Count Stephen of Blois’s optimism appeared justified. Nicaea, the capital of the Turkish Seljuks of Asia Minor, the sultanate of Rum, surrendered on 19 June 1097. A month before, the still-assembling crusader force had decisively repulsed the relief attack by the sultan, Kilij Arslan, a remarkable achievement for such a novice and fragmented army. During the siege, the westerners, employing catapults, siege towers and using boats provided by the Greeks to blockade the city from the adjoining Ascanian lake, established a common fund for expenses, including payment for an Italian engineer. Faced by such a vast host, perhaps numbering 60,000, Nicaea agreed surrender terms with the Emperor Alexius, including a prohibition on plunder that was less than enthusiastically received by the besiegers. The capture of the Seljuk capital, for years a target for Byzantine mercenaries, marked an impressive achievement for the ‘army of God’, as Stephen of Blois proudly described it. Alexius had taken no direct part in military operations, beyond logistical help, but through his new vassals a large, strategically important city had been returned to his empire intact, undermining Kilij Arslan’s grip on the largely non-Turkish cities of western Asia Minor and signalling a new force in Near Eastern politics. When the emperor assembled his allies at Pelekanum after the siege, apart from extracting oaths from recalcitrants such as Tancred of Lecce, giving advice, discussing strategy and showering rich and poor alike with gifts, he arranged for a crusader embassy to be despatched to negotiate with the Fatimid regime in Egypt, fellow adversaries of the Turks, with whom he was on amicable terms. The victors of Nicaea were thus recognized as more than another western mercenary force doing the Greeks’ bidding on the margins of western Islam. Their distinctive ambitions were understood by their Byzantine patron, if not as yet by his Muslim friends and enemies.1
This soon changed. The Damascus chronicler Ibn al-Qalanisi (d. 1160), a young man at the time of the First Crusade, remembered the ominous rumours reaching Syria in 1097:
there began to arrive a succession of reports that the armies of the Franks had appeared from the direction of the sea of Constantinople with forces not to be reckoned for multitude. As these reports followed one upon the other, and spread from mouth to mouth far and wide, the people grew anxious and disturbed in mind.
An Armenian monk, writing in Syria during the invasion of 1097–9, described the westerners who followed ‘the sign of the cross of Christ’ as fulfilment of Christ’s promise to come to the assistance of His people. Another, commenting from Alexandria in the summer of 1099, remarked on the ‘countless multitudes’ who attacked Syria with ‘Divine aid inspired by Almighty God’. The significance of these intruders became apparent. In 1105, a religious lawyer teaching at the Great Mosque in Damascus, Ali Ibn Tahir al-Sulami, unwittingly mirrored Urban II’s historical analysis in explaining the advance of the ifranj:
A number fell upon the island of Sicily at a time of difference and competition, and likewise they gained possession of town after town in Spain. When mutually confirmatory reports reached them of the state of this country – the disagreement of its lords, the dissensions of its dignitaries, together with its disorder and disturbance – they carried out their resolution of going out to it, and Jerusalem was the summit of their wishes.2
So marked did these dissensions appear, and so favourable to any invader, some have wondered whether Alexius and Urban deliberately timed their initiative to take advantage of them. The chroniclers who accompanied the expedition to Jerusalem well knew that the Muslim world the western host entered in June 1097 lacked unity in politics, race and religion. They distinguished between Muslim ‘Turks’ – the warrior elite originating in the Eurasian steppes – and ‘Saracens’ or ‘Arabs’ – the Arabic-speaking, settled population of the Levant: the anonymous veteran who wrote theGesta Francorum, one of the earliest written accounts, carefully discriminated between these and also the different Christian communities – Greek, Armenian and Syrian (i.e. Greek Orthodox, Jacobite or Maronite Christians in Syria who spoke Arabic).3 The protracted negotiations with the Fatimid rulers of Egypt between June 1097 and May 1099 revealed the potential for exploiting Near Eastern political fissures; partitioning Palestine may even have been mooted at Antioch in March 1098. Throughout their march across Asia Minor and Syria, western leaders appeared well informed of their opponents’ alliances. Subsequent successes in Cilicia, at Edessa and Antioch, and the unopposed march to Jerusalem in 1099 relied on the failure of the competing Muslim powers to unite, the crusaders’ appreciation of this disunity and their willingness to exploit it through diplomacy and war.
It is a persistent myth that western Christians possessed either no knowledge of or a universally blinkered hostility to Islam and Muslim rulers. In eleventh-century Spain, opportunist military adventurers, such as Rodrigo Diaz, El Cid, happily served Muslim employers when it suited them. On a military level, the soldiers of Christ of 1097 recognized the quality of their Turkish opponents. Even Pope Gregory VII, a scourge of Christian backsliders, attempted to maintain friendly relations with the Muslim ruler of Mauritania, on the startlingly tolerant grounds that ‘we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world’.4 From the other side, so-called Muslim policy was often conducted and implemented by non-Muslims, Christians of various denominations as well as Jews. The Coptic Christian community in Egypt remained influential in administration until the fourteenth century. In many areas of western Asia under Islamic rule in the eleventh century it is doubtful whether there existed a Muslim majority.5 Constructive contact between the Christian army and selected Muslim powers was unsurprising, especially since the Byzantines had been pursuing such strategies for generations.
From the middle of the eleventh century, the heterogeneous polity of the Near East had revolved around the dominance of orthodox Sunni Muslim Seljuk Turks in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Asia Minor controlling the decadent Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad and the faltering heretical Shi’ite caliphate of the Fatimids in Egypt.6 In 1055, the chief of the Orghuz Turcoman tribes in north-eastern Iran, the Seljuk Tughrul Beg, seized Baghdad, appropriating for himself from the caliph the title of sultan (literally, in Arabic, ‘power’). Tughrul (d. 1063), his nephew Alp Arslan (1063–72) and great-nephew Malik Shah (1072–92) created an empire including Iran, Iraq and, from the late 1070s, central and southern Syria; northern Syria, a group of client city states, was incorporated by 1086. Alp Arslan, by his decisive defeat of the Byzantine emperor, Romanus Diogenes, at Manzikert in 1071, opened Anatolia to Turcoman invasion and settlement. The sultanate created there, of Rum (i.e. the former lands of the Byzantines who always referred to themselves as Romans), was ruled by Seljuk cousins of Malik Shah, Suleiman Ibn Kutulmush (d. 1086) and his son Kilij Arslan, whose influence in northern Syria was successfully challenged by Malik Shah’s brother Tutush. While the sultanate of Rum occupied southern and western Anatolia, another Turkish power, the Danishmends, established control of the north and east of the peninsula. The two powers competed for advantage, while unsuccessfully combining to resist the westerners’ advance across Anatolia in the summer of 1097.
Turkish authority from the Persian Gulf to the Dead Sea rested on military strength exercised by the control of local communities by Turkish garrisons or mercenaries holding indigenous political hierarchies in check. The western invaders of 1097 acknowledged that Turkish military supremacy had ‘terrorized the Arabs, Saracens, Armenians, Syrians and Greeks’.7 Such rule varied from the militant Turkish holy warrior ethos of the Danishmends to the Great Seljuks of Baghdad, fully assimilated into the Arabo-Persian culture of the Abbasids: Malik Shah is not a Turkish name at all; it means King King in Arabic and Persian, a sort of echo of the imperial title of the ancient Persian Shahanshahs, Kings of Kings. Local power depended on standing armies of mercenaries, as the traditional Turkish nomadic life clashed with the settled rural and urban conditions of Iraq, Syria, Palestine and much of Anatolia. As effective warriors, the Turks of Asia Minor and Syria maintained their hold, real power often lying with mercenary army commanders rather than princely governors. Even the power of the Seljuk sultans in Baghdad was overshadowed by that of their vizier, Nizam al-Mulk.
One characteristic of the Seljuks was their fiercely orthodox Sunni Islam, putting them at odds with many of their subjects, not only the various Christian sects but also the Shi’ite majority among the Muslim peasantry of Syria, as well as with the heretical caliphs of Egypt, with whom they contested control of Palestine. After establishing themselves in Egypt in 969, the Shi’ite Fatimid caliphate became increasingly dependent on its mercenary troops, Berber tribesmen, Blacks (Sudan in Arabic) from the upper Nile, Turks and other slave warriors (mamluks). These elements fought for supremacy behind the throne of Caliph al-Mustansir (1036–94) until he appointed as his vizier the aged Armenian mamluk Badr al-Jamali, who ruled Egypt as a military dictator from 1074 to 1094. The political potential of religion was dramatically demonstrated in 1092, when a Shi’ite splinter group established at Alamut, south of the Caspian Sea, murdered the immensely powerful vizier of Baghdad, Nizam al-Mulk; the killers’ sect was later known in the west as the Assassins. The Egyptian rulers were less ideologically militant or successful, their hold over the hinterland of Syria and Palestine reduced to nominal control over a few sea-ports on the Palestinian littoral. In an attempt to eject Turkish authority from Palestine Badr al-Jamali’s son and successor, al-Afdal, sought friendship with Byzantium and an agreement with the Greeks’ newest allies in 1097–9.
Tensions and rivalries were inherent in a polity where form disguised substance; behind the caliph a sultan, behind a sultan a vizier, behind a vizier a mamluk. Indigenous hierarchies were subject to foreign domination: Egypt and Iraq competed for Syria and Palestine; Armenian, Turcoman, Kurd or Berber adventurers subjugated local aristocracies. These fissures were deepened by a disastrous coincidence of death between 1092 and 1094, which swept away all the major political figures of the Near East. In 1092, the Vizier Nizam al-Mulk, effective ruler of the Seljuk empire, was followed to his grave a few weeks later by the Sultan Malik Shah himself. A similar pattern was repeated in Egypt in 1094, when the death of the Vizier Badr al-Jamali closely followed that of his ostensible master, the veteran Fatimid Caliph al-Mustansir. In the same year, the Sunni caliph of Baghdad, al-Muqtadi, also died. These multiple deaths provoked succession struggles and political fragmentation from Iran to Anatolia, Syria and Palestine. In Asia Minor, Kilij Arslan, held hostage by Malik Shah since the defeat and death of his father Suleiman in 1086, began to restore an independent sultanate of Rum in competition with the Seljuks and the Danishmends of eastern Anatolia. In the civil wars over Malik Shah’s inheritance, his brother Tutush, ruler of Syria, was defeated and killed in 1095 by the sultan’s son Barkyaruq, whose own power remained disputed by his brother Muhammed until his death in 1105. While much of the internecine fighting occurred in western Iran, political unity in Syria imploded. Tutush’s bickering sons Ridwan of Aleppo and Duqaq of Damascus failed to impose their authority allowing the Turkish atabeg (i.e. guardian of prince or governor) of Mosul, Kerbogha, the opportunity to extend his authority into northern Syria, while local dynasties asserted their independence further south, such as the Ortoqids in Jerusalem or the Shi’ite Banu ‘Ammar in Tripoli. At Edessa in northern Iraq, in Cilicia and northern Syria, Armenian princelings re-established themselves in the debris of Seljuk rule. The new Egyptian vizier, al-Afdal, took advantage of this instability to restore Fatimid power in southern Palestine, culminating in his capture of Jerusalem from the Ortoqids in 1098.
In this political turmoil, where power rested with military warlords with varying claims to legitimacy, the western army appeared neither as distinctive nor as threatening as it thought itself. With the main contest for power in the Near East being fought in Iran, hundreds of miles to the east, the westerners’ targets – Cilicia, Antioch, Edessa, Jerusalem – were peripheral. As Tutush had discovered, rule of Syria counted for little against the forces of Iraq and Iran. Given the nature of their enterprise, the Christian expeditionary force rarely constituted a genuine threat to local dynasts. Despite the loss of Nicaea and defeats by the crusaders in 1097, the sultanate of Rum and the power of the Danishmends remained intact if dented. Only where Turkish authority had already eroded or collapsed – as in Cilicia or parts of northern Syria, including Antioch – did the crusaders threaten existing structures of authority. This new, fanatical, single-minded force apparently of Byzantine mercenaries fitted easily into a world dominated by armies of foreign hirelings – Kurdish, Turcoman or Armenian. The First Crusade was well suited to contemporary Near Eastern politics.
Such insights were far from apparent to the members of the expedition as they set out to cross Anatolia in late June 1097. Within days of leaving the area of Nicaea, the army was almost defeated, its vanguard overrun and nearly destroyed, by Kilij Arslan’s field army. Four years later, similar western contingents were serially annihilated by local forces, leaving merely uneasy rumours of their fate. Such could easily have been the fate of the 1097 host. The battle, conventionally called of Dorylaeum, but actually fought over twenty-five miles to the north, attracted vivid if confused memories, recalling fear (‘huddled together like sheep in a fold… we had no hope of surviving,’ remembered one), recognition that it had been a close-run thing and certainty that victory had been God-given.8
By the early morning of 1 July 1097, the Christian vanguard, perhaps 20,000 strong, comprising the contingents of Bohemund, Robert of Normandy, Stephen of Blois and Robert of Flanders, with the Byzantine troops under Tatikios, had advanced about forty-five miles south-east of Nicaea, reaching a valley just under three miles north of the modern Bozuyuk. There they were confronted by Kilij Arslan and his new ally the Danishmend emir. The Turkish force was mounted and probably outnumbered the western knights in the vanguard, which had become detached from the main body of crusaders under Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey of Bouillon, around 30,000 strong, who were still some three miles away when battle was joined. On seeing the size of the Turkish army, Bohemund, his generalship skill already recognized, ordered the infantry, priests and other non-combatants to make a defensive camp, awkwardly with its back to a marsh, while the mounted knights advanced towards the enemy. Immediately things went badly, the mobile Turkish mounted archers driving the knights back to the camp, which became assailed on all flanks. Surrounded, the vanguard fought ferociously in dogged, bloody close combat, sustained by their close formation, lack of alternatives and a burgeoning esprit de corps.9 After more than five hours, the vanguard faced massacre until the arrival of the main force under Godfrey and Raymond compelled the Turks to break off their assault to engage in a series of running fights across the field before abandoning the fray when the Provençals, led, some said, by Adhemar of Le Puy, threatened to encircle them. In the pursuit, lasting some days, the westerners looted the sultan’s camp, seizing gold, silver, horses, asses and camels (employed as pack-animals for the rest of the booty), cows and sheep. While proving the crusaders’ mettle, the battle had exposed failures of command and the danger still posed by the Turks; disaster had come perilously close.
While the largely nomadic Turkish forces of Kilij Arslan and the Danishmends could not be destroyed in one set-piece defeat, such a reverse undermined the sultan’s authority, especially over the towns of Anatolia with large Christian populations, and his recently constructed prestige amongst his Turkish supporters. Towns and cities across Anatolia repudiated the sultan, many welcoming the passing crusaders. The sheer size of the westerners’ force invited respect. In crossing central Anatolia, its main enemy was heat by day and, in the uplands, sharp cold by night, thirst, lack of supplies and fatigue. There was an almost unstoppable haemorrhaging of horses: one veteran suggested they lost most of them in a few weeks after the battle, a potentially fatal blow. While Tancred and Baldwin of Boulogne separately pressed on directly towards Konya, the main army, moving at times as little as five miles a day and never much more than ten, took a detour into more fertile territory around Pisidian Antioch to the south to allow effective foraging. Reunited at Konya in mid-August, the great army was showing signs of depletion. Goats, sheep, even dogs were pressed into service as pack animals, their backs soon lacerated with sores, while knights rode cows or walked. In high and late summer temperatures could soar to over 30 degrees. Some recalled hundreds dying, mainly of thirst; the true figure may have been thousands. New-born babies were abandoned by their mothers. The march across Anatolia scarred the memories of the survivors. The leaders were not immune, Raymond of Toulouse falling so gravely ill that he received the last rites and Godfrey of Bouillon apparently being attacked and injured by a bear.10 The requirements of food and water were paramount, determining the routes and behaviour of the army. Without cowed Turkish opponents and the general uprising against the sultan in Christian towns, the westerners could hardly have survived. The only serious military resistance encountered was at Ereghli (Heraclea) about a hundred miles east of Konya, around 10 September.
After Heraclea, the great army divided, a decision displaying awareness of regional political conditions, local geography and topography, diplomatic opportunities, and prospects for collective and personal gain. Byzantine interests remained influential. Confronted by the formidable barrier of the Taurus mountains, the ordinary route for travellers to Syria led south-east through the steep, narrow pass known as the Cilician Gates (at its tightest about thirty yards across) down into the fertile Cilician plain, past Tarsus, Adana, Mamistra to Alexandretta and the Belen pass through the Ammanus mountain range, thence to northern Syria and Antioch, a journey from Heraclea of some 220 miles. This route was taken by two separate contingents, led by Tancred and Baldwin of Boulogne, acting on orders of the whole command or, possibly, as surrogates for Bohemund and Godfrey of Bouillon. Despite bitter, at times violent rivalry once in Cilicia, these forays in September and early October cleared opponents from the southern flank of the main army and established access to significant areas for supply and forage while denying them to the Turks of Antioch. Although Tancred and Baldwin came to blows at Tarsus, the latter being implicated in the Muslim massacre of 300 knights sent by Bohemund to reinforce his nephew,11 and again at Mamistra, they left behind sympathetic local rulers and garrisons: Baldwin’s at Tarsus, Tancred’s at Mamistra and possibly Baghras in northern Syria. The evidently self-interested campaigns of these two youthful, well-connected, skilful but landless adventurers materially aided the attack on Antioch and the protection of longer-term western interests in Syria.
The main army turned northwards from Heraclea towards Caesarea in Cappadocia (Kayseri), crossing the mountains by steep but broader passes before turning south-east to Coxon (Goksum) and Marasch, through defiles almost as precipitous and narrow as those of the Cilician Gates, to approach Antioch from the north, a distance from Heraclea of just under 400 miles, a long, agonizing trek through inhospitable, barren high country, the road reaching over 5,500 feet, with the risk of snow at higher altitudes. The march from Heraclea to Antioch took about seven weeks, averaging about eight miles a day; losses in the Taurus mountains were great. The reason for this apparent diversion lay in the need to encourage Armenian Christian support and to secure the hinterland of Antioch by clearing the Taurus approaches of hostile Turks. Byzantine authority was restored in some places; at Comana, the Italian Norman Peter of Alipha or Aups, a veteran in Byzantine service, assumed command of the city ‘in fealty to God and the Holy Sepulchre and to our leaders and the emperor’.12 At others local Christians resumed control, as the Armenian Simeon at an unnamed town in Cappadocia, and Tatoul at Marasch. Tatoul was a supporter of the Greek emperor; Simeon had accompanied the army providing it with local knowledge and political contacts. The diversion to Caesarea and Marasch thus served Greek interests by liberating local Christians from Turkish dominion under the imperial aegis. Militarily, approaching from the north isolated Antioch by freeing the mountain cities, capturing the strategically important city of Artah, which controlled the city’s eastern approaches, and establishing a presence in the fertile Ruj valley, east of the Orontes, on which Antioch stands. Combined with the Cilician activities of Tancred and Baldwin, the westerners stood well placed to attack Antioch.
3. The Siege of Antioch, October 1097–June 1098
This two-pronged attack on northern Syria territorially reconstituted much of the principality carved out by a renegade Greek commander, Philaretus Brachamius, between 1077 and the Turkish occupation of Antioch in 1085 and had been accomplished with the support of local Armenian lords, with whom there had been contact since Nicaea.13 One of them, Bagrat, persuaded the restless Baldwin of Boulogne, with whom he had travelled since Nicaea, to try his luck further east towards the Euphrates, also in lands once controlled by Philaretus. Leaving the army again after a brief stay in mid-October, with a small contingent of knights Baldwin moved on Tell-Bashir where he was welcomed by local Armenians as their lord. Having established military overlordship of the region up to the Euphrates, in a fashion familiar from Greek and Turkish precedents, in February 1098 Baldwin received an invitation from Thoros, the Armenian ruler of Edessa, forty-five miles east of the Euphrates, to come to his aid against the imminent advance of Kerbogha of Mosul, who was preparing a massive army to relieve Antioch and regain northern Syria from this nascent Franco-Armenian coalition. Baldwin accepted on condition Thoros recognized him as his heir. Arriving at Edessa on 20 February 1098, Baldwin tacitly or actively colluded with local dissidents in the rapid removal of Thoros, failing to intervene as his adoptive father was lynched by the town mob. On 10 March, Baldwin assumed authority over Edessa, establishing the first so-called Frankish state in the Levant. Apart from satisfying Baldwin’s ambition, the addition of Edessa and the lands on either side of the Euphrates to the westerner’s sphere of control proved vital for the survival of the whole expedition. A source of material aid and intelligence to the main army, in May 1098, Baldwin’s presence persuaded Kerbogha of Mosul to pause in his march on Antioch to besiege Edessa. This delay of three weeks was crucial; instead of trapping the western army outside the city walls, Kerbogha’s vanguard arrived just one day after the Christians had finally entered Antioch after an eight-month siege. Baldwin’s campaigns in Cilicia and Syria highlighted the impact of small forces; at Edessa, so his chaplain Fulcher of Chartres recorded, he was accompanied by as few as eighty knights, suggesting a force of a few hundred at most, Baldwin’s success exposing the fragility of local power structures and allegiances which contributed to the wider success of the western army in Syria.14
The siege of Antioch from October 1097 to June 1098 provided the twelfth century with its Trojan War, famed in verse, song and prose, commemorated in stone and glass, the central episode of trial and heroism in epic and romantic recounting of the First Crusade.15 For once, legend was justified. Despite the size of the western armies, Antioch presented a formidable obstacle. Although its garrison was modest, perhaps only a few thousand, the circuit of the walls, studded with scores of towers, ran for about seven and a half miles, much of it over rough, mountainous terrain. Contained within the fortified area of about three square miles was Mt Silpius, near the summit of which perched the citadel, a thousand feet above the main city. Incapable of investing Antioch by complete blockade, the crusaders’ alternative of assault offered little immediate prospect of success as they appeared at this stage to lack sufficient heavy artillery (i.e. great throwing engines such as mangonels or trebuchets) to breach the walls. A lengthy siege was in prospect, the only choice being whether to conduct it at close range or to blockade the city at a distance. Neither bore the certainty or even prospect of success as the governor of Antioch, Yaghisiyan, nominally a client of Ridwan of Aleppo, exerted much diplomatic energy to garner help. While past animosities prevented a concerted Muslim response, time lay on Yaghisiyan’s side, even though many of the outlying garrisons and commanders in the area, often non-Muslim, took the opportunity to throw off the governor’s unpopular rule, some Armenians regarding the westerners as liberators.
Less clear is why the siege was undertaken in the first place. The Christian army was ill-equipped for siege warfare; the success at Nicaea had been due to Byzantine diplomacy and naval power as much as anything. Given Turkish disunity, negotiation rather than attack might have cleared a path southwards. The warring jealousies of the rulers of the great Syrian cities were not greatly moved by the appearance of the crusaders; accommodation, especially in the context of the westerners’ hardly secret negotiations with Fatimid Egypt, could have been achieved. When, in 1099, the Christian host marched on Jerusalem, there was little suggestion of taking Homs, Damascus or the cities on the Palestinian coast. Perhaps of greater strategic importance than Antioch itself were its ports, Alexandretta, St Symeon and Lattakiah, through which supplies of food (chiefly from Cyprus), war materials and men could reach the Christian army in Syria. Tancred had secured Alexandretta weeks before the main army reached Antioch, and a combination of Greek-sponsored and western fleets had occupied Lattakiah and St Symeon before the land army arrived.
An agreed objective between the Emperor Alexius and the westerners, evident from Stephen of Blois’s comment to his wife from Nicaea, as a strategic target of the war, Antioch’s role was as much political as military or logistic. Alexius, so his daughter later admitted, had hired the western armies ‘to extend the bounds of the Roman (i.e. Byzantine) empire’, specifically, it seems, the northern Syrian principality based on Antioch which had acted as a semi-autonomous buffer between Byzantium and the Seljuks in the late 1070s and early 1080s.16 Its re-establishment would have greatly helped Alexius reclaim Asia Minor. The care taken by the Christian army to circle Antioch via Cilicia and the Taurus mountains and establish firm relations with Armenian rulers indicated such a policy. Although neither ignorant nor immune to the appeal of Jerusalem, Greek strategy held to more prosaic and customary ambitions, for which the emperor was prepared to lavish money, military aid, naval support and supplies on his western recruits.
Greek plans for Antioch were complemented by the ambitions and needs of the westerners. By the winter of 1097–8, the resources of many of the lesser and some of the greater leaders of the armies were reaching exhaustion. Negotiations with the Fatimids of Egypt continued: an Egyptian embassy arrived at the crusader camp in February 1098. Agreement with the Egyptians would have reduced pickings in southern Syria and Palestine, making exploitation of northern Syria urgent and necessary. In the winter of 1097–8 elements in the Christian forces eagerly established themselves as de facto rulers of significant tracts of Antioch’s hinterland, even though the dangers of such loose investment of the city were well understood by a high command fearful of the army’s disintegration. Alone, the requirement to find winter quarters to rest and recover from the arduous march across the mountains of eastern Asia Minor scarcely explains the siege of Antioch, especially as the decision taken in October/November 1097 to invest the city closely exacerbated the difficulty of supplying such a large army. There was more to it than logistics. Of particular significance may have been the circumstances of Bohemund, who had attached himself closely to Byzantine interests since arriving at Constantinople in April 1097. It is possible that he hoped for, or even expected, some territorial reward from Alexius in Syria. The expedition into Cilicia by his nephew, Tancred, may have been conducted on his behalf.17 At Antioch his skills as a field commander propelled him to overall military leadership of the expedition in February 1098 against Ridwan of Aleppo. The near-disaster of the engagement with the forces of Duqaq of Damascus on 31 December 1097 in the Orontes valley, twenty-five miles south of the city, due in part to divided command, persuaded the leaders to appoint a single field commander. This suited Bohemund’s political ambitions. Lacking the forces or the money to compete with Raymond of Toulouse or Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemund may have long regarded Antioch as a prize to further his own interests, although it was only in May 1098, with the army threatened with annihilation by Kerbogha’s relief force, that he showed his hand. The attempt to capture the city conformed to Greek policy. In theory, it provided a focus for a period of recuperation for the Christian host; it helped keep Egyptian friendship by threatening the Seljuk powers of northern Syria, allowing the Fatimids to recapture Jerusalem itself in July 1098. The siege of Antioch was, therefore, of general political significance as well as reflecting some misplaced confidence. Raymond of Toulouse reputedly argued in favour of the siege on the grounds that God would see them right as He had done at Nicaea and in Anatolia.18 In fact, Antioch almost destroyed the crusade. Yet the extraordinary chain of events forged a harder unity of purpose among the mass of the army, a newly strident militant identity and confidence in divine favour expressed in the willingness of the survivors, great and humble alike, to integrate into their language and behaviour the rhetoric, symbols and theatre of visionary religious enthusiasm.
The siege of Antioch lasted from 21 October 1097 until the city fell on 3 June 1098, whereupon the Christians immediately found themselves besieged, Stalingrad-like, by the relief force under Kerbogha of Mosul until his defeat and flight on 28 June. Once committed, the Christians faced a series of potentially lethal crises stemming from their inability to surround Antioch, the precarious state of food supplies and a succession of Muslim relief expeditions. At no time during the seven and a half months of the first siege was the city entirely blockaded. Men, materials and intelligence could find ways in; the garrison was able to fire on, attack or ambush the besiegers more or less at will, inflicting both military and civilian casualties. Only in March 1098 was the Bridge Gate that led to the road to the port of St Symeon blocked by the construction of one of three counterforts (the others were built to the north of the city in November 1097 and opposite the George Gate to the south in April 1098). While the western troops could not force entry into the city, their numbers were too great for the Antioch garrison to dislodge. The stalemate was broken in June 1098 by treachery, not military action, and even then the garrison itself held out in the citadel a further three weeks, only surrendering the day after Kerbogha’s defeat rendered its position untenable.
Such deadlock placed enormous strain on resources and morale. In late December 1097, acute food shortages prompted a major foraging expedition south up the Orontes valley towards al-Bara, only for Bohemund and Robert of Flanders to stumble across an allied relief force from Damascus and Homs led by Duqaq of Damascus and his atabeg Tughtegin.19 Duqaq withdrew only after inflicting heavy casualties, mainly among the westerners’ infantry, and preventing the collection of much-needed forage, a failure that threatened the Christians with starvation. Supplies were sought from as far away as Cyprus, Rhodes and Crete, but famine loomed; prices soared; hunger claimed men and horses. The army’s debilitation reduced the number of volunteers to conduct other vital foraging sorties. The expedition appeared trapped in a vice, unable to make military progress and incapable of feeding itself. Misery and fear led to desertion; Peter the Hermit and William the Carpenter of Melun were caught trying to flee. Even Bohemund contemplated abandoning the enterprise as he saw men and horses in his modest company dying of hunger.20 The presence in Syrian waters of friendly shipping made escape easier.
To counter collapsing morale, in January, the papal legate, Adhemar of Le Puy, instituted penitential fasting, intercessory prayers, processions and alms-giving for the laity, with the clergy celebrating masses and singing psalms. Communal participation in familiar religious ceremonies played on the psychological requirement for the beleaguered Christians to shake off fatalism, lethargy and inertia by involving the ordinary soldier and pilgrim in active contributions to the army’s destiny. With a simultaneous secular crackdown on law and order within the army, the revivalist message was reinforced by the removal of all women from the camps, wives included, the association of sex with divine disapproval being widely promoted by the western clerical establishment.21 Ritualpublic humiliations and punishment for adulterers were staged to underscore the evils of sexual licence, the culprits stripped naked and flogged in front of the whole army. More mundanely, an appeal for alms helped pool resources. The leaders, who reached decisions through regular councils, formed a confraternity, a sworn association which could distribute donations without complications of conflicting lordships or loyalties. The funding of the siege forts and a bridge of boats across the Orontes was organized in this way, as were payments to Tancred for him to blockade Antioch’s southern gate. To meet the crisis of January 1098, Raymond of Toulouse paid 500 marks into the common fund to help knights replace their horses.22 To further reassure their followers, the leaders swore oaths not to abandon the siege. These measures emphasized the particular corporate identity that had grown through shared experience and crisis. Correspondence to the west in October and November 1097 proclaimed that God fought for ‘the army of the Lord’; in January, the bishops in the army recorded the assistance in battle of the ‘knights of Christ’, the Greek saints George, Theodore, Demetrius and Blaise.23
The bishops were appealing to the west for reinforcement. In fact, the army was receiving a constant stream of reinforcements from as far apart as Italy, England and Denmark, many travelling with the fleets that arrived in the Levant in 1097–8 providing the besiegers with vital sustenance.24 At no time was the army of God entirely cut off from the west or its Greek paymasters. In the need to replace its devastating casualties as well as its chronic problems of supplies may lie the decision of Tatikios, early in February 1098, to leave Antioch, as he claimed, to seek food and more troops.25 Although later condemned as a doubledyed coward by western observers intent on constructing a justification for the failure to cede Antioch to the Greek emperor, Tatikios may have harboured perfectly legitimate motives. The supply chain to Antioch had broken down; direct consultation with the imperial authorities might have improved matters. Tatikios left his staff behind at Antioch. There were rumours that he had struck a deal with Bohemund, granting him control over the Cilician cities of Mamistra, Tarsus and Adana. This would fit the actual rather than the imagined relations between the Greek general, veteran of commanding western troops in the Balkans, and the probably Greek-speaking Bohemund. They had travelled together in the vanguard to Antioch and remained in close contact. At this stage, Bohemund must have appeared one of the most philhellene of the western princes. A Greek story had Bohemund warning Tatikios to leave in order to avoid an assassination plot hatched against him by the other commanders. At the time, Tatikios’s departure made little impact; contemporary letters fail to mention it. While it is possible that Bohemund may have taken some role in engineering Tatikios’s withdrawal and it is certain that his absence suited the Norman’s schemes, conspiracy charges against either party lack evidence untainted by later propaganda, political posturing or special pleading.
Of greater importance was the military result of the new sense of community. Thanks to Bohemund’s tactics and disciplined cohesion on the battlefield, the relief army of Ridwan of Aleppo was heavily defeated near the Lake of Antioch, some miles north-east of the city, on 8 February 1098. As at Dorylaeum, the battle near al-Bara in 1097, at Antioch itself later in 1098 and Ascalon in 1099, the fate of the crusade rested on the chance and skill of fighting. The Christian troops increased in effectiveness as numbers dwindled to a hardened core of veterans accustomed to strenuous pitched battles between massed forces of cavalry and infantry. The determination for victory existed in direct correlation to the consequences of defeat. In terms of morale, this gave the Christians an advantage. The victory over Ridwan temporarily steadied Christian resolve, while the arrival of an English fleet in early March allowed the blockade of the city to be tightened by the building of a new fort opposite the Bridge Gate, protecting vital access to the port of St Symeon. However, acute problems of food, horses and morale soon returned. Even the weather was terrible, reminding Stephen of Blois of home: ‘What some say about the impossibility of bearing the heat of the sun throughout Syria is untrue, for the weather here is very similar to our winter in the west.’26 Sharp encounters with the Antioch garrison sapped men and energy without disturbing the stalemate. Some optimism for the future may have been derived from the negotiations with Egyptian ambassadors in February and March 1098 and the dispatch of Christian envoys to accompany the Egyptians back to Cairo. By April, all gates of the city faced Christian blockade. However, news of a fresh Muslim relief force exposed the army’s continuing peril.
During the spring of 1098, Kerbogha, atabeg of Mosul, assembled a large coalition against the western invaders from as far apart as Damascus, Anatolia and northern Iraq. Collecting allies as he went, Kerbogha was taking the opportunity afforded by the crusaders’ disruption of local power structures to create a new overlordship in Syria, ostensibly loyal to the Seljuk sultan in Baghdad. His alliance included elements hostile to the Fatimids of Egypt and Ridwan of Aleppo as well as to the westerners and their Armenian associates. The attempt to capture Edessa during the three-week siege in mid-May and the seizure of other cities and towns in the region point to a strategy in which relief of Antioch formed only a part. The atabeg’s objectives may be judged from the protraction of negotiations with Yaghisiyan’s son; the price of Kerbogha’s assistance was high. The actual outcome of the fighting of 1098 led to the establishment of Christian power in northern Syria, yet, until his defeat before Antioch, Kerbogha’s assault on Syria offered the opposite prospect of a revived Turkish authority over the region. As with the defeat of al-Afdal of Egypt at Ascalon in August 1099, the westerners’ victories in 1097–9 altered the political complexion of the Near East as much by denying the alternative outcomes of Seljuk or Fatimid révanches as by the establishment of their own limited hegemony.
News of the approach of Kerbogha’s massive army reached the besiegers at Antioch in late May when it was only a few days’ march away. Although they were well informed of the diplomatic efforts to dislodge them, each relief attempt had taken the westerners by surprise. Kerbogha’s appearance was the nastiest yet, catching the Christians between a huge hostile field army and the impenetrable walls of Antioch. At a crisis meeting of the high command on 29 May, Bohemund was again entrusted with the leadership: if he could capture the city, he could keep it for his own provided no aid came from the Greek emperor, this last proviso reflecting the unease at Bohemund’s ambition felt by Adhemar of Le Puy and Raymond of Toulouse, who harboured his own designs on the city. This agreement did nothing to stem the panic. Desertions multiplied, the most prominent being that of Stephen of Blois. Only nine weeks earlier, he had boasted to his wife of his appointment to a prominent role in the communal leadership, in his words ‘lord, guardian and governor’, perhaps in charge of administrative matters or coordinating supplies.27 Stephen fled on 2 June, yet, within hours, Antioch had fallen.
The legendary quality of so many incidents during the First Crusade is nowhere more evident than in the story of how Bohemund and an Armenian dissident in Antioch, Firuz, collaborated in allowing the crusaders to penetrate the walls of the city at a point under the traitor’s command on the night of 2–3 June 1098. It appears that Bohemund had been hatching the scheme for some time, probably before the meeting of 29 May. Contact across the front line at Antioch was common, especially with local Armenians. Bohemund and his followers possessed a linguistic advantage for this: on the night of the agreed commando-style raid on his section of the walls, they were able to converse with Firuz in Greek.28 However, the small force which established itself under cover of dark on the inside included Godfrey of Bouillon and Robert of Flanders; Tancred, Count Raymond and Bishop Adhemar had also been let into the secret and were instrumental in rousing the main army to exploit the incursion the following morning. The element of surprise devastated the civilian population waking to uproar and the sounds of massacre. The overwhelmed garrison immediately withdrew to the citadel, leaving the city below to be plundered at will by the invaders. Resistance crumpled. Yaghisiyan panicked and fled, fearful, perhaps, of reprisals for his oppressive regime; within hours he had been assassinated by local Christians, the coup de grâce possibly delivered by an Armenian butcher.29
The fall of Antioch reflected the growing self-discipline and tenacity of the western army rather than any military resourcefulness or technological supremacy. There was minimal use of siege engines or artillery, surprisingly, in view of their use at Nicaea and later sieges at Ma ‘arrat al-Nu ‘man (December 1098), Arqah (March–May 1099) and Jerusalem. By contrast, at Antioch the Christians appeared reactive, often, as in confronting relief expeditions, dangerously so. While, at least after the foraging battle of December 1097, excelling in set-piece battles, there was no evident superiority in western tactics or equipment. The impression left by their siege of Antioch is of a frustrated bankruptcy of ideas to resolve the struggle, more effort being expended simply in keeping the army intact. Yet the solid bravery as well as occasional gaudy heroism suggests the crusaders’ continued belief in their cause. They celebrated their dead as martyrs, in Stephen of Blois’s words in March 1098, whose souls were borne to the joys of paradise.30 Conviction alone was insufficient; fear, hunger, military incompetence or realism provoked despair and desertion, witness Count Stephen himself. Without idealism, the whole enterprise would have foundered long since.
The rapid collapse of Antioch once its defences had been breached showed that the defenders had become as weakened as their attackers. When the slaughtering had ceased, the new rulers of Antioch faced a grim prospect. The Muslim garrison still held the citadel above the city; there was little food and fewer horses. Before supplies could be collected from elsewhere, just a day after the capture, the vanguard of Kergogha’s army arrived on the plain to the north of the city, having swept aside the Christian forward defences. By 7 June the city was invested; over the following week, all remaining Christian outposts beyond the city were overrun and a Muslim camp established close to the citadel to coordinate attacks from that sector. Heavy fighting all day around the citadel on 10 June caused another collapse in morale; that night panic spread among the crusaders, many fleeing the city using rope ladders to earn western opprobrium as furtivi funambuli, shifty rope-dancers.31 For those who remained, a sense of hopelessness was inescapable. Unable to summon help, unaware of any possibility of relief by land or sea, heavily outnumbered, ill-equipped and near to starvation, the Christians, now reduced to perhaps less than 30,000 including non-combatants, had reached their lowest ebb in fortune. Only desperate measures could avert ruin.
From this extreme crisis emerged the visionary politics that characterized the rest of the campaign until Jerusalem was won. According to the story generally accepted by immediate eyewitnesses, on the very night of the panic and desertion, a Provençal priest, Stephen of Valence, beside himself with terror at what seemed to him the imminent fall of the city, while praying in the church of the Virgin Mary experienced a vision of Christ, the cross, Mary and St Peter (traditionally the first bishop of Antioch and the city’s patron saint). Christ assured Stephen that the beleaguered Christians would receive His aid in five days provided they demonstrated their faith through prayers, ceremonies and penitence for their sinfulness. After initial scepticism, insisting that Stephen swore to the truth of his statement on the Gospels, Adhemar of Le Puy exploited the vision by instituting more morale-stiffening religious ceremonies and persuading the princes to renew their oaths to stay with the expedition. More dramatically, in an almost simultaneous report, a poor Provençal pilgrim, Peter Bartholomew, claimed to have received over the previous months a number of visions of St Andrew (in the Gospels the brother of St Peter) in which the saint had urged penitence on the crusaders and, as a sign of God’s favour, had indicated where the Holy Lance that had pierced the side of Christ on the cross was buried in the cathedral of St Peter. Peter’s story conveniently matched Stephen’s by its promise of a sign of divine aid in five days. Adhemar and many others thought Peter a fraud, yet desperation and the advocacy of Raymond of Toulouse persuaded them to verify the story. On 14 June Peter and twelve others dug around in the floor of the cathedral until, as evening fell, Peter himself discovered what he and his fellow diggers took to be the point of the Lance sticking out of the ground at the bottom of the excavations. The discovery transformed the army’s mood from terrified inertia to awed encouragement, allowing the leaders to organize a military breakout with some prospect of success, further celestial sightings accompanying the preparations for battle hardly coincidentally containing saintly instructions to further penance and military discipline.32
The objective reality of these visions or the authenticity of the Holy Lance are immaterial. The visions fitted contemporary models of such encounters, the visual iconography of the celestial messengers borrowing from contemporary art. A scrap of metal found beneath an old, much-renovated church after a day’s digging does not stretch credibility or credulity. What mattered in June 1098 was the crusaders’ belief. Although at first Bishop Adhemar and, later, others, particularly among the followers and propagandists of Bohemund, regarded Peter Bartholomew as a charlatan, not least perhaps because they may have seen a ‘Holy Lance’ on display in Constantinople, the visions provided the leadership with a precise plan to salvage the crusade. The link with reviving morale and military purpose is clear. One eyewitness suggested that Peter Bartholomew was only believed once the connection between the Lance and the defeat of Kerbogha had been made explicit; all associated the Lance with the subsequent success in battle. The visions fitted into the wider use of religious theatre and public ceremonial of penance to reinvigorate the army. An Armenian observer, writing within eighteenth months of the events, recorded the fervent prayers of the Christians in the cathedral of St Peter, designed to stiffen resolve, without mentioning the Lance.33
While Stephen of Valence provided the leaders with an opportunity to impose strict discipline dressed as instructions from Christ, their heavenly commander, the poor layman Peter Bartholomew, fitted less easily into this hierarchical order. Even so, Raymond of Aguilers, guardian of the Holy Lance after its removal from the cathedral, implied Peter’s association with Count Raymond’s entourage and, cynics noted, his political interests. Evidently no protégé of Adhemar of Le Puy, Peter may have attached himself to the newly arrived William bishop of Orange, who helped dig up the Lance or perhaps one of Count Raymond’s vassals, Peter Raymond of Hautpol, mentioned as someone to whom Peter should report St Andrew’s instructions.34 Peter claimed to have been as far as Edessa and Cyprus in search of supplies for the crusade, pointing to aristocratic employment or contacts. He knew sections of the Latin liturgy by heart, so much, indeed, that he was able to forget some and still be able to display a degree of knowledge impressive in a supposedly humble peasant; some later chroniclers thought him a clerk. Although apparently universally accepted in the summer of 1098, Peter’s visions later appeared partisan, directed at elevating Raymond of Toulouse to leadership and forcing the princes to abandon their newly won possessions in northern Syria in favour of the march to Jerusalem. However, Peter Bartholomew was not necessarily a Provençal stooge. Although ultimately emerging as the champion of the popular demand for the invasion of Palestine, for months after June 1098 Raymond of Toulouse was as reluctant to cede position in Syria as Bohemund; during this period Peter’s repeated heavenly messages voiced the wishes of those unable to benefit from the profits of Syrian lordship, those, by virtue of the Christian success, denied local forage, plunder and booty. Only when Raymond decided to place himself at the head of the popular party at Ma ‘arrat al-Nu ‘man in January 1099 did Peter’s visions directly serve the count’s purposes, to his cost. At the siege of Arqah (February–May 1099), factional in-fighting, allied to doubts harboured even by supporters such as Raymond of Aguilers, forced a crisis of confidence. The theatricality of the visions was challenged by an equally potent set of judicial rituals devised to determine whether Peter was inspired or a fraud. A protracted trial instigated by Arnulf of Choques, Robert of Normandy’s chaplain, culminated on Good Friday 1099, 8 April, in an ordeal by fire. Although Peter satisfied his supporters by emerging alive from a corridor of flames, thirteen feet long, four foot high and only one foot wide, he succumbed to his injuries a few days later.35
Visions and miracles articulated the aspirations of the mass of soldiers and pilgrims who, without prospect of lasting profit from conquest, concentrated on fulfilling their vows at Jerusalem. They also mirrored the changing military and political choices facing the princes. Peter Bartholomew’s equivocal fate did not mean the end of the dialogue between the terrestrial and the heavenly followers of Christ. Further visions of Stephen of Valence and another Provençal priest, Peter Desiderius, confirmed the centrality of relics, liturgy and penance in fixing the cohesion of the army of God on its march to Jerusalem, now transmitted through the politically safer medium of clergy rather than an uncomfortably radical layman. One strand of visionary politics in the final stages of the march elevated the Provençal cult of the lost leader, Adhemar of Le Puy, who had died, possibly of typhoid, at Antioch on 1 August 1098, part of an intense response to the deaths of comrades, many of whom soon reappeared to their friends in visions and dreams, witnesses to continued support from the other world. The presence in the army of Bishop Adhemar’s cross and cloak provided unassailable relics of unity and leadership; the dead bishop’s words inspired the troops at Jerusalem; his presence, some reported, assisted the final assault.36 During the siege of Jerusalem, another vision of Peter Desiderius, in which Adhemar urged a penitential procession around the walls of the city, legitimized a religious framework for persuading the army to attempt the final assault. At least it did so in retrospect. While the general accretion of miracle stories, relics and religious ceremonies from the sieges of Antioch onwards is undeniable, the neatness of the visionary prophecies and saintly interventions, their correlation with political and factional conflicts, the orderly narrative of celestial advice and the precise association of relics to visions in some accounts suggest crafting at the study desk as much as experience over the camp fire. Yet the importance of the miraculous and the holy, witnessed by participants’ letters, lay in the power of the perceived transcendent to transform events.
Whatever later doubts and manipulation, the discovery of the Holy Lance and the injection of religious ceremony into the political discourse of the army contributed to the startling victory achieved over Kerbogha’s much greater forces by the Christian breakout of Antioch on the morning of 28 June 1098. This was Bohemund of Taranto’s finest hour. The day before, Peter the Hermit and an interpreter, Herluin, probably an Arabic-speaking Italian-Norman, had visited Kerbogha’s camp, a gesture of defiance as much as an attempt to negotiate or spy. Next day, under Bohemund’s direction, the Christian army, employing flexible, close-ordered, well-disciplined and tightly coordinated columns, first engaged, then threw back, outflanked and finally routed the forward divisions of the Muslim army before Kerbogha’s main force became involved. Much of the fighting was between infantry, at close quarters, as the Christians lacked horses. Despite greatly outnumbering the Christians, Kerbogha’s coalition disintegrated once the forward positions had been destroyed. Kerbogha fled ignominiously, leaving his camp, its prisoners, women, non-combatants, footsoldiers and booty open to the victors’ pleasure. The spoils were impressive: tents, camp equipment, livestock, beasts of burden, horses, camels, gold and silver, considerable supplies of food and drink. All Muslims found were killed. Unlike their co-religionists in Antioch three weeks earlier, the women were not raped; instead ‘the Franks… drove lances into their bellies’.37 Such unrestrained lethal warfare, characteristic of earlier medieval western conflicts against Vikings, Slavs or Magyars, had largely been replaced in the west by limited aristocratic internecine skirmishing. Its return in the aftermath of the battle of Antioch marked exultant, exhilarated release from weeks of terror.
The defeat of Kerbogha prompted the Muslim garrison in the citadel to surrender, leaving the Christians to squabble over control of the city. To seek aid, Hugh of Vermandois was dispatched to Constantinople. A few days later, on 3 July, the princes decided to postpone any further advance south until 1 November 1098, possibly to await Greek reinforcement, apparently unaware of what many later saw as a pivotal moment in the First Crusade. Around 20 June, at Philomelium in central Anatolia, the Emperor Alexius, with a substantial Greek force accompanied by thousands of western troops, encountered the deserters from Antioch led by Stephen of Blois. Persuaded by the renegades of the hopelessness of the Christian position at Antioch and fearful of exposing his army to any Muslim counter-offensive, Alexius withdrew westwards. His daughter later insisted that Alexius had intended to assist in the conquest of Syria, although, given his necessary caution and greater strategic interest in western Anatolia, this was unlikely. However, his withdrawal, when known by the army at Antioch, was interpreted as a cowardly abandonment of his allies. More than any other single event, Alexius’s perceived refusal to relieve Antioch, coupled in hindsight with the earlier withdrawal of Tatikios, was exploited as the defining moment of treachery, providing those who desired one with the perfect excuse to tear up their agreements with the emperor. The consequences for relations between eastern and western Christendom were profound.38 Yet the betrayal was more apparent than real. Constant Greek naval aid had been vital at Antioch, providing materials, reinforcements and supplies. Negotiations with the emperor over the direction of the expedition continued into the spring of 1099. Some, such as Raymond of Toulouse, persisted with the Greek alliance long after the fall of Jerusalem. Later crusaders in 1101 received and accepted Greek hospitality at Constantinople. Yet immediately, the tone of the letter to Urban II of 11 September 1098, written by the princes led by Bohemund, was bitterly hostile to Alexius and the Greeks; subsequent decisions on strategy, settlement and rule ignored the fealty to the emperor sworn in 1097.39
This threw open the ownership of Antioch. By swift exploitation of events before and after the city’s capture, Bohemund revealed his determination to keep the city for himself. His role in its capture and preservation lent him a strong hand; as early as 14 July he issued a charter granting the Genoese privileges in Antioch in exchange for promises of military assistance.40 His rule was contested by Raymond of Toulouse. Although sometimes portrayed as holding more elevated motives than his Italian-Norman colleague, in his desire for personal territorial gain and leadership of the expedition, Raymond displayed material ambition of some intensity, his failure to raise greater opposition to Bohemund’s seizure of Antioch reflecting his own political isolation rather than the other’s lack of spirituality. In sharp contrast to the personally and physically charismatic Bohemund, Raymond failed to inspire warmth or alliances. As displayed at Constantinople, exaggeratedly conscious of his status, the count was older than most of the leaders; in poor health during the siege of Antioch, his native southern French tongue, langue d’oc further distancing him from the rest, who spoke the langue d’oil. His resentments and self-interest no less than those of his colleagues threatened the enterprise with collapse.
The death of Bishop Adhemar further fractured the expedition’s cohesion and direction by removing the one accepted figure of moral authority and religious stature who transcended factional and regional divisions, the appointed representative of Urban II whose leadership in council and camp had been matched in battle at Dorylaeum and Antioch. The leaders and their knights spent the summer and autumn of 1098 consolidating their possessions in Syria and Cilicia or seeking employment with Baldwin of Boulogne at Edessa. The princes’ letter to Urban II in September invited him to take personal command of the expedition, indicating an aimless prevarication over the invasion of Palestine. However, while baffling to the increasingly restless poor soldiers, this delay possessed some advantages. Negotiations with the Fatimids continued, the Egyptian embassy at Antioch being accompanied back to Cairo by Christian ambassadors. The defeat of Kerbogha had helped the Fatimids recapture Jerusalem in July 1098 from his allies, the Ortoqids, radically reconfiguring the diplomatic and political map. Instead of making common cause against Turkish interlopers, the westerners’ ambition now threatened the integrity of Egyptian conquests in Palestine. Negotiations continued until May 1099, with Christian envoys even celebrating Easter 1099 at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.41 After the experience of Antioch, the last thing the western commanders would have wanted was an opposed attack on Palestine. Moreover, the lotus-eating months of 1098 extended western rule in northern Syria, laying the foundations of permanent settlement, as in the creation of a Latin episcopal see at al-Bara, some twenty miles south-east of Antioch. This suited the acquisitive habits of western lords and knights as well as the princes, each of whom vigorously pursued their own territorial aggrandizement.
Out of these material conquests and consequent political rivalries emerged the crisis that precipitated the assault on Jerusalem. On 1 November 1098, the leaders almost came to blows. Bohemund, with the tacit support of most of the other princes, claimed the whole of Antioch, while Raymond, still clinging to parts of the city, concealed his own ambitions behind an appeal to honour the agreement with Alexius. Only the newly vocal pressure from the mass of the troops forced the leaders to an uneasy peace; ‘discordant’ was the frank appraisal of one eyewitness.42 Having failed to win his point in Antioch, Raymond of Toulouse tried his luck further south. With Bohemund’s help, he captured Ma ‘arrat in December 1098, but disputes over control of the town led to the collapse of the November treaty. Early the following month, with Bohemund back in Antioch expelling the Provençals, Raymond attempted to assume command of the rest of the expedition by offering the other princes money in return for service: only Robert of Normandy and Tancred accepted. Excluded from Antioch, Raymond’s policy of expediency was increasingly driven by ordinary crusaders. At Ma ‘arrat, their plight received striking witness in the stories of apparent cannibalism practised by a daredevil but starving group called the Tafurs, whose leader was alleged to have been a Norman knight fallen on hard times.43 For months popular demands for a resumption of the march to Jerusalem had been articulated by the visionaries. Now the troops acted for themselves. While Raymond was trying to bribe his way to leadership, his followers began dismantling the walls of Ma ‘arrat to force him to leave for the south. With Antioch held against him, Raymond had little choice but to place himself at the head of this popular element, hoping, no doubt, to attract rank and file followers of his princely rivals skulking further north. In a striking gesture of piety, humility and commitment, Raymond of Toulouse led his troops out of Ma ‘arrat on 13 January 1099 barefoot as a penitent, surrounded by praying clergy, while behind him the town was fired on his orders, a symbolic burning of the boats.44 The divisions and delays of the previous six months had resolved themselves into a brave choice. Politics and the lack of options placed Count Raymond at the head of the grizzled zealots, united and justified by divine approval and the unalterable ambition to liberate the Holy Sepulchre. If only by constant refrain, this desire, coloured by visions and miracles, none more compelling than the experiences of the campaign itself, assumed a totemic driving force which gathered strength as the leaders dallied. Even so, Raymond was gambling that his rivals would bow to similar forces and rally to him.
The gamble paid off. Marching south from Ma ‘arrat, Count Raymond, accompanied by Tancred and Robert of Normandy, was granted safe passage by the alarmed rulers of Shaizar and Homs. At the end of January, this modest force of perhaps only 7,000 decided to strike west, towards the coast, partly to gain access to shipping and supply lines to Cyprus. After capturing the fortress of Hisn al-Akrad, later the site of the famous Crac des Chevaliers, in mid-February, Raymond, hoping for rich pickings, began to invest Arqah, even though its ruler, the emir of Tripoli, appeared willing to come to terms. Lasting three months, the siege witnessed the final confluence of the expedition’s remaining disparate contingents. By the end of February, Bohemund, Robert of Flanders and Godfrey of Bouillon had assembled at Lattakiah on the coast twenty-five miles south-west of Antioch to observe developments further south. There, Bohemund left his colleagues, returning to secure his power in
4. Palestine 1099
Antioch. Tentatively, Count Robert and Duke Godfrey moved down the coast to besiege Jubail (2–11 March), before desertions from their own troops and false rumours of a relief army threatening the Provençals persuaded them to join Count Raymond at Arqah, which they reached about 14 March.
The reunification of the combat armies reignited rivalries and feuding. Tancred of Lecce stirred up trouble by angling to desert Raymond’s service for that of Duke Godfrey, who now emerged as a powerful independent political force. Count Raymond, champion of the ordinary soldier only a few weeks before, appeared stubborn in his insistence on perpetuating what was now a strategically irrelevant siege rather than marching south. His loss of popular support was reflected in the trial and death in early April of Peter Bartholomew, now regarded as the count’s catspaw rather than the inspired voice of the people. A new series of reported visions pressed the case for an immediate attack on Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon placing himself at the head of the popular agitation. Diplomatically, events clarified the crusaders’ options. A Greek embassy early in April led to weeks of wrangling over whether to delay an assault on Palestine by waiting for the promised arrival of the emperor. On 13 May, Godfrey broke up the siege of Arqah by moving towards Tripoli, taking with him many Provençals, ending the lingering pretence of a Byzantine alliance. At this moment, the ambassadors from Egypt returned with al-Afdal’s proposal for limited access to Jerusalem by unarmed Christians. While the westerners may have agreed to partition Palestine, leaving them control of the Holy City, this offer was impossible.45 Original plans to liberate local Christians had long since been paralleled by the aim of acquisition, by conquest if necessary. It was later alleged that Urban II had offered this inducement at Clermont. Social and political reality in Syria and Palestine had revealed to the westerners that, with the fracturing of the Byzantine alliance, there was no fraternal Christian ruling class in church or state to whom the Holy Places could be entrusted. This subtle but profound shift from a war of liberation to one of occupation represented a portentous development in Urban II’s schemes, one forged by the experience of the campaign.
With Byzantine aid rejected, an Egyptian alliance refused, the army of God left Tripoli on 16 May 1099 with one aim in view: the seizure of Jerusalem in as short a time as possible, a race against time and an Egyptian counter-attack. With religious symbols prominently displayed, the army reverted to type, the siege of Arqah, so far from consolidating Count Raymond’s command, provoking a reversion to collective leadership. Despite its fractious nature, the army made rapid progress, covering the 225 miles from Tripoli to Jerusalem in just twenty-three days. On the often narrow coast road, shadowed by the now dilapidated English fleet that had joined the expedition at Antioch a year earlier,46 speed dictated a diplomatic approach to the cities the army passed. Treaties were negotiated with Beirut and Acre; Tyre, Haifa and Caesarea presented no opposition, while Sidon provided only minor resistance. Signalling their inability to organize a military response, the Fatimids dismantled and abandoned Jaffa, the port nearest Jerusalem. At Arsuf, the Christian army turned inland, capturing the evacuated town of Ramla on 3 June. After resting for a few days and leaving a bishop with a garrison at nearby Lydda, on 6 June the Christians, rejecting a suggestion, possibly from Count Raymond, to attack the Fatimids directly in Egypt, climbed up into the Judean hills towards Jerusalem, camping that night at Qubeiba, ten miles from the Holy City. That evening Tancred left the army to occupy the Christian town of Bethlehem, a few miles south of Jerusalem. Although one account describes the locals as initially unsure who these invaders were, fearing more Turks, the westerners were soon welcomed, Tancred’s diversion being a tribute to local intelligence and friendly contacts with co-religionists as much as to his own desire for dominion. Other elements from the army fanned out across the Judean hills, securing local villages and strongpoints. There was nothing quixotic about the march to Jerusalem. At Ramla voices had been raised warning of the dangers of besieging Jerusalem in high summer, chiefly lack of water. However, emotion and strategy compelled an immediate assault. The only hope of survival lay in capturing the city before the arrival of the Fatimid army. More than strategy drew the pilgrims on; one of them later recalled that in the final approach to the Holy City ‘a few who held God’s command dear marched along barefoot’; another summed up the general mood of the battered host at this climactic moment: ‘rejoicing and exulting’.47
On Tuesday, 7 June the Christian army, numbering perhaps fewer than 14,000 fighting men, arrived at the walls of Jerusalem. The object of their quest reached, the ultimate trial began.48 Given the threat of a Fatimid attack, the arid countryside, the impossibility of relief and the inability of such a small army to enforce a complete blockade, there was
5. The Siege of Jerusalem, June–July 1099
no question of repeating the slow strangulation of Antioch. Prosecution of the siege was hampered by lack of water, necessitating elaborate schemes of water-carrying over large distances; illness, at least one of the leaders, Tancred, suffering from a bout of dysentery; the unavailability of sufficient wood for ladders, siege engines and towers; and a still divided command. While Godfrey, his new ally Tancred and the dukes of Normandy and Flanders maintained their separate camps outside the northern walls, Raymond of Toulouse initially established himself opposite the Citadel and the western walls before moving after a few days to blockade the Zion Gate in the south, almost as far removed from the northerners as possible. Thereafter, except for moments of communal ritual or planning the final assault, the two sections of the Christian army operated separately. A first, abortive attack on 13 June did not involve the Provençals at all. After the arrival of Genoese mariners who had put in at Jaffa on 17 June, with large timbers and skilled engineers, siege towers could be constructed, but each contingent made their own arrangements. Raymond, paying the construction artisans out of his own pocket, employed the Genoese William Ricau to build his tower, while the northerners, acting in concert, paid the workers out of a common fund, as at Antioch, and had Gaston of Béarn, himself a southerner from the Pyrenees, as their construction supervisor. Early in July, there were heated exchanges between the leaders over Tancred’s opportunistic claim to lordship over Bethlehem and the issue of the future rule of Jerusalem. Tancred and Raymond were formally reconciled only a week before the final assault. Bitterness was probably exacerbated by the defection to Godfrey of a number of prominent Provençals before or during the siege. In such circumstances, victory was little short of miraculous.
Behind the strong obstacles of double walls, moats and natural contours, the garrison facing the westerners, commanded by the Fatimid governor Iftikhar al-Dawla, was small and surprisingly passive. Made up of professional troops from Egypt and local militias, including troops from the Jewish community, it launched no disruptive forays and scarcely challenged the building of siege machines in the later stages of the investment. Its tactics appear to have been to await help, a policy encouraged by promises from al-Afdal which reached the city via the unguarded eastern side. The prospect of an Egyptian relief force thus forced one side to aggression, the other to inertia.
To capitalize on the surge of enthusiasm at having finally arrived at Jerusalem, on 13 June, allegedly at the promptings of a hermit living on the Mount of Olives, the northern leaders launched a speculative attack between the Quadrangular Tower in the north-west corner of the city and the Damascus Gate. Relying on only one ladder, even when the outer walls were breached, no concerted attack on the inner rampart was possible, the first man up, Raimbold Croton from Chartres, losing his hand in the attempt. Losses were heavy and, although the outer walls were damaged, the defences held. This failure persuaded the leaders, at a meeting two days later, that the next assault required more careful organization and the participation of all contingents. Over the next few weeks the region was scoured for supplies; the Genoese, with their vital timbers cannibalized from their ships, were escorted to the siege and the engineers set to work. As the material preparations reached fruition, it was agreed on 6 July to hold a solemn religious procession around the walls of the city, in imitation of Joshua at Jericho. The planning and execution of this morale-boosting ritual encapsulated the expedition’s spiritual history. The inspiration, some recalled, came from a vision received by Peter Desiderius; the decision to hold the procession was reached at an assembly summoned by William Hugh of Monteil, Adhemar of Le Puy’s brother. After a three-day fast, on 8 July the whole army, led by the clergy bearing the growing collection of relics, processed barefoot around the walls of Jerusalem, ignoring the taunts of the locals. On completion of the circuit, the host was addressed on the Mount of Olives by Raymond of Aguilers, for the Provençals, Arnulf of Choques, the smooth-talking chaplain to the duke of Normandy, and Peter the Hermit, now under the patronage of Godfrey of Bouillon and the Lorrainers. Count Raymond and Tancred were publicly reconciled.49 The political and religious threads of the expedition were thus drawn tightly together in a public demonstration that recognized the regional diversity of the enterprise while insisting on its single identity, shared experience and common goal. As at Antioch, it was hoped that such rededication would ignite a willingness to hazard all in a last throw of fate. News of al-Afdal’s large relief army leaving Egypt had reached the Christian camp. It was now or never.
The final assault on Jerusalem begun on 13 July was a desperate affair. Attacks were launched on two fronts, by the Provençals on the narrow line of wall by the Zion Gate in the south and by the northern forces – of Godfrey, Robert of Normandy, Robert of Flanders and Tancred – who had moved, with their siege tower and ram, to the north-east corner of the walls on 10 July. While the Provençals made little impact, the northerners’ slowly wore down the defence, their tactics revolving around pushing their siege tower as close to the inner wall as possible to allow troops to gain access to the ramparts by planks and ladders. While other contingents provided ferocious salvoes of arrows and bolts, the Lorrainers under Duke Godfrey were in charge of the tower. Resistance was everywhere fierce, strongest in the south, nearest to the centre of power at the Citadel; in both sectors catapults were used by the defenders. Casualties were high; perhaps as many as a fifth or a quarter of the western armies. Contact between the two Christian assaults was maintained by signallers stationed on the Mount of Olives using reflectors. At midday on Friday, 15 July, the dispirited Provençals were encouraged to renew their attack while the northerners’ siege tower was painfully edged towards the inner wall over which it towered. Albert of Aachen recorded that a golden cross was placed on the top storey of the tower, where Duke Godfrey himself stood firing his crossbow into the city.50 When the tower was pushed right against the wall, from the storey below the brothers Ludolf and Engelbert from Tournai threw planks across the gap and entered the city, soon followed by Godfrey, Tancred and the Lorrainers. The defenders fled to the Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, but were overtaken by Tancred before they could secure the precinct. The scale of the slaughter there impressed even hardened veterans of the campaign, who recalled the area ‘streaming with blood’ that reached to the killers’ ankles. Raymond of Aguilers resorted to the language of the Book of Revelation in describing the Christian knights in front of the al-Aqsa mosque wading through blood up to their horses’ knees.51 The survivors took refuge inside the mosque, many hiding in the roof while Tancred plundered the Dome of the Rock near by before calling a halt to the killing by offering those inside the al-Aqsa mosque his protection, presumably hoping for ransom. Meanwhile, news of the entry of the Christians into the city caused the defenders in the south to withdraw to the Citadel, with Count Raymond in pursuit. Without delay Iftikhar al-Dawla struck a deal that guaranteed the garrison’s safe conduct to Ascalon in return for surrendering the Citadel, although some were ransomed, at knock-down rates.52
The massacre in Jerusalem spared few. Jews were burnt inside their synagogue. Muslims were indiscriminately cut to pieces, decapitated or slowly tortured by fire (this on Christian evidence). Such was the scale and horror of the carnage that one Jewish witness was reduced to noticing approvingly that at least the Christians did not rape their victims before killing them as Muslims did.53 The city was comprehensively ransacked: gold, silver, horses, food, the domestic contents of houses, were seized by the conquerors in a pillage as thorough as any in the middle ages. Profit vied with destruction; some Jewish holy books were later ransomed to the surviving community in exile. Violence overcame business on 16 July when Tancred’s prisoners in the al-Aqsa mosque were butchered in cold blood, possibly by Provençals who had missed the previous day’s action. The city’s narrow streets were clogged with corpses and dismembered body parts, including some crusaders crushed in their zeal for the pursuit and massacre of the defenders. The heaps of the dead presented an immediate problem for the conquerors; on 17 July many of the surviving Muslim population were forced to clear the streets and carry the bodies outside the walls to be burnt in great pyres, whereat they themselves were massacred, a chilling pre-echo of later genocidal practices.
This secondary slaughter, in cold blood, perhaps even more than the initial mayhem, provoked mounting retrospective shock and outrage amongst Muslim intellectuals, religious leaders and politicians over the next century and a half. Some thousands, men, women and children, were massacred, although certainly fewer than the 70,000 trumpeted in early thirteenth-century Arabic chronicles. A few Muslim and Jewish Jerusalemites survived, managing either to escape, sometimes with their possessions and holy books, such as the belongings of the Egyptian garrison and its hangers-on, the Torah scrolls that reached Ascalon, or to be ransomed, a process that could take months, suggesting a not entirely indiscriminate policy of killing on the part of the crusaders.54 Massacres were not a monopoly of western Christians. The recent Turkish conquests in the Near East had been accompanied by carnage and enslavement on a grand scale. When it suited, Muslim victors could behave as bestially as any Christian, as Zengi showed at Edessa in 1144 and Saladin was to prove in suppressing opposition in Egypt in the 1170s and in the killing of the knights of the military orders after the battle of Hattin in 1187. Immediate contemporary Muslim reactions appeared muted when contrasted to later polemics. Massacres as well as atrocity stories were – and are – an inescapable part of war. In the face of a Muslim counter-attack, letting the locals live may not have seemed a prudent option to the Christian victors, however obscene the alternative.
The scenes of carnage and plunder in the streets of Jerusalem attract particular notoriety through the juxtaposition of extreme violence and anguished faith. Some of the butchers thought they saw Adhemar of Le Puy urging them on. On the evening of 15 July 1099, with the din of slaughter still echoing round the city, in the midst of the almost deserted Christian quarter, recently emptied of most of its inhabitants by the Muslim governor, the conquerors went to pray at the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the object of all their labours. As one veteran put it:
our men rushed round the whole city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and houses full of all sorts of goods and they all came rejoicing and weeping from excess of gladness to worship at the Sepulchre of our Saviour Jesus, and there they fulfilled their vows.
Another, in language redolent of the Bible and the liturgy, touched on the contrasting emotions of those who, after three years of almost unimaginable effort, struggle, anxiety and fear, found themselves at journey’s end:
Jerusalem was now littered with bodies and stained with blood… With the fall of the city it was rewarding to see the worship of the pilgrims at the Holy Sepulchre, the clapping of hands, the rejoicing and singing of a new song to the Lord. Their souls offered to the victorious and triumphant God prayers of praise which they could not explain in words.55
The capture of Jerusalem, however remarkable a crowning achievement, did not end the expedition, its internal divisions or its military vulnerability. The settlement of secular and ecclesiastical authority within the city and its surrounds resurrected the simmering hostilities between the leaders. On 22 July, Raymond of Toulouse was once more outmanoeuvred. After apparently refusing an offer to accept the crown of Jerusalem, perhaps on clerical prompting, he saw instead his latest chief rival, Godfrey of Bouillon, the only other main leader willing to remain in the east, elected as secular ruler, or Advocate (the title implying ecclesiastical authority). As at Antioch, Raymond was then forced to surrender his strongpoint in the city, the Citadel. He nearly abandoned the expedition, taking himself off to sulk on a trip to the Jordan valley, only reluctantly joining the army to repel the Egyptians. On 1 August, in a further blow to Raymond’s standing, the Norman Arnulf of Choques, the prosecutor of Peter Bartholomew, was elected patriarch of Jerusalem, the previous patriarch, Symeon, who had joined the army at Antioch, having died in Cyprus a few days earlier. With Arnulf’s election the top posts in Jerusalem had gone to the Lorrainers and Normans. By this time a number of Count Raymond’s own followers had transferred allegiance. Arnulf secured his control of the church of the Holy Sepulchre by establishing Latin canons. More significantly, he unearthed a piece of the True Cross, possibly by persuading or coercing local Christians into telling him where one had been hidden. This story of concealment and discovery, containing echoes of the Holy Lance story, may have been circulated to establish a respectable provenance for a relic whose finding was timely, convenient and iconic. The discovery of the Jerusalem relic of the True Cross brought physical symbolism to the fulfilment of the journey of the bearers of the cross. It was to play a central role in the religious ceremonial, military display and political iconography of the new Christian kingdom of Jerusalem.56
More vital business intruded into the feuding at Jerusalem with the arrival at Ascalon in the first days of August of a substantial Egyptian army, perhaps 20,000 strong, commanded by the Vizier al-Afdal himself. For the westerners, defeating al-Afdal was essential to secure their conquest; battle could not be shirked. By 10 August, leaving a skeleton garrison in Jerusalem with Peter the Hermit to lead prayers of intercession for their success, the Christian leaders had mustered at Ramla, with an army perhaps 10,000 strong, advancing the next day towards Ascalon on the coast twenty-five miles away. The following morning, 12 August, they caught the unprepared Egyptians encamped before the northern walls of the city. Repulsing a vigorous infantry sally, the western knights launched a concerted cavalry charge that put the Egyptian force to flight and captured the enemy camp with its rich pickings of booty. Once again, flexibility, coordination, speed, boldness and surprise allowed the westerners to overcome a force perhaps twice their size. Only continued bickering between Godfrey and Raymond prevented the surrender of the demoralized city itself, which remained in Muslim hands for another fifty-four years, a troublesome Egyptian presence in the kingdom built by Godfrey and his successors.
The battle of Ascalon marked the completion of the campaign launched from Constantinople in the spring of 1097. Jerusalem was secured; the veterans could depart. Squabbling persisted to the end. In mid-August, Godfrey forced Raymond to abandon an attempt to capture the coastal town of Arsuf. After a final reconciliation with Godfrey, Raymond and the other leaders, Robert of Normandy and Robert of Flanders, and the majority of the surviving crusaders left for the north. At Lattakiah, where they found Bohemund and the newly arrived papal legate, Daimbert of Pisa, with a large fleet attempting to dislodge the Byzantine garrison, they persuaded the attackers to withdraw. Daimbert prepared to continue south to Jerusalem to assert his authority over both church and state. Bohemund withdrew to Antioch. Raymond assumed command of the citadel of Lattakiah in agreement with the Greeks, who, in contradiction of their reputation for hostility and duplicity soon to be popularized in western Europe, helped provide the shipping to carry the crusaders back home. By the end of August, the survivors, including the duke of Normandy and count of Flanders, hundreds of other lords and knights and thousands of humbler soldiers and pilgrims, finally embarked for the west to resume their spectacularly interrupted lives.
The success of the armies called together by Urban II, whose death on 29 July 1099 robbed him of knowledge of the triumph, was neither inevitable nor incredible. The miserable failure of successive substantial western armies in Asia Minor in 1101 testified to the importance of battlefield tactics, good generalship and luck. After the near-disaster in July 1097, the main expedition performed with increasing cohesion, boldness and skill. By June 1098 these hardened troops presented a frightening proposition for the coalition armies of their opponents. Common identity was reinforced by the regular transfer of allegiances and new patterns of lordship within the contingents, as with Tancred’s abandonment of Bohemund and later serial loyalty to Raymond and Godfrey; or Robert of Normandy’s acceptance of Raymond’s leadership in January 1099. Such permeable structures of allegiance and affinity characterized the expedition from the winter of 1097–8. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres joined the entourage of Baldwin of Boulogne in Cilicia and at Edessa eight months before the desertion of his previous lord, Stephen of Blois. Having set out in 1096 as head of a Lorrainer army, by the time Godfrey became ruler of Jerusalem in 1099 he had attracted supporters from across northern France, a consequence of his wealth; his willingness to accept the support of knights and lords outside his original entourage; the deaths of other lords; and the casualty rate amongst his own vassals and regional allies.57 Attrition and the search for patronage acted as powerful centripetal forces.
In their determined pursuit of victory and consequent booty, the First Crusaders bear comparison with Viking armies of the ninth to eleventh centuries. A necessary esprit de corps was established though always operating in potentially hostile territory, dependent on constant success for survival, in the process establishing a micro-culture of militancy, community and purpose, which found expression in extremes of violence no less than in the drive for material profit or diplomatic gain. Like those of the Carolingians, the Christian army supplied the institutional context for social, political, material and religious exchange. Militarily and politically, the First Crusade exemplified a consistent feature of medieval warfare: the effectiveness of armies, not necessarily of massive numerical superiority, operating and dominating war fronts far from home. While a familiar feature of the Islamic and Byzantine worlds, subject to regular incursions from the Eurasian steppes and dependent on foreign mercenary bands, western Europe supplied only a few analogous examples, such as the Catalan Company of the early fourteenth century, which successively terrorized Asia Minor on behalf of the ailing Greek empire and then occupied and ruled parts of Greece for themselves.58 But it was never remotely on the scale of the First Crusade. The nature of medieval warfare allowed for such campaigns as armies, wherever they found themselves, relied on self-sufficiency in food, equipment and horses rather than being dependent, as in modern wars, on home bases.
That the First Crusade was able to achieve such results reflected the context for its operations. The expedition formed part of a pre-existing process opening the eastern Mediterranean to western adventurers, merchants, pilgrims and mercenaries. Pivotal was the role played in its inception and nurturing by the Byzantines, a debt that was soon to become embarrassing for commentators and politicians who preferred an adversarial model and the myth of an autonomous victory. Political chaos in the Near East denied their opponents unity while allowing the crusaders opportunities for diplomacy and alliances. The leaders of the western force adapted quickly not only to the diplomatic possibilities but also to the alien military tactics of their enemies.59 Although westerners were possibly familiar with siege techniques, in the west there were few pitched battles and fewer post-conflict massacres. The central elements of war in the west were cavalry and infantry, including archers, and it was characterized by the charge and the skirmish. In the east, in addition to heavy cavalry, the impetus in battle was provided by light armed cavalry, often archers, the massed charge being replaced by the rapid and fluid tactics of the feint and the ambush, which, by early 1098, the crusaders knew how to counter. The fighting march, unknown in the west, was a staple of Levantine warfare which the westerners perfected, the march from Ramla to Ascalon on 10–12 August 1099 providing a textbook example.
Yet the political, material and military pillars of victory fail adequately to describe the structure of the First Crusade or alone explain its success. Although it is misleading to assume that all recruits and followers shared a similar intensity of religious motivation and zeal, without the element of ideology and spiritual exhilaration there would have been no march to Jerusalem, let alone a successful conquest. As the expedition shed its appearance of a Byzantine mercenary force in the winter of 1097–8, so spiritual leadership and direction came to the fore, visions, relics, liturgical ceremonies and the theatre of communal penitence binding the army together. There are contradictions here. The siege of Antioch appears in the retrospect of veterans to have been crucial to this process. Yet by then the mass of unarmed pilgrims and camp followers had been reduced to a rump, increasingly integrated into the military function of the expedition. At Antioch, too, the one acknowledged spiritual leader, Adhemar of Le Puy, died, not to be replaced, the response of the leaders appearing anything but spiritually inspired. Yet the fractured leadership after the Antioch triumph, the prospect of annihilation removed, created a vacuum of purpose that was filled by religious symbolism and exhortation expressed through increasingly vocal and organized popular elements. The language of participants from at least the early summer of 1097 points to fundamental and well-established attitudes, aspirations and beliefs that predated the crises of Antioch and Jerusalem.
When Stephen of Blois wrote in June 1097 of ‘the blessed journey’ of ‘the army of God’, he was doing more than parroting the cliché and slogans of the preachers and priests. He was expressing an understanding that the enterprise was especially holy, uniquely part of God’s purpose. By March 1098, Stephen was talking of the dead as martyrs, an increasingly common theme in accounts of the later stages of the crusade: the language, images and examples of celestial help suffuse the letters sent home by clergy and laity. In two surviving letters to the archbishop of Rheims, of November 1097 and July 1098, Anselm of Ribemont, who was to be killed in February 1099 at the siege of Arqah and was reported as himself having experienced celestial visions, emphasized the unique status of the army, calling on the clergy in the west to pray for the Christian host, conscious of fighting for Christendom as a whole, spiritually bound to the western church however far removed physically.60 The appreciation of a unique providential purpose marked out this holy war from previous conflicts with infidels in Sicily or Spain. As privations deepened and dangers grew, the awareness of the supernatural and a feeling of its proximity became more acute. This spiritual intensity did not derive solely from the conditions of the march; it was inherent from the start in the enterprise’s system of belief and understanding of failure and success in terms of sin and God’s favour. There was little or no perceived conflict between material and religious motives. Booty and land were justified as well as necessary reward for labouring in God’s service. The crusade encompassed the pious, the adventurer, the zealot, the thug, the tourist, the driven, the bored, the penitent, the professional and the desperate within its ideology of service, warfare and faith. Grasping opportunists such as Baldwin of Boulogne observed the proprieties. The conviction of leaders and led in the transcendent worthiness of their cause had been legitimized by Urban II and the recruiters and propagandists of 1095–6, but sprang from a deeper culture of militant piety. That their casualties appeared to them as martyrs and that their efforts were crowned with victory merely confirmed them in their sense of battered righteousness.