Hospitaller Ships and Transportation across the Mediterranean

Crusader vessel – medieval cog

The main functions of the Order of St John, after its militarization, were the maintenance of Christian rule in the Holy Land and caring for the pilgrims and the poor. The priories in the West, especially in present-day France and in the Kingdom of Sicily, supported the Convent in the Levant with resources of cash, manpower, military equipment, horses, mules, fodder, grain, other foodstuffs, and some additional commodities. Maritime transportation was vital for the operation of the Order, since it ensured the eastward flow of reinforcements and supplies, as well as communication between its houses across the Mediterranean. Surprisingly, the Order’s involvement in maritime transportation has so far been addressed in passing only, and not always accurately. Several issues regarding that involvement warrant a thorough investigation. Three of them are examined here: since when did the Hospitallers own ships, the functions of these vessels, and the development of the Order’s fleet until the fall of the Frankish states in 1291. In view of space limitations, the focus of this study is on the role of Marseilles in relation to these issues, a role that is fairly well documented.

The earliest extant record of a Hospitaller ship appears in the business account of a Genoese merchant who returned home in 1156. Considering the oriental commodities he handled, among them spices, it is likely that the ship had visited Acre. Marseilles was presumably its final destination, rather than Genoa, which never served as a base for Hospitaller vessels. In 1161 another Genoese merchant was due to sail, on a large vessel that had formerly belonged to the Order. The reason for its sale cannot be established.

Interestingly, Hospitaller and Templar ships were carrying pilgrims from Narbonne around that time, as is revealed by that city’s treaty of 1166 with Genoa. In 1178 the Hospitallers obtained from Bertrand of Marseilles and his nephews William le Gros and Raymond Barral, joint viscounts of Marseilles, tax exemption for the transit, sale or purchase of their vessels and marketable goods in the harbour adjoining the sector of the city and other territories under their rule. In 1190 King Richard I of England transferred a ship to the Hospitallers. It is likely that it transported men and provisions of the Order to the vicinity of Acre, which was then besieged by Christian forces participating in the Third Crusade.

Shortly after the death of Emperor Henry VI of Hohenstaufen on 28 September 1197 his widow, Empress Constance, granted the Hospitallers in the Kingdom of Sicily the right to export goods to support the Convent in the Holy Land without paying taxes. In addition, they were allowed to carry peregrini on their ships without having to transfer a portion of the fare collected from them to the royal court. The term peregrini covered both pilgrims and crusaders, as is evidenced, for instance, with respect to the passengers of the ship St Victor in 1250. Occasionally, though, the former were distinguished from the latter, called milites peregrini or peregrini crucesignati. Peregrini sailing with their horses were obviously crusaders. The Hospitallers’ request from Empress Constance was apparently related to their wish to participate in the transportation of German crusaders from southern Italy to Acre, which had been proceeding since March 1197. It is doubtful, however, that the Order was regularly carrying pilgrims or crusaders from the Kingdom of Sicily to the Levant by that time. Significantly, in 1211 Otto IV confirmed the Order’s taxation privileges in the Kingdom of Sicily without referring to ships, and Frederick II acted likewise in 1209, 1215, 1216 and 1224.

The evidence regarding Hospitaller vessels becomes more abundant from the early thirteenth century onwards. In 1210 King Hugh I of Cyprus granted tax exemption throughout the island for the Order’s trade in its own goods, the purchase of commodities for its own needs, and free anchorage in Cypriot ports for its ships carrying them. However, the Order could not fully ensure the transportation of its men and provisions. Two years later, in 1212, Guy, lord of Gibelet (Jubail in presentday Lebanon) granted the Hospitallers tax exemption for trade in the city and the territory of his lordship, as well as for any ship visiting Gibelet for provisioning. He did not directly refer to the Order’s own ships and clearly alluded to chartered vessels.

In March 1216 Hugh I of Baux and his wife Baralle granted the Hospitallers the right to build or anchor in the port and territory of Marseilles any type or number of ships that would sail to the Frankish Levant, Spain, or any other region to defend Christendom. The transport of their own goods, pilgrims, crusaders, merchants and the latter’s money on these ships, whether for fare and freight or without payment, was to be tax exempt. The concession also covered the operation of ships chartered by the Order for its own needs. This grant of shipping privileges to the Order in Marseilles was not the first of its kind, but rather the confirmation of an earlier concession. A shorter version of the privileges enjoyed by the Hospitallers and the Templars appears in a charter of 1233, which reveals that they had been jointly bestowed by the five viscounts of Marseilles holding portions of the seigniorial rights in the city, namely, Hugh I of Baux, Raymond of Baux and Giraud Adhémar and their respective wives, in addition to Roncelin and Raymond-Geoffrey of Trets. It is likely that the concession to the two Orders was made while the five viscounts held all the seigniorial rights in their sector of Marseilles. Raymond-Geoffrey of Trets and his sister Alasacie, married to Raymond of Baux, inherited portions of the viscounts’ rights from their father, Hugh Geoffrey, at some unknown date before the last days of March 1213. The former sold some of his rights to the commune of Marseilles on the 28th of that month, Roncelin acted likewise two days later, and a third sale, by Raymond of Baux, took place on 2 April. It follows that the Hospitallers and the Templars obtained their shipping privileges before late March 1213.

The sales of seigniorial rights to the commune of Marseilles in March and April 1213 and a further sale negotiated by Raymond-Geoffrey of Trets in March 1216 must have seriously worried the Hospitallers. In addition, after the death of viscount Roncelin on 21 December 1215 the abbey of St Victor of Marseilles claimed his entire portion of seigniorial rights. The Hospitallers obviously feared that the commune and the abbey would refuse to uphold their shipping privileges. In March 1216, therefore, they requested confirmation of the original concession from Hugh I of Baux, who had retained his portion of the viscounts’ rights. The charter he jointly issued with his wife, Baralle, mentioned above, appears to reflect faithfully the wording of that concession. In addition, the Order turned to Pope Honorius III, who on 20 December 1216 confirmed the original shipping privileges obtained from the five viscounts of Marseilles.

The pope also ordered, again in response to the Hospitallers’ request, that the archbishop of Arles and his suffragans should prevent churchmen and laymen from taxing the Order for the transit of timber assigned for shipbuilding, as well as for goods intended for the assistance of the Holy Land. The wording of Honorius III implies that the timber did not necessarily originate from the Order’s estates, yet was clearly intended for ships it commissioned. The request was motivated by the location of Arles and several cities within the bishopric along waterways that enabled the floating of timber to shipyards in Marseilles. It has been suggested that the timber was to be sent to Acre for shipbuilding in the Hospitaller’s darsana or shipyard, presumably located in the Cale dou Marquis just north of the suburb of Montmusard. This construct is not plausible for several reasons.

First, the transfer of timber to Acre would have been costly and contrary to economic rationale, since ships could be built in Marseilles. Secondly, the darsana of the Hospitallers attested in 1250 was clearly situated in the Old City of Acre, because it was contiguous to a Genoese garden and close to other houses of the Order. The presence of houses of the Order north of the city walls is excluded. Finally, the darsana was located at some distance from the shore. Therefore, it must have been a workshop for an undisclosed activity rather than a shipyard. In any event, the recently excavated shipyard in Acre, which on fourteenth-century maps appears as arsenal to the east of the Venetian quarter, was only suitable for the building and repair of small and medium-sized vessels, whereas the Order was using large vessels by 1250.

It is noteworthy that the Templars obtained from the five viscounts of Marseilles the same shipping concessions as the Hospitallers, presumably at the same date as the latter, and faced the same problems. They, too, appear to have been troubled by the viscounts’ sales of seigniorial rights to the commune of Marseilles and by the death of Roncelin. However, instead of turning, like the Hospitallers, to Pope Honorius III to strengthen their privileges, they asked Frederick II to confirm them. In September 1216 he issued a charter to that effect, mentioning the five viscounts. It is noteworthy that a vessel of the Templars was about to leave Constantinople for Acre in April 1207. Apparently the same or another ship of that Order, the name of which is garbled, sailed from Constantinople to Venice in the spring of 1210.

The evidence surveyed so far warrants several observations. The Hospitallers already owned one or several transport ships crossing the Mediterranean around the mid-twelfth century. However, the Order also relied on private carriers or chartered whole ships. The loss of numerous estates in the Levant in 1187 substantially reduced its self-supply and revenues in that region, as well as the income from the sale of its produce, such as sugar, despite the temporary recovery of some lands until the midthirteenth century. As a result, the Hospitallers in the Levant were compelled to rely, far more than before 1187, on supplies from the West. The papacy assisted them by prohibiting the imposition of taxes on the movement of their goods. The frequent transfer of reinforcements, and especially of supplies, across the Mediterranean after 1191 induced the Hospitallers to purchase ships or commission their construction on a much larger scale than before, as implied by the shipping privileges they obtained in Marseilles before late March 1213. As noted above, these included a sweeping tax exemption both on the operation and on the building of vessels. All these considerations also applied to the Templars.

The acquisition and operation of ships by the two Orders was primarily aimed at cutting transportation costs. As noted above, they also enabled profit-generating maritime activities consisting in the transportation of merchants, private cargo, crusaders and pilgrims on ships not filled to capacity with the Orders’ own men and goods. Some of these services are already attested by 1156, possibly also by 1197 in the Kingdom of Sicily, if we may rely on the charter issued by Empress Constance, and in any event by the second decade of the thirteenth century. The Hospitallers and the Templars offered these services until the fall of the Frankish states in 1291. Three factors account for the intrusion of the two Orders into the highly competitive business of pilgrim transportation. There was a large demand for that service after 1191, closely related to greater geographic mobility in the West. Ships of increasing carrying capacity were being built from the second half of the twelfth century. And the sailing across the high seas from the late twelfth century onward shortened trans-Mediterranean voyages, reduced their cost, and further enhanced the profitability of pilgrim transportation. It is likely that the two Orders expected and encouraged the pilgrims sailing to Acre on their ships to be particularly generous towards their respective houses in that city, both of which owned a number of relics.

The development of the Hospitallers’ fleet.
The Order operated barks and small vessels for short-distance transportation, as in the Dead Sea and between Acre and its sugar-cane plantations along the river Na’aman flowing into the Bay of Acre. It used small or medium-sized craft, not exclusively its own, to concentrate goods in specific ports from where they were shipped on larger vessels to the Levant. This practice is attested, for instance, in 1273 for the port of Bari, to where products were brought from the Order’s estates in the region, and was most likely the rule with respect to Marseilles, as suggested by the various tax exemptions the Hospitallers obtained for river navigation to the Mediterranean. Sound economic considerations induced them to acquire large ships capable of ensuring long-distance transportation, a costly service when using private vessels, especially since the Order had to maintain regular shipping to the Levant. Clearly, its transport vessels were based in Western ports from where reinforcements and supplies were sent. However, since the Order could not always fill them to capacity, it occasionally embarked merchants, goods and pilgrims to reduce sailing expenses. The problem was particularly acute on return voyages, when the Order’s reduced requirements left ample space on the ships. Instead of searching for passengers and cargo for a one-way voyage, it was sometimes more profitable to lease the entire ship to merchants who operated it on their own behalf, as in 1279.

The Hospitallers’ exclusive transportation of pilgrims on specific vessels practically ensured that the ships were filled to capacity on both the outward and the return journeys, although some pilgrims may have died on the way to or in the Holy Land, and others may have decided to stay there. This was a purely financial operation. While it prevented the loading of cargo, it must have yielded substantial revenue that could be spent on the purchase of ships, goods or services. Hospitaller ships carrying only pilgrims are attested in Marseilles until 1253, but we do not know how long this type of operation continued beyond that year. In view of the strong competition from Italian carriers, it is excluded that such ships sailed from Apulia and Sicily. On the other hand, it is likely that some of the Order’s vessels carried pilgrims together with merchants and cargo to Acre, although evidence of this is lacking.

The growth of the Hospitaller fleet in the thirteenth century appears to have been rather slow. There is no evidence of Hospitaller vessels transporting crusaders at the time of the Fifth Crusade, which lasted from 1218 to 1221, presumably because they only carried the Order’s own forces and supplies. Despite their having several ships in 1248, none appears to have transported pilgrims or crusaders during the crusade of Louis IX, which began in that year. The Falcon, first attested in 1238, had been sailing for at least ten years by 1248. The ships hired by King Louis IX in 1246 were to be less than six years old. A Venetian maritime statute of 1233 refers to the loading of ships of that age. Another Venetian statute, dated 1255, deals with the maximum cargo a ship of 94 metric tons or more, travelling outside the Adriatic, was allowed to carry, and imposes a reduction after five years of sailing and a further one after two additional years. In 1248 the priory of St Gilles had ready cash, which it invested in the enlargement of its property. However, it appears to have been reluctant to finance the replacement of the Falcon at that time. It has been noted that the Hospitallers failed to participate in the evacuation of Acre’s population in the last months before the city’s fall to the Muslims, although the Templars’ Falcon did participate in the operation. This was clearly not owing to a lack of Hospitaller ships. Rather, it is likely that the Order’s vessels carrying pilgrims and supplies stopped on the way to Acre when news of that city’s siege reached them.

The Hospitallers resorted to four options for conveying their men, provisions and messages across the Mediterranean. They took advantage of private ships engaging in commercial sailings, hired whole vessels, purchased them, or commissioned their construction. The simultaneous resorting to these options, which apparently continued until 1291, implies that the Order was never capable of ensuring on its own the volume of maritime transportation that it needed, despite increasing investment in ocean-going ships after 1191. It also contradicts the common belief, expressed again recently, yet never documented, that the Order owned a considerable number of vessels in the thirteenth century. All the ships mentioned above were naves. In 1288 the Hospitallers in Acre equipped a saitie, an elongated oared vessel capable of swift sailing, yet no galleys of the Order are attested until 1291.This distinguishes the Hospitaller fleet before that year from the one operating later from Cyprus, which included a naval force of galleys.


The war against pagan Lithuania

The war against pagan Lithuania has been described as a war of attrition, but this gives little idea of how it was conducted. Since it lasted for more than a hundred years, during which both combatants grew, steadily richer and more powerful, neither the Order nor the heathen can be said to have achieved the aim of a war of attrition. There was some kind of fighting almost every year from 1283 to 1406, vast expenditure of labour and money, and a continuous record of atrocities and devastation: both war-machines were effective enough to conserve an economically viable homeland, but ineffective enough to leave the enemy’s resources undestroyed.

To explain this paradox, it is necessary to look at the geography of the region. At this period, most of it was covered by a dense deciduous forest, reaching from the Baltic coast to the Beresina, and from the Pripet marshes to the Dvina. In the middle of this area, on the upper Niemen, Viliya, and upper Dvina, the Lithuanians and their Russian tributaries had cleared enough land to support sizable populations; but this still left a belt of uncleared land, almost 100 miles wide, between them and the Order’s settled zones in Prussia and Livonia. Within this belt, the going was very tough: not only trees, undergrowth and the thickets left as hege or barriers all round Samogitia, but also marsh, bog, lake and the innumerable tributaries of the great rivers, presented problems of logistics and transport which medieval armies were ill equipped to solve. There survives a compilation of routes between Prussia and Lithuania (Die Littauischen Wegeberichte, made 1384-1402) which gives a clear picture of the difficulties. For example, if you had got to Betygala, near the upper Dubysa, which flows into the Niemen from Samogitia, and you wanted to proceed to Vandziogala, north of Kaunas, twenty-one miles as the crow flies, thirty-five by modern by-roads, the following route (twenty seven miles) was offered: first there was a damerow, or patch of scrubland, with a track; then a great wood where you had to clear your way (rumen); then there was a heath; then another wood, ‘the length of a crossbow shot, and there you have to clear your way too’; then a heath; then another wood (more trail-blazing for over three miles). That was on the edge of the true Wiltnisse: the route from the Prussian lowlands to the upper Niemen crossed the middle of it. One way which was found by a native Prussian scout was described in a letter that was copied into the Wegeberichte, and dated from lnsterburg (Chernyakhovsk) on the Pregolya. It begins,

Dear Lord Marshal,

Take notice in your wisdom that by God’s grace Gedutte and his company have got back in safety and have completed everything yousent us to carry out and have marked the w. ay so far as 4! miles this side of the Niemen, along a route that crosses the Niemen and leads straight into the country.

They had travelled a distance of less than seventy miles as the crow flies, in nine stages, each marked by a ‘night-camp’ at the end of a day’s journey; and these were experienced rangers, carrying out a mission as quickly as possible. They reported that they had ‘found a lot of peoples and a lot of houses in the waste’, and alternative routes listed in the Wegeberichte suggest that there was no lack of ‘good and secret’ tracks, if only people knew where they were; but nothing like a public road that could be used by armies and merchants. Knights who left the track, or failed to travel in parties, were sure to be killed or die of starvation; armies were constantly getting lost or failing to make contact with the enemy. A good day’s journey through the Wiltnisse was about twelve miles; it took a week to get from Kaunas to Vilnius (fifty-five miles apart as the crow flies), four days from Merkine to Trakai (forty-three miles), six days from Trakai to Traby (fifty-two miles). Only the Niemen and the Dvina provided sure methods of bulk transport through these forest zones, and both rivers were often used in support of military operations- for bringing up supplies, bricks, siege-machines, horses, reinforcements- but there were still problems. The upper Dvina is a fairly rapid river in places, running between steep banks, and therefore river-borne armies had a hard pull upstream: only once did the Livonians get to Polotsk by water. The southern tributaries that flowed from Lithuania were short and shallow. The Niemen is remarkably placid and winding. So extravagant were its meanders that it was said in the fifteenth century that boatmen could spend a day going round one of these bends and light their evening fire by walking a short distance over to the embers left in yesterday’s camp. Progress this slow would not matter when there was a castle to be built, or when, as before 1283, the enemy was only a few miles away, but it became a severe handicap when a campaign had to be fought a long way up – or downriver; and weather conditions made speed essential. Both Prussians and Lithuanians kept prams and longboats on the Niemen, and sometimes they raided and fought in them; they were essential for keeping the Order’s castles above Tilsit (Sovetsk) supplied; but it was not practicable to float large invasion forces to the mouth or headwaters of the river within the ‘real time’ available to summer campaigners. Short cuts were sometimes found: thus in 1376 the commander of Balga had six-man boats built on the banks of the Niemen when he got there by the overland route, and in 1393 the marshal carried his boats thirty-six miles on waggons. But these stratagems were only ways of cutting down a marginal difference between two very slow and cumbersome ways of travelling. On the whole, the mounted expedition guided by expert woodsmen (Leitzlute) remained the only effective way of getting into enemy territory where there were tracks; while, where there were none, one could only go on toot.

The climate placed further restrictions on such expeditions. Then as now, the region was liable to heavy rains and heavy snowfalls, and, since there were no roads, the effect of either was to make movement impossible. Sheer cold made it impossible for the Order to invade Lithuania in the winter of 1322-3; the common soldiers fell dead on the march, and many of the fruit-trees that had been planted in Livonia and Prussia never recovered. In February 1376 the snow was so deep that a Livonian expedition had to ride out in single file, and that March the Lithuanians lost a thousand horses from hardship. In other years, as in 1387, the snow lay so thick that no one attempted to get through. But a ‘weak winter’ was even worse: unless the ground froze – 120 days of frost is the modern average-it would not support men or horses, and there could be no fighting. The rain swelled the rivers and soaked the soil. When the snow melted, and the ice broke up on the rivers (any time during March and April), communications were again impossible, and autumn rainfall could be intolerably heavy. However eager the enemies were to fight each other, they were always apt to be kept apart by the weather. Thus in 1394 Duke Philip of Burgundy wrote to the grand master asking whether there would be a reysa the following year, and Conrad von Jungingen had to write back,

we cannot offer any consolation or certain hope in a matter of this kind to the glorious lord himself, or to any man living, because it is impossible to provide a truthful forecast of future contingencies, especially since on our expeditions we are obliged to go across great waters and vast solitudes by dangerous ways … on account of which they frequently depend on God’s will and disposition, and also on the weather.

There were only two sets of weather conditions which would allow serious campaigning, and neither could be expected to last for more than two months at the outside. One was a ‘hard’ or ‘good’ winter: not too cold for a man to relieve himself in the open air, or too snowy for riding, but just sharp enough to congeal the bogs, harden the ground and freeze over the rivers. As in 1364, for example: ‘This year winter was hard, and it lasted three months, so that we had several good reysen … .’ The other set of favourable conditions was provided by a hot sun and drying winds, so that land and water transport could be used in combination. This could happen any time from April to October, or not at all, and was unlikely to last for more than a month. In both cases, a sudden change in the weather could prove disastrous. Floods in summer or thawing ice in winter could trap an army without hope of relief, as when King Wladyslaw III of Poland was caught between two swollen lakes on the frontier of Chelmno in August 1332, or when the thawing of the Strawen made it impossible for the fleeing Lithuanians to escape from Marshal von Kniprode in February 1348. The effect of these risks was to confine all large-scale operations to areas along the Niemen and Dvina, where there were tried and tested escape routes, and where warfare took the form of siege and castle-building. It was also prudent, when more ambitious invasions were attempted, to split up the invading army into detachments so as to reduce the chances of disaster. This was grasped from an early date by the Order, which had fewer men to lose.

Different weathers and seasons imposed different types of campaign on the belligerents. The winter-reysa had to be a rapid foray of some 200 – 2000 men, carrying both rations and fodder at the back of their saddles; the object was to loot, devastate and depopulate a given area as quickly as possible. On reaching enemy territory, they would put up simple cabins, or maia, to store their provisions and plunder, then spread out and do all the damage they could without taking or building forts, or spending long enough to invite a serious counter-attack. After each day’s plunder they would return to headquarters and camp for the night, moving on the next day. A good winter-reysa had to arrive without warning, and retire before the enemy could mobilise or the weather changed. Hermann of Wartberg records one such success in 1378: the Livonians went into Lithuania in February, stayed there for nine suwalky (overnight camps) and came back with 531 head of cattle and 723 horses. Meanwhile the Prussians also had una bona reisa, according to Wigand of Marburg, and returned with a 100 prisoners. There were usually two winter-reysen, one in December, one in January or February, leaving a gap for the Christmas festivities, when the seven hour day left too little time for raiding. This, at any rate, was the custom of the Teutonic Knights, who appear to have campaigned in winter more regularly than the Lithuanians, perhaps because their bases were nearer the Baltic coast and less snow-bound than the Lithuanian heart lands. The Lithuanians did make great winter incursions, notably in 1322-3, when the cold was too great for the Order to attack Lithuania, and in 11356, 1370 and 1382 under Kenstutis, but for the most part they seem to have calculated that their frontier garrisons were likely to do more harm to the raiders than they would inflict on the Order by going out themselves. Like Nicholas I, they put their trust in generals Janvier and Fevrier.

The sommer-reysa was usually a bigger affair, when the masters of Prussia and Livonia mobilised all their resources for a full hervart (offensive expedition), and the grand-prince set out with a karias (large army) of boyars, castellans and their levies. It was usually intended to secure new ground by destroying an enemy fort or building a new one in enemy territory, but it always involved devastation, plunder and harassment as well, and was sometimes preceded by smaller incursions intended to ‘soften up’ and impoverish the area round the fort marked out for attack. The Order’s marshal appears to have collected reports on the enemy’s state of readiness, and to have made his plans accordingly; thus in the Wegeberichte there is information about places forty miles to the east of Grodno (Dubitshki, Vasilishki, Zheludok and Volkovisk), which ‘lie thirty-six, forty-five and fifty-four miles apart from each other, and are full of arable estates, and they report that no armed force has yet been to that part of the country.’ And, when von Kniprode went to besiege Kaunas in 1362, he was acting on the reports of a reconnaissance made the previous year.

Since there was always a wilderness to cross, the summer campaigners had to carry their food with them, as in winter, and in 1365 von Kniprode insisted on a full month’s supply for every man. However, they could expect to find grass for their horses on the march, and the routes marked by the leitzlute went through places where there was ‘good water and fodder’. Even if no forts were taken, there would always be hauls of people and animals; as in 1376, when Kenstutis returned from the Pregolya with fifty mares and sixty stallions from the stud farm at lnsterburg and 900 prisoners, and in 1378, when the commander of Ragnit carried off forty waggon-loads of spoil from Samogitia. However, the quest for plunder could sometimes go too far. In September 1314, Marshal Henry of Prussia pushed over 100 miles east of Grodno to Novogrudok, leaving his loaves and packhorses at maia along the return route, and discovered that the castellan of Grodno, Gediminas’s brother David, had swooped on them before he could reach them; his troops had to eat their own horses, and any herbs and roots they could find, on the way back to Prussia, and many died of starvation.

It was always safer to raid lands adjacent to the Dvina and the Niemen, within reach of river-boats, castles and bailey-bridges, and it was here that most of the fighting took place. Each side was trying to hold (in the case of the Dvina) or gain (in the case of the Niemen) a stretch of river that could be fortified and garrisoned so as to serve as a reliable entry into enemy country beyond the wilderness. This meant lavishing more and more resources on territory that had little intrinsic value and could not be properly settled or cleared for as long as hostilities lasted. Raids into fertile country, if successful, did something to replenish the supplies of men and material that were constantly being reduced by sieges and castle-building along the rivers and frontiers, but for most of the fourteenth century this served to prolong, rather than conclude, the fighting. It was only after von Kniprode had managed to win control of the Niemen up to the confluence at Kaunas that one side gained a definite advantage, and could begin continuous raiding with a view to winning and holding the homelands of the other; and even then the advantage was to some extent counterbalanced by the introduction of cannon. The process took so long- ninety-three years to advance from Ragnit to Kaunas, a distance of seventy-five miles as the crow flies- because the armies were wearing themselves out on the terrain, rather than annihilating each other, and were constantly drawing strength from expanding economies a long way behind the front.

The destructiveness of the raids is hard to assess, because estimates always come from chroniclers or advocates interested in blackening the enemy and emphasising the achievements of their own side. When the Order’s own annalist Wigand of Marburg records of a reysa in 1364 (which included English crusaders) that it attacked an unprepared territory, which they devastated inhumanly, it seems fair to conclude that the peasant population suffered more than usual. But those who lived in areas liable to attacks would naturally become skilled at hiding and escaping, and it was usually more profitable to take them prisoner, and drive them home over the wilderness, than simply to massacre them. It was the garrisons of outlying castles that were most likely to be killed to the last man, but, after King john of Bohemia had insisted on sparing the 6ooo Samogitians who surrendered in Medewage in 1329, this kind of slaughter became less common. No count was kept by the Order of the peasants killed on its reysen, however, and it can only be assumed that the death-toll was sufficiently high to deter settlers from the wilderness and balance losses inflicted by the Lithuanians. These lose nothing in the telling. According to the Order’s sources, the great raids of Prince David of Grodno in 1322-3 were responsible for the death or capture of 4000 in Estonia, 20,000 in Dobrzyn (of whom 8000 – 10,000 were killed) and 2000 in Mazovia. Kenstutis was supposed to have carried off over 2000 in 1352, 500 in 1353, 900 in 1376 – figures which are not incredible, even if they are unlikely to be accurate. On the whole, it seems that captivity was a much more likely fate than death for a peasant caught by invaders, simply because he was worth more alive than dead. Nevertheless, the Order was quite prepared to massacre as a way of bringing about political submission, as had been proved during the conquest of the Prussians, and again in the 1390s during the war for Samogitia. The lives of prisoners might very easily be sacrificed on the march. Thus in 1311 Commander Gebhard von Mansfeld slaughtered all his captives and cattle to prevent their falling into the hands of a Lithuanian army, and in 1377 the commander of Balga murdered 200 prisoners because it was too much trouble to take them back through an unexpected thaw – unlike the hundred horses and thousand steers with them. It would be wrong to deduce that this war was more inhumane than others fought at the same time in France and Spain; but the fact that the displacement of civilian populations was part of the strategy of both sides made it more likely that the innocent would die.

Mediterranean Lords and Merchants 13-14th Centuries

By the end of the thirteenth century Catalan ships had a good reputation for safety and reliability; if a merchant was in search of a ship in, say, Palermo on which to load his goods, he knew he would do well to choose a Catalan vessel, such as the substantial Sanctus Franciscus, owned by Mateu Oliverdar, which was there during 1298.28 Whereas the Genoese liked to divide up the ownership of their boats, the Catalans often owned a large ship outright. They rented out space to Tuscan wheat merchants or slave dealers, and sought out rich merchants who might be willing to lease all or part of the ship. The shipowners and merchants of Barcelona and Majorca inveigled themselves into the places where the Italians had long been dominant. In the 1270s, the middle-class widow Maria de Malla, from Barcelona, was trading with Constantinople and the Aegean, sending out her sons to bring back mastic (much valued as chewing-gum); she exported fine cloths to the East, including linens from Châlons in northern France. The great speciality of the de Malla family was the trade in furs, including those of wolves and foxes.30 The Catalans were granted the right to establish fonduks governed by their own consuls in Tunis, Bougie and other North African towns. There were big profits to be made from the overseas consulates. James I was outraged when he discovered in 1259 how low was the rent paid to him by the Catalan consul in Tunis. He promptly tripled it. Another focus of Catalan penetration was Alexandria; in the 1290s the de Mallas were seeking linseed and pepper there. In the fourteenth century, King James II of Aragon tried to persuade the sultan of Egypt to grant him protective authority over some of the Christian holy places in Palestine, and the sultan promised him relics of Christ’s Passion if he would send ‘large ships containing plenty of goods’. The papacy, with the outward support of the king of Aragon, attempted to ban the lively trade of the Catalans and Italians in Egypt; those who traded with the Muslim enemy were to be excommunicated. But the king ensured that two Catalan abbots were to hand who could absolve merchants trading with Egypt, subject to payment of a swingeing fine. These fines developed into a tax on trade, and produced handsome revenues: in 1302 fines on trade with Alexandria accounted for nearly half the king’s recorded revenues from Catalonia.

Far from suppressing the trade, the Aragonese kings became complicit in it.

Naturally the Catalans wanted to challenge the Italian monopoly over the spice trade to the East. Yet their real strength lay in the network they created in the western Mediterranean. Catalans, Pisans and Genoese jostled in the streets of the spacious foreign quarter of Tunis, a concessionary area full of fonduks, taverns and churches. Access to the ports of North Africa meant access to the gold-bearing routes across the Sahara; into these lands, the Catalans brought linen and woollen cloths from Flanders and northern France and, as their own textile industry expanded after 1300, fine cloths from Barcelona and Lleida. They brought salt too, which was plentiful in Catalan Ibiza, and in southern Sardinia and western Sicily, but was in short supply in the deserts to the south, and was sometimes used there as a currency in its own right. As thirteenth-century Barcelona began to boom, they ensured that there were sufficient food supplies for a growing city. Sicily early became the focus of their trade in wheat, carried in big, round, bulky ships, and they were so successful that as early as the 1260s they began to supply other parts of the Mediterranean with Sicilian wheat: Tunis, which had never recovered from the devastation of the North African countryside by Arab tribes in the eleventh century; Genoa and Pisa, which might have been expected to look after their own supplies; the towns of Provence. A business contract of the late 1280s simply demanded that the ship Bonaventura, recently in the port of Palermo, should sail to Agrigento where it was to be filled up with ‘as great a quantity of wheat as the said ship can take and carry’.

The Catalans specialized in another important cargo: slaves. These were variously described as ‘black’, ‘olive’ or ‘white’, and were generally Muslim captives from North Africa. They were put on sale in Majorca, Palermo and Valencia, and sent to perform domestic work in the households of their Catalan and Italian owners. In 1287 the king of Aragon decided that the Minorcans were guilty of treachery, declared the surrender treaty of 1231 void and invaded the island, enslaving the entire population, which was dispersed across the Mediterranean – for a time there was a glut in the slave market. The luckier and better-connected slaves would be ransomed by co-religionists – Muslims, Jews and Christians all set aside funds for the ransoming of their brethren, and the two religious orders of the Trinitarians and Mercedarians, well represented in Catalonia and Provence, specialized in ransoming Christians who had fallen into Muslim hands. The image of the young woman plucked off the shores of southern France by Saracen raiders was a stock theme in medieval romance, but the Catalans were perfectly ready to respond in kind; they muscled into the Mediterranean trade networks through piracy as well as honest business.

Meanwhile, Majorcan ships kept up a constant flow of traffic towards North Africa and Spain. A remarkable series of licences issued to sailors intending to leave Majorca in 1284 reveals that ships set off from the island almost every day of the year, even in the depths of January, and there was no close season, even if business was livelier in warmer months. Some of these ships were small vessels called barques, crewed by fewer than a dozen men, able to slip quickly across to mainland Spain time and again. More typical was the larger leny, literally ‘wood’; lenys were well suited to the slightly longer run across open water towards North Africa. The Majorcans were pioneers, too. In 1281 two Genoese ships and one Majorcan vessel reached the port of London, where the Majorcan ship loaded 267 sacks of fine English wool, and the Majorcans continued to trade regularly with England well into the fourteenth century. The Phoenicians had never had much difficulty in escaping through the Straits of Gibraltar, bound for Tartessos, but medieval ships battled with the incoming flow from the Atlantic and the fogs and contrary winds between Gibraltar and Ceuta. They also battled, literally, with the rulers of the facing shores – Marinid Berbers in Morocco, the Nasrid rulers of Granada in southern Spain. These were not hospitable waters, and the opening of the sea route out of the Mediterranean was as much a diplomatic as a technical triumph. Raw wool and Flemish textiles could now be brought directly and relatively cheaply from the north straight into the Mediterranean, bound for the workshops of Florence, Barcelona and other cities where the wool was processed and the textiles were finished. Alum, the fixative most easily obtained from Phokaia on the coast of Asia Minor, could be ferried to cloth workshops in Bruges, Ghent and Ypres, avoiding the costly and tedious trek by road and river through eastern France or Germany. The navigation of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic began slowly to be tied together, even if there were constant crises, and Catalan war fleets often patrolled the Straits. By the early fourteenth century, Mediterranean shipbuilders were imitating the broad, round shape of the northern cogs, big cargo vessels that tramped the Baltic and the North Sea – they even adopted the name, cocka. Down the coast of Morocco, too, Catalan and Genoese ships found markets full of the grain they craved, where the inhabitants were keen to acquire Italian and Catalan textiles; by the 1340s these boats had penetrated as far as the Canary Islands, which the Majorcans tried (and failed) to conquer.

Predictably, the Majorcan merchants, subject to their own king after 1276, decided they wanted their own consuls and fonduks. This was one of many sources of tension between the two brothers, Peter of Aragon and James of Majorca, who divided up James I’s realms. Sailors and merchants were not slow to exploit these tensions. In 1299 a scoundrel named Pere de Grau, who owned a ship, was accused of stealing a tool box from a Genoese carpenter in the western Sicilian port of Trapani. Tit-for-tat, Pere insisted that in fact the carpenter had stolen his longboat. The matter was brought before the Catalan consul, but Pere scathingly stated: ‘this consul does not have any jurisdiction over citizens of Majorca, only over those who are under the dominion of the king of Aragon’. As fast as the Catalans extended their trading network across the Mediterranean, it threatened to fragment into pieces.

The fall of Acre in 1291 shocked western Europe, which had in fact done little to protect the city in its last decades. Plans to launch new expeditions abounded, and among the greatest enthusiasts was Charles II of Naples, after his release from his Catalan gaol. But this was all talk; he was far too preoccupied with trying to defeat the Aragonese to be able to launch a crusade, nor did he have the resources to do so. The Italian merchants diversified their interests to cope with the loss of access to eastern silks and spices through Acre. Venice gradually took the lead in Egypt, while the Genoese concentrated more on bulky goods from the Aegean and the Black Sea, following the establishment of a Genoese colony in Constantinople in 1261. But the Byzantine emperors were wary of the Genoese. They favoured the Venetians as well, though to a lesser degree, so that the Genoese would not assume they could do whatever they wished. Michael VIII and his son Andronikos II confined the Genoese to the high ground north of the Golden Horn, the area known as Pera, or Galata, where a massive Genoese tower still dominates the skyline of northern Istanbul, but they also granted them the right to self-government, and the Genoese colony grew so rapidly that it soon had to be extended. By the mid-fourteenth century the trade revenues of Genoese Pera dwarfed those of Greek Constantinople, by a ratio of about seven to one. These emperors effectively handed control of the Aegean and the Black Sea to the Genoese, and Michael’s navy, consisting of about eighty ships, was dismantled by his son. It was assumed that God would protect Constantinople as a reward for the rejection of all attempts at a union of the holy Orthodox Church with the unholy Catholic one.

The Genoese generally tolerated a Venetian presence, for war damaged trade and ate up valuable resources. Occasionally, as in 1298, pirate attacks by one side caused a crisis, and the cities did go to war. The battle of Curzola (Korčula) that year pitted about eighty Genoese galleys against more than ninety Venetian ones. The Venetians were on home territory, deep within the Adriatic. But Genoese persistence won the day, and hundreds of Venetians were captured, including (it is said) Marco Polo, who dictated his extraordinary tales of China and the East to a Pisan troubadour with whom he shared a cell in Genoa. The real story of the Polos was not simply one of intrepid, or foolhardy, Venetian jewel merchants who set out via Acre for the Far East, accompanied by the young Marco. The rise of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century led to a reconfiguration of the trans-Asiatic trade routes, and opened a route bringing eastern silks to the shores of the Black Sea, although the sea-lanes through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea continued to bring spices to Alexandria and the Mediterranean from the East Indies. Once they had gained access to the Black Sea in the 1260s, the Genoese and Venetians attempted to tap into this exotic trans-Asia trade. True to form, the Venetians were more interested in the expensive luxury items, while the Genoese concentrated on slaves, grain and dried fruits, local products of the shores of the Black Sea. Good-quality wax was also in high demand, to illuminate churches and palaces across western Europe. The Genoese set up a successful trading base at Caffa in Crimea, while the Venetians operated from Tana, in the Sea of Azov. In Caffa the Genoese collected thousands of slaves, mostly Circassians and Tartars; they sold them for domestic service in Italian cities or to the Mamluks in Egypt, who recruited them into the sultan’s guard. The spectacle of the Genoese supplying the Muslim enemy with its crack troops not surprisingly caused alarm and displeasure at the papal court.

The Genoese despatched Pontic grain far beyond Constantinople, reviving the Black Sea grain traffic that had helped feed ancient Athens. As the Italian cities grew in size, they drew their grain from further and further afield: Morocco, the shores of Bulgaria and Romania, the Crimea, Ukraine. Production costs there were far lower than in northern Italy, so that, even after taking into account the cost of transport, grain from these lands could be put on sale back home at prices no higher than Sicilian or Sardinian imports. Of those too there was still a great need. The Genoese distributed grain from all these sources around the Mediterranean: they and the Catalans supplied Tunis; they ferried grain from Sicily to northern Italy. One city where demand was constant was Florence, only now emerging as an economic powerhouse, a centre of cloth-finishing and cloth-production. Although it lies well inland, Florence depended heavily on the Mediterranean for its wool supplies and for its food; it controlled a small territory that could produce enough grain to feed the city for only five months out of twelve. The soil of Tuscany was generally poor, and local grain could not match the quality of the hard wheats that were imported from abroad. One solution was regular loans to their ally the Angevin king of Naples, which gave access to the seemingly limitless grain of Apulia.

These developments reflected massive changes in the society and economy of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean. By 1280 or 1300, population was rising and grain prices were rising in parallel. Local famines became more frequent and towns had to search ever further afield for the food they needed. The commercial revolution in Europe led to a spurt in urban growth, as employment prospects within towns drew workers in from the countryside. Cities began to dominate the economy of Mediterranean western Europe as never before in history: Valencia, Majorca, Barcelona, Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpellier, Aigues-Mortes, Marseilles, Savona, Genoa, Pisa and Florence, with its widely used and imitated gold florins, to name the major centres in the great arc stretching from the Catalan lands to Tuscany. Aigues-Mortes, rich in salt, whose appearance has changed little since the early fourteenth century, was founded in the 1240s as a commercial gateway to the Mediterranean for the kingdom of France, which had only recently acquired direct control over Languedoc. King Louis IX eyed with concern the flourishing city of Montpellier, a centre of trade, banking and manufacture that lay, as part of a complex feudal arrangement, under the lordship of the king of Aragon. He hoped to divert business to his new port in the salt lagoons, which he also used as a departure point for his disastrous crusade in 1248. In the event, Aigues-Mortes soon became an outport for Montpellier, which avoided French royal control for another century. The Venetians had their own distinctive answer to the problem of how to feed the 100,000 inhabitants of their city. They attempted to channel all grain that came into the Upper Adriatic towards the city; the Venetians would have first choice, and then what remained would be redistributed to hungry neighbours such as Ravenna, Ferrara and Rimini. They sought to transform the Adriatic Sea into what came to be called the ‘Venetian Gulf’. The Venetians negotiated hard with Charles of Anjou and his successors to secure access to Apulian wheat, and were even prepared to offer support to Charles I’s campaign against Constantinople, which was supposed to depart in 1282, the year of the Sicilian Vespers.

As well as food, the big round ships of the Genoese and Venetians ferried alum from Asia Minor to the West; the Genoese established enclaves on the edge of the alum-producing lands, first, and briefly, on the coast of Asia Minor, where the Genoese adventurer Benedetto Zaccaria tried to create a ‘kingdom of Asia’ in 1297, and then close by on Chios, which was recaptured by a consortium of Genoese merchant families in 1346 (and was held till 1566). Chios not merely gave access to the alum of Phokaia; it also produced dried fruits and mastic. More important than Chios was Famagusta in Cyprus, which filled the gap left by the fall of Acre. Cyprus lay under the rule of the Lusignan family, of French origin, though the majority of its inhabitants were Byzantine Greeks. Its rulers were often embroiled in faction-fighting, but the dynasty managed to survive for two more centuries, supported by the prosperity Cyprus derived from its intensive trade with neighbouring lands. Massive communities of foreign merchants visited and settled: Famagusta was the base for merchants from Venice, Genoa, Barcelona, Ancona, Narbonne, Messina, Montpellier, Marseilles and elsewhere; its ruined Gothic churches still testify to the wealth its merchants accumulated.

From Cyprus, trade routes extended to another Christian kingdom, Cilician Armenia, on the south-east coast of modern Turkey. Western merchants supplied wheat to Armenia by way of Cyprus, and they used Armenia as a gateway to exotic and arduous trade routes that took them away from the Mediterranean, to the silk markets of Persian Tabriz and beyond. Cyprus enjoyed close links to Beirut, where Syrian Christian merchants acted as agents of businessmen from Ancona and Venice, furnishing them with massive quantities of raw cotton for processing into cloth in Italy and even in Germany, a clear sign that a single economic system was emerging in the Mediterranean, crossing the boundaries between Christendom and Islam. Some of the cotton cloth would eventually be conveyed back to the East to be sold in Egypt and Syria. Trade and politics were fatefully intertwined in the minds of the Lusignan kings. When King Peter I of Cyprus launched an ambitious crusade against Alexandria in 1365, his grand plan included the establishment of Christian hegemony over the ports of southern Anatolia (of which he had already captured a couple) and Syria, but a sustained campaign in Egypt was far beyond his resources; the expedition turned into the unwholesome sack of Alexandria, confirming that what had been proclaimed as a holy war was motivated by material considerations. Soon after his return to Cyprus, King Peter, who knew how to make enemies, was assassinated.


The Crusading Brienne Family

From left, Walter I, Duke of Athens, Knight Reginald de la Roche, descending from the first Duke, Hugh of Brienne and an archer.

A great French aristocratic family that provided rulers for the kingdom of Jerusalem, the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and the duchy of Athens.

The lords of Brienne were vassals of the counts of Champagne, holding lands near Troyes. The family had a long tradition of crusading. Erard I took the cross in 1097. His son Walter II took part in the Second Crusade (1147-1149), as did his son Erard II, who also joined the Third Crusade in 1189 and took part in the siege of Acre. Walter III originally agreed to go on the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) in the army of the count of Champagne, but he was allowed to substitute service in southern Italy against Markward of Anweiler, a move that enabled him to press the claims of his wife, Elvira, to the county of Lecce and the principality of Taranto. His younger brother John was perhaps the most famous member of the family to involve himself in the crusading movement. He became king of Jerusalem in right of his wife, Maria (1210-1212), and regent of Jerusalem for his daughter Isabella II (1212-1225). Later he served as marshal of the papal armies in Italy opposed to his own son-in-law Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, and subsequently he became co-ruler of the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1230-1237) along with Emperor Baldwin II.

John’s nephew Walter IV, count of Brienne and Lecce (1205-1250), became count of Jaffa in 1221. Thereafter the family interests became centered in Frankish Greece. Hugh of Brienne (1250-1296) was influential at the Angevin court of Naples. He married first Isabella of La Roche (1277) and subsequently Helena Doukaina, the widow of his former brother-in-law, William of La Roche (1291), and thereby became bailli (regent) of the duchy of Athens for his stepson Guy. On the latter’s death in 1309, Hugh’s own son Walter V of Brienne became duke of Athens (as Walter I). He was killed at the battle of Halmyros against the Catalan Company in 1311 and was thus the last French duke of Athens. His son Walter VI was titular duke of Athens (as Walter II) until his death, fighting against the English as constable of France at Poitiers in 1356. In 1331-1332 he mounted a considerable campaign against the Catalans, but they refused to give battle. The cost effectively ruined the Brienne family. His only child, also called Walter, predeceased him in 1332

Battle of Halmyros, (1311)

A battle fought on 15 March 1311, between Walter I, duke of Athens, supported by many of the leading knights of Frankish Greece, and the Catalan Company, the duke’s former mercenaries, whom he was trying to dismiss from his service and remove from his duchy.

The battle was decisive in that many members of the French ruling element in central Greece were slaughtered and replaced by the victorious Catalans. Like other battles of the fourteenth century, it demonstrated how well-drilled foot soldiers with crossbow support could trounce an army of mounted knights. The site of the battle is not securely known. The medieval writers Ramon Muntaner and Nikephoros Gregoras both located the battle on the marshy plain of the Kephissos in the region of Orchomenos; in this they were followed by all writers before 1940, who thus named the engagement the battle of the Kephissos. In 1940 a hitherto unknown letter of Marino Sanudo came to light; written in 1327, it referred to the battle taking place near Halmyros, presumably at or near the modern town of Halmyros, just south of modern Volos on the Pagasaitic Gulf.

The Princes on the March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Battle of Saulė in 1236

The most serious threat to the early Balts came from the west. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Catholic orders of knights seeking to Christianize the Baltic region began a series of crusades. The first of these crusading orders, the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, was defeated by the Lithuanians at the Battle of Saulė in 1236. Following that defeat, the Roman Catholic pope called for a renewed campaign to conquer and Christianize the pagan Lithuanians. The call was answered by a succession of crusading knights, the most formidable of which were the members of the Teutonic Order.

Lithuanians had yet to form a unified nation-state. The political organization consisted of a nobility composed of feudal dukes and princes ruling over fiefdoms and tribes. Had they chosen to fight the Teutonic Order separately, they would have been easily defeated. Therefore, the nobility formed an alliance, led by a noble called Mindaugas, to engage in the struggle. Despite the alliance, however, the united Lithuanian duchies were not able to stem the continued advances of the Teutonic Order. Recognizing the inevitability of defeat, Mindaugas submitted to the pope in 1251 and accepted Christianity. As a consequence he was crowned the king of Lithuania in 1253 by the pope, an act establishing the first Lithuanian state.

Mindaugas’s decision was not popular among the Lithuanian nobility, many of whom refused to be baptized. The population as well remained overwhelmingly pagan. Hence, the new state was a pagan one with a Christian king. The opposition of the population to Christianity led to the murder of King Mindaugas in 1263 and the renewal of the struggle against the Christian crusaders. Following the murder of Mindaugas, rule of Lithuania reverted to the various dukes and princes. However, in order to fight the Teutonic Order, they submitted to a grand duke, who ruled as first among equals. Thanks to their unity, this time they were able to establish Lithuanian dominance in the Baltic Sea region by the end of the thirteenth century. Nonetheless, the struggle against the Teutonic Order continued throughout most of the fourteenth century, forcing the country to allocate virtually all of its resources to defense; consequently, the country’s political system of the time is referred to by some as a military monarchy.

The concentration of resources permitted the Lithuanian state to become one of the greatest empires in Europe over the course of the next 150 years-the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Grand Duke Gediminas (1316-1341) began the long-term eastward expansion of the Lithuanians, assimilating Slavic territories, many of which willingly submitted to the Grand Duchy in order to escape having to pay tribute to the Mongols, who ruled most of the Russian lands in that era (having destroyed the Kievan state in the thirteenth century). Gediminas also sought to break out of the international isolation thrust upon the country by the continued struggle against the Catholic Church and the Teutonic Order. He established formal contacts between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the countries of Western Europe, engaged in regular correspondence with their rulers, and began a dynasty that intermarried with many of the ruling families of Europe. Much of this was done in an effort to create rifts within the Catholic Church and between the ruling houses of Europe. To further this strategy, Gediminas also invited Western merchants, artisans, and academics to the new capital that he founded at Vilnius. Among those responding were many Jews, who took advantage of the remarkable degree of religious tolerance that marked the Grand Duchy and established one of the great centers of Judaism in Vilnius.

During the mid-fourteenth century, Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-1377) continued the eastern expansion begun by Gediminas. Under his rule, the Grand Duchy’s Lithuanian subjects were gradually outnumbered by newly assimilated peoples. Algirdas was followed by Grand Duke Jogaila, who is much maligned in Lithuanian history for his decision in 1386 to marry the queen of Poland, thereby entering into an alliance with that state. Jogaila’s decision was motivated by a desire to ensure Lithuanian preeminence in an emerging contest with Moscow for the loyalties of eastern Slavic princes. While still under the Mongol yoke, Moscow was laying claim to the Russian lands, many of which had been assimilated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In addition, Moscow had been recognized by Byzantium as the seat of religious authority for Orthodox Christianity in the Slavic lands. The recognition brought with it significant legitimacy for the Russian claims over these lands. Given Lithuania’s status as the last pagan nation in Europe, it found itself isolated between a Catholic West and an Orthodox East, both of which claimed the divine right to rule over the territories of the Grand Duchy. A marriage with Poland thus offered the means to both reduce the threat from the West and lay claim to a religious title (that of representing Catholic Slavs, a title that Poland had acquired) competing for the loyalties of Slavic princes. Hence, Lithuania was baptized in 1387, and the last pagan state in Europe became Christian.

As a consequence of the marriage, the Grand Duchy entered a long period of decline, even though this would not be readily apparent for several centuries. By entering into marriage with the queen of Poland, Jogaila became the king of Poland, retaining his title as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. While in the short term this appeared highly beneficial to Lithuania, it meant that the Lithuanians faced the disadvantage of being far fewer in number than the Poles. In the long term, as Lithuania’s territorial holdings were reduced (in the face of continuing Russian expansion), it became the lesser of the two states in the union. However, the advantages of the marriage uniting the two countries appeared to outweigh any disadvantages at the time. Therefore, unlike the first christening, this one was not reversed.

The subsequent grand duke, Vytautas the Great, who ruled at the beginning of the fifteenth century, not only retained Lithuania’s commitment to Christianity, he took full advantage of the union with Poland to further the prosperity of the country. In fact, the reign of Vytautas the Great marks the zenith of Lithuania’s military and political fortunes. In one of the most significant battles of the Middle Ages, Vytautas, leading a joint Lithuanian-Polish army, decisively defeated the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grünwald (1410; the battle is known as the Battle of Žalgiris in Lithuania), bringing the final defeat of the order and ending the centuries-long threat from the west. In the east, Vytautas pursued a successful policy, annexing further territories in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, expanding the borders of the Grand Duchy from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and blocking Moscow’s further expansion westward into Europe.

Vytautas also took advantage of the union with Poland to lay the foundations for Lithuania’s full integration into Central Europe, something that its pagan identity had prevented it from achieving. In the 150 years after his death, Lithuania assimilated the political and cultural heritage of Western civilization. The country adopted the crop rotation system, adapted its social system to monarchism, experienced the rise of craft guilds, adopted a written language, and built a university system. Reflecting these changes, Lithuania’s first publishing house was founded in Vilnius in 1522; in addition, a legal code was written in 1529 and subsequently redrafted in 1566 and 1588. The 1588 code remained in force until the middle of the nineteenth century.

The Battle of Žalgiris

The Battle of forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland defeated the Teutonic Order, was one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages, let alone in East Central Europe. The defeat of the Teutonic Order, Žalgiris (also known as the Battle of Grünwald, or Tannenberg), in which the joint military an order of crusaders of the Catholic Church, on 15 July 1410, marked the end of the order’s expansion along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea eastward and the beginning of the decline of the order’s power.

The first German crusading orders came to Poland and the Baltic region in the thirteenth century. Two hundred years later, they had conquered most of the Baltic coastal region, including Latvia and Estonia. It is doubtless the case that they were intent on controlling Lithuania, Poland, and Russia as well. Had they succeeded, the Roman Catholic Church would have dominated the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.

Hoping to forcibly spread Christianity and acquire more territory, the focus of the Teutonic Order’s military activities in the fourteenth century was the pagan Lithuanian state. Even after Lithuania accepted Christianity in 1387, the Knights of the Teutonic Order did not cease their aggression against the country. It was obvious that diplomatic efforts would not be able to avert war with the Knights. Therefore, the only hope of defeating the order was if Lithuania and Poland united their military forces.

Hence, on 15 July 1410, a joint Lithuanian-Polish army, joined by Tatar, Bohemian, Russian, Moravian, and Moldavian soldiers, met the Teutonic Knights on the field of Žalgiris (located in the northeast of present-day Poland). The allied army was led by the grand duke of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, and the king of Poland, Jogaila. Although outnumbered (the Knights numbered 32,000, compared to more than 50,000 Poles, Lithuanians, and allies), the order enjoyed superiority in weaponry, experience, and battlefield leadership. Nonetheless, at the end of an entire day of fighting, the Teutonic Knights were defeated, a defeat from which they never recovered. On 1 February 1411, both sides signed a peace treaty, after which the Teutonic Order never again threatened Lithuania.

The Battle of Grünwald is the most important battle in the history of both Lithuania and Poland. As a consequence of the defeat of the Teutonic Order, Eastern Europe was not Germanized, and the emerging nations of Lithuania and Poland were able to develop their own cultures. For that reason, Vytautas the Great is honored in Lithuanian history as the savior of not only the nation of Lithuania, but all of Eastern Europe. Jogaila is awarded that position in Polish history.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade


20 July 802, the first elephant north of the Alps mentioned in a document since antiquity arrived as a gift from Harun al-Rashid at Charlemagne’s court in Aachen.

How do ideas change? The shift can be abrupt or gradual; it can affect one individual or a nation. Sometimes, an old idea is merely re-stated and presented in a new way, adapted to fit a new time. Sometimes, it is deliberately distorted and given meanings it was never intended to have. Deeply-held convictions, such as religious beliefs, are no exception. A change in religious outlook may begin with one individual and spread, slowly or rapidly to a larger group. Indeed, this is how most religions are born. Those religious ideas themselves will inevitably change in response to world events and outside influences; they may die out if they fail to do so. Sometimes the changes are so drastic as to seem totally at odds with the original intentions of the early days of a belief. The medieval Christian embrace of the preaching of war against unbelievers as a penitential and sanctified act is one of the more remarkable examples of this shift.

Western attitudes toward Islam began to change dramatically during the second half of the eleventh century and into the beginning of the twelfth. Prior to this time, there had been less consideration of Christendom’s rival, except at the frontiers where the two faiths met and interacted, particularly in Spain and Italy. Such events as the Spanish Martyrs’ Movement notwithstanding, the primary resistance to Islam by the West was military rather than theological, and in these cases there was seldom any attempt to justify such actions with religious reasons. Attempts at conversion and ideological debate were also minimal. It is even worth noting that the Carolingian kings had diplomatic relations with Islamic rulers in the East from the eighth century. Pippin the Short (d. 768) sent ambassadors to al-Mansur in 765, the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, and received them in return. His son Charlemagne was well known for massacring the pagan Saxons who refused to convert to Christianity, and yet was famed for his good relations with the fifth Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid (of Arabian Nights fame), who sent to Charlemagne, among many other fine gifts, and elephant named Abul-Abbas in 797. Charlemagne also discussed how to achieve peace with Moorish ambassadors from Spain, mindful of his grandfather’s military victory.

The common European name for Muslims used throughout the Middle Ages, “Saracen,” had an ancient history. Originally used by Greco-Roman writers to describe the peoples who lived in Arabia, it came to be synonymous in the medieval mind with those of the Islamic faith, and to have negative connotations. Its first western appearance was in the seventh century in the Merovingian Chronicle of Fredegar, which refers to the Saracens as being descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son via his wife’s maid Hagar; this is believed in Islamic tradition, as well, and shows that the Chronicle was taking some information from an accurate source. They are called both Agarenes (from Hagar), and Saracens. Medieval Christians, however, believed that the term was evidence of how the Arabs lied about themselves, desiring to be seen as children of Sarah, rather than as children of a slave, Hagar. As a label, it stuck, because it signified that they were people of a lie, and lived in deceit.

Initially, Islam was seen less as a unified religious threat to the West, and more as an impressive empire and potential military enemy. Even into the eleventh century, it was often ignored. However, when lands in Spain and Southern Italy began to be recovered from Islamic control through Christian military victories by the middle of that century, the idea gradually formulated that it could be possible to make similar gains of territories lost to Christianity in the Holy Land. This chapter will explore this development in some detail.

The concept coincided with the effects of the “Gregorian” Reform movement, a series of sweeping changes in Church structure and function which were to have repercussions for centuries. These reforms were officially begun under Pope Leo IX at the Council of Rheims in 1049, and ended during the papacy of Calixtus II at the First Lateran Council in 1123. The designation “Gregorian” derives from Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), its most enthusiastic supporter, and is now generally not used. Three of the main issues involved were the introduction of the concept of a “papal monarchy,” that is, Church unity through absolute adherence to the pope, even from the Holy Roman Emperor; the liberation of the Church from secular influence and control (a long-standing thorn in the side of Church officials); and the idea that the priesthood was separate from and superior to the laity in Christian society. All of these, of course, delivered tremendous political advantages and power to the Church.

The third issue led to the concept of the nature of Ecclesia, that is, “the Church,” being changed as well. It had first been developed by the Carolingians (eighth to tenth centuries) and was defined by the view that the emperor and the pope were the “supreme officials of two parallel hierarchies, one clerical and one lay.” The reformers altered this, assuming that Ecclesia would thereafter consist only of the clergy. The laity would have no leading role, but were still seen as a vital part of Christianitas, the Christian community. This was a clear sign of the developing new attitude; the Church and its officials wanted to remove themselves from the shackles of Imperial and secular power, while at the same time recognizing that theirs was in effect a symbiotic relationship. The Church needed the laity for many duties, even if it desired to assume more power over them. From this, new ideas developed that would allow for the papacy to achieve the powers it sought and yet not alienate the people.

The crusading movement that ended the eleventh century was one such means of achieving this aim. In fact, the notion of an armed pilgrimage was the perfect solution to the pressing social and spiritual needs of the age. It allowed for the goal of papal preeminence to be realized, united the whole of Europe against a common foe (thus ending many internal conflicts), and helped the laity feel that they were a part of the sweeping changes occurring at the time. It was not, however, a flawless or trouble-free transition. These reforming attitudes sparked off fierce debates about papal authority, absolution of oaths to secular rulers, and clerical positions being obtained through simony, among other issues. Gregory VII, in particular, was heavily criticized by some, and strongly supported by others for his many proposed changes.

The movement was tightly bound up with monasticism and the resurgence of monastic ideals that had begun in the tenth century. The Reform sought to promote monastic values, particularly celibacy, and to impose them on all of the clergy. At the same time, an identity crisis was developing in monastic communities. Many monasteries, most notably Cluny, had acquired vast amounts of wealth from generous benefactors, and in doing so had strayed away from their vows of poverty, a central feature of the monastic revival. New monastic movements began to arise, with the goal of returning to poverty and strict adherence to the Benedictine Rule.

It was from such a desire for reform that the Cistercian Order was created in the early twelfth century, its principal aim being to practice strict observance of the Rule. The Cistercians, under the spiritual leadership of Bernard of Clairvaux, were to have an enormous influence on papal policies in the twelfth century and beyond, especially in the area of crusading and the justification of violence by Christians, not only against non–Christians, but against other Christians as well. Indeed, this was arguably the most important shift in Church teaching that the Reform brought. The Cistercians will be discussed in detail in chapter four.

Another of the goals of the Reform movement went hand-in-hand with the concept of Christian unity within Europe. It sought to make friends of enemies in Europe by turning the attentions of warring factions to a common cause, namely the defense of the poor and oppressed, and of Christendom as a whole. Knights who had previously been engaged in factional and territorial disputes were now encouraged to set aside their differences and turn their swords against those who threatened Christians, first from within, and then more importantly, from without. Slowly, a theology of knighthood and war was developed and encouraged. For example, participation in the reconquest of Spain was justified on the grounds that it was in defense of Spanish Christians. However, the idea of the threat of Islam as a whole had not yet crystallized; the Moors were seen as a military and territorial threat rather than a spiritual one, a view that would soon change.

This new aggressive attitude necessarily posed a contradiction to traditional Christian thought. Indeed, well into the second half of the eleventh century, the Church viewed warfare (and the killing and maiming that came with it) as a severe sin, regardless of how legitimate it might be. It was a sin that required penance. William the Conqueror’s army, for instance, had to perform penance for the invasion of England in 1066, even though they had papal support. Despite this, Christian writings about warfare had already begun to change in the first decades of the eleventh century. Among the most important of the writers who expressed a new outlook was the Benedictine monk from Cluny, Rodulfus Glaber (ca. 980—ca. 1046), whose Historium Libri Quinque provides fascinating insight into the thought-world of the early eleventh century.

Glaber addresses the subject of war frequently, and more significantly, in the writing of Book I of his Historium, he becomes the first writer in Northern European history to discuss Islam. Glaber presents the contradiction that becomes evident in the writings of the later eleventh and twelfth centuries: the support of armed conflict in the cause of righteousness, namely the defense of Christendom, and scorn for the petty wars and rivalries that abounded among the secular knights, nobility and royalty. It is the same contradiction that Bernard of Clairvaux would employ over a century later as his prime justification for the Knights Templar.

In Book IV, for example, Glaber writes approvingly of the Peace of God movement of his time, begun at the Synod of Charroux (ca. 989), with a view to protecting pilgrims and calling a cessation to warfare at certain times of the year, entitling the opening of the section, De pace et habundantia anni millesimi a Passione Domini. In other sections, however, he gives tacit approval to the waging of war for the sake of restoring order.

Glaber’s discussion of Islam is of particular interest. Muslims are first mentioned in Book I, wherein he describes the capture of Mayol, abbot of Cluny (948–94) by the Saracens of La Garde-Freinet (near Saint-Tropez) in 971–2. In addition to the usual praises for Mayol’s sanctity and restraint that one would expect, Glaber relates a remarkable incident that is all the more unusual for its likely accuracy:

Another of the Saracens was smoothing down a piece of wood with a knife, when in his haste he placed his foot upon the man of God’s book; it was the Bible which he always carried with him. When he saw this the saintly man groaned aloud, and certain of the less ferocious Saracens who had seen the incident reprimanded their companion, saying that great prophets should not be so scorned that he should tread their words under his feet. For the Saracens read the Hebrew prophets (or rather, those of the Christians), claiming that what they foretold concerning Jesus Christ, Lord of all, is now fulfilled in the person of Muhammad, one of their people. To support them in their error, they have in their possession a genealogy of their own, similar to that found in the Gospel of St Matthew, […] But theirs says that “Ishmael beget Nebajoth,” and continues with an erroneous fiction, which in deviating from the holy catholic account, strays equally from the truth.

Glaber continues with an account of how the enraged Saracens cut off the foot of the transgressor, to teach him a lesson, and were thus inadvertently the agents of God’s vengeance. This story, while containing an understandable Christian bias and perspective, is notable for its efforts to mention the veneration of the Judeo-Christian prophets by Muslims. The account must therefore certainly be true, since it is of little use as Christian propaganda. The brutality of the punishment was effective in relaying the Saracens’ perceived savagery, but the religious context of the story shows Muslim belief to be much closer to that of Christianity than had been previously known by many. Glaber’s is a remarkably different account from those provided by his contemporaries, Odilo or Syrus, who recount the event with invective and religious propaganda in mind.

Glaber made the effort to relate other accurate and obscure facts concerning the Muslim world. For example, in his account of the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher by the mad Fatimid caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (996–1021), whom he refers to as the Ammirati Babilonis, the Emir of Cairo, Glaber correctly notes that his mother was a Christian woman, but incorrectly attributes the motivations that provoked the Caliph to a Jewish conspiracy. Glaber was also aware of the Aghlabid dynasty of Tunisia. The probable source for this interest and the accuracy of his accounts came from his encounter with a group of Spanish monks whom he met while he was living at Cluny in the early 1030s, dispatched by King Sancho the Great of Navarre. These monks came to the monastery of Cluny in 1032. Indeed, Glaber mentions Spain frequently in his work, such as the defeat of a certain “Motget,” most likely Mujahid ibn ‘Abdullah, king of Denia, whose loss resulted in booty being donated to Cluny.

Spain was to play a key role in the dissemination to Europe of knowledge about Islam, from the ninth to the twelfth centuries, as we shall see in chapter five. This knowledge, however, did not coincide with a desire to understand or tolerate the Muslim faith. Glaber, for example, felt that they must be fought and exterminated as enemies of the Roman Christian faith, and in this view he was no different from the later supporters of the crusade. He was also deeply anti–Jewish in tone, blaming the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher not on the Muslim caliph, but rather on a Jewish plot. According to Glaber, the Jews were the ones who prompted the caliph to persecute Eastern Christians. He said that they claimed that a large throng of Christian pilgrims were really an army coming to attack and take Jerusalem. Given the events of the First Crusade in the late eleventh century, this fiction proved to be astonishingly prophetic.

Glaber was not interested in objective history, and despite his even-handed account of the capture of Mayol, he wanted to promote views which were in support his Church. He was hostile to Islam, Judaism, and any foreign power or ideology which might threaten the Roman Catholic Church and Western Christendom. He equally disliked Byzantium (and by extension, Eastern Orthodoxy), which he blamed for bringing its woes upon itself. In his description of Christian armies liberating Jerusalem, he unknowingly became a predictor of future events; in his account, the army was a lie fabricated by Jews, but it would soon become very real.

Bearing that in mind, there has been considerable debate about the extent to which Glaber’s attitudes and writings “prepared” the latter part of his century for the idea of the crusade. Indeed, many theologians looked back to his writings and drew inspiration from the notion of war being acceptable in defense of the just, but not merely for its own sake. This seemed to be an adequate solution to the problem of how Christians should approach war, though it was not a new theology. St. Augustine had commented on the subject centuries before, which will be detailed in chapter three.

Glaber’s ideas do not seem to be completely representative of the general outlook of Cluny, however. Cluny was still primarily focused on the next life, that is, on the salvation of the soul, and the retreat from the concerns of this world. It was not involved in developing theologies of war and the duty to fight infidels, though it certainly gave its support to various Spanish efforts. It would be better to say that Glaber described several movements and attitudes of his time which later churchmen drew upon to justify their policies, rather than being the impetus for those policies himself. The critical link between war and pilgrimage had not yet been made in Glaber’s time, though things were changing.

A close contemporary of Glaber’s, was Adémar of Chabannes (ca. 989–1034), a monk associated with both St. Martial and Angoulême in central and south-west France. He was an early writer to connect Islam with heresy, believing like Glaber that Hakim’s destruction of the Holy Sepulcher had been part of a Jewish-Muslim conspiracy to destroy Christendom, but adding that this was a prelude to the last days (when in reality, it may have been due to his mental state, and a desire to “prove” his Muslim faith since his mother was a Christian). Adémar was aware of Islamic monotheism, but that made him spurn the faith all the more, because it rejected Trinitarian doctrine, and thus Church teaching. While he was obsessed with this potent mixture of heresy and apocalypse, and all of the dangers they represented, Adémar was also implicated in a rather elaborate forgery. He embraced and embellished popular stories of how the historical Martial had been one of Christ’s original apostles, forging a Life of the man, purportedly written by his successor. This may have been done in the hopes of increasing pilgrimage to St. Martial abbey, and the income it would bring. Eventually, his fraud was discovered, but he persisted, going so far as to invent a Church council proclaiming the truth of Martial’s apostolic identity. Amazingly, he seems to have escaped from all of this with little punishment; the polemicist and the forger existed side-by-side. He does stand as a remarkable early example of a Christian writer who understood Islam to be different than a pagan religion, but his concern was combating this heresy, not war or pilgrimage.

A few decades later, in 1053, Pope Leo IX made an unusual offer to German soldiers fighting under his command. If they would do battle against the Normans of southern Italy, he would grant them absolution for their sins. This was not a pilgrimage, but the experiences of actual pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land were beginning to foreshadow later events.

Indeed, an important episode in the history of eleventh-century pilgrimage can be found in an incident in 1065 involving a bishop named Gunther of Bamberg, who was traveling with a very large group of German pilgrims to the Holy Land. The group had faced harassment from the Turks at various points, at least according to the chronicler Lambert, of the abbey of Hersfeld near Thuringia, who wrote of the pilgrimage sometime after 1077. The affair shows an open hostility towards Muslims on the part of the pilgrims, and in this particular case, a willingness to depart from the normal pilgrim practice of non-violence. Despite its confrontational nature, it almost borders on the comic. There are different versions of events, of course, no doubt embellished like any good story. Lambert records a skirmish wherein the pilgrims were attacked by a group of Turkish marauders (probably Seljuks looking for a fight with the Egyptian Fatimids, testing their weaknesses, and such), and took refuge behind the walls of an old town near Rama in Palestine on Good Friday. For three days they held out against assault, and managed to take some prisoners, but they were low on supplies and were fast losing strength. They decided to buy their way out of it, and invited some of the Turkish soldiers in to discuss the matter, but the Turks had no intention of letting the pilgrims escape with their lives. Once inside, a skirmish broke out, and in the midst of it, an unusual event occurred:

During the fighting, one of the Saracen leaders seized the piece of cloth which he wore around his head after the custom of his race, and made it into a lasso which he threw around Bishop Gunther’s neck. The bishop was not prepared to put up with such a disgrace and gave his assailant a hefty blow in the face which sent him sprawling to the ground. As the man fell, the bishop shouted at him that he would pay him back for his impiety in having the audacity to raise his unclean, idolatrous hands against a priest of Christ.

This unexpected action inspired the rest of the Christians, who immediately seized the attacker and bound him tightly, and then fell upon the others and did the same. They threatened to kill them if the Turkish forces did not retreat, which they were now obliged to do, following the intervention of a small Egyptian Fatimid army (the enemies of the besiegers), who set to fighting them. After this, the pilgrims were able to continue their journey to Jerusalem.

This remarkable episode shows the readiness with which Christians were willing to use force to defend themselves, an action which by the strict Christian teaching contained in the Sermon on the Mount, was forbidden. Yet the monk Lambert extols them for their heroism, and at Jerusalem he records that they gave thanks to God for the victory and safe journey. There is no hint of repentance for the use of force here, or that their actions violated Christian teachings about non-violence. Furthermore, Lambert noted that Gunther “was a man of high moral and spiritual standing and well-endowed with worldly goods.”

This is an astonishing change of thought regarding the idea of pilgrimage. It was obvious that pilgrims anywhere, whether to Santiago, Rome, or Jerusalem, faced dangers from bandits, highwaymen, and other foes. The Church had sought to minimize this when it declared times of peace within Europe, but obviously that would have no bearing on the lands in the East, or on the criminally-minded. Indeed, the need to protect pilgrims would be offered as the chief reason for the creation of the Knights Templar in the early twelfth century.