The First Crusade: The Journey to the East III

In the month of October, Robert, count [i.e. duke] of the Normans, a son of William, king of the English, began the journey, having collected a great army of Normans, English and Bretons. With him went Stephen, the noble count of Blois, his brother-in-law, and Robert, count of the Flemings, with many other nobles.

Therefore since such a multitude came from all western countries, little by little and day by day the army grew while on the march from a numberless host into a group of armies. You could see a countless number from many lands and of many languages. However, they were not gathered into a single army until we reached the city of Nicaea.

What then shall I say? The islands of the seas and all the kingdoms of the earth were so moved that one believed the prophecy of David fulfilled, who said in his psalm, ‘All the nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord’, and what those who arrived later deservedly said, ‘We shall worship in the place where His feet have stood.’ Of this journey moreover we read much more in the prophets which it would be tedious to repeat.

Oh, what grief there was! What sighs, what weeping, what lamentation among friends when husband left his wife so dear to him, his children, his possessions however great, his father and mother, brothers and other relatives!

But however many tears those remaining shed for departing friends and in their presence, none flinched from going because for love of God they were leaving all that they possessed, firmly convinced that they would receive a hundredfold what the Lord promised to those who loved him.

Then husband told wife the time he expected to return, assuring her that if by God’s grace he survived he would come back home to her. He commended her to the Lord, kissed her lingeringly, and promised her as she wept that he would return. She, though, fearing that she would never see him again, could not stand but swooned to the ground, mourning her loved one whom she was losing in this life as if he were already dead. He, however, like one who had no pity – although he had – and as if he were not moved by the tears of his wife nor the grief of any of his friends – yet secretly moved in his heart – departed with firm resolution.

Sadness was the lot of those who remained, elation, of those who departed. What then can we say further? ‘This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’

Then we western Franks crossed Gaul and travelling through Italy came to Lucca, a most famous city. Near there we met Pope Urban; and Robert the Norman, Count Stephen of Blois, and others of us who desired talked with him. After we had received his blessing we went on to Rome rejoicing.

When we entered the basilica of the blessed Peter we found the men of Guibert, that stupid pope, in front of the altar. With swords in hand they wickedly snatched the offerings placed there on the altar. Others ran along the rafters of the monastery itself and threw stones at us as we lay prostrate in prayer. For when they saw anyone faithful to Urban they straightway wished to kill him.

Moreover in one tower of the basilica were the men of the Lord Urban. They were guarding it well and faithfully and as far as possible were resisting his adversaries. For that we grieved when we saw such an outrage committed there. But we heartily desired that nothing be done except as vengeance by the Lord. Many who had come thus far with us hesitated no longer but returned to their homes, weakened by cowardice.

We, however, travelled through the middle of Campania and reached Bari, a very wealthy city situated by the side of the sea. There in the church of the blessed Nicholas we prayed fervently to God, and then we went down to the harbour hoping to cross at once. But because the seamen objected, saying that fortune was perverse and the winter season was coming, which would expose us to dangers, Count Robert of Normandy was obliged to withdraw into Calabria and spent the entire winter there. But Robert, count of Flanders, crossed with his whole force at once.

At that time many of the common people who were left [to their own resources] and who feared privation in the future sold their weapons and again took up their pilgrims’ staves, and returned home as cowards. For this reason they were regarded as despicable by God as well as by mankind, and it redounded to their shame.

In the year of our Lord 1097, with the return of spring in March, the Norman count and Count Stephen of Blois with all of his followers, for Stephen likewise had been awaiting an opportune time for the crossing, again turned towards the sea. When the fleet was ready in the nones of April which then happened to be on the holy day of Easter, they embarked at the port of Brindisi.

‘How unsearchable are the judgements of God, how inscrutable His ways!’ For among all these ships we saw one near the shore which suddenly cracked through the middle for no apparent reason. Consequently, four hundred of both sexes perished by drowning, but concerning them joyous praise at once went up to God. For when those standing round about had collected as many bodies of the dead as possible, they found crosses actually imprinted in the flesh of some of them, between the shoulders. For it was fitting that this same symbol of victory, which they had worn on their clothes while living, should remain by the will of God as a token of faith upon those thus occupied in his service. At the same time it was also proper that such a miracle should show those who witnessed it that the dead had now attained by the mercy of God the peace of eternal life. Thus it was most certainly manifest that the scriptural prophecy had been fulfilled: ‘The just, though they shall be taken prematurely by death, shall be in peace.’

Of the others now struggling with death but few survived. Their horses and mules were swallowed up by the waves, and much money was lost. At the sight of this disaster we were much afraid; so much so that many faint-hearted who had not yet embarked returned to their homes, giving up the pilgrimage and saying that never again would they entrust themselves to the treacherous sea.

We, however, relying implicitly on Almighty God, put out to sea in a very gentle breeze with sails hoisted and to the sound of many trumpets. For three days we were detained at sea by the lack of wind. On the fourth day we reached land near the city of Durazzo, about ten miles distant I judge. Our fleet entered two harbours. Then joyfully indeed we set foot on dry land and crossed over in front of the aforementioned city.

And so we passed through the lands of the Bulgars in the midst of steep mountains and desolate places. Then we all came to a swift stream called the River of the Demon by the local inhabitants and justly so. For we saw many people of the common sort perish in this river, people who hoped to wade across step by step but who were suddenly engulfed by the strong force of the current. Not one of the onlookers was able to save any of them. Wherefore we shed many tears from compassion. Many of the foot-soldiers would have lost their lives in the same manner had not the knights with their trained horses brought aid to them. Then we pitched camp near the shore and spent one night. On all sides were great mountains which were uninhabited.

At daybreak the trumpets sounded, and we began to climb the mountain which is called Bagora. After we had crossed the mountain and passed through the cities of Ochrida, Monastir, Edessa and Stella we reached a river called the Vardar. Although it was customary to cross this river only by boat we joyfully waded across with the aid of God. The following day we camped in front of the city of Thessalonica [Salonica], a city rich in goods of all kinds.

After a stop of four days we travelled across Macedonia through the valley of Philippi [Angista] and through Crisopolis, Christopolis [Kavalla], Praetoria [Peritheorion, Jenidscheh], Messinopolis [Mosynopolis], Macra [Makri], Traianopolis [Ori-chova], Neapolis, Panadox [Panidos], Rodosto [Tekirdagh], Heraclea [Ereghli], Salumbria [Silivri], and Natura [Athyra, Buyukcekmece] and thus reached Constantinople. We pitched our tents before this city and rested fourteen days.

But we did not try to enter the city because it was not agreeable to the emperor (for he feared that possibly we would plot some harm to him). Therefore it was necessary for us to buy our daily supplies outside the walls. These supplies the citizens brought to us by order of the emperor. We were not allowed to enter the city except at the rate of five or six each hour. Thus while we were leaving, others were entering to pray in the churches.

Oh, what a noble and beautiful city is Constantinople! How many monasteries and palaces it contains, constructed with wonderful skill! How many remarkable things may be seen in the principal avenues and even in the lesser streets! It would be very tedious to enumerate the wealth that is there of every kind, of gold, of silver, of robes of many kinds, and of holy relics. Merchants constantly bring to the city by frequent voyages all the necessities of man. About twenty thousand eunuchs, I judge, are always living there.

After we were sufficiently rested our leaders, after taking counsel, made under oath an agreement with the emperor at his insistence. Bohemund and Duke Godfrey who had preceded us had already agreed to it. But Count Raymond refused to subscribe. However, the count of Flanders took the oath as did the others. For it was essential that all establish friendship with the emperor since without his aid and counsel we could not easily make the journey, nor could those who were to follow us by the same route. To them [the princes] indeed the emperor himself offered as many numisma and garments of silk as pleased them, and the horses and money which they needed for making such a journey.

When this was done we crossed the sea which is called the Arm of St George, and then hurried on to the city of Nicaea. Lord Bohemund, Duke Godfrey, Count Raymond and the count of Flanders had already been besieging it since the middle of May. It was then in the possession of the Turks, a valiant race from the east skilled with the bow. They had crossed the Euphrates river from Persia fifty years before and had subjugated the whole Roman land as far as the city of Nicomedia.

Oh, how many severed heads and how many bones of the slain we found lying in the fields near the sea around Nicomedia! In that year the Turks had annihilated our people, who were ignorant of the arrow and new to its use. Moved by pity at this sight we shed many tears.

Only a fortnight before Duke Robert and Count Stephen reached Nicaea on 3 June, the Provençal army under Raymond IV, count of Toulouse and St Gilles, and Urban II’s chosen legate, Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, had arrived to join the siege. Their journey from southern France had been dogged with problems. Avoiding the sea-crossing of the Adriatic, either because of numbers, expense or the wintry weather, the Provençals found themselves struggling down the Dalmatian coast at the bitter turn of the year 1096–7 before the long march across the Balkans, only reaching Constantinople in late April and, after tetchy negotiations over the oath of allegiance demanded by Alexius, Nicaea on 16 May. The often painful passage of the Provençal army east was described in occasionally resentful detail by Count Raymond’s chaplain, Raymond of Aguilers.

Following its departure, the army entered Slavonia and underwent many privations during the winter season. Truly, Slavonia is a forsaken land, both inaccessible and mountainous, where for three weeks we saw neither wild beasts nor birds. The barbarous and ignorant natives would neither trade with us nor provide guides, but fled from their villages and strongholds and, as though they had been badly injured by our infirm stragglers, slew these poor souls – the debilitated, the old women and men, the poor and the sick – as if they were slaughtering cattle. Because of the familiarity of the Slavs with the countryside, it was difficult for our heavily armed knights to give chase to these unarmed robbers through the midst of rugged mountains and very dense forests. Yet our army endured these marauders because our soldiers could neither fight them in the open nor avoid skirmishes with them.

We break our story at this point to relate a glorious encounter of the count which occurred one day along the route when Raymond and his band, upon finding themselves hedged in by the Slavs, rushed and captured some six of them. The count, now sorely pressed by their menacing comrades, realised that he must break through to his army, and so gave a command to snatch out the eyes of some of his captives, to cut off the feet of others, and to mangle the nose and hands of yet others and abandon them. Thus, he and his comrades fled to safety while the enemy were horror-stricken by the gruesome sight of their mutilated friends and paralysed by grief. In such manner he was freed from the agony of death and this perilous place by God’s goodness.

Actually, we find it difficult to report the bravery and judgement displayed by Raymond in Slavonia. For almost forty days we journeyed in this land, at times encountering such clouds of fog that we could almost touch these vapours and shove them in front of us with our bodies. In the midst of these dangers the count always protected his people by fighting in the rearguard and by being the last one to reach his quarters. Some might return to camp in the middle of the day or at sundown, but not Raymond, who frequently arrived at his tent in the middle of the night or at the cock’s crow.

We passed through Slavonia without losses from starvation or open conflict largely through God’s mercy, the hard work of the count, and the counsel of Adhemar. This successful crossing of the barbarous lands leads us to believe that God wished his host of warriors to cross through Slavonia in order that brutish, pagan men, by learning of the strength and long-suffering of his soldiers, would at some time recover from their savageness or as unabsolved sinners be led to God’s doom.

Upon our arrival at Scutari after our strenuous passage across Slavonia, the count affirmed brotherhood and bestowed many gifts upon the king of the Slavs so that the crusaders could buy in peace and look for the necessities of life. But this was only an illusion, for we sorely regretted our trust in the sham peace when the Slavs took advantage of the occasion, went berserk as was peace and look for the necessities of life. But this was only an illusion, for we sorely regretted our trust in the sham peace when the Slavs took advantage of the occasion, went berserk as was their custom, slew our people and snatched what they could from the unarmed. You may well believe we prayed for a refuge and not for revenge; but why should we continue this dreary account of Slavonia?

On our encampment at Durazzo we were confident that we were in our land, because we believed that Alexius and his followers were our Christian brothers and confederates. But truly, with the savagery of lions they rushed upon peaceful men who were oblivious of their need for self-defence. These brigands, operating by night, slew our people in groves and places far from camp and stole what they could from them. While the Greeks acted thus without restraint, their leader, John Comnenus, promised peace; but during such a truce they killed Pontius Rainaud and fatally wounded his brother, Peter, two most noble princes. We had a chance for vengeance, but we renewed our march in preference to vindicating our injustices. En route, we had letters concerning security and brotherhood, and I may say of filiation, from the emperor; but these were empty words, for before and behind, to the right and to the left Turks, Cumans, Uzes and the tenacious peoples – Pechenegs and Bulgars – were lying in wait for us.

To add to our troubles, one day we were in the valley of Monastir when the Pechenegs captured the bishop of Le Puy, who had wandered a short time from camp looking for a comfortable lodging. They threw him from his mule, stripped him, and struck him heavily upon the head. But one of the fellow Pechenegs, while seeking gold from Adhemar, saved him from his fellow brigands; and so the great bishop, indispensable to God’s justice, was spared to mankind because of God’s compassion. When the commotion was heard in camp, the attacking crusaders saved the bishop from the Pechenegs, who had been slow in despatching him.

Thus, surrounded by treacherous imperial soldiers, we came to a fort, Bucinat, where Raymond heard that the Pechenegs lay in ambush for us in the defiles of a nearby mountain. The count turned the tables by lying in ambush for them, and, along with his knights, took these mercenaries by surprise in a sudden attack, killing many and routing the others. In the midst of these events mollifying despatches from Alexius arrived; yet still the enemy encircled us, and on all sides we were confronted with the emperor’s deceit.

Soon thereafter we arrived at Rusa, a town where the open contempt of its citizens so strained our customary forbearance that we seized arms, broke down the outer walls, captured great booty, and received the town in surrender. We then left after we had raised our banner over the town and shouted Tolosa, the rallying cry of the count. Our march took us thence to Rodosto [Tekirdagh], where mercenary troops of Alexius, anxious to avenge the Rusa defeat, attacked us; but we slew a number of these hirelings and took some loot.

Now our agents returned to us at Rodosto from the court of Alexius where we had sent them. They brought rosy reports of Byzantine promises largely because the emperor bribed them; thus the following events need no further comment. Byzantine and crusader envoys urged Raymond to abandon his army and, unarmed with a few followers, to hurry to the court of the basileus


. They reported that Bohemund, the duke of Lorraine, the count of Flanders, and other princes besought Raymond to make a pact concerning the crusade with Alexius, who might take the Cross and become leader of God’s army. They added that Alexius was willing to transact all affairs beneficial to the trip with the count in matters pertaining to him and to others. They further stated that the absence of such a great man’s advice on the eve of combat would be unfortunate. Therefore, they pressed Raymond to come to Constantinople with a small force so that upon completion of arrangements with Alexius there would be no delay of the march. Raymond followed this advice, left a garrison in camp, and preceded the army on this mission, going alone and unarmed to Constantinople.

Thus far, the recording of these deeds, deeds marked by both a joyous and prosperous course, has been an agreeable task to the writer. However, the story is now pressed so with the burden of harshness and grief that it wearies me that I began what I have sworn to complete. Frankly, I do not know how to record these events in their importance. Shall I write of the most fraudulent and abominable treachery of the emperor’s counsel? Or shall I record the most infamous escape of our army and its unimaginable helplessness? Or by relating the deaths of such great princes, shall I leave a memorial of eternal grief? To the contrary, let whoever wishes to know enquire from others rather than from us.

However, we shall report this very important occurrence. While all of our people dreamed of leaving camp, fleeing, forsaking their comrades, and giving up all which they had carried from faraway lands, they were led back to such a steadfast strength through the saving grace of repentance and fasting that only their former ignominy of desperation and desire for flight strongly embarrassed them. But we shall tarry no longer with this sad account.

Upon the most honourable reception of Raymond by Alexius and his princes, the basileus demanded from the count homage and an oath which the other princes had sworn to him. Raymond responded that he had not taken the Cross to pay allegiance to another lord or to be in the service of any other than the one for whom he had abandoned his native land and his paternal goods. He would, however, entrust himself, his followers and his effects to the emperor if he would journey to Jerusalem with the army. But Alexius temporised by excusing himself from the march on the grounds that he was afraid that the Germans, Hungarians, Cumans and other fierce people would plunder his empire if he undertook the march with the pilgrims.

In the mean time the count, after learning of the rout and death of his men, believed that he had been misled and through the services of some of our leaders summoned the emperor on charges of betraying the crusaders. But Alexius replied that he himself had been unaware that our troops had plundered his kingdom and that his people had borne many wrongs, and that he knew of no legal grounds for the count’s investigation unless it was that while Raymond’s army in its accustomed way was ravaging villages and walled towns his men fled at the sight of the imperial army. Yet he promised he would make amends to the count, and he gave Bohemund as a hostage of his pledge. They came to judgement, and the count, contrary to justice, was compelled to free his hostage.

Meanwhile, our army arrived in Constantinople and after it came the bishop with his brother, whom he had left ill in Durazzo. Alexius sent word again and again promising that he would reward the count handsomely if he would pay the same homage as the other princes; but Raymond brooded over revenge for unjust treatment of himself and his men and sought means to remove the shame of such ill fame. However, the duke of Lorraine and the count of Flanders and other princes deplored such thoughts, saying that it was the height of folly for Christians to fight Christians when the Turks were near at hand. Bohemund, in fact, pledged his support to Alexius in case Raymond took action against him or if the count longer excused himself from homage and an oath. At this juncture, following consultation with his Provençals, the count swore that he would not, either through himself or through others, take away from the emperor life and possessions. When he was cited concerning homage, he replied that he would not pay homage because of the peril to his rights. We may add that Alexius gave him little of worldly goods because of his intransigence.

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