The Abbasid Caliphate

The Abbasid revolt began a new age for the Umma. Many Muslims had high expectations of the new dynasty, for they regarded its members to be the representatives of the House of the Prophet. During the first several decades of its history, the new empire emitted occasional flashes of brilliance, and its subjects could feel justly proud of it. By the middle of the ninth century, however, it began to falter. It never attempted to regain the areas of the Maghrib and the Iberian Peninsula that had been lost by the Umayyads in the Great Berber Revolt, and in the ninth century it began losing effective control of its remaining provinces. By the middle of the tenth century, the Abbasid caliph was a figurehead for military officers who wielded effective power over a limited area.

The Early Period

The first Abbasid caliph, Abu al-‘Abbas, assumed the title al-Saffah, or “the blood shedder.” It was an apt title for two reasons. First, it was a name that had been associated with the idea of the Mahdi in the literature of the previous decades, and therefore the new ruler was asserting his divinely sanctioned status in accordance with the propaganda of the Abbasid movement. (All subsequent Abbasid caliphs would follow his example in assuming titles with a religious implication; the third Abbasid caliph even adopted the title al-Mahdi). Second, as in any revolution, the stakes were high, and much blood would have to be shed. Several long-time leaders of the Abbasid movement itself were executed for objecting to the selection of al-Saffah as caliph. Numerous Shi‘ites who were regarded as potential threats to the new regime were also killed or otherwise persecuted.

When al-Saffah died in 754, his brother Abu Ja‘far succeeded him and assumed the title al-Mansur (“the victor”). Al-Mansur (754–775) laid the foundations for the Abbasid empire. He began by choosing a site on the west bank of the Tigris River for the new capital city. Officially named madinat al-salam, or “City of Peace,” it came to be known by the name of the village that lay next to it, Baghdad. The choice of the site was particularly astute: The Tigris and the Euphrates rivers came close together at this point and were connected by a navigable canal. Construction on the new capital began in 762, with 100,000 workers employed in the gargantuan project. It was a circular city some one and one-half miles in diameter that was designed for palaces, public buildings, and military barracks. Over the next few decades, the city grew into a large metropolis, and the original design was submerged in the welter of development. Extensive suburbs began springing up outside the circular walls to house those who flocked to the city to seek favors at the court or to participate in the city’s flourishing international commerce. The wealthier neighborhoods boasted of sewers, courtyards, and pools lined with tiles. By the ninth century, the city was six miles long and four miles wide, a geographical area five times greater than that of Constantinople. With its population of close to half a million, it was certainly one of the two or three greatest cities in the world.1

The Abbasid revolution seems to have been a genuine attempt to make Islamic society more inclusive. The particularistic concerns of the Arab tribes that dominated the Umayyad government had led to policies that alienated other Arabs and non-Arabs alike. In North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, the anger against such policies had expressed itself in the ferocity of the Berber Revolt of the 740s, which so shattered the edifice of central authority that the Abbasids themselves were not able to reassert effective control west of Ifriqiya. Even in Ifriqiya itself, they found it advantageous in 800 to concede autonomy to the province’s governor, Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab, a native of Khorasan. The Aghlabids went on to develop a regional power that extended its sway to Sicily.

In the rest of the former Umayyad territories, however, the Abbasid cause successfully appealed to a powerful current of piety by virtue of its demand for the abolition of the Umayyad dynasty and the installation of the Prophet’s family as the leader of the Umma. As we have seen, the Abbasid era disappointed the pro-Alids, and it was also a bitter pill for the Arab elites who had benefitted from Umayyad policies. The latter immediately lost their privileged position at court and their central-ity in the army and were replaced by the Khorasani guard. Over the next few years they also lost their tax exemptions for their property. Many Arabs, however, as well as most non-Arab Muslims, welcomed the new government because it did not favor any particular ethnic group. Its ideology was based on the spiritual and legal equality of all Muslims.

The Abbasid regime’s more cosmopolitan and less parochial character was countered by its increasing remoteness from the ordinary citizen. It is easy to overdraw the contrast between the court ceremony of the early Abbasids and the late Umayyads, for Mu‘awiya (d. 680) may have been the last of the caliphs who actually welcomed the common people to his presence with their petitions and appeals. But despite the increasing pomp of the later Umayyads, the Abbasid caliphs soon became much more removed from their subjects than even their immediate predecessors were. In Baghdad, the legacy of Sasanian ceremonial was revived, and the caliph became shielded from his public not only by monumental palaces, but also by a remarkably differentiated set of chamberlains and servants. Only the most important officials and foreign guests were allowed in the presence of the caliph. The new government quickly developed a complex bureaucracy, the members of which were recruited from throughout the empire. At the apex of the administration was the wazir, who served as the caliph’s prime minister or chief executive officer. Reporting to him were ministries of the army, finance, posts and intelligence, and the chancery, among others.

The urbanity of the era is reflected in the poetry and prose that it produced. Poetry had been the greatest cultural expression of the Arabs. Although the Umayyad period had seen some development of poetic themes and styles, nostalgia for hunting parties and desert encampments remained dominant. Under the patronage of the Abbasid caliphs, new themes emerged. The most famous of the poets of the age was Abu Nuwas (d. ca. 813), who was of mixed Arab and Iranian origin. He spent time with bedouin in order to learn the venerated traditions of Arabic poetry, and then sought patronage in Baghdad. He was unsuccessful for several years and began developing new themes that reflected the worldly sophistication of the great metropolis. He gradually became famous for his wit, cynicism, and glorification of wine drinking and pederasty, and he finally gained a coveted position at court in the last few years of the reign of the great caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809).

Court poets such as Abu Nuwas were expected to demonstrate their command of one or more of the major genres of poetry popular at the time. Others rejected such conventions as being artificial and even dissolute. A stark contrast to the career of the social climber Abu Nuwas was Abu al-‘Atahiya (d. 826), whose goal was to convey religious values and morality to the common people on the street. To do so, he discarded all the formal poetic conventions of his time, and used only the simplest language that would be comprehensible to anyone.

Arabic literature broadened its scope during this period. A prose style emerged that was employed to convey the traditions of courtly behavior (primarily Sasanian in origin) to bureaucrats and courtiers and to record the historical exploits of the Muslim community. Many outstanding prose writers made contributions in the period that spanned the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, but some must be mentioned. Sibawayh (d. ca. 793) was an Iranian, but composed the single most influential exposition of Arabic grammar. Ibn Ishaq (d. 768) was born in Medina but moved to Baghdad. He compiled the first major biography of the Prophet. His use of sources was criticized by some of his fellow scholars, and his work was revised by the Egyptian Ibn Hisham (d. ca. 833). The latter version has remained the major source for details of the Prophet’s life. Al-Jahiz (d. 869), who was descended from an African slave, lived in Iraq. His mastery of style, and his combination of intellect, erudition, and wit made him a highly influential author. Al-Tabari (d. 923) wrote books on a wide variety of subjects, but is most famous for his huge History of Prophets and Kings, a compendium of history from creation until his own time. It is one of our most important sources for the first three centuries of Muslim history.

The labeling of certain historical periods as “golden ages” is often misleading, because economic, political, and cultural developments do not always coincide. In the Abbasid case, this caution is certainly justified. Culturally, its most productive period falls after the middle of the ninth century, but its political and economic high point was during the first few decades of the dynasty. The caliphate of Harun al-Rashid (786–809) is celebrated in the famous One Thousand and One Nights as the period of glory for the dynasty, even though to his contemporaries the caliph could boast of no special achievements. In retrospect, however, his reign of a quarter of a century was a halcyon period. The caliph was the unquestioned ruler of the realm, Baghdad had developed into a world capital, and a pax Islamica brought a sense of optimism and confidence that southwestern Asia has only rarely known.

Harun himself contributed to the undoing of that optimism. In 802, he designated his oldest son al-Amin to be his successor as caliph, but stipulated that a younger son, al-Ma’mun, should rule over an enlarged and autonomous Khorasan and succeed al-Amin as caliph at the latter’s death. Soon after Harun died in 809, however, al-Amin demanded that al-Ma’mun cede the western parts of Khorasan to him and that the taxes from the remainder of the province be forwarded to Baghdad. Al-Ma’-mun refused, and a long and destructive war between the brothers ensued. During 812–813, al-Ma’mun’s army besieged Baghdad itself for a year, and al-Amin was killed. Al-Ma’mun named himself caliph in 813, but he elected to set up his court in Merv, where his base of support lay. Near-anarchy reigned in Baghdad, and the city was heavily damaged in internecine fighting over the next six years. We saw in the previous chapter that al-Ma’mun finally decided in 817–818 to relocate to Baghdad (with fatal consequences for the Imam ‘Ali al-Rida). Moving slowly, he arrived only in 819. Exhausted, the factions in the city surrendered with hardly a struggle.

Military and Economic Problems

The heart of the empire had suffered a decade of warfare from 809 to 819. Not only did Baghdad and other cities incur major damage, but ambitious local leaders in every province had tried to take advantage of the confusion to bolster their own power. When al-Ma’mun took up residence in Baghdad in 819, he began trying to restore the unity of the empire. He had remained in control of Iran during the war, and was now successful in regaining the areas as far west as Benghazi in eastern Libya and as far south as the Holy Cities. The area west of Benghazi, however, was permanently lost. The Aghlabids continued to rule in Ifriqiya, technically as Abbasid vassals, but in reality as an independent principality. As a result, the Maghrib and the Iberian Peninsula remained outside the Abbasid orbit.

In the field of culture, al-Ma’mun was more successful, and in that context he became one of the most influential caliphs in history, as we shall see in the next chapter. With the coming to power of al-Ma’mun’s younger brother, al-Mu‘tasim (833–842), however, the Abbasid dynasty entered a new and tragic era. On the one hand, the middle third of the ninth century probably represents the zenith of Abbasid political power if measured in terms of the control that the central government was able to exert over the provinces. On the other hand, certain developments set the stage for a precipitous decline in the prestige and power of the central government in general and of the caliph in particular.

Changes in the army played a major role in this process. Throughout the ninth century, the army became increasingly multiethnic in its composition. This was not a unique development for the time, as the Byzantine army itself became dependent on Slavs, Turks, Armenians, and eventually Normans. But just as the Arab forces that had achieved the spectacular conquests of the first decades of Islamic history were replaced by Khorasanis early in the Abbasid era, the Khorasanis became supplemented in the ninth century by Daylamis (from Daylam, the region south of the Caspian Sea), Armenians, Berbers, Sudanese, Turks from Central Asia, and other ethnic groups. What is striking is that the vast majority of the Abbasid troops were beginning to come from the border areas of the empire, or from outside it altogether—few Iraqis, west Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians, or peninsular Arabs were represented in it.

The new pattern of composition of the army had advantages for the caliph. By not having to rely on the local populace for troops, a ruler was freer to use troops against either external or internal enemies without having to negotiate with chieftains or notables for the use of their subjects. In addition, his troops did not hesitate to attack civilians on the streets, since they had no local families at risk. Furthermore, Muslim armies of the ninth century were becoming more professional in general and were intent on employing a variety of weaponry on the battlefield in an effort to gain the tactical edge over their opponents. The different ethnic groups represented a military division of labor that, when used well, made an army a formidable force against a less diversified force. The Turks specialized in mounted archery, the Berbers and Armenians were lance-bearing cavalry, the Daylamis were predominantly light infantry employing bows and javelins, and the black Sudanese served as heavy infantry.

The most notable ethnic group in the new army was that of the Turks. As early as the civil war between his older brothers, al-Mu‘tasim had begun building a private army composed of slaves, and he continued to do so after he became the caliph. He eventually owned several thousand such soldiers, mostly Turks of Central Asian origin. These military slaves came to be referred to as mamluks, from an Arabic term meaning “owned” or “belonging to.” After a training regimen they were usually manumitted and became clients of their former masters. As free clients, they gained limited legal rights to property and marriage. Mamluks, then, were not servile and abject victims of a brutal system, but rather formed a proud and intimidating force who preferred the company of their own kind and regarded the civilian populace with contempt. They were answerable only to the caliph, and could attain the rank of general or minister of state, controlling the destinies of hundreds of thousands of people and owning vast estates. Thus, rather than being a subservient part of the army, they actually enjoyed important privileges.

The value to caliphs of an army composed of foreign ethnic groups lay in the soldiers’ undivided loyalty. Free, indigenous soldiers could be torn between allegiance to the court they served and the local interests of the region from which they came. The irony is that the new pattern developed instabilities of its own, and caused even greater difficulties for the administration than the earlier system had. Two factors were prominent in the developing crisis. One was that the military was evolving into a de facto caste, separated by a wide cultural gulf from the rest of society. The martial values of the professional military had always set such a force apart from the rest of society, but now those differences were made all the greater by differences in language and customs. The other problem was that the economy upon which the caliphal government was based was growing weaker, making it more difficult to sustain the military at any acceptable standard of living. The rich province of Iraq was beginning to suffer a double blow to its agriculture: In some parts of the region, river channels were shifting, leaving irrigation works and fields without access to water, whereas in the region close to the Persian Gulf, many fields were suffering from salinization due to repeated irrigation by river water full of salts. To attempt to solve the latter problem, tens of thousands of slaves from East Africa were brought in to drain swamps and to remove the salinated soil in an effort to restore fertility.

Because of the economic strains, the government had difficulty paying its troops regularly. The soldiers became restive, and the various ethnic groups suspected each other of benefitting from favoritism. The mutual suspicions led to frequent clashes among the various units, and the Turks gained a reputation for initiating many of the fights. More disturbing still, the civilian population of Baghdad frequently fell victim to slights or outright injury from the arrogant soldiers, most of whom did not bother to learn Arabic. As early as 836, al-Mu‘tasim felt compelled to separate the Turks from the other troops and from the general populace by moving his capital some eighty miles to the north, where he built the city of Samarra. The move was intended to be permanent: Samarra entailed a massive investment on a scale not less than the founding of Baghdad itself. The palace and mosque complexes were imperial monuments, and within a few decades the city extended along the Tigris for twenty-four miles. Baghdad continued to function as a commercial and intellectual center, but it was no longer of political importance.


The First Crusade: The Journey to the East I

December 1096–June 1097

Between August and October 1096 the larger, wealthier, more disciplined armies embarked eastwards. The anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum who travelled with Bohemund of Taranto, or based his account on the memories of those who did, described the process, beginning with Godfrey of Bouillon’s departure from Lorraine in mid-August, before recounting a rather fancifully dramatic account of Bohemund’s recruitment to the cause of the Cross in September.

Our second army came through the Dalmatian lands, and it was led by Raymond count of St Gilles, and the bishop of Le Puy. The third came by way of the old Roman road. In this band were Bohemund and Richard of the Principality, Robert count of Flanders, Robert the Norman, Hugh the Great, Everard of Puiset, Achard of Montmerle, Isoard of Mouzon and many others. Some of them came to the port of Brindisi, others to Bari or Otranto. Hugh the Great and William son of the marquis embarked at Bari and sailed to Durazzo, but the governor of that place, hearing that warriors of such experience were arriving, immediately devised a treacherous plan, and he arrested them and sent them under guard to the emperor at Constantinople, so that they might swear fealty to him.

After this Duke Godfrey was the first of all our leaders to reach Constantinople with a great army, and he arrived two days before Christmas, and encamped outside the city until that wretch of an emperor gave orders that quarters were to be assigned to him in the suburbs. When the duke had settled in, he sent his squires out each day, quite confidently, to get straw and other things necessary for the horses; but, when they thought that they could go out freely wherever they liked, the wretched Emperor Alexius ordered his Turcopuli and Patzinaks to attack and kill them. So Baldwin [of Boulogne], the duke’s brother, hearing of this, lay in ambush, and when he found the enemy killing his men he attacked them bravely and by God’s help defeated them. He took sixty prisoners, some of whom he killed and others he presented to the duke his brother. When the emperor heard of this he was very angry, and the duke, realising this, led his men out of the suburb and encamped outside the walls. Late that evening the miserable emperor ordered his men to attack the duke and the Christian army, but our unconquered leader with his Christian knights drove back the imperial troops, killing seven men and driving the rest to the gates of the city. Afterwards he came back to his camp and stayed there for five days, until he came to an agreement with back the imperial troops, killing seven men and driving the rest to the gates of the city. Afterwards he came back to his camp and stayed there for five days, until he came to an agreement with the emperor, who told him to cross the Hellespont and promised that he would have as good provision there as he had in Constantinople; moreover the emperor promised to give alms to the poor so that they could live.

As for Bohemund, that great warrior, he was besieging Amalfi when he heard that an immense army of Frankish crusaders had arrived, going to the Holy Sepulchre and ready to fight the pagans. So he began to make careful enquiries as to the arms they carried, the badge which they wore in Christ’s pilgrimage and the war-cry which they shouted in battle. He was told, ‘They are well armed, they wear the badge of Christ’s Cross on their right arm or between their shoulders, and as a war-cry they shout all together “God’s will, God’s will, God’s will!” ’ Then Bohemund, inspired by the Holy Ghost, ordered the most valuable cloak which he had to be cut up forthwith and made into crosses, and most of the knights who were at the siege began to join him at once, for they were full of enthusiasm, so that Count Roger was left almost alone, and when he had gone back to Sicily he grieved and lamented because he had lost his army. My lord Bohemund went home to his own land and made careful preparations for setting out on the way to the Holy Sepulchre. Thereafter he crossed the sea with his army, and with him went Tancred son of the marquis, Richard of the Principality and Ranulf his brother, Robert of Anse, Herman of Cannes, Robert of Sourdeval, Robert Fitz-Toustan, Humphrey Fitz-Ralph, Richard son of Count Ranulf, the count of Russignolo and his brothers, Boel of Chartres, Aubré of Cagnano and Humphrey of Monte Scaglioso. All these crossed at Bohemund’s expense, and reached western Macedonia, where they found plenty of corn and wine and other things to eat, and going down into the valley of Andro-nopolis, they waited for their men, until all had crossed over. Then Bohemund called a council to encourage his men, and to warn them all to be courteous and refrain from plundering that land, which belonged to Christians, and he said that no one was to take more than sufficed for his food.

Anna Comnena, aged only thirteen at the time, supplied from the perspective of half a century later a vividly anecdotal and partisan account of the early arrivals of the western armies in Constantinople in the winter of 1096–7.

A certain Hugh, brother of the king of France, with all the pride of a Navatus in his noble birth and wealth and power, as he was about to leave his native country (ostensibly for a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre) sent an absurd message to the emperor proposing that he [Hugh] should be given a magnificent reception: ‘Know, emperor, that I am the king of kings, the greatest of all beneath the heavens. It is my will that you should meet me on my arrival and receive me with the pomp and ceremony due to my noble birth.’ When this letter reached Alexius, John the son of Isaac the sebastocrator happened to be duke of Dyrrhachium, and Nicholas Mavrocatacalon, commander of the fleet, had anchored his ships at intervals round the harbour there. From this base he made frequent voyages of reconnaissance to prevent pirate ships sailing by unnoticed. To these two men the emperor now sent urgent instructions: the duke was to keep watch by land and sea for Hugh’s arrival and inform Alexius at once when he came; he was also to receive him with great pomp; the admiral was exhorted to keep a constant vigil – there must be no relaxation or negligence whatever. Hugh reached the coast of Lombardy safely and forthwith despatched envoys to the duke of Dyrrhachium. There were twenty-four of them in all, armed with breastplates and greaves of gold and accompanied by Count William the Carpenter and Elias (who had deserted from the emperor at Thessalonica). They addressed the duke as follows: ‘Be it known to you, duke, that our Lord Hugh is almost here. He brings with him from Rome the golden standard of St Peter. Understand, moreover, that he is supreme commander of the Frankish army. See to it then that he is accorded a reception worthy of his rank and yourself prepare to meet him.’ While the envoys were delivering this message, Hugh came down via Rome to Lombardy, as I have said, and set sail for Illyricum from Bari, but on the crossing he was caught by a tremendous storm. Most of his ships, with their rowers and marines, were lost. Only one ship, his own, was thrown up on the coast somewhere between Dyrrhachium and a place called Pales, and that was half-wrecked. Two coastguards on the look-out for his arrival found him, saved by a miracle. They called to him, ‘The duke is anxiously waiting for your coming. He is very eager to see you.’ At once he asked for a horse and one of them dismounted and gave him his own gladly. When the duke saw him, saved in this way, and when he had greeted him, he asked about the voyage and heard of the storm which had wrecked his ships. He encouraged Hugh with fine promises and entertained him at a magnificent banquet. After the feasting Hugh was allowed to rest, but he was not granted complete freedom. John the duke had immediately informed the emperor of the Frank’s adventures and was now awaiting further instructions. Soon after receiving the news Alexius sent Butumites to Epidamnus (which we have on numerous occasions called Dyrrhachium) to escort Hugh, not by the direct route but on a detour through Philippopolis to the capital. He was afraid of the armed Celtic hordes coming on behind him. Hugh was welcomed with honour by the emperor, who soon persuaded him by generous largess and every proof of friendship to become his liege-man and take the customary oath of the Latins.

This affair was merely the prelude. Barely fifteen days later Bohemund made the crossing to the coast of Cabalium. Hard on his heels came Count Richard of the Principate. He too when he reached the Lombardy coast wanted to cross over to Illyricum. A three-masted pirate vessel of large tonnage was hired for 6,000 gold staters. She carried two hundred rowers and towed three reached the Lombardy coast wanted to cross over to Illyricum. A three-masted pirate vessel of large tonnage was hired for 6,000 gold staters. She carried two hundred rowers and towed three ship’s boats. Richard did not make for Avlona, as the other Latin armies had done, but after weighing anchor changed direction a little and with a favourable wind sailed straight for Chimara (he was fearful of the Roman fleet). However, in escaping the smoke he fell into the fire: he avoided the ships lying in wait at different points in the Lombardy straits but crossed the path of the commander-in-chief of the whole Roman fleet, Nicholas Mavrocatacalon himself. The latter had heard of this pirate vessel some time before and had detached biremes, triremes and some fast cruisers from the main force; with these he moved from his base at Ason to Cabalium and there took up station. The so-called ‘second count’ was sent with his own galley (Excussatum to the ordinary seamen) to light a torch when he saw the rowers loose the stern cables of the enemy ship and throw them into the sea. Without delay the order was carried out and Nicholas, seeing the signal, hoisted sail on some of his ships, while others were rowed with oars – they looked like millipedes – against Richard, who was now at sea. They caught him before he had sailed three stades from the land, eager to reach the opposite coast by Epidamnus. He had 1,500 soldiers on board, plus eighty horses belonging to the nobles. The helmsman, sighting Nicholas, reported to the Frank: ‘The Syrian fleet is on us. We’re in danger of being killed by dagger and sword.’ The count at once ordered his men to arm and put up a good fight. It was midwinter – the day sacred to the memory of Nicholas, greatest of pontiffs* – but there was a dead calm and the full moon shone more brightly than in the spring. As the winds had fallen completely the pirate ship could no longer make progress under sail; it lay becalmed on the sea. At this point in the history I should like to pay tribute to the exploits of Marianus [Mavrocatacalon]. He immediately asked the duke of the fleet, his father, for some of the lighter vessels and then steered straight for Richard’s ship. He fell upon the prow and tried to board her. The marines soon rushed there when they saw that he was fully armed for battle, but Marianus, speaking in their language, told the Latins there was no need for alarm; he urged them not to fight against fellow Christians. Nevertheless one of them fired a crossbow and hit his helmet. The arrow drove clean through the top of it without touching a hair on his head – providence thwarted it. Another arrow was quickly fired at the count, striking him on the arm; it pierced his shield, bored through his breastplate of scale-armour and grazed his side. A certain Latin priest who happened to be standing in the stern with twelve other fighting-men saw what had occurred and shot several times with his bow at Marianus. Even then Marianus refused to give up; he fought bravely himself and encouraged his men to follow his example, so that three times the priest’s comrades had to be relieved because of wounds or fatigue. The priest, too, although he had been hit again and again and was covered with streams of blood from his wounds, still was undaunted. After a bitter contest which went on from evening till the next midday the Latins yielded much against their will to Marianus, when they had asked for and obtained an amnesty from him. The warrior-priest, however, even when the armistice was being arranged, did not cease from fighting. After emptying his quiver of arrows, he picked up a sling-stone and hurled it at Marianus, who protected his head with a shield, but that was broken into four and his helmet was shattered. The blow stunned him; he lost consciousness at once and for some time lay speechless, just as the famous Hector lay almost at his last gasp when struck by Ajax’s stone. With difficulty he recovered his senses, pulled himself together and firing arrows against his enemy wounded him three times. The polemarch (he was more that than a priest) was far from having had his fill of battle, although he had exhausted the stones and arrows and was at a loss what to do and how to defend himself against his adversary. He grew impatient, on fire with rage, gathering himself for the spring like a wild animal. He was ready to use whatever came to hand and when he found a sack full of barley-cakes, he threw them like stones, taking them from the sack. It was as if he were officiating at some ceremony or service, turning war into the solemnisation of sacred rites. He picked up one cake, hurled it with all his might at Marianus’ face and hit him on the cheek. So much for the story of the priest, the ship and its marines. As for Count Richard, he put himself in the hands of Marianus, together with his ship and her crew, and thereafter gladly followed him. When they reached land and were disembarking, the priest kept on making enquiries about Marianus; he did not know his name, but described him by the colour of his garments. When at last he found him, he threw his arms round him and with an embrace boasted, ‘If you had met me on dry land, many of you would have died at my hands.’ He drew out a large silver cup, worth 130 staters, and as he gave it to Marianus and uttered these words, he died.

It was at this time that Count Godfrey made the crossing with some other counts and an army of ten thousand horsemen and seventy thousand infantry. When he reached the capital he quartered his men in the vicinity of the Propontis [Sea of Marmara], from the bridge nearest the Cosmidium as far as the church of St Phocas. But when the emperor urged him to go over to the far side of the Propontis he put off the decision from day to day; the crossing was deferred with a series of excuses. In fact, of course, he was waiting for Bohemund and the rest of the counts to arrive. Peter had in the beginning undertaken his great journey to worship at the Holy Sepulchre, but the others (and in particular Bohemund) cherished their old grudge against Alexius and sought a good opportunity to avenge the glorious victory which the emperor had won at Larissa. They were all of one mind and in order to fulfil their dream of taking Constantinople they adopted a common policy. I have often referred to that already: to all appearances they were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; in reality they planned to dethrone Alexius and seize the capital. Unfortunately for them, he was aware of their perfidy, from long experience. He gave written orders to move the auxiliary forces with their officers from Athyra to Philea en masse (Philea is a place on the coast of the Black Sea). They were to lie in wait for envoys from Godfrey on their way to Bohemund and the other counts coming behind him, or vice versa; all communications were thus to be intercepted. Meanwhile the following incident took place. Some of the counts who accompanied Godfrey were invited by the emperor to meet him. He intended to give them advice:

thus to be intercepted. Meanwhile the following incident took place. Some of the counts who accompanied Godfrey were invited by the emperor to meet him. He intended to give them advice: they should urge Godfrey to take the oath of allegiance. The Latins, however, wasted time with their usual verbosity and love of long speeches, so that a false rumour reached the Franks that their counts had been arrested by Alexius. Immediately they marched in serried ranks on Byzantium [Constantinople], starting with the palaces near the Silver Lake; they demolished them completely. An assault was also made on the city walls, not with helepoleis‡ (because they had none), but trusting in their great numbers they had the effrontery to try to set fire to the gate below the palace, near the sanctuary of St Nicholas. The vulgar mob of Byzantines, who were utterly craven, with no experience of war, were not the only ones to weep and wail and beat their breasts in impotent fear when they saw the Latin ranks; even more alarmed were the emperor’s loyal adherents. Recalling the Thursday on which the city was captured, they were afraid that on that day (because of what had occurred then) vengeance might be taken on them. All the trained soldiers hurried to the palace in disorder, but the emperor remained calm: there was no attempt to arm, no buckling on of scaled cuirass, no shield, no spear in hand, no girding on of his sword. He sat firmly on the imperial throne, gazing cheerfully on them, encouraging and inspiring the hearts of all with confidence, while he took counsel with his kinsmen and generals about future action. In the first place he insisted that no one whatever should leave the ramparts to attack the Latins, for two reasons: because of the sacred character of the day (it was the Thursday of Holy Week, the supreme week of the year, in which the Saviour suffered an ignominious death on behalf of the whole world); and secondly because he wished to avoid bloodshed between Christians. On several occasions he sent envoys to the Latins advising them to desist from such an undertaking. ‘Have reverence,’ he said, ‘for God on this day was sacrificed for us all, refusing neither the Cross, nor the nails, nor the spear – proper instruments of punishment for evildoers – to save us. If you must fight, we too shall be ready, but after the day of the Saviour’s resurrection.’ They, far from listening to his words, rather reinforced their ranks, and so thick were the showers of their arrows that even one of the emperor’s retinue, standing near the throne, was struck in the chest. Most of the others ranged on either side of the emperor, when they saw this, began to withdraw, but he remained seated and unruffled, comforting them and rebuking them in a gentle way – to the wonder of all. However, as he saw the Latins brazenly approaching the walls and rejecting sound advice, he took active steps for the first time. His son-in-law Nicephorus (my Caesar) was summoned.† He was ordered to pick out the best fighters, expert archers, and post them on the ramparts; they were to fire volleys of arrows at the Latins, but without taking aim and mostly off-target, so as to terrify the enemy by the weight of the attack, but at all costs to avoid killing them. As I have remarked, he was fearful of desecrating that day and he wished to prevent fratricide. Other picked men, most of them carrying bows, but some wielding long spears, he ordered to throw open the gate of St Romanus and make a show of force with a violent charge against the enemy; they were to be drawn up in such a way that each lancer had two peltasts


to protect him on either side. In this formation they would advance at a walking pace, but send on ahead a few skilled archers to shoot at the Celts from a distance and alter direction, right or left, from time to time; when they saw that the space between the two armies had been reduced to a narrow gap, then the officers were to signal the archers accompanying them to fire thick volleys of arrows at the horses, not at the riders, and gallop at full speed against the enemy. The idea was partly to break the full force of the Celtic attack by wounding their mounts (they would not find it easy to ride in this condition) and partly (this was more important) to avoid the killing of Christians. The emperor’s instructions were gladly followed. The gates were flung open; now the horses were given their head, now reined in. Many Celts were slain, but few of the Romans on that day were wounded. We will leave them and return to the Caesar, my lord. Having taken his practised bowmen, he set them on the towers and fired at the barbarians. Every man had a bow that was accurate and far-shooting. They were all young, as skilled as Homer’s Teucer in archery. The Caesar’s bow was truly worthy of Apollo. Unlike the famous Greeks of Homer he did not ‘pull the bowstring until it touched his breast and draw back the arrow so that the iron tip was near the bow’; he was making no demonstration of the hunter’s skill, like them. But like a second Hercules he shot deadly arrows from deathless bows and hit the target at will. At other times, when he took part in a shooting contest or in a battle, he never missed his aim: at whatever part of a man’s body he shot, he invariably and immediately inflicted a wound there. With such strength did he bend his bow and so swiftly did he let loose his arrows that even Teucer and the two Ajaxes were not his equal in archery. Yet, despite his skill, on this occasion he respected the holiness of the day and kept in mind the emperor’s instructions, so that when he saw the Franks recklessly and foolishly coming near the walls, protected by shield and helmet, he bent his bow and put the arrow to the bowstring, but purposely shot wide, shooting sometimes beyond the target, sometimes falling short. Although, for the day’s sake, he refrained from shooting straight at the Latins, yet whenever one of them in his foolhardiness and arrogance not only fired at the defenders on the ramparts, but seemingly poured forth a volley of insults in his own language as well, the Caesar did bend his bow. ‘Nor did the dart fly in vain from his hand,’ but pierced the long shield and cleft its way through the corselet of mail, so that arm and side were pinned together. ‘Straightway he fell speechless to the ground,’ as the poet says, and a cry went up to heaven as the Romans cheered their Caesar and the Latins bewailed their fallen warrior. The battle broke out afresh, their cavalry and our men on the walls both fighting with courage; it was a grim, dour struggle on both sides. However, when the emperor threw in his guards, the Latin ranks turned in flight. On the next day Hugh advised Godfrey to yield to the emperor’s wish, unless he wanted to learn a second time how experienced a general Alexius was. He should take an oath, he said, to bear his true allegiance. But Godfrey rebuked him sternly. ‘You left your own country as a king,’ he said, ‘with all that wealth and a strong army; now from the heights you’ve brought yourself to the level of a slave. And then, as if you had won some great success, you come here and tell me to do the same.’ ‘We ought to have stayed in our own countries and kept our hands off other peoples’,’ replied Hugh. ‘But since we’ve come thus far and need the emperor’s protection, no good will come of it unless we obey his orders.’ Hugh was sent away with nothing achieved. Because of this and reliable information that the counts coming after Godfrey were already near, the emperor sent some of his best officers with their troops to advise him once more, even to compel him to cross the Straits. No sooner were they in sight when the Latins, without a moment’s hesitation, not even waiting to ask them what they wanted, launched an attack and began to fight them. In this fierce engagement many on both sides fell and all the emperor’s men who had attacked with such recklessness were wounded. As the Romans showed greater spirit the Latins gave way. Thus Godfrey not long after submitted; he came to the emperor and swore on oath as he was directed that whatever cities, countries or forts he might in future subdue, which had in the first place belonged to the Roman empire, he would hand over to the officer appointed by the emperor for this very purpose. Having taken the oath he received generous largess, was invited to share Alexius’ hearth and table, and was entertained at a magnificent banquet, after which he crossed over to Pelecanum and there pitched camp. The emperor then gave orders that plentiful supplies should be made available for his men.

The First Crusade: The Journey to the East II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Crusade: The Journey to the East III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Lithuanian Expansion of the Teutonic Knights

In the mid-thirteenth century Teutonic Knights had brought about the conversion of a deadly enemy, Mindaugas, and crowned him as the first king of Lithuania. They did this in the traditional manner for the region, by persuading him that it was to his advantage to have the crusaders as allies rather than as enemies. With help from the Teutonic Knights – or, more to the point, perhaps, without the Teutonic Knights striking into his territories from the north and west – Mindaugas could expand his realm into Tatar-threatened Rus’ian lands in a wide arc from his north-east to his south-west.

For Mindaugas, the only unpleasant aspect to the reversal of religious orientation – other than having to explain his change of heart to his priests and boyars – was to have a few drops of water sprinkled on his head and having to listen to an occasional strange ritual with exotic music. Being already monogamous and not much impressed by any religious doctrine, pagan or Christian, he changed his behaviour and attitudes very little. This scepticism was not a good sign for the Teutonic Knights – conversions based solely on Realpolitik are rooted in sandy soil, and in the early 1260s Mindaugas began to see more disadvantages in being a Christian than advantages. Consequently he returned to paganism with about as much enthusiasm as he had embraced Catholicism – it seemed the best way to placate those nobles who admired the way the Samogitian pagans were crushing crusader armies. The change of heart saved Mindaugas only a short while, however, his enemies assassinating him anyway, but his rejection of Roman Catholicism altered the seemingly predetermined history of the Baltic region. His successors were to remain pagan for more than a century, largely because their important subjects believed that the native gods brought victories in battle, but also because their Rus’ian subjects were more willing to tolerate pagans ruling over them temporarily than to accept Roman Catholic help. Gediminas (b.1257, grand prince 1316 – 41) was an eminently practical ruler, and so were his many descendants; perhaps nowhere else in Europe did a dynasty exist which operated more consistently by the rules of self-interest than did these talented and resourceful men. They were not about to put their Rus’ian policies at risk by conversion to Roman Catholicism, but they were quite willing to allow Western Christians to believe what they wanted – that only the Teutonic Order’s aggressions stood between them and salvation.

The Lithuanian rulers were called grand princes, a term familiar to their Rus’ian subjects. But the theoretical title meant little. Most followers and retainers gave their loyalty to the Gediminid dynasty on the basis of family ties and the assurance of offices and rewards, not on the basis of ancient tradition or religion. Many Lithuanian nobles had undergone Orthodox baptism in order to placate the Rus’ians in the towns where they had been stationed as rulers and garrison commanders; many had married Christian women, Orthodox and Catholic alike. But others remained pagan. Without any doubt, paganism had some strong attractions, not the least of which was its assurance that Lithuania would continue to be ruled by a Lithuanian. Also, the adherence to paganism was the only way to guarantee that the independent-minded Samogitians would recognise a ruler from the central hill country of Lithuania – they would reject a weak Christian ruler as assuredly as they had rejected the powerful Mindaugas. Paganism was not a dying religion in Samogitia. To the contrary, it was held with all the fervour of uneducated and untravelled fundamentalists of any religion today.

When the pagans had returned to power they had burned the cathedral in Vilnius, covered its ruins with sand, and erected a shrine to Perkunas over it. This shrine to the thunder god probably had the same dramatic impact on the pagans as the Christian cathedral it replaced had made earlier. Traditionally, pagans conducted their ceremonies in the sacred forests, which perhaps explains why this masonry structure was left open to the sky with twelve steps leading up to a huge altar. There the priests may have placed a wooden statue of the god and maintained an eternal flame. This suggests an evolving paganism, a dynamic religion which adopted some of the more popular features of its competition.

The Gediminid princes prided themselves on being secular and tolerant for their day. They were superstitious, but they had no desire to force their paganism on others, or even to offer it to them. The grand princes allowed Franciscan friars to maintain a chapel in Vilnius for Roman Catholic merchants and emissaries, only once turning them into martyrs. Even more toleration was granted Orthodox churchmen – for the practical reason that many of their subjects were Orthodox. Some of their Tatar bodyguards were Moslems who lived in their own protected communities. The princes, therefore, followed a policy of nominal paganism that guaranteed extensive toleration of group traditions. This survived as late as World War Two in eastern and east central Europe, with governments negotiating with the leaders of minority groups who then enforced the laws and edicts issued from above.

This practicality should never mislead us into thinking that medieval group toleration is the same as modern tolerance for individual choices, or even that it is the same as Moslem toleration, which is too often only permission to live as second-class citizens. It was generous for its time, and that is surely praise enough.

Crusader Efforts to Revitalise Holy War

Division in the crusader ranks brought an end to the string of successes that had marked the end of the thirteenth century. Once the Prussian master had control of the wilderness marking the frontiers with Lithuania and Masovia, once the Livonian master had conquered the Semgallians, each reverted to a defensive strategy. These were responses to local conditions: Poland was reuniting, Riga and the archbishop of Riga were becoming restive, and the papacy was in turmoil following the kidnapping of Boniface VIII and the transfer of the curia to Avignon. The Holy Roman Empire was insufficiently stable for the grand master to be able to establish the kind of close personal relationship that had existed with Ottokar of Bohemia. Intelligent powerful dukes and archbishops stayed at home to await the outcome of events.

As a result, the Teutonic Knights were unable to bring together the coalitions that had made victory possible only a few years before. The Rigans and the archbishop were now enemies, and the German nobles in Livonia as well as the native tribes were concerned about the civil war there. Crusaders from Germany and Poland had not come to Prussia for years. The Masovian and Galician-Volhynian dukes who had shared the rigours of the Sudovian campaign were not interested in fighting north of the Nemunas (Memel) River. As a result of all these developments, the Teutonic Knights were unable to make the show of force in the Samogitian wilderness that was necessary to suppress the pagans there who were supporting rebellions in Prussia and Livonia.

The Samogitians eventually threw in their lot with Duke Vytenis (1295 – 1316). (They did so literally, since no decision was ever reached without a priest casting lots to ask advice from the gods.) Vytenis had been rampaging through Livonia. Now the united pagan armies struck the Christianised natives in Semgallia, Kurland, and Samland, and the leaders of the Teutonic Knights could do little to stop them. The problem became so serious that after 1300 every grand master had come north to investigate. Each had concluded that the problem was not military, but political. The solution was to remove the archbishop of Riga and his citizens from the enemy coalition. Knowing that this could be done better from Avignon than Marienburg, the grand masters had returned repeatedly to the Holy Roman Empire to confer with the leading political and ecclesiastical figures.

Meanwhile, patrols guarded the Prussian frontier against incursions, and minor raids across the wilderness kept some pagans at home to guard their villages and fields. The main base for Prussian patrols was at Ragnit, on the left bank of the Nemunas about sixty miles from the river’s mouth and almost equidistant from Königsberg on the Pregel River and the castle at Memel, guarding the mouth of the Kurland bay and the coastal road to Livonia. Those three points formed a rough triangle defining the Christian presence in the river valley. Supported by another strong castle just downriver at Tilsit, the garrison at Ragnit had borne the brunt of the border war. For attacks across the wilderness, the castellan at Ragnit called on the advocates of Samland and Nattangia and their native militias. The method of warfare was to steal cattle, burn homes and crops, and kidnap everyone who did not hide or die in resisting capture. By the standards of the time this was not immoral. Instead, in an era when fortifications were almost impregnable and troops had to be paid in booty, wearing down the enemy was the only practical strategy. Moreover, the crusaders justified whatever brutal acts they and their subjects committed as necessary to achieve a worthy goal, the end of raids on Christian lands and the extirpation of paganism.

Similar patrols watched the paths along Livonia’s southern and eastern frontiers from bases at Goldingen, Mitau, Dünaburg, Rositten, Marienhausen, and Neuhausen. The Livonian master had resettled the Semgallians to the north, around Mitau. Their lands reverted to forest and swamp, a desolate region patrolled by experienced and ruthless scouts from both sides. No one else entered the region. For the Livonian master to communicate with Prussia in the wintertime, he had to send riders across Kurland, then down the coast to Memel. Handing a message to one of the many captains who sailed from Livonian ports was risky because Riga was in revolt at this time, and merchants tended to stick together; in any case, the seas were only open in the summer.

Preachers of the crusades over the years had told Christians that the enemies of the cross were foes of both God and man. Therefore, pagans, Saracens, schismatics, and heretics had no right to exist. They were a danger to Christendom and had to be destroyed, like sheep when infected with disease, to save the healthy ones. Whatever doubts may have existed were quickly stilled by the Church. Churchmen declared that any war between Christians and infidels was a just war, a proper means of protecting and expanding Christendom. Citing St Augustine, they declared that the entire life of pagans was sinful, regardless of the goodness or evil of their actions, because everything they did was done without knowledge of the eternal truths of God. To be sure, pagans should not be forced to accept Christianity. They were to be permitted to survive, like the Jews, in hope that they or their descendants might eventually be converted and saved. In the meantime, pagans should not be permitted any role in society that might cause Christians to admire them. Therefore Christians should strip them of property and power, of pride and prestige. From this it followed that the Samogitian pagans had no right to an independent state, especially not one in which they persecuted Christians and hindered missionary activity. It was on the basis of that argument that the Emperor Frederick II had issued the Golden Bull of Rimini in 1226, giving Prussia and other pagan territories to the Teutonic Knights, and that Pope Alexander IV (1254 – 61) had awarded them everything they could conquer. Moreover, since pagans were dangerous enemies of Christendom, often raiding Poland, Prussia, and Livonia, popes had authorised a perpetual crusade and emperors had urged nobles and knights to take the cross against them. It was the pious duty of Christians everywhere to assist in the defeat of dangerous heathens. The Dominican friars, preachers of every crusade and members of the most prestigious order of the time, assured potential volunteers that once crusaders had cut down the enemies of God, then Christ himself would hurl their souls into hellfire.

Still, it was easier to preach the crusade and recruit crusaders than it was to reach the Samogitians to kill them. The Samogitian branch of the Lithuanian people had immigrated into the lowlands north of the Nemunas River from the east and had not quite reached the coast. They lived in the valleys of the well-drained interior hill country, avoiding the mosquito-filled swamps and dense forests that formed a natural wilderness around them. This wilderness was almost untouched by humans, thanks to religious beliefs which incorporated forest gods and spirits into a wider pantheon, and thanks also to fear of attack from dangerous neighbours, which caused them to hew down giant trees across possible paths. This wilderness grew more dense after the arrival of the crusaders. Small raiding parties, often composed of native peoples who had suffered Lithuanian attacks for generations, annihilated isolated farmsteads, leaving few surviving settlements whose people could report incursions by larger parties of knights and native warriors; and the Samogitians, unlike the Lithuanians in the central highlands, lacked an effective system of taxation or military service that would support isolated castles as bases for scouts. Within a few years the western Samogitian communities vulnerable to attack from Memel and Kurland were abandoned and the tribesmen established new villages further inland. The unused fields soon became part of the forest. In time a vast wilderness up to ninety miles wide stretched along every frontier separating the Christian domains in Prussia and Livonia from Samogitia and Lithuania. Only a few paths led through it.

Vytenis of Lithuania

By 1309 the Teutonic Knights had the situation in Livonia once more in hand. They had not defeated either the Rigans or Vytenis, but neither did they fear defeat. So secure was the situation that the Prussian master had been able to send his army into West Prussia, first to drive out the duke of Brandenburg, then to expel the Polish garrisons. By 1311 the master was ready to turn once again to Lithuania and strike at Gardinas (Grodno), a key position on the upper Nemunas that guarded the most direct routes along the waterways and paths to Volhynia and Masovia, or across the lake district to Prussia.

Vytenis was now a powerful lord. Called a king by his followers and the chroniclers of the Teutonic Knights, he was recognised only as a grand prince by the pope or emperor because they reserved royal titles for Christian princes. Vytenis had brought an end to assassination and civil war, and had sealed his power with victories in Livonia. He was a capable ruler and a wily commander. Often he would lead one army himself and send out others as diversions, so that the Teutonic Knights had to guess where the main blow would land; and, with so many routes to guard, they usually guessed wrong. Vytenis had Christian allies in the burghers and archbishop of Riga, and for their sake he occasionally made a pretext of seeking conversion. Franciscan friars at his courts in Vilnius and Trakai made his enquiries credible. Nevertheless, although he allowed his Rus’ian subjects and Roman Catholic visitors freedom of worship, he was a devout pagan; any hint of changing his religion would have increased the already great danger of assassination, and it would have stiffened Samogitian resistance to his claims to national leadership. Moreover, as a pagan, he personified the Christian fears of unpredictable and dangerous behaviour, of extraordinary cunning and deviousness. All these were qualities he must have had in abundance. He could not have ruled Lithuania without unfailing courage and a willingness to match wits and brutality with the worst of his enemies and the best of his friends. In barbaric splendour and simplicity he was a model pagan king, a worthy match for the crusaders.

The Teutonic Knights praised Vytenis’ skill and courage, because they were proud to consider themselves more than a match for him. In 1311 they were given an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess. In February Vytenis made a raid into Samland and Nattangia, killing many Prussians and taking 500 captives. The crusaders knew from experience that it was almost impossible to ward off such attacks. The best that could be achieved was to organise a watch for incursions, so that the villagers could be warned to seek refuge and so the militia could hurry to its assembly points. As soon as the marshal was told of the raid, he hurried from Königsberg with his mobile forces and, gathering the militia, followed the raiders’ path. He knew that raiding parties were most vulnerable immediately after the forces split up and separately returned to their homes, but he attacked while the pagans were feasting and dividing up the booty and prisoners. His victory was among the greatest of this era.

For their part, the Teutonic Order made at least one winter raid most years. Cavalry was very effective on the frozen rivers and swamps, and the Lithuanians were unable to hide in ambush in the snow as easily as among lush summer foliage. In the winter of 1311 – 12 six knights led 400 Nattangian militiamen through the Sudovian wilderness to Gardinas, taking a roundabout route through supposedly impassable swamps where they were lost for two days. The Lithuanians, who had patrolled all the usual paths carefully, had no warning when the Christians suddenly fell on them. The Prussians went on a rampage, burning, killing, collecting captives, and killing those who could not manage the difficult journey into exile. Then they escaped by the quickest route. Their terrible revenge for past sufferings inflamed the Lithuanians to an equally great hatred.

Nationalist historians of the modern era sometimes forget this mutual hostility of the native tribes. This desire to take revenge, to harm one’s traditional foes, made it easy to raise armies, to organise raids, and to summon labourers for work on fortifications. It also led directly to terrible atrocities.

The attack on Gardinas was a direct challenge to Vytenis, whose prestige rested on his military victories and whose principal deity was a war god. In April he pressed deep into Prussia, arriving without warning with a force estimated by a chronicler with the usual exaggeration at 8,000 men. Coming through the lake district during the period of thaw, he evaded patrols sent out by the Teutonic Knights and the dukes of Masovia, then swept up through Ermland to the castle at Braunsberg, yelling insults at the bishop on the ramparts and destroying every settlement along the coast. According to the Christian reports, he made churches a special target of his wrath, desecrating altars, tearing down crucifixes and trampling on them, handling and spitting on the consecrated wafers of the host, and then burning the buildings. In one day he carried away 1,200 captives, bound and fettered, and that evening he taunted them, asking: ‘Where is your God? Why did he not help you, as our gods help us now and at other times?’

If that quote was accurate, Vytenis was rejoicing too soon. His forces were actually in very great danger. Ermland was far to the west. The deeper the penetration into the country, the more time the native militia had to assemble and the easier it was to catch up with the slow-moving, booty-laden raiders, whose path could easily be followed through the snow. At this moment the grand commander was gathering a large army at an assembly point along the route which Vytenis had to take out of the country.

Heinrich von Plötzke had dreamt of an opportunity like this for many of his fifty years. Now he had a force of eighty knights and thousands of militiamen in position to overtake the Lithuanian army. With luck he could destroy the invading force and perhaps kill or capture the king.

Vytenis was also a believer in fortune, but he understood that luck is a malleable commodity, one that can be moulded by the skilled hands of a courageous leader. When he saw the Christians approaching, he ordered his men to form a line of battle on a hill behind an improvised wall of hedges and trees. He must have thought that the Christians would hesitate to assault such a strong position, and that, if it came to a siege, he had the stolen cattle to feed his men, while the Christians could not have brought many supplies with them.

Heinrich recognised his enemy’s strategy instantly. Although he would have preferred a battlefield where he could use his cavalry more effectively, he was willing to fight on foot. He ordered Gunther von Arnstein, the most heroic knight of his generation, to test the pagan defences. The probing attack failed, leaving behind forty to sixty dead, but Gunther had learned the location and strength of the enemy forces. When Heinrich heard Gunther’s report, he ordered a general attack.

A crusader poet tells us that this was a moving scene: as the Christian warriors advanced into position there were cries from women and children, the returning shouts of their relatives in the militia, yells by desperate men ready for the furore of battle. The chronicle that related this scene may have been read aloud at mealtimes to teach proper attitudes to the knights and their men-at-arms. Such passages emphasising knightly deeds, courage, fairness, pity for the unfortunate, and service to the Church and Lady Mary, give us valuable insights into the mind of the crusading knight. Unfortunately, we lack a Lithuanian equivalent of this chronicle; the pagan tradition was oral, not written, and it has largely vanished.

When the entire force of Christians had formed their lines for the assault, Vytenis recognised the flags and banners of his opponents. Only then did he realise whom he was up against. Success in arms, he knew, was not a question of numbers, but of quality. The gay banners of the castellans and the grand commander’s great black cross on a white field told knowledgeable pagans that they were facing the best the Teutonic Knights had. Consequently, as the attackers approached, the less bold Lithuanians (or, at least, the most discreet and prudent) began to seek their horses and ride hurriedly for home. Meanwhile, the captive women broke loose from their bonds and created confusion in the rear. Vytenis disappeared (and escaped), while thousands of his followers fell in the hand-to-hand fighting. The Christians took as booty 2,800 horses, thousands of spears and swords, reclaimed the booty and prisoners taken earlier, and took Vytenis’ chamberlain captive. One chronicler wrote a hymn of victory: ‘Oh, noble knights of God, God must honour you on earth and in heaven.’ Heinrich commemorated the day by founding a nunnery at Thorn.

Despite what seemed to be an overwhelming victory, the battle made little impact on the general course of events because the Teutonic Knights lacked the forces to exploit it and because Vytenis had escaped. The grand prince regrouped his forces, encouraged his subjects to defend their forts resolutely, and ordered everyone to refrain from taking risks. Somewhat later, when a young castellan, Gerhard von Mansfeld, boldly rode into Lithuania, the pagans followed his small army back out of their country. Fearing an ambush, they refused his offer of formal battle, but they asked his name and warned him he would not live long if he continued to enter their country with so few men.

The fact was that significant advances could be made only by occupying key castles, and castles were difficult to capture. This was especially true in Lithuania, where the fortresses lay across a difficult wilderness, so that men, supplies, and siege engines had to be transported long distances. The easiest way to capture a castle was as ransom or by treason.

Treason worked best. As noted above, Heinrich had captured Vytenis’ chamberlain, the castellan of Gardinas. If he held him for ransom, he could have demanded a small fortune or exchanged him for Lithuanian captives. Instead, he listened to his promise to surrender Gardinas in return for his freedom. It was necessary to act quickly, however, so that he could explain his late return as the result of hiding in the woods or having lost his way. Moreover, there was no guarantee of obtaining a ransom, because Vytenis might conclude that this was a convenient excuse to eliminate a potential competitor and simply appoint a replacement. Therefore Heinrich released his prisoner on a promise to allow the crusaders to enter his castle by stealth and capture it. Not unexpectedly, the chamberlain did not keep his part of the bargain. Instead, he ‘betrayed’ the Christians by telling Vytenis of his bargain and arranging for an ambush of the Prussian forces near Gardinas.

Heinrich had not ignored the risks. He knew that the chamberlain might be a clever liar. We do not know what the chamberlain said to persuade the grand commander and his council, but we do know that treason was common in this era, that personal feuds were more important than clan loyalty, and that ambition often overrode personal loyalty. Moreover, the heathen code of honour emphasised keeping oaths, and Heinrich had undoubtedly extracted powerful oaths from his prisoner. For Heinrich’s part, he was in a position to make handsome promises for the chamberlain’s future, even to recognise him as a future ruler of Lithuania. In short, Heinrich had good reasons for trusting this pagan lord. But he had equally good reasons not to trust him too much.

Heinrich had brought his army almost to Gardinas when his scouts came upon an old man whom they put to torture until he revealed that Lithuanians were lurking near a river, waiting until half of the Christian army had crossed over before attacking. Heinrich spared the old man, as promised, and fled with his army back to safety.

Heinrich’s next effort was in late May, when he called up 140 knights, a strong force of native knights and mounted militia, and 2,000 foot soldiers who probably followed a somewhat different route through the lakes, rivers, and swamps in small boats. As the mounted troops approached Gardinas through a thick forest, they came upon four scouts. Killing three, they captured the fourth and learned that nobody was aware of their approach. Quite the contrary. Vytenis was feeling so secure that he had sent the scouts as part of a group of fifty men to set up a hunting camp. Heinrich annihilated the advance force, then crossed the Nemunas River. Leaving twelve knights and the foot soldiers to guard the boats, he struck through the countryside, sparing neither age nor sex. The raiders took 700 prisoners, and of the dead they left behind ‘only God knows the number’.

These victories made Heinrich von Plötzke a strong candidate to replace the deceased grand master, Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, but his bid for election failed, perhaps because of his controversial seizure of Danzig and West Prussia, perhaps because of his domineering ways. In any case, he was unacceptable to the electors in Germany, who chose Karl von Trier as their new leader. Heinrich von Plötzke was given the consolation office of grand commander and, later, marshal.

The First Crusade: Perspectives

There can be no doubt that burning religious conviction underlay the success of the First Crusade. Time and again when all seemed lost, at Antioch and at Jerusalem particularly, the army rallied to God’s cause. The deep conviction that they were the servants of God underlay the boldness with which they tackled and surprised such formidable enemies as the Egyptians, when all rational calculation would have advised against it. Indeed, not the least of the factors which made for their success was the inability of the Middle Eastern powers to comprehend this all or nothing mentality. But burning zeal has to be controlled, disciplined and sustained. Ecclesiastical power alone was not enough, and as in Western society generally so on the crusade, power was exercised by an alliance of church, in the person of Adhémar, and state in the persons of the princes. When the ambitions, hesitations and doubts of the lay leaders disrupted the crusade and ecclesiastical authority collapsed with the death of Adhémar, the army was plunged into crisis from which it was rescued only by a zealot minority represented by Peter Bartholemew in alliance with the count of Toulouse. They owed their power to articulating the feelings of the overwhelming mass of the crusaders of all ranks, and when Peter was discredited Godfrey was able to harness this raw power. That religious zeal had a very narrow and material focus – to liberate Jerusalem. Later crusades would never suffer from such tunnel vision, but this enormously concentrated the efforts of the army in contrast to their successors in 1101 and 1147. For ideological cohesion was a rare phenomenon in the eleventh century, as Gregory VII had discovered, and it is hard to see how any wider objective could have carried the concentrated appeal of Jerusalem.

But their spirit and organisation could never have succeeded without help. Byzantine aid was of enormous assistance. At the siege of Nicaea it was very much in evidence, but thereafter it appeared to dwindle. This was a false perspective, for Alexius’s real service to the crusaders was to support them from Cyprus which formed an offshore base for the siege of Antioch and operations in North Syria. In addition, Alexius seems to have committed a sizable fleet to their assistance – far more important than Tatikios’s small contingent. Without Byzantine help it is difficult to see how the western fleets could have operated so successfully. The reason for this enormous Byzantine investment was that this was a joint enterprise. The whole Armenian strategy promised the restoration of Byzantine power in the old dominion of Philaretus and the collapse of the Seljuk dominion in western Asia Minor opened the way for the reconquest of the southern part of the sub-continent. So when it came to a dispute Alexius could rightly say that he had played his part but in the end the greatest prize eluded him, for the decision to turn back at Philomelium gave Bohemond his opportunity and a moral justification for the dislike of the Greeks which was never far below the surface amongst the Westerners.

And Byzantine help had its influence in another way. The crusade was enormously assisted by the divisions of Islam. Had the Seljuk dominion of less than ten years before still existed, it is impossible to see how they could have succeeded. Alexius almost certainly explained the problems of the Turks and the divisions of Islam to his allies, for we know it was his idea to send an embassy to Egypt. But it has to be said that the western princes took their cue skillfully and played the Egyptians well, and applied the idea to other Islamic powers. They were more pragmatic than the stereotype of the crusader in absolute and bitter opposition to all that is Islamic would suggest. The fanaticism which drove on the great expedition was an underlying force of enormous power but its influence upon events was continual rather than continuous. Nor should we forget that although the Islamic powers were divided, they were each individually very strong and that in every major battle the crusaders fought against odds. No matter how enthusiastic they were, nor how well supported, victory in the clash of arms was never inevitable and to understand that we must turn to more narrowly military factors.

The individual leaders exerted great control over their own armies. Robert of Normandy is one of the failures of history and this casts a shadow over him, but at Dorylaeum he rallied the troops at a crucial moment, and at Ascalon he was at the heart of a charge which swept all before it. This was military ability of a high order. Robert of Flanders was a brave soldier who organised the foraging and gathering of materials at Jerusalem. Godfrey was in the thick of the fighting at the siege of Jerusalem and this was important in an age when leading by example mattered. Bohemond was an able general whose aggressive tactics created the victories over Ridwan and Kerbogah. He made the crusaders use rear-guards – this was by no means an innovation in western war but it was a development which needed discipline and control, and such qualities became more evident in the crusader army as time went on. Bohemond’s genius lay in his aggressiveness – his determination to unsettle the enemy and take them unawares, and this characterises his victories over Ridwan and Kerbogah. He was not a tactical innovator – the real innovation was the use of infantry, and that arose from circumstance as they became better armed and more experienced. The battle against Kerbogah was an infantry battle perforce – it was only at Ascalon that the lessons of careful co-ordination were applied. But Bohemond’s real importance lay in the fact of his appointment as sole commander in moments of crisis. The divisions of the leaders, their determination to head their own armies and do jointly only what was agreed jointly, was the real weakness of this and almost all other crusades. It was their good fortune that when this co-operation was at its newest and their troops at their rawest, they confronted the weakest of their enemies, the Turks of Asia Minor. The nomads were ferocious fighters, but they were not numerous and Kilij Arslan’s tactics depended too heavily on the moral effect of sudden onslaughts. He allowed his men, whose genius lay in mobile warfare, to be caught in slogging matches where numbers counted; in 1101 the Turks would learn patience and close only with a demoralised enemy. It was luck too that when the leaders were at their most divided after the fall of Antioch, the Islamic world was demoralised and quite unable to exploit their problems, so that despite the fragility of their co-operation they pressed on to Jerusalem.

The leaders were able men who managed to work together, though only just. Their real ability showed at its best in sieges. Nicaea, Antioch and Jerusalem were large and well-defended cities such as few westerners had seen before, but the army set about their reduction systematically. Probably the siege of Nicaea helped the leaders to settle a raw army, though at a terrible price in lives. Full credit has never been given to a leadership which perceived the problems of the siege of Antioch and tackled them with enormous persistence and eventual success. The experience at Antioch was an intensification of what they were used to in the West – war of position rather than the formal investment experienced at Nicaea – the strangling of an enemy rather than assault against fortifications. The siege of Jerusalem exemplifies the skills of what was now a highly experienced and coherent grouping of armies, though the passiveness of the defenders contributed. It was not technological innovation which made their sieges so successful. All the instruments they used seem to have been known to their enemies. The western approach to war which favoured systematic and often clumsy preparation also favoured good performance in this area. Success was the product of organisation and command above all.

The Franks enjoyed no technical advantages over their enemies. Their western horses may have been rather larger than those of the nomad Turks but probably not significantly so, and they soon died anyway. The Turks, an element in all the armies that they faced, had the short bow which dictated their tactics and which the Franks found difficult to counter. They may even have had a form of quick-firing crossbow unknown to the West. The Franks probably had rather better armour, but in general their weapons were very like those of their enemies.

The outstanding factor on the battlefield was the tactical skill of the Turkish horsemen firing their arrows from horseback. They were always relatively few and this was critical in Asia Minor. In the Caliphate they were the cutting edge of armies and supported by diverse and adaptable forces. The Franks had no technical answer to the problem and their response was precisely what one would expect – the tactical expedient of solidity of formation. This is always desirable in both cavalry and infantry, but very difficult to achieve when there was no formal system of training. In their first battle the Franks found themselves fighting in close ground near Nicaea, which frustrated Turkish tactics. At Dorylaeum the enemy was free to manoeuvre and attacked skillfully, cruelly exposing the Franks who lacked any overall command. But the chances of topography and direction of attack, and the determination and skill of the leaders held the armies together. Thereafter the crusader host became a more coherent group of units and Bohemond was able to use this experience and skill to great advantage at the Lake Battle. Against Kerbogah the same cohesiveness was seen amongst the infantry who were also refined and trained by the experience of war and the lessons of this were applied at Ascalon where a complex marching formation was adopted, and the classic pattern of infantry protecting cavalry marked the final deployment. This was not innovation as such, for similar formations had been used in the West but here it was used with great success.

It is this growth of the coherence and experience of the crusader host as a whole which was the key to their military success. In many ways their overall organisation and weapons were inferior to those of their enemies and they were ‘away from home’ in a strange climate. But the divisions of their enemies meant that their weaknesses were never exposed fully and they were given time in which they became more and more experienced. Crucially the Turks of Asia Minor failed to stop them. Thereafter what had been a relatively incoherent host, within which some armies were better ordered than others, became more coherent and experienced, and more successful.

In a military sense the crusade was a success. It may not have achieved all that Urban wanted it to achieve in terms of friendship with the Eastern Empire. Its success was limited in that it established bare outposts with poor communications with the West and uncertain relations with Eastern Christendom, but that is our viewpoint blessed as we are with hindsight. There was no single will directing the crusade; it was the product of many wills interacting with circumstances, and all that gave it a precarious unity was Jerusalem. To free it was the task they set themselves and to have achieved that was remarkable.

The crusade had little immediate impact on western armies at this time. The twelfth century would see the rise of two distinct tactical developments: the mass charge by cavalry, using couched lances for the maximum shock impact, and the rise of highly effective infantry. Discipline and clearly articulated command structures were vital to these developments. Launching a cavalry charge was so difficult even for the Templars with their background of order and discipline that they felt the need to write it all down in detail. These developments were only possible because the monarchies of the West more and more used mercenaries and professional commanders who were able to impose an appropriate discipline on the more ‘regular’ forces which formed the cores of their commands. This, combined with the development of the heavier horses, created the classic medieval cavalry charge, and one of its antidotes – disciplined infantry, who in any case became more and more necessary as castles grew more complex. The conditions of the crusade replicated the conditions of common service and experience which made these armies so efficient. Conditions in the crusader states continued to demand constant military activity which had much the same effect, hence the high prestige of the armies of Outremer in the twelfth century. It is possible that the glory and the prestige of the First Crusade helped to impress upon western commanders the need for discipline and coherence in their armies. In 1106 Robert Curthose found himself brought to bay by his brother Henry at Tinchebrai, rather as he had been by his father at Gerberoi in 1079. As then, he decided to risk battle, on a single coherent charge, but he was heavily outnumbered. However, Henry of Huntingdon says that Robert’s forces fought well and pressed the enemy hard relying on the fact that they were ‘well trained in the wars of Jerusalem’. It was indeed a hard training which produced coherent armies and ferocious fighters. It was this, their belief in God and themselves, and their able commanders which gave them the victory in the East.

Order of Avis

The Order of Avis rose to ultimate authority in Portugal, setting its head on the throne in 1385 as Juan I, and ruling Portugal until 1580 as the Aviz dynasty.

By the time the Third Crusade had begun in 1188, however, several military orders had already been founded to support the Iberian Reconquista (the irredentist war against the Moors of southern Iberia that had been in progress since shortly after the original conquest in 711-718 and had been declared to be a crusade by Pope Eugenius III in 1147). The Order of Calatrava was founded by the Cistercian Abbot of Fitero in 1158, just to the south of the Castilian frontier, and quickly acquired lands and houses in southern Castile and Aragon. A second order was founded ca. 1166 at Evora in Portugal under the name the Order of St. Benedict of Evora, but it was soon affiliated with Calatrava, became its Portuguese branch, and after moving its seat to Avis called itself the Order of Avis. The Order of St. Julian of Pereiro was similarly founded as an independent order in Leon by 1176, but it affiliated with Calatrava, became its Leonese branch, and took new names from its successive seats at Trujillo (in 1188) and Alcantara (in 1218). All three of these orders remained affiliated with the Cistercian Order and were treated as direct or indirect dependencies of the Cistercian Abbey of Morimond.

Territories of the Orders of Knighthood in the Iberian kingdoms at the end of the 15th century.

The two principal international military orders were the Templars and the Hospitallers, and they arrived in Portugal in 1128 and 1130 respectively. Their members were recruited mainly from younger or bastard sons of the European nobility. They were disciplined, well-organised and committed for the long term. Particularly from the time of the Almohads they played a major role in the Portuguese Reconquest and ultimately in the resettlement process. They took responsibility for many frontier castles. In the 1150s the Templars were charged with defending Lisbon and Santarém and in 1160 commenced building their great castle at Tomar. The Hospitallers established their principal castle at Belver on the Tagus near Abrantes. During the second half of the twelfth century Portuguese chapters of the Spanish Orders of Santiago and Alcántara were also formed. The rule of Calatrava, which had strong Cistercian associations, was adopted by a brotherhood originally assigned by Afonso Henriques to defend Évora, which later became the exclusively Portuguese Order of Avis. All these military orders played major roles in resisting the Almohads and then renewing the Christian advance. By the reign of Afonso II (1211-23), whose physical disabilities prevented him from personally participating in military activity, their leaders had effectively taken over direction of the Reconquest. The campaigns in the Algarve during the time of Sancho II (1223-45) and the final triumph under Afonso III were particularly the work of the knights of Santiago and Avis.

The Order of Avis, originally known as the Order of Évora. The first definite information about the order dates from 1176; it did not adopt the name of Avis until 1215.

The claims of medieval chroniclers that date the foundation of the order to the mid-twelfth century are unfounded. The conclusions of Rui Pinto de Azevedo are now held to be the most authoritative: he demonstrated that the origins of the order should be situated in Évora, and should be placed between March 1175 and April 1176 [Azevedo, “As origens da ordem de Évora ou de Avis”]. At this time King Afonso I Henriques of Portugal, thanks to a truce with the Almohads, was attempting to elaborate a defensive strategy that would ensure the advanced positions of his kingdom against alAndalus in the Alto Alentejo region (mod. central Portugal). In 1211 the brethren of Évora were given the fortress of Avis, from which they took their new name a few years later. It is unclear why the brethren left their original Benedictine obedience in 1187 and sought association with the Castilian Order of Calatrava, which followed the Cistercian rule. This new dependence was evident in the prerogatives given to the master of Calatrava: he had rights of visitation over the Order of Avis and was also allowed to govern the institution whenever a vacancy in its mastership occurred, which he did until the mid-fourteenth century.

The Order of Avis was composed of knight brethren and clerics. They wore a scapular, which from 1404 bore a green cross on the left side. Under the aegis of its master, the institution gradually gained strength during the first part of the thirteenth century. Supported by the Portuguese monarchy, the brethren were active in the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, acquiring lands in the process. By the late thirteenth century these properties were organized in a network of no fewer than twenty-five commanderies: the richest of these were concentrated on the left bank of the river Tagus (Port. Tejo) near Avis, and also further south in the newly conquered areas, where the brethren had settled in Évora, Alandroal, Juromenha, Noudar, and Albufeira.

Such extensive land-ownership alarmed the Portuguese monarchy, which felt threatened by the potential power of the order. In the reign of King Dinis (1279-1325), royal policy toward Avis changed radically: the king put an end to donations and began supporting urban oligarchies and Muslim minorities in jurisdictional disputes, even in the town of Avis itself, thus deliberately harming the order’s interests. The masters of Avis were increasingly selected from among the king’s followers, or even his relatives. This can be seen in the case of the Infante Joao (Port. Joao), a natural son of King Peter I who was made the master of the order in 1364 at the age of seven, twenty years before ascending the throne of Portugal.

Joao became king after a two-year civil war, an event that could only reinforce royal interference in the order. After defeating his Castilian rival in 1385 in the battle of Aljubarrota, Joao I tried to maintain control by appointing a faithful follower, Fernao Rodrigues de Sequeira, as master of Avis. When the latter died in 1433, John decided that a master of royal blood would be best able to control the order, and appointed his own son, the Infante Fernao (Ferdinand). This master had to relinquish his position just before his death (1443) after being captured in Tangier. His successor was Pedro, his own nephew and son of Infante Pedro, the regent of the kingdom. Despite a period of exile, Pedro succeeded in keeping his office until his death in 1466. The mastership was then given to the Infante Joao, the elder son of King Afonso V; he remained master after ascending the throne in 1481. Nine years later Joao II gave the mastership to his heir, the Infante Afonso, and then to the Infante Jorge, his own natural son. The latter paved the way for the eventual absorption of the order by the Portuguese Crown, which occurred in 1550.


When the focus of action shifted south in the final century of the Reconquest both traditional seigneurs and concelhos were overtaken as instruments of settlement by large religious corporations. This process gained momentum with the arrival in Portugal from France of the white monks or Cistercians, the era’s most dynamic monastic order. Afonso Henriques granted the Cistercians a swathe of undeveloped territory in Estremadura, where in 1157 they founded Portugal’s greatest abbey at Alcobaça. In Alentejo the crown reserved for itself the towns and their immediate environs, but granted out most other lands to the nobility, monasteries, churches and, above all, the military orders. In 1169 the Templars, who had earlier been given extensive lands in the Zêzere valley, were promised a third of all the territory they could conquer in Alentejo. By the mid-thirteenth century the Templars and Hospitallers between them controlled large parts of Beira Baixa, Ribatejo and northern Alto Alentejo. Much of southern Alto Alentejo belonged to the Order of Avis. Further southwest, especially in Baixo Alentejo, were huge holdings granted to the Order of Santiago, balanced to the southeast by smaller territories possessed by the Templars and Hospitallers. All this meant that collectively the military orders were easily the greatest territorial beneficiaries of the Portuguese Reconquest.

Bibliography Ayala Martinez, Carlos de, Las ordenes militares hispanicas en la Edad Media (siglos XII-XV) (Madrid: Pons, 2003). Azevedo, Rui Pinto de, “As origens da ordem de Évora ou de Avis,” Historia 1 (1932), 233-241. Cunha, Maria Cristina Almeida, A ordem militar de Avis (das origens a 1329) (Oporto: Universidade do Porto, 1989). Fonseca, Luis Adao da, “Ordens militares,” in Dicionario de Historia Religiosa de Portugal, ed. Carlos Moreira Azevedo (Lisboa: Circulo de Leitores, 2001), vol. J-P, pp. 334-345. Pimenta, Maria Cristina Gomes, “A ordem militar de Avis durante o mestrado de D. Fernao Rodrigues de Sequeira,” Militarium Ordinum Analecta 1 (1997), 127-242. —, As ordens de Avis e de Santiago na Baixa Idade Média: O governo de D. Jorge (Palmela: Gabinete de Estudos sobre Ordem de Santiago, 2002).

The Fate of the Latin Empire, 1204–61

In a letter to Emperor Baldwin of 7 November 1204, Pope Innocent expressed his joy at the capture of Constantinople and described it as ‘a magnificent miracle’. In this letter, and one addressed to the clerics with the crusading army (13 November), he portrayed the campaign as God transferring the Byzantine Empire from ‘the proud to the humble, from the disobedient to the obedient, from schismatics to Catholics . . .’; this, he concluded, ‘was done by the Lord and is wondrous in our eyes’. Innocent was delighted and placed the Latin Empire under papal protection – a mark of special favour – and decreed that the task of preserving the newly conquered lands should be rewarded with the remission of sins (the same as for a crusader to the Holy Land). In other words, he harnessed a fundamental element of the crusading concept – the defence of Christian lands – to the immediate priorities of Emperor Baldwin. At this point, perhaps rather naively underestimating the work needed to consolidate the new conquests, the pope still imagined that the crusade would be able to continue onwards to the Levant.

A swathe of letters from early 1205 shows Innocent’s euphoria continuing unabated. He seems to have been totally caught up in this mighty step forward for the Catholic Church. For him, the momentous scale of God’s judgement heralded a Golden Age that would see the liberation of the Holy Land, the return of all schismatic Christians to St Peter’s see, the conversion of many heathens and the salvation of Israel – the last of which would signify the Second Coming and the End of Time. This was a remarkable agenda, but one evidently conceivable within contemporaneous currents in papal thought. The pope continued to profess his pleasure at the events in Constantinople: ‘I am enveloped by great wonder, along with those who are with me, at the novelty of such a miracle that has come to pass in these days.’

So content was Innocent that, for the moment, he overlooked yet another arrogation of papal authority by the Venetians. The March Pact of 1204 had stated that the losing party in the imperial election should have the right to provide a patriarch. Thus it fell to the doge’s churchmen to choose a candidate and they elected Thomas Morosini as their head. Unsurprisingly, as a Byzantine, Niketas Choniates found the presence of this man loathsome and he offered a savage pen-portrait of the Venetian: ‘He was of middle-age and fatter than a hog raised in a pit; his face was clean-shaven, as is the case with the rest of his race, and his chest was plucked smoother than pitchplaster; he wore a ring on his hand, and sometimes he wore leather coverings which were fitted to his fingers.’ Innocent was more concerned with Thomas’s spiritual attributes and acknowledged that he was of good character – notwithstanding the fact that the process outlined in the March Pact was a serious transgression of papal prerogatives. The agreement was, after all, a deal concluded between secular parties (the Venetians and the other crusaders), but the relevant clause here concerned election to one of the five patriarchal seats of the Christian Church, something that those enjoined to the contract had no right to decide. For this reason, Innocent had no hesitation in declaring the election void. Yet such was the pope’s positive mood at this time that he listened to representations from Baldwin, Boniface and the other crusade leaders that emphasised the huge Venetian contribution to the campaign and argued that this merited a proper reward. In response, Innocent conceded that Thomas was indeed a suitable candidate for patriarch, regardless of his improper election. Then, most realistically of all, ‘wishing to show favour to the Venetians in the hope that they might be tied more strongly to the service of the Cross of Christ’, he informed the churchmen in Constantinople that he now properly elected and confirmed Thomas as the first Latin patriarch of Constantinople.

By the middle of 1205, however, events in the Holy Land and Constantinople conspired to darken Pope Innocent’s mood considerably. The situation in the Levant plunged into a new crisis with the death (from a surfeit of fish) of King Aimery of Jerusalem, followed quickly by the demise of his infant son. War between the Christian states of Antioch and Armenia, along with a fear that the Muslims of Egypt and Damascus were poised to break a treaty made with Aimery, created huge anxieties for the papacy. The Franks were vulnerable enough anyway and these calamities threatened their fragile hold on the Syrian coastline.

To compound these troubles Peter Capuano, the papal legate, had left the Holy Land – against Innocent’s wishes – and travelled to Constantinople. There, incredibly, he had released all the westerners from their crusading vows. In other words, they were no longer obligated to go to the eastern Mediterranean, the area that Innocent continued to see as the final destination of the expedition and a region now in urgent need of help. Capuano had, in effect, terminated the Fourth Crusade. His reasoning for this is not explicit, although in the way that he had allowed the expedition to attack Zara in order to preserve its unity, pragmatism was probably at the root of his thoughts. He may have taken the view that the best way to sustain the fledgling Latin Empire was to concentrate the crusaders’ efforts in and around Constantinople and that this, rather than an exodus of men to the Holy Land, was in the best interests of the Church. Whatever Capuano’s intentions were, Pope Innocent was livid. On 12 July 1205 he wrote a stinging rebuke to the legate: ‘We leave it to your judgement as to whether or not it was permissible for you to transform – no, rather to pervert – such a solemn and pious vow.’ Ironically, therefore, an agent of the papacy brought the Fourth Crusade to a close. Innocent’s grand design had been grounded on the shores of the Bosphorus and, in the short term, his hopes of reclaiming Christ’s patrimony were ended.

In conjunction with this disastrous development, the pope’s perception of the capture of Constantinople was changing. Stories concerning the evils perpetrated by the crusaders during the sack of the city were growing ever more unpleasant and troubling. As we saw earlier, the letters sent to Rome by the expedition’s leadership had chosen to pass over the westerners’ brutality. But as the months went by, rumours carried by traders and travellers were supplemented by information from returning crusaders, such as Bishop Conrad of Halberstadt or Bishop Martin of Pairis, and exposed the full horrors of the episode. Innocent was sickened by what he learned – what had seemed a glorious success was in reality a sordid exercise in greed and violence. His letters lamented: ‘By that from which we appeared to have profited up to now we are impoverished, and by that from which we believed we were, above all else, made greater, we are reduced.’ Innocent questioned why the Greek Church might wish to express its devotion to the papacy – as the crusaders so proudly claimed that it would – when it saw in the Latins ‘nothing except an example of affliction and the works of Hell, so that now it rightly detests them more than dogs’. He recounted the crusaders’ merciless slaughter of Christians of all ages, men and women alike, ‘staining with blood Christian swords that should have been used on pagans’. He grimly recited some of the other atrocities: the rape of matrons, virgins, nuns; the sack of the churches and the violation of sacristies and crosses. Initially Innocent seems to have believed that only the imperial treasuries had been looted, but he was horrified to learn of the plunder of churches across the city.

Innocent had also become aware of the Latins’ terrible defeat at Adrianople, yet instead of lamenting the death of so many great knights he described the episode as one of Divine Retribution for the crusaders’ deeds – an uncompromisingly harsh judgement on the loss of many genuinely pious warriors. The pope felt that events of April 1204 damaged future calls for a crusade because those who had been on the campaign would be returning home, dispensed from their vows and laden with spoils.

The details of the sack caused Innocent to express doubts as to the true motives of some of the crusaders. He had already been deeply sceptical of the Venetians’ aims, but now, in a letter to Boniface of Montferrat, he suggested that the marquis had ‘turned away from the purity of your vow when [you] took up arms not against Saracens, but Christians . . . preferring earthly wealth to celestial treasures’. Innocent indicated that ‘it is reputed far and wide’ that the crusaders had behaved disgracefully towards the people and churches of Constantinople.

Yet alongside this anger there was also a sense of puzzlement. As the contemporary churchman and writer Gerald of Wales stated: ‘The judgement of God is never unjust even if it is sometimes hard to understand.’36 The pope struggled to reconcile the divinely approved outcome of the expedition with news of the crusaders’ behaviour during the conquest. In the final analysis Innocent had too much of a pragmatic streak to condemn the crusaders wholeheartedly. He did not, for example, raise the question of excommunicating the army for their deeds, let alone suggest a withdrawal from Byzantium. The pope accepted God’s judgement against ‘an evil people’ (the Greeks) and retreated behind rumination on ‘the incomprehensible ways of God’. He concluded: ‘For who can know the mind of the Lord?’ He also urged Boniface to hold, defend and even extend the lands he now ruled, which shows that Innocent saw the new Latin Empire as a permanent feature of the political and religious landscape. The pope instructed the marquis to do proper penance for his sinful acts and to exert himself for the relief of the Holy Land because ‘through this [Byzantine] land, that [the Holy Land] can be easily recovered’.

If Innocent’s feelings towards the sack of Constantinople now reflected a more accurate sense of what had really taken place, he could not step back from the fact that the Catholic Church had, through its capture of the patriarchal city of Constantinople, derived an enormous (if unforeseen) benefit from the Fourth Crusade. There now remained the need to reinforce and defend this land – yet another onerous responsibility for the head of the Latin Church and one of the most far-reaching consequences of the campaign.


On 15 August 1261 – fifty-seven years after the Fourth Crusade had sacked the Queen of Cities – Michael Palaeologus, the ruler of Nicaea, processed into the Hagia Sophia where he was crowned emperor of Byzantium. The Greeks had reclaimed Constantinople. Other spoils of the Latin victories in 1204 – such as the principality of Achaea and the island of Crete – remained in western hands but the heart of the conquest had been torn out.

As the first generations of Frankish settlers in the Holy Land had discovered, large-scale backing from the West was needed to consolidate their new territories. As early as 1211 Emperor Henry of Constantinople (1206–16) wrote: ‘nothing is lacking for the achievement of complete victory and for the possession of the empire, except an abundance of Latins, since . . . there is little use in acquiring [land] unless there are those who can conserve it’. Yet ultimately, the support of a second Catholic satellite in the eastern Mediterranean proved too great a demand on the physical and emotional resources of Europe.

In the course of the thirteenth century the scope of crusading extended considerably. In 1208 Pope Innocent III launched the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics of southern France. There was also, as before, continuous activity in the Baltic region and periodic campaigns against the Muslims of the Iberian peninsula. Crusading proved a highly flexible concept and in the middle of the thirteenth century, as relations between the papacy and Emperor Frederick II of Germany became hostile, a holy war was preached against the most powerful secular figure in the West. From the late 1230s a new and terrifying force began to appear on the borders of eastern Europe and soon threatened the Levant as well. The fearsome Mongol hordes were in the process of creating the largest land empire in the history of the world, stretching from Hungary to the China Sea, and in 1241 the papacy called for a crusade to combat this deadly menace. Given this extraordinary level of crusading activity – not all of which was met with approval or enthusiasm by the knightly classes of Europe – the chances of a new and comparatively distant sphere of holy war attracting widespread support were slim.

Probably the greatest obstacle to the flowering of the Latin Empire was the situation in the Holy Land. By the mid-thirteenth century, after decades of relative stability, the settlers’ position had deteriorated sharply. In August 1244 at the Battle of La Forbie, 1,034 out of 1,099 knights from the Military Orders were slain. This prompted the Seventh Crusade (1248–54), a substantial expedition consisting of more than 2,500 knights, properly financed by the French crown and the French Church, and led by the saintly King Louis IX. The resources and motivation demanded by an undertaking of this scale could not be summoned repeatedly, particularly if, as with Louis’s crusade, the campaign failed.

The fundamental problem for the Latin Empire was that it lacked the unparalleled cachet of the Holy Places. It could not boast of a biblical past and it had not been seized from the hands of the infidel, but rather from Christians, albeit heretics. Baldwin’s lands were in competition with the allure of the Holy Sepulchre, quite apart from the existing regional holy wars in Spain, the Baltic and the new campaigns in southern France, and those against the Mongols and Frederick II of Germany. For this reason the conquests of the Fourth Crusade were always destined to struggle for attention except from those parties directly interested in the area, such as the Montferrat dynasty or the Venetians. The fact that the Latin emperors were not from a royal house of the West, coupled with a decline in the standing of the counts of Flanders, reduced the obvious sources of help even further.

As early as 1204, the Latin Empire and the Holy Land competed with each other for the attention of the Christian world. A letter from the archbishop of Nazareth pleaded for assistance ‘for the recovery of the patrimony of the Crucified One’; yet around the same time the papal legate, Peter Capuano, released crusaders at Constantinople from their obligation to go to the Levant so that they could stay to defend the new empire. The appeal sent to the papacy in the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople was another request for help that reached the West just as the pleas from the archbishop of Nazareth were being considered.

In the early years, the Latin conquerors and the papacy had clung to the belief that their conquests might help the holy war against Islam, but this optimism was utterly misplaced. Even Pope Innocent came to recognise the conflict between consolidating the Latin Empire and liberating the Levant. In 1211 he wrote to Emperor Henry and grumbled, ‘since you and other crusaders have striven to capture and keep the empire . . . principally in order that by this means you may bring help more easily to the Holy Land, you have not only failed to provide any assistance in this, but have also brought trouble and damage . . .’ to those trying to resist the infidel.

In the aftermath of the conquest, the prospect of land and money had attracted people from – of all places – the Levant. In 1202–3 the Crusader States had experienced a plague, a colossal earthquake and were confronted with a numerically overwhelming enemy. Thus, in the aftermath of the conquest of Byzantium, many inhabitants of the Levant – unwilling to pass up new opportunities to win land and money – eagerly decamped to Constantinople. As we have seen, men such as Stephen of Perche, Reynald of Montmirail and Geoffrey of Villehardouin’s nephew (as well as some recent settlers in the kingdom of Jerusalem, such as Stephen of Tenremonde, a Fleming who had remained after the Third Crusade) were quick to abandon the defence of the Frankish East. Defections such as these caused Pope Innocent to complain that the exodus of pilgrims from the Holy Land left it weakened. Of course, given their overall vulnerability, the papacy was obliged to call for support for the Christians in the new empire. Yet every time a crusade set out, or money was sent to Constantinople, it meant less assistance for the Holy Land. Thus, far from preparing a way to liberate Christ’s patrimony, the conquests of the Fourth Crusade actually weakened it.

It was not, however, until 1224 that the first crusade preached for the defence of the Latin Empire prepared to set out. This was a northern Italian (Montferrese) expedition focused on the relief of Thessalonica, but the leadership was delayed by illness and lack of funds and by the time the crusade reached the area, the city had already surrendered to the Greeks of Epirus.

Notwithstanding the adverse effects on campaigns to the Holy Land, the papacy tried hard to persuade some potential crusaders that they should fight for the Latin Empire instead of going to the Levant. In 1239 Richard of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III of England, and his companions were asked to commute their vows to Jerusalem in return for a money payment to help Constantinople or to go there in person, but they refused to be diverted and to shed Christian blood. The popes raised direct clerical taxation in Greece for the defence of the empire but the large-scale crusade that was required to defeat the Byzantines never looked like materialising. In fact, by 1262 Pope Urban IV was so desperate to encourage a new expedition to regain Constantinople that he offered free passage to participants (in contrast to the payments to the Venetians required in 1204) and – astonishingly – an indulgence of 40–100 days’ penance for simply listening to the crusade sermon in the first instance.

The Latin emperors worked hard to gather men and money and Baldwin II (1228–61) resorted to long tours around the courts of western Europe (1236–9 and 1244–8) in the hope of securing support, but all he received were polite displays of interest, small gifts and open-ended promises. Baldwin himself cut an unimpressive figure and contemporaries described him as ‘young and childish’ and not the ‘wise and vigorous’ figure needed.

In 1237 he had to pawn the Crown of Thorns, worn by Christ on the Cross, to a Venetian merchant for 13,134 gold pieces. When he could not redeem the debt, the relic was taken by agents acting for the pious King Louis IX of France, who was so delighted with this treasure that he constructed the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle in Paris especially for it.9 A year later Louis was involved in a more secular transaction when Baldwin mortgaged him the title to the county of Namur (a region of northern France – a link back to the emperor’s Flemish forefathers) for 50,000 livres. By 1257 so impoverished was the empire that Venetian creditors required Baldwin’s son Philip as surety for a loan, and even the lead from the palace roof was being sold to generate cash.

In spite of this generally sorry tale on the mainland, the fertility and relative security of the principality of Achaea (in the Peloponnese peninsula), and the Venetian-controlled island of Crete, formed two regions of economic strength. The export of bulk products, including wheat, olive oil, wine and wool, as well as luxury items such as silk, created real wealth for the Italians and the Villehardouin dynasty who ruled Achaea. The latter fostered a flourishing court life and the chivalric traditions of the West blossomed. On one occasion Geoffrey II (1229–46) rode through his lands accompanied by 80 knights wearing golden spurs and the French spoken in Achaea was said to be as good as that in Paris. Frescos depicting chivalric deeds decorated palace walls, and tournaments and hunting were popular pastimes. The capture of Prince William (1246–78) at the Battle of Pelagonia (1259) marked the end of Achaean ascendancy, although the principality did survive through the female line. Crete remained under Venetian rule until 1669 and was by far the most durable manifestation of the Fourth Crusade.

Elsewhere the Latins were less successful. Boniface of Montferrat did not enjoy his hard-won prize of the kingdom of Thessalonica for long. In September 1207 he was killed in battle, and years of pressure from the Greek rulers of Epirus led to their winning Thessalonica in 1224. It was, however, the empire of Nicaea, based in Asia Minor, which posed the most potent threat to the Latins. John III Vatatzes (1222–54), later canonised by the Orthodox Church, pushed the westerners out of Asia Minor, established a bridgehead at Gallipoli on the European side of the Bosphorus and later took over Thessalonica to tighten the noose around Constantinople. John’s death meant that the final push to eject the Latins came from his general, Michael Palaeologus, who became regent for John’s young son and then seized the imperial title for himself. The boy was, inevitably, imprisoned and blinded.

In July 1261, as the Greeks gathered for a full assault on Constantinople, a sympathiser opened one of the gates and the Byzantine advance party took the city with barely a struggle. Most of the Latin garrison was engaged on a campaign elsewhere and the citizenry were generally pleased to see the return of their natural lords. So unexpected was this turn of events that Michael Palaeologus had yet to cross the Bosphorus. His sister, Eulogia, heard the news early one morning and, as her brother lay sleeping in his tent, is said to have crept in and tickled his feet with a feather. When he awoke she told him that he was now the ruler of Constantinople. Playing along with her lighthearted mood, Michael laughed, but refused to accept what he heard. Only when a messenger entered with the imperial crown and sceptre did he believe it; God had indeed delivered Constantinople back to the Greeks. The principal achievement of the Fourth Crusade was thus wiped out.

In reality then, the Latin Empire proved to be an unwanted burden that only hindered the cause of the Holy Land. It expired 30 years before the fierce Mamluk dynasty prised the westerners from the city of Acre (1291) to mark the end of Christian power in the Levant until the British general, Edmund Allenby, entered Jerusalem in 1917. By one of history’s neater ironies, in later centuries, as the reconstituted Byzantine Empire struggled against the mighty Ottoman Turks, the papacy tried to rouse western Europe for another crusade to help defend the Greeks. The effort failed and, when the Ottomans took the city of Constantinople in 1453, it was finally lost to Byzantium for ever.