The First Crusade: The Journey to the East II

In the wake of Godfrey came Count Ralph, with fifteen thousand cavalry and foot-soldiers. He encamped with his attendant counts by the Propontis near the patriarch’s monastery; the rest he quartered as far as Sosthenium along the shore. Following Godfrey’s example he procrastinated, waiting for the arrival of those coming after him, and the emperor who dreaded it (guessing what was likely to happen) used every means, physical and psychological, to hurry them into crossing the Straits. For instance, Opus‡ was summoned – a man of noble character, unsurpassed in his knowledge of things military – and when he presented himself before the emperor he was despatched overland with other brave men to Ralph. His instructions were to force the Frank to leave for the Asian side. When it was clear that Ralph had no intention of going, but in fact adopted an insolent and quite arrogant attitude to the emperor, Opus armed himself and set his men in battle order, maybe to scare the barbarian. He thought this might persuade him to set sail. But the Celtic reaction was immediate: with his available men he accepted the challenge, ‘like a lion who rejoices when he has found a huge prey’. There and then he started a violent battle. At this moment Pegasius arrived by sea to transport them to the other side and when he saw the fight on land and the Celts throwing themselves headlong at the Roman ranks, he disembarked and himself joined in the conflict, attacking the enemy from the rear. In this fight many men were killed, but a far greater number were wounded. The survivors, under the circumstances, asked to be taken over the Straits; reflecting that if they joined Godfrey and told him of their misfortunes he might be stirred to action against the Romans, the emperor prudently granted their request; he gladly put them on ships and had them transported to the Saviour’s tomb, especially since they themselves wanted this. Friendly messages, offering great expectations, were also sent to the counts whom they were awaiting. Consequently, when they arrived, they willingly carried out his instructions. So much for Count Ralph. After him came another great contingent, a numberless heterogeneous host gathered together from almost all the Celtic lands with their leaders (kings and dukes and counts and even bishops). The emperor sent envoys to greet them as a mark of friendship and forwarded politic letters. It was typical of Alexius: he had an uncanny prevision and knew how to seize a point of vantage before his rivals. Officers appointed for this particular task were ordered to provide victuals on the journey – the pilgrims must have no excuse for complaint for any reason whatever. Meanwhile they were eagerly pressing on to the capital. One might have compared them for number to the stars of heaven or the grains of sand poured out over the shore; as they hurried towards Constantinople they were indeed ‘numerous as the leaves and flowers of spring’ (to quote Homer). For all my desire to name their leaders, I prefer not to do so. The words fail me, partly through my inability to make the barbaric sounds – they are so unpronounceable – and partly because I recoil before their great numbers. In any case, why should I try to list the names of so enormous a multitude, when even their contemporaries became indifferent at the sight of them? When they did finally arrive in the capital, on the emperor’s orders they established their troops near the monastery of St Cosmas and St Damian. It was not nine heralds, after the old Greek custom, who ‘restrained them with cries’, but a considerable number of soldiers who accompanied them and persuaded them to obey the emperor’s commands. With the idea of enforcing the same oath that Godfrey had taken, Alexius invited them to visit him separately. He talked with them in private about his wishes and used the more reasonable among them as intermediaries to coerce the reluctant. When they rejected advice – they were anxiously waiting for Bohemund to come – and found ingenious methods of evasion by making new demands, he refuted their objections with no difficulty at all and harried them in a hundred ways until they were driven to take the oath. Godfrey himself was invited to cross over from Pelecanum to watch the ceremony. When all, including Godfrey, were assembled and after the oath had been sworn by every count, one nobleman dared to seat himself on the emperor’s throne. Alexius endured this without a word, knowing of old the haughty temper of the Latins, but Count Baldwin went up to the man, took him by the hand and made him rise. He gave him a severe reprimand: ‘You ought never to have done such a thing, especially after promising to be the emperor’s liege-man. Roman emperors don’t let their subjects sit with them. That’s the custom here and sworn liege-men of His Majesty should observe the customs of the country.’ The man said nothing to Baldwin, but with a bitter glance at Alexius muttered some words to himself in his own language: ‘What a peasant! He sits alone while generals like these stand beside him!’ Alexius saw his lips moving and calling one of the interpreters who understood the language asked what he had said. Being told the words he made no comment to the man at the time, but kept the remark to himself. However, when they were all taking their leave of him, he sent for the arrogant, impudent fellow and asked who he was, where he came from and what his lineage was. ‘I am a pure Frank’, he replied, ‘and of noble birth. One thing I know: at a crossroads in the country where I was born is an ancient shrine; to this anyone who wishes to engage in single combat goes, prepared to fight; there he prays to God for help and there he stays awaiting the man who will dare to answer his challenge. At that crossroads I myself have spent time, waiting and longing for the man who would fight – but there was never one who dared.’ Hearing this the emperor said, ‘If you didn’t get your fight then, when you looked for it, now you have a fine opportunity for many. But I strongly recommend you not to take up position in the rear of the army, nor in the van; stand in the centre with the hemilochitae [junior officers]. I know the enemy’s methods. I’ve had long experience of the Turk.’ The advice was not given to him alone, but as they left he warned all the others of the manifold dangers they were likely to meet on the journey. He advised them not to pursue the enemy too far, if God gave them the victory, lest falling into traps set by the Turkish leaders they should be massacred.

The role of Bohemund on crusade proved to be most controversial. For the laudatory author of the Gesta Francorum, Bohemund was a hero traduced and betrayed by an unscrupulous and treacherous Emperor Alexius. In what is almost a mirror image, Anna Comnena’s apologia for her father’s policy ascribed nefarious intent to Bohemund, who came to represent all that was deceitful, ambitious and dangerous about western warlords. In the trading of blame and exoneration, Bohemund’s stay at Constantinople in April 1097 became a central moment in respective demonologies and eulogies. First, the Gesta Francorum gives its account of Bohemund’s journey to and stay in Constantinople.

Then we† set out and travelled through very rich country from one village to another, and from one city to another and from one castle to another, until we came to Castoria, where we held the feast of Christmas and stayed for some days trying to buy provisions, but the inhabitants would sell us none, because they were much afraid of us, taking us to be no pilgrims but plunderers come to lay waste the land and to kill them. So we seized oxen, horses and asses, and anything else we could find, and leaving Castoria we went into Monastir where there was a castle of heretics. We attacked this place from all sides and it soon fell into our hands, so we set fire to it and burnt the castle and its inhabitants together. After this we reached the River Vardar, and my lord Bohemund crossed over with some of his men, but not all, for the count of Russignolo and his brothers stayed behind. The emperor’s army came up and attacked the count and his brothers and all their men, so when Tancred heard of this he went back and, diving into the river, he swam across to the others, with two thousand men following him. They found Turcopuli and Patzinaks fighting with our men, so they made a sudden and gallant attack and, since they were men of experience, they defeated the enemy and took many prisoners whom they bound and led before my lord Bohemund. He said to them, ‘You scoundrels, why do you kill Christ’s people and mine? I have no quarrel with your emperor!’ They answered, ‘We cannot do anything else. We are at the emperor’s command, and whatever he orders, that we must do.’ Bohemund let them go scot-free. This battle was fought on the fourth day of the week, which was Ash Wednesday. Blessed be God in all his works!

The wretched emperor commanded one of his own men, who was very dear to him and whom they call the kyriopalatios, to accompany our messengers so that he might guide us safely through his country until we came to Constantinople. Whenever we passed by any of their cities this man used to tell the people of the land to bring us provisions, as those whom we have mentioned before used to do. It was clear that they were so much afraid of my lord Bohemund’s strong army that they would not allow any of our men to go inside the walls of the cities. Our men wanted to attack one of the castles and take it, because it was full of goods of all kinds, but the valiant Bohemund would not allow this, for he wished to treat the country justly and to keep faith with the emperor, so he was furious with Tancred and all the others. This happened one evening, and next morning the inhabitants of the castle emerged in procession, carrying crosses in their hands, and came into the presence of Bohemund, who received them with joy and let them also go away rejoicing. After this we reached a town called Serres, where we encamped and had provisions good enough for Lent. While we were there Bohemund made an agreement with two of the kyriopalatioi, and because of his friendship with them and his desire to treat the country justly he ordered all the animals which our men had stolen and kept to be given back. Thereafter we reached the city of Rusa. The Greek inhabitants came out and approached my lord Bohemund rejoicing, bringing us plenty of provisions, so we pitched our tents there on the Wednesday in Holy Week. While we were there Bohemund left his army, and went ahead to Constantinople with a few knights to take counsel with the emperor. Tancred stayed behind with the army of Christ, and when he saw that the pilgrims were buying food he had the idea of turning aside from the road and bringing the people where they could live in plenty; so that he went into a certain valley full of all kinds of things which are good to eat, and there we kept the festival of Easter with great devotion.

When the emperor had heard that Bohemund, that most distinguished man, had come, he ordered him to be received with proper ceremony, but took care to lodge him outside the city. After Bohemund had settled in, the emperor sent to invite him to a secret conference. Duke Godfrey and his brother [Baldwin of Boulogne] were also present, and the count of St Gilles [Raymond IV, Bohemund had settled in, the emperor sent to invite him to a secret conference. Duke Godfrey and his brother [Baldwin of Boulogne] were also present, and the count of St Gilles [Raymond IV, count of Toulouse] was near the city. Then the emperor, who was troubled in mind and fairly seething with rage, was planning how to entrap these Christian knights by fraud and cunning, but by God’s grace neither he nor his men found place or time to harm them. At last all the elders of Constantinople, who were afraid of losing their country, took counsel together and devised a crafty plan of making the dukes, counts and all the leaders of our army swear an oath of fealty to the emperor. This our leaders flatly refused to do, for they said, ‘Truly, this is unworthy of us, and it seems unjust that we should swear to him any oath at all.’

Perhaps, however, we were fated to be misled often by our leaders, for what did they do in the end? They may say that they were constrained by need, and had to humble themselves willynilly to do what that abominable emperor wanted.

Now the emperor was much afraid of the gallant Bohemund, who had often chased him and his army from the battlefield, so he told Bohemund that he would give him lands beyond Antioch, fifteen days’ journey in length and eight in width, provided that he would swear fealty with free consent, and he added this promise, that if Bohemund kept his oath faithfully he would never break his own. But why did such brave and determined knights do a thing like this? It must have been because they were driven by desperate need.

The emperor for his part guaranteed good faith and security to all our men, and swore also to come with us, bringing an army and a navy, and faithfully to supply us with provisions both by land and sea, and to take care to restore all those things which we had lost. Moreover he promised that he would not cause or permit anyone to trouble or vex our pilgrims on the way to the Holy Sepulchre.

The count of St Gilles was encamped outside the city in the suburbs, and his army had stayed behind, so the emperor ordered him to do homage and swear fealty as the others had done; but when the emperor sent him this message the count was planning how to revenge himself on the imperial army. Duke Godfrey and Robert, count of Flanders, and the other leaders, however, told him that it would be improper to fight against fellow Christians, and the valiant Bohemund said that if Count Raymond did any injustice to the emperor, or refused to swear fealty to him, he himself would take the emperor’s part. Therefore the count took the advice of his friends and swore that he would respect the life and honour of Alexius, and neither destroy them nor permit anyone else to do so; but when he was asked to do homage he said that he would not, even at the peril of his life. After this my lord Bohemund’s army came up to Constantinople.

Anna Comnena describes the meeting between Norman warrior and Byzantine emperor.

Knowing that he himself was not of noble descent, with no great military following because of his lack of resources, [Bohemund] wished to win the emperor’s good will, but at the same time to conceal his own hostile intentions against him. With only ten Celts he hurried to reach the capital before the rest.† Alexius understood his schemes – he had long experience of Bohemund’s deceitful, treacherous nature – and desired to talk with him before his companions arrived; he wanted to hear what Bohemund had to say and while he still had no chance of corrupting the rest (they were not far away now) he hoped to persuade him to cross over to Asia. When Bohemund came into his presence, Alexius at once gave him a smile and enquired about his journey. Where had he left the counts? Bohemund replied frankly and to the best of his knowledge to all these questions, while the emperor politely reminded him of his daring deeds at Larissa and Dyrrhachium;‡ he also recalled Bohemund’s former hostility. ‘I was indeed an enemy and foe then,’ said Bohemund, ‘but now I come of my own free will as Your Majesty’s friend.’ Alexius talked at length with him, in a somewhat discreet way trying to discover the man’s real feelings, and when he concluded that Bohemund would be prepared to take the oath of allegiance, he said to him, ‘You are tired now from your journey. Go away and rest. Tomorrow we can discuss matters of common interest.’ Bohemund went off to the Cosmidium, where an apartment had been made ready for him and a rich table was laid full of delicacies and food of all kinds. Later the cooks brought in meat and flesh of animals and birds, uncooked. ‘The food, as you see, has been prepared by us in our customary way,’ they said, ‘but if that does not suit you here is raw meat which can be cooked in whatever way you like.’ In doing and saying this they were carrying out the emperor’s instructions. Alexius was a shrewd judge of a man’s character, cleverly reading the innermost thoughts of his heart, and knowing the spiteful, malevolent nature of Bohemund, he rightly guessed what would happen. It was in order that Bohemund might have no suspicions that he caused the uncooked meat to be set before him at the same time, and it was an excellent move. The cunning Frank not only refused to taste any of the food, but would not even touch it with his fingertips; he rejected it outright, but divided it all up among the attendants, without a hint of his own secret misgivings. It looked as if he was doing them a favour, but that was mere pretence: in reality, if one considers the matter rightly, he was mixing them a cup of death. There was no attempt to hide his treachery, for it was his habit to treat servants with utter indifference. However, he told his own cooks to prepare the raw meat in the usual Frankish way. On the next day he asked the attendants how they felt. ‘Very well,’ they replied and added that they had suffered not the slightest harm from it. At these words he revealed his hidden fear: ‘For my own part,’ he said, ‘when I remembered the wars I have fought with him, not to mention the famous battle, I was afraid he might arrange to kill me by putting a dose of poison in the food.’ Such were the actions of Bohemund. I must say I have never seen an evil man who in all his deeds and words did not depart far from the path of right; whenever a man leaves the middle course, to whatever extreme he inclines he takes his stand far from virtue. Bohemund was summoned then and required, like the others, to take the customary Latin oath. Knowing what his position was he acquiesced gladly enough, for he had neither illustrious ancestors nor great wealth (hence his forces were not strong – only a moderate number of Celtic followers). In any case Bohemund was by nature a liar. After the ceremony was over, Alexius set aside a room in the palace precincts and had the floor covered with all kinds of wealth: clothes, gold and silver coins, objects of lesser value filled the place so completely that it was impossible for anyone to walk in it. He ordered the man deputed to show Bohemund these riches to open the doors suddenly. Bohemund was amazed at the sight. ‘If I had had such wealth,’ he said, ‘I would long ago have become master of many lands.’ ‘All this’, said the man, ‘is yours today – a present from the emperor.’ Bohemund was overjoyed. After accepting the gift and thanking him for it, he went off to rest at his lodging-place. Yet when the things were brought to him, although he had expressed such admiration before, he changed. ‘I never thought I should be so insulted by the emperor,’ he said. ‘Take them away. Give them back to the sender.’ Alexius, familiar with the Latins’ characteristic moodiness, quoted a popular saying: ‘His mischief shall return upon his own head.’ Bohemund heard about this, and when he saw the servants carefully assembling the presents to carry them away, he changed his mind once more; instead of sending them off in anger he smiled on them, like a sea-polypus which transforms itself in a minute. The truth is that Bohemund was a habitual rogue, quick to react to fleeting circumstance; he far surpassed all the Latins who passed through Constantinople at that time in rascality and courage, but he was equally inferior in wealth and resources. He was the supreme mischief-maker. As for inconstancy, that followed automatically – a trait common to all Latins. It was no surprise then that he should be overjoyed to receive the money he had formerly refused. When he left his native land, he was a soured man, for he had no estates at all. Apparently he left to worship at the Holy Sepulchre, but in reality to win power for himself – or rather, if possible, to seize the Roman empire itself, as his father had suggested. He was prepared to go to any length, as they say, but a great deal of money was required. The emperor, aware of the man’s disagreeable, illnatured disposition, cleverly sought to remove everything that contributed to Bohemund’s secret plans. When therefore Bohemund demanded the office of domestic of the east, he was not granted his request; he could not ‘out-Cretan the Cretan’, for Alexius was afraid that once possessed of authority he might use it to subjugate all the other counts and thereafter convert them easily to any policy he chose. At the same time, because he did not wish Bohemund to suspect in any way that his plans were already detected, he flattered him with fine hopes. ‘The time for that is not yet ripe, but with your energy and loyalty it will not be long before you have even that honour.’ After a conversation with the Franks and after showing his friendship for them with all kinds of presents and honours, on the next day he took his seat on the imperial throne. Bohemund and the others were sent for and warned about the things likely to happen on their journey. He gave them profitable advice. They were instructed in the methods normally used by the Turks in battle; told how they should draw up a battle line, how to lay ambushes; advised not to pursue far when the enemy ran away in flight. In this way, by means of money and good advice, he did much to soften their ferocious nature. Then he proposed that they should cross the Straits. For one of them, Raymond, the count of St Gilles, Alexius had a deep affection, for several reasons: the count’s superior intellect, his untarnished reputation, the purity of his life. He knew moreover how greatly Raymond valued the truth: whatever the circumstances, he honoured truth above all else. In fact, St Gilles outshone all Latins in every quality, as the sun is brighter than the stars. It was for this that Alexius detained him for some time. Thus, when all the others had taken their leave of him and made the journey across the Straits of the Propontis to Damalium, and when he was now relieved of their troublesome presence, he sent for him on many occasions. He explained in more detail the adventures that the Latins must expect to meet with on their march; he also laid bare his own suspicions of their plans. In the course of many conversations on this subject he unreservedly opened the doors of his soul, as it were, to the count; he warned him always to be on his guard against Bohemund’s perfidy, so that if attempts were made to break the treaty he might frustrate them and in every way thwart Bohemund’s schemes. St Gilles pointed out that Bohemund inherited perjury and guile from his ancestors – it was a kind of heirloom. ‘It will be a miracle if he keeps his sworn word,’ he said. ‘As far as I am concerned, however, I will always try to the best of my ability to observe your commands.’ With that he took his leave of the emperor and went off to join the whole Celtic army. Alexius would have liked to share in the expedition against the barbarians, too, but he feared the enormous numbers of the Celts. He did think it wise, though, to move to Pelecanum. Making his permanent headquarters near Nicaea, he could obtain information about their progress and at the same time about Turkish activities outside the city, as well as about the condition of the inhabitants inside. It would be shameful, he believed, if in the mean time he did not himself win some military success. When a favourable opportunity arose, he planned to capture Nicaea himself; that would be preferable to receiving it from the Celts (according to the agreement already made with them). Nevertheless he kept the idea to himself. Whatever dispositions he made, and the reasons for them, were known to himself alone, although he did entrust this task to Butumites (his sole confidant). Butumites was instructed to suborn the barbarians in Nicaea by all kinds of guarantees and the promise of a complete amnesty, but also by holding over them the prospect of this or that retribution – even massacre – if the Celts took the city. He had long been assured of Butumites’ loyalty and he knew that in such matters he would take energetic measures. The history of the foregoing events has been set out in chronological order from the beginning.

The last to arrive at Constantinople were the forces of Duke Robert II of Normandy and his brother-in-law Count Stephen of Blois. Setting out from northern France in September or October 1096 with Count Robert II of Flanders, they travelled via Italy. While Robert of Flanders, who had old family ties with the Greek emperor, hastened across the Adriatic, Duke Robert and Count Stephen wintered in Italy before embarking for Byzantium, arriving at the imperial capital only in mid-May 1097 when most of the host had already assembled at the siege of Nicaea. With Count Stephen travelled Fulcher of Chartres who kept a careful record of the journey for inclusion in his Historia.

In the year 1096 of the Lord’s Incarnation and in the month of March following the council, which, as has been said, Pope Urban held during November in Auvergne, some who were more speedy in their preparation than others began to set out on the holy journey. Others followed in April or May, in June or in July, or even in August or September or October as they were able to secure the means to defray expenses.

In that year peace and a very great abundance of grain and wine existed in all countries by the grace of God, so that there was no lack of bread on the trip for those who had chosen to follow him with their crosses in accordance with his commands.

Since it is fitting to remember the names of the leaders of the pilgrims at that time I mention Hugh the Great, the brother of King Philip of France, the first of the heroes to cross the sea. Hugh landed with his men near Durazzo, a city in Bulgaria, but rashly advancing with a small force was captured there by the citizens and conducted to the emperor at Constantinople. Here he stayed for some time, being not entirely free.

After him Bohemund of Apulia, a son of Robert Guiscard, of the nation of the Normans, passed with his army over the same route. Next Godfrey, duke of Lorraine, travelled through Hungary with a large force. Raymond, count of the Provençals, with Goths and Gascons, and also Adhemar, bishop of Le Puy, crossed through Dalmatia.

A certain Peter the Hermit, having gathered to himself a crowd of people on foot but only a few knights, was the first to pass through Hungary. Afterwards Walter the Penniless, who was certainly a very good soldier, was the commander of these people. Later he was killed with many of his companions between Nicomedia and Nicaea by the Turks.

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