Doria and Barbarossa 1536–1541

Portrait of Andrea Doria

Portrait of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha (1478-1546)

Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha defeats the Holy League of Charles V under the command of Andrea Doria at the Battle of Preveza in 1538

Charles and Doria, Suleiman and Barbarossa. After Tunis it was clear that the two potentates who would contest the Mediterranean had chosen their champions and were gathering their forces. If Barbarossa was the sultan’s grand admiral, Doria was Charles’s captain-general of the sea. Both seamen were the executors of their master’s wars. The sea was no longer an outer frontier to be contested by pirates; it had become a major theatre of imperial conflict to rival the plains of Hungary. Year on year the violence grew. When Barbarossa struck Italy again in 1536, Doria responded by capturing Ottoman galleys off the coast of Greece the following year. And the fleets got bigger: in 1534, Barbarossa had built ninety galleys; in 1535, one hundred twenty. The two commanders had repeatedly sailed past each other, tracked each other’s squadrons around the capes and bays of Italy, but they had never fought. The sea war was a series of uncoordinated punches, like a contest between amnesiac boxers. Many factors conspired to hinder coherent battle: the conditions imposed by the sea, the limits of the campaigning season, the logistical time lapses in preparing campaigns, the blind trawling for opponents before the age of radar, and not least the natural caution of experienced sailors. Both men understood the risks of naval warfare. Fractional disadvantages could aggregate great consequences that could hinge on a slight shift in the wind. A safe raid was always better than a chancy battle. Yet by the mid-1530s, the insistent pressure of imperial ambitions and the race for bigger fleets were shrinking the sea.

The French cannonballs at La Goletta were a disturbing portent for Charles of events about to unfold. In 1536 he embarked on another exhaustive two-year war with Francis, the Valois king of France. It was one of the bitter truths of a fragmented Europe that the Catholic King would spend more time, money, and energy fighting the French and the Protestants than he ever devoted to war with Suleiman. The perceived power of the Hapsburgs frightened rather than united Christendom, and in this climate Suleiman was able skillfully to affect the balance of power in the Mediterranean Sea.

The French had been flirting with an Ottoman alliance for years, either directly through furtive embassies or by means of the Barbarossas. As early as 1520, they sent an ambassador to Tunis to persuade the corsairs “to multiply the difficulties of the Emperor in his kingdom of Naples.” They supplied Hayrettin with military technology—guns, powder, and cannonballs—and intelligence about the emperor. “I cannot deny,” Francis admitted to the Venetian ambassador, “that I wish to see the Turk all-powerful and ready for war, not for himself—for he is an infidel and we are all Christians—but to weaken the power of the emperor, to compel him to make major expenses and to reassure all the other [Christian] governments who are opposed to [Charles].” In early 1536, Francis and Suleiman signed an agreement that granted mutual trading rights; behind it lay an understanding that they would fall on Italy in a pincer movement and destroy Charles. The Mediterranean moved center stage in the sultan’s imperial war. Francis was evidently well informed on his ultimate objective. “The Turk will make some naval expedition,” he told the Venetians, “going perhaps as far as Rome, for Sultan Suleiman always says ‘to Rome! To Rome!’” The sultan ordered Barbarossa, now back in Istanbul, “to build two hundred vessels for an expedition against Apulia, to the completion of which he accordingly applied himself.” It was a further escalation of sea power.

At the top of the Adriatic, the Venetians watched these developments with grave disquiet. An expedition aimed at Rome almost certainly involved encroaching on her home waters in the Adriatic. Venice maintained a queasy balancing act, trying to maintain her independence between two menacing superpowers. Charles had swallowed up all of Italy around her; Suleiman’s navy threatened her maritime possessions. The republic’s sole ambition was to trade profitably on a calm sea. Unable to compete militarily, she had built her security on adroit political maneuvering. No one courted the Grand Turk so assiduously, bribed his ministers so handsomely, spied on him so obsessively. The Venetians sent their top diplomats to Istanbul, where they kept a trained corps of Turkish speakers and cryptographers, who dispatched endless coded reports. It was a policy that had bought them thirty years’ peace. The cornerstone was the special relationship with Ibrahim Pasha, the powerful chief vizier, born a Venetian subject on the shores of the Adriatic. He occupied a uniquely trusted position in the sultan’s favor, but as Suleiman turned his intense gaze on the sea, all this started to unravel.

On the evening of March 5, 1536, Ibrahim came to the royal palace as usual to dine with Suleiman. As he was leaving, he was surprised to meet Ali the executioner and a posse of palace slaves: the ambitious vizier had overreached himself, almost assuming that the authority of the sultan was his own, and winning the particular disfavor of Suleiman’s wife, Hurrem. When the hacked body was discovered the following morning, it was apparent from the bloody walls that Ibrahim had gone down fighting. The spattered room was left untouched for many years as a warning to ambitious viziers that it takes but a single Turkish consonant to fall from makbul (the favored) to maktul (the executed).

The execution marked a pivotal moment in Suleiman’s reign. Henceforth his style would become more austere; an Islamic piety would replace the previous brilliant ceremonial display of the man who would be Caesar. At a stroke, Ibrahim’s death deprived Venice of an influential champion at court. It was clear that Suleiman was growing intolerant of the “Venetian infidels…a people famous for their great wealth, their extensive commerce, and their deceit and perfidy in all their transactions.” Edgy clashes in the Adriatic between Venetian galleys and Turkish corsairs provided a pretext for Ottoman aggression. At the start of 1537, Suleiman prepared a two-pronged assault on Italy, with the support of the French, and eyed the Venetian base at Corfu as a stepping-stone for invasion. The Venetian senate was sent a pointed request to join the alliance. The republic found itself between a rock and a hard place; the unspoken threat was the inevitable choice between Charles and Suleiman. The Venetians squirmed, declared their neutrality, politely declined the sultan’s request, then armed a hundred galleys “as we observe that all the other princes in the world are doing.” They waited to see what would happen next.

The French king’s predictions proved entirely accurate. In May 1537, Suleiman set out with a sizeable army for Valona on the Albanian coast of the Adriatic; at the same time, Barbarossa was dispatched by sea. One hundred seventy galleys pulled out of Istanbul and beat down on the Adriatic coast of Italy; for a month Barbarossa “laid waste the coasts of Apulia like a pestilence,” burning castles, seizing slaves, spreading panic all the way back to Rome. Doria’s fleet was too small to confront this shock force; he withdrew to Sicily and watched. In late August the sultan announced a change of tactic and ordered Barbarossa to take Corfu; twenty-five thousand men landed on the island and besieged the citadel, but to the Venetians’ own surprise the defenses held. The much-anticipated linkup with the French failed to materialize, the siege guns got bogged down in the autumn rain, and the Venetians had prudently strengthened their bastions. After three weeks Suleiman called it off, but Venice was now irrevocably committed to warfare, and the emperor’s cause. Over the winter of 1537, Pope Paul III brokered the terms of a Holy League against “the common enemy, the Tyrant of the Turks.” It was to take the form of a maritime crusade, whose ultimate objective was the capture of Istanbul and the establishment of Charles as emperor of Constantinople. The Venetians, being pragmatists, tacitly preferred the notion of a quick defeat of Barbarossa and a return to peaceful trading with the Islamic world.

It was a crucial moment; Southern Europe felt itself hanging in the balance. A decisive Christian defeat now would lay the whole sea open to the merciless raids of the Ottoman fleet. In the spring of 1538, while the allies were maneuvering and organizing, Barbarossa was already at sea, giving the Venetians a taste of what failure would mean. As well as Cyprus and Crete, Venice held a string of small ports and islands across the Aegean—Naplion and Monemvasia in the Peloponnese, Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros, Santorini, and a scattering more, each with its neat harbor, Catholic church, and dour bastion, with the lion of Saint Mark carved above the gateway. Hayrettin sacked them one by one, massacring their garrisons and carrying off other able-bodied men for galley service, before sailing on, leaving each one smoking and desolate beneath the hot sky. The Ottoman chroniclers tersely enumerated the extent of the republic’s loss: “This year the Venetians possessed twenty-five islands, each having one, two or three castles; all of which were taken; twelve of the islands being laid under tribute, and the remaining thirteen plundered.” Hayrettin was ravaging the south coast of Crete when a galliot brought news that the Christians were gathering a sizeable fleet in the Adriatic. He turned north to confront it.

It had taken an age for the Holy League to assemble at Corfu. The Venetians and the pope’s galleys were there by June, eager to fight. They then waited nearly three months for Doria, the overall commander, to drag himself tardily around from Genoa. He did not arrive until early September, by which time the weather was on the turn. There was instant bickering among the Italian and Spanish contingents. The Venetians were impatient and fretful at the long delay. The cost of the galleys was hurting the republic badly; they were anxious for a decisive strike before Barbarossa could inflict more damage on their islands. The politics of Christian Europe played heavily in the atmosphere; the parties had quite distinct strategic goals that even the optimistic pope, Paul III, had been unable to paper over. Venice was waging war to protect its possessions in the Eastern Mediterranean. For Charles the maritime frontier stopped at Sicily and he had little concern with Venetian interests farther east. Doria’s tardiness was most likely at the emperor’s behest. As for Doria, there was scarcely veiled distrust, bearing out the ancient grudge match between Genoa and Venice. None of this boded well.

It was early September before the assembled fleet moved out to seek a decisive encounter with Barbarossa. They had the weight of numbers on their side—139 heavy galleys and 70 sailing ships, to the enemy’s 90 galleys and 50 light galliots—but the Ottomans had tucked themselves into an inlet on the west coast of Greece, the gulf of Preveza, and were well protected by shore-based guns. For nearly three weeks the Holy League blockaded Preveza, but it proved impossible to tempt Barbarossa out, and the season was getting late; the possibility of a gale wrecking his fleet concentrated Doria’s mind. On the evening of September 27, he decided to weigh anchor and slip away. At this moment, Barbarossa, watching closely, saw his opportunity. Doria and Barbarossa had been playing cat and mouse in the Mediterranean for years; now the moment had come to try conclusions for control of the sea.

September 28 was a blustery autumn day. As the Ottomans emerged to fight, the Christian fleet to seaward was badly strung out; the combination of the national flotillas and the mixture of galleys and sailing ships was badly coordinated. The Venetians, eager for battle, rowed forward with shouts of “Fight! Fight!” Doria unaccountably kept his squadron back. The lead ships were isolated. The Venetians had brought a heavily armed galleon in their fleet, which held its own against a swarm of Ottoman galleys. Other vessels were captured and sunk. When Doria turned toward the battle, he kept his ships well out to sea and engaged only in long-range cannonading. The great galleon held off the Ottoman fleet all day, but as night fell and the wind shifted, Doria abandoned the fight and withdrew, extinguishing his stern lanterns to foil pursuit. In the words of the Ottoman chroniclers, he “tore his beard and took to flight, all the smaller galleys following him.”

Barbarossa claimed a famous victory and returned triumphant. “Such wonderful battles as those fought between forenoon and sunset of that day were never before seen at sea,” wrote the later chronicler Katip Chelebi. When news was brought to Suleiman, “the proclamation of the victory was read, all present standing, and thanksgiving and praise were offered to the Divine Being. The Kapudan Pasha [Barbarossa] then received orders to make an advance of one hundred thousand pieces of money to the principal officers, to send proclamations of victory to all parts of the country, and to order public proclamations in all the towns.”

In the scale of things the actual fighting had been quite light; the shattering collision of massed galleys had simply not occurred. The Holy League lost perhaps twelve ships, a number dwarfed a few days later when seventy Ottoman ships were destroyed in a storm, but the psychological damage to the Holy League was immense. The Christians had been totally outmaneuvered. Of the Christian losses, most had fallen to the Venetians. Their ships had not been supported by Doria, and the Venetians were furious. They sensed treachery, malice, or cowardice by the Genoese admiral. Either Doria had been less than enthusiastic in the enterprise or he had been outmaneuvered by superior seamanship and had cut and run to limit the damage to his galleys. It seems highly likely that Barbarossa had gained the upper hand; safely tucked into the gulf of Preveza, he could choose the moment to strike when his opponents were at the mercy of the wind, but there were other factors that might have compromised the desire of either man to fight to the death.

What the Venetians did not know was that Charles, having failed to destroy Barbarossa at Tunis, had resorted to underhand methods. In 1537 he entered secret negotiations with the sultan’s admiral to induce him to switch sides, and these talks were still taking place on the very eve of battle. On September 20, 1538, a Spanish messenger from Barbarossa held a meeting with Doria and the viceroy of Sicily. The terms could not be agreed—Barbarossa was said to have demanded the return of Tunis—but the negotiations suggested a certain complicity between the two admirals; both were hired hands whose reputations were at stake; both had reasons to be cautious. They had much more to lose than gain by a rash gamble on the state of the wind. The Spanish knowingly recalled the proverb that one crow does not peck out another’s eyes. For Doria there were other business considerations: many of the galleys were his own property; he was certainly loath to lose them helping the detestable Venetians. It would take less experienced commanders to throw caution to the wind and risk everything in the same stretch of water thirty years later.

It is impossible to determine Barbarossa’s sincerity in these maneuvers. Maybe the downfall of Ibrahim Pasha had illustrated the perils of high office in the sultan’s service, or perhaps Charles had offered Barbarossa the chance to realize his dream of an independent kingdom in the Maghreb. More likely, Barbarossa’s behavior was a way of playing Charles and Doria along, lulling his opponents into doubt and hesitation. Certainly, a French agent in Istanbul by the name of Dr. Romero had no doubts. “I can guarantee that [Barbarossa] is a better Muslim than Mohammed,” he wrote. “The negotiations are a front.”

If at first sight the immediate military consequences of Preveza seemed slight, the political and psychological ones were enormous. Only a unified Christian fleet could match the resources at the disposal of the Ottomans. In 1538 the idea of any coordinated Christian maritime response to the Turks had proved unworkable. The Holy League collapsed: in 1540 the Venetians signed a humiliating peace with the sultan. They paid a hefty ransom and acknowledged the loss of all their possessions taken by Barbarossa. They were virtually reduced to the status of vassals, though no one was using that term. The Venetians, the most experienced mariners in the whole sea, would not launch ships in anger for a quarter of a century, when distrust of the Doria clan would rise again. Preveza opened the door to Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean. All that the Venetians took away from the fight was the performance of their great galleon; they stored for future reference the value of stoutly built floating gun platforms.

Charles made one further personal attempt to break the strangle-hold of Ottoman power in the western sea. Remembering the triumph of Tunis, he determined on a similar operation against Algiers. In the summer of 1541 Suleiman was in Hungary and Barbarossa was conducting naval operations up the Danube. It was an ideal moment to strike.

There was a streak of risk-taking in the emperor. By 1541 his treasury was under extreme pressure. To cut costs, he decided to descend on Algiers late in the year. It reduced the number of troops he had to pay, as he could be sure no fleet from Istanbul would come to oppose him on the wintering sea. Doria warned him about the gamble, but Charles was resolved to ride his luck.

The outcome was catastrophic. His substantial fleet sailed from Genoa in late September. Among the gentleman adventurers who accompanied the expedition was Hernando Cortez, the conqueror of Mexico, trying his fortune in the Old World. It was October 20 before all the units were gathered at Algiers, but the weather was fair. Only after the army had disembarked and was awaiting its supplies did Charles’s luck run out. On the night of October 23 torrential rain started to fall; the men could not keep their powder dry, and suddenly found themselves at a disadvantage. Barbarossa had appointed an Italian renegade, Hasan, as governor of Algiers in his absence. Hasan acted with courage and determination. Sallying out of the city, he put Charles’s army to flight. Only a small detachment of the Knights of Saint John prevented a total rout. Worse followed. Overnight the wind intensified; one by one the sailing ships riding offshore dragged their creaking anchors and rode onto the beach. As the survivors staggered through the pounding surf in the dark, they were massacred by the local population. Charles was forced to beat a ragged retreat twenty miles down the coast to a point where Doria’s galleys could take him off. There were too few ships to re-embark the bulk of the army. With his galley bucking and heaving dangerously offshore, Charles threw his horses overboard and departed the Barbary Coast with the blasphemous screams of his abandoned army reaching him on the tempestuous wind. He had lost one hundred forty sailing ships, fifteen galleys, eight thousand men, and three hundred Spanish aristocrats. The sea had delivered a total humiliation. There was a glut of slaves in Algiers, so many that 1541 was said to be the year when Christians sold at an onion a head.

Charles viewed this catastrophe with a remarkable levelness of spirit. “We must thank God for all,” he wrote to his brother Ferdinand, “and hope that after this disaster He will grant us of His great goodness, some great good fortune,” and he refused to accept the inevitable conclusion that he had sailed too late. As regards the sudden storm, he wrote that “nobody could have guessed that beforehand. It was essential not so much to rise early, as to rise at the right time, and God alone could judge what time that should be.” Any shrewd observer of the Maghreb coast would have begged to differ. Charles never went crusading at sea again. The following year he departed for the Netherlands to confront the intractable problems of the Protestant rebellion and another French war.

Alexius I Comnenus: Byzantine Comeback


Alexius I Comnenus


Then he was surrounded by nine Normans who stuck him with spears. But his heavy cataphract armor stopped all six spears and his horse bolted and he managed to escape.


Alexius I Comnenus was an unlikely savior. A member of the aristocratic ranks that the Macedonian dynasty had struggled so long to suppress, he seemed at first to be just another usurper in a long line of meddlesome nobles that had brought such ruin to imperial fortunes. It was true that Alexius had an unrivaled military reputation—in his early twenties, he had fought at Manzikert, and he hadn’t lost a battle since—but he had risen to power in the usual way by overthrowing his short-lived predecessor instead of by fighting the Turks. The motley army he commanded was so full of foreign mercenaries that the moment he brought them inside the walls of Constantinople they started looting the city, and a full day passed before he could bring them under control. Some of Constantinople’s older citizens might well have shaken their heads and muttered that there was indeed nothing new under the sun.

It was hardly an auspicious start, but worse was yet to come. Within a month of Alexius’s coronation, word reached him that a terrible force of Normans had landed on the Dalmatian coast and was heading toward the port city of Durazzo. If they took the city, they would have direct access to the thousand-year-old Via Egnatia and with it a straight invasion route to Constantinople.

The Normans were no ordinary wandering band of adventurers. The descendants of Vikings, these Northmen were the success story of the eleventh century. While their more famous brothers in Normandy had battered their way into Saxon England under the command of William the Conqueror, the southern Normans had batted aside a papal army, held the pope captive, and managed to expel the last vestiges of the Roman Empire from Italy. Led by the remarkable Robert Guiscard, they had invaded Sicily, capturing Palermo and thoroughly broken Saracen power over the island. Now, having run out of enemies at home, and with his appetite whetted for imperial blood, the irascible Guiscard turned his attention to the far more tempting prize of Byzantium.

Upon arriving before the walls of Durazzo, Guiscard cheerfully put the city under siege, but its citizens were well aware that Alexius was on his way and showed no inclination to surrender. After a few months of ineffectual assaults, Robert withdrew to a more defensible position. On October 18, the emperor arrived with his army. The force Alexius had managed to gather in such a short period of time was impressively large, but it suffered from what was by now the traditional Byzantine weakness. The core of the army as always was the elite Varangian Guard, but the rest was an undisciplined, ragtag collection of mercenaries whose loyalty—and courage—was at best suspect. The only consolation for Alexius was that the Varangians, at least, were eager for battle.

Fifteen years before, a Norman duke had burst into Anglo-Saxon England, killing the rightful king at Hastings and placing his heavy boot on the back of anyone with a drop of Saxon blood. Many of those who found life intolerable as second-class citizens in Norman England had eventually made their way to Constantinople, where they had enlisted with their Viking cousins in the ranks of the Varangian Guard. Now at last they were face-to-face with the foreigners who had despoiled their homes, murdered their families, and stolen their possessions.

Swinging their terrible double-headed axes in wicked arcs, the Varangians waded into the Norman line, sending their blades crunching into any man or horse that got in their way. The Normans fell back in the face of such a ferocious assault, but Alexius’s Turkish mercenaries betrayed him, and he was unable to press the advantage. The moment the Norman cavalry wheeled around, the bulk of the imperial army scattered, and the exposed and hopelessly outnumbered Varangians were surrounded and butchered to a man. Alexius, bleeding from a wound in the forehead, kept fighting, but he knew the day was lost. Soon he fled to Bulgaria to rebuild his shattered forces.

The empire had proven as weak as Guiscard had hoped, and with the cream of the Byzantine army gone, there was seemingly nothing to fear from Alexius. By the spring of 1082, Durazzo had fallen along with most of northern Greece, and Guiscard could confidently boast to his men that by winter they would all be dining in the palaces of Constantinople. Unfortunately for the invader’s culinary plans, however, Alexius was far from finished. The ever-resourceful emperor knew he couldn’t hope to stand toe-to-toe with Norman arms, but there were other ways to wage war, and in his capable hands diplomacy would prove a sharper weapon than steel.

Guiscard had been all-conquering in southern Italy, but his meteoric career had left numerous enemies in its wake. Chief among them was the German emperor Henry IV, who held northern Italy in his grip and nervously watched the growth of Norman power in the south. When Alexius sent along a healthy amount of gold with the rather obvious suggestion that a Norman emperor might not be a good thing for either of them, Henry obligingly invaded Rome, forcing the panicked pope to beg Guiscard to return at once. Robert wavered, but more Byzantine gold had found its way into the pockets of the Italians chafing under Norman rule, and news soon arrived that southern Italy had risen in rebellion. Gnashing his teeth in frustration, Guiscard had no choice but to withdraw, leaving his son Bohemond to carry on the fight in his place.

Alexius immediately attacked, cobbling together no fewer than three mercenary armies, but each one met the same fate, and the emperor accomplished nothing more than further draining his treasury. Even without their charismatic leader, the Normans were clearly more than a match for his imperial forces, so Alexius began a search for allies to do the fighting for him. He found a ready one in Venice—that most Byzantine of sea republics—where the leadership was as alarmed as everyone else about the scope of Guiscard’s ambitions. In return for the help of its navy, Alexius reduced Venetian tariffs to unprecedented (and from native merchants’ perspectives rather dangerous) levels, and gave Venice a full colony in Constantinople with the freedom to trade in imperial waters. The concessions virtually drove Byzantine merchants from the sea, but that spring it must all have seemed worth it as the Venetian navy cut off Bohemond from supplies or reinforcements. By this time, the Normans were thoroughly exhausted. It had been nearly four years since they had landed in Byzantine territory, and though they had spectacularly demolished every army sent against them, they were no closer to conquering Constantinople than the day they arrived. Most of their officers were unimpressed by the son of Guiscard and wanted only to return home. Encouraged by Alexius’s shrewd bribes, they started to grumble, and when Bohemond returned to Italy to raise more money, his officers promptly surrendered.

The next year, in 1085, the seventy-year-old Robert Guiscard tried again, but he got no farther than the island of Cephalonia, where a fever accomplished what innumerable enemy swords couldn’t, and he died without accomplishing his great dream. The empire could breathe a sigh of relief and turn its eyes once more to lesser threats from the East.

The Muslim threat—much like the Norman one—had recently been tremendously diminished by a fortuitous death. At the start of Alexius’s reign, it had seemed that the Seljuk Turks would devour what was left of Asia Minor. In 1085, Antioch had fallen to their irresistible advance, and the next year Edessa and most of Syria as well. In 1087, the greatest shock came when Jerusalem was captured and the pilgrim routes to the Holy City were completely cut off by the rather fanatical new masters. Turning to the coast, the Muslims captured Ephesus in 1090 and spread out to the Greek islands. Chios, Rhodes, and Lesbos fell in quick succession. But just when it appeared as if Asia was lost, the sultan died and his kingdom splintered in the usual power grab.

With the Norman threat blunted and the Muslim enemy fragmented, the empire might never have a better opportunity to push back the Seljuk threat—and Alexius knew it. All the emperor needed was an army, but as the recent struggle with the Normans had shown, his own was woefully inadequate. Alexius would have to turn to allies to find the necessary steel to stiffen his forces, and, in 1095, he did just that. Taking pen in hand, he wrote a letter to the pope.

The decision to appeal to Rome was somewhat surprising in light of the excommunication of forty-one years before, but most of those involved in that unfortunate event were long dead, and tempers had cooled in the ensuing decades. The emperor and the pope might quibble occasionally about theological details, but they were members of the same faith, and it was as a fellow Christian that Alexius wrote Urban. As a gesture of goodwill to get things off on the right foot, the emperor reopened the Latin churches in Constantinople, and when his ambassadors reached Pope Urban II, they found the pontiff to be in a conciliatory mood. The appalling Turkish conquests had profoundly shocked him, and the sad plight of eastern Christians under Muslim rule could no longer be ignored. No record of the conversation that followed has survived, but by the time the pope made his way to France a few months later, a grand new vision had formed in his mind. Islam had declared a jihad to seize the holy places of Christendom and spread its faith into Europe; now it was time for a grand Christian counteroffensive. On November 18, the pope mounted a huge platform just outside the French city of Clermont and delivered one of the most fateful speeches in history.

The Saracens, he proclaimed, had come storming out of the deserts to steal Christian land and defile their churches, murdering Christian pilgrims and oppressing the faith. They had torn down the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and forced innumerable believers to convert to Islam. The West could no longer in good conscience ignore the suffering—it was the sacred duty of every Christian to march to the aid of their eastern brothers. The Saracens had stolen the city of God and now righteous soldiers were needed to drive them out. All those who marched with a pure heart would have their sins absolved.

The moment the pope finished speaking, the crowd erupted. Medieval Europe was filled with violence, and most of those gathered were painfully aware of how much blood stained their hands. Now, suddenly, they were offered a chance to avoid the eternal damnation that in all likelihood awaited them by wielding their swords in God’s name. A bishop knelt down on the spot and pledged to take the cross, and within moments the papal officials had run out of material for those who wanted to sew crosses on their clothing as a sign of their intentions. France, Italy, and Germany were swept up in crusading fever as Urban traveled spreading the message, and peasants and knights alike flocked to his banner. So many responded that the pope had to begin encouraging some to stay home to take in the harvest and avert the danger of a famine. Not even in his wildest dreams had he imagined such a groundswell.

The sheer scale of the response electrified the pope, but it horrified Alexius. The last thing he needed was a shambling horde of western knights descending on his capital. What he really wanted were some mercenaries who recognized his authority, while the pope had given him what was sure to be an undisciplined rabble that listened little and demanded much.

And there were plenty of other reasons to mistrust the crusaders. Not only had the pope cleverly substituted Jerusalem for Constantinople as the object of the holy war, but he had also neglected to mention Alexius in any of his speeches, putting the Crusade firmly under his own control, and reinforcing the idea that the pope—not the emperor—was the supreme authority in Christendom. Furthermore, the whole idea of a “holy” war was an alien concept to the Byzantine mind. Killing, as Saint Basil of Caesarea had taught in the fourth century, was sometimes necessary but never praiseworthy, and certainly not grounds for remission of sins. The Eastern Church had held this line tenaciously throughout the centuries, even rejecting the great warrior-emperor Nicephorus Phocas’s attempt to have soldiers who died fighting Muslims declared martyrs. Wars could, of course, be just, but on the whole diplomacy was infinitely preferable. Above all, eastern clergy were not permitted to take up arms, and the strange sight of Norman clerics armed and even leading soldiers disconcerted the watching hosts.

These strange western knights were obviously not to be trusted, and some Byzantines suspected that the true object of the Crusade was not the liberation of Jerusalem at all, but the capture of Constantinople. Anyone who doubted that only needed to look at the nobles who were already on their way, for foremost among the crusading knights was Bohemond—the hated son of Robert Guiscard.

The first group of crusaders to arrive before the gates of the city didn’t improve Alexius’s opinion of them. After the pope had returned to Italy, other men had taken up the task of preaching the Crusade, fanning out to spread the word. One of them, a rather unpleasant monk named Peter the Hermit, traveled through northern France and Germany, preaching to the poor and offering the destitute peasants a chance to escape their crushing lives. After attracting a following of forty thousand men, women, and children who were too impatient to wait for the official start date, Peter led his shambling horde to Constantinople. When they reached Hungary, it became apparent that many had joined the Crusade for less than noble reasons, and neither Peter nor anyone else could control them. Looting their way through the countryside, they set fire to Belgrade and stormed the citadel of any town that didn’t turn over its supplies. At the city of Nish, the exasperated Byzantine governor sent out his troops to bring them into line, and in the skirmish ten thousand crusaders were killed. By the time Peter and his “People’s Crusade” reached Constantinople, they were looking less like an army than a rabble of hungry, tired brigands. Knowing that they wouldn’t stand a chance against the Turks, Alexius advised them to turn back, but they had come too far by now and were firmly convinced of their invulnerability. They were already becoming a headache—taking whatever they pleased and looting the suburbs of Constantinople—so with a final warning Alexius ferried them across to Asia Minor.

The People’s Crusade came to a predictably bad end. The crusaders spent most of the next three months committing atrocities against the local Greek population—apparently without noticing that they were fellow Christians—before blundering into a Turkish ambush. Peter the Hermit managed to survive and make his miserable way back to Constantinople, but the rest of his “army” wasn’t so lucky. The youngest and best-looking children were saved for the Turkish slave markets and the rest were wiped out.

The main crusading armies that arrived over the next nine months bore no resemblance to the pathetic rabble that Peter had led. Headed by the most powerful knights in western Europe, they were disciplined and strong, easily doubling the size of any army Alexius could muster. The logistics of feeding and handling such an enormous group were a nightmare, made especially difficult by the fact that neither they nor Alexius trusted the other an inch. Obviously, the emperor had to handle the situation with extreme care. Since these westerners valued oaths so highly, they must all be made to swear their allegiance to him, but it had to be done quickly. Arriving separately, they were small enough to be overawed by the majesty of the capital, but if they were allowed to join together, they would undoubtedly get it into their heads to attack the city. Constantinople had been a temptation to generations of would-be conquerors before them; why would crusaders prove any different?

The emperor was right to be alarmed. Constantinople was unlike any other city in the world, more splendid and intoxicating than any the westerners had ever seen. To a poor knight, the city was impossibly strange, dripping in gold and home to a population nearly twenty times that of Paris or London. The churches were filled with mysterious rites that seemed shockingly heretical, and the babble of dozens of exotic languages could be heard on streets choked with merchants and nobles dressed in bright silks and brilliant garments. The public monuments were impossibly large, the palaces unbearably magnificent, and the markets excessively expensive. Inevitably, there was a severe culture clash. The Byzantines the crusaders met treated them like barely civilized barbarians, resenting the swarms of “allies” who had looted their cities and stolen their crops, while the crusaders in response despised the “effeminate” Greeks arrayed in their flowing robes and surrounded by perfumed eunuchs who needed westerners to do their fighting for them. Annoyed by the cloying ceremony of the Byzantine court, most of the crusading princes at first treated the emperor with barely concealed contempt—one knight even went so far as to lounge impudently on the imperial throne when Alexius entered to meet with him. The emperor, however, was quite capable of holding his own. With a shrewd mixture of vague threats and luxurious gifts, he managed to procure an oath from each of them. Few arrived eager to pledge their loyalty, although some were compliant enough (Bohemond in particular was a little too willing to swear), but in the end virtually every leader agreed to return any conquered city to the empire. Only the distinguished Raymond of Toulouse stubbornly refused the exact wording, substituting instead the rather nebulous promise to “respect” the life and property of the emperor.

By the early months of 1097, the ordeal was over and the last of the crusaders had been ferried across the Bosporus and settled on the Asian shore. For Alexius, the feeling was one of extreme relief. The armies that had descended on his empire had been more of a threat than a help, and even if they were successful in Anatolia, they would most likely prove more dangerous than the currently disunited Turks. In any case, all that he could do now was wait and see what developed.

As soon as they landed, the crusaders headed for Nicaea, the ancient city that had witnessed the first great council of the church nearly eight centuries before. The Turkish sultan who had wiped out the People’s Crusade was more annoyed than alarmed, assuming that these recent arrivals were of the same caliber. Instead, he found an army of hardened knights mounted on their powerful horses, encased in thick armor that rendered them completely impervious to arrows. The Turkish army shattered before the first charge of the crusader heavy cavalry, and the stunned sultan hastily retreated.

The only thing that marred the victory for the crusaders was the fact that the garrison of Nicaea chose to surrender to the Byzantine commander—who promptly shut the gates and refused to let them enjoy the customary pillaging. Such behavior by the Byzantines was perfectly understandable since the population of Nicaea was predominantly Byzantine Christian, but to the crusaders it smacked of treachery. They began to wonder if the emperor might not be confused between his allies and his enemies—especially when the captured Turks were offered a choice between service under the imperial standards or safe conduct home. For the moment, the crusaders muted their criticism, but their suspicions didn’t bode well for future relations with Byzantium.

Alexius was more than happy to ignore western knighthood’s injured pride, because he was fairly certain that they stood no chance against the innumerable Muslim enemies arrayed against them. Against all expectations in Constantinople, however, the First Crusade turned out to be a rousing success. The Turkish sultan tried again to stop the crusaders, but after two crushing defeats, he ordered their path stripped of supplies and left them unmolested. After a horrendous march across the arid, burning heart of Asia Minor, the crusaders reached Antioch and managed to batter their way inside. No sooner had they captured the city, however, than a massive army under the Turkisn governor of Mosul appeared, and the crusaders—now desperately short of water—were forced to kill most of their horses for food. Alexius gathered his army to march to their defense but was met halfway by a fleeing crusader, who informed him that all hope was lost and that the city had most likely already fallen. Realizing that there was nothing to gain by sacrificing his army, Alexius turned around and returned to Constantinople.

The crusaders, however, hadn’t surrendered. Inspired by the miraculous discovery of a holy relic, they had flung themselves into a last-ditch offensive and managed to put the huge army to flight. Continuing their advance, they reached Jerusalem in midsummer, and on July 15, 1099, successfully stormed the Holy City. Many crusaders wept upon seeing the city that they had suffered so much to reach, but their entry into it unleashed all the pent-up frustrations of the last four years. Few of the inhabitants were spared—neither Orthodox, nor Muslims, nor Jews—and the hideously un-Christian bloodbath continued until early the next morning.

It was the work of several weeks to cleanse the city of the stench of rotting bodies, and by that time the crusaders had chosen a king. By the oaths they had all taken, they should have returned the city—along with everything else they had conquered—to the Byzantine Empire, but there was no longer any chance of that. As far as they were concerned, when Alexius had failed to relieve them in Antioch, he had revealed himself to be treacherous, releasing them from their vows. Bohemond had already seized Antioch, setting himself up as prince, and the rest of their conquests were now broken up into various crusader kingdoms. If the emperor wanted to press his claims to their lands, then he could do so in person with an army at his back.

Alexius was more than happy to let Palestine go. A few Christian buffer states in lands that had been lost for centuries might even be a good thing. But having his enemy Bohemond installed in Antioch was more than he could swallow. Long regarded as the second city of the empire and site of one of the great patriarchates of the church, Antioch had been lost to the Turks only fifteen years before. Its population was thoroughly Orthodox, its language was Greek, and its culture was Byzantine through and through. But even when Bohemond added insult to injury by tossing out the Greek patriarch and replacing him with a Latin one, there was little Alexius could do. The emperor had used the distraction of the Crusade to recover most of northwestern Asia Minor—including the cities of Ephesus, Sardis, and Philadelphia—but his armies were stretched out, and there was no hope of extending his reach into Syria.

The First Crusades




At the end of the eleventh century, Europeans began their first concerted attempt to expand beyond the frontiers of Europe by conquering the land of Palestine.

CHRONOL0GY – The Crusades

Pope Urban II’s call for a Crusade at Clermont 1095

First Crusade 1096–1099

Second Crusade 1147–1149

Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem 1187

Third Crusade 1189–1192

Fourth Crusade—sack of

Constantinople 1204

Latin Empire of Constantinople 1204–1261

The Crusades were based on the idea of a holy war against infidels (unbelievers). Christian wrath against Muslims had already found some expression in the attempt to wrest Spain from the Moors and the success of the Normans in reclaiming Sicily. At the end of the eleventh century, Christian Europe found itself with a glorious opportunity to go after the Muslims when the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, asked Pope Urban II for help against the Seljuk Turks. The pope saw this as a chance to rally the warriors of Europe for the liberation of Jerusalem and the Holy Land of Palestine from the infidels. The Holy City of Jerusalem had long been the focus of Christian pilgrimages. At the Council of Clermont in southern France toward the end of 1095, Urban challenged Christians to take up their weapons and join in a holy war to recover the Holy Land. The pope promised remission of sins: ‘‘All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.’’ The enthusiastic crowd cried out in response: ‘‘It is the will of God, it is the will of God.’’

The initial response to Urban’s speech reveals how appealing many people found this combined call to military arms and religious fervor. A self-appointed leader, Peter the Hermit, who preached of his visions of the Holy City of Jerusalem, convinced a large mob, most of them poor and many of them peasants, to undertake a Crusade to liberate the city. One person who encountered Peter described him in these words: ‘‘Outdoors he wore a woolen tunic, which revealed his ankles, and above it a hood; he wore a cloak to cover his upper body, a bit of his arms, but his feet were bare. He drank wine and ate fish, but scarcely ever ate bread. This man, partly because of his reputation, partly because of his preaching, [assembled] a very large army.’’

This ‘‘Peasant’s Crusade’’ or ‘‘Crusade of the Poor’’ consisted of a ragtag rabble that moved through the Balkans, terrorizing natives and looting for their food and supplies. Their misplaced religious enthusiasm led to another tragic by-product as well, the persecution of the Jews, long pictured by the church as the murderers of Christ. As a contemporary chronicler described it, ‘‘They persecuted the hated race of the Jews wherever they were found.’’ Two bands of peasant crusaders, led by Peter the Hermit, managed to reach Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor wisely shipped them over to Asia Minor, where the Turks massacred the undisciplined and poorly armed mob.

Pope Urban II did not share the wishful thinking of the peasant crusaders but was more inclined to trust knights who had been well trained in the art of war. Three organized crusading bands of noble warriors, most of them French, made their way eastward. The crusading army probably numbered several thousand cavalry and as many as ten thousand infantry. After the capture of Antioch in 1098, much of the crusading host proceeded down the Palestinian coast, evading the well-defended coastal cities, and reached Jerusalem in June 1099. After a five-week siege, the Holy City was taken amid a horrible massacre of the inhabitants—men, women, and children.

After further conquest of Palestinian lands, the crusaders ignored the wishes of the Byzantine emperor and organized four Latin crusader states. Because the crusader kingdoms were surrounded by Muslims hostile to them, they grew increasingly dependent on the Italian commercial cities for supplies from Europe. Some Italian cities, such as Genoa, Pisa, and especially Venice, grew rich and powerful in the process.

But it was not easy for the crusader kingdoms to maintain themselves. Already by the 1120s, the Muslims had begun to strike back. The fall of one of the Latin kingdoms in 1144 led to renewed calls for another Crusade, especially from the monastic firebrand Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. He exclaimed, ‘‘Now, on account of our sins, the enemies of the cross have begun to show their faces. . . . What are you doing, you servants of the cross? Will you throw to the dogs that which is most holy? Will you cast pearls before swine?’’ Bernard even managed to enlist two powerful rulers, but their Second Crusade proved to be a total failure.

The Third Crusade was a reaction to the fall of the Holy City of Jerusalem in 1187 to the Muslim forces under Saladin. Now all of Christendom was ablaze with calls for a new Crusade. Three major monarchs agreed to lead their forces in person: Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany (1152–1190), Richard I the Lionhearted of England (1189–1199), and Philip II Augustus, king of France (1180–1223). Some of the crusaders finally arrived in the Holy Land by 1189 only to encounter problems. Frederick Barbarossa drowned while swimming in a local river, and his army quickly disintegrated. The English and French arrived by sea and met with success against the coastal cities, where they had the support of their fleets, but when they moved inland, they failed miserably. Eventually, after Philip went home, Richard the Lionhearted negotiated a settlement whereby Saladin agreed to allow Christian pilgrims free access to Jerusalem.

The Later Crusades

After the death of Saladin in 1193, Pope Innocent III initiated the Fourth Crusade. On its way east, the crusading army became involved in a dispute over the succession to the Byzantine throne. The Venetian leaders of the Fourth Crusade saw an opportunity to neutralize their greatest commercial competitor, the Byzantine Empire. Diverted to Constantinople, the crusaders sacked the great capital city of Byzantium in 1204 and set up the new Latin Empire of Constantinople. Not until 1261 did a Byzantine army recapture Constantinople. In the meantime, additional Crusades were undertaken to reconquer the Holy Land. All of them were largely disasters, and by the end of the thirteenth century, the European military effort to capture Palestine was recognized as a complete failure.

Effects of the Crusades

Whether the Crusades had much effect on European civilization is debatable. The crusaders made little long-term impact on the Middle East, where the only visible remnants of their conquests were their castles. There may have been some broadening of perspective that comes from the exchange between two cultures, but the interaction of Christian Europe with the Muslim world was actually both more intense and more meaningful in Spain and Sicily than in the Holy Land.

Did the Crusades help stabilize European society by removing large numbers of young warriors who would have fought each other in Europe? Some historians think so and believe that Western monarchs established their control more easily as a result. There is no doubt that the Crusades did contribute to the economic growth of the Italian port cities, especially Genoa, Pisa, and Venice. But it is important to remember that the growing wealth and population of twelfth-century Europe had made the Crusades possible in the first place. The Crusades may have enhanced the revival of trade, but they certainly did not cause it. Even without the Crusades, Italian merchants would have pursued new trade contacts with the Eastern world.

The Crusades prompted evil side effects that would haunt European society for generations. The first widespread attacks on the Jews began with the Crusades. As some Christians argued, to undertake holy wars against infidel Muslims while the ‘‘murderers of Christ’’ ran free at home was unthinkable. The massacre of Jews became a regular feature of medieval European life.

The Roman Catholic Church shared in the challenge of new growth by reforming itself and striking out on a path toward greater papal power, both within the church hierarchy and over European society. The High Middle Ages witnessed a spiritual renewal that enhanced papal leadership and the religious lives of the clergy and the laity. At the same time, this spiritual renewal also gave rise to the crusading ‘‘holy warrior’’ who killed for God, thereby creating an animosity between Christians and Muslims that still has repercussions to this day.

The Ninth Crusade



Charles d’Anjou, who had conquered Sicily in 1266, allied himself with Prince Edward of England, who had arrived in Tunis in 1270. When Charles d’Anjou called off the attack on Tunis, Edward went on to Acre, the last Crusader outpost in Syria, in an attempt to restore the “Kingdom of Jerusalem”. His time spent there (1271–1272) is called the Ninth Crusade. This crusade is considered to be the last major mediæval Crusade to the Holy Land. The Ninth Crusade failed largely because the crusading spirit was nearly extinct in Europe, and because of the growing power of the mamluks in Egypt. It also foreshadowed the imminent collapse of the last remaining Crusader strongholds along the Mediterranean coast.

Edward of England and Charles d’Anjou of Sicily decided that they would take their forces onward to Acre, capital of the remnant of the “Kingdom of Jerusalem” and the final objective of Baibars’ military campaign. The armies of Edward and Charles arrived in Acre in 1271, just as the able and cruel Baibars was besieging the city of Tripoli, which, as the last remaining Christian area of the County of Tripoli, had tens of thousands of Christian refugees. From their bases in Cyprus and Acre, Edward and Charles managed to attack Baibars’ interior lines and break the siege of Tripoli. This was the first Crusader victory in many years.

As soon as Edward of England arrived in Acre, he tried to ally himself with the Mongols, sending an embassy to the Mongol ruler of Persia, Abaqa Khan (1234–1282), an enemy of the Muslims. The Mongols had sacked Muslim Baghdad in 1258, and Edward believed that they would ally themselves with the Christians. The embassy to the Mongols was led by Reginald Rossel, Godefroy de Waus, and John of Parker. In an answer dated 4 September 1271, Abaqa Khan agreed to co-operation and asked at what date the concerted attack on the mamluks should take place.

The arrival of the forces of King Hugues III of Cyprus, the nominal king of Jerusalem, in Acre emboldened Edward, who raided the “Saracen” town of Qaqun, near Nablus. At the end of October 1271, a small force of Mongols arrived in Syria and ravaged the land from Aleppo southward. However, Abaqa Khan, occupied by other conflicts in Turkestan, could only send 10,000 Mongol horsemen under General Samagar from the occupation army in Seljuk Turkish Anatolia, with some auxiliary Seljuk troops. Despite the relatively small force, their arrival triggered an exodus of Muslim populations (who remembered the previous campaigns of Kitbuqa) as far south as Cairo. The fierce and ruthless Mongols were deeply feared. But the Mongols did not stay, and when the mamluk leader Baibars mounted a counter-offensive on the Mongols from Egypt on 12 November, the Mongols had already retreated beyond the Euphrates into Persia.

Baibars suspected that there would be a combined land-sea attack on Egypt by the Franj. Feeling his position threatened, he endeavoured to head off such a manoeuvre by building a large fleet. Having finished construction of the fleet, rather than attack the Crusader army directly, Baibars attempted to land on Cyprus in 1271, hoping to draw King Hugues III of Cyprus (the nominal King of Jerusalem) and his fleet out of Acre, with the objective of conquering the island and leaving Edward and the Crusader army isolated in the “Holy Land”. However, in the ensuing naval campaign, the Egyptian fleet was destroyed and Baibars’ armies were routed and forced back.

Following this temporary victory over the “Saracens”, Edward of England realized that it was necessary to end the internal rivalry within the Crusader state. He mediated between Hugues and his unenthusiastic knights from the Ibeline family of Cyprus. After the mediation, Prince Edward of England began negotiating an eleven- year truce with Sultan Baibars of Egypt, although, according to some sources, this negotiation almost ended when Baibars attempted to assassinate Edward by sending men pretending to seek baptism as Christians. Edward and his knights personally killed the assassins and at once began preparations for a direct attack on Jerusalem. However, when news arrived that Edward’s father, Henry III, had died in England, a peace treaty was signed with Sultan Baibars, allowing Edward to return home to be crowned King of England in 1272. The Ninth Crusade thus ended without any of its goals, above all the capture of Jerusalem, being realized.

After the Ninth Crusade

After the Ninth Crusade (1271–1272), the mamluks, who now ruled in Egypt, repeatedly tried to take Acre from the “Franks”. Edward of England had been accompanied on his crusade by Theobaldo Cardinal Visconti, who, in 1271, became Pope Gregory X. Gregory called for a new crusade at the Council of Lyons in 1274, but nothing came of this. Europe’s crusading spirit had died. New fissures arose within the Christian states in the “East” when Charles d’Anjou of Sicily took advantage of a dispute between Hugues III of Cyprus (the “King of Jerusalem”), the Knights Templar, and Venice in order to bring the remaining Crusader state under his control. Having bought Princess Mary of Antioch’s claims to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Charles attacked Hugues III, causing a civil war within the rump kingdom. In 1277, Hugo of San Severino captured Acre for Charles. In that year, Sultan Baibars of Egypt died, as did the Caliph of Tunis, Muhammad al-Mustansir.

Although the civil war within the Crusader ranks had weakened them badly, it also gave the opportunity for a single commander to take control of the crusade: Charles d’Anjou, King of Sicily. However, this hope, too, was dashed when Venice again suggested that a crusade be called, not against the “Saracens”, but against the Greeks of Constantinople, where, in 1261, Michaelis VIII Palalelogos (1223–1282) had toppled the “Latin Kingdom of Constantinople”, re-established the Byzantine Greek Empire, and driven out the Venetians as well. Pope Gregory X would not have supported an attack by Christians on Christians, but, in 1281, his successor, Pope Martin IV, did. This led in 1282 to the “War of the Sicilian Vespers” (1282–1302). The war began as a popular Sicilian uprising against King Charles d’Anjou, who had conquered Sicily in 1266, and was instigated by Emperor Michaelis VIII of Byzantium. Charles d’Anjou was driven from Sicily, and the French and Norman population of Sicily was massacred.

The Ninth Crusade was the last Crusader expedition launched either against the Byzantines in Europe or the Muslims in the Holy Land. During the remaining nine years (1282–1291), the mamluks demanded ever increasing tribute from the “Franks”, and also persecuted the Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, in contravention of their truce with Edward of England. In 1289, the mamluk sultan Qalawun al-Alfi of Egypt gathered a large army and attacked the remnants of the Christian County of Tripoli, laying siege to its capital of Tripoli, and finally taking it after a bloody assault. Their attack on Tripoli was terrible for the mamluks themselves, however, as the desperate and frenzied Christian resistance to the siege reached fanatical proportions. Qalawun lost his eldest and ablest son in the Tripoli campaign. He waited another two years to gather his strength. Qalawun died in 1290, but, in 1291, the mamluks, under his son Khalil (al-Malik al-Ashraf Salah ad-Din Khalil ibn Qalawun, 1262–1293), took Acre from the Crusaders.

The fall of Acre was tragic and bloody. Following the fall of Tripoli to the mamluks in 1289, King Henry of Cyprus desperately sent his seneschal Jean de Grailly to Europe to warn the European monarchs about the critical situation in the “Levant”. In Rome, Jean de Grailly met Pope Nicholas IV (Girolamo Masci, 1227–1292), who promptly wrote to the European princes urging them to do some- thing about the “Holy Land”. Most of them, however, were too preoccupied by the “War of the Sicilian Vespers” to organize a crusade, and King Edward of England was entangled in his own troubles at home. Only a small army of Italian peasants and unemployed Italians from Tuscany and Lombardy could be raised. They were transported in twenty Venetian galleys, led by Nicolò Tiepolo, son of the Doge of Venice, who was assisted by Jean de Grailly. As they sailed eastward, the fleet was joined by five Spanish galleys from King James of Aragon, who wished to help despite his conflict with the pope and Venice.

The fall of Acre and the final fall of the “Kingdom of Jerusalem” was preceded by a tragic massacre of Muslims by Christians. In August 1290, the inexperienced and poorly controlled peasants from Italy killed Muslim merchants and peasants in and around Acre without the permission of Acre’s Christian rulers. These killings gave the mamluk Sultan Qalawun a pretext to attack Acre. Although a ten-year truce had been signed between the mamluks and the Crusaders in 1289, Qalawun deemed the truce null and void following the killings. Qalawun first asked the Crusaders for the men guilty of the massacre to be handed over to him so that he could execute them. Guillaume de Beaujeu, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, proposed handing over the Christian criminals from Acre’s jails, but the Council of Acre finally refused to hand over anybody to Qalawun, and instead tried to argue that the killed Muslims had died because of their own fault. At one point during the siege, Guillaume de Beaujeu dropped his sword and walked away from the walls. When his Templar knights remonstrated, Beaujeu reportedly replied: “Je ne m’enfuis pas; je suis mort. Voici le coup.” (I am not running away; I am dead. Here is the blow.) He raised his arm to show the mortal wound he had received (Barber, 2001, Crawford, 2003).

After the Council of Acre refused to hand over the culprits for the massacre of the “Saracens”, Sultan Sultan Qalawun ordered a general mobilization of the mamluk armies of Egypt. Though he died in November 1290, he was succeeded by his son Khalil, who soon led the forces attacking Acre. The island of Cyprus at that time was the base of operations for the three major Crusader orders: the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Knights, and the Knights Hospitaller. These orders sent their knights to Acre, which was well fortified, and now had these three groups of defenders. The population of Acre at the time was some 40,000 souls, its troops numbering around 15,000, and an additional 2,000 troops arrived on 6 May 1291, with King Henry II from Cyprus. There are no reliable figures for the mamluk army, though it was certainly larger than the Crusader troops, with most of the force being volunteer siege workers. The siege lasted six weeks, beginning on 6 April 1291 and ending with the fall of the city on 18 May. According to a nineteenth-century painting by the French painter Dominique-Louis Papéty (1815–1849), the Grand maître hospitalier, Guillaume de Villiers, and the maréchal des Hospitaliers, Mathieu de Clermont, were among the leaders and last defenders of Acre. This is by no means certain, however, as the Knights Templar held out in their fortified headquarters in Acre until 28 May.

After the mamluks took Acre, they utterly destroyed it, so as to prevent the “Franks” from ever taking it again and re-establishing their kingdom. Within months, the remaining Crusader-held cities in the “Holy Land” fell easily, including Sidon (14 July 1291), Haifa (30 July), Beirut (31 July), Tartus (3 August), and Atlit (14 August). Only the small Mediterranean island of Arados or Arwad, off the Syrian coast, held out until 1302 or 1303. For the European Christians, this was the tragic end of the “Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem”, which had been based on psychohistorical and psychogeographical fantasies from its very outset. The Baltic Crusades, however, continued well into the fifteenth and even the sixteenth century. Paying no heed to Roger Bacon, the thirteenth-century Doctor Mirabilis, the Franciscan monk who wrote that religion can only be acquired by preaching, not imposed by war, the European Christians continued to try to impose their religion on the “heathen Saracens” of the Baltic region by the sword. Those who cannot mourn their losses, those who are unsure of their own faith, tragically try to force others to believe as they do.

Saladin’s Strategy



With the approach of summer in 1192, Saladin began to reassemble his armies, girding Islam for a renewed Christian offensive. Over the preceding year the sultan had faced a series of ruinous setbacks. He had watched in impotent humiliation as Acre fell on 12 July 1191, and then suffered the shock of King Richard’s cold-blooded execution of the city’s Muslim garrison on 20 August. All efforts to halt the Lionheart’s march south to Jaffa had failed and, on 7 September at Arsuf, Saladin’s armies had been driven from the field of battle. Forced to reconsider his strategy, the sultan moved on to the defensive, demolishing the fortresses of southern Palestine, shadowing the crusaders’ grinding inland advance, yet ultimately retreating within the confines of Jerusalem itself around 12 December, there to await attack.

Since the glory of his victories at Hattin and the Holy City in 1187, Saladin had remained resolute in his commitment to jihad – if anything, his dedication had deepened. But even so, he had gradually lost the initiative to the Franks. Debilitated by recurrent illness, hamstrung by the faltering morale and physical exhaustion of his troops, and distracted by the wider demands of his Ayyubid Empire, the sultan had been slowly driven to the edge of defeat. Then, on 12 January 1192, the crusaders retreated from Beit Nuba, offering Islam a new lease of hope and gifting Saladin the chance to regroup and recover.


Having survived the Christian advance on Jerusalem, Saladin took stock of his position in the first months of 1192. The Ayyubid realm was in a worrying state of disrepair. After years of neglecting the management of his treasury, the sultan’s financial resources were profoundly overstretched, and without a ready supply of money he was struggling to pay for the manpower and materials necessary for war. Egypt’s continued prosperity offered a lifeline, but Richard’s reoccupation of Ascalon posed a considerable threat to communications between Syria and the Nile region.

These economic woes were linked to a second concern: the dwindling availability and waning loyalty of his armies. Through the near-constant campaigning of the preceding four years, Saladin had made enormous demands of the troops drawn from his own domains in Egypt, Syria and the Jazira. Likewise, he had asked much of his allies in Mesopotamia and Diyar Bakr. It was a testament to Saladin’s remarkable charisma as a leader, to the effectiveness of the political and religious propaganda he disseminated, and to the devotional appeal of jihad that even potential rivals such as the Zangid Izz al-Din of Mosul and Imad al-Din Zangi of Sinjar had continued to honour their commitments to the holy war by answering the Ayyubid sultan’s calls to arms. But these demands could not be met indefinitely. If the conflict in Palestine continued unabated, it would be only a matter of time before the bonds of loyalty and common purpose uniting the Muslim world began to fracture. This was why Saladin took the risk of disbanding his army in December 1192.

To the sultan’s dismay, these manifold problems were compounded by the first flickerings of disloyalty within his own family. Back in March 1191, Saladin had allowed his trusted and able nephew Taqi al-Din to take possession of a parcel of territory in the Jazira, east of the Euphrates, which included the cities of Edessa and Harran. In November of that same year, in the midst of the Latins’ advance on the Holy City, the sultan was deeply saddened by news of Taqi al-Din’s death from illness. By early 1192, however, Taqi al-Din’s adult son al-Mansur Muhammad began to show what one of Saladin’s aides described as ‘signs of rebellion’. Fearing that he might be deprived of an inheritance, al-Mansur sought to cajole his great-uncle, the sultan, into either confirming his rights to the Jaziran lands or granting other territory in Syria. The approach was evidently underlined with the implied threat that, if thwarted, al-Mansur would incite anti-Ayyubid insurrection in the north-east.

Saladin was appalled by this lack of fidelity in a member of his own bloodline, and his mood did not improve when al-Mansur attempted to use al-Adil as a mediator – indeed, the conniving tactic apparently left the sultan ‘overcome with rage’. This whole affair proved to be a problematic distraction, one that rumbled on into early summer 1192. Saladin initially responded by sending his eldest son al-Afdal to subdue the Jazira in April, empowering him to request further aid from his brother al-Zahir in Aleppo if necessary. By late May, however, the sultan had relented. Al-Adil seems to have applied some pressure as an arbitrator, and the Emir Abu’l Haija also pointedly advocated leniency during an assembly held to discuss the case, observing that it was not possible to fight fellow Muslims and ‘infidels’ at the same time. Saladin duly granted al-Mansur lands in northern Syria and endowed al-Adil with rights to Harran and Edessa. However, this rather abrupt reconciliation caused something of a rift with al-Afdal. Angered by his father’s vacillation and the decision to reward al-Adil, al-Afdal showed a marked reluctance to return to Palestine, tarrying first at Aleppo and then at Damascus, depriving Saladin of valuable manpower.95

In early 1192 Saladin faced financial insecurity, troop shortages and sedition. Not surprisingly, he further refined his approach to the holy war. During the preceding autumn he had adopted a more defensive strategy, avoiding decisive confrontations with the Franks but still maintaining relatively close contact with his enemy. From spring 1192 onwards, the sultan withdrew almost all of his soldiers from the field. Barring occasional skirmishing forays and opportunistic raids, the Ayyubid armies held fast in defensible positions across the length of Palestine, waiting to repel any Christian attack. In a related development, Saladin instituted a widespread work programme to strengthen his major fortresses and Jerusalem’s battlements.

These preparations were reflective of a fundamental change of policy. In 1192 Saladin evidently concluded that he could no longer realistically expect to achieve outright victory against the Third Crusade. This realisation prompted him to re-engage with the diplomatic process – establishing dialogue with Richard I and Conrad of Montferrat. It also forced the sultan to re-evaluate his bargaining position. A deal based on a partition of the Holy Land, in which the Latins would retain control of a coastal strip of territory, was now deemed acceptable. As yet, however, Saladin retained two firm demands: Islam must retain dominion of Jerusalem; and Ascalon, the gateway to Egypt, must be abandoned.

Saladin’s overarching strategy of defence and diplomacy was now underpinned by a singular objective – to survive the Third Crusade. He knew that the Latin Christians who had come east in their thousands to wage a war of reconquest would one day return home. King Richard, in particular, could not afford to remain in the Levant indefinitely. Saladin’s goal was to withstand the storm: limiting his losses wherever possible; avoiding decisive confrontation at all costs; but bringing the Palestinian war to a swift conclusion, before the Ayyubid war machine collapsed. Then, once the crusaders had sailed from the eastern shores, the sultan could turn his mind to thoughts of recovery and reconquest.

Livonia and Pskov, 1240-42

In 1240 a military campaign was launched from Livonia against Pskov, resulting in the overthrow of the faction that supported the rule of Aleksandr Iaroslavich. Early in the spring of 1242 Aleksandr recaptured the city and on 5 April defeated the Livonian army in what has become known as the Battle of the Ice. The independent sources for these events include the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, the First Novgorod Chronicle, the vita of Aleksandr Iaroslavich, the Laurentian Chronicle, and the Chronicle of Suzdal. It is doubtful to what extent the information found in the chronicles of Pskov can be regarded as original.

The Rhymed Chronicle records after the transfer of northern Estonia to the Danish king that Bishop Hermann of Dorpat had come into dispute with the Russians “at this time”. The Russians had turned against the bishop and done him much harm. The bishop asked the Teutonic Knights for help, and their master had also come to his aid. The “men of the king” (kuniges man)-a contingent from Danish territory-had also arrived to give help. The chronicler also writes that this army took Izborsk, where all Russians who defended themselves were killed. Russians from Pskov clashed in fighting with the Order, the men of the Danish king, and the army of Bishop Hermann, and were defeated at Izborsk. The Russians fled to the River Velikaya. A siege of Pskov then began, whereby “many knights and squires / deserved their right to a fief”. The city surrendered, weakened from the lost battle, its prince Gerpolt freely handed over the castle and good land to the knights so that the master of the Order would take care of them. The Order’s army then left Pskov, leaving behind two knights and a small contingent of Germans to guard the territory. When the prince of Novgorod heard of this, he came with his army to Pskov and drove away the two knights, who were acting as bailiffs: “if Pskov were held / it would be a great thing for Christendom / until the End of the World. / It is a misfortune / if somebody has conquered good lands / but failed to man it well: he may well complain at the damage”, writes the chronicler in conclusion. The prince of Novgorod returned to his city but then the prince of Suzdal Alexander arrived with a large army and advanced further on to Livonia. When the bishop of Dorpat learned of this, he prepared for an attack. The armies of the Order and Dorpat, even united, were too small and they were overwhelmed by the superior number of Russians. Twenty Teutonic Knights were killed and six were taken prisoner. Aleksandr returned to his land. After describing the battle, the chronicler adds that the Order’s master Herman Balke had been at war with both the Russians and the pagans for five and a half years and had then died. The capture of Izborsk in 1240 and the two knights with their small entourage are also mentioned in the chronicle of Hermann von Wartberge.

The Novgorod Chronicle has the following account. In 1240, after the Battle of the Neva, Izborsk castle was captured by the Germans, namely by the men from Odenpäh, Dorpat, and Fellin, acting together with Prince Iaroslav Vladimirovich. When news of this reached Pskov, an army left to fight the enemy and was defeated. The Germans proceeded to burn the outskirts of Pskov together with their churches and icons, books, and gospels. They destroyed a number of villages near Pskov, besieged the city for a week, and took the children of the venerable men hostage. Then the “treacherous” Pskovians, Tverdilo Ivankovich and others, let the Germans into the city and set themselves up together with them as rulers of Pskov, plundering the villages of the Novgorod Land as well. Some Pskovians fled with their women and children to Novgorod. When the Germans invaded Votia, the Novgorodians asked Iaroslav Vsevolodovich to send them a prince, but were not satisfied with whom they received, namely Andrei Iaroslavich, and asked for Aleksandr. He did indeed come in the spring of 1241, capturing Koporye together with the Novgorodians, the warriors from Ladoga, the Karelians, and the Ingrians. In March 1242 Aleksandr, with the Novgorodians and his brother, attacked the land of the Chuds and besieged Pskov, where he took the Germans and the Chuds prisoner and sent them “in chains” to Novgorod. He himself fought the Chuds and had his army destroy their lands. Following the crushing defeat of a Russian reconnaissance unit, the prince and his troops moved to the lake, where they were followed by the Germans and Estonians. In the battle “by the Raven’s Rock on the narrow [of Lake Peipus]” on 5 April the Germans were defeated and the Chuds took to flight. That same year a German embassy was sent to Novgorod or to the prince promising to return everything that had been conquered from the prince in his absence: “Votia, Luga, Pskov, Lettgallia”. The prisoners on both sides were released as were the hostages of Pskov.

Aleksandr’s vita narrates that in the third year after the Battle of the Neva Aleksandr had set out in the winter for the land of the Germans with a great army. The Germans had at that time already taken Pskov and installed their bailiffs there. Aleksandr killed some of the Germans, took others prisoner, and freed the city from its conquerors. He then went to the land of the Germans to destroy it. Aleksandr achieved a great victory in the battle, taking many prisoners, including those called the “knights of God”. In Pskov he was glorified by the priests for defeating the aliens. The prince nonetheless warned Pskov not to betray him during his lifetime nor that of his grandchildren. The chronicles of Pskov are the only source to add the date of the Battle of Izborsk as 16 September, but their other accounts may have been influenced by both the Novgorod chronicles and the vita of Aleksandr. The Laurentian Chronicle records that Andrei was sent by his father Iaroslav to the Novgorodians to help them and also refers to the battle on the lake and that many prisoners were taken.

The mention in the Novgorod Chronicle of Iaroslav Vladimirovich and the men from Odenpäh, Dorpat (i. e. the soldiers of the bishop of Dorpat), and Fellin (i. e. the Teutonic Knights) indicates a direct analogy with the events of the 1230s, when Izborsk was temporarily occupied by a Russian army allied with Dorpat. It is highly plausible that none other than Iaroslav Vladimirovich is called Gerpolt in the Rhymed Chronicle. The taking of hostages to guarantee the treaty indicates an analogy to 1228, when a Livonian contingent settled in Pskov and the agreement was likewise guaranteed through the handing over of hostages.

Although the accounts found in these independent sources are highly consistent with one another, it is hard to discern the significance of these events in the overall context of contemporary relations between Livonia and Rus’. A central role is clearly played by the bishop of Dorpat and Prince Iaroslav Vladimirovich, whereas the Rhymed Chronicle and the chronicle of Hermann von Wartberge, both chronicles of the Teutonic Order, concentrate on the actions of its members. Yet even the Rhymed Chronicle mentions that the bishop asked the Teutonic Knights for help, in other words that this was a catalyst for the campaign. The Rhymed Chronicle also mentions the Danish king’s vassals, but under the year 1240 rather than 1242. The bishop of Dorpat is acting throughout as territorial lord, not as missionary. Although these events are sometimes regarded as an attempt, instigated and countenanced by the papacy, to subjugate the territory and church of Rus’, this cannot be demonstrated by any of the sources in relation to the campaign against Pskov. The description in the Novgorod Chronicle of the burning of churches and holy scriptures in the vicinity of Pskov is not a sign of the heresy of the occupiers but simply of their criminal behaviour overall. The Novgorod Chronicle deals with the destructive campaigns that took place in Novgorod’s territory in 1240-41 separately: in relation to Pskov, the chronicler refers to the destruction of the villages in the Novgorod Land, but in relation to Koporye reference is made to localities on the Luga river. There is no basis in the sources for treating the campaigns as a combined attack on Novgorod from two sides.

The Rhymed Chronicle, and the tradition derived from it, appears to associate the campaign against Pskov and the Battle of the Ice with the first master of the Teutonic Order in Livonia, Hermann Balk. Balk had already left the country in 1238 and died in 1240. He was succeeded by Dietrich von Grüningen (1238/39-1246) and Andreas von Felben (1241, 1248-53). The Rhymed Chronicle mentions the master’s participation in the 1240 campaign against Pskov, but not, however, in 1242. The mention of the “men from Fellin” in the chronicle appears to point to the Order’s territory in Estonia. However, the expression in the context of the Order’s great castle that was nearest to Novgorod may have referred to the Order as such. On the other hand, Evgeniia Nazarova argues that the commander of Fellin played a key role in the occupation of Pskov. The fact that the Rhymed Chronicle refers principally to the Teutonic Knights does not necessarily mean, however, that the Teutonic Order played the most important role or that its master or his deputy, Andreas von Felben, personally led the campaign. It has long since been pointed out that the attack on Rus’ was not in the general interest of the Teutonic Order in Livonia. Its main opponents were in the south: in Curonia, Samogitia, and Lithuania, not to mention in Prussia. In 1241-1242 the Teutonic Order in Livonia, led by the Livonian provincial master, Dietrich von Grüningen, seized Curonia with mil itary support from the Danish vassals and the bishoprics of Riga and Ösel. According to Friedrich Benninghoven, the campaigns against Rus’ were informed by the attitudes and separate policy of the former Sword Brothers who had survived the Battle of Saule but could not come to terms with the transfer of northern Estonia to Denmark and thus tried to assert their authority by means these attacks. There is no evidence, however, that there was a confrontation between two different tendencies in the Order. After the merger of the two orders, the Teutonic Order pursued a determined policy of forcing the former Sword Brothers into the background. In support of the view that there were two opposing visions of conquest, or at least different political tendencies, recourse is made to the unproven assertion that the Order had indeed wanted to launch a campaign from Livonia to conquer Pskov or even Novgorod in 1240. Taking part in the campaign against Pskov and the attempt to capture Votia are not incompatible with the Order’s plans south of the Daugava.

At the centre of the campaign against Pskov was therefore the bishopric of Dorpat and its relationship with Prince Iaroslav Vladimirovich dating back to the 1230s and, by extension, to the Pskovian opposition to Aleksandr Iaroslavich, who sought Iaroslav Vladimirovich’s ascension to power in Pskov. Prince Iaroslav’s closest supporters were constantly in touch with Odenpäh, which explains why the “men of Odenpäh” come first in the list of the “Germans” in the chronicle. The fact that the “men from Fellin” come last in this list indicates the smaller role of the Teutonic Order in comparison. The start of the offensive may have been determined by a propitious moment in Pskov’s internal political situation. The “harm” (leit) mentioned in the Rhymed Chronicle inflicted by Rus’ on Bishop Hermann, who had to suffer it during a long time, and the danger for Christians are not a direct reference to the earlier military activity in the borderlands between Dorpat and Pskov c. 1239-40. There was a constant internal political opposition in Novgorod and Pskov which sought support from various external powers-the princes of Suzdal, Smolensk, and Chernigov among others. Trade relations with Livonia were crucial for all groups. We cannot say that one group had a particular interest in trade with Livonia. Rather, we are dealing with pretenders from the different political tendencies to the princely throne, with one of these being Iaroslav Vladimirovich.

Pskov’s surrender in the face of the oncoming Livonian army constituted a change of prince from the city’s point of view. The limits of the authority of the Order’s two bailiffs remain unknown. Iaroslav Vladimirovich’s relationship with the support army from Livonia was extremely complex, and his power in Pskov was secured by means of the hostages. The Novgorod Chronicle names Tverdilo Ivankovich “together with others” as the real ruler of Pskov. He had “made himself ruler in Pskov with the Germans”. Iaroslav’s position also depended on Tverdilo. There is no indication of who in Livonia was promised the hostages, whether the bishop of Dorpat or the Order. When describing Livonia’s peace embassy, however, the chronicle deals with the release of the hostages and other terms of peace affecting the Order more than the bishop of Dorpat. The Rhymed Chronicle also mentions the fiefs that the bravest knights had earned in the battle of Izborsk, although this may simply be part of the conventions typical of battle descriptions. If anyone did indeed receive a fief, this would have first meant confiscating estates from the supporters of Aleksandr Iaroslavich, for example. Such a course of action would have inevitably exacerbated the division among the burghers of Pskov.

A charter of 1248 provided for the division of the principality of Pskov between the bishopric of Dorpat and the Teutonic Order. It mentions that the principality “was donated by Prince Ghereslawus, its heir, to the mentioned church of Dorpat”. Albert Ammann has attempted to show that this donation originally dates to 1239 and would thus account for the planned attack on Pskov. This dating has been widely accepted. In the register of charters brought from Mitau to Stockholm in the mid-17th century, there is, moreover, the following entry: “1239 Dorpat. How the kingdom of Pskov was divided between the Order and the diocese of Dorpat.” However, this may simply be a misreading from a transumpt of 1299 regarding the charter of 1248. Despite the lack of a documentary basis, the promises of Prince Iaroslav Vladimirovich-or something that the bishopric could subsequently construe as promises-c. 1240 appear plausible. Any military aid had to be paid for, and the “donation” of a principality might have been the form the remuneration took. This donation can presumably be understood in terms of feudal law, as in the case of Vsevolod of Gerzike: perhaps Iaroslav had donated Pskov to the bishop of Dorpat and then received it back as a fief. The relevant passage in the Rhymed Chronicle states “that Gerpolt who was their prince / gave with his good will / the castle and the good lands / into the hands of the Teutonic Knights”. This might have referred to this donation, which had already been granted to the Order in 1240 as partial remuneration for taking part in the campaign against Pskov. Iaroslav’s right of inheritance was in itself obviously fictitious. Pskov was not a heritable principality; its princes were appointed and expelled, as was the case in Novgorod. Iaroslav’s hereditary lands would have been Toropets and Rzhev, but his-continual-presence in Livonia during the 1230s suggests that he was not able to establish himself there or that these possession did not satisfy his ambitions. Iaroslav Vladimirovich appears in the sources again in 1243, when his wife, who had been killed by her stepson in Odenpäh and buried in Pskov, is mentioned, and also in 1245, when he fought as leader of the warriors of Torzhok along with Aleksandr Iaroslavich against the Lithuanians’ campaign of destruction. He had probably died by 1248.

According to the Novgorod Chronicle, Aleksandr left Novgorod after the capture of Pskov and was not called back until after the invasion of Votia. This means Novgorod did not regard the change of power in Pskov as a threat despite the destruction of Novgorod villages by Tverdilo. For the 1242 campaign against Pskov, Andrei also came from Suzdal, again suggesting that Aleksandr, in reconquering Pskov, was acting more in his own sovereign interests rather than those of Novgorod. At the same time, the opposition to Aleksandr in Novgorod shows that there too there were people who sympathized with the change of power in Pskov.

The Rhymed Chronicle says that after the conquest of Pskov the army of Aleksandr and Andrei advanced further “into the lands of the [Teutonic] brothers” (in der bruder lant)169 in March and April of 1242, once the bishop of Dorpat had sent his men to help the Order. “The lands of the brothers” could indeed have served to describe the whole of Livonia, but the chronicler distinguishes quite clearly between the different dominions and by “the lands of the brothers” principally refers to the Order’s territory. The Russian army consequently must have advanced as far as Tolowa or Sackala; the campaign of destruction lasted long enough for the Livonians to be able to raise an army. Bearing in mind that the Order had an interest in having Pskov under its control, however, the issue of the Tolowa tribute is certainly another factor in this context. The destructive advance of Rus’ could have made its way there precisely because payment of the tribute had been refused. As the army of Rus’ made its way home, the troops of the Order and the bishop of Dorpat caught up with it. In the ensuing battle Aleksandr and Andrei were victorious. The dimensions of this battle have occasionally reached absurd proportions in the historiography Anatolii Kirpichnikov has calculated that the Livonian army really could amount to a maximum of 30-35 knights and over 300 sergeants and natives and the Russians would have had been slightly more, amounting to a total of about 1000 men for both sides together.

According to the account in the Russian chronicles, a peace was agreed in Novgorod in 1242, in which “Germans”-does this mean the Teutonic Order – ceded Votia, Pskov, the Luga, and Lettgallia to the prince and/or Novgorod. Thus the status quo was preserved in the peace. The Pskov and Votia campaigns were therefore not connected with one another until the peace with the Order. But a separate question is what was meant by Lettgallia in this context. Novgorod had no interest in Lettgallia, therefore the chronicle means here restoration to Pskov and Aleksandr. Since there are no reports of a temporary handover of Lettgallia during Aleksandr’s rule, it would appear plausible to assume that Pskov had relinquished the tribute from Tolowa during the war and that its right to collect tribute there was now being reinstated. If the Order shared in the seizure of power in Pskov, it may indeed have been recompensed with the tribute of Tolowa or the entire right of possession, but was forced to accept the restitution after the loss of Pskov. It is altogether feasible that Aleksandr also had interests in the Daugava, since he had just married a princess of Polotsk. Aleksandr and his father Iaroslav Vsevolodovich exercised considerable influence in the Smolensk-Polotsk region throughout the 1240s.

The place given to the Battle of the Ice as a significant event even in world history is based on purely ideological concerns and has little to do with the historical evidence. A distinction must be made between the great importance that the Battle of the Ice has undoubtedly had in the 20th century and its importance for contemporaries in the 13th century. In the debate about how much significance should be given to the battle, we must first define the frame of reference, i. e. whether viewed in terms of the family of the grand prince of Vladimir, Pskov, Novgorod, the bishopric of Dorpat, Rus’ or Europe. As far as the sources from Rus’ are concerned, this was a story about how Aleksandr lost control of Pskov only to win it back. The traitors in Votia and Pskov mentioned in the Novgorod Chronicle had betrayed the prince, not Rus’ or the Orthodox religion. The warfare of 1240-42 “most likely did not change at all the attitude of Novgorod and Pskov towards Livonia and Sweden. The West was not seen as much of a threat or less so following the defeat”. This judgement by Bernhard Dircks can be endorsed with the qualification that the very notions of East and West are themselves anachronistic. These events belong exclusively in the context of local struggles for power, and in the case of Pskov we are dealing with `internal political’ conflicts as much as with `external relations’. To the extent that the church and questions of religious confession played a role at all-which was in any case in the form of justification rather than cause-this was of such a marginal nature that it left no mark in the sources.

In a wider sense, however, Livonia’s attempts to gain control in Votia and Pskov during 1240-42 appear as significant. The political forces in Livonia were able to maintain a position east of Lake Peipus for some time. The event is lent an aura of exceptionality by the fact that we know in retrospective that Lake Peipus became a dividing line during the Middle Ages between the Orthodox and the Catholic worlds. In the contemporary context, this signified on the one hand the continuation of the mission among the Votian pagans and on the other a political intervention in Pskov, quite separate ideologically and geographically from the former. We are not dealing with a unique decision in history but with episodes from a policy practiced both before and after the Battle of the Ice. The fact that first a victory was achieved, which itself proved fleeting when Livonians came to face a stronger opponent in the shape of Aleksandr, depended on circumstances beyond Livonia as well as on arbitrary factors, principally internal political conditions in Novgorod and Pskov.

Thomas, Bishop of Finland

In 1229 Finland Christianity, Traditional Religions Pope Gregory IX authorizes Bishop Thomas, the first Christian bishop of Finland, to assume control over all non-Christian places of worship throughout Finland. Shortly thereafter, the Tavastians, a subgroup of the Finnish people, rebel against Christianity, which prompts the pope to call for a crusade specifically against them.

The victory of the Christian faith and the ecclesiastical order marked the end of prehistory in Finland and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

In the 1150s, Erik, king of Sweden, and Henrik, bishop of Uppsala, tried to introduce ecclesiastical and political order in Finland (the so-called “first crusade”). Sweden was not able to subjugate Finland, but missionary work and establishment of the first parishes were initiated in Lower Satakunta and the northern part of Varsinais-Suomi. The missions under the leadership of bishops, and perhaps also the crusades waged by the Swedish aristocracy, continued in Finland all through the latter half of the 12th century. Ecclesiastical order was also established in spite of the harassment of Novgorod and paganism.

Because of the conquests by the Germans and the Danes in the Baltic countries, Sweden also launched her operations in the coastal countries of the Gulf of Finland at the beginning of the 13th century. They had been initiated mainly in the dioceses of Gotland and Linkoping. From about 1220-1245, the bishop of Finland was the energetic Thomas; and as a result of his efforts, the diocese of Finland came to comprise the provinces of Varsinais, Suomi and Hame. Thomas sought support particularly from the German rulers in the Baltic countries, and probably also received armed assistance for his operations from the order of the Brethren of the Sword against paganism in Hame and against Novgorod during the 1230s. The diocese of Finland does not seem to have been under the authority of the bishop of Uppsala in his time, although the connection was established soon after Thomas at the end of the 1240s.

The participation of Catholic bishops in military campaigns was the norm rather than the exception in the 13th century. Their participation in these instances does not offer any proof whatsoever of the direct interest of the curia or the pope or that they were directing events.

The young missionary church in Finland seems to have played a more active role in the 1220s than earlier. The first phase of missionary work was over, and now an independent bishopric under the guidance of the archbishop of Uppsala was erected. In 1221, Pope Honorius III gave the Finnish bishop extensive powers of attorney in the territory north of the Finnish gulf (including a trade boycott against the pagan people), in order to make the missionary work among the non-Christians more effective. The papal letters mention an unspecific bishop of Finland. The bishop mentioned was perhaps Bishop Thomas (c. 1230-1245), who appears in sources for the first time in 1232. The boycott of trade was a consequence of Novgorodian attacks to Tavastia; as a result, the Tavastians made raids and caused devastation in Karelia. From the year 1229, seven of Pope Gregory IX’s letters defending the Finnish church have been preserved. One of the letters allows the transfer of the centre of the bishopric from Nousiainen to Koroinen in Turku. The transfer of the episcopal see to a more suitable place meant advantages to the bishopric concerning trade and communication. 

Bishop Thomas seems to have been especially active in fighting the non-Christian Finns. When Finland proper in the southwest and the Åland islands had been Christianized for a long time, missionary endeavours were directed towards Tavastia. It seems that Bishop Thomas possibly established contact with the German Sword Brethren in Livonia and managed to convince at least some of the Brethren to help defend Christianity in Tavastia. Whether the Sword Brethren were ever active in Finland is unclear, however. The often brutal methods used to convert the inhabitants of Tavastia, which could indicate the presence of the Sword Brethren, inspired in 1237 a huge riot among the Tavastians against the Swedes and the Swedish ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1240, Bishop Thomas, other Swedish bishops, and Birger Magnusson participated in the battle of Neva, where Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod soundly defeated his enemies.

The Swedish military expedition against Tavastia is normally thought of as the second Finnish crusade. The events of this military campaign are referred to in the Erik Chronicle (written c. 1331-1332). According to the chronicle, the second crusade was conducted by Earl Birger (Birger Jarl). Although it does not mention any year, it is clear from the context that it must have taken place in 1249, even though Finnish historian Jarl Gallén has argued convincingly for an earlier dating of the crusade to 1238-1239. It is, however, general consensus that the second crusade must have taken place in 1249. This takes into account the fact that Birger Jarl might have ravaged Finland twice – in 1238-1239 and again in 1249-1250 – to install a new bishop on the vacant episcopal see of Turku. The chronicle describes how the Swedish troops led by Birger Jarl successfully traced the Tavastians and defeated them. The Earl then founded and erected the castle of Hämeenlinna in order to strengthen Swedish control over the territory. The place of the first stronghold was perhaps the Haga (Fin. Hakoinen) castle in Janakkala, because an early construction on the later location of the Hämeenlinna castle seems problematic and cannot be documented.

The earlier military undertakings by the Danes with the conquest of Estonia in 1219 might have served as one of the catalysts for the Swedish endeavours to strengthen their military power towards Novgorod. The Novgorodian victory by Neva in 1240, however, did not definitively stop the Swedish expansion policy. The Swedes thus took part in a German attack on Novgorod in 1256 in the area east of the River Neva; Prince Alexander Nevsky attacked Tavastia the following winter.

The Swedish military activities against Tavastia in the 1230s and 1240s strengthened not only the position of the Swedish crown in the territory, but also the position and the prestige of Bishop Thomas. The landscape was Christianized by the Swedes and, according to the Erik Chronicle, the `Russian prince’ lost control of Tavastia. Bishop Thomas was, however, forced to resign in 1245. The actual circumstances around his withdrawal are complicated. Some claim that the military defeat against Alexander Nevsky in 1240 was the reason for his demission; on the other hand, a papal letter reveals that he was found guilty of use of torture and killing, as well as of falsifying papal letters. Bishop Thomas spent the last years of his life in the Dominican convent in Visby in Gotland. The Dominicans were active in helping to convert the pagans, and perhaps an earlier collaboration with members of the newly founded order explains the Bishop’s decision. Bishop Thomas’s personality has always been hotly debated. The bishop’s seat in Turku remained vacant after his dismissal and was filled only in 1248-1249, when Bero, the chancellor of the Swedish king, was appointed.

First Crusade: Siege of Nicaea and the Battle of Dorylaeum 1097 AD


Most significantly for the course of future crusades, during Bohemond’s stay in Constantinople he took a vow of allegiance to the emperor that resembled very closely a feudal oath of homage. Then he cajoled, bullied and browbeat many of the other princes who had been arriving at the city’s gates since the previous December into doing the same. In some cases this aroused considerable antipathy. Nevertheless, oaths were taken on relics including the Holy Cross and crown of thorns by Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois, Robert of Flanders, Stephen of Blois, Tancred of Hauteville and many of the lesser lords, all of whom vowed to restore to the empire any Turkish-held towns and strongholds that they might capture along the road to Jerusalem. Even Raymond of Toulouse, who detested the emperor, grudgingly committed not to damage his property. In turn Alexios swore he `would not cause or permit anyone to trouble or vex our pilgrims on the way to the Holy Sepulchre’. He also awarded the crusading princes eye-poppingly large gifts of treasure and expensive religious vestments and dangled the prospect of land-grants far to the east of Asia Minor – assuming the crusaders got there.

Bohemond’s sudden display of subservience towards Alexios confused the author of the Gesta Francorum: `Why did such brave and determined knights do a thing like this? It must have been because they were driven by desperate need.’ Another chronicler marvelled that the mighty Latins had been prepared to bend their knees to `the puny Greeks, laziest of all people’. In fact selfinterest loomed large on both sides. Alexios had invited the armies into his territories and fully intended to see them deployed clearing the Turks from Asia Minor before they disappeared off towards Jerusalem. The crusaders, for their part, could not hope to proceed without the emperor’s goodwill and financial support. Bohemond himself had arrived with the smallest army and lowliest standing among all the princes; he realized there was much to be gained in prestige and power if he could become the man who held the eastern and western leaders together. To that end Bohemond even petitioned the emperor to appoint him as his domestikos – a title which would connote supreme command in Asia Minor – but Alexios demurred; Bohemond could not `out-Cretan the Cretan’, said Anna. Their exchange of oaths, brokered by Bohemond, effectively cemented a relationship that would – for a time – yield spectacular results for both sides.

With Easter celebrated, homage sworn, and tens of thousands of troops – including 7,500 heavy cavalry and perhaps six times as many light infantry – waiting across the Bosphorus on the western tip of Asia Minor, there was little point in wasting time. At the beginning of May Bohemond and the other princes marched their armies south-east towards the first target agreed with the emperor: Nicaea, the Seljuq sultan of Rum, Qilij Arslan’s capital. They arrived and set up camp on 6 May. A week later they laid the city under siege.

Bohemond had attacked plenty of cities in his life, but at Nicaea he encountered formidable defences. Huge walls, punctuated with towers topped with catapults, protected three sides of the city. A large lake called Askania (Ascanius/Iznik) rendered the fourth side inaccessible to the besiegers while allowing resupply of food, firewood, armour and other provisions to the citizens within. Robert the Monk reckoned it `the chief place to which no other is equal in Anatolia’. The princes camped in orderly fashion around the walls (Bohemond’s men took up their position before Nicaea’s main gates) to effect a land blockade while their engineers built siege engines. One eyewitness saw battering rams, mobile sheds to protect sappers known as `sows’, `cats’ and `foxes’, wooden towers and petrariae, or stone-throwing catapults. When these were constructed an exchange of missiles to and from the battlements began, with occasional skirmishing between besiegers and besieged. `The supporters of Christ deployed their forces around the city and attacked valiantly,’ wrote Robert the Monk. `The Turks, fighting for their lives, put up strong resistance. They fired poisoned arrows so that even those lightly wounded met a horrible death.’

Soon, amid the sawing and hewing of half-built war-machines, the crash of stone pelting stone and catcalls from the ramparts, came more ominous shrieks. On 16 May the woods behind the crusaders suddenly sprang to life: a relieving army sent by Qilij Arslan came forth, `exulting in their certainty of victory, bringing with them ropes with which to lead us bound into Khorasan [i. e. as slaves to be taken to Persia]’. They charged the besiegers and a major engagement began outside the city walls.

The relievers may have assumed that one crusading army was much like another, and that the princes’ armies would be as easily dispatched as Peter the Hermit’s followers had been the previous year. They were soon disabused of the notion, beaten backwards by a cavalry charge commanded by Raymond of Toulouse and Bishop Adhémar. Large numbers were killed on both sides, and grisly retribution followed. The crusaders decapitated corpses and flung the severed heads over Nicaea’s walls. The citizens let down grappling hooks from the ramparts, fishing for Latin soldiers, whose bodies they hanged in mockery from the towers.

On 1 June sappers tunnelled beneath one of Nicaea’s towers. That night they set fire to the wooden struts supporting their mine, collapsing it and bringing down a section of the wall above. Now a breach existed where efforts to storm the city could be focused. A daily contest began, in which crusading troops attempted repeatedly to rush the breach, while the defenders inside the city piled up rubble to barricade it. For those involved it was almost impossibly exciting. `I do not think that anyone has ever seen, or will ever again see, so many valiant knights,’ exclaimed a Latin eyewitness.

However, after several inconclusive days of this, the siege was slipping into stalemate. As long as the city could be supplied via the lake, it could tolerate any amount of bombardment. What broke the deadlock was action undertaken not by Bohemond and his Latin allies, but by the emperor they had taken such care to woo. Alexios had held back from the action at Nicaea, having no desire to take part in a fight he had hired foreigners to pick on his behalf. But he had crossed the Bosphorus and hung back a day’s ride away, monitoring events from the safety of a magnificent marquee shaped like a city, with a turreted atrium, which took twenty camels to transport. To represent him among the princes he sent one of his most trusted military advisors, a grizzled, jocular Arab-Greek eunuch by the name of Tatikios, who had fought against Bohemond’s father, Robert, in the 1080s, and who was distinguished both by his exemplary military record and his missing nose, in place of which he wore a golden prosthesis. Even more valuably, Alexios sent a small flotilla of ships, dragged 25 miles (40 km) overland from the shores of the Bosphorus by oxen and men wearing leather straps on their shoulders. These were launched quietly into Lake Askania, in readiness for a major combined assault.

At daybreak on 18 June the flotilla set sail across Askania towards Nicaea’s waterfront. Crewed with heavily armed turcopoles (imperial mercenaries recruited from the same ethnic group as the enemy), the vessels floated slowly and ominously into view of Nicaea’s defenders. On the landward side, a heavy assault by siege towers and catapults was taking place. As Robert the Monk wrote:

[When] those in the city saw the ships, they were terrified out of their wits and, losing the will to resist, fell to the ground as if already dead. All howled, daughters with mothers, young men with young girls, the old with the young. Grief and misery were everywhere because there was no hope of escape.

Having held out for more than seven weeks, the Nicaeans’ spirits were broken. They sued for a truce, and the garrison (along with Qilij Arslan’s wife and children) surrendered to be taken off to prison in Constantinople. As the city fell, there was plunder aplenty: some of the Frankish knights now treasured curved Turkish scimitars, taken from the dead hands of the enemy. The fall of Nicaea had proceeded from a model of co-operation between Latins and Byzantines. `It was Gaul that assured it, Greece that helped and God who brought it about,’ remarked Ralph of Caen, with satisfaction.


In line with the oaths sworn, Nicaea was handed over to Alexios, who showered the Latin princes, including Bohemond, with gifts and handed out alms to the rank and file of the crusader army. Ten days later, having refreshed and revived themselves, and taken counsel from the emperor about the best way to fight the Turks in the field (as well as receiving his gracious permission to leave) the princes packed up their camp and struck out eastwards into the Anatolian interior. They divided their army into two divisions, who were to follow parallel roads towards an abandoned Roman military encampment at Dorylaeum (Dorylaion), about four days’ march away. The first division was led by Raymond of Toulouse, Bishop Adhémar, Godfrey of Bouillon and Hugh of Vermandois. The second was headed by Bohemond, Tancred and Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy. A long and difficult summer march across Asia Minor awaited them. Qilij Arslan would assuredly be rallying his own troops for another attack.

It did not take long for Qilij Arslan’s next strike to come. As Bohemond’s army approached Dorylaeum, which lay at the confluence of two valleys, in the early morning of 1 July, `an innumerable, terrible and nearly overwhelming mass of Turks suddenly rushed upon [them]’. The author of the Gesta Francorum recalled hearing cries of `some devilish word I do not understand’ – surely the Islamic battle cry of Allahu Akhbar (`God is great’). Chroniclers suggested (with poetic licence) that more than a quarter of a million Turks, reinforced with Arab soldiers, descended on Bohemond’s army, forcing them to scramble a defence in which knights repelled the first waves while lighter-armed foot soldiers pitched a defensive camp in which the non-combatants could be protected. This formation held for a while but it was clear that, separated from Raymond, Godfrey and Adhémar’s army, the Latins were badly outnumbered. As the Turks closed in on the camp, every able person was deployed: women shuttling water to refresh men near the front line and cheering encouragement. Despite being outnumbered and occasionally panicked, with leaders including Bohemond contemplating a disorderly retreat, the crusader ranks did not break up. According to the Gesta Francorum, a motivational motto was passed down the line. `Stand fast all together, trusting in Christ and in the victory of the Holy Cross. Today, please God, you will all gain much booty.’

In later years the Battle of Dorylaeum would gain legendary status as the moment the First Crusade truly sprang to life. The writer Raymond of Aguilers, who travelled in the retinue of Raymond, count of Toulouse, reported on sightings within the Latin lines of miraculous, ghostly protectors: `Two handsome knights in flashing armour, riding before our soldiers and seemingly invulnerable to the thrusts of Turkish lances.’ That these sounded remarkably like the heavenly warriors who were said to have protected Judas Maccabeus in ancient times was probably no coincidence. It was certainly the first time that a full-scale battle had been fought against Turkish mounted archers, whose tactics of lightning raids and feigned retreat under a hail of arrows were designed to cause chaos in enemy ranks and drag them apart, inviting cavalry to attempt pursuit rather than holding a disciplined formation. Alexios had sent the goldennosed eunuch Tatikios out with the princes in order to advise them on resisting this stratagem (and the motto of `stand firm’ suggests that his words were heeded). Nevertheless, it was everything that Bohemond and Robert Curthose could do to keep their warriors from abandoning camp and fleeing in confusion, as they sent desperate word to the other princes to hurry across country and reinforce them.

A brutal contest of devastating arrow-shot against butchery at close quarters lasted from around 9 a. m. until midday. For one perilous moment a rout looked possible when the Turks broke through into the middle of the Latin encampment. Raymond of Toulouse charged into the valley with several thousand of his own knights, fresh to the battlefield; the Turks turned tail and fled, hoping to fight another day. The Franks, overwhelmed with relief and puffed up with pride in having survived, celebrated by chanting belligerent verses from the Old Testament (`Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy’), buried as martyrs all the dead who wore a crusader’s cross, plundered and desecrated the corpses of those who did not, and prepared to continue their march eastwards.

So under the leadership of Bohemond and the other princes, the debacle of the People’s Crusade was gradually forgotten. Robert the Monk later imagined a furious Qilij Arlsan berating Turkish troops he encountered running away from Dorylaeum. `You are totally insane. You have never come up against Frankish valour or experienced their courage. Their strength is not human: it comes from heaven – or the devil.’ Fanciful this may have been, but Qilij Arslan did not attempt to engage the crusader army on the battlefield again. In a way, he did not need to. Buoyed by victory, the princes decided to head for the vast city of Antioch that lay at the gates between Anatolia and Syria. A three-month summer trek through bitterly hostile countryside awaited them. They would have enough problems as it was.