Post-classical history

10

The Struggle for the Soul of the Crusade

EVEN AFTER REPELLING Ridwan’s attack, the Crusaders were still highly exposed. And the longer the siege went on, the more vulnerable the western army, depleted by illness and disease, grew. The struggle for Antioch in the first half of 1098 now fuelled dangerous levels of discord within the leadership of the expedition. The careful balance of interests between east and west – Byzantine reconquest and Christian Crusade – was thrown off-kilter by the loss of morale and the competing personal ambitions that emerged outside the walls of Antioch.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Adhemar of Le Puy urged the knights to fast for three days and march in a solemn procession around the city walls. He decreed that Mass be celebrated and psalms be recited more frequently, and suggested that fortunes might improve if everyone shaved their beards.1 He also thought that too few Crusaders were wearing a cross and insisted that all should attach the symbol to their garments.2 For the bishop there was a clear link between the terrible suffering in the camp and the lack of piety shown by the Crusaders.

As morale was plummeting, desertion became commonplace among the rank and file. The Crusade leadership took an uncompromising line, with severe punishments handed out to anyone found trying to flee. When Peter the Hermit, Walter the Carpenter and William of Grantmesnil were discovered slipping away, they were caught by Tancred and taught a humiliating lesson: Walter was made to lie on the floor of Bohemond’s tent ‘like a piece of rubbish’ before being chastised in front of the rest of the force.3 Those who abandoned the siege were fit for the sewers, wrote one commentator.4 So fragile was morale in the Crusader camp that even the leaders took oaths, promising each other that they, at least, would not leave until Antioch had been taken.5

These commitments were a way of binding together the most senior figures, some of whom were now developing misgivings about the siege. Bohemond, for instance, had threatened to leave early on in the blockade, complaining not only about the loss of life amongst his men, but also protesting that he was not wealthy enough to provide for his force as food prices rocketed.6 Others were less direct. Stephen of Blois retired to Tarsos, ostensibly to regain his health – a euphemism for not having the stomach to endure the suffering at Antioch.7 Robert of Normandy too felt he would rather view proceedings from comfortable surroundings, and had withdrawn to a more hospitable location on the south coast of Asia Minor by Christmas 1097.8 Although it took repeated attempts to encourage him back to the siege, at least he did not leave for home. One contemporary chronicler was surprised that Robert did not give up and return to Normandy, given his weakness of will, his prodigality when it came to money, his love of food, and general indolence and lechery.9

The burning question was how to provision the Crusader army. The nearby city of Tarsos had been retaken by forces loyal to Byzantium in 1097; so too had Laodikeia, the last remaining Turkish-held port on the southern coast. Alexios now established Laodikeia as the primary supply base for Antioch, the hub for ‘wine, grain and great numbers of cattle’ being sent from Cyprus.10 Operations were overseen by the island’s governor, Eumathios Philokales, who also took charge of Laodikeia by the spring of 1098.11

Yet although the threat of pirate raiding had all but disappeared, Cyprus was not able to supply resources in great enough quantities to keep thousands of men and horses nourished through the lean winter months. There were two solutions to the dilemma: either to improve supply lines dramatically or increase the number of men at Antioch so the city could be properly cordoned off and the siege brought to an end. As Bruno of Lucca put it when relaying news of the situation in the east to the inhabitants of his hometown, Antioch had been surrounded by the Crusaders, ‘but not very well’.12

It fell to Tatikios to take the initiative. The Byzantine commander had been responsible for quartermastering the Crusader army and ensuring smooth progress to Antioch. At the end of January 1098, he left the Crusade, promising to send ‘many ships laden with corn, barley, wine, meat, flour and all sorts of required provisions’. Yet although he left his possessions in the camp, he did not return.13

Tatikios’ departure became notorious, and was used later to show that he – and therefore the emperor Alexios – betrayed the Crusaders, abandoning them to their fate at Antioch. He set off, said one chronicler, ‘in false faith … to carry a message about the promised relief, which he had not done faithfully at all, since he did not return to Antioch again’.14 In the words of Raymond of Aguilers, who was present during the siege, Tatikios left ‘with God’s curse; by this dastardly act [of not returning], he brought eternal shame to himself and his men’.15 ‘He is a liar’, was the verdict of the author of the Gesta Francorum, ‘and always will be.’16

These judgements were unjustified. On 4 March 1098, a few weeks after Tatikios had left, a fleet put in at St Simeon’s port bringing essential foodstuffs, provisions, reinforcements and materials to use against Antioch’s formidable defences. The timing of the fleet’s appearance was no coincidence. Nor was its identification by Bruno of Lucca, who sailed with it, as English; Alexios had established an English garrison in Laodikeia after its recapture, and it was presumably these men who now brought emergency supplies to Antioch.17 Tatikios had delivered what he had promised.

The reason why this was not acknowledged by the Crusaders and their chroniclers was that misgivings had already started to grow about the Byzantine role in the expedition. For one thing, with Tatikios absent, it was not clear to whom Antioch should be handed if and when it was taken, in accordance with the oaths given to Alexios in Constantinople. This led to unease amongst the western force, which began not only to question whether the Byzantines had lost faith in the operation, but also why the city was being besieged in the first place, at such heavy cost to the westerners.18Antioch did have Christian significance; after all, it was the original see of St Peter. But its capture had little to do with the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre; why not simply advance to Jerusalem and leave Antioch to one side?

It appears that the Crusaders remained at Antioch in spite of the suffering because they were bound by the commitments they had made to the emperor who was providing the leadership of the expedition, albeit from a distance. Thus the oaths that the emperor had insisted upon were proving to be highly effective: they subjected the Crusade leaders to Alexios’ authority and gave the Byzantine ruler the power to set the military and strategic objectives of the expedition. The emperor evidently felt comfortable enough to think that it was not necessary to dispatch Tatikios back to the western camp, or to send a senior representative in his place to ensure that the obligations remained intact.

One reason for this was a major miscalculation on Alexios’ part concerning Bohemond. In Constantinople, Bohemond had been keen to position himself as a perfect foil for the emperor, the ideal right-hand man who would protect the emperor’s best interests and mediate for him with the other main leaders of the expedition. On more than one occasion, he had done so successfully, intervening on Alexios’ behalf.19 If the emperor thought that Bohemond would continue to represent him faithfully, he was wrong.

By the spring of 1098, following the departure of Tatikios and in the absence of any Byzantine authority, Bohemond saw a golden opportunity. He began broaching the idea of a new agreement on the future of Antioch – one that did not involve Alexios. The suggestion he came up with was provocative: the oaths to the emperor were null and void, he said, since Alexios had not fulfilled his side of the agreement. The emperor had not accompanied the Crusaders in person; the small force he had sent with the knights had withdrawn; he had failed to provide military support in the hour of need; and he had not kept the knights supplied. In short, he was a traitor.20

Bohemond concluded that Antioch should not be handed over to Alexios. He proposed that whoever was able to breach the walls and deliver the city should be allowed to claim personal control of it. Although he was given short thrift by his fellow leaders, who were wary of the Norman’s wider ambitions, Bohemond persisted. At the end of May 1098, he raised the issue of Antioch again.

This time, however, his audience was more receptive. Conditions in the Crusader camp had not improved and no progress had been made against the city’s defences. News had also been received that Kerbogha, the ambitious governor of Mosul, was approaching with a large army aiming to defeat the westerners once and for all. So well resourced were Kerbogha’s forces that the Latin and Greek sources assumed that it must have been funded and sent by the Seljuk sultan Barkyaruq himself.21 The crisis at Antioch was reaching its climax.

Intelligence reports on Kerbogha’s movements and objectives were so troubling that when the leaders met in council, they resolved to keep the news secret from their troops to avoid destroying morale and provoking mass desertion. Given these dire circumstances, Bohemond’s return to the question of the future of Antioch seemed misplaced; in the face of complete annihilation, the Norman persistently questioned the legal status of the oaths and made demands about the control of the city and the distribution of the spoils of victory. It seemed that Bohemond knew something the other leaders did not.

In fact, Bohemond had made a secret arrangement with an enemy captain, named Firouz, who was in charge of one of the defence towers along Antioch’s walls, to allow the Crusaders into the city. Some eyewitnesses reported that Bohemond had captured Firouz’s son and was holding him hostage. Others believed that Firouz had been inspired by God, and had had a vision instructing him to hand Antioch over to the Christians; that he was an Armenian with misgivings about the ill-treatment of the city’s inhabitants by the Turks; or that he was a man who could not resist the promise of a handsome reward.22 Whatever the case, Bohemond had found himself a trump card – and kept it hidden from the other leaders. His negotiations with Firouz would have been helped by the fact that both men spoke Greek, the latter the result of living in Byzantine Antioch, the former thanks to his upbringing in southern Italy – even if, as Anna Komnene sniped, Bohemond did have a terrible accent.23

With Kerbogha bearing down on Antioch, Bohemond’s proposals about the fate of the city were again discussed. Raymond of Toulouse, the richest and most influential of the Crusade leaders, refused point-blank to give his approval to what he saw as an outright betrayal of the oaths sworn to the emperor in Constantinople.24 Raymond had been the most reluctant of all to give Alexios the undertakings demanded of him; now he was the most reluctant to break them.

Although most other leading Crusaders had misgivings about Bohemond’s proposals, he eventually extracted some support, albeit heavily qualified: it was agreed that if a single leader was able to take Antioch, he could hold it. However, this would be on a strictly conditional and temporary basis; control of the city was ultimately to be ceded to Byzantium. The agreement was carefully recorded in writing.25 Attention now turned to the preparations for an all-out assault on the city – the final roll of the dice before Kerbogha’s army arrived.

On 2 June 1098, four days after the council of leaders, the Crusaders commenced their attack. They began by feigning the departure of a large contingent to put the defending garrison off guard. Returning silently under the cover of nightfall, the knights joined up with another detachment by the Gate of St George, led by Robert of Flanders and Godfrey of Bouillon. A smaller group took up position with Bohemond by the tower that was under the command of Firouz.

After establishing that the coast was clear, the first group of Bohemond’s men made their way up a ladder that had been secured to the top of the battlements. Firouz was waiting for them, as agreed. ‘Micro Francos echomé!’ he exclaimed in despair – ‘We have few Franks!’ As he saw it, there were nowhere near enough men to stand a chance of taking the city.26

Getting up the ladder in the darkness was not easy, and it was not made any easier by the fact that too many eager attackers, including Fulcher, a Knight from Chartres, attempted to climb it at the same time.27 The weight of so many men caused the ladder to topple over, injuring some and making a terrific noise. Through a stroke of fortune, interpreted as a mark of divine protection, a strong wind muffled the sound, and the ladder was once again raised and the attackers clambered up as fast as they could.28 Assembling at the top, the Crusaders made their way along the walls in silence, killing those they met until they were in position to signal to Godfrey and Robert of Flanders, who were waiting below, that the time had come to storm one of the city’s gates.29

Breaching the gate, the Crusaders streamed into Antioch, bludgeoning and hacking their way deeper and deeper into the city as its bewildered inhabitants were roused from their sleep. Bohemond was focused on one thing: to raise his battle standard on the highest point of the walls as quickly as possible. This would show that the city had been captured and was now in Christian hands. But it was also a declaration to the other Crusaders that Antioch had fallen to Bohemond; even in the heat of battle, he was already thinking about its aftermath.30

Things quickly went the Crusaders’ way as Antioch’s other gates were flung open by its non-Muslim inhabitants. Some took the full brunt of the furious onslaught of the soldiers fighting their way through the city street by street, with many of the Christians living in the city killed in the process. In the dark, overwrought with fear and adrenaline, there was no time to separate friend from foe. The storming of Antioch was brutal. For days afterwards, corpses lay in the streets, the rotting bodies producing a putrid smell in the heat of the early summer. ‘All the streets of the city on every side were full of corpses,’ reported one eyewitness, ‘so that no one could endure to be there because of the stench, nor could anyone walk along the narrow paths of the city except over the corpses of the dead.’31

The city’s commander, Yaghi-Siyhan, fled in panic, escaping into the neighbouring mountains. He was recognised by three locals, all of them Christian, who dragged him off his mule and decapitated him with his own sword. His distinctive head – huge, with great hairy ears and a waist-length beard – was brought back to Antioch as a trophy and presented to the Crusaders.32

After eight long, painful months, Antioch finally fell on 3 June 1098 – although the citadel, the strong fort within the city, still held out. Thousands of Crusaders had died during the siege, and countless numbers had been wounded. Others had deserted and headed home. Nevertheless, it had ended in triumph. Those who made it into the city had no time to enjoy their success, however; Kerbogha’s army arrived the very next day.

The advancing force was far larger than those assembled by the governors of Damascus and Aleppo. Rather than rush his assault, Kerbogha deployed his resources carefully, setting up camp by the walls and making contact with the defenders of the citadel. Having established that the Crusader army was exhausted, depleted and apprehensive, he ordered a ferocious assault from the citadel’s garrison.

The Crusaders managed to resist the initial attack and Kerbogha now decided to suffocate the city by mounting a blockade. The besiegers had become the besieged. Communications from Antioch to the outside world were cut off, although a delegation to the Byzantine emperor with a desperate message calling for help had managed to set off just before Kerbogha’s arrival. Later attempts to break out of the city were dealt with by the Turks with ease.

Kerbogha’s blockade quickly had an effect. After months of siege, there were no more supplies within the city. ‘Our men ate the flesh of horses and asses and sold it to one another’, reported one chronicler; ‘a hen cost 15 shillings, an egg two and a walnut a penny … so terrible was the famine that men boiled and ate the leaves of figs, vines, thistles and all kinds of trees. Others stewed dried skins of horses, camels, asses, oxen and buffaloes which they then ate.’33 Indigestible plants were gathered and cooked, often poisoning those who ate them. Some resorted to eating shoes and other leather goods; others drank the blood of their horses.34 For some, like Fulcher of Chartres, there was an obvious explanation for this suffering: many Crusaders had slept with local women both before and after taking the city. God was now punishing such wanton fornication.35

More than at any point during the expedition so far, the Crusaders needed a miracle – and they got one. A man of no particular distinction named Peter Bartholomew came forward to tell Raymond of Toulouse and the bishop of Le Puy that visions of St Andrew had been appearing to him for several months in which the saint revealed the location of the lance that had pierced Christ’s side. After searching the city under Peter’s direction, part of the Holy Lance was eventually recovered under the floor of the Church of St Peter in Antioch.36 The find provided a major boost at a time when morale was at an all-time low. To the Crusaders, the discovery of such an important relic, particularly one that typified suffering, seemed highly significant – even if later commentators were dismissive of its authenticity. It helped strengthen resolve at a critical moment, when the knights ‘did not have the strength to suffer these things and linger; so great and small consulted together, saying it was better to die in battle than to perish from so cruel a famine, growing weaker day by day until overcome by death’.37

The expedition leaders now decided to meet the enemy army head-on. The order was given that although supplies were all but exhausted, horses should be given as much feed as possible to boost their stamina. For three days before engaging the Turks, the Crusaders took part in solemn processions, celebrations of the Eucharist, and making confession.38 Then, on 28 June 1098, the westerners marched out from Antioch and crossed the Bridge Gate over the Orontes, fanning out in front of the city in four brigades. This took Kerbogha by complete surprise. Playing chess when he heard that a sortie was under way, he lost precious time asking for confirmation that the reports were accurate and considering how he should respond. He simply could not believe that anyone would be so brave – or so stupid – as to try to break out of the city.39

At this point, the Crusade could have unravelled. Antioch itself was left essentially undefended, save for a small contingent under the command of Raymond of Toulouse, who remained behind, once again suffering from illness. The group that stayed with him, numbering just 200 knights, was all that there was to stop the garrison in the citadel retaking control of the city. Kerbogha, meanwhile, did nothing, failing to attack the Crusaders at their most vulnerable as they crossed the river.40

When Kerbogha finally ordered an attack, the western knights once again crucially managed to hold their formation. This caused panic in Kerbogha’s army, already unnerved by the reputation the westerners had gained from previous successes. The Crusader forces kept their discipline, sending small units into the heart of the enemy army, which splintered under the pressure of the heavy cavalry charges. Kerbogha’s troops started to melt away, their commander fleeing like a deer, according to one eyewitness. His camp and everything in it was captured, including many Turkish women who had been brought along in anticipation of the celebrations that were to accompany Kerbogha’s recovery of Antioch and his destruction of the Crusader army. The westerners did these women no evil, wrote Fulcher of Chartres, ‘but they did drive lances into their stomachs’.41

What had looked like the endgame for the expedition to Jerusalem suddenly became its most glorious hour. So astonishing was the success against Kerbogha’s army that even those who witnessed it struggled to understand how the victory had been achieved. According to Raymond of Aguilers who fought in the battle, Kerbogha’s flight was caused by God sending a divine shower on to the Christian army which inspired it with graces, fortitude and hatred of the enemy.42 Another eyewitness agreed that divine intervention had been involved, with the appearance of countless supernatural knights, all bearing white standards and led out by saints George, Mercurius and Demetrius, alongside the Crusaders.43 For yet another chronicler, it was the relic of the Holy Lance itself that had brought victory, striking cold fear into Kerbogha’s heart the moment he saw it and causing him to flee.44 Arab contemporaries had a little more insight. Kerbogha was an arrogant man whose personality and behaviour had not endeared him to other emirs, they reported; his refusal to let them kill captured knights had proved particularly unpopular. Moreover, he was let down in the battle by enemies within his own army who had taken a vow to betray him at the first opportunity.45

The collapse of Kerbogha’s army may well have seemed miraculous to the Crusaders, but there were more mundane reasons for the triumph. The confusion that quickly spread through the Turkish army was the result of incompetent leadership and poor communication. This gave way to panic, as limited Crusader operations, in some cases simply holding positions, gave the impression that the Muslim army was being driven back. In the chaos of combat, with dust being kicked up by the hooves of horses and the noise of clashing metal and battle cries filling the air, the already excitable Turkish army was undermined by its own size, with multiple commanders on the field trying to ascertain what was going on, while trying to take orders from Kerbogha.

The Crusader force, nimble, disciplined and well led, owed their most stunning success so far to their ability to hold their ground. The westerners had now repelled three major Muslim armies and gained permanent control of Antioch. They had nothing left to fear; and they needed no further signs that God was truly with them. It was a matter of course, surely, that the Holy City itself would be returned to Christian hands.

The aftermath of the battle for Antioch saw the Crusade leaders take stock of their position. They decided that the advance south to Jerusalem would not take place until the winter, to allow the expedition to consolidate and recover its strength. Morale was further boosted by the surrender of Antioch’s citadel in the wake of Kerbogha’s defeat, and by the support the Crusaders received from those living in the surrounding area, which began to supply the new overlords of the city.

There was, however, more to the decision to delay the march on Jerusalem than allowing time to regroup. The Chronicler Raymond of Aguilers, for one, was keen for the Crusaders to push on. He was certain that they would be unopposed if they marched directly on the Holy City, arguing that the populations of Syria and Palestine were so scared and weak after the defeat of Kerbogha that no one would dare even throw a stone at the western knights if they marched now.46 In fact, the delay was caused by confusion and disagreement over what should happen to Antioch. With the city captured, the practicalities of occupation began to bog down the Crusaders. How would control of this city, and of other towns, forts and locations, be maintained? Under whose auspices and authority should they fall? What was reasonable to expect from the local population in terms of food supply and co-operation – especially when they were Muslims? Who could claim personal overlordship of towns beyond Byzantium’s frontiers? Was the purpose of the expedition as a whole the liberation of Jerusalem alone – or were there other goals to consider? The months that followed the defeat of Kerbogha were taken up with a struggle for the soul of the First Crusade.

Central to this crisis was the emerging stand-off between Bohemond, who was clamouring for personal control of Antioch, and Raymond of Toulouse, who insisted that oaths to Alexios should be obeyed and was adamant that the expedition’s integrity as an armed pilgrimage – rather than a campaign of conquest – should be respected. The result was a stalemate. Bohemond refused to leave Antioch; Raymond refused to set out for Jerusalem until Bohemond agreed to relinquish his claims.

The Crusade began to disintegrate. The leaders of the expedition had previously shown remarkable solidarity, both in battle and in council. But after the capture of Antioch, competing ambitions threatened the viability of the enterprise. An extraordinary announcement was made soon after the defeat of Kerbogha that all taking part in the expedition were free to take service with whichever lord they wished; it was an open admission of how divided the campaign had become. It meant that all the traditional ties, bonds and loyalties that had had so much value in the west had not only loosened but were removed altogether. This dramatic volte-face worked largely in Raymond’s favour; his popularity and honourable reputation did much to recommend him to those not already serving with him.47 One who joined him was author of the Gesta Francorum who had accompanied Bohemond from southern Italy but had grown frustrated with the delay in heading for Jerusalem.

Other Crusaders also looked to benefit from the unravelling situation. A number of knights and foot soldiers, left impoverished by the long siege at Antioch, made for Edessa, drawn by Baldwin’s promises of financial reward in return for service.48 Baldwin’s brother Godfrey, meanwhile, set about capturing local forts and towns, such as Tell-Bashir, extracting levies from the inhabitants which he shared with his men.49 This increased his popularity and attracted others into his fold. Even low-ranking knights seized the opportunity. Raymond Pilet assembled a force with the promise of easy pickings and headed into the fertile Jabal as-Summaq plateau. After initial success, the expedition ended in disaster, all but annihilated in an ill-advised assault on the town of Maarrat an-Numan in July 1098.50

The First Crusade was in freefall. What the expedition needed now was strong and decisive leadership but instead dissent started to swell, at first in private and then in public. Rumours began to spread that the rank-and-file participants might take matters into their own hands and tear down the walls of Antioch to bring the leaders to their senses. It is hard to think of a more dramatic course of action than to destroy the prize that had been won at such great cost. But their anger was understandable: disagreement over Antioch was the cause of the problems.51

To overcome the impasse, the Crusaders turned to Emperor Alexios. As we have seen, when Kerbogha approached Antioch, a delegation led by Stephen of Blois had been sent to the emperor begging him to march at the head of the imperial army to relieve the western force. Stephen found Alexios at Philomelion and asked for a private meeting with him. His summary of how things looked could barely have been more bleak: ‘I tell you truly that Antioch has been taken but the citadel has not fallen and our men are all closely besieged; I expect that by this time they have been killed by the Turks. Retreat therefore as fast as you can, in case they also catch up with you.’52 Stephen and others reported that in all probability, Kerbogha had already arrived at the city and slaughtered the besieged knights. Antioch was likely back in Turkish hands, and the Crusade at a bloody finale. This hardly encouraged the emperor to march across to the Crusaders’ aid. With an agreement already reached with Kilidj Arslan in western Asia Minor following the success of the Byzantine campaign of 1097–8, he sounded the call for the imperial forces to return to Constantinople.53

Unaware of the emperor’s decision, rumours circulated for several months after the fall of Antioch that Alexios’ arrival in the east was imminent.54 In the meantime the absence of a senior Byzantine representative created a vacuum. In the case of Nicaea and elsewhere, a Byzantine appointee – men such as Manuel Boutoumites, Peter Aliphas, Welf of Burgundy and Baldwin of Bouillon – had stepped forward to take control of the situation. There was no such figure in Antioch, and without the emperor to look to for instruction and guidance, the Crusaders were at a loss.

To break the deadlock, a second embassy was sent to Alexios, again led by a senior figure in the Crusader army, with the aim of persuading the Byzantine ruler to take control of the expedition. In the late summer of 1098, ‘our leaders, Duke Godfrey, Raymond Count of Saint-Gilles, Bohemond, the Count of Normandy and the Count of Flanders and all the others sent the high-born knight Hugh the Great to the emperor at Constantinople asking him to come and take over the city and fulfil the obligations which he had undertaken towards them’.55 Although one source suggests that Hugh of Vermandois behaved aggressively towards Alexios when he met him in Constantinople, it seems much more likely that he was placatory. But if Hugh did intimate, gently or otherwise, that unless the emperor came to Antioch to assume leadership of the expedition there would be devastating consequences, then it had little effect. Alexios would not head east.56

Had the emperor done so, he might well have unblocked the impasse that stymied the progress of the Crusade. He might also have avoided the hostility towards him that was quickly building up. Some weeks after the capture of Antioch, Peter Bartholomew, who had identified the location of the Holy Lance, started having more visions. This time St Andrew was telling him that the Byzantines should not take possession of Antioch, for if they did so, they would desecrate it, as they had supposedly done with Nicaea.57Attitudes towards Alexios and Byzantium were becoming poisonous.

In the circumstances it did not help that Adhemar of Le Puy had died of fever on 1 August 1098. The bishop had not only been the Pope’s envoy during the expedition, but had gained the respect of the other leaders and the lower-ranking men with his unstintingbravery. His obvious delight at being sent seventy Turkish heads by Tancred increased his popularity.58 The Chanson d’Antioche, a poetic song recording the glory of the First Crusade, also described how Adhemar shared the excitement of a crowd as it watched knights devouring the flesh of dead Turks and washing it down with wine.59

In the emperor’s absence, the bishop might have been able to soothe tensions in the Crusader camp, as he had done at a low point during the siege when his suggestions on how to appease God’s wrath had been acted upon.60 As the Pope’s representative, Le Puy was the bridge between east and west, ‘ruler and shepherd’ of the Crusader army, and a calming influence. Adhemar, ‘beloved by God and mankind, flawless in the estimation of all’, died at precisely the wrong moment.61

On 11 September 1098 a letter was sent to Pope Urban II in the names of the expedition’s senior figures, including Bohemond, Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Flanders and Robert of Normandy. While the Turks and the pagans had been subdued, the letter reported, it had been impossible to overcome the heretics: Armenians, Jacobites, Syrians – and also the Greeks.62

This was a key moment in the Crusade. Giving up on the emperor, the western leaders turned to the Pope for leadership, imploring him to join them in the east. ‘In this way, you will complete the expedition of Jesus Christ which we began and you preached. Thus you will open the gates of both Jerusalems, liberate the Sepulchre of the Lord and exalt the Christian name over every other one. If you do come to us to complete with us the expedition you began, the whole world will obey you … Amen.’63

In its final paragraph, the letter went even further: the emperor was not only rebuked for not having done enough to help the expedition, he was also accused of having actively sought to harm the campaign. ‘You should separate [us]’, the leaders wrote, ‘from the unjust emperor who has never fulfilled the many promises he has made us. In fact, he has hindered and harmed us in every way at his disposal.’64 The Pope, however, was no more willing than Alexios to join the expedition. He instead sent a high-ranking cleric, Daimbert of Pisa, to replace Adhemar.

In the meantime, little progress was made at Antioch. In the months that followed the capture of the city, Bohemond played a truculent game, trying to provoke Raymond wherever possible in order to get his own way. When the Count of Toulouse moved against Maarrat an-Numan, Bohemond raced to the town to prevent him from taking it and using it to secure the wider region for himself. When the town finally fell after a long and difficult siege, the Norman then brazenly occupied parts of Maarrat, refusing to hand these over to Raymond, in order to gain leverage in Antioch.

Efforts to mediate between the two Crusaders ended in failure. Meeting in the Basilica of St Peter in Antioch, Raymond solemnly repeated the oath to Alexios, stressing that the commitment could not be rescinded on a whim. In response, Bohemond produced a copy of the agreement made between the leaders before the storming of Antioch, noting that this too was binding. The Count of Toulouse again emphasised that ‘we swore upon the Cross of the Lord, the crown of thorns and many holy relics that we would not hold without the consent of the emperor any city or castle in his dominion’.65 He offered to submit to the judgement of his peers, specifically Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Flanders and Robert of Normandy – on the condition that Bohemond would travel on with them to Jerusalem. He was prepared to compromise, in other words, as long as the issue was resolved later.66

This sounded reasonable enough – but many could see both sides of the argument. The oaths had been clear and categorical; and yet it seemed that Alexios had not kept his side of the agreement. As impatience grew within the Crusader army, Bohemond realised that his best bet was to sit tight. Eventually, his intransigence paid off. At the start of 1099, Raymond of Toulouse finally gave up trying to resist Bohemond’s demands and prepared to set off for Jerusalem without him.

Yet the other leaders had learnt from Bohemond, and demanded concessions from the wealthy count of Toulouse in return for continuing on their journey. As substantial payments of 10,000 solidi to Godfrey of Bouillon and Robert of Normandy, 6,000 to Robert of Flanders and 5,000 to Tancred show, they had learnt that their co-operation to make the final move to Jerusalem could have a price. The idealism that had characterised the expedition at its outset had been replaced by something altogether more pragmatic: upfront payments for marching to the Holy Land, unilateral declarations that sworn oaths no longer applied – and if not the jettisoning of spiritual incentives, then at least the demand for material benefits alongside them. The expedition had taken on a decidedly new dimension since the capture of Antioch.67

There were further difficulties during the journey to Jerusalem. The capture of Maarrat an-Numan over the winter of 1098–9 was followed by deprivation that was worse than even the terrible scenes at Antioch twelve months earlier. Starved and weakened and with few taboos still to break, the Crusaders were so desperate that they reportedly cut the flesh from the buttocks of dead Muslims and ate them. And so acute was the hunger that many tried to eat the human flesh even before it had been properly cooked.68

Local rulers controlling territory on the route to Jerusalem anxiously made truces with the western army as it approached, having heard how the Crusaders had dealt with the armies of Duqaq, Ridwan and Kerbogha, and after receiving gory reports about their cruelty in places like Maarrat where captives’ stomachs were sliced open in the belief that they had swallowed gold coins to keep them hidden. The emirs of Shaizar, Homs, Jabala and Tripoli, for example, sent lavish gifts to Raymond of Toulouse to win his goodwill and prevent attacks on their towns.69

Progress slowed dramatically when the army reached Arqa, and subjected the town to a siege that dragged on for three months. By this time, Alexios had learnt of the Crusaders’ survival at Antioch – and of the change in attitude towards him. He dispatched ambassadors to complain about the flagrant violations of the oaths when he found out about their refusal to restore Antioch and other former Byzantine possessions to him. The envoys now advised the western leaders that the emperor would join the expedition on 24 June 1099 and that the Crusaders should therefore hold position and wait for him. This caused debate within the western army, with a divide quickly emerging between those who welcomed the arrival of Alexios and of reinforcements, and those who were no longer willing to co-operate with the Byzantines. Even the promise of substantial gifts, suggested by the ambassadors, had little impact on those who had now sided against the emperor.70

It may be that the prospect of Alexios joining the expedition spurred the decision to move on Jerusalem in order to strengthen their position, for at the start of May 1099, the Crusaders abandoned the siege of Arqa and marched at full speed on Jerusalem. After eighteen months, during which the scope, aims and nature of the expedition had changed out of all recognition, the purpose of the Crusade suddenly returned.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!