Post-classical history


The Response of the West

THE CRUSADE DREW on passion, religious fervour and a desire for adventure. Many of its participants were certainly intoxicated by Urban’s compelling insistence on Christian duty and the promise of salvation, and the speed and enthusiasm with which the Crusade began can easily be read as the surging of a great, spontaneous uprising. But the Crusade was also elaborately orchestrated: the rhetoric used to rouse the west was carefully weighted to attract the right kind of Crusader – whether in terms of military or social clout – and arrangements were made, as far as possible, to regulate and provision the stream of fighters who made their way towards the Holy Land. To understand the spectacular unleashing of Christian forces, therefore, the risky calculations behind it need to be appreciated. Urban’s words were carefully chosen to speak to his western audience but his appeal was shaped by an agenda that was to a large extent set by Alexios in Constantinople. Urban was walking a difficult path: rousing mass enthusiasm to raise an efficient, controllable military force that could meet very particular Byzantine military objectives. The mobilisation of the west is a story of extraordinary political and logistical intricacy – it was a balancing act of such complexity that it was, ultimately, impossible to control.

Urban arrived in southern France in July 1095, and spent the next months laying the groundwork for the expedition. As he moved around the country meeting influential figures, the Pope articulated his aims forcefully and repeatedly: to drive back the Turks and, in doing so, to liberate both the Christian population in the east and the city of Jerusalem. But there was very limited discussion of the expedition’s structure, its objectives, or its organisation – let alone what the ‘liberation’ of the east actually meant in practical terms.1

In some ways, the fact that Urban’s appeals before, at and after the Council of Clermont were so vague goes some way to explaining the strength of the response. Joining the armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem was presented as an issue of faith rather than a blueprint for a military campaign. The knights who flocked to take part were driven by an enthusiasm to do God’s work or, in many cases, to repent for their sins. But there was also a strong political reason why the logistics were put to one side: these were to be dealt with by the emperor in Constantinople. Alexios had called for military muscle to help against the Turks, and he, surely, would be responsible for planning the expedition and taking care of the practicalities.

Energised by his dramatic change in fortunes in Italy, Urban set out to identify and recruit leading figures whose participation would encourage others to take part. Over the course of the summer of 1095, he travelled to meet them individually. He went to see Adhemar of Monteil, the influential and well-connected bishop of Le Puy, who jumped at the chance of making the journey to Jerusalem. Urban also met Eudes of Burgundy and the powerful Hugh, archbishop of Lyons, during a punishing itinerary through southern France, where he visited Valence, Le Puy, Saint-Gilles and Nîmes in quick succession before moving north.2

Urban then made contact with Raymond, Count of Toulouse, who controlled a vast sweep of land stretching across southern France and Provence. He came from a family well disposed to the papacy, but also with a strong connection to Jerusalem. Raymond’s elder brother, William, had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and died there in the early 1090s, either unable to get home or having decided to live his last days in the Holy City.3 No less devout, Raymond funded a cohort of priests to perform a Mass and say prayers for him every day, and he ensured that a candle was kept lit by the statue of the Virgin Mary in the church of Le Puy as long as he was alive.4 Raymond was one of the first figures Gregory VII had turned to for help after the Council of Brixen in 1080, when the election of an antipope threatened to split the church.5

Urban knew that Raymond’s involvement was vital. His participation would show that the campaign had the backing of a major sponsor; which could then be used to spur other leading magnates into taking part in the expedition. It was a tactic that had much incommon with Alexios’ rationale for communicating with Robert of Flanders, hoping that Robert’s example would inspire others to provide help. The Count of Toulouse’s positive response to Urban was, therefore, a significant boost. And it was reassuring for another reason: the more alliances Urban could build that bolstered his image as the protector of the faithful, the stronger it made his position as leader of the church as a whole.

In the middle of October 1095, the Pope reached the mighty abbey of Cluny, where he had once been prior, pausing for a week and consecrating the high altar of the huge new abbey church that was under construction.6 By this time, word had already spread and excitement about the expedition to Jerusalem was building.7 It was here that the Pope announced that he had an important message to deliver to the faithful at the Council of Clermont. He encouraged participants such as the bishop of Cambrai and the archbishop of Rheims to bring with them ‘all the most eminent men, the more powerful princes’ from their dioceses.8

The Council of Clermont took place in November 1095, and concluded with Urban’s speech which painted a terrifying picture of the situation in Asia Minor. Terrifying though the report given by the Pope was, it was also painfully accurate, as his listeners would have been aware from other news they had received from the east. The Greek Empire had been dismembered, the Pope correctly reported; the Turks had conquered a swathe of territory so vast that it took fully two months to cross. Urban begged his listeners to act: ‘So let all feuds between you cease, quarrels fall silent, battles end and the conflicts of all disagreements fall to rest. Set out on the road to the Holy Sepulchre and deliver that land from a wicked race.’9 Those who were willing to do so were enjoined to weave an image of the Cross, in silk, gold or more simple material, into their clothes, to show that they were God’s soldiers, doing His will.10

As soon as the Pope had finished, the bishop of Le Puy, ‘a man of the highest nobility, went up to [Urban] with a smiling face and on bended knee, begged and beseeched his permission and blessing to make the journey’.11 Le Puy’s importance was underlined when the Pope wrote to the faithful of Flanders not long after that he had ‘appointed in [his] place as leader of the journey and labour, our dearest son, Adhemar, bishop of Le Puy’.12 The day after Urban’s speech, envoys arrived from the Count of Toulouse, declaring Raymond’s willingness to take part in the expedition.13 This high-profile support had all been carefully engineered in advance, to get the initiative off to a flying start.

Urban’s speech at Clermont created shock waves across Europe, as news of an impending armed pilgrimage that would seek to journey to Jerusalem travelled rapidly. Interest was fanned by energetic clergy like Robert of Arbrissel who was told to preach in the Loire valley, where there was no shortage of attentive well-heeled aristocrats;14 Jarento, abbot of Sainte-Bénigne of Dijon, was likewise sent to recruit suitable figures, heading first to Normandy and then to England.15 Areas like the Limousin in France turned into hives of activity, with the Crusade message being spread with great enthusiasm and efficiency.16

The clergy everywhere disseminated the Pope’s message, under strict instructions to report only his exact words and not to embroider them. But the main brunt of galvanising support fell on Urban himself.17 In the months that followed his initial call to arms, the Pope remained in France, moving from community to community. He stayed on the move in 1095 and 1096, persuading, cajoling and exhorting the faithful. He gave addresses at Limoges around Christmas, and at Angers and at Le Mans in the spring of 1096, before heading south to Bordeaux, Toulouse and Montpellier, and addressing another church council in Nîmes in July. As the Pope moved from town to town, from one church foundation to another, local chroniclers were left in little doubt about the purpose of his visit. As one writer put it, Urban reached Le Mans in order to ‘preach the journey to Jerusalem and came to these parts for the sake of this preaching’.18 A grant to one church in Marcigny was dated to the year ‘when Pope Urban came to Aquitaine and moved the army of Christians to repress the ferocity of the pagans in the east’.19 The whole world was stirring, straining to march to Jerusalem.20

Letters were sent out to the places that Urban could not visit in person. He did not travel to Flanders, for example, no doubt because this was a region that had already been successfully cultivated by Alexios in the 1090s. Nevertheless, he sent a letter to the princes, clergy and people of Flanders explaining his efforts to secure help for Christians who were being persecuted. As they already knew well, the barbarians in the east were causing immense destruction. ‘Grieving at the scale of this disaster, and moved by pious concern’, Urban wrote, ‘we have been visiting the regions of Gaul and devoting ourselves to urging the princes of this land as well as their subjects to free the churches of the East. We have solemnly enjoined on them at the Council of the Auvergne the importance of this undertaking, in preparation for the remission of their sins.’21

The idea that participation in the expedition would be rewarded by the forgiveness of sins was designed to widen the appeal of the Crusade even further. Whereas previous calls to arms by Gregory VII, and for that matter by Alexios I himself, had talked of the obligations that Christians had towards each other and of the solidarity they ought to show in times of need, what the Pope was offering was altogether more powerful. Those who took part were not just doing their duty, they were earning salvation.

Urban consistently reiterated the spiritual rewards on offer. Writing to his supporters in Bologna, the Pope noted that he was delighted to learn that many wanted to join the expedition to Jerusalem. ‘You should also know’, he went on, ‘that if any of you make the journey, not for the desire of worldly goods, but for the salvation of your souls and the liberation of the church, you will be relieved of the penance for all your sins, for which you shall be judged to have made a full and perfect confession.’22 Joining the expedition to Jerusalem would also benefit those who had specific sins to atone for. According to one chronicle, Urban suggested to ‘certain French princes who could not perform a fitting penance for innumerable offences committed against their own people’ that taking the oath and making the journey was a suitable act of contrition, which would bring profound spiritual rewards.23

‘If anyone dies in expedition for the love of God and of his brothers’, Urban wrote in a letter to the counts of Besalú, Empurias, Roussillon and Cerdana, ‘let him not doubt that he will assuredly find indulgence of his sins and will participate in eternal life, through the merciful compassion of our God.’24 Yet it took time for this concept of martyrdom and salvation to be fully accepted by the Crusaders. It seems to be only later in the campaign that the idea became established, possibly as a result of the profound suffering that the Crusader army experienced, especially at Antioch in 1098, which served to intensify a belief in spiritual rewards for those who paid the ultimate price for defending their faith.25 Important though these incentives were, however, they are rarely mentioned in the sources that outline why particular individuals decided to take part in the expedition. Guy and Geoffrey of Signes, two brothers from Provence, simply stated that they were making arrangements to journey east in order ‘to wipe out the wickedness of the pagans and the excessive madness because of which countless Christians have already been oppressed, taken prisoner or killed with barbaric fury’.26

Urban’s rhetorical cocktail of Christian suffering, spiritual reward and the destination of Jerusalem was intoxicating. And he had another powerful tool. As the Pope moved around France, he consecrated the altars of many churches, such as the Church of the Trinity in Vendôme and the abbey churches at Marmoutier and Moissac, a large number of which were given parts of the Holy Cross.27 There was no more emotive relic connected to the liberation of Jerusalem; not for nothing did those participating in the expedition take the way of the Cross (hence ‘Crusade’) and indeed marked their clothes with this symbol.28

More pertinently, it was well known that pieces of the Cross were kept in Constantinople and had been used as an important instrument of imperial diplomatic policy from the fourth century, when Constantine the Great gave precious fragments to the Sessorian Palace in Rome. The Holy Cross was the great prize of Byzantium’s international diplomacy.29 So while it is not impossible that Urban was distributing fragments already held in the papal treasuries, it is more plausible that the relics, so closely associated with Constantinople, were provided by Alexios.

This high-profile channelling of significant relics contributed to the excitement sweeping through France, with the Pope, meanwhile, tirelessly ‘exhorting our people to go to Jerusalem in order to hunt the pagans who had occupied this city and all the lands of the Christians as far as Constantinople’.30 Other resources were perhaps also being used to galvanise support, as in the case of a document recording the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the start of the eleventh century whose intention was not just to inflame anger about Jerusalem, but specifically to link the Muslims to Christian suffering.31 That the expedition was to provide military support to Byzantium was not always clearly articulated; the lure and name of Jerusalem was much more enthralling to the Pope’s audience than mission detail.

Knights scrambled to make the necessary preparations. Achard of Montmerle was one who promptly did so, coming to an arrangement with the monastery of Cluny by placing a charge over his lands in return for ‘the sum of 2,000 [gold coins] and four mules’. Reckoning that he needed additional means to make the long journey to Jerusalem, Achard declared that if he died or decided not to return, ‘rightful and hereditary possession in perpetuity’ would pass to Cluny and ‘its eminent men’. The funds were being raised, noted the agreement, ‘because I wish to be fully armed and join the magnificent expedition of the Christian people seeking to fight their way to Jerusalem for God’.32

Many others took similar steps in 1095 and 1096, taking out loans in return for mortgages against their land and property. The sources leave no doubt that Jerusalem was the main attraction, with almost every individual who signed a charter in this period expressing their desire to travel to the place where Christ walked on earth.33 The prospect of finding repentance in the process was clearly also powerful, as in the case of two brothers from central Burgundy who ‘were going with the others on the expedition to Jerusalem in order to remit their sins’.34

Some sought to repent before they set out. Hugh Brochard, a knight from Tournus in Burgundy, sought absolution for the many wrongs he had committed, not least seizing land from the church of St Philibert, an act he now recognised as unjustified and sinful.35His contrition was spurred by the realisation that it was wrong for a sinner who had transgressed against the church to march in its defence, with a cross stitched into his tunic or marked on his forehead.36

Yet in some cases, efforts were made to actively prevent knights from joining the march east. Pons, Peter and Bernard, three particularly troublesome knights from Mézenc who had relentlessly terrorised the parishioners of the monastery of Le Chaffre in the Auvergne, were initially thwarted in their desire to take part in the expeditions. Public renunciations of their past violence did not convince the local monks, who referred the brothers to the bishops of Le Mende and Le Puy for a ruling as to whether they should be allowed to participate in the expedition. As the bishops listened to the accusations against the three men, they found themselves ‘astonished by their cruelty; but they absolved them on account of the fact that they were going on the expedition to Jerusalem and their apparent contrition’.37 Few would have been sad to see them go. Nevertheless, the fact that the church was trying to control who took part in the expedition and who did not, was an indication of its growing assertiveness and ambition.

Another reason for the consolidation of the power of the church was that it provided the necessary funds for those travelling east. Pilgrimage, armed or otherwise, was expensive. Travelling long distances involved heavy costs in food, transport, equipment and arms, which were magnified when a whole retinue of men had to be supported. As we have seen in the case of Achard of Montmerle, the church was the obvious place to turn to, for monasteries, bishoprics and parishes were often well endowed and able to provide the necessary liquidity. As a substantial landowner the church was a natural lender and an obvious buyer. Thus, when Godfrey of Bouillon, who was to become the first king of Jerusalem after its capture in 1099, set about raising funds for the journey, it was to the church that he turned. He sold his claim to the county of Verdun and the castles of Mosay, Stenay and Montfaucon-en-Argonne to Richier, bishop of Verdun. Other lands and possessions, meanwhile, were sold to the convent of Nivelles. An additional 1,500 marks came from the bishop of Liège, given to Godfrey as a loan. Converting illiquid land holdings into cash, Godfrey was able to raise a very substantial sum of money.38 Robert, Duke of Normandy and son of William the Conqueror, borrowed the enormous sum of 10,000 marks from his younger brother, the English king William Rufus. This meant that Robert did not have to sell ducal lands or borrow from a third party to raise the necessary cash for the Crusade.39

Despite the expense, dangers and complicated arrangements involved, the popular response to the Pope’s call was all but overwhelming. Men from all over France prepared to head for the east, with major contingents forming under the command of Robert of Normandy, his brother-in-law, Stephen of Blois, and Raymond of Toulouse. Substantial forces were also gathered by Godfrey of Bouillon and his brother Baldwin, as well as by Robert II, Count of Flanders, who had succeeded his father in 1093.

Other important figures committed to join the expedition. One was Hugh of Vermandois, brother of Philip I, king of France, apparently persuaded by a dramatic lunar eclipse at the start of 1096 during which the moon turned blood red, which he interpreted as a sign that he should join the campaign.40 Philip himself was not welcome. His excommunication in 1095 on the grounds of adultery had been confirmed at Clermont, after he had abandoned his wife for being too fat and taken up with the comely Bertrada of Montfort – a woman about whom, apparently, no man had a good word to say, apart from when it came to her looks.41 As excitement about the expedition grew, Philip’s subjects clamoured for him to resolve his position. The king convened a special meeting of his nobles to discuss his options, and by the summer of 1096 he was offering to give up Bertrada to regain Urban’s favour. It was a clear sign that the Pope’s bid to become the leading authority in western Europe was proving successful.42 Although Philip did not take part in the Crusade, his brother Hugh willingly participated and provided a representative of the house of France to the expedition – another boost to the Pope’s plans.

Bohemond, the son of Robert Guiscard, was another stellar recruit. According to the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum, Bohemond first heard about the expedition when he was besieging Amalfi in 1096 and noticed men passing on their way towards the ports of southern Italy shouting ‘Deus vult! Deus vult!’ The author reports that ‘Bohemond was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and ordered the most valuable cloak which he had to be cut up forthwith and made into crosses; most of the knights who were with him at the siege [of Amalfi] began to join him at once.’43 Bohemond and his men formed an impressive force: ‘What human eye could bear the glitter of their breastplates, helmets, shields or lances in brilliant sunshine?’44

Yet Bohemond’s actions were not quite as spontaneous (or plausible) as this report would suggest: instructions to a certain William Flammengus, Bohemond’s right-hand man in Bari, to make a series of land sales in early 1096, suggest that like many others, Bohemond had already liberated funds to take part in the expedition.45 The speed with which he abandoned the siege of Amalfi, raised his men and set out east also indicates that arrangements had been made in advance and were not the result of a sudden decision on the Norman’s part.

Bohemond was an aggressive character with a formidable physique and strong ideas about everything ranging from battle tactics to his hairstyle: he did not grow his hair to his shoulders like other westerners, but insisted on wearing it just above the ear.46 He was an outstanding commander, but as his attack on Byzantium in 1082–3 revealed, he was also prone to egocentricity and laziness – apparently sitting eating grapes with friends on a riverbank while his army attacked imperial forces at Larissa.47 From the Pope’s point of view, however, it was important that at least one leading Norman from southern Italy took part in the expedition. It was difficult to recruit others: Roger of Sicily was shrewd enough to realise that a campaign against Muslims in the east could cause difficulties in his territory, which was home to a sizeable Muslim community.48 Roger Borsa, who succeeded to the dukedom of Apulia in 1085, appears to have had no interest in taking part. His older half-brother, Bohemond, who had been outmanoeuvred on the death of their father Robert Guiscard, jumped at the chance of adventure in the east.

In many ways, Urban’s plan was brilliantly executed: key individuals willing to join the expedition were targeted so that their participation would act as a catalyst for others. As a result, the Pope inspired a mass movement of knights. Enormous effort went into disseminating the call to arms and making the necessary arrangements to translate the massive response into action. But some aspects of Urban’s plans were still vague. The question of the leadership of the expedition was confused, with several figures under the impression that they were commander-in-chief of the massed Crusader army. To start with at least, Urban regarded the bishop of Le Puy as his representative to lead the expedition.49 Others, though, thought of themselves in this role. Raymond of Toulouse, for one, referred to himself as the leader of the Christian knights setting out to capture Jerusalem.50Hugh of Vermandois also had a high estimation of his own status and carried with him a papal banner, suggesting that he was Urban’s representative on the expedition.51 Some considered Stephen of Blois to be the ‘head and leader of the council of the whole army’;52 he himself certainly thought this was the case, writing back to his wife Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, that his fellow princes had chosen him to be commander of the entire force.53

In reality, the leadership evolved during the course of the difficult journey east. And while there is something to be said for the idea that Urban hedged his bets, avoiding to disabuse the competing egos of some of Europe’s most powerful men of their belief that they were his representatives, there was another reason why the issue of overall leadership was not addressed decisively by the Pope: the westerners would come under the command of Alexios I Komnenos when they arrived in Byzantium. Urban, for reasons of tact and strategy, may have been chary about making it explicit, but the truth was that the Byzantine emperor was overseeing operations.

Similarly, while the overarching aims of the Crusade were clear enough – defending the Christian Church in the east, driving back the pagan Turks, and finally reaching Jerusalem – the precise military objectives were left obscure. There was no talk of conquering or occupying the Holy City, let alone holding it in the future. There was no clear plan, for example, of what they would do when they reached Jerusalem. Nor were there any details about which towns, regions and provinces were to be targeted in their fight against the Turks. Again, the explanation for this lay in Constantinople. It was Alexios who was to set the strategic goals: Nicaea, Tarsos, Antioch and other important towns that had fallen to the Turks were the Byzantine priorities – and, at least to start with, these targets would be accepted by the Crusaders when they arrived in Constantinople. In the meantime, the military plans were of secondary importance, and limited significance, to the politically minded Pope.

The emperor’s vision was also fundamental in shaping the recruitment process for the Crusade. Alexios needed military support, rather than goodwill. He needed to attract individuals with fighting experience to take on the Turks, and, accordingly, this was relentlessly stressed by the Pope. As one contemporary cleric emphasised: ‘I am in a position to know, as one who heard with his own ears the words of the Lord Pope Urban, when he at once urged laymen to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and at the same time, prohibited monks from doing so.’54 He forbade ‘those unsuited to battle’ to take part in the expedition, says another chronicler, ‘because such pilgrims are more of a hindrance than a help, a burden rather than of any practical use’.55

Amid ‘the popular and great arousal of the Christian people’, as one document refers to it, the Pope had to make strenuous efforts to exclude all whose participation would be obstructive.56 He was explicit about this when he wrote to the monks of the monastery of Vallombrosa in Tuscany in the autumn of 1096: ‘We have heard that some of you want to set out with the knights who are making for Jerusalem with the good intention of liberating Christianity. This is the right kind of sacrifice, but it is planned by the wrong kind of person. For we were stimulating the minds of the knights to go on this expedition, since they might be able to restrain the savagery of the Saracens and restore the Christians to their former freedom.’57 He said much the same thing when he wrote to the inhabitants of Bologna shortly before this.58

Senior clergy reinforced the message, although not without difficulty. The bishop of Toulouse had to work hard to dissuade Emerias of Alteias, a woman of considerable wealth, from joining the expedition. She was so determined that she had already ‘raised the cross on her right shoulder’, and taken a vow to reach Jerusalem. Very reluctantly she agreed not to make the journey – but only after the bishop made great efforts to convince her that the establishment of a hospice for the poor would be both a more welcome and appropriate gesture.59

Giving Alexios an effective fighting force was important. So too was forming an idea of its size. Logistical arrangements had to be to put in place in Constantinople to receive large numbers of men in a short period of time, and central planning was required to work out how to welcome, provision and guide the westerners as they arrived in Byzantium. This was presumably one reason why the Pope insisted from the very outset that anyone wishing to join the expedition was required to take an oath. At Piacenza, after listening to the Byzantine envoys, ‘Our Lord Pope called upon many to perform this service, to promise by oaths to journey there by God’s will and to bring the emperor the most faithful assistance against the heathen to the limits of their power.’60 This was restated emphatically at Clermont, where Urban emphasised the requirement to declare formally the intention to participate.61 Conversely, those who thought about changing their minds were threatened with terrible consequences, warned that they were turning their back on God: ‘anyone who seeks to turn back having taken the vow shall place the cross on his back between his shoulders … and is not worthy of me [cf. Matthew 10:38]’.62

There is no evidence to suggest that a formal record was being kept to note how many individuals were preparing to take the cross, and it is unclear if it would have been possible to keep such a tally anyway. Nevertheless, it quickly became obvious that very substantial numbers indeed were committing themselves to taking part. In this respect, then, it was significant that it was Urban himself who was so central to the recruitment of knights in France. On several occasions, the Pope could be found personally taking the oaths of men who were to join the expedition.63 And each time he met leading magnates or preached the Crusade – in places like Limoges, Angers and Le Mans, and in Tours, Nîmes and elsewhere – he could form an idea that huge numbers were clamouring to take part, even if these were difficult to quantify.

The ambitious and optimistic Pope and the beleaguered emperor in Constantinople both hoped for a substantial response to the calls to arms; but neither can have anticipated its extraordinary scale. The Pope’s efforts to follow developments in Spain in the late 1080s and early 1090s had led him to offer incentives not dissimilar to those given to the would-be Crusaders; but this had not provoked a surge in knights heading into the Iberian peninsula.64 The factors that inflamed Europe and opened the floodgates for the First Crusade, by contrast, were Jerusalem on the one hand, and the recognition that reports of the sudden collapse in the east – principally in Asia Minor – were accurate and a real cause for concern, on the other.

News of the numbers preparing to take part in the expedition, even if only rough estimates, evidently found their way back to Alexios, for the emperor set about preparing accordingly. That the Crusaders were successfully provisioned as they marched across Byzantine territory in several large contingents points tellingly to the fact that measures had been carefully put in place by the emperor. Necessary arrangements had been made at the entry points to the empire and along the principal routes leading towards Constantinople.

In part, this was itself possible because a clear time frame for the expedition had been established at the beginning. The Pope had set a fixed departure date of 15 August – the primary holy day of the summer, the Feast of the Assumption. While this was partly intended to impose a structure on the forthcoming journey, it was also designed to allow a co-ordinated response in Byzantium. And with a departure date in the summer, a good nine months after Urban’s speech at Clermont, there was time to stockpile the foodstuffsthat would be required to support the westerners on their arrival.

Nowhere was this more important than at Kibotos. This site was identified in advance by Alexios as the holding point for the western knights as they converged into a single force and prepared to assault Nicaea. A complex infrastructure was put in place in anticipation of the many thousands who were due to arrive: food stores, supplies and merchants were all made ready for a massive influx of men and horses.65 A Latin monastery may well also have been founded immediately before their arrival to cater for spiritual needs – and also to underline Alexios’ own openness to the Roman rite.66

There were other aspects of the expedition that needed careful thought. Preparations were made in Constantinople as to how best to police the vast number of westerners as they arrived in the east: ‘The emperor summoned certain leaders of the Roman forces and sent them to the area around Dyrrakhion and Avlona with instructions to receive the voyagers kindly and to supply them abundantly with provisions gathered from all along their route; they were to watch them carefully and shadow their movements, so that if they saw them making raids or running off to plunder the neighbouring districts, they could check them by light skirmishes. These officers were accompanied by interpreters who understood the Latin language; their duty was to quell any incipient trouble that might arise.’67

Steps were taken to ensure easy passage across imperial territory. When Godfrey of Bouillon reached the frontier, he was issued with a special licence to acquire provisions from markets which appear to have been closed to the local population.68 This meant that food was readily available along the way, a step designed to prevent a large armed force being dangerously antagonised by provisioning shortages and also to allow food prices to be fixed centrally. Price inflation would therefore be controlled, preventing local traders from exploiting supply imbalances.

Alexios also ordered that generous amounts of money be given to the westerners as they arrived in Byzantium. This was done in part to win the goodwill of men coming into contact with the empire for the first time. But, as one sharp commentator pointed out, it was also smart economics: all the funds paid out by the emperor found their way back into the imperial coffers, as the money was spent on goods sold by the emperor’s agents.69

This pattern of closed markets and imperial largesse was reproduced across the Byzantine western provinces, along the two principal routes to Constantinople. When he reached the town of Naissos in the Balkans in the autumn of 1096, Godfrey was delighted to receive corn, barley, wine and oil, as well as many game animals as a personal gift from the emperor. A licence was again given to his men, allowing them to buy provisions and also to sell whatever they wished. Godfrey’s force spent several days there ‘in great plenty and enjoyment’.70 The efficiency of the provisioning put in place by Alexios is revealed by the fact that Bohemond was so well supplied when he crossed difficult terrain through Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace that his stocks of wine and corn actually increased.71

A key issue that required thought was the route taken by the Crusaders. The principal leaders made their way to Constantinople with their various contingents under separate steam. Some, like Godfrey of Bouillon, passed through Germany and central Europe, making for Byzantium via the land route which took them through the Balkans and then on to the capital. Others, however, travelled the length of Italy, embarking on ships in Apulia before crossing over to Epirus and then following the Via Egnatia, the road linking Old and New Rome. Robert of Flanders, Hugh of Vermandois, Stephen of Blois and Robert of Normandy all took this route, as did Bohemond and the small contingent of Normans from southern Italy. Although there is little direct evidence to link the magnates’ choice of route to Alexios, the intervals at which these contingents travelled seem too convenient and perfect to be coincidental. The gaps between their arrival minimised the strain on Byzantium’s resources and infrastructure, and as such it is reasonable to assume they were deliberately co-ordinated.

One case in particular points to the emperor’s involvement in planning the first stages of the expedition and suggests that he was playing an active role even before the Crusaders reached the empire’s frontiers. As we have seen, Raymond of Toulouse was one of the first magnates that the Pope had turned to. His wealth, status and the support he had previously given to the papacy made him a powerful natural ally. The count had a difficult journey to Byzantium, travelling through Slavonia – ‘a forsaken land, both inaccessible and mountainous where for three weeks we saw neither wild beasts nor birds’, according to one man who accompanied him. This was hostile territory, where Raymond’s men were regularly attacked and killed. Thick fog, dense forests and rugged mountains made it difficult to protect the force as it made its way south. The count responded with reprisals against the local population, blinding some, cutting the feet off others and mutilating the faces of more to serve as a stern deterrent.72 So difficult was the journey that Raymond’s chaplain only made sense of the travails by concluding that God was using the strength and suffering of the Crusaders to inspire ‘brutish pagan men’ to turn from their sinfulness and thus be spared from doom.73

In fact, the Count of Toulouse took this route for good reason: to bring to heel Constantine Bodin, the Serbian ruler whose attacks on Byzantium on the eve of the Crusade had done much to increase pressure on the emperor and whose contacts with the antipope had aggravated Urban. That so important a figure as Raymond passed through the remote coastal area of Zeta indicates how precisely the First Crusade had been planned in advance. The fact that Raymond went down the Dalmatian coast was a clear sign the emperor and the Pope had worked together. While the arrival of manpower was designed in the first instance to take Nicaea and to root out the Turks in western Asia Minor, Alexios was alert to other regions where he could also benefit. The Count of Toulouse, a man close to the Pope, was therefore chosen as a trusted figure who could take an unusual and difficult route so as to impress on Bodin the errors of his ways. Little wonder, then, that the latter became aggressive when he did so, setting his men to attack Raymond as an agent of the emperor and a threat to Serbian independence.74 Nevertheless, there was to be no further disruption on the empire’s north-western frontier for decades afterwards. It was an early indication that Alexios had much to gain from the expedition to Jerusalem.

In the second half of 1096, vast numbers of men were on the move, heading for Constantinople, the first stop on the way east. Estimates now suggest that as many as 80,000 may have taken part in the First Crusade.75 Never before had there been such a large, organised movement of people over such a long distance and over such a short period. This presented problems to the participants, who were drawn from many parts of western Europe. ‘Therefore since such a multitude came from all western countries,’ wrote Fulcher of Chartres, ‘little by little and day by day the army grew while on the march from a numberless host into a group of armies. You could see a countless number from many lands and of many languages.’76 The same author later goes on to list the rich tapestry of people on the expedition: ‘Who ever heard of such a mixture of languages in one army? There were Franks, Flemings, Frisians, Gauls, Allobroges, Lotharingians, Alemanni, Bavarians, Normans, English, Scots, Aquitanians, Italians, Dacians, Apulians, Iberians, Bretons, Greeks and Armenians. If any Breton or Teuton wished to question me, I could neither reply nor understand.’77

The expedition promised to be a demonstration of Christian solidarity, a unique occasion where church schism, regional identity, secular and ecclesiastical squabbles counted for nothing. But this was above all a crowning moment in the collaboration between Rome and Constantinople and a great cause for optimism. The union of the churches seemed to be within grasp when the Council of Bari in 1098 and that of Rome the following year attempted to resolve those issues that had strained relations between east and west for decades. If things turned out well, with the help of the westerners Byzantium would finally make headway against the Turks in Asia Minor. And those taking part in the expedition were eager to reach the Holy City. There was great anticipation as the First Crusade got under way.

But while there was an enormous amount to be gained from the Crusade, Alexios and Urban were also taking a huge risk: in unleashing the Crusade they were creating a movement that they could not necessarily control. Anna Komnene’s account of the start of the Crusade provides a jolting reminder of this dilemma. The emperor, she writes, was disturbed by reports that countless armies from the west were heading for Byzantium:78 ‘full of enthusiasm and ardour they thronged every highway, and with these warriors came a host of civilians, outnumbering the sand of the seashore or the stars of heaven, carrying palms and bearing crosses on their shoulders. There were women and children too, who had left their own countries. Like tributaries joining a river from all directions, they streamed towards us in full force’.79 This was not the disciplined and effective fighting force the emperor had expected. Had something gone wrong?

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