Post-classical history



‘Ah Lord God! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel?’ EZEKIEL IX, 8

Peter the Hermit’s departure for the East had not ended Crusading enthusiasm in Germany. He had left behind him his disciple Gottschalk to collect a further army; and many other preachers and leaders prepared to follow his example. But, though the Germans responded in thousands to the appeal, they were less eager than the French had been to hurry to the Holy Land. There was work to be done first nearer home.

Resentment Against the Jews

Jewish colonies had been established for centuries past along the trade routes of western Europe. Their inhabitants were Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors had spread out from the Mediterranean basin throughout the Dark Ages. They kept up connections with their co-religionists in Byzantium and in Arab lands, and were thus enabled to play a large part in international trade, more especially the trade between Moslem and Christian countries. The prohibition of usury in western Christian countries and its strict control in Byzantium left them an open field for the establishment of money-lending houses throughout Christendom. Their technical skill and long traditions made them pre-eminent also in the practice of medicine. Except long ago in Visigothic Spain they had never undergone serious persecution in the West. They had no civic rights; but both lay and ecclesiastical authorities were pleased to give special protection to such useful members of the community. The kings of France and Germany had always befriended them; and they were shown particular favour by the archbishops of the great cities of the Rhineland. But the peasants and poorer townsmen, increasingly in need of money as a cash economy replaced the older economy of services, fell more and more into their debt and in consequence felt more and more resentment against them; while the Jews, lacking legal security, charged high rates of interest and extracted exorbitant profits wherever the benevolence of the local ruler supported them.

Their unpopularity grew throughout the eleventh century, as more classes of the community began to borrow money from them; and the beginnings of the Crusading movement added to it. It was expensive for a knight to equip himself for a Crusade; if he had no land and no possessions to pledge, he must borrow money from the Jews. But was it right that in order to go and fight for Christendom he must fall into the clutches of members of the race that crucified Christ? The poorer Crusader was often already in debt to the Jews. Was it right that he should be hampered in his Christian duty by obligations to one of the impious race? The evangelical preaching of the Crusade laid stress on Jerusalem, the scene of the Crucifixion. It inevitably drew attention to the people at whose hands Christ had suffered. The Moslems were the present enemy; they were persecuting Christ’s followers. But the Jews were surely worse; they had persecuted Christ Himself.

Already in the Spanish wars there had been some inclination on the part of Christian armies to maltreat the Jews. At the time of the expedition to Barbastro Pope Alexander II wrote to the bishops in Spain to remind them that there was all the difference in the world between the Moslems and the Jews. The former were irreconcilable enemies to the Christians, but the latter were ready to work for them. But in Spain the Jews had enjoyed such favour from the hands of the Moslems that the Christian conquerors could not bring themselves to trust them.

In December 1095 the Jewish communities of northern France wrote to their co-religionists in Germany to warn them that the Crusading movement was likely to cause trouble to their race. There were reports of a massacre of the Jews at Rouen. It is unlikely that such a massacre in fact occurred; but the Jews were sufficiently alarmed for Peter the Hermit to bring off a successful stroke of business. Hinting, no doubt, that otherwise he might find it difficult to restrain his followers, he obtained from the French Jews letters of introduction to the Jewish communities throughout Europe, calling upon them to welcome him and to supply him and his army with all the provisions that he might require.

About the same time Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, began his preparations to start out on the Crusade. A rumour ran round the province that he had vowed before he left to avenge the death of Christ with the blood of the Jews. In terror the Jews of the Rhineland induced Kalonymos, chief Rabbi of Mainz, to write to Godfrey’s overlord, the emperor Henry IV, who had always shown himself a friend to their race, to urge him so forbid the persecution. At the same time, to be on the safe side, the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne each offered the Duke the sum of five hundred pieces of silver. Henry wrote to his chief vassals, lay and ecclesiastic, to bid them guarantee the safety of all the Jews on their lands. Godfrey, having already succeeded in his blackmail, answered that nothing was further from his thoughts than persecution, and gladly gave the requested guarantee.

The First Massacres

If the Jews hoped to escape so cheaply from the threat of Christian fervour, they were soon to be disillusioned. At the end of April 1096, a certain Volkmar, of whose origins we know nothing, set out from the Rhineland with over ten thousand men to join Peter in the East. He took the road to Hungary that ran through Bohemia. A few days later Peter’s old disciple Gottschalk, with a slightly larger company, left along the main road that Peter had taken, up the Rhine and through Bavaria. Meanwhile a third army had been collected by a petty lord of the Rhineland, Count Emich of Leisingen, who had already acquired a certain reputation for lawlessness and brigandage. Emich now claimed to have a cross miraculously branded on his flesh. At the same time, as a soldier of known experience, he attracted to his banner a greater and more formidable variety of recruits than the preachers Volkmar and Gottschalk could command. A multitude of simple enthusiastic pilgrims joined him, some of them following a goose that had been inspired by God. But his army included members of the French and German nobility, such as the lords of Zweibrucken, Salm and Viernenberger, Hartmann of Dillingen, Drogo of Nesle, Clarambald of Vendeuil, Thomas of La Fere and William, Viscount of Melun, surnamed the Carpenter because of his huge physical strength.

It was perhaps the example of Peter and of Duke Godfrey that suggested to Emich how easily religious fervour could be used to the personal profit of himself and his associates. Ignoring the special orders of the emperor Henry, he persuaded his followers to begin their Crusade on 3 May with an attack on the Jewish community at Spier, close to his home. It was not a very impressive attack. The Bishop of Spier, whose sympathies were won by a handsome present, placed the Jews under his protection. Only twelve were taken by the Crusaders and slain after their refusal to embrace Christianity; and one Jewess committed suicide to preserve her virtue. The bishop saved the rest and even managed to capture several of the murderers, whose hands were cut off in punishment.

Small as was the massacre at Spier, it whetted the appetite. On 18 May Emich and his troops arrived at Worms. Soon afterwards a rumour went round that the Jews had taken a Christian and drowned him and used the water in which they had kept his corpse to poison the city wells. The Jews were not popular at Worms nor in the countryside around; and the rumour brought townsfolk and peasants to join with Emich’s men in attacks on the Jewish quarter. Every Jew that was captured was put to death. As at Spier the bishop intervened and opened his palace to Jewish refugees. But Emich and the angry crowds with him forced the gates and broke into the sanctuary. There, despite the bishop’s protests, they slaughtered all his guests, to the number of about five hundred.

Massacres at Mainz and Cologne

The massacre at Worms took place on 20 May. On 25 May Emich arrived before the great city of Mainz. He found the gates closed against him by order of Archbishop Rothard. But the news of his coming provoked anti-Jewish riots within the city, in the course of which a Christian was killed. So on 26 May friends within the city opened the gates to him. The Jews, who had assembled at the synagogue, sent gifts of two hundred marks of silver to the archbishop and to the chief lay lord of the city, asking to be taken into their respective palaces. At the same time a Jewish emissary went to Emich and for seven gold pounds bought from him a promise that he would spare the community. The money was wasted. Next day he attacked the archbishop’s palace. Rothard, alarmed by the temper of the assailants, hastened to flee with all his staff. On his departure Emich’s men broke into the building. The Jews attempted to resist but were soon overcome and slain. Their lay protector, whose name has not survived, may have been more courageous. But Emich succeeded in setting fire to his palace and forced its inmates to evacuate it. Several Jews saved their lives by abjuring their faith. The remainder were killed. The massacre lasted for two more days, while refugees were rounded up. Some of the apostates repented of their weakness and committed suicide. One, before slaying himself and his family, burnt down the synagogue to keep it from further desecration. The chief Rabbi, Kalonymos, with about fifty companions, had escaped from the city to Rudesheim and begged asylum from the archbishop who was staying at his country villa there. To the archbishop, seeing the terror of his visitors, it seemed a propitious moment to attempt their conversion. This was more than Kalonymos could bear. He snatched up a knife and flung himself on his host. He was beaten off; but the outrage cost him and his comrades their lives. In the course of the massacre at Mainz about a thousand jews had perished.

Emich next proceeded towards Cologne. There had already been anti-Jewish riots there in April; and now the Jews, panic-stricken by the news from Mainz, scattered themselves among the neighbouring villages and the houses of their Christian acquaintances, who kept them hidden over Whit-Sunday, 1 June, and the following day, while Emich was in the neighbourhood. The synagogue was burnt and a Jew and a Jewess who refused to apostasize were slain; but the archbishop’s influence was able to prevent further excesses.

At Cologne Emich decided that his work in the Rhineland was completed. Early in June he set out with the bulk of his forces up the Main towards Hungary. But a large party of his followers thought that the Moselle valley also should be purged of Jews. They broke off from his army at Mainz and on 1 June they arrived at Trier. Most of the Jewish community there was safely given refuge by the archbishop in his palace; but as the Crusaders approached some Jews in panic began to fight among themselves, while others threw themselves into the Moselle and were drowned. Their persecutors then moved on to Metz, where twenty-two Jews perished. About the middle of June they returned to Cologne, hoping to rejoin Emich; but, finding him gone, they proceeded down the Rhine, spending from 24 to 27 June in massacring the Jews at Neuss, Wevelinghofen, Eller and Xanten. Then they dispersed, some returning home, others probably merging with the army of Godfrey of Bouillon.

News of Emich’s exploits reached the parties that had already left Germany for the East. Volkmar and his followers arrived at Prague at the end of May. On 30 June they began to massacre the Jews in the city. The lay authorities were unable to curb them; and the vehement protests of Bishop Cosmas were unheeded. From Prague Volkmar marched on into Hungary. At Nitra, the first large town across the frontier, he probably attempted to take similar action. But the Hungarians would not permit such behaviour. Finding the Crusaders incorrigibly unruly they attacked and scattered them. Many were slain and others captured. What happened to the survivors and to Volkmar himself is unknown.

Gottschalk and his men, who had taken the road through Bavaria, had paused at Ratisbon to massacre the Jews there. A few days later they entered Hungary at Wiesselburg (Moson). King Coloman issued orders that they should be given facilities for revictualling so long as they behaved themselves. But from the outset they began to pillage the countryside, stealing wine and com and sheep and oxen. The Hungarian peasants resisted these exactions. There was fighting; several deaths occurred and a young Hungarian boy was impaled by the Crusaders. Coloman brought up troops to control them and surrounded them at the village of Stuhlweissenburg, a little further to the east. The Crusaders were obliged to surrender all their arms and all the goods that they had stolen. But trouble continued. Possibly they made some attempt to resist; possibly Coloman had heard by now of the events at Nitra and would not trust them even disarmed. As they lay at its mercy, the Hungarian army fell on them. Gottschalk was the first to flee but was soon taken. All his men perished in the massacre.

The End of Emich’s Expedition

Some few weeks later Emich’s army approached the Hungarian frontier. It was larger and more formidable than Gottschalk’s; and King Coloman, after his recent experiences, was seriously alarmed. When Emich sent to ask for permission to pass through his kingdom, Coloman refused the request and sent troops to defend the bridge that led across a branch of the Danube to Wiesselburg. But Emich was not to be deflected. For six weeks his men fought the Hungarians in a series of petty skirmishes in front of the bridge, while they set about building an alternative bridge for themselves. In the meantime they pillaged the country on their side of the river. At last the Crusaders were able to force their way across the bridge that they had built and laid siege to the fortress of Wiesselburg itself. Their army was well equipped and possessed siege-engines of such power that the fall of the town seemed imminent. But, probably on the rumour that the king was coming up in full strength, a sudden panic flung the Crusaders into disorder. The garrison thereupon made a sortie and fell on the Crusaders’ camp. Emich was unable to rally his men. After a short battle they were utterly routed. Most of them fell on the field; but Emich himself and a few knights were able to escape owing to the speed of their horses. Emich and his German companions eventually retired to their homes. The French knights, Clarambald of Vendeuil, Thomas of La Fere and William the Carpenter, joined other expeditions bound for Palestine.

The collapse of Emich’s Crusade, following so soon after the collapse of Volkmar’s and Gottschalk’s Crusades, deeply impressed western Christendom. To most good Christians it appeared as a punishment meted out from on high to the murderers of the Jews. Others, who had thought the whole Crusading movement to be foolish and wrong, saw in these disasters God’s open disavowal of it all. Nothing had yet occurred to justify the cry that echoed at Clermont, ‘Deus le volt’.

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