Post-classical history


Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Second Crusade, 1145–49

Abbot (later Saint) Bernard of Clairvaux can justifiably lay claim to being the most influential churchman in western Europe during the twelfth century. Father figure to kings, princes, and popes, he acted as the self-appointed moral compass of the age. Bernard was responsible for the extraordinary rise of the Cistercian monks, he was a leading advocate of the Knights Templar, and, in conjunction with Pope Eugenius III, he led the preaching of the Second Crusade. It was Bernard who convinced the knights of Christendom that they were a “blessed generation,” especially favored by God with an opportunity to defeat the Muslims. Inspired by the abbot’s preaching, huge armies marched to the Holy Land in 1147–48, but after a mere four days outside the walls of Damascus the crusaders were forced into a humiliating retreat: a catastrophic blow to Christian morale in both Europe and the Holy Land.1


The Second Crusade was triggered by the loss of Edessa in northeastern Syria in late 1144. Its conqueror, Zengi of Aleppo and Mosul, was an intelligent and ruthless individual, widely regarded as the most fearsome warrior of the period. The early stages of his career demonstrated the same self-serving tendencies displayed by many other Syrian warlords at the time; in fact, Zengi seemed to care little about his opponents’ faith and he treated all his enemies with the same extraordinary levels of brutality—hardly material for a hero of the jihad. In 1139, for example, he promised the Muslims of Baalbek safe conduct if they surrendered, only to torture and crucify them after they submitted. He maintained a terrifying level of discipline throughout his army. Ibn al-Adim wrote: “when he rode the troops used to walk behind him as if they were between two threads out of fear that they would trample on the crops. . . . If anyone transgressed, he was crucified. Zengi used to say: ‘It does not happen that there is more than one tyrant (meaning himself) at one time.’” He was no less cruel to those in his entourage—emirs who displeased him were killed or banished and their sons castrated. One of his wives was divorced during a bout of drunkenness: Zengi sent her to the stables where he ordered the grooms to gang-rape her while he looked on.2

In late 1144 Zengi turned his attention to the Frankish city of Edessa and when he learned Count Joscelin was absent, Zengi saw a chance to pounce. He rushed his forces to the area and laid siege to the city. Edessa was a site with formidable defensive fortifications so to gain entry Zengi decided to construct a complex series of tunnels. By late December his laborers had burrowed deep under one of the walls. They packed the passage with flammable material and set the wooden supports ablaze: as smoke billowed from the tunnel entrance the passageway collapsed. The walls above began to crack and then to tumble; once the dust had drifted away it was clear that the Muslim sappers had torn a deep gash in the Christians’ defensive cordon. The Franks tried desperately to stave off the Muslim assault but to no avail, and Zengi’s men began to slaughter the citizens and seize precious relics. The “Elegy for the Fall of Edessa,” written by a local Armenian Christian within two years of the siege, evoked a harrowing scene:

Like wolves among a flock of lambs [they] fell upon them in their midst.
They slaughtered indiscriminately, the martyrs let out streams of blood,
They massacred without compassion the young and the children.
They had no mercy on the grey hairs of the elderly or with the tender age of a child.

This thunderous strike against the principal city of one of the Latin States fulfilled the hopes of jihad propagandists—at last the counter-crusade was underway. News of these events was greeted with horror and fear in Antioch and Jerusalem; relief armies were sent north but could do little. The gravity of the situation prompted an appeal to western Europe and the response to this has become known as the Second Crusade. A series of small expeditions to the Holy Land had taken place in 1107–8, 1120–24, and 1128–29 and historians generally regard these as crusades because there is evidence (sometimes hazy, admittedly) of a call for help, a papal response, and ceremonies to take the cross.4 By virtue of its massive scale, however, the Second Crusade was markedly different from these lesser campaigns and, as the preaching effort gathered pace, it evolved into a bold and radical attempt to extend the frontiers of Christendom in three different directions: the Holy Land, the Baltic, and the Iberian Peninsula.


In the spring of 1145 messengers from the Frankish East told of the fall of Edessa: their targets were Pope Eugenius III, King Louis VII of France, and King Conrad III of Germany. By December, Eugenius and Louis both expressed their desire for a new crusade. Eugenius published what is the earliest surviving papal bull to call for a crusade (the texts of Pope Urban II’s appeals are not extant); it is known by its opening words Quantum praedecessores (How greatly our predecessors), a magisterial statement that became the benchmark for such appeals for decades to come. Carefully researched and skillfully crafted so as to convey its message to maximum effect, in essence Quantum praedecessores was a rousing challenge to the present generation to live up to the achievements of their illustrious forefathers on the First Crusade—a theme that played a central role in the attraction of the new expedition.5

In the five decades since the capture of Jerusalem the deeds of these men had been revered, repeated, and embellished to become enshrined as a true manifestation of divine will and earthly heroism. The First Crusaders had accomplished something of incomparable pride to all Catholics and this, coupled with the polyglot nature of the force, meant that chroniclers across Christendom recorded their triumph. No previous event had provoked such an efflorescence of historical writing; within years of the fall of Jerusalem several narratives had memorialized the deeds of the holy warriors, a trend that continued for decades afterward. William of Malmesbury, an Anglo-Norman author who composed The Deeds of the Kings of England in the 1120s, conveys the feeling well:

leaders of high renown, to whose praises posterity, if it judge aright, will assign no limits; heroes who from the cold of uttermost Europe plunged into the intolerable heat of the East, careless of their own lives, if only they could bring help to Christendom in its hour of trial. . . . Let poets with their eulogies now give place, and fabled history no longer laud the heroes of Antiquity. Nothing be compared with their glory has ever been begotten by any age. Such valour as the Ancients had vanished after their death into dust and ashes in the grave, for it was spent on the mirage of worldly splendour rather than on the solid aim of some good purpose; while of these brave heroes of ours, men will enjoy the benefit and tell the proud story, as long as the round world endures and the holy Church of Christ flourishes.6

Given limited levels of literacy, verse accounts of the crusade must have done much to sustain the legacy of 1099 as well. Written forms of the Chanson d’Antioche and the Chanson de Jerusalem survive, but these works were intended primarily for public performance: it takes little effort to imagine a group of knights gathered in a torchlit hall to listen to the valiant feats of Godfrey and Bohemond in the Holy Land. Other epics such as the famous Song of Roland (set in the eighth century and featuring the wars of Charlemagne, the greatest Christian emperor of all), were composed almost immediately after the First Crusade and also reflected a theme of holy war. Yet it was not just in writing and performance that the First Crusade was remembered. Churches and monasteries were decorated with images that suggested the struggle between Christianity and its enemies, while numerous round churches, meant to represent the Holy Sepulchre itself, were constructed across the Latin West; for example, in Cambridge, Northampton, San Stefano in Bologna, and Asti in Piedmont. In other words, the memory of the First Crusade percolated deep into the physical, political, and spiritual culture of western Europe.

Pope Eugenius repeatedly cast his own actions as following in the footsteps of “Pope Urban, our blessed predecessor.” Again and again he urged knights not to let slip the legacy of their fathers: “It will be seen as a great token of nobility and uprightness if those things acquired by the efforts of your fathers are vigorously defended by you, their good sons. But if, God forbid, it comes to pass differently, then the bravery of the fathers will have proved diminished in the sons.”7 Naturally, the pope also set out the spiritual rewards for the participants: the remission of all confessed sins and an assurance that those who died en route would be treated as martyrs.

King Louis tried to launch the crusade at his Christmas court at Bourges, and while his nobles were moved by the plight of Edessa they postponed a formal commitment until an assembly at Vézelay, in northern Burgundy, in March 1146. In part, their reticence was colored by the wait for Quantum praedecessores to arrive from the papal court: the need for formal authorization to begin the crusade was essential. Louis’s desire to take part in person was also a cause for concern. We must remember that no monarch was on the First Crusade and although King Sigurd of Norway (the Sigurd Jorsalfar of Edvard Grieg’s eponymous suite of 1892) went to the Holy Land in 1109–10 and various Spanish rulers had fought in the reconquest, Louis was the first major crowned head to aspire to such a commitment in the Levant. The fact that, to date, he had been a mediocre monarch did not help either. The king had managed to antagonize his most powerful noble, the count of Champagne, and had also alienated many churchmen; the burning of a church at Vitry with 1,300 people inside being a particularly ghastly episode. By 1145, peace was restored and this, in conjunction with the king’s need to make good his sins, could help to explain why he was so keen to travel to the Holy Land. Another worry for the French court was the succession. In 1137 Louis had married Eleanor, the beautiful and strong-willed heiress to the duchy of Aquitaine, but by the time of the crusade they had only one child—an infant daughter. An ongoing civil war in England was a stark reminder of the perils of a disputed succession; a son was vital. One way around the problem was for the queen herself to go on the crusade. She came from a family of crusaders—her father, William IX (a famous troubadour), had taken part in the 1101 crusade and her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, was the prince of Antioch. Some writers suggest that Abbot Bernard told Eleanor that if she went to Jerusalem, she would be rewarded with a son. As we shall see, however, while the crusade made a significant impact on the royal marriage it was not in the positive way originally envisaged.


On Easter Sunday 1146 the cream of the French nobility assembled at Vézelay to hear a sermon by Abbot Bernard. Arguably, this was his most mesmeric performance ever and such was the power of his oratory that crowds, inflamed by the wish to help the Holy Land, surged forward and begged to take the cross. So immense was the demand, one source reported, that the abbot was forced to tear crosses from his own clothing because all the prepared insignia were used up.8 A contemporary list of the senior nobles at Vézelay shows that almost all of them had First Crusade ancestors—a fact that vividly illustrates the resonance of Eugenius’s call for sons to continue the work of their fathers.9

In the months after Vézelay, Bernard continued to recruit in France. In his own, surely ironic, words, he told Eugenius: “As for the rest, you have ordered and I have obeyed and your authority has made my obedience fruitful. ‘I have declared and I have spoken, and they are multiplied above number’: towns and castles are emptied, one may scarcely find one man amongst seven women, so many women are there widowed while their husbands are still alive.”10 The point was made, however: many thousands had taken the cross.

The abbot also sent letters across Europe and dispatched preachers to spread the word: this was the most organized attempt to secure support for a crusade to date. The churches and market squares of the West echoed to the stirring words of Eugenius’s Quantum praedecessores and, to complement it, Bernard’s own distinctive appeal for action. Centuries later, the power of his words is still evident in his letters—simply reading them out loud shows this even more:

Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of abundant salvation. The earth is shaken because the Lord of Heaven is losing His land, the land in which He appeared to men. . . . For our sins, the enemy of the Cross has begun to lift his sacrilegious head there, to devastate with the sword that blessed land, that land of promise. . . . What are you doing, you mighty men of valour? What are you doing, you servants of the Cross?

I call blessed the generation that can seize an opportunity of such rich indulgence as this, blessed to be alive in this year of jubilee, this year of God’s choice. The blessing is spread throughout the whole world, and all the world is flocking to receive this badge of immortality . . . But now, O mighty soldiers, O men of war, you have a cause for which you can fight without danger to your souls: a cause in which to conquer is glorious and for which to die is gain.11

Bernard was sharp enough to appreciate that he could exploit the emerging economic strength of towns and tradesmen, and he appealed to them in terms they would understand: “But those of you who are merchants, men quick to seek a bargain, let me point out the advantages of this great opportunity. Do not miss them. Take the sign of the Cross and you will find indulgence for all the sins which you humbly confess. The cost is small, the reward is great.”12

In the autumn he set out on a grueling seven-month tour to preach in the Low Countries and Germany. His tasks were threefold: to recruit more crusaders, to deal with a threat to the Jews, and to enlist the king of Germany himself. In all three cases, he emerged triumphant—a conclusion that only served to reinforce his conviction that God favored the crusade. Again and again, Bernard’s unparalleled oratorical skills evoked profound religious feelings in his audience. As he progressed through Flanders and into the Rhineland huge crowds flocked to hear him and reports of miracles were widespread. It has been calculated that 235 cripples were healed, 172 blind people recovered their sight, as well as cures for the deaf and dumb, demoniacs, and others; there was even one raising of a person from the dead.13 At times the atmosphere became so fevered that the crowds threatened to crush him; on several occasions, like a modern movie star, he was trapped in his overnight accommodation and had to flee through a back exit. Notwithstanding this delirium the abbot convinced thousands more people to take the cross.

As with the First Crusade, however, the call to fight God’s enemies was regarded by some as an excuse to turn upon the Jews. A renegade Cistercian preacher named Radulf (close to the Hebrew word radof, meaning “to persecute”) inflamed audiences in the Rhineland with his anti-Semitic language and incited outbreaks of violence against communities in Cologne, Worms, Mainz, and Speyer. Bernard was furious because Radulf had broken biblical injunctions against killing the Jews. The abbot had worked hard to control the preaching precisely to ensure that everyone stayed, in modern parlance, on message. He wrote to Radulf and commanded him to stop, but when this failed Bernard went to see him in person and ordered him back to his monastery in disgrace. Compared to the killing spree of the First Crusade, the events of 1146–47 were reined in far more quickly and were on a much lesser scale—a small consolation to the Jews themselves.14

The recruitment of King Conrad III of Germany was of prime importance to the scale and scope of the Second Crusade. The German contribution to the First Crusade had been constrained by the conflict between empire and papacy, but with that resolved it was logical that the most powerful secular monarch in Europe should act in partnership with the Church and head Christ’s army. Conrad himself had been to the Holy Land to serve the Christian cause in 1124–25 and he was a highly experienced warrior. At first, however, he seemed reluctant to take part in the crusade: his lands—which stretched from the Danish border to Poland, across Bavaria and into Italy, as far south as the Papal States—were in turmoil. At least five major conflicts were aflame and it would have been reckless of him to leave home. He enlisted Bernard’s help to quell the troubles and with the spellbinding presence of the abbot in play, “the serenity of peace suddenly shone forth again.”15 Around Christmas 1146 news arrived at the royal court that Duke Welf of Bavaria, the king’s main rival, had taken the cross. This ensured that he would not be remaining in the West to foment trouble in Conrad’s absence—now the king could act. Bernard’s hagiographer described a dramatic scene in Speyer Cathedral when the abbot was seized with the Holy Spirit during Mass. He turned to Conrad, reminded the king of the Last Judgment, and asked how he would respond to the question of Christ: “O man, what have I not done for you that I ought to have?” Bernard described Conrad’s exalted standing, his physical strength, and his vigorous soul; in other words, he made the case that he had a Christian duty to act in the Lord’s cause. The king burst into tears and cried out: “Now I recognise clearly that this is a gift of divine grace, nor now shall I be found to be ungrateful. . . . I am ready to serve Him!” A swell of noise filled the cathedral as the audience sounded their acclaim. Bernard turned to the altar and picked up a cloth cross, approached the king, and pinned it on him; the most powerful secular ruler in Europe had become a crusader—another advance in the history of medieval holy war.16 As a piece of hagiography this account may have overemphasized the abbot’s role because Conrad knew full well that Bernard would ask him to take the cross, and to turn him down in front of such a huge congregation would have been unthinkable. In reality, he had already decided to join the crusade. Thus, Conrad and Louis were both committed to following in the footsteps of the First Crusaders: optimism ran high across Christian Europe.


Around this time we can discern a bold change in the aims of the crusade. This was not part of some preconceived master plan, but was a blend of the opportunism of secular and religious rulers within the broader climate of holy war. It transformed the Second Crusade from a bid to recapture Edessa into a hugely ambitious attempt to expand Christendom on three fronts: the Holy Land, Iberia, and the Baltic. The first manifestation of this was in the late autumn of 1146 when Eugenius wrote to the Italian trading port of Genoa to urge its citizens to take part in the campaign. Their response would not take them to the Levant, however, but to Spain, and it produced one of the few real successes of the crusade.

Back in 1095–96, as the excitement of the First Crusade gripped Europe, many Spanish knights aspired to take the cross for the Holy Land to secure remission of all their sins.17 Their own region had a complex history of holy war that dated back to the conquest of the peninsula by Islamic forces during the eighth century; by the late eleventh century a series of small Christian kingdoms had recovered the northernmost regions. They lived in reasonable harmony with their Muslim neighbors, on some occasions working with one local Muslim lord against another and, at other times, demanding what amounted to protection money to keep the peace. Under the influence of the Reform Papacy, spiritual rewards began to be offered to those who died fighting to reconquer Christian lands. In 1085 King Alfonso VI of Castile and León captured Toledo to mark an important step forward, but men such as Rodrigo Díaz (immortalized as El Cid by Charlton Heston in the 1961 movie) carved out careers as hired hands, fighting for whoever paid them. It was only in his last major commission, the defeat of the Almoravids of Valencia, that El Cid (meaning “the leader”) acquired the heroic status inflated by Christian writers early in the following century and then embraced by modern politicians such as General Franco. Urban II’s launch of the First Crusade gave an added sharpness to Christian–Muslim relations in the peninsula. Yet the pope had to work hard to prevent a hemorrhage of warriors away from the area and he wrote: “it is no virtue to rescue Christians from Saracens in one place, only to expose them to the tyranny and oppression of the Saracens in another.”18 The symbols and ideology of crusading to the Holy Land soon seeped into Spain and men from Iberia fought at home and in the East. Gradually, the two theaters of war were brought into parity and it is certain that by 1123 the remission of all sins was offered to crusaders in both the Levant and Spain. As recruitment for the Second Crusade gathered momentum the Genoese struck agreements with Count Ramon Berenguer of Barcelona and King Alfonso VII of Castile and León to attack the southern Spanish city of Almería in 1147 and the more northerly settlement of Tortosa in 1148.19 These parties had all fought the Spanish Muslims for decades, advancing their territorial holdings and securing commercial privileges, but this time they chose to bring their campaign under the formal umbrella of papal approval and to secure the full array of spiritual rewards on offer.

It was not just Iberia that saw increased interest in the crusading cause around this time; for example, as Bernard drew toward the end of his travels he addressed an assembly of German nobles at Frankfurt in March 1147.20 While many expressed enthusiasm for the expedition, a number ventured a new and radical idea—a concept that would mark a further extension to the range of crusading warfare. To the east of Germany lay lands occupied by pagan tribes known generically as the Wends, peoples who worshipped a panoply of gods and held meetings at sacred groves and springs. In line with the basic idea of attacking the enemies of the faithful, the north German nobles refused to set out for the Holy Land “because they had as neighbours certain tribes given over to the filthiness of idolatry” and wanted to fight their pagan neighbors instead.21

Conflict between Christians and pagans had simmered for centuries. The Christians had made slow progress through a combination of conquest and conversion but there was constant tension between these two means of advance because sometimes the nobles’ support for the churchmen was overridden by their desire for land, an approach that could provoke savage reprisals on the defenseless clerics. Bernard of Clairvaux, however, possibly swept along by the tide of confidence created by his preaching, agreed that the Wends were suitable targets for the crusade. In his most controversial statement of all he said: “At the council at . . . Frankfurt, the might of the Christians was armed against them [the pagans] and that for the complete wiping out or, at any rate, the conversion of these peoples, they [the Germans] have put on the Cross, the sign of our salvation; and we, by virtue of our authority, promised them the same spiritual privileges as those enjoy who set out for Jerusalem.”22 Theologians and historians alike have been troubled and perplexed by this apparently obvious breach of the biblical injunction against forced conversion: no clear explanation is apparent. One possibility is that some of the pagans were apostates—they had reneged on their conversion; therefore, as heretics they could be killed. Alternatively, the abbot could have learned that many previous campaigns in the north had ended when the pagans paid off the attackers and underwent some token form of conversion, a process that did little to advance the Christian cause.23 It is possible that this edict was an attempt to ensure that a more permanent solution was reached. Eugenius gave his agreement to the idea (not that he had much choice by that time) and issued the papal bull Divina dispensatione in April 1147 in which he referred to the wars in Iberia, the Holy Land, and the Baltic as part of a single enterprise. Thus, the grand scale of the Second Crusade was made clear and, as several contemporaries noted, Christendom sought to extend its frontiers.24


As the main German and French armies prepared to march across southern Europe and Asia Minor, one particular group set out for the Holy Land by sea.25 Southern England, Normandy, Flanders, and the lower Rhineland (around Cologne) had long-standing ties from trade and regional politics; when the crusade appeal spread into these areas it was logical to sail, rather than to travel to the East by land.26 In fact, a few northern European contingents had sailed to the Levant at the time of the First Crusade, so such a practice was not unheard of. In the autumn of 1146 a crisscross of communications must have passed over the English Channel and along the northern European coastline making the arrangements to coordinate the expedition. In the end a fleet of around 180 ships assembled in the port of Dartmouth ready to make the journey to Jerusalem. No especially famous figure led this force: a nephew of Godfrey of Bouillon, Count Arnold of Aerschot, was the most prominent of the Rhinelanders; Christian of Gistel, a castellan, led the Flemings, and Hervey of Glanvill the Anglo-Normans. Tensions between the various armies of the First Crusade had shown how destructive bickering between contingents could be, and to try to ensure reasonably good terms between the troops they made a sworn association:

Amongst those people of so many different tongues the firmest guarantees of peace and friendship were taken; and, furthermore, they sanctioned very strict laws, as for example, a life for a life and a tooth for a tooth. They forbade all display of costly garments. Also they ordained that women should not go out in public; that the peace must be kept by all, unless they should suffer injuries recognised by the proclamation; that weekly chapters be held by the laity and the clergy separately, unless perchance some great emergency should require their meeting together; that each ship have its own priest and keep the same observances as are prescribed for parishes; that no one retain the seaman of another in his employ; that everyone make weekly confession and communicate on Sunday; and so on through the rest of the obligatory articles with separate sanctions for each. Furthermore, they constituted for every thousand of the forces two elected members who were to be called judges or coniurati, through whom the cases of the constables were to be settled in accordance with the proclamation and by whom the distribution of moneys was to be carried out.27

The holy city was not, however, their first target—instead it was Lisbon, at the time in Muslim hands. King Afonso Henriques of Portugal (1128–85) knew of the planned crusade and he probably made some informal contacts with the northern Europeans. A reference in the contemporary eyewitness account known as The Conquest of Lisbon (De expugnatione Lyxbonensi) spoke of Afonso “knowing of our coming.” It seems too much of a coincidence that the fleet decided to set out so far in advance of the main land armies; they would have arrived in the Levant a whole season ahead of Louis and Conrad and then used up vital resources just waiting around. Their departure in the spring of 1147 allowed them to engage in another arena of holy war and to secure valuable booty as well. While there is no surviving papal bull for this campaign, the participants were already signed with the cross and a case for the spiritual value of their actions could be constructed with ease.28

From Afonso’s perspective, this was not an opportunity to miss: he had only just started to use the title “rex” and to capture Lisbon would both enhance his credentials as a holy warrior and extend his lands. The bishop of Oporto greeted the crusader fleet when it arrived in northern Spain and he tried to convince them of the worth of what they were doing. He outlined the destruction wrought by the Muslims and to convey his point he used the extraordinarily brutal image of a butchered woman:

To you the Mother Church, as it were with her arms cut off and her face disfigured, appeals for help; she seeks vengeance at your hands for the blood of her sons. She calls to you, truly, she cries out loud. “Execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people [Psalms 149:7].” Therefore, be not seduced by the desire to press on with the journey that you have begun; for the praiseworthy thing is not to have been to Jerusalem, but to have lived a good life along the way; for you cannot arrive there except through the performance of His works. . . . Therefore, reclothe her soiled and disfigured form with the garments of joy and gladness.29

The offer of the freedom to sack the city for three days after it was captured proved a further incentive and the crusaders duly agreed to stay and help Afonso. Thus a blend of secular and spiritual motives was firmly in play. Lisbon lies on the banks of the River Tagus a few miles in from the Atlantic: its castle still stands on top of one of the city’s many hills and in the mid-twelfth century the fortress walls extended down to the shoreline to embrace the heart of the settlement. From the besiegers’ viewpoint this proved to be a model campaign. Unlike, for example, the terrible hardships endured at Antioch by the First Crusaders, the land around Lisbon was extraordinarily rich in fish and fruit.30 The discovery of the city’s main storehouses, which lay outside the walls, was an even greater bonus because it deprived the defenders of supplies. The Christians were also advantaged by the political situation in Islamic Iberia and North Africa.31 The peninsula was ruled by the Almoravid dynasty, but by the mid-twelfth century their popularity had waned and the ultrapious, hard-line Almohads began to sweep aside their coreligionists, whom they viewed as weak and corrupt. In other words, just as the First Crusaders profited from dissent in the Muslim Near East, so the Lisbon crusaders benefited from a power struggle at the western edge of the Islamic world. In consequence there was no hope of a relief force for the defenders of Lisbon, another considerable help to the crusaders.

The siege was not, however, an entirely straightforward affair. The natural strength of the city’s defenses and the determined resistance of its inhabitants proved desperately hard to wear down. For much of the summer, the Christians made limited headway; they tried to construct huge siege towers—one was over thirty meters high, but the enemy set fire to it. The Anglo-Norman contingent made catapults and arranged a series of shifts to keep up a relentless barrage of stones and missiles, but again little progress was apparent. Eventually, however, the lack of food and outside help began to wear the Muslims down. Peace negotiations were opened although they quickly descended into Muslim diatribes against the divinity of Christ and allegations of the crusaders’ greed.32 Once more the assault was renewed: to the east of the city the Flemish-Rhineland contingent dug an elaborate series of multigalleried tunnels but even though this brought down a section of the wall, the defenders managed to barricade it quickly enough to prevent entry. The Anglo-Normans dragged up another siege tower and Raol, the eyewitness author of The Conquest of Lisbon, brandished a piece of the most talismanic relic of all, the True Cross, as he gave an impassioned final oration designed to inspire the crusaders to victory. He reminded the men of the sacrifices that they had made and promised them success. Raol made it clear that he would be in the thick of the battle himself, trusting in divine blessing to protect him from danger. The crusaders wept with emotion and fell to their knees to venerate the relic. With these spiritual preparations completed, the onslaught began.33 Slowly they heaved the tower toward the enemy. The Muslims tried everything possible to break, crush, or ignite the structure but it was too well protected by skins and padding. Inexorably it closed in on the walls—with the drawbridge just over a meter away from the battlements the defenders’ nerve broke. Starving and desperate, they could see there was no point in further resistance and so they sued for peace: a negotiated surrender was infinitely preferable to the likely horrors of an uncontrolled sack.

With the fall of Lisbon, King Afonso had taken possession of a prized target in the reconquest, although the city of Coimbra remained the capital of Portugal for several more centuries. Most of Lisbon’s inhabitants were treated well enough to stay in situ because, as we saw in the Latin East, if they were killed or exiled, then the resultant ghost town was of little use to the conquerors. The crusaders received their promised booty and settled down to wait for the winter to pass. Once it was safe to venture to sea again—probably in late February—they set sail for the Levant to fulfill their vows and to pray at the Holy Sepulchre.


Back in France and Germany the crusaders readied themselves to depart. They needed to mortgage and sell land to finance their journeys and such was the demand for precious metals that some churches were forced to melt down relics and religious vessels to supply the crusaders. Groups of warriors began to assemble and we can often see more than one family representative ready to go: it is striking how many sets of brothers took part in the Second Crusade, as well as a few fathers and sons too—once again, the old cliché of crusaders being landless younger sons is proved groundless.34

In the weeks before the crusade set out, the anticipation and excitement were fueled by several major public events. Eugenius had journeyed to Paris and his presence added a special gloss to the spiritual preparations. He presided over a series of ceremonies that probably included a sermon by Abbot Peter the Venerable of Cluny on the importance of the Holy Sepulchre, and the dedication of a series of fourteen windows in the abbey of Saint-Denis to commemorate the achievements of the First Crusaders. Two of these roundels survive in a museum in the United States; the other twelve were destroyed during the French Revolution, but fortunately engravings of them remain. Some depict the great pre-crusading heroes of Christian history, Charlemagne and Constantine; others show a trio of kings being given the martyr’s crown; the majority tell of the battles, sieges, and triumphs of the First Crusade. In sum they formed a series of inspirational scenes designed to imbue the crusaders of 1147–48 with the values of their magnificent predecessors.35

Saint-Denis was also the location for an emotional farewell to King Louis himself on June 11, 1147.36 The crowds present witnessed a brilliantly choreographed event designed to display Louis’s piety to maximum effect and to secure divine favor. As Louis journeyed to the abbey he stopped at a leprosarium and, with only two companions, entered. The patronage of lepers, who were kept separate from society by reason of their terrifying disease, was a deliberate echo of Christ’s care for those similarly afflicted. At Saint-Denis itself, the sense of expectation was tremendous. Excited crowds waited for a glimpse of their crusading king, although the extreme heat caused his mother to faint. Louis paused in front of everyone and asked to be given the oriflamme, the vermilion banner mounted on a golden lance that was equated with Charlemagne’s standard. Then he entered the abbey: the congregation within the cool, shadowy church fell silent. At the altar stood Abbot Suger, Abbot Bernard, and Pope Eugenius himself—a gathering of Europe’s elite churchmen—and in front of them lay a golden-plated casket that contained the remains of Saint Denis, the patron saint of the Capetian dynasty and the protector of France. Louis fell to the ground and prostrated himself in front of the altar. Eugenius and Suger carefully opened a small door on the casket and tenderly pulled out the silver reliquary holding the relics to allow the king to venerate the saint more closely and to be inspired in his holy task. After this Suger presented Louis with the oriflamme and Eugenius gave him a wallet, the traditional symbol of a pilgrim, and a reminder that a penitential journey remained a central part of crusading ideology. The pope blessed the king before Louis and his companions went to dine in the monks’ refectory to emphasize their change in status from earthly knights to holy warriors.


Conrad of Germany set out ahead of Louis and marched swiftly through Hungary toward the northern edge of the Byzantine Empire. In theory, his reception there should have been good because his sister-in-law had recently married Emperor Manuel Comnenus, but the woeful discipline of his army (perhaps some 35,000 in number) caused serious friction with the locals and provoked a series of skirmishes. In contrast to the First Crusade, the Greeks had not invited the westerners into their lands and they feared crusader aggression.37 It was a natural disaster that brought most trouble for the Germans, though. By early September they had reached Choerobacchi, just to the west of Constantinople, where they camped on a wide flood-plain. Heavy rainfall overnight caused a flash flood to cascade down from the mountains, and a torrent of water ripped through the Germans’ camp, carrying away huge amounts of equipment and drowning men and horses alike—a disturbing signal of divine disapproval.38

The Germans then arrived outside Constantinople. The Greeks wished to move their visitors along as fast as possible in order to prevent a linkup with the French crusaders, and, through the usual carrot-and-stick routine—an offer of transportation over the Bosporus and the provision of markets—they managed to induce the Germans to cross into Asia Minor. The Bosporus may be only 550 meters wide at one point but, given the Greeks’ control of shipping, it was a genuinely formidable barrier and after Conrad had moved, the “queen of cities,” as the Greeks described their capital, was safe from one western army at least.

Once in Asia Minor, Conrad was supposed to wait for Louis but, as he admitted later, he became impatient to attack the Turks and chose to advance. The Germans split their forces into two: a group of pilgrims were to take a slower, and nominally safer, route around the coast of Asia Minor, while the king and the bulk of the knights and foot soldiers planned to forge directly toward northern Syria. Accounts differ but it seems that the cumulative effects of a hopelessly overoptimistic rate of march, which in turn led to a shortfall of supplies, coupled with possible treachery from their Greek guides and fierce harassment by the Seljuk Turks, culminated in a crushing defeat. Footmen were slaughtered in their thousands, and although Conrad himself was wounded, most of the better-armored knights survived and began to retreat.39

Within a few days they encountered the first of the French crusaders. Their colleagues were astounded: the Greeks had claimed that the Germans were surging victoriously toward northern Syria, and when the truth emerged it was taken as clear evidence of Byzantine duplicity. Louis’s and Manuel’s relationship had been troubled from the start.40 Manuel’s recent wars with the principality of Antioch, presently ruled by Queen Eleanor’s uncle, Raymond, plus his recent decision to sign a twelve-year truce with the Seljuk sultan of Iconium, were perceived as indications of hostility to his fellow Christians. Prior to the crusade’s departure the emperor had written to Louis and asked him to swear fealty and return lands formerly held by the Byzantine Empire; in other words, to repeat the oaths of the First Crusaders. The French king declined, but as he drew nearer to Constantinople, Manuel’s demands for fealty, from the French nobles at least, grew more insistent. This was driven by the actions of a third party—the Sicilians: the Byzantines’ old enemy and, by coincidence, fraternal allies of the king of France. At this most delicate of moments King Roger II of Sicily sent a powerful fleet to invade the Peloponnese Peninsula, to ravage the city of Corinth, and then to smash Athens. Manuel was terrified that the French would join forces with the Sicilians and threaten Constantinople itself. To counter this Louis was subjected to the full splendor of Byzantine diplomacy: he enjoyed escorted visits to countless glittering churches, he was entertained with sumptuous banquets, and given audiences with the emperor. John Kinnamos, a Byzantine writer, noted that when the two rulers met in front of a grand assembly, Manuel was placed on a throne and Louis on a much lower stool: an unmistakable hierarchy. Still the French resisted Manuel’s calls for fealty—in fact, a vociferous minority in the crusader army even wanted to attack Constantinople and it was only the Greeks’ familiar combination of incentives and bullying—poor supplies outside the city and the promise of ample markets across the Bosporus—that induced the French to move.41

In the aftermath of the German retreat Conrad and Louis met and the two armies joined together to begin a more circuitous march around the coast, a frustratingly slow process because of the innumerable inlets and rivers that had to be crossed. Conrad soon decided that his injuries were such that he had to rest and, thanks to the efforts of his sister-in-law, Empress Eirene, he was invited to winter in Constantinople. With most of the German troops gone and with no prospect of Conrad upstaging him, Manuel could afford to be magnanimous and he personally attended to the king and nursed him back to health.

In the meantime, Louis and his troops had turned inland along the Maeander Valley where, in mid-December, they routed a Turkish force that tried to block their fording of the river. By early in the New Year they were in mountainous territory and it was here that disaster struck.42 On January 6, 1148, Geoffrey of Rancon commanded the vanguard as it moved over Mount Cadmus. He led the troops along at a brisk pace and by the end of the day had crossed the summit and started down the far side—well out of sight of the slow-moving baggage train and foot soldiers in the middle of the army; still further behind, the rear guard had not yet broken camp. The Turks shadowed the crusaders and soon glimpsed their opportunity. As the ponderous wagons and the lightly armed footmen labored over the mountain, the Seljuks pounced. They loosed volley after volley of arrows and bombarded the panic-stricken Christians from above and below: men and animals plummeted to their deaths and the Turks seized huge amounts of booty. Meanwhile, far ahead, the vanguard camped for the night, oblivious to their tragic error. Word of the attack eventually got back to Louis in the rear guard and the king and his household charged out to try to save the day, but by now the Turks were in total control of the situation and many of the royal entourage died. At first glance this seems an amazingly amateurish mistake—the loss of contact between contingents sounds so basic, but on closer examination, a few mitigating factors emerge. The French army probably numbered at least twenty thousand and to move over such awkward terrain was a seriously difficult task. Roads were rudimentary and the baggage train and troops probably extended for six miles. In unfamiliar territory it is perhaps understandable how such a situation could have developed because the mountains constantly broke up any sight lines and it became impossible to hold a proper formation. The vanguard waited in trepidation for their friends to appear. Throughout the night men emerged from the gloom in ones and twos to tell of their escape and to report the death of friends and comrades: a grim list of the missing, presumed dead, was compiled. Louis survived and soon took drastic action to try to ensure that such a catastrophic breakdown in order was never repeated. In an unprecedented move (and one not replicated by any later crusader king) he turned over the running of the entire army to the Knights Templar. This, only a couple of decades after their foundation, was a telling indication of the respect with which the warrior-monks were viewed, as well as a sign of the damage to Louis’s own morale. The crusaders swore to establish fraternity with the Templars and to obey their commands in full. With discipline established the army marched onward and duly reached the southern Turkish coast without further setbacks.


In February 1148 Louis and Eleanor finally arrived at Antioch where Prince Raymond, her uncle, eagerly awaited their presence. The prospect that the Second Crusade would fight in northern Syria was of real excitement to Raymond because it meant he could tackle the neighboring Muslims of Aleppo; it also opened out the possibility that he could gain sufficient power to shrug off Byzantine overlordship, a situation he loathed. As the crusaders prepared to leave France the prince had sent them gifts to win their favor and now he welcomed his guests with processions and fine entertainments. Raymond was certain that his close ties to the Capetian royal family would aid his cause and there is even a suggestion that he commissioned the epic Old French poem Chanson des Chétifsin honor of their visit.43 Yet within weeks the situation had turned very sour indeed. When a formal assembly of Antiochenes and crusaders met to discuss a campaign in the north, the idea was, to Raymond’s complete horror and fury, rejected. The sources suggest that Louis’s wish to make his pilgrimage to the holy sites drew him toward Jerusalem, yet while there may be some truth in this, it does not seem convincing when set against the wider context of the crusade. More pertinently, the deteriorating condition of Edessa, the original target of the expedition, could have contributed to the decision to leave Antioch. In October 1146 the local Armenians had tried to break free from Muslim rule only to be crushed with the utmost ferocity. The walls of the citadel were shattered and many thousands of Christians were killed or sent into slavery. A northern Syrian writer of the late twelfth century offered an almost apocalyptic description of the city: “Edessa was deserted of life: an appalling vision, enveloped in a black cloud, drunk with blood, infected by the cadavers of its sons and daughters! Vampires and other savage beasts were running and coming into the city at night to feed themselves on the flesh of the massacred people.”44 In other words, the city was no longer worth recovering.

The crossing of Asia Minor must have exhausted Louis and his men and the losses of horses and equipment were further serious problems. The presence of Conrad in the kingdom of Jerusalem (he had sailed there after his convalescence, well supplied with money and horses by Manuel) was another pull toward the south. Finally, an unwillingness to help Raymond, whose status as a vassal of the Greeks was known, is also relevant because the French blamed much of their misfortunes in Asia Minor on Byzantine guides and the Greeks’ dealings with the Seljuks. With his strategy in ruins, a furious Prince Raymond became hostile to King Louis and it is from this point on that the infamous cause célèbre of the Second Crusade emerged—the alleged relationship between Queen Eleanor and her uncle.

Our sources for these events are problematic: William of Tyre wrote in the 1170s (although he claimed to have researched the matter closely) and, while the Englishman John of Salisbury met the king and queen on their journey home in mid-1149, he did not compose his History of the Popes until 1164. William suggested that Raymond resolved to steal Eleanor from the king in revenge for Louis’s unwillingness to fight in Syria. William stated categorically that “she disregarded her marriage vows and was unfaithful to her husband.”45 John was less certain, but indicated that “the attentions paid by the prince to the queen and his constant, indeed almost continuous, conversation with her aroused the king’s suspicions.”46 This latter issue might be explained by the fact that, unlike Louis, the prince and his niece were both Occitan speakers, the language of their native southern France; to an outsider, a “secret” language could have aroused suspicion. A later comment ascribed to Eleanor that the king was “more monk than man” gives a sexual twist to the situation.47

It is frustratingly difficult to reach a definitive conclusion on the matter: the need to preserve a royal bloodline meant that an affair would have been hugely dangerous, but not, of course, impossible. On the other hand, John of Salisbury and William of Tyre were serious, sober writers, not given to sensationalism for its own sake. The most contemporaneous piece of evidence has been widely ignored by historians and is from a letter sent to the king by Suger, the regent of France, in 1149. The abbot wrote: “Concerning the queen, your wife, we venture to congratulate you, if we may, upon the extent to which you suppress your anger, if there be anger, until with God’s will you return to your own kingdom and see to these matters.”48 While this is not a categorical statement of an affair it is a strong indication that rumors concerning Eleanor’s behavior were in circulation at the time of the crusade and that even back in France, Suger was aware of them, whether true or not. In short, it was widely believed that the queen had deserted her marriage bed.


On June 24, 1148, a general assembly gathered at the town of Palmarea, near Acre. This was the most splendid congregation of rulers and lords in the history of the crusader kingdom. Two reigning European monarchs, along with members of their families, senior churchmen, and nobles, met with Baldwin III and Melisende and the leading figures in the kingdom of Jerusalem to decide where to attack. Given the tensions between Raymond and Louis a campaign in the north was unlikely. Notwithstanding recent periods of friendship between the Franks and the Damascenes—largely brought on by a mutual fear of Zengi of Aleppo and Mosul, but now ended by the Syrian city’s rapprochement with Zengi’s son and successor Nur ad-Din—the choice of Damascus was almost a foregone conclusion, although the port of Ascalon remained in Muslim hands too. Damascus, however, was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and the chance to take a place of such spiritual and strategic importance had to be grasped.49

The crusader armies marched from Tiberias to Banyas and then over Mount Lebanon to begin the gentle descent toward Damascus. The city lies on a flat plain overlooked by Mount Kasouin to its north and with the small, but vital, River Barada running through it. The most dominant feature of the region (and indeed still surviving outside the modern urban sprawl), was the immense orchards that surrounded most of the city and extended for up to five miles toward the west. The close, densely packed trees were a difficult obstacle for a large army to breach, but in spite of this the Franks decided to go ahead because the fruit and irrigation canals offered immediate supplies of food and drink, and they believed that if they broke through these defenses then morale in the city would collapse.

King Baldwin led his men into the orchards where they were subjected to a strange form of guerrilla warfare quite beyond their military experience.50 Barricades blocked the paths, the mud walls that delineated each plot were pierced by lances thrust out of special peepholes, and arrows peppered the crusaders from the watchtowers that stood over each smallholding. Slowly, the Christians worked their way through the trees and emerged on the plain in front of the city. Once there the German knights used their favored tactics, dismounting from their horses to fight with swords and shields so as to push the Damascenes back to the walls. Conrad was at the front of his troops and so great was his ferocity that he reputedly severed the head, neck, and shoulder of one opponent with a single mighty blow. At this point the crusaders looked as if they were on the verge of a spectacular success, poised to add their own great chapter to the annals of holy warfare. Then, curiously, they moved away from their hard-won position to the west and marched over to the other side of the city where there were no orchards, water supply, or moat, only, allegedly, a low wall. Later, the crusaders would complain vehemently that they made this move on the advice of the local Franks, but once established in this location, they quickly ran out of food and could not then return to the orchards because of new barricades. Thus, with antagonism between the crusaders and the local lords growing fast, the armies reluctantly began to break camp. The finest collection of warriors in Christendom had been compelled to turn tail after only four days—an unimagined ignominy. They had not even been defeated in battle; it was far more humiliating for them to abandon the attack than to lose some epic military engagement. It seems that accusations that the Franks took bribes from the Damascenes to lift the siege—a common enough practice in Levantine warfare—offered the crusaders their most acceptable explanation for this turn of events. While it had the merit of exculpating the westerners from responsibility for the fiasco, it created a legacy of distrust between Europeans and the Franks that simmered for decades. What the Muslim sources tell us, however, is something slightly different.

In the same way that parts of al-Sulami’s jihad sermon of 1105 resembled crusade preaching, reports of the Damascenes’ spiritual preparations during the siege echo crusader practices prior to military conflicts. As the citizens assembled in the hall and courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque, the revered Koran of Caliph Uthman (579–656) was shown to the crowd and the people sprinkled their heads with ashes and prayed for divine aid.51 This veneration of the Koran and the acts of humility recall the scene at Saint-Denis just over a year earlier with Louis and the relics of his own patron saint. Preachers urged the Damascenes to defend their holy city, and infused with jihad fervor, the Muslims were ready for battle. A subsequent engagement on the eastern side of Damascus proved inconclusive, but it showed the crusaders that resistance was hardening; more importantly, it gave time for relief forces to approach. Some reinforcements arrived from the Beqaa valley, and Nur ad-Din himself paused at Homs, ready to march south to Damascus. On this basis, the Christians’ attempt to move the focus of their attack and achieve a quick victory becomes understandable. When the defenses there proved stronger than anticipated it was clear that a retreat was the prudent course of action. At this point it is possible the Damascenes made payments to the Franks (rather than the crusaders) to ensure their departure and therein lay the basis for allegations of duplicity on the part of the local barons.

A furious Conrad soon left for home: in contrast, Louis and Eleanor remained in the Levant for almost a year to visit the holy sites. Given the enormous sense of expectation prior to the campaign, it was inevitable that people sought to apportion blame. We have seen that some opprobrium fell upon the Frankish nobility, but the crusaders were held responsible too. Some of this was general in nature: the contemporary Chronicle of Morigny decried the expedition as having achieved “nothing useful or worth repeating;” the poet Marcabru called the leaders “broken failures;” John of Salisbury claimed it had irreparably damaged the Christian faith.52 For the first time, therefore, people seriously questioned the value of crusading, and the events of 1147–48 probably deterred many from taking the cross in future. Bernard of Clairvaux came in for severe criticism and he was forced to give sermons and write a treatise to explain what had happened. His answer was to point to the sins of man in general and to remind people of the mysterious ways of the Lord. Eugenius too felt a backlash from people because the number of letters issued by his chancery saw a huge decline—an indication that people were less inclined to turn to the papacy for confirmation or recognition of their rights; in other words, the standing of the curia had dropped because the crusade had failed.53

To the Muslims of the Near East, the collapse of the expedition was a source of huge delight. Previously they had feared the western armies but now, as William of Tyre wrote: “they mocked at the shattered strength and broken glory of those who represented the substantial foundations of the Christians.”54 Nur ad-Din led an invasion of Antioch and in June 1149, at the Battle of Inab, he killed Prince Raymond of Antioch, the Franks’ most formidable warrior. The panic-stricken Franks appealed to Europe to help “the oppressed Mother Church of the East,” but a combination of exhaustion on the part of those recently returned crusaders, the need to raise more funds, and a general lack of morale meant that even though Eugenius promised the usual spiritual rewards, there was no worthwhile response.55


The Second Crusade’s two other theaters of war produced very mixed results. The campaign against the pagans of northern Europe proved a grave disappointment but the expeditions to Almería and Tortosa in eastern Spain were successful. Within three months of Eugenius’s endorsement the Wendish crusaders (as the northern campaigners have become known) set out. Their motives seem a confused combination of the clerical wish to convert the pagans and the nobles’ desire for land and vengeance for recent enemy incursions. A joint Danish-Saxon force attacked the town of Dobin, just inland from the Bay of Wismar.56 This was the stronghold of Niclot, leader of the Abodrites, and it was defended by a combination of earthworks, waterways, and the surrounding marshlands. Niclot proved a dangerous opponent who struck hard at the Danish ships while they prepared to engage. Mutual distrust among the attacking forces surfaced: the Saxons suggested that the Danes were pugnacious fighters at home but unwarlike abroad, while the Danes disdainfully stated that “only self-indulgence and sausages” came from Germany. More seriously, there was a disjunction between Bernard’s “death or conversion” theme and the aspirations of the crusaders themselves. The latter questioned whether it was sensible to kill the locals because if this happened there would be no one to tax or make a livelihood from. The fighting was desultory and after a while the Slavs agreed to convert to Christianity and to release their Danish prisoners. As one local writer observed, however, theirs was a false baptism and they kept the able-bodied prisoners anyway.57

A second crusading army containing many north German bishops and nobles, as well as a notable Polish contingent, laid siege to Stettin to the northeast. This quickly descended into the realms of farce when the defenders displayed crosses above their citadel—they had been converted to Christianity a couple of decades previously! The attack was therefore either a product of complete ignorance on the part of the crusaders or else the wish to conquer a strategically important site, regardless of its religious allegiance. The clergy managed to prevent an assault from taking place; as a local churchman pondered: “if they had come to confirm the Pomeranians in the Christian faith, then they ought to have done this through the preaching of bishops, not by arms.” Another writer noted, “thus that grand expedition broke up with slight gain.” While the northern Europeans were attracted to the offer of spiritual rewards, the rigorous aspirations of Bernard and Eugenius were far out of line with the existing practices of conversion combined with political submission.58


In eastern Spain, by contrast, the interests of the papacy, the Genoese, and the local rulers coalesced much more comfortably and this gave the Iberian crusaders a very strong focus. As we saw above, the Genoese and King Alfonso VII of Castile and León had made a formal contract to attack the city of Almería, deep in the south of Muslim Spain. Around the same time, Eugenius had issued a crusade bull to the people of Italy and also encouraged the Genoese to fight at Almería.59 It is possible that the pope had learned of this expedition, or else he was approached by the Genoese themselves, and he decided to endorse the move as part of a wider campaign of Christian expansion. Other sources report that negotiators sent to secure the involvement of Count Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona included a bishop who urged him to join the other parties “for the redemption of their souls.” The participants stood to gain the spiritual privileges of a crusader, as well as carefully demarcated financial, commercial, and/or property rewards: the Genoese would get one-third of the town, the king two-thirds. Ramon also made his own agreement with the Italians to besiege Tortosa the following year on much the same terms. The Spanish bishops exhorted their people to join the crusade and to “go bravely and surely to battle,” to have their sins pardoned, and “with victory [to] assure them once more that they will have all the gold that the Moors possess.”60 An explicit promise of financial gain would have been abhorrent to Bernard of Clairvaux, but in this context represents some recognition of what motivated the Iberian crusaders.

In the late summer of 1147 a fleet of 63 galleys and 163 other ships left Genoa and in October began to attack the port from the sea. After a successful landing, the siege began in earnest with the construction of towers and catapults. The arrival of Alfonso VII provided further momentum and they soon broke down a section of the wall. On October 17, the crusaders poured into the city and “with the help and favour of God” put the place to the sword. In a dramatic contrast to the peaceful surrender of Lisbon (only a week later) thousands of Muslims were killed or enslaved. The citadel resisted for four days but capitulated on the payment of a huge sum of money. Alfonso now had an outpost in the south of Iberia and the Genoese possessed another vital trading station. Their fleet sailed north to lie up over the winter before heading on to its next target, Tortosa.61 Many southern French nobles, including a contingent from Narbonne led by Viscountess Ermengarde, contingents from the Templars and the Hospitallers and, amazingly, a group of Anglo-Norman veterans who had fought at Lisbon, joined in. The city had substantial walls and a formidable citadel but skillful use of siege towers by the Genoese brought them to the edge of victory. The defenders parleyed—if, after forty days, they were not rescued by the Muslims of Valencia, they would surrender: the crusaders agreed. The Christians successfully blockaded Tortosa to the south and on December 30, 1148, with no prospect of relief, the city opened its gates to a peaceful conquest.

A contemporary Genoese charter reveals the city’s comfortable assimilation of crusading ideology and the blossoming sense of civic pride that would be a hallmark of medieval Italy: “they have captured the city for the honour of God and all of Christianity and they have determined to remain in control of the city out of the greatest necessity of Christians, and most of all because they know that it is honourable and useful to the city of Genoa.”62 There was no contradiction here between the prospect of secular and spiritual rewards. As we have seen before it is too simplistic to frame holy war and the pursuit of profit as a dichotomy. Pisa, Genoa, and Venice were as full of churches as every other contemporary city: in other words, they too had strong religious motives to defeat the Muslims. The fact that Eugenius must have known about the commercial contracts between Genoa, Alfonso VII, and Ramon Berenguer, yet still issued bulls in favor of the crusade, suggest that he too recognized the practicalities of the situation. The Genoese believed their success was evidence that God approved of their motives. At the heart of medieval Genoa, a few streets up from the docks, lies the cathedral of Saint Lawrence. This striking building—the spiritual centerpiece of the city—is cloaked in the black and white horizontally striped stonework so typical of Italian Romanesque architecture. Inside, on the south wall of the nave, the surviving fragments of a fresco depict the capture of Almería and Tortosa.63 This image encapsulates the essence of crusading for the Genoese: to them there was no clash between the overlapping aims of holy war, conquest, and commerce: everyone had acted in concert and all of the Christian community benefited. Aside from the massacre at Almería, deep in Muslim Spain, a policy of conquest and assimilation operated in Iberia, broadly similar to that in place in northern Europe; again born out of a need to rule lands effectively in the future. Ultimately, in spite of its grandiose ambitions, in Spain alone did the Second Crusade manage to extend the frontiers of Christendom.

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