colonists were needed in the East, to carry on God’s work, and that wealth and great estates lay there to be occupied by the adventurous. They urged a new Crusade to which the preachers of the Church gave their blessing.

1100: The Lombards Assemble

It was not until the early autumn of 1100 that the next expedition could start out. The winter months were unsuitable for travel; and then the harvest had to be gathered. But in September 1100 a Crusade of Lombards left Italy for the East. At its head was the greatest personage in Lombardy, the Archbishop of Milan, Anselm of Buis. With him were Albert, Count of Biandrate, Count Guibert of Parma and Hugh of Montebello. The Lombards had played an undistinguished part in the First Crusade. Many of them had journeyed east during its early months and had joined up with Peter the Hermit, and, by intriguing with his German followers against the French, had helped to wreck his expedition. The survivors had then taken service under Bohemond. In consequence, of the Crusading leaders it was Bohemond who enjoyed the highest prestige in Lombardy. The present expedition was little better organized. It included very few trained soldiers and was mainly composed of a rabble drawn from the slums of the Lombard cities, men whose lives had been disorganized by the growing industrialism of the province. With them were large numbers of clerics and women and children. It was a large company; though Albert of Aix’s estimate of two hundred thousand souls should be divided by at least ten. Neither the Archbishop nor the Count of Biandrate, who was regarded as the military leader, was able to keep it in control.

During the autumn of 1100 the Lombards made their leisurely way across Carniola and down the valley of the Save, through the territory of the King of Hungary, and entered the Byzantine Empire at Belgrade. Alexius was ready to deal with them. His troops escorted them across the Balkans. Then, as they were too numerous to be provisioned and policed in one camp, they were divided into three companies. One was to spend the winter in a camp outside Philippopolis, the second outside Adrianople and the third outside Rodosto. But even so they were too disorderly to be kept under control. Each company began to raid the district outside its camp, pillaging the villages, breaking into the grain-stores and even robbing the churches. At last, in March, the Emperor brought them all to a camp outside the walls of Constantinople, intending to transport them as soon as possible across into Asia. But they had heard by now that other Crusaders had set out to join them. They refused to cross the Bosphorus until these reinforcements arrived. To oblige them to move, the imperial authorities cut off their supplies; whereupon they at once attacked the city walls and forced their way through into the courtyard of the imperial palace of Blachernae. There they killed one of the Emperor’s pet lions, and tried to open the palace gates. The Archbishop of Milan and the Count of Biandrate, who had been well received by the Emperor, were horrified. They rushed out into the midst of the rioting crowds and succeeded at last in persuading them to return to the camp. They then had to face the task of pacifying the Emperor.

Peace was made by Count Raymond of Toulouse. Raymond had been spending the winter as the guest of Alexius, whose complete confidence he now enjoyed. As the senior of all the Crusading princes, the friend of Pope Urban and of Bishop Adhemar, he still had a great reputation. The Lombards listened to him; and on his advice they agreed to move across into Asia. By the end of April they were established in a camp close to Nicomedia, where they awaited newcomers from the West.

Stephen, Count of Blois, had never been allowed to forget his flight from Antioch. He had not fulfilled his Crusading vows and he had shown cowardice in the face of the enemy. His wife, the Countess Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, was deeply ashamed of him. Even in the private intimacy of their bed-chamber she would nag at him to go and redeem his reputation. He could not claim that he was needed at home; for his wife had always been the real ruler of the county. So, wearily and with foreboding, he set out again for the Holy Land in the spring of 1101.

1101: Lombards and French at Constantinople

On the news of his expedition many other French knights prepared to join him, under the leadership of Stephen, Count of Burgundy, Hugh of Broyes, Baldwin of Grandpre and the Bishop of Soissons, Hugh of Pierrefonds. They travelled down through Italy and across the Adriatic, and reached Constantinople about the beginning of May. At some point on their journey they were overtaken by a small German contingent, under Conrad, Constable to the Emperor Henry IV.

The French Crusaders were delighted to find Raymond at Constantinople, and were well satisfied by their reception by the Emperor. Probably on the suggestion of Alexius, they decided that Raymond should command the whole expedition; and the Lombards acquiesced. During the last days of May the whole army, Frenchmen, Germans, Lombards, some Byzantines under the General Tsitas, with whom were five hundred Turkish mercenaries, probably Petcheneg, marched out from Nicomedia on the road to Dorylaeum.

The object of the Crusade was to reach the Holy Land and on the way to reopen the route across Asia Minor, a secondary aim that had the Emperor’s full support. Stephen of Blois therefore recommended that the army should follow the road taken by the First Crusade, through Dorylaeum and Konya. Raymond, in conformity with the instructions given him by Alexius, agreed with him. But the Lombards, who formed the vast majority of the army, held other views. Bohemond was their hero, the one warrior that they trusted to carry them to victory. And Bohemond lay captive in the Danishmend Emir’s castle of Niksar, far away to the north-east of Anatolia. They insisted that their first task must be to rescue Bohemond. Raymond and Stephen protested in vain. Raymond’s jealousy of Bohemond was too well known and, for all his qualities, he had never shown himself to be a forceful leader; whilst Stephen’s influence was damaged by memories of his past cowardice. The Count of Biandrate and the Archbishop of Milan supported the Lombards, who had their way. On leaving Nicomedia the army turned east and took the road to Ankara. The country was largely held by the Byzantines; and the Crusaders were able to find food as they went. Ankara itself now belonged to the Seldjuk Sultan, Kilij Arslan; but when they arrived there on 23 June they found it poorly defended and took it by assault. Very correctly they handed it over to representatives of the Emperor.

On leaving Ankara the Crusaders took a track that led north-eastward to Gangra, in southern Paphlagonia, to join the main road to Amasea and to Niksar. On the way to Gangra their troubles began. Kilij Arslan retreated before them, devastating the country as he went, so that they could find little to eat. Meanwhile Malik Ghazi the Danishmend had been thoroughly alarmed. He hastened to renew his alliance with Kilij Arslan and induced Ridwan of Aleppo to send reinforcements up from the south. Early in July the Crusaders reached Gangra; but the Seldjuks were there in force. The fortress proved to be impregnable. After ravaging the countryside and taking what food they could find, the Crusaders were forced to move on. They were weary and hungry; and on the Anatolian tableland the July heat was hard to bear. In their disappointment they listened to Count Raymond, who advised that they should march northward to Kastamuni and from there to some Byzantine city on the Black Sea coast. Such a course would save the army from certain destruction; and no doubt Raymond thought that the Emperor would forgive him his disobedience if he returned having recaptured for the Empire two great fortresses, Ankara and Kastamuni, the latter the Castra Comnenon that had been the home of the imperial dynasty.

1101: The Battle of Mersivan

The journey to Kastamuni was slow and painful. Water was short, and the Turks had destroyed the crops. The Turks themselves moved quickly along parallel tracks, harassing the Crusaders sometimes in the van and sometimes in the rear. They had not gone far before the advance-guard, composed of seven hundred Lombards, was suddenly attacked. The Lombard knights fled in panic, leaving the infantry to be massacred. It was with difficulty that Stephen of Burgundy was able to rally the van and drive off the enemy. During the next days Raymond, in command of the rear, was engaged in continual combat with the Turks. Soon the army was obliged to move in a compact mass, from which it was impossible to send out foraging parties or scouts. By the time that it reached the neighbourhood of Kastamuni it was clear to the leaders that the only chance of safety lay in breaking through as directly as possible to the coast. But once again the Lombards refused to listen to reason. Perhaps they blamed Raymond’s choice of the road to Kastamuni for their present troubles; perhaps they thought that when they passed out of Seldjuk territory into Danishmend territory everything would be easier. In their obstinate folly they insisted on turning once more to the east. The princes had to accept this decision; for their small contingents could hardly hope to survive if they left the main army. The Crusade moved on across the river Halys, into the land of the Danishmend emir. After wantonly sacking a Christian village on the way they reached the town of Mersivan, halfway between the river and Amasea. There the Constable Conrad was lured into an ambush and lost several hundred of his German troops. It was clear now that the Danishmends and their allies were massing for a serious attack; and Raymond drew up the Christian army ready for battle.

When the battle began the Turks employed their favourite tactics. Their archers swooped down and discharged their arrows, then swiftly retreated again, and others would appear from a different direction. The Crusaders were never given the chance of a hand-to-hand combat, in which their greater physical strength and better arms would have been of advantage. Before long the Lombards’ nerves gave out. With their leader the Count of Biandrate at their head, they fled in panic, leaving their women and their priests behind them. Soon the Petcheneg mercenaries followed, seeing no reason to await certain death. Raymond, who was fighting with them, found himself deserted. He managed to retreat with his bodyguard to a small rocky hill, where he held out till Stephen of Blois and Stephen of Burgundy could rescue him. Throughout the afternoon the French knights and Conrad the German fought bravely, falling back upon the camp; but by nightfall Raymond had had enough. Under cover of the darkness he fled with his Provencal bodyguard and his Byzantine escort towards the coast. When they learnt that he had fled, his colleagues gave up the fight. Before morning dawned the remnants of the army were in full flight, leaving the camp and the non-combatants in the hands of the Turks.

The Turks paused to butcher the men and old women in the camp, then followed in full cry after the fugitives. Only the knights on horseback were able to escape. The infantry was overtaken and slaughtered almost to a man. The Lombards, whose obstinacy had caused the disaster, were annihilated except for their leaders. The losses were estimated at four-fifths of the whole army. A vast amount of treasure and of arms fell into Turkish hands; and the harems and slave-markets of the East were filled by the younger women and children captured on that day.

Raymond and his escort managed to reach the little Byzantine port of Bafra, at the mouth of the river Halys. There they found a ship to take them to Constantinople. The other knights fought their way back across the river and arrived at the coast at Sinope. From there they travelled slowly by the coast road, through Byzantine territory, to the Bosphorus. They reassembled at Constantinople early in the autumn.

1101: The Results of Mersivan

Public opinion amongst the Crusaders, seeking to find a scapegoat, laid the blame for the disaster upon the Byzantines. Count Raymond, it was said, was obeying the Emperor’s instructions when he led the army out of its course to perish in a prearranged Turkish ambush. But in fact Alexius was furious with Raymond and his colleagues. He received them politely but icily and made no secret of his displeasure. Had the Crusade won for him Kastamuni and the Paphlagonian interior, he might have forgiven it; but he was far more anxious to secure the direct road to Syria, to safeguard his reconquests in the south-west of Asia Minor, and to enable him to intervene in Syrian affairs. Moreover, he had not wished to embroil himself in war with the Danishmend emir, with whom he had opened negotiations to buy the person of Bohemond. The folly of the Lombards ruined his scheme. But the disaster had more serious effects. The Christian victories during the First Crusade had damaged both the reputation and the self-confidence of the Turks. Now both were gloriously recovered. The Seldjuk Sultan was able to restore his domination over central Anatolia, and soon he was to establish his capital at Konya, right on the main road from Constantinople to Syria; while Malik Ghazi the Danishmend continued his conquest of the Euphrates valley, to the borders of the County of Edessa. The land-route from Europe into Syria was blocked again both for the Crusaders and for the Byzantines. Moreover, relations between the Crusaders and Byzantium had worsened. The Crusaders insisted upon considering the Emperor as the author of their woes, while the Byzantines were shocked and angered by the stupidity, the ingratitude and the dishonesty of the Crusaders.

1101: The Nivernais and Aquitanian Crusades

It was not long before the results of the disaster were apparent. A few days after the Lombards had set out from Nicomedia, a French army arrived at Constantinople, led by William II, Count of Nevers. He had left his home in February and, travelling through Italy, he had crossed the Adriatic from Brindisi to Avlona. His army gave an excellent impression as it marched through Macedonia owing to the strictness of its discipline. The Count was cordially received by Alexius; but he decided not to linger at Constantinople. He had probably expected to join forces there with the Duke of Burgundy, whose neighbour he was at home, so hurried on as quickly as possible in the hope of overtaking him. When he reached Nicomedia he learnt that the Crusade had gone on to Ankara, where he arrived towards the end of July. But at Ankara no one knew the whereabouts of the Franco-Lombard army. William therefore turned back, to take the road to Konya. In spite of the difficulties of the journey through country that had not recovered from devastations at the time of the First Crusade, his army advanced in perfect order. Konya was now held by a strong Seldjuk garrison; and William’s attempt to take the city by assault was a failure. He realized that it would be unwise to delay there and moved on. But meanwhile Kilij Arslan and Malik Ghazi learnt of the appearance of this new enemy. Hot from their triumph over the Lombards they hurried southward, probably through Caesarea-Mazacha and Nigde, and reached Heraclea before him. The Nivernais troops marched slowly eastward from Konya. Food was short; the wells by the road had been blocked by the Turks. As they approached Heraclea, weary and weakened, they were ambushed and surrounded by the whole Turkish army, which outnumbered them by far. After a short battle their resistance was broken. The entire French force fell on the field, with the exception of Count William himself and a few mounted knights, who broke through the Turkish lines and after several days of wandering in the Taurus mountains arrived at the Byzantine fortress of Germanicopolis, north-west of Isaurian Seleucia. There the Byzantine governor seems to have offered them an escort of twelve Petcheneg mercenaries to convey them to the Syrian border. A few weeks later Count William and his companions entered Antioch, half-naked and unarmed. They said that the Petchenegs had despoiled them and abandoned them in the desert through which they were passing; but what really happened is unknown.

The Count of Nevers had hardly crossed the Bosphorus before another larger army, composed of Frenchmen and of Germans, arrived at Constantinople. The French contingent was led by William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, who was the most famous troubadour of his time and who was politically the bitter rival of Raymond of Toulouse; for his wife, the Duchess Philippa, was the daughter of Raymond’s elder brother and should have inherited his County. With him came Hugh of Vermandois, who had left the First Crusade after the capture of Antioch and was anxious to fulfil his vow to go to Jerusalem. The Aquitanian army set out from France in March and travelled overland, through southern Germany and Hungary. On its way it was joined by Duke Welf of Bavaria, who after a long and illustrious career in Germany planned to spend his declining years fighting for the Cross in Palestine. He brought with him a well-equipped army of German knights and infantry; and he was accompanied by Thiemo, Archbishop of Salzburg, and by the Dowager Margravine Ida of Austria, one of the great beauties of her day, who, now that her youth was over, sought the pious excitement of a Crusade. Their united armies marched together down the Danube to Belgrade and on by the high road across the Balkans. They were an unruly crowd; and by the time that they reached Adrianople their behaviour was so bad that the Byzantine authorities sent Petcheneg and Polovtsian troops to block their further progress. A regular battle began; and it was only when Duke William and Welf intervened in person and guaranteed the future good conduct of their troops that they were allowed to proceed. A strong escort accompanied them to Constantinople. There William and Welf and the Margravine were cordially received by Alexius, who provided men to transport their men as soon as possible across the Bosphorus. Some of the civilian pilgrims, including the historian Ekkehard of Aura, took ship direct for Palestine, where they arrived after a six weeks’ voyage.

It should have been possible for the two Dukes to have caught up with the Count of Nevers and have strengthened their army by the inclusion of his forces. But the Count of Nevers wished to unite with the Count of Burgundy, and Duke William could not be expected to combine with an army led by his old enemy, the Count of Toulouse, while Welf of Bavaria, an old enemy of the Emperor Henry IV, probably had little liking for Henry’s Constable, Conrad. The Count of Nevers hastened ahead to Ankara, while the Aquitano-Bavarian army waited for five weeks by the Bosphorus, then moved slowly along the main road to Dorylaeum and Konya. By the time that it reached Dorylaeum the Nivernais army had already passed through the town on its return journey and was well on the way to Konya. The passage of another army along the road a few days previously did not make things easier for the Aquitanians and the Bavarians. The small available supplies of food had already been taken; for which, characteristically, the Crusaders blamed the Byzantines. Like the Nivernais, they found the wells dry or blocked. Philomelium was deserted, and they pillaged it. The Turkish garrison at Konya, which had withstood the Nivernais, abandoned the city before this larger army; but before they left they collected and took with them all the foodstuffs there and stripped bare the orchards and gardens in the suburbs. The Crusaders found little to refresh them. It was about this moment that a hundred miles ahead Kilij Arslan and Malik Ghazi were massacring the men of Nevers.

1101: The Battle of Heraclea

The Crusaders struggled on from Konya, hungry and thirsty, through the desert towards Heraclea. Turkish horsemen now appeared on their flank, firing arrows into their midst and cutting off foraging parties and stragglers. Early in September they entered Heraclea, which they found deserted as Konya had been. Just beyond the town flowed the river, one of the few Anatolian streams to flow abundantly throughout the summer. The Christian warriors, half-mad from thirst, broke their ranks to rush to the welcoming water. But the Turkish army lay concealed in the thickets on the river banks. As the Crusaders surged on in disorder, the Turks sprang out on them and surrounded them. There was no time to reform ranks. Panic spread through the Christian army. Horsemen and infantry were mixed in a dreadful stampede; and as they stumbled in their attempt to flee they were slaughtered by the enemy. The Duke of Aquitaine, followed by one of his grooms, cut his way out and rode into the mountains. After many days of wandering through the passes he found his way to Tarsus. Hugh of Vermandois was badly wounded in the battle; but some of his men rescued him and he too reached Tarsus. But he was a dying man. His death took place on 18 October and they buried him there in the Cathedral of St Paul. He never fulfilled his vow to go to Jerusalem. Welf of Bavaria only escaped by throwing away all his armour. After several weeks he arrived with two or three attendants at Antioch. The Archbishop Thiemo was taken prisoner and martyred for his faith. The fate of the Margravine of Austria is unknown. Later legends said that she ended her days a captive in a far-off harem, where she gave birth to the Moslem hero Zengi. More probably she was thrown from her litter in the panic and trampled to death.

The three Crusades of the year 1101 had come each of them to a disastrous finish; and their disasters affected the whole story of the Crusading movement. The Turks had avenged their defeat at Dorylaeum. They were not, after all, to be ejected from Anatolia. The road across the peninsula remained unsafe for Christian armies, Frankish or Byzantine. When the Byzantines wished later to intervene in Syria, they had to operate at the end of communication lines that were long and very vulnerable; while Frankish immigrants from the west were afraid to travel overland through Constantinople, except in vast armies. They could only come by sea; and few of them could afford the fare. And instead of the thousands of useful colonists that the year should have brought to Syria and Palestine, only a small number of quarrelsome leaders who had lost their armies and their reputations on the way penetrated through to the Frankish states, where there was already a sufficiency of quarrelsome leaders.

Not all the Christians, however, had cause to regret the disasters of the year 1101. To the Italian maritime cities the failure to secure the land-route across Asia Minor meant an increase in influence and wealth. For they possessed the ships that provided an alternative means of communication with the Frankish states of the East. Their co-operation was all the more necessary; and they insisted on payment in commercial concessions. The Armenians in the Taurus mountains, particularly the Roupenian princes, welcomed circumstances that made it difficult for Byzantium to re-establish its Empire over the districts where they lived; though the Armenians farther to the east had less cause for rejoicing. Their chief foe was the Danishmend emir, whose triumph soon encouraged him to attack them. And the Normans at Antioch, who, like the Roupenians, feared the Byzantines more than the Turks, were given a useful respite. Bohemond still languished in captivity; but his regent, Tancred, took full advantage of the situation to consolidate the principality at the Emperor’s expense. Fate soon placed a trump-card in his hand.

1102: The Arrest of Count Raymond

The Duke of Aquitaine, the Count of Bavaria and the Count of Nevers had already arrived with their few surviving comrades at Antioch by the autumn of 1101; but the leaders of the Franco-Lombard Crusade were still at Constantinople. Alexius found it hard to forgive them their follies. Even Raymond, on whom he had built great hopes, had disappointed him. At the end of the year the western princes decided to continue their pilgrimage, and Raymond asked leave to rejoin his wife and his army at Lattakieh. The Emperor willingly let them go and provided ships to convey them to Syria. About the new year Stephen of Blois, Stephen of Burgundy, the Constable Conrad and Albert of Biandrate disembarked at Saint Symeon and hastened up to Antioch, where Tancred gave them a warm welcome. But Count Raymond’s ship was separated from the others and put into the port of Tarsus. As he stepped ashore, a knight called Bernard the Stranger came up and arrested him for having betrayed Christendom by his flight from the field of Mersivan. Raymond’s small bodyguard was powerless to rescue him. He was taken away under escort and was handed over to Tancred.

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