The First Crusade in 5 Steps.

The First Crusade in 5 steps. Not because you can make a crusade to Jerusalem in five steps but because I felt like breaking it down.

Step 1: The Motive.

It starts with the threat posed by the Seljuk Turks to the faltering Byzantine Empire. After the battle of Menzikart 1071 and the subsequent Byzantine civil war, the Eastern Roman Empire lost all its Anatolian territory, reducing its empire vastly.

In early March 1095 an embassy from Emperor Alexios I Komnenos meets with Pope Urban II at the council of Piacenza. They were asking for armed assistance against the Muslims who were now separated from Constantinople only by the waters of the Bosphorus. This had been done by Byzantine emperors before, and this was only the latest embassy to arrive since 1090, using the eventual recapture of the Holy City and penance through war as incentive, they wanted a mercenary army what they got was something entirely different.

The Pope was keen to help because he wanted to centralise the European powers on the Church. He wanted to stop the constant internal fighting of the Kings of Europe by focusing their violent urges on the infidel. This would increase the power of the Church if he could get them to do something for God at his bidding. This would also strengthen the position of Pope after the investiture controversy between the Church and the Holy Roman Empire.  It would if successful give Christians control of the Pilgrim route to Jerusalem. Urban was a student of Gregory VII who taught that there was two types of arms bearing, Secular which is selfish and sinful and Penitential which is selfless and righteous.

Urban II the main mover behind the 1st Crusade.
Urban II the main mover behind the 1st Crusade.

Step 2: The Plan.

Urban was aware of the idea that Byzantine Emperors enticed Catholic mercenaries to serve in their army by saying by fighting for them they were fighting by extension for the Holy City. There was never very much hope of this happening but Urban thought big. Religious war was very prevalent across Europe, it was in fact one of the most common forms of conflict in the early mediaeval era, Duke William of Normandy’s invasion of England was even substantiated by a Papal blessing and the Spanish peninsula was aflame with the Reconquista. Urban planned to achieve his goals by an ambitious and revolutionary plan which he put into action very soon after the Byzantine embassy. First he sent out popular preachers to spread the word of Muslim atrocities and their defilement of the holy places. While the seeds were being sown he and his advisors took careful note of local religious feasts and gatherings across France and put together an itinerary for a papal procession, across France were they knew large crowds would be, he also planned to have ringers ready to step up and set the example for others. It was also timed to coincide with the high times of Lent and Easter. The message was to be of an armed pilgrimage to the Holy Land to recapture Jerusalem, neither an armed militia or a holy mission was what Alexios wanted, its members would act responsibly and make sure those they left behind were well provided for, those without sufficient funds were not supposed to go, preferably knights and foot soldiers were wanted, if men were unsure as to their financial obligations, or their ability to be absolved for the crusade, they were to consult their local priest who could take their oaths or pass them on to those who could.

Emperoro Alexios Komnenos got more than he bargained for when he asked for assistance.
Emperoro Alexios Komnenos got more than he bargained for when he asked for assistance.

Step 3: The Incentives.

On the face of it the Pope was going to ask for a pilgrimage en masse to Jerusalem, or at the very least Constantinople to bolster Alexios. However it wasn’t an ordinary pilgrimage, he wanted soldiers. To attract them he made sure to prepare sermons that highlighted the importance of Jerusalem to the Christian Faith as not only the physical symbol of God’s Kingdom but also representing the spiritual. To take the city for Christ was to gain acceptance in heaven. He prepared to also appeal to the age old reasons soldiers went to war, spoils, land and booty, which would be the temporal rewards of conquest. And he would further offer all who pledged to take the cross, that is swear to go and fight the infidel in some way or another, the chance to have their sins remitted and be washed clean. To reinforce these incentives Urban united them by giving them a symbol. The use of the cross on clothing for warriors had been in use for some time now, and just as he used the Byzantine lure of fighting for God, he also prepared to deploy the symbol of the Holy Cross to identify those who had taken it up and he would use scripture to back it up. Principally Luke 15 and Matthew 16.

Step 4: The Response.

Many people view Urban II’s keynote address at Clermont on November 27 1095 as being the beginning of the 1st Crusade but in fact it was already in motion before he even opened his mouth, and Clermont was only the most remembered sermon of dozens given between the July of 1095 and September of 1096. Already his advance preachers were spreading the word. Although he cannot be actually implicated in Urban’s master plan, Peter the Hermit and his disciples were gathering massive support from the lower orders to march as Pilgrims to the Holy Land and they would already be marching by Easter 1096. It wasn’t just as simple as the Pope standing up and saying, God Wills you go take Jerusalem so go take it, he had to get people on his side. And so he went on a campaign trail through the lands of France in great pomp and ceremony, stopping to dedicate and rededicate cathedrals and holy places, and then while the crowd was there he preached the message of the Crusade in grand ceremonies that would be calculated to impress the audience. A Pope had not been seen North of the Alps since 1049 making every event all that more special. It was hard work and at first there weren’t many nobles forthcoming and he needed them to provide the troops, he was explicit that he wanted solders, not the poor, or wives, or farmers or clergymen but men of war to fight a war for God, but by the end of his tour the ageing yet irrepressible Urban had galvanised immense numbers of followers to take the Cross, the word spread across Europe and at Clermont, when an anonymous member of his entourage began chanting “Deus Vult” the entire crowd began chanting it too. 12 months after Clermont 70 to 80,000 people had left there homes for the east.

First Crusade
Spurred on by Urban’s appeal, thousands of men from all over Europe took the Cross and left their homes to fight in the east. By Christa Hook.

Step 5: Results.

The product of all that effort saw several Crusader armies all converging on Constantinople in mid to late 1096. Three waves of Peasant Crusader Armies with little weaponry or leadership are the first to leave in March  1096, leaving a trail of mistreated Jews along the way, but they ended up largely running afoul of some pretty angry Hungarians before reaching their destination between June and August. Those peasant armies of the wonderfully named Peter the Hermit and Walter-without-worldly-goods reach Constantinople in July and August respectively. Big whoop; for all he had gone through Peter’s army was defeated by the Saljuq’s of Rum in Anatolia in October.

Battle of Antioch. One of the many surprising victories won by the first crusade. by Matthew Ryan.
Battle of Antioch. One of the many surprising victories won by the first crusade. by Matthew Ryan.

The (at the lowest estimate) 30,000 professional men originally from start points in France, Italy and Catalonia, lead variously by Bohemnund of Taranto, Duke Raymond de St Giles, Duke Godfrey de Bouillon, Count Robert of Flanders, Duke Robert of Normandy King William the Conqueror’s son, Baldwin de Boulogne brother of Godfrey de Bouillon and the wealthy Count Stephen de Blois (who name aside I’m sure was a very interesting person), all arrive in Constantinople by December, much to the consternation of the Emperor, who had wanted a small army of mercenaries not a bunch of Independent armies under their bickering warlords. The Crusaders advanced into Anatolia in May 1097 battering mercilessly into the fragmented Saljuq Turkish and Muslim Fatimid kingdoms that had been weakened by Byzantine resurgence in Anatolia and the death of the Saljuq Sultan Malik Shah in 1092, which caused a civil war. By the end of the year the Crusaders had taken Nicaea (28th June) defeated the Saljuq’s of Rum at the battle of Dorylaeum (1st July), taken Iconium (15 August) Caesarea Mazacha  (19 August), begun the siege of Antioch and defeated Saljuq Turk relief force at Damascus (31st December). In 1098 Despite losing Byzantine land support the Crusaders defeated another Saljuq force at Antioch (9th February) then captured Edessa (10th March) and then Antioch itself fell (3rd June) they then beat off another relief force (28th June).

Though tasty Jaffa Cakes were not really on the menu.
Though tasty Jaffa Cakes were not really on the menu.

In January 1099 a new leader Count Raymond of Toulouse reinvigorated the flagging Crusade, now more than two years old, he reached Jaffa by the 1st of June (where perhaps he snacked on some cakes as a reward). The siege of Fatimid Jerusalem, which had been recaptured from the Seljuks in 1098, began on the 7th of June and fell to assault and subsequent massacre of Jews and Muslims on the 15th of July, on the 22nd Godfrey of Bouillon was elected ruler of the city. A relief force of The Fatimid Caliphate was miraculously defeated by the ragged Crusaders outside Ascalon on the 12th of August ending the 1st Crusade and initial conquest of the Holy Land.

Now I can take a deep breath and thank you for reading all the way through.

See you again for another adventure in Historyland.


(Main References)

God’s War: Christopher Tyerman

The First Crusade: 1096-1099: David Nicolle

Millennium: Tom Holland.

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