Henry V’s Fleet

The greatest problem facing Henry V was not so much acquiring the materials of war, but transporting them. An invasion of France, of necessity, demanded the use of ships, and when Henry came to the throne in 1413 the royal fleet consisted of precisely six vessels. His great-grandfather, Edward III, upon whom Henry so often seems to have modelled himself, had been able to call on between forty and fifty royal ships throughout his long reign. Within four years of Richard II’s accession, only five remained, and by 1380 four of these had been sold off to pay Edward III’s debts. Henry IV’s fleet never exceeded six ships and was sometimes reduced to two. Both kings had been forced to rely on seizing privately owned merchant vessels to supplement their fleet when required. This had caused considerable anger and hostility, not least because, until 1380, there was no compensation paid to the ship-owners. Under pressure from the House of Commons, Richard II had then agreed that 3s 4d would be paid for every quarter-ton of carrying capacity, but the usual payment rarely exceeded a paltry 2s and was regularly the subject of bitter complaints in Parliament. Another cause of tension was that the wages of seamen were not always paid from the date of their being pressed into service but from the day they actually sailed.

Henry V’s reign marked a revolution in the fortunes of the royal fleet. The six ships he had inherited in 1413 had become twelve by 1415 and thirty-four by the time he began his second invasion of France in 1417. The architects of this transformation were a clergyman and a draper. William Catton became clerk of the king’s ships in July 1413, and, like all his predecessors in the post, was a civil servant in minor orders. William Soper, who replaced him in 1420, was a wealthy merchant and Member of Parliament from Southampton with extensive shipping interests. Within weeks of his appointment, Catton was given authority to obtain all the materials, sailors and workmen he needed to perform the task of repairing and building up the king’s navy. Soper became officially involved in February 1414, when he obtained a similar commission for the specific purpose of “the making and amending of a great ship of Spain at Southampton.”

No doubt at least in part because William Soper was based there, Southampton became in effect Henry’s royal dockyard. The port enjoyed great natural advantages: protected from the Channel by the Isle of Wight, the sheltered waters of the Hamble estuary, Southampton Water and the Solent provided a mass of natural harbours and easy access to the French coast that lay opposite. On its doorstep was a seemingly limitless supply of timber from the New Forest for the building and maintenance of the king’s ships. Soper added a new dock and storehouse at Southampton and built more storehouses and wooden defences for the ships under construction at Hamble. For the first time, the English had a naval dockyard that was beginning to rival the great fourteenth-century French shipyards at Rouen.

Rebuilding a ship on the frame of an old one was a common maritime practice in the medieval period and indeed for many centuries afterwards. It was a cost-effective exercise, allowing for the sale of all the old scrap and outdated fittings, while reducing the investment needed for timber and other materials that could be reused. Much of Henry’s new fleet was built in this way, and as a high proportion of the vessels were captured as a result of either war or letters of marque (documents issued by countries authorizing private citizens to seize goods and property of another nation), this substantially increased the savings to be gained. The cost of rebuilding Soper’s Spanish ship, the Seynt Cler de Ispan, as the Holy Ghost, and refitting a Breton ship, which had been seized as a prize, as the Gabriel, amounted to only £2027 4s 111/2d. This compared favourably to the sums in excess of £4500 (excluding gifts of almost four thousand oak trees and equipment from captured shipping) spent building Henry’s biggest new ship, the 1400-ton Gracedieu, from scratch.

Unfortunately, neither the Holy Ghost nor the Gracedieu would be ready in time for the Agincourt campaign. Despite Catton’s and Soper’s best efforts, it was not easy finding and keeping skilled and reliable shipbuilders. On at least two occasions the king ordered the arrest and imprisonment of carpenters and sailors “because they did not obey the command of our Lord the King for the making of his great ship at Southampton” and “had departed without leave after receiving their wages.”

Henry’s purpose in all this was not to build up an invasion fleet as such: the magnitude of the transport required for a relatively short time and limited purpose made that impractical. His priority was rather to have on call a number of royal ships that would be responsible for safeguarding the seas. When they were not engaged on royal business, the vessels were put to commercial use: they regularly did the Bordeaux run to bring back wine and even hauled coal from Newcastle to sell in London. So successful was Catton in hiring them out between 1413 and 1415 that he earned as much from these efforts as he received from the exchequer for his royal duties. Nevertheless, their primary purpose was to patrol the Channel and the eastern seaboard, protecting merchant shipping from the depredations of French, Breton and Scottish pirates, and acting as a deterrent to Castilian and Genoese fighting ships employed or sponsored by the French.

On 9 February 1415 Henry V ordered that crews, including not just sailors but also carpenters, were to be impressed for seven of his ships, the Thomas, Trinité, Marie, Philip, Katherine, Gabriel and Le Poul, which were all called “de la Tour,” perhaps indicating that, like the king’s armoury, they were based at the Tower of London. A month later, the privy council decreed that during the king’s forthcoming absence from the realm a squadron of twenty-four ships should patrol the sea from Orford Ness in Suffolk to Berwick in Northumberland, and the much shorter distance from Plymouth to the Isle of Wight. It was calculated that a total of two thousand men would be needed to man this fleet, just over half of them sailors, the rest of them divided equally between men-at-arms and archers.

The reason so many soldiers were required was that even at sea fighting was mainly on foot and at close quarters. The king’s biggest ship in 1416 carried only seven guns, and given their slow rate of fire and inaccuracy they served a very limited purpose. Fire-arrows and Greek fire (a lost medieval recipe for a chemical fire that was inextinguishable in water) were more effective weapons but were used sparingly because the objective of most medieval sea battles, as on land, was not to destroy but to capture. Most engagements were therefore fought by coming alongside an enemy ship with grappling irons and boarding her. Imitating land warfare still further, fighting ships, unlike purely commercial vessels, had small wooden castles at both prow and stern, which created offensive and defensive vantage points for the men-at-arms and archers in case of attack.

Even with a newly revitalised and rapidly expanding royal fleet, Henry had nothing like enough ships to transport his armies and his equipment. On 18 March 1415 he therefore commissioned Richard Clyderowe and Simon Flete to go to Holland and Zeeland with all possible speed. There they were to treat “in the best and most discreet way they can” with the owners and masters of ships, hire them for the king’s service and send them to the ports of London, Sandwich and Winchelsea. Clyderowe and Flete were presumably chosen for this task because both had shipping connections: Clyderowe had been a former victualler of Calais and Flete would be sent later in the summer to the duke of Brittany to settle disputes about piracy and breaches of the truce. Flete was perhaps unable to fulfil this earlier commission, for when it was reissued on 4 April his name was replaced by that of Reginald Curteys, another former supplier of Calais.

What is interesting about this mission is that it could not have happened without the consent of the duke of Burgundy. Holland and Zeeland were technically independent counties in the Low Countries and were ruled by William, count of Hainault, a subject of the Holy Roman Empire. The two states were adjoining, Holland lying to the north of Zeeland, which was then a conglomeration of tiny islands (now much enlarged due to drainage and land reclamation schemes) in the Schelde estuary. The little principality was dwarfed and almost entirely encircled by its neighbours. To the south lay Flanders, which was ruled directly by the duke of Burgundy, whose only son, Philippe, count of Charolais, was his resident personal representative there. To the east lay Brabant, whose duke, Antoine, was the younger brother of John the Fearless. Since William himself was married to John and Antoine’s eldest sister, Margaret of Burgundy, he was part of the family network and the region was controlled by their threefold political alliance. The duke of Burgundy was unquestionably the dominant partner, summoning William, Antoine and other petty rulers of the Low Countries to assemblies over which he himself presided. Had John the Fearless forbidden William to allow English envoys to recruit ships in his territories, there is no doubt that he would have obeyed. That he therefore gave at least tacit approval must be inferred, and, if he did so, it suggests that the French were correct in assuming that secret alliances had been signed the previous autumn between the English and the duke of Burgundy.

The available records indicate that Clyderowe and Curteys spent almost £5050 (over $3 million in modern money) hiring ships in Holland and Zeeland. Although this is probably not the complete sum, it allows us to make an educated guess about the number of ships they were able to hire. If they paid the customary rates of 2s per quarter-ton, they must have secured some 12,625 tonnage of shipping; if all the vessels were the smallest considered worth hiring (twenty tons), then this suggests that, by 8 June, they had acquired around 631 ships for the king’s expedition. This exercise, and its resultant figure, is only of value in that it bears out a report of the same day that seven hundred ships were on their way to England from Holland. In view of the fact that medieval estimates of numbers are usually considered to be wildly exaggerated—and, indeed, often are—this provides a salutary reminder that they can also sometimes be correct.

This was still not enough to fulfil the king’s requirements. On 11 April he ordered that all English and foreign vessels of twenty tons or more currently in English ports between the river Thames and Newcastle-upon-Tyne were to be seized into the king’s hands, together with any others that arrived before 1 May. The news caused consternation abroad. “We know that our four merchant ships have not yet arrived . . .” the Venetian Antonio Morosini wrote in July, “and there can be no doubt that they are in danger of falling into the king’s hands, which is greatly to be dreaded. May it please the eternal God that it may not happen!” Successive intelligence reports received in Venice that month indicated that Henry’s fleet was first three hundred strong, then six hundred and finally fourteen hundred “and more.” English ships that were seized were sent to Southampton and foreign ones to Winchelsea, London or Sandwich. There, over the next three months, they were converted from carriers of merchandise into fighting ships and transports for the thousands of men, horses and pieces of equipment that would have to be carried across the Channel to France.

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The Persian Fleet – Salamis

“Artemisia, Queen of Halicarnasuss, sinks a rival Calyndian ship within the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis, off the coast of Greece, 480 BC”

Battle of Salamis

No one who reads Herodotus’ narrative can underestimate the importance of the naval factor in the two Persian invasions. The Persians were an inland power and possessed no fleet of their own. It says all the more for the organizing ability of the Great Kings – Xerxes in particular – that they were able to muster such vast armadas. It also suggests that their knowledge of Greek seamanship and fighting power was such that they by no means despised the enemy with whom they had to deal.

The largest contingent of the Persian fleet consisted of Phoenician vessels, manned by Phoenician crews. Rather surprisingly, the Persians relied also upon ships and crews from the Greek Ionian cities which they had subjugated. Inevitably, they must have felt some doubts about the loyalty of the Greek contingents of their own fleet. On several occasions during the campaigns, the Ionian effort seems to have been half-hearted, and at the battle of Mycale the Ionian Greeks at last deserted their Persian overlords to aid their compatriots.

Artemisia, the Greek princess who ruled Halicarnassus (subject to Persian goodwill), was present herself on shipboard at the battle of Salamis, fighting on the Persian side. However, she seems to have joined either fleet as circumstances dictated at any particular moment, for when pursued by an Athenian vessel she deliberately rammed and sank another galley of her own contingent. The Athenians, thinking that she had changed sides, abandoned the pursuit and Artemisia made good her escape without further impediment.

The truth is possibly that Xerxes found it less risky to take the Ionian fleet with him than to leave it in his rear. On every ship there was a force of soldiers, either Persians, Medes or others whose loyalty was to be trusted. Persian commanders often took the place of local captains and Xerxes probably kept the leaders of the subject communities under his personal surveillance. Their position closely resembled that of hostages to the Persians.

Apart from the Phoenician and Greek naval contingents, there was in Xerxes’ fleet an Egyptian squadron which was to distinguish itself in the course of the fighting. We hear also of ships from Cyprus and Cilicia. Cyprus contained both Greek and Phoenician cities and the people of Cilicia were largely of Greek extraction. Whether the Cilicians felt any bond of sympathy with the Greeks of the mainland is another question, but only the links of empire united them with the Persians. The proportion of the total naval strength to that of the land army is recorded: the land forces, when counted by Xerxes at Doriscus in Thrace, were, according to Herodotus, 1,700,000 strong: the strength of the fleet is given with some precision as 1,207 vessels, not including transports.

The Structure of Ancient Ships

At this point something must be said of the construction of ancient ships in general and of ancient warships in particular. Mercantile and transport vessels were comparatively broad-beamed and correspondingly capacious. They had to depend on sails rather than oars if room was to be left for the cargo. The Greeks sometimes referred to them as “round ships”. By contrast, it may be remembered that the Latin for a warship was navis longa – a long ship. Throughout the ancient period which we are considering, warships were comparatively long and streamlined. They were built for speed and relied upon oars rather than sails. The Persians, in their two invasions, naturally needed both transports and warships.

The characteristic warship which developed about the time of the Persian Wars, and which was used in the battles with which we are concerned, was the trireme. This word is formed from the Latin; the Greek is trieres. The meaning is literally three-oared or triply furnished, but the reference is apparently to three banks of oars, which were ranged one above the other. At an earlier date, biremes, vessels of two oar-banks, were built. More common was the penteconter, a 50-oared galley with oars in a single bank. There were also triaconters, of 30 oars. Homeric ships had as few as 20.

Ancient ships, whether warships or transports, normally made use of single, square-rigged sails, and efficient performance required a following wind. Transports sometimes mounted two or, more rarely, three masts with a single yard and sail on each. Warships lowered their mast and sail before going into action. Steering was by means of two large paddles, one on either quarter. Battle tactics depended to a great extent on ramming the enemy, but boarding operations by heavily armed troops were also carried out and in this way prizes could be taken. Missiles were also used, although this method of fighting recommended itself more to the Persians than to the Greeks.

Persian Naval Strategy

It is interesting that Xerxes reverted to his father’s original plan and decided to invade Greece from the north. He must have considered that his channel through the Athos peninsula eliminated the main hazard of this route. Clearly, he could deploy a much larger army in Greece if his land forces could make their own way along the coast. At the same time, the fleet keeping pace on the army’s flank contained transports which considerably eased his supply problem. The land forces carried a good deal of their own baggage and equipment with the help of camels and other beasts of burden. These did not include horses. It was not customary in the ancient world to use horses for such purposes and it is noteworthy that Xerxes transported his horses by sea on special ships. Horseshoes were unknown in the ancient centres of civilization, and it is possible that the Persian cavalry might have reached Greece with lame mounts if their horses had been obliged to make the whole journey by land.

Warships were, of course, necessary to protect both the transports and the land forces. Without naval defence, the Persian army would have been exposed to the danger of Greek amphibious attacks on its flank and its rear. Moreover, it was Xerxes’ hope that he would crush any Greek naval units immediately, wherever he met them.

He met them first at Artemisium, on the northern promontory of Euboea. Several actions were fought there, with varying outcome. The Greek position was well chosen. In the narrow channel between the Euboean coast and the mainland, the Greeks could not be enveloped by superior numbers. At the same time, they guarded the flank of Leonidas’ forces at Thermopylae. If the Persians sailed round Euboea to attack them in the rear, then the Persian land forces would be separated from their seaborne support. What took the Greeks by surprise was the enormous size of Xerxes’ force, which despite all reports far exceeded their most pessimistic estimates. It was possible for Xerxes to send one section of his fleet round the south of Euboea while he engaged the Greeks at Artemisium with the remainder. Such a manoeuvre entailed no loss of numerical superiority on either front. But summer storms gathered over Thessaly and aided the Greeks. The very size of Xerxes’ fleet meant that there were not sufficient safe harbours to accommodate all the ships; a considerable part of it had to lie well out to sea in rough weather. In this way many ships were wrecked. When a squadron was dispatched to round Euboea and sail up the Ruripus strait, which divides the long island from the mainland, this contingent also fell victim to storms and treacherous currents. The task assigned to it was never carried out.

Quite apart from the figures given by Herodotus, events themselves testify to the huge size of the Persian armada. Despite the heavy losses suffered at Artemisium, Xerxes’ fleet still enjoyed the advantage of dauntingly superior numbers when, late in the same season, the battle of Salamis was fought. Even after Salamis, the number of surviving ships and crews was such that the Greek fleet at Mycale hesitated long before attacking them.

The End of the Greyhounds I

Painting depicting the battle between Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and HMS Highflyer in August 1914.

It was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s ambition that Imperial Germany should not only be a major naval power but also project her greatness in maritime affairs at sea with a range of fast, luxurious liners that would rival those of Great Britain for speed and comfort and even wrest from her the coveted Blue Ribands, awarded for the fastest eastbound and westbound crossings of the Atlantic Ocean.

The first of the new liners, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, was launched in 1897. She had beautiful lines and was the first ocean liner to carry four funnels, arranged in two pairs of two. In addition, she was the first to be fitted with watertight bulkhead doors linked to an indicator board on the bridge, the first to be equipped with a Marconi radio transceiver, and the first to win the Blue Riband for the fastest trans-Atlantic run for forty years, completed at a sustained speed 22.3 knots. All in all, it was no surprise that she was known as the Wundershiff (Wonder Ship)

Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, usually referred to simply as KWdG, was built at the AG Vulcan shipyard in Stettin, as were her sister ships Kronprinz Wilhelm, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Kronprinzessin Cecilie. Passengers aboard them would have noticed a number of unusual metal fittings along the deck which were the mountings for the guns that would be installed in time of war, thereby converting the ships to armed merchant cruisers. Along the New York waterfront they were known collectively as the Hohenzollerns of Hoboken, references to the name of Germany’s Imperial family and the location of Norddeutscher Lloyd’s berth at New Jersey. In 1900 she managed to escape a serious fire on the pier that claimed numerous lives on nearby ships. Her luck continued until 1906, when a gash over 80 feet long was ripped in her hull following a high speed collision with the steamer Orinoco’s bow, killing five of her sleeping passengers. By 1913 the number of First and Second Class passengers was declining while the number of emigrants was rising. The ship was also beginning to show signs of wear and she was therefore modified to provide accommodation for Third and Steerage Class passengers only.

The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was in Bremen when war broke out the following year. She received her guns and naval crew on 4 August and, under the command of Captain Max Reymann, broke out into the Atlantic, keeping as far north as possible to avoid the British blockade. On 7 August, to the south of Iceland, she stopped and sank an insignificant fishing vessel, the Tubal Cain, displacing only 227 tons. Her orders then required her to head south and prey on the busy shipping lane off the west coast of Africa. On 15 August she stopped the liner Galician, belonging to the Union Castle Line, south of Tenerife. A boarding party carried out the customary search but nothing happened for several hours, during which it seems Reymann was thinking over what to do with his prize. At the end of this he signalled Galician: ‘I will not destroy you as you have women and children aboard – Good Bye.’ The following day she sank two ships, the Kaipara of 7,392 tons, and the smaller Nyanga of 3,066 tons. By now the folly of using ocean greyhounds as armed merchant cruisers was becoming apparent, for the level of coal in KWdG’s bunkers was dropping at an alarming rate. Arrangements were made for her to rendezvous with two colliers, Arucas and Duala, at Rio de Oro on the coast of West Africa. The problem was that Rio de Oro was a Spanish colony and the proposed coaling would take place in Spanish territorial waters.

The disappearance of the Kaipara and Nyanga had caused some concern in shipping circles. The Royal Navy had detailed two cruisers, the Vindictive and the Highflyer, to patrol the sea lanes around the Canary Islands, another Spanish colony. On 26 August Highflyer, under the command of Captain Henry Buller, was approaching Rio de Oro. Launched in 1900, she was still a handsome ship, her two two tall masts crossed with not one but two yards and numerous ventilators along her deck combining to give her a distinctive appearance. While she was rapidly becoming obsolescent, her armament, consisting of eleven 6-inch and nine 12-pounder guns, was quite adequate enough to deal with the Kaiser Wilhelm der Gross, which mounted only six 4.1-inch guns.

While still some miles from the German raider, Buller could see that she was coaling and clearly in no position to fight. He sent her a signal asking if she surrendered. Reymann answered, somewhat pompously, ‘Germans never surrender and you must respect the neutrality of Spain.’ The last was a piece of cheek as he had been present for far longer than the twenty-four hours permitted to a ship of war. Unperturbed, Buller replied that he would be back in thirty minutes and that Reymann should use that time to remove the civilian colliers out of the danger area and get his ship ready to fight. Reymann was well aware which way the fight would go and transferred most of those aboard to the two colliers, including the crews of the sunken merchant vessels and those of his crew who were not required to fight and sail the ship.

When a half hour had passed Buller again signalled his opponent to enquire whether he now wished to surrender. Reymann’s response was that there was nothing more to discuss. At a little under 10,000 yards Buller ordered one of his 6-pounders to fire a ranging shot. The resulting splash showed that it had fallen short. Reymann replied at once and although his guns threw a lesser weight of metal they were more modern and had a longer range. The result was that Highflyer was quickly straddled and began to absorb hits. One exploded against the bridge shortly after Buller had left it for the conning tower. A searchlight was then blasted overboard. An explosion against the superstructure sent a shower of shell splinters into the back of a nearby seaman, the position of the strike clearly indicating that the round had passed between his legs.

Once Highflyer was within range the situation changed dramatically. A 4.1-inch gun was shot off the poop and a second round exploded below, starting a major fire. A third round, striking amidships, blew a huge hole in the ship’s waterline. Thereafter, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse received a constant blizzard of 6-pounder shells. In less than thirty minutes the liner’s guns had been silenced. As she slowed to a standstill and began list to port three boats were seen pulling for the shore.

Buller ordered Highflyer to cease firing and sent his surgeon and sick berth attendants across to the stricken ship with medical supplies to treat those wounded who had remained aboard. From them it was estimated that the enemy’s loss amounted to 200 killed and wounded. This was almost certainly too high, but more accurate figures could not be obtained as the ship was listing ever more heavily and the medical party were lucky to get off before she rolled over and sank in 50 feet of water. For her part, Highflyer had been hit fifteen times without being seriously damaged and her casualties amounted to one man killed and five slightly wounded.

Reymann’s account of his ship’s end differs and is somewhat grudging. She ceased firing, he claimed, because she had run out of ammunition. This is a little difficult to believe as she was at the start of her cruise and the action itself barely lasted half an hour. He also suggested that she sank because of demolition charges that he had rigged with a view to scuttling. Again, that seems unlikely as no further explosions were heard aboard her once she had ceased firing and her fatal list was to port, where a gap 60 feet across had been blown in her waterline. Reymann himself reached the shore with the surviving members of his crew that had fought the ship. He then achieved the remarkable feat of returning to Germany on a neutral ship, working his passage as a stoker under an assumed name. Those who escaped the action aboard the colliers were either captured or released, according to their personal circumstances, two weeks later when the Hamburg-Amerika liner Bethania was intercepted while trying to run the British blockade.

This action was the first naval duel of the war. It was not a good beginning, for two more of Germany’s ocean greyhounds had already been removed from the board. Kronprinzessin Cecilie had left New York bound for Bremen when war broke out. Her master, unwilling to take the risks involved in trying to run the British blockade, decided to return to American waters and entered Bar Harbor, Maine, on 4 August. She was ultimately interned and taken into American service as a troop transport when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. Kaiser Wilhelm II had left Bremerhaven for New York on 3 August and, using her speed to evade British cruisers, arrived at her destination three days later. She, too, was subsequently interned and later entered American service.

The fourth, and most successful, of Germany’s ocean greyhound sisterhood was the Kronprinz Wilhelm, another winner of the Blue Riband. In the palmy days of peace she had been a favourite of those Trans-Atlantic travellers who were involved in the international world of musical entertainment, notably the theatrical and opera producer Oscar Hammerstein, and on one occasion she had conveyed the Kaiser’s brother, Crown Prince Albert von Preussen, on a state visit to New York, where he was met by President Theodore Roosevelt. We last came across her in an earlier chapter receiving her armament and naval personnel from the cruiser Karlsruhe, from whom she was forced to separate when they were surprised by Admiral Cradock’s flagship Suffolk. Following this meeting, Kronprinz Wilhelm was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Paul Thierfelder, the Karlsruhe’s navigation officer, with the liner’s original skipper as his First Lieutenant.

Having separated from Karlsruhe, Thierfelder took Kronprinz Wilhelm on an unpredictable course towards the Azores, where he met the collier Walhalla and replenished his bunkers. He then headed south-east to the Canary Islands where the German representative informed him that there was no prospect of his being able to obtain further supplies of coal in the area. Thierfelder therefore decided to head for the South American Coast, where there was considerable support for Germany. In addition, he could also top up his supplies from captured ships and seek internment in a neutral port if he found himself unable to proceed further. At this stage, he was unaware that around the entire coast of South America, German naval officers, diplomatic representatives and consular officials were setting up the Etappendienst, buying up local coal supplies and chartering ships to convey it to secret rendezvous points at sea, thereby keeping their commerce raiders supplied and active.

The End of the Greyhounds II

SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich on 28 March 1917, interned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania

SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich, showing port aft gun mount.

Many of the liner’s crew were discharged reservists or civilian volunteers and the voyage west was used to get them used to modern Navy ways and train them in various aspects of their duties. In addition, the guns had to be securely mounted and a gunnery practice programme begun. On 3 September a rendezvous was made with the Karlsruhe’s tender, the collier Assuncion, off Rocas Reef. At 20.30 on 4 September a British liner, the Indian Prince, hove into view and, having spotted the Kronprinz Wilhelm’s guns and naval ensign, stopped without the need to have a shot fired across her bows. As a heavy sea was running, Thierfelder’s boarding party was unable to scramble aboard her until early the following morning. They found that most of her cargo was of value to the British war effort and that being the case, she would, therefore, have to be sunk. In the meantime, provisions, coal and much else would be of use to the raider, although the transfer of these took a over a period of several days because of the sea conditions. The Indian Prince’s crew and passengers were brought across during the afternoon of 8 September. The following morning the bottom was blown out of the ship with scuttling charges and Thierfelder, having been informed that the Etappendienst was now operating, headed south to a rendezvous with several of its supply ships.

On 14 September Thierfelder made the most serious mistake of his career. As Kronprinz Wilhelm was approaching Trinidade Island, off which she was to meet several German ships including another armed merchant cruiser, the Cap Trafalgar, the sound of heavy gunfire came rolling across the water. The source of this was, of course, Cap Trafalgar’s fight to the death with Carmania, but Thierfelder was not to know that. Nor could he have known that, when the gunfire ceased, Carmania had emerged the victor but was so badly damaged that she could not have survived another such fiercely fought contest with his own ship. Suspecting some sort of trap he turned away and began a successful search for the supply ships he had been promised.

Kronprinz Wilhelm had no further contact with Allied shipping until 7 October when the halted the British steamer La Correntina, loaded with frozen meat, off the Brazilian coast. Because of poor weather, it took 14 October to complete the transfer of provisions, coal, passengers and crew from the prize. Also taken from La Correntina were two 4.7-inch guns and their shields. They lacked ammunition but were mounted on the Kronprinz Wilhelm’s poop and used for gun drill, although some of her own ammunition was modified to fire blank cartridges as warning shots. La Correntina was then scuttled, although Thierfelder decided to remain in the area because a radio message informed him that her sister ship had left Monte Video on 12 October and entered the same shipping lane. In the event his wait was in vain and he moved off in search of other victims.

Thierfelder had his own thought on how a raider’s war should be conducted. He avoided areas where he might run into trouble and preferred to use guile rather than force. He would, for example, assume the same course as an unsuspecting merchantman. Neither freighters nor sailing ships could hope to equal the liner’s speed and would expect to be overhauled without attracting suspicion. During this period those aboard the Kronprinz Wilhelm did nothing to attract suspicion. Only when she was running parallel would Thierfelder break out his colours and instruct his victim to stop. No one argued and his guns remained a silent but potent threat. Alternatively, he would remain stationary and transmit distress signals so that his intended prey came to him. The boarding party would examine the cargo for commodities that would be of military use to the Allies and if there were none the ship would be released; if not, she would be scuttled after her coal, provisions, crew, passengers and their luggage had been transferred. Operating off the coast of Brazil or Argentina, the Kaiser Wilhelm II made a total of sixteen captures during her career as a raider and did so, moreover, without the loss of a single life. Ten of these were British, four were French, one was Norwegian and one was Russian. The Norwegian, a barque named Semantha, was, of course, neutral, but she was carrying contraband cargo bound for an Allied port and that ensured her destruction. The Russian schooner Pittan obviously belonged to a combatant nation and was fair game but she was apparently of no interest and Thierfelder released her. Altogether, no less than five of the captures were sailing vessels, which illustrates how much of the world’s cargo still travelled in this way.

After a while, the Kaiser Wilhelm II earned herself such a reputation along the eastern seaboard of South America that fictional accounts of her adventures appeared in the Allied press. These were read with great interest by her crew who learned that she had been sunk in a variety of ways as well as being interned. Other aspects of life aboard were less amusing. Overcrowding had become so bad that Thierfelder sent his reluctant passengers into a neutral port aboard his last capture. A monotonous diet lacking fruit and fresh vegetables was undermining the crew’s health to the extent that symptoms of scurvy had begun to appear.

Regular contact was made with German supply ships in rendezvous points in the vastness of the southern Atlantic, although these became less frequent as the voyage progressed. This ultimately brought the raider’s career to an end. During the morning of 28 March 1915 she arrived at the rendezvous point to find herself alone. She remained there all day and during the evening her lookouts spotted the distant shapes of two British cruisers escorting a cargo vessel. They passed out of sight without anyone suspecting that the freighter was their supply ship, the Macedonia, which had just been captured. Thierfelder waited in vain for several days and finally reached the reluctant conclusion that his supplies of coal and provisions had sunk so low that he could no longer remain operational. He sailed for the east coast of the United States and on 11 April took on a somewhat surprised pilot off Cape Henry. She was directed to a point off Newport News where, with great sadness, Thierfelder rang down Finished With Engines. They had driven Kronprinz Wilhelm over 37,600 miles during her cruise, in which she had sunk 56,000 tons of Allied shipping. She remained laid up at Norfolk Navy Yard and her crew were held in an internment camp nearby. When the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 she was taken over by the US Navy, renamed Von Steuben and served for the rest of the war as a troop transport.

In the internment camp the new arrivals met the crew of the Prinz Eitel Friedrich, which, if not quite in the ocean greyhound class, was still a respectable liner of 8,797 tons displacement, originally belonging to the Norddeutscher Lloyd Steamship Company. It will be recalled that she had been converted to the role of armed merchant cruiser at Tsingtao, being provided with the crews and armament of the gunboats of Luchs and Tiger, a total of four 4.1-inch guns and six 88mm guns. Under Lieutenant Commander Thierichens she had crossed the Pacific with Admiral Graf von Spee’s East Asia Squadron, but had neither taken part in the Battle of Coronel nor accompanied Spee’s squadron in its disastrous attempt to attack the Falkland Islands. Instead, when Spee departed, she had remained off the west coast of South America, taking her first prize on 5 December 1914.

It was naturally a severe shock to learn some days later that, with the exception of Dresden, the East Asia Squadron had been destroyed. Although Dresden was known to have escaped to the east coast, it was believed that she was being hunted by several British cruisers. In the circumstances, therefore, any attempt to contact or cooperate with her could be counter-productive for both ships. Sensibly, Thierichens decided to avoid the coast altogether and head west to Easter Island. On 11 December he picked up the French barque Jean which, usefully, was loaded with coal, followed by the smaller Kidalton next day.

After that, six weeks were to pass before he saw another Allied vessel. He used his time at Easter Island to decide on the best course of action. Little support could be expected if he remained in the Pacific, which was now dominated by the ships of four Allied navies. On the other hand, he was commanding a ship of war and was expected to make the best contribution possible to his country’s war effort. By rounding the Horn far to its south and so avoiding any contact with British ships operating from the Falkland Islands he could enter the Atlantic, raid his way northwards and attempt to reach Germany by breaking through the British blockade of the North Sea.

It was after New Year when Prinz Eitel Friedrich set off to round the Horn, a dangerous passage that she completed without incident. During the next two months she captured and sank eight more prizes as she headed north. As usual, coal and anything useful as well as crews and passengers were transferred before they were sunk. Thierichens does not seem to have used any of his captures to land civilians in a neutral port, but this did not produce excessive over crowding aboard as the average displacement of the prizes was about 3,000 tons, the largest being the 6,629-ton Floride. The crews of ships of this size were usually small and relatively few of them carried passengers.

Thierichens received support from the Etappendienst’s supply ships while running off the Argentine and Brazilian coasts, but north of the Equator there were very few friends to be found, as Thierfelder was also to discover. With fuel running critically low it was apparent that the ship was not going to reach the North Sea, let alone Germany. On 15 March Thierichens took her into Newport News, where the authorities promptly enforced their obligations as neutrals. These limited not only the time that a warship could remain in the harbour, but also the extent that she could replenish her supplies. What settled Eitel Friedrich’s fate once and for all was the arrival of two British cruisers, Cumberland and Niobe, which began prowling the approaches to the harbour just beyond the limit of American territorial waters. Thierichens was well aware that long usage had reduced the builder’s stated maximum speed of 17 knots and that he was very seriously outgunned. He could neither flee nor fight and in the circumstances he had no alternative other than to request internment, which was granted. There the Eitel Friedrich’s career might have ended had not the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 and taken her back into service as the troop transport De Kalb.

The Princes on the March

Hugh’s army was one of the first of the better-organized princely forces to depart, probably leaving France sometime near Urban II’s proposed date of August 15, 1096. Eschewing the roads through Hungary, the army aimed instead for Bari in southeastern Italy, intending to sail from there to Durazzo (Durrës, in modern Albania).

As Hugh’s followers set about putting their moral and financial houses in order, Hugh himself wrote a letter to the Emperor Alexius, warning him of his imminent arrival. The letter does not survive. Instead, we have a satirical paraphrase written in the biography of Alexius by his daughter Anna Comnena. Hugh, according to Anna, proclaimed himself “the King of Kings, the greatest of all beneath the heavens,” and warned Alexius that he expected to be received in Constantinople with all the pomp suited to his great station. The language, though a bit over the top, does accord with what we know about Hugh and his followers—namely, that they expected him to become king of Jerusalem. We also know that most Latin observers found Greek court ceremonial more than a little overbearing. It is easy to imagine, then, the brother of the French king firing off a pompous and high-handed missive to the Greek emperor before departing for the East.

Alexius must have viewed Hugh’s letter not so much as a sign of Frankish pretension but as part of an ongoing crisis. By the time it arrived, he had already received the armies of Walter and Peter at Constantinople. He would have also had to deal with the crises created by Peter’s followers near Belgrade and afterward at Nish. Finally, Alexius would have heard how King Coloman, because of the Franks’ boorish and brutal conduct, had decided to forbid them from entering his domain. Alexius’s own subjects, already overburdened with the massive armies of Peter and Walter and equally aware of the chaos engulfing Hungary, were likely ready to take a similar stand against Hugh—even without knowing that while passing through Italy, Hugh had welcomed into his army some of the most erratic and violent members of Emicho’s following.

As soon as Hugh reached Bari in early October, he sent ahead a party of envoys to the Byzantine port of Durazzo to announce his imminent arrival. Accompanying this diplomatic group, unaccountably, was William the Carpenter. At Durazzo, according to Anna Comnena, the Franks repeated the veiled threats of Hugh’s earlier letter, backed up this time by Urban II’s endorsement: “Be it known to you, Duke, that our Lord Hugh is almost here. He brings with him from Rome the golden standard of St. Peter. Understand, moreover, that he is supreme commander of the Frankish army. See to it then that he is accorded a reception worthy of his rank and yourself prepare to meet him.”

Hugh arrived at Durazzo a few days later, after, according to one source, his ship nearly sank during a treacherous crossing of the Adriatic. Envoys from Durazzo’s Byzantine governor met up with him, on the beach and still reeling from the voyage, and escorted him into the city. There he was greeted warmly and feted in a manner appropriate to his station. The following morning, after the Franks had had a good night’s sleep, the Greeks placed Hugh and his men under arrest and escorted them under close supervision all the way to Constantinople.

At about the same time as Hugh was preparing to cross the Adriatic, the two princes from northern France, Robert of Normandy and his cousin Robert of Flanders, were still readying their followers for the long journey east. Sometime in mid-October 1096, probably at Chartres, their two armies rendezvoused with Robert of Normandy’s cousin, Stephen of Blois, a wealthy and prominent count who had also decided to take the cross.

Stephen’s army included a chaplain named Fulcher of Chartres, not a warrior or, in the conventional sense, a person of any significance, but in terms of history one of the most important of all crusaders. Fulcher, a somewhat officious man, had not only attended the Council of Clermont but had also jotted down notes about its more important decrees (though, curiously, he failed to mention Jerusalem in connection with Urban II’s sermon). When he left with the French armies that October, he probably continued his record-keeping habits, or at least he made careful note in his own memory of the things he saw. At some later date, probably starting around 1102, he began to arrange these notes and memories more coherently in a book that he would revise often, entitled The Jerusalem History.

His description of the atmosphere around Chartres at the time of the Franks’ departure was suitably vivid: “At that time a husband would tell his wife when he expected to return, and that if God permitted life to be a companion to him on the journey, he would come back to his homeland and to her. He commended her to the Lord, and he kissed her, and as they cried, he promised that he would return. But she feared that she would never see him again and was unable to hold herself up and fell to the ground lifeless, sobbing for her friend who left her, now alive but seemingly already dead.” Crusaders may have expected a hundredfold return on their labors, but the immediate sacrifice and loss were no less daunting because of it.

By October the French armies had crossed over into Italy. Along the way they stopped at Lucca, where Urban II himself received them. It was the first time most of the soldiers had laid eyes on the pope. It was also very likely the only opportunity Urban had to preach directly to an army of crusaders, though there is no evidence that he did so. Fulcher observed only that the pope spoke individually or in groups with several of the pilgrims (including Fulcher) and then gave the army as a whole his blessing.

From there the Franks marched down the coast to Rome, hoping to pray at St. Peter’s. Unfortunately, the supporters of the antipope Clement III still controlled most of the basilica and were hostile to Urban’s loyalists. When the pilgrims entered the Vatican unarmed to pray, a few of Clement’s men threatened them with swords and stole their offerings. When the Franks knelt before the altars, Clement’s followers dropped rocks on their heads. The experience proved dispiriting enough for many of the crusaders that they decided to return home—victims of cowardice, according to Fulcher. More likely the grandeur of the papal vision, of which they would have at least had a taste at Lucca, clashed too sharply with the tawdry reality of Roman politics.

Toward the end of November, the armies finally arrived at Bari. As they would have quickly learned, they were the third major crusading host to pass through this port, seeking transportation to Durazzo. Hugh the Great had sailed about six weeks before Stephen and the two Roberts, and Bohemond—having just delivered the rousing sermon that reached a crescendo with him cutting up his own cloak into crosses—had probably left about a month after Hugh. It was probably rumor of Hugh’s army that inspired Bohemond to abandon his uncle at Amalfi and prepare to attack Jerusalem instead.

Once in Bari, the Franks would have gone at once to pray before the recently erected shrine of St. Nicholas, whose bones Italian adventurers claimed to have stolen from Asia Minor during the chaos that had followed upon the Seljuk Turks’ expansion into that territory. They likely prayed for favorable winds and a quick crossing. If so, Nicholas did not listen. The winter seas had begun to turn ugly, and Robert of Normandy and Stephen both agreed that it would be wiser not to test them and instead to set camp in Italy until spring. Robert of Flanders, however, was impatient. He successfully led his army across the Adriatic to Durazzo. There is no record of how he fared upon arrival, but presumably he received the same strained welcome as Hugh the Great had before him.

As for Bohemond, he was too familiar with Alexius’s strategies to fall so easily into his hands. To avoid the emperor’s traps, he arranged for his army to land at different points along the Adriatic coast and then to meet up on All Saints’ Day, November 1, at the port city of Valona (Vlorë, in modern Albania). On his best behavior, Bohemond instructed his men not to plunder the country where they had arrived, since it belonged to Christians, and not to claim more food than they needed. These rules were necessarily flexible. On Christmas Day, when the Byzantine town of Castoria refused to open its markets for the crusaders, Bohemond granted his men permission to plunder the countryside. And when, around New Year’s, they stumbled upon what they took to be a castle full of heretics, they burned it to the ground and killed everyone inside.

This was all part of a drawn-out, slow, even leisurely four-month-long march to Constantinople. It was a kind of “purposeful procrastination,” as a recent historian has phrased it, where Bohemond tried to make contact with other crusade leaders to propose to them an idea: that they begin their expedition with an attack on Constantinople. It was not as mad an idea as it now sounds. Bohemond was a veteran leader in the Norman wars against Alexius and had previously defeated the emperor in battle. Growing up, he had learned to think of himself as a potential Byzantine emperor. The crusade potentially gave him his chance. He only succeeded, however, in reaching Godfrey of Bouillon, who had arrived at Constantinople at about the same time Bohemond was looting around Castoria. The Lotharingian duke politely refused the invitation.

Godfrey himself had left his homeland at the head of an army of “illustrious princes,” according to Albert of Aachen—though most of these princes were related to Godfrey or else were members of his household. Most notable among them was Godfrey’s younger brother Baldwin (his older brother Eustace, Count of Boulogne, as noted earlier, had departed with Robert of Flanders). They set forth around August 15, the semiofficial departure date and also at about the same time as Hugh the Great left France. Like the armies of Peter and Emicho, they followed the pilgrims’ route through Hungary. But as they approached the German-Hungarian frontier, they met up with an alarming number of refugees from Emicho’s and Gottschalk’s armies, who told them how Coloman had betrayed their trust and how the Hungarians had closed all their markets and had refused them any hospitality. Godfrey wisely set camp on the Austrian side of the Leitha River and tried to discover the truth behind the stories.

Three weeks of tense negotiations followed. First Godfrey sent a small and undistinguished delegation to meet with Coloman. It included a knight named Godfrey of Esch, who had met Coloman in the past. Each side aired its complaints over the course of eight days, before Coloman allowed the envoys to return with an invitation to Godfrey that they meet together near one of his castles, called Sopron. Godfrey agreed, and at the advice of his men traveled there with three hundred soldiers. Leaving the main part of his army to mill about, he crossed a bridge with only two relatives to accompany him and walked into a marsh, where he found the king of Hungary awaiting.

They sat together for hours and talked about friendship, peace, and love. Each man, king and duke, decided that he found the other to be sincere in his affections. But Godfrey still had more negotiating to do if he were to achieve a satisfactory accord. At no small risk, he walked back across the bridge and dismissed all but twelve of his three hundred followers and then, with this much smaller group, entered yet another of Coloman’s castles. Negotiations and feasting continued for another eight days.

Finally, as the end of September neared, a deal was struck: Coloman would open his kingdom to the Lotharingians provided that they agreed to keep the peace and to respect Hungary’s markets and properties and also provided that Godfrey offered Coloman hostages of sufficient importance. Godfrey agreed to these terms and turned over to the king as hostages his brother Baldwin, Baldwin’s wife, and their household. Each side sent out heralds to proclaim the terms of the agreement. The penalty for even the slightest violation of the peace was death.20

Through this combination of diplomacy and fierce discipline, Godfrey steered his army through Hungary. Soldiers of the king shadowed his every step and effectively held his brother and his brother’s family prisoner—very similar to the treatment Hugh the Great received at Durazzo from Alexius. After three weeks, around October 15, Godfrey’s army reached Zemun, plundered just four months earlier by Peter the Hermit. They rested there for five days, in part because they heard that their diplomatic situation was unlikely to improve once they reached Byzantium.

The crossing of the Sava River to Belgrade thus became something of a preemptive military operation. Approximately one thousand soldiers managed to fit into only three ships and to establish a defensive line against any potential Greek attackers. The rest of the army, like many of Peter’s followers before them, used makeshift rafts constructed of timber and vines to cross safely. The operation proceeded without incident, and once all of the Lotharingians were across the Sava and outside of Hungarian lands, Coloman released Baldwin and his family from captivity and sent them to the other side of the Sava, too.

The next day, just as Godfrey’s army was entering “the vast and mysterious woods of the kingdom of Bulgaria,” envoys from Alexius met up with them and proposed yet another truce. Provided that, again, Godfrey respected the peace of the empire, Alexius would allow his army free passage and access to markets. At the city of Nish, where Peter the Hermit had lost nearly one-quarter of his army, the governor Nicetas now offered to the Lotharingians a generous gift of grain, wine, oil, and meat. The cities of Sophia and Philippopolis did much the same.

It was at Philippopolis, however, after an eight-day rest (where the soldiers might have occupied themselves visiting the first crusader shrine—the tomb of Walter of Poissy), that relations with Byzantium suddenly soured. A messenger arrived (it is unclear from whom) announcing that Alexius was holding as hostages and, rumor had it, in chains Hugh the Great, Drogo of Nesle, Clarembald of Vendeuil, and William the Carpenter. Perhaps this was honorable captivity, akin to what Baldwin had received from Coloman. There was also something like an expectation that Godfrey would join his fellow leaders in Constantinople. Instead, he stopped his advance and sent envoys to Alexius, demanding the captives’ release. (Two other leaders in Godfrey’s army rode ahead of the delegation, hoping to win a few last-minute presents from the emperor before the truce fell completely apart.) When Alexius refused this demand, Godfrey ordered his men to start plundering.

They did so for eight days. Alexius relented. Two new messengers reached Godfrey, promising that Alexius would release the prisoners provided the Lotharingians stopped ravaging the countryside. Godfrey ordered his men to cease their attacks and then moved camp up to the outskirts of Constantinople. Hugh, Drogo, Clarembald, and William were waiting to meet him, in the shadow of the city’s great walls and its golden domes, intimidating in their splendor. The former prisoners and the duke rejoiced at their newfound fellowship, embracing and kissing one another. Peace was, for a time, restored. But when messengers arrived from Bohemond a few days later and offered to make all-out war against Alexius, Godfrey must have been sorely tempted.

The final army to leave for the Holy Land was the first one that Urban II had recruited—the southern French. Though no one knows the exact numbers, it was the largest of the princely armies, a fact explained in part by the amount of time Urban II had spent recruiting in this area. Equally important was Raymond of Saint-Gilles’s extraordinary wealth, which enabled him to finance a much larger army than any of the other princes could. Theoretically attached to the French crown, Raymond’s Occitan—or as they are more often known, “Provençal”—followers would have formed a distinct cultural and linguistic group within the main army. One feature in particular would have immediately distinguished these Provençals from their fellow crusaders: the unusually large number of poor men and women who chose to follow in their wake. The care of these indigent pilgrims, as we shall see, Count Raymond took very seriously.

Before leaving Occitania, Count Raymond attended to his spiritual obligations, trying to resolve conflicts throughout his principality, including one of his own property disputes with the abbey of Saint-Gilles. As a final step toward putting his spiritual house in order, he arranged to have a candle left on the altar in the cathedral of le Puy, with a flame burning there before an image of the Blessed Virgin (likely the black statue of the Madonna, a replica of which sits in the cathedral today) as long as he should live. Perhaps because of the great care with which he approached these financial and spiritual obligations, his armies did not manage to leave until near the end of September, if not early October, well after Urban II’s mid-August goal.

In addition to a number of Provençal princes and castellans, Raymond’s army included several distinguished churchmen—most notably, papal legate Bishop Adhémar of le Puy and Bishop William of Orange. In the long run, however, the most important and influential among them was an obscure cleric named Raymond of Aguilers, ordained a priest during the course of the march. This Raymond was a chaplain within the household of Count Raymond, and he had served some minor role in drawing up plans for the departure. By the time the armies had arrived in Anatolia, as Constantinople neared, he certainly had a clear sense of what the crusade ought to be about, and he worried constantly that the army was losing its direction or else that deserters who had returned to the West were spreading lies about what was going on in the East. He wanted to make sure not only that the crusade succeeded, but also that his vision of the crusade prevailed. As often happened in the Middle Ages, he sought to control history by writing it. Probably realizing that his word alone would carry little weight, he recruited a knight named Pons of Balazun to help him with the project. And at some point during the march, certainly by the fall of 1098, like Fulcher of Chartres, they began writing a book, which is today simply called The Book of Raymond of Aguilers.

It begins in the middle of things. Passing over the early stages of the march, where the Provençals skirted across northern Italy, Raymond opened his story with the army already in Dalmatia, or “Sclavonia,” as he preferred to call it, a semiautonomous kingdom under the protection of the Byzantine Empire. Its land was, in Raymond’s description, mountainous and devoid of all sustenance, and its natives were a barbarous and ignorant people. When the Slavs’ harassment of the Provençals grew unbearable, Count Raymond ordered six of them captured and then had their eyes gouged out and their hands and feet cut off. Upon his command, they were left alive in public view, a warning of the consequences to be faced by those who would bedevil Christians. It was also a perfect example of the kind of rough justice characteristic of Christian lords in eleventh-century Europe—composed of small-scale acts of brutality intended to intimidate and subdue a potentially rebellious population. For Raymond the writer, the mutilations in Dalmatia were among Count Raymond’s outstanding deeds, a shrewd tactic that made the final forty days in that wilderness pass in relative peace.

By February 1, 1096, the Provençals entered into Byzantine territory at last, walking to the port city of Durazzo, where previously the northern Franks and southern Italians had arrived by sea. As soon as Raymond’s men reached the city, Alexius began applying to them the same treatment he had given to the earlier armies. His envoys presented Raymond with letters of safe conduct but at the same time established armies to shadow them and—perhaps deliberately, perhaps owing to misunderstanding—engage them in small skirmishes. These encounters could be deadly. Early on Greek soldiers killed a knight named Pons Rainaud. Later in February Bishop Adhémar of le Puy himself was attacked. As the army entered “the valley of Pelagonia,” Adhémar rode off alone on a mule, apparently looking for a congenial place to set camp. A group of Pecheneg soldiers or brigands (in the frontier regions of Macedonia, the distinction would have been a fine one) suddenly fell upon him, hit him sharply on the head, and knocked him off his mule. As much as the dazed Adhémar could later reconstruct things, most of the Pechenegs were ready to kill him, but one of them sensed that the bishop had access to more money than he was carrying. This brigand tried to stop his companions from killing Adhémar so that he might interrogate him, and in the process they all made enough noise to alert the rest of the army that the bishop was in danger. A group of Provençal soldiers quickly rode to his rescue.

This turn of events caused Count Raymond to take a more aggressive strategy against the emperor. Near a castle called Bucinat, he set an ambush for Pecheneg soldiers and routed them all. About a month later, around April 12, 1097, when the town of Roussa refused him supplies, he ordered an attack. His soldiers quickly broke down the walls, accepted the citizens’ surrender, and then stole much of their wealth. As the crusaders marched away, they shouted Count Raymond’s war cry: “Toulouse! Toulouse!” To all appearances, the Provençals were at war with the Greeks. Again, the crusade was turning into a war of Christians against Christians.

But at about this time more messengers from Constantinople arrived, along with envoys that Raymond himself had dispatched, carrying with them further promises of peace from Alexius. This time they carried news, too. The emperor was hosting at his palace Bohemond, Godfrey of Bouillon, and Robert of Flanders, among other princes. He was no longer keeping them prisoner; he was discussing with them whether to join the Latin army on the road to Jerusalem.

Important decisions were thus being made about the organization and financing of the crusade army. Raymond’s presence was required if he did not wish losing, despite his wealth and his great number of followers, control of the crusade. Setting aside his grievances, he departed with a small escort, leaving the rest of his army to complete the journey to Constantinople without him. Up until this point, chaplain and writer Raymond observed, his tale had been pleasant to tell. But from the moment that Raymond left for Constantinople, the story became suffused with grief and anguish. The thought of Alexius made the chaplain regret ever having taken up his pen.

Vercingetorix’s Army I

‘In Gaul there are factions not only in all the states, and in all the cantons and their divisions, but almost in each family, and of these factions those are the leaders who are considered according to their judgment to possess the greatest influence, upon whose will and determination the management of all affairs and measures depends. And that seems to have been instituted in ancient times with this view, that no one of the common people should be in want of support against one more powerful; for none [of those leaders] suffers his party to be oppressed and defrauded, and if he do otherwise, he has no influence among his party. This same policy exists throughout the whole of Gaul; for all the states are divided into two factions.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VI. 11]

When we try to understand the form of Vercingetorix’s army, we are faced with a number of problems. Documentary records provide some descriptions, but not even Caesar describes Vercingetorix’s army in detail. On the whole, the information sources for Gallic society and warfare are problematic: they mainly come from ancient authors who rarely provide us with the type of perspective we require to place the Gauls correctly in context. Often the sources themselves are not first-hand, being repetitions of other authors or uncritical retellings of travellers’ stories. However, Caesar’s Gallic War, along with other ancient sources, provides us with some useful descriptions of the Gallic peoples, although we must be wary of accepting his descriptions in too unquestioning a manner.

Caesar had his own reasons for writing his works: they promoted his image and presented Roman actions positively. In addition, Caesar gained much of his information on the battlefield or in the political arena – hardly the place to discover the nuances of a nation’s culture. And so, like other authors before him, he resorted to using previous works to fill in the gaps of his experience. The physical appearance of ‘Celts’ given by Caesar matches authors such as Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny. These all focus on the remarkable aspects of the Celtic appearance that were unusual to Mediterranean eyes: fair skin, hair and blue eyes. The descriptions of Gauls are often derived from those peoples closest to Roman provinces and show little of the range and complexity of the Celtic societies further away. By portraying the Gauls as ‘barbarians’, the Romans could focus attention on certain Gallic attributes for their own purposes, sometimes to contrast how well the Romans behaved, sometimes to show how badly. There was a certain contradiction in this, as the Romans sometimes ridiculed behaviour in the Gauls that the Romans themselves engaged in.

‘These [nobles], when there is occasion and any war occurs (which before Caesar’s arrival was for the most part wont to happen every year …), are all engaged in war. And those of them most distinguished by birth and resources have the greatest number of vassals and dependants about them. They acknowledge this sort of influence and power only.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VI. 15]

Vercingetorix’s army was based on the ad hoc accumulation of willing participants organized along tribal lines, in contrast to the Roman army’s formal standing armies with strict military structures. One way to understand how Vercingetorix’s army functioned, therefore, is to understand the structure of wider Gallic society. A problem when attempting to reconstruct Vercingetorix’s army in this context is the fact that Gallic society had little homogeneity. At the time of Caesar’s invasion, Gallic culture was still rooted in prehistoric religious and tribal customs, which differed from tribe to tribe. The role of the ‘king’ is a good example. It sometimes commingled the role of leader with that of high priest. In many tribes, however, attempts were made to keep these two roles separate. Religion still played a dominant role in Gallic life and priests took the role of wise arbitrators seriously, attempting to balance military and civilian leadership by halting the unrestrained power of either. By Caesar’s invasion, kingship in some tribes was starting to be replaced by elected positions, much like the process that had happened previously in classical Mediterranean civilizations. The Aedui (whose capital at Bibracte was used as the focal point of the Alesia Campaign) seem to have been one of the most advanced along this process, although many other tribes were also developing similar mechanisms. At the time of the Alesia Campaign the Aedui had developed a constitution and had an elected magistrate called a vergobret, who functioned in the role of king. Separate from this civilian magistracy there was also a growing military magistracy. In charge of these was a military chieftain – a role that separated the military and political functions of the leaders, thus preventing the concentration of power in a single person’s hands. A larger group formed solely from the nobility of the villages formed a ‘senate’ that would decide the grander fate of the tribe as a whole, such as whether it went to war or the election of magistrates. Nobles tended to come from kin groups with a long history of noble or renowned ancestors and marriage between these noble families helped maintain their status. Vercingetorix’s attempt to unify Gaul was therefore seen by some Gauls as an attempt to circumvent the new structures and revive a system of hereditary kings that would place him foremost.

‘the commonality is held almost in the condition of slaves, and dares to undertake nothing of itself and is admitted to no deliberation. The greater part, when they are pressed either by debt, or the large amount of their tributes, or the oppression of the more powerful, give themselves up in vassalage to the nobles, who possess over them the same rights without exception as masters over their slaves.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VI. 13]

Although social divisions were clearly demarcated, the struggle for power within these groups was inevitable. Even within noble families, members would compete with each other for support in order to gain supremacy. However, Gallic clientage was where the real social power was held and this was based on how many supporters an individual could accumulate. This system enabled wealthy chieftains to extend their control over large numbers of followers with little regard to social standing, tribal boundaries or definitions. Honour was a major feature of this relationship and this meant commoners had to be protected by their leaders. If they failed, they lost their honour and also their clients. This was a mutually beneficial system whereby wealthy individuals would protect their ‘clients’ and, in return, would be supported by them. Caesar makes note of this system, describing it as an ancient Gallic custom, but it was also very similar to Roman practice. So long as a leader could guarantee support and protection to his clients he would be maintained as leader. These social distinctions exhibited in the political system were apparent in the military system. At Alesia, the tribal leaders used this relationship to gather bands of warriors, calling upon those who owed them allegiance.

The Gallic tribes, like all ‘Celtic’ peoples, had a society based on warrior ideals. War was not only seen as destructive, but also productive. The necessary hierarchies required for military combat reinforced the social ties and structures they were formed from. In order to fight, a Gaul had to have achieved puberty and be wealthy enough to own his own arms. This mechanism guaranteed that each warrior had a stake in the successful outcome of the battle. At the top of the social pyramid was the military chieftain, a post that was annually elected and maintained only a controlling position over the ‘armed council’ that decided matters of warfare. These were made up of the nobility, who held the most prestigious place in battle, due in part to their ability to furnish themselves with both horse and complete panoply of the best quality armour. At the bottom were various levels of commoners who were mainly consigned to the ranks of the infantry, although they were not confined to that status – the possibility was always open to them to improve their position. In times of social upheaval it was not unknown for commoners to be a central part of societal transformation. Commoners retained their rights as freemen, whether they were well off and landed or part of the underclass. On the other hand, slaves were non-citizens with no rights. Often either captured or bought outsiders, their role was servile. Although their position could be changed and their lowly status was not always passed on to their offspring, only in extremis were slaves allowed to fight.

At the outset of hostilities the council called together an assembly of all the warriors, usually at a central place in the tribal region. During the Alesia Campaign, the hill fort at Bibracte was used as the focal centre, not only for the Aedui tribe, but also for the whole of the rebellious tribes of Gaul. With all of the available warriors armed and drawn together, the armed council could assess the state of readiness of the army.

These events could also be an opportunity for intertribal competition through the display of prowess and equipment, showing their readiness and willingness for war. Weapons were not only used for war but also could signify an individual’s status within society. The type of weapon a warrior had and how elaborate or decorated it was influenced how others interacted with him.

‘The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they … who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of another man the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VI. 16]

Before battle it was not uncommon for rites and rituals to be performed and augurs to divine the fate of the battle. The Gauls had a range of gods forming an organized system of belief, depending on tribal preference. Many of the Gallic gods were directly associated with sky gods, the war god being one of the greatest. Usually the war god also had a male and female appearance and these often had positive and negative characteristics, which manifested as constructive or destructive traits. By the Roman invasion of 58BC, the Roman and Gallic gods were very similar in general terms, showing something of their shared Indo-European origins. After the assimilation of Gaul into the Roman Empire, these shared origins led to the relatively easy incorporation of the Gallic gods within the Roman pantheon.

‘Mars presides over wars. To him when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place. In many states you may see piles of these things heaped up in their consecrated spots; nor does it often happen that any one, disregarding the sanctity of the case, dares either to secrete in his house things captured, or take away those deposited; and the most severe punishment, with torture, has been established for such a deed.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VI. 17]

Particularly common war gods were Teuates, Esus and Taranis; these gods usually had a physical manifestation, particularly on the battlefield.

War gods also tended to be bloodthirsty and some writers suggest that they were only appeased with human sacrifice. Examples of such sacrifices were the drowning of a man in a tub to appease Teuates, hanging a man from a tree and pulling him to pieces to encourage Esus and encasing several people in a hollow tree and burning them to satisfy Taranis. Rites attributed to war gods often focused on the ritual deposition of war booty and sacrifice of captives.

‘According to their natural cruelty, they are impious in the worship of their gods; for malefactors, after that they have been kept close prisoners five years together, they impale upon stakes, in honour to the gods, and then, with many other victims, upon a vast pile of wood, they offer them up as a burnt sacrifice to their deities. In like manner they use their captives also, as sacrifices to the gods. Some of them cut the throats, burn, or otherwise destroy both men and beasts that they have taken in time of war.’

[Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library, II]

Vercingetorix’s Army II

Gallic gods were worshipped in religious sanctuaries often cut off from the outside world by large walls and ditches filled with ritual offerings. At Beauvais and Amiens, enclosures have been found with 30–50m-long sides surrounded by palisades, ditches and banks. A wooden temple in the centre of the enclosure was decorated with paintings, sculptures and weapons. Caesar and Livy both suggest that temples were used to display human and animal trophies of war until they decomposed and then were ritually destroyed in enclosure ditches. Animal bone and human sacrifice have also been discovered in these enclosure ditches. One of the largest was at Ribemont-sur-Ancre in the Somme, where remnants of over a thousand individuals aged between fifteen and twenty years old were found. They were probably sacrificed, possibly to war gods, and their bones were stacked criss-cross in a pile.

‘They [the druids] wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valour, the fear of death being disregarded.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VI. 14]

This treatment was not confined to sacrificial victims. Warriors also were given sacrificial treatment. Community ossuaries are known, where dismembered bodies were laid on the ground and skulls detached and treated ritually. These practices may be connected with cult practices and much of the skeletons show evidence of wounds that do not suggest a natural death. One ancient author, Nicander of Colophon, noted that the Celts practised a form of divination at tombs of dead warriors. In the south of France, a whole range of stone sculptures from sanctuaries reveals that the development of a hero cult was widespread in the centuries before the Roman invasion. Entremont, Roquepertuse and Glanum, all in Provence, are some of the best known Celtic sanctuaries in the world, due mainly to the cult of the head found at these places. Headhunting seems to have occupied a curious place in Gallic religion, and commonly occurs in art as carved stone severed heads with half closed eyes. There are historic accounts of how Gauls collected human heads and hung them from their horse’s necks or nailed them up as trophies. An explanation has yet to be found for the practice, although the cult must be linked with the concept of the spirit residing in the head and may even be linked to the ritual wearing of a torc necklace.

‘Their hair was of gold, their clothing was of gold and light stripes brightened their cloaks. Their milk-white necks had gold collars around them, a pair of Alpine spears glinted in each warrior’s hands, and their bodies were protected by tall shields.’

[Virgil, Aeneid, VIII. 659–62]

Certain warriors would wear chunky neck rings called torcs, usually made of gold or bronze and very rarely of silver, and these would reflect the noble status of the individual. Torcs represented the epitome of the Celtic craftsman’s skill and are well represented in Gallic and Classical art. After the Gallic Wars, many torcs were taken from the defeated warriors. In the Roman military torcs came to be used as a symbol of rank and achievement, finally being incorporated into the military decorations of the Roman army. Clearly the torc was a significant part of the Gallic warrior’s dress. So important, in fact, that some Gallic warriors wore only the torc. For religious reasons these warriors, called gaesatae, went to war naked. However, it is unlikely gaesatae were present at Alesia because Caesar would have mentioned them given their specific religious connections and unusual appearance.

‘For they [the Gauls] were most excellent fighters on horseback, and were thought to be specially superior as such …’

[Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, 6]

In ancient sources the Gauls were famed for their excellence as cavalry and the quality of their horses. It is likely that they carried small shields, in either geometric shapes or simply round. Although the cavalry wore no clothing specific to their rank, we can assume that their higher status meant that their equipment was of better quality. Excavation at Alesia has revealed the advanced nature of Gallic horsemanship. Two types of horse bit were found, one a simple snaffle-bit of a common form used across Europe at the time. The other, a complex curb bit, is a form invented by the Celts only a hundred years before the Battle of Alesia and would have given the rider complete command of the horse with one hand. The Gauls were also credited with inventing spurs, although of the six spurs originally discovered at Alesia only two remain, one of iron and one of bronze. The Gauls were also notable for having developed an ingenious form of saddle, one reason for their renowned cavalry skills. Unfortunately no saddle remains have been discovered at Alesia, but contemporary examples show they had four pommels that held the rider on the horse without the need for stirrups.

‘The Gauls are tall, with moist white flesh; their hair is not only naturally blond, but they also make artificial efforts to lighten its colour by washing it frequently in lime water. They pull it back from the top of the head to the nape of the neck … thanks to this treatment their hair thickens until it is just like a horse’s mane. Some shave their beards, others let them grow moderately; nobles keep their cheeks clean shaven but let their moustaches grow long until they cover their mouths … they wear amazing clothes: tunics dyed in every colour and trousers that they call bracae [breeches]. Their pinstriped clothes in winter and light material in summer, decorated with small, densely packed, multicoloured squares.’

[Diodorus Siculus, World History, V. 28. 30]

This description from a Roman source gives a general likeness of the Gallic men. Some of these characteristic features are mentioned by other authors and so are likely to be applicable to Vercingetorix’s army as a whole. Long hair seems to feature strongly, often as a wild swept-back mane or lime washed and drawn into a horse-like mane. Likewise, with this long hair comes a long curving moustache, often covering the mouth and sometimes with a small beard. In the main, the Gallic warrior’s dress was similar to peoples across northern Europe at the time, consisting of tight breeches with a long shirt with sleeves, and slits on the sides to help movement. Light cloaks were also worn, sometimes fastened by bronze brooches with elaborate decoration and coral or enamel inlay. Clothing was usually manufactured from woven wool and when different dyed wools were used this would produce attractive multicoloured plaid or striped patterns. This could be enhanced with embroidery and belts with gold and silver ornamentation. In wartime the wealthier members of Gallic society would have worn coats of mail. Unfortunately, not even the smallest scrap of mail has been recovered from Alesia, although a number of mail coat fasteners have been recovered, confirming they were in use, no doubt this was because of their high value.

‘Meanwhile the King of the Gauls espied him, and judging from his insignia that he was the commander, rode far out in front of the rest and confronted him, shouting challenges and brandishing his spear. His stature exceeded that of the other Gauls, and he was conspicuous for a suit of armour which was set off with gold and silver and bright colours and all sorts of embroideries; it gleamed like lightning.’

[Plutarch, The Parallel Lives 7]

Weapons found at Alesia provide us with excellent examples of late La Tène (first century BC) metalwork. Unfortunately, the location of the weapons recovered from Alesia were not recorded to modern standards, being simple lists attributed to ditches without any complex stratigraphic analysis. However, on the basis of coin dates, from more recent excavation it has been shown that these ditches are contemporary with the Battle of Alesia. Regrettably, only the ironwork from the Gallic warrior’s assemblage of equipment survives, as the wood and leather has long since decomposed in the moist soils. Nonetheless, taken as a whole, the weapons provide a useful cross-section of the iron weapons used at Alesia.

‘These are the creatures who assail you with such terrible shouts in battle, and clash their arms and shake their long swords and toss their hair.’

[Appian, History of Rome: Gallic Wars]

The ideal Gallic warriors were, above all, swordsmen. Their swords were long, often close to a metre in length, and were not used for thrusting but for a slashing style of fighting. The ferocity of these assaults meant that Roman legionaries had to be trained to overcome the fear that these wild charges created. By the late La Tène period swords were becoming shorter than they had been in the past, but swords as long as 0.75m were common. These longer blades have been attributed to the cavalry, but this is not necessarily the case as earlier Gallic swords had much longer blades. The Gallic peoples liked elaborate metalwork, and so swords and scabbards have been found with ornate patterned and inlaid designs. At Alesia, twenty-one swords have been found, in some cases still in their original sheaths. In general, these swords are typical of other European examples from the late La Tène period. The swords have blades with either rounded or pointed tips, with the wider examples having acid-etched decorations on them. Examples of sheaths show they originally had oval U-shaped fittings on one side, for attachment via straps to the belt. There they would be worn on the right hip. These belts could be made of linked iron rings or loops, but more commonly would be simple leather straps. Sword handles were wooden and so now are lost, but their bent W-shaped guards still occur, usually made of iron, but sometimes made of bronze. The parts of twenty-one swords found at Alesia present a broad spectrum of sword evolution, indicating they were in use over a long period of time, perhaps representing their prior use as heirlooms or the desperate use of any weapon available, even if it was old and damaged. Remarkably, two more unusual types of sword were uncovered deliberately intertwined with a sword sheath and buried in a ditch. This behaviour hints at possible ritualistic practices that were carried out after the battle, the ditches of the circumvallation perhaps being seen in Gallic eyes as enclosure ditches around the sanctuary of Alesia, a place where so many Gauls had sacrificed themselves.

‘[The Gauls] … wear bronze helmets with large projecting figures which give the wearer the appearance of enormous size. In some cases horns are attached so as to form one piece, in others foreparts of birds or quadrupeds worked in relief.’

[Diodorus Siculus, History, 30.2]

Gallic helmets came in a variety of forms, from simple bronze bowls to elaborately decorated tall bronze helmets with coloured inlays on them. The more simple helmets were plain bronze bowls with short protruding neck guards, called ‘Montefortino’ or ‘Coolus’ types, after the place of their original identification. More elaborate versions had decorative edges and domes and cheek pieces decorated with multiple circular bosses. Sometimes the wealthiest individuals would have taller pointed domes to their helmets, enhanced with pink coral or red enamel inlays, ornately decorated horns, statuettes or horsehair plumes. None of these more elaborate helmets were discovered at Alesia, presumably because such expensive items would only be attainable by a few commanders and as such would be too valuable for Roman soldiers to leave behind. A further type of helmet was developed in the late La Tène period, which was made of iron. This ‘Agen-Port’ form of helmet became the forerunner to the imperial Gallic helmet that was popular in the Roman army for the next 200 years. Agen-Port helmets had corrugated reinforcements and wide strengthening brims. The Gallic helmets found at Alesia are of a very similar form that was widespread in Gaul. Indeed, their importance is such that they were named the ‘Alesia’ type. The inner domes of the helmets were discovered to have the remains of organic materials still adhering to their sides, indicating that leather or wool was used to pad them out. Twenty cheek pieces, some highly elaborate, suggest that some of the helmets were richly decorated and probably belonged to noble warriors. Only tribal chiefs and cavalrymen are likely to have worn these helmets.

‘[The Cimbri] … wore helmets, made to resemble the heads and jaws of wild beasts, and other strange shapes, and heightening these with plumes of feathers, they made themselves appear taller than they were. They had breastplates of iron, and white glittering shields; and for their offensive arms, every one had two darts, and when they came hand to hand, they used large and heavy swords.’

[Plutarch, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, 25]

Sculptural and archaeological evidence points to the Gauls using long wooden shields about one-half to three-quarters the length of the body. These could be oval, round or geometric in shape, with iron bosses covering the handgrip, and, more rarely, iron edging strips. Parts of shields that have been discovered suggest they were made of a tough wood like oak, about 1.2m long and 1.2cm thick at the centre, with the addition of a thick wooden spine. Roman shields of this type date to about 300 years before the first Gallic examples, so it is likely that the Gauls adopted the shield form after their invasion of Italy in the fifth century BC. It is thought that in rare cases the fronts of Gallic shields were decorated in elaborately decorated bronze sheet with inlays. Although nothing like this has been found at Alesia, this is no surprise, as richly decorated shields would have been removed as booty. Most Gallic shields of the period had either round or ‘butterfly’ bosses, made from a single piece of beaten iron. Seventeen dome-shaped shield bosses were discovered at Alesia, all conforming to these descriptions. Although the wood does not survive, the iron shield bosses, nails, edging strips and ornamentation have been discovered. The bosses are typically Gallic, occurring in a wide circular form with large attachment nails and a butterfly form with small nails. We have no evidence of the colours that shields were painted, but sculptures hint they were very ornate, which seem to match the Gallic love of intricate design as manifest in their beautiful metalwork.

‘The spears of the Gauls were not like javelins, but what the Romans called pila, four-sided, part wood and part iron, and not hard except at the pointed end.’

[Appian, History of Rome: Gallic Wars, 1]

Although the Gallic warrior is described by the ancient sources as predominantly a swordsman, for the poorer Gallic warrior the most fundamental part of his equipment was his spear. A warrior would be able to obtain a spear before a shield, sword or helmet. Spears tend to be split between the heavier forms and lighter throwing spears or javelins. The larger spears can range up to 2.5m long, the heads being almost 0.5m alone. Smaller spears are assumed to be throwing javelins. Almost 400 fragments of weapons have been found at Alesia, 140 of them being javelins and 180 being spears. The huge number of missile weapons discovered suggests that this form was the predominant weapon used at Alesia. Often the ends are bent and the edges are damaged by cut marks. Similarities in the manufacture of these weapons mean they could be Gallic, but they could also be Roman or German in origin. This is particularly the case with the leaf-shaped blades that are 15cm to 30cm in length. The larger acid-etched and wavy bladed spears are probably Gallic, although some of these may also be German in origin. The identifiably Gallic spears are of the long thrusting type, with a heavy median vein for strength. The concave section of the blades at the tip, along with many traces of cut marks, indicate that these weapons were used for thrusting as well as cutting. The majority of these larger blades have some form of acid etching, either circles, triangles, zigzags or lattice designs. With these decorated spearheads, comes a series of wavy edged spears, which would inflict particularly grievous wounds. Some spears also have cross guards towards their sockets. These guards led excavators working for Napoleon III to think of them as small stabbing swords. It is likely, however, that the cross guard was part of the offensive use of the spear, enabling a shield to be pulled down before the spear was thrust into its victim. As such, these are very similar to medieval spears of similar form. Pila have also been found at Alesia, and although usually attributed to Romans, some authors have suggested that they could also be of Gallic origin, as a few examples have been discovered in Gallic oppida. This is not too far-fetched, as it is known that the Germans at the time used a similar type of weapon, and so the Gauls may also have been employing related forms. The truth is that in a time of need, all forms of weaponry, whether indigenous or foreign, were put to use.

The Gauls were not famed for their archery but Caesar mentions Vercingetorix found archers for his army. Presumably these archers were made up from the lower classes of Gallic society, although their presence in the battle played a more significant role than this rank would suggest. More than forty examples of arrowheads have been recovered from Alesia, with either one or two barbs, and many can be paralleled by examples coming from other Gallic oppida. It is clear that the Gallic army also contained bands of slingers, but as yet evidence of their presence at Alesia is yet to come to light. This may be because their shot was usually simple rounded stones and so their presence elsewhere has usually only been confirmed by the occurrence of large piles of such material.