In November 1095, Pope Urban II preached a Crusade to the east in Clermont after receiving a plea for aid from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I. It resulted in a mass movement of people from France, Italy and Germany towards the Holy Land. Their journey would bring them down through the Balkans, towards Constantinople, a perilous journey across Anatolia and a sequence of savage encounters with Islamic forces. Attrition was devastating, and estimations of the size of the Crusader forces at the siege of Jerusalem were as low 1,200-1,300 knights and 12,000 foot. The First Crusade resulted in the establishment of a string of Christian states along the eastern coast – The Principality of Antioch, The County of Edessa, The County of Tripoli and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. 
- 1 Origins
- 2 The Peoples Crusade
- 3 The Princes Crusade
- 4 Notes
In 1071, the Seljuk Turks fought and defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. This set in motion a chain of events leading to a plea from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I seeking aid from the Christians of the west. He was expecting a compact and professional group of soldiers to come to his aid, but instead he received a mass movement of people overcome with religious zeal aimed at liberating Jerusalem.
At the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II preached the idea of the crusade to the gathered bishops and ecclesiastics of France. The enthusiasm was startling and the idea spread. Urban had in mind a military expedition to the east, and acquired beforehand the support of Raymond of Toulouse, a powerful and wealthy secular leader, and the great ecclesiastical magnate Adhemar of Le Puy. In the meantime, the idea had caught the fascination of the poor, helped to no end by the charismatic Peter the Hermit, who went on to organise and lead the People’s Crusade.
In his effort to organise a highly efficient military expedition, many important magnate were persuaded to join. Raymond of Toulouse, Robert of Normandy, Robert of Flanders, Stephen of Blois, Hugh of Vermandois, Godfrey of Bouillon (Later to become secular ruler of Jerusalem) and Bohemond of Taranto were all very important, powerful men. They were the ‘Princes’ of the so named ‘Princes Crusade’. They were followed by many of their vassals and others of equivalent rank. It has often been asserted that these men were moved by the prospect of material gain, but scholars have since the 1980’s moved to squash this idea. For example, the possibility of gain in the east was a gamble, leading to the conclusion that It is hard to believe that most crusaders were motivated by crude materialism... It makes much more sense to suppose, in so far as one can generalise about them, that they were moved by idealism.
To the lower class of nobles, the Crusade offered the chance of adventure and social mobility. Baldwin of Boulogne, for example, was the younger brother of Godfrey of Bouillon. His experience on the Crusade lead to him becoming Prince of Edessa and later King of Jerusalem. Land was an important factor in motivating military men to go on Crusade. After the victory at Ascalon following the conquest of Jerusalem, only around 300 knights and 2,000 foot soldiers remained with Godfrey as ruler of Jerusalem. This cadre of Europeans forged wealthy and powerful domains for themselves in the east. For Bohemond, who was to become Prince of Antioch, his social status was elevated substantially. He was amongst the lesser nobles in terms of wealth and status before the departure of the Crusade but his military triumphs and growing reputation as a fierce soldier, especially over Ridwan of Aleppo and Kerbogha during the Siege of Antioch cemented his new status and reputation. For the Italian city states, the allure of new trade routes, which would threaten the dominance of The Fatimid cities of Egypt and Constantinople became a huge motivation. They provided naval supremacy along with the Byzantines during the Crusades, often helping with reinforcements, provisions and siege expertise (Particularly at the siege of Jerusalem).
Urban phrased his appeal for Holy War in 1095 in the context of remission of sin. The growing religious intensity of the age, signified by the Investiture Contest, along with the Christianising evolution of the knighted, military class, meant that the promise of the remission of sin was extremely appealing to a religious, warrior aristocracy. It is easy to overemphasise the religious motivation of Crusaders, but it was common for the Christian knight to seek both genuine religious redemption and wealth in the form of captured booty from the enemy and all these factors helped in the process of preaching and organising the great expedition to the east.
The Peoples Crusade
The widespread religious zeal that the preaching of the crusade whipped up lead to a pogrom against the Jews in Germany. For many, the prospect of a long and terrible march over Europe and Asia Minor to fight the infidel seemed remote when there were infidels living amongst them in their own towns and cities. The massacres of the Jews as the crusaders departed from Western Germany was a result of the religious frenzy the Crusades inspired. More generally, it displayed the popular support the Crusaders now enjoyed, as the masses were quickly caught up in the general enthusiasm to take the cross.
The charismatic wandering preacher – Peter the Hermit – quickly became a symbol of the lower orders devotion to the taking of the cross. The preaching of crusade was most intense amongst the humbler clergy. Although Urban asked his bishops to preach the crusade, by far the most effective preaching was taken by men such as Robert of Arbrissel and Peter. Peter was an oldish man, born near Amiens, who had tried to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem years earlier but had been maltreated by the Turks and forced to turn back. His clothes were filthy, he rode a humble donkey barefooted and his appeal to the peasantry was overwhelming. Throughout February and March 1095 he traversed through Orleannais, Champagne, Lorainne, Meuse, Aachen, and to Cologne, where he spent Easter. As he went he gathered disciples, most notable of which being Walter Sans Avoir, Rainald of Breis, Geoffrey Burel and Walter of Breteuil, and the Germans Orel and Gottschalk. By the time he reached Cologne his following numbered around 15,000 men, women and children, and many more joined him in Germany. 
Realising the immense logistical challenge of maintaining and feeding such a vast array of peasants and lesser nobles, Peter decided to halt in Cologne for some time in order to continue preaching the cross and persuade some of the German nobility to join him. In Flanders and France the local nobility preferred to travel with the expedition of their Lord who was to go on Crusade, but no great German Prince was going to the Holy Land. Among the many Germans he persuaded to take the cross were several of the lesser nobility, such as Count Henry of Schwarzenberg, Walter of Teck and the three counts of Zimmern.
From Cologne, the People’s Crusade marched overland through Hungary and crossed the Byzantine border around June 11. There were some clashes and disturbances, such as the sixty pilgrims killed in Belgrade because the market refused to trade with them, but Walter Sans Avoirs was well received by the Imperial authorities and was hastened on their way to Constantinople, where they arrived in mid July 1096.
The army travelled separately, but were eventually ferried over the Bosporus by the Emperor Alexius after they had pillaged the area surrounding Constantinople. Here they pillaged the lands around the city of Nicea, and were eventually massacred by the Turks at Civetot. Peter, who had stayed behind in Constantinople, later joined the Prince’s Crusade along with the remaining survivors of the Peoples Crusade.
The Princes Crusade
Europe to Constantinople
Hugh of Vermandois
The western princes that had taken the cross were in less of a hurry to depart for the Holy Land than the common people of the People’s Crusade. Following the Pope’s Timetable for departure, they organised their properties and prepared the governance of their lands in their absence. The first to leave was the brother of King Philip, Hugh of Vermandois. He brought with him a small contingent of his own vassals and some of the men in his brother’s service. It is unknown what his motives would have been for taking the cross but it is likely that he felt some pressure from his brother, who had been excommunicated and therefore barred from taking the cross by Urban II. It is also likely that he saw in the east an opportunity to pursue the power and riches due to his high birth which he lacked in the west. Before he left he sent a special messenger to the Emperor to arrange for his reception with the honours due to a prince of royal blood.
Hugh and his company passed by Rome and arrived at Bari in early October. In southern Italy they found the Norman princes themselves preparing for the Crusade; and Bohemund’s nephew William decided not to wait for his relatives but to travel with Hugh. From Bari he sent an embassy to Dyrrhachium to inform the governor of his imminent arrival and to demand a suitable reception for a man of his high birth. Hugh’s arrival was not as dignified as he may have planned. His flotilla was wrecked by a story and some of the ships foundered with the excess of passengers they carried. Hugh was cast ashore on Cape Palli, a few miles north of Dyrrhachium. The governor’s men found him there in great distress and bewilderment and escorted him to the town, but kept him under supervision. He was met with the greatest courtesy but to many of his followers he was kept a prisoner. Here he was escorted to Constantinople where he was greeted warmly by the Emperor and showered with gifts but continued to restrict his freedom.
Hugh’s arrival forced Alexius to declare his policy towards the western princes. As it soon became more and more apparent, whatever the official reasons for the crusades, the real object of the Franks seemed to be a desire to secure themselves principalities in the east. He did not object to this, so long as the Byzantine Empire recovered the lands it lost to the Turks, and it is possible he liked the possible formation of a friendly Christian buffer state along the Byzantine frontier. Instead he would ensure that the Byzantine Empire become overlord of any future Christian state established. He decided to demand an oath of allegiance from all the western leaders to cover their future conquests. To win their compliance he made grand gestures of wealth and glory, in order that they would not feel their dignity lowered in swearing allegiance to the Empire. Hugh, who had been carefully courted and dazzled by the Emperor, readily fell in with his plans though the other princes were not to be so easily persuaded.
Godfrey of Bouillon
Godfrey of Bouillon, the Duke of Lower Lorraine was the second son of Count Eustace II of Boulogne and of Ida, daughter of Godfrey II, Duke of Lower Lorraine. He had been designated as the heir to the possessions of his mothers’ family; but on her father’s death the emperor Henry IV confiscated the duchy, leaving Godfrey only the county of Antwerp and the lordship of Bouillon in the Ardennes. Godfrey came to favour however, when he served the Emperor loyally in his German and Italian campaigns that he was rewarded the duchy as an office (But not as an hereditary fief). Lorraine was heavily influenced by Cluny and the papal reform movement, and though Godfrey remained loyal to the Emperor during the Investiture Contest, it is possible that Cluniac teachings, with its strong papal sympathies began to trouble his and his vassal’s consciences. His administration of Lorraine was inefficient and under scrutiny of the Emperor, and therefore it was a combination of fears of his future in Lorraine, partly from his uneasiness over his religious loyalties, and partly from genuine enthusiasm that he answered the call to the Crusade. He made thorough preparations. After raising money from blackmailing the Jews, he sold some of his estates and was thus able to equip a considerable army. His large force and his former high office gave Godfrey a prestige throughout the crusade. Also on crusade were his two brothers, the elder Eustace III, Count of Boulogne and the younger Baldwin. Eustace was an unenthusiastic crusader, always anxious to return to his rich European lands, but Baldwin would later become the first King of Jerusalem and would consolidate the Frankish grip on the Levant. In Europe Baldwin was not destined either wealth or power of any gravity so the crusade offered him the chance to cement his place in the east as a powerful man. Godfrey’s army decided not to travel through Italy by the route the other crusaders were planning to take. Instead they would travel through Hungary. He left Lorraine in late August, and arrived at the Hungarian frontier at the beginning of October. Crossing Hungary was a difficulty, as the popular crusades had caused some disturbances when they passed through that land. Coming to terms with King Coloman, Godfrey agreed to provide his brother Baldwin as a hostage until his army had passed through the kingdom, and the king further agreed to provide provisions at reasonable rates so long as the crusaders created no disturbances. As the army reached Semlin at the end of November and crossed the Save to Belgrade, Baldwin and the hostages were returned to Godfrey.
On about 12 December Godfrey’s army halted at Selymbria, on the Sea of Marmora. There its discipline, which had hitherto being excellent, suddenly broke down, and for eight days it ravaged the countryside. Godfrey claimed the rumoured imprisonment of Hugh of Vermandois was the reason his army went on pillage. The Emperor quickly sent two Frenchmen under his service to persuade Godfrey to restore order to his army and bid them to come to Constantinople, where they camped outside the city along the upper waters of the Golden Horn on 23 December.
Alexius required an oath of allegiance from Godfrey and sent Hugh to secure this from the Duke. However, Godfrey, who already had sworn an oath to the German Emperor Henry IV refused to swear an oath to the Eastern Emperor. More importantly, he was unwilling to take any important actions until the other princes arrived. Alexius responded to this angrily, shutting off supplies that he had promised to his troops. Baldwin responded by raiding the Constantinople suburbs until Alexius decided to lift the blockade. At the same time Godfrey agreed to move his camp down the Golden Horn to Pera, where it would be better sheltered from the winter winds, and where the Imperial police could watch it closely. Here both sides sat in stalemate, with the Emperor continuing to provide provisions and Godfrey maintaining discipline in his army. Again, in late January Alexius invited Godfrey to see him, but Godfrey was unwilling to commit himself until the other crusaders could join him. He sent his cousin, Baldwin of Le Bourg (Another future King of Jerusalem), Conan of Montaigu and Geoffrey of Esch to the Palace to hear the Emperor’s proposals, but on their return gave no answer. Again both sides decided to wait it out.
At the end of March Alexius learnt that the other Crusading armies would soon arrive at Constantinople. He felt obliged to bring matters to a head, and began to reduce the supplies sent to the Crusader’s camp. The Crusaders responded by making daily raids on the neighbouring villages and eventually came into conflict with the Petcheneg troops that acted as police in the district. In revenge Baldwin set an ambush for the policy, capturing around sixty of them. Encouraged by these small successes, Godfrey decided to move the camp and attack the city itself. After plunder the houses in Pera, he led them across a bridge outside the city walls and began to attack the gate that led to the palace quarter. It is doubtful whether he intended to do more than place pressure on the Emperor, but the Greeks believed that he intended to seize the Empire. It was Holy Thursday in the Easter Holy week and Constantinople was unprepared for the attack. Alexius ordered his men to make a demonstration outside the gates and the archers on the walls were ordered to fire overhead. The Crusaders did not press their attack and retired, after having slain only a handful of Byzantines. The next day Hugh again went out to talk with Godfrey, who taunted him for so readily accepting vassaldom. Envoys from the Emperor suggested that they cross into Asia Minor; Godfrey responded by attacking them without waiting to hear what they might say. Thereafter Alexius decided to bring the affair to an end, and brought men forward to meet the attack. After a brief encounter the Crusaders turned and fled. This brought Godfrey to recognise his weakness; he consented to the oath of allegiance and to have his army transported across the Bosporus.
Bohemond of Taranto
On 9 April Bohemond of Taranto arrived at Constantinople. The Normans of southern Italy had not at first taken much notice of Urban’s preaching of the Crusade. Intermittent civil war was a constant ever since Robert Guiscard’s death. Robert had divorced his first wife, Bohemond’s mother, and left his duchy of Apulia to his son by Sigelgaita, Roger Borsa. Bohemond revolted against his brother and managed to secure Taranto and the Terra d’Otranto in the heel of the peninsula before their uncle, Roger of Sicily, could patch up an uneasy truce between them. Bohemond never accepted the truce as final and continued to embarrass Roger Borsa. But in the summer of 1096 the whole family had come together to punish the rebel city of Amalfi. The papal decrees about the Crusade had already been published; and small bands of southern Italians had already crossed the sea for the east. It was only the arrival in Italy of enthusiastic armies of crusaders from France that made Bohemond realise the scale of the movement. It is likely he saw the benefits of becoming a prince in the east, as his uncle would never allow him to annex the duchy of Apulia. He announced that he would join the crusade and summoned all good Christians to join him. His vassals followed his lead along with some of the vassals of his uncle of Sicily.
Leaving his lands under his brother’s care, he raised sufficient money for the expenses of all that came with him. The expedition sailed from Bari in October. With Bohemond were his nephew Tancred, his cousins Richard and Rainulf of Salerno and Rainulf’s son Richard; Geoffrey, Count of Rossignuolo, and his brothers, Albered of Cagnano and Bishop Girard of Ariona. His army was smaller than Godfrey’s but it was well equipped and well trained, with much of the Norman aristocracy of southern Italy in tow. The expedition arrived in Epirus and reassembled at Dropoli. The arrangements for landing had probably being made in consultation with the Byzantines at Dyrrhachium, but the choice of the route was Bohemond’s alone. His campaigns against the Byzantines fifteen years before had given him some knowledge of the country to the south of the main road, and he may have hoped by taking a less well known road to avoid the supervision of the Byzantines. The army passed with good discipline and no pillaging, except for an attack against Paulician heretics close to their road, and by February it had taken them seven weeks to cover a distance little more than a hundred miles, since they travelled a long and twisty route, high into the mountains. Bohemond finally reached Constantinople on 9 April. He was lodged outside the walls, and the next day was admitted to see the Emperor.
To Alexius Bohemond was the most dangerous of the crusaders. The Byzantines had past experience of the Normans in battle and were naturally wary of them. Joining in discussion with Godfrey and Baldwin, Bohemond and the Emperor discussed the future of the crusade. Bohemond realised more than the other leaders the importance of the Byzantines to the success of the crusade. He wished to lead the crusade, but had no authority from the Pope to do so and he would have to contend with the rivalry of the other princes. He looked for an official charge from the Emperor which would leave him in a position to direct operations. Without hesitation he took the oath of allegiance and requested that he might be appointed the Grand Domestic of the East, in other words, the commander in chief of all Imperial forces in Asia. This request embarrassed Alexius, who still feared and distrusted Bohemond. He decided against appointing Bohemond to this powerful position, stating that he would doubtlessly earn it anyway with his energy and loyalty. Bohemond would have to be content with this vague promise. Meanwhile, Alexius promised to accompany the Crusading armies, to repay them for their expenses and to ensure their provisioning and their communications.
Bohemond’s army was then summoned to Constantinople and on 26 April it was ferried across the Bosphorus to join Godfrey at Pelecanum. Tancred, who disliked and did not understand his uncle’s policy, passed through the city by night with cousin in order to avoid taking the oath.
Raymond of Toulouse
Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, was approaching sixty years of age when he took the cross. His country (Saint-Gilles) was one of the richest in France, and he had recently inherited the equally rich province of Toulouse. His marriage to the princess Elvira of Aragon connected him with the royal houses of Spain; and he had taken part in several holy wars against the Spanish Muslims. He was the only great noble with whom Urban had personally discussed the crusade, and was the first to announce his intention to go. He therefore considered himself to be entitled to command the enterprise. The Pope however, anxious to keep the movement under spiritual control, never admitted this claim. In the meantime he planned to set out for the East in the company of its spiritual leader, Adhemar of Le Puy.
Raymond had taken the cross at the Council of Clermont, November 1095, but it was not until next October that he was ready to leave his lands. He vowed to spend the rest of his life in the Holy Land, leaving his lands in the care of his son Bertrand, though was careful not to fully abdicate his rights. His wife and legitimate heir, Alfonso, accompanied him. Raymond was ferociously wealthy, and showed great economy in the assembling of his army. His considerable resources would aid his position later in the campaign. Several nobles from southern France joined Raymond on crusade, such as Rambald, Count of Orange, Gaston of Béarn, Gerard of Roussilon, William of Montpellier and Raymond of Le Forez. After Adhemar, the chief ecclesiastic to come was William, Bishop of Orange.
The expedition crossed the Alps by the Col de Genévre and travelled through northern Italy to the head of the Adriatic, and from there down the Dalmatian coastline. This journey was rough, and the army were harassed by Slavic tribes as they went. Food was scarce and the roads were very rocky and rough. By early February his hungry army reached the Imperial frontier north of Dyrrhachium.
John Comnenus welcomed the crusaders at Dyrrhachium, where Imperial envoys and a Petcheneg escourt were waiting to convey them along the Via Egnatia. Raymond sent an embassy ahead to Constantinople to announce his arrival, and after a few days rest they set out again. Raymond’s men were unruly and ill disciplined, and came into conflict with the Petcheneg police set to watch them on every side. Before long, two Provencal barons were killed in one of these frequent skirmishes. Similarly, Adhemar of Le Puy had strayed from the road and had been wounded by the Petchenegs before they realised who it was. Raymond himself was attacked in similar circumstances near Edessa.
At Thessalonica Adhemar left the army to recover from his wounds. He remained there until his brother joined him from Dyrrhachium. Without his restraining influence the discipline of the army worsened; but there was no serious incident until it reached Roussa in Thrace. Bohemond’s men had been well provisioned here a fortnight earlier but there was little food left to sale. His men attacked and pillaged all the houses in the town. At Rodosto a few days later they were with an envoy from the Emperor and cordial messages urged Raymond to hasten to the capital and added that Godfrey and Bohemond were eager for his presence. Perhaps worried that important decisions would be made without him, he accepted the invitation and hurried ahead to Constantinople where he arrived on 21 April.
With his departure there was no one to keep the army in order, and so they began to raid the countryside. However, detachments of Byzantine soldiers, stationed nearby, moved up to attack the raiders. In the battle that followed Raymond’s men were defeated and fled, leaving their arms in the hands of the Byzantines.
Raymond had been well received at Constantinople. He was housed in a palace outside the walls but was asked to come as soon as possible to the palace, where it was suggested he take the oath of allegiance. He was puzzled and displeased by the circumstances around him. His everlasting aim was to be the military commander of the whole expedition; but his authority as it was, came from the Pope and from his connection with Adhemar, the papal representative. The bishop was absent and lacked both the support and advice his presence would have given. Without him he was unwilling to commit himself; the more so, as to take the oath of allegiance like the other crusaders had done would mean the abandonment of his special relationship with the papacy. He would reduce himself to a common footing with the others. He faced another danger; Bohemond was his most dangerous rival and it was known that he seemed to be enjoying the favour of the Emperor and rumoured that he had been appointed to an important Imperial command. To take the oath might mean that he would find himself under Bohemonds jurisdiction as the Emperor’s representative. He declared to the Emperor that he was on crusade to do God’s work and that God was his only suzerain, implying that he was the lay delegate of the Pope. He added that if the Emperor were himself to lead the expedition he would serve under him. The Emperor would not accept this and pleaded with the other leaders to bring him round. After much arm twisting and haggling, and an incident where Bohemond assured the Emperor he would back him against Raymond, Raymond decided to change his mind and on 26 April took a modified oath, promising to respect the life and honour of the Emperor and to not do anything that would harm him. This type of oath was not unusual in southern France and it pleased the Emperor.
It was when these negotiations were over that Bohemond and his army crossed into Asia. Raymond’s army had assembled at Rodosto, where it awaited the arrival of Adhemar who was to lead it on to Constantinople. Nothing is known of Adhemar’s activities in the capital. It is probably he met with the Emperor and may have helped improve relations with Raymond and Alexius. However, now that Bohemond had gone, Alexius assured Raymond he would not be receiving an Imperial command and that he shared his dislike for the Norman. When Raymond left his view of the Emperor was altered, now seeing he had a powerful ally against Bohemond.
The Northern French - Robert of Flanders, Robert of Normandy and Stephen of Blois
The fourth great western army to set out on crusade was from northern France in October 1096, shortly after Raymond’s departure. It was under the joint leadership of Robert, Duke of Normandy, his brother in law Stephen, Count of Blois, and his cousin Robert II, Count of Flanders. Robert of Normandy was the eldest son of William the Conqueror. He was around forty years old and a charming though mild mannered individual. Ever since his father’s death he fought an on/off war with his brother William Rufus of England, who had invaded his duchy several times. He was immediately attracted to the Crusade. The Pope helped bring about reconciliation with his brother – Robert eventually financed the crusade by pledging his duchy to William. The pledge occurred in September 1096. A few days later Robert set out with his army from Pontarlier, where he was joined by Stephen of Blois and Robert of Flanders. With him were Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, Walter, Count of Saint-Valery, the heirs of the Counts of Montgomery and Mortagne, Girard of Gournay, Hugh of Saint-Pol and the sons of Hugh of Grant-Mesnil, and a number of knights and infantry from Normandy, England, Scotland and Brittany.
Stephen of Blois had no desire to join the crusade, but he had married Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, and in their household she was a powerful, dominative woman. With him were his chief vassals, Everard of Le Puits, Guerin Gueronat, Caro Asini, Geoffrey Guerin and his chaplain Alexander. Also amongst the party was the cleric Fulcher of Chartres, the future historian and chaplain to King Baldwin I. Stephen, as one of the wealthiest men in France raised money for the crusade rather easily. He left his lands in the safe keeping of his wife.
Robert of Flanders was a younger man but was more formidable in temperament. His father, Robert I, had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1086 and on his return journey had taken service for a while under the Emperor Alexius, with whom he remained in touch with until his death. His army was slightly smaller than Raymond’s or Godfrey’s but was of high quality. He was accompanied by troops from Brabant, under Baldwin of Alost, Count of Ghent. His lands were to be administered in his absence by his countess, Clementia of Burgundy.
From Pontarlier the united army moved southward across the Alps into Italy. Passing through Lucca in November it met Pope Urban, who gave them a special blessing. The army went on to Rome, refusing to interfere with the struggle between Urban’s followers and those of the anti-pope Guibert which was troubling the city. From there it passed through Monte Cassino into the Norman domain in the south. Robert of Normandy and Stephen of Blois decided to spend the winter in comfort in Calabria but Robert of Flanders moved at once to Bari, where he crossed into Epirus in early December. He reached Constantinople without any incident around the same time as Bohemond.
Robert of Normandy and Stephen of Blois lingered in southern Italy until the spring. Their lack of enthusiasm affected their followers, some of whom began to wander back towards their homes. In March the army moved to Brindisi and prepared to embark on 5 April. The first ship capsized, losing around four hundred passengers, with their horses and mules and many chests of money. The bulk of the army safely embarked and after a rough sea voyage of four days landed at Dyrrhachium. The Byzantine authorities received them well and provided an escourt to take them along the Via Egnatia to Constantinople. Apart from a minor incident, the journey passed without much fuss. They reached Constantinople in early May.
The other leaders had already crossed the Bosphorus and the army were allowed in small numbers to tour the city and worship at its shrines. They were treated well by the Emperor and the leaders readily agreed to an oath of allegiance. The army spent a fortnight at Constantinople before crossing into Asia. They marched along the Gulf of Nicomedia to join the main crusading armies, who were already beginning the Siege of Nicea.
Siege of Nicea
On 6 May 1097, elements of the Crusader army appeared before the city of Nicea held by Kilij I Arslan, the Seljuk Sultan of Rhum. The city was formidable, lying in a fertile basin surrounded to the west by the Ascanian Lake, from the south by a 800 metre high hill and from the north by a rise into the much higher Naldokan range. The fortifications were Roman built, though tinkered with and strengthened under Byzantine stewardship. The city was surrounded by a great wall, around ten metres high and studded with 114 round and square towers rising to seventeen metres, and its circuit measured around 4,900 metres. There was a double ditch around the outside. These fortifications were made more formidable by the fact that the garrison only needed to defend half the circuit, since the western wall of the city followed the Ascanian Lake, whose huge size, some forty kilometres long, made it impossible to blockade without boats.
Alexius didn’t come in person but it is clear that he and the Empire held the city in great esteem. The Turks were in the process of converting it from an outpost to a capital, and it was becoming more and more important for the Empire for the city to be under Byzantine control. Alexius himself had previously twice attacked the city unsuccessfully. Amongst the Crusader contingents arriving for the siege was a force of troops under the command of Tatikios. They were later reinforced by more soldiers and some boats under Boutoumites who blockaded the Ascanian Lake on the western perimeter of the city.
Bohemond and the Normans took up a position along the north wall of the city, with Robert of Flanders and Godfrey to the east. The south was left for Raymond of Toulouse, who was delayed in Constantinople. The northern French had not even reached Constantinople at this stage. The piecemeal nature of the siege underlines the lack of unity in the crusader army, the force seems to have fanned out from the north around the city based around each major prince’s army. Kilij Arslan arrived in the general area of his capital shortly before 16 May and set about attacking the crusader army.
According to Raymond of Aguilers the attack was two-pronged: one force fell upon the Germans on the east side of the city, while the other attempted to enter the city through the vacant south gate, with the intention of sallying out against Godfrey while he was distracted. According to this version, the Provencals happened to come before the south gate and were pitching camp when the enemy arrived; they fought off the southern attack, thereby enabling the Germans to fight off the other force. This account gives the southern French an important role in the successful outcome of the battle. Albert of Aachen states that it was a savage and closely fought battle with heavy losses on both sides. The sheer numbers of the crusaders proved decisive in the narrow area between the wooded hills and the city walls because the Turks had little room for manoeuvre. The defeat forced Kilij Arslan to retreat and leave the crusaders to resume the siege.Cite error: Closing
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- Circa 50,000-60,000 soldiers took the cross, according to John France, though estimations vary from the hundreds of thousands downwards. Large numbers of men were obliged to garrison captured castles, cities and forts, such as Antioch. John France, “Victory in the East: A military history of the First Crusade” (Cambridge, 1996) p.2.
- R. Somerville, The Councils of Urban II. Vol. 1 (London, 1972) pp. 9-41.
- Jonathon Riley Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (London 1986) p. 47.
- Riley Smith, Idea of Crusading (pp. 27-29.)
- H. Liebeschutz, The Crusading Movement and its bearing on the Christian attitude to Jewry, Journal of Jewish Studies, 10 (1959), pp. 97-99.
- Also known as Walter the Penniless
- Stephen Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Vol. 1 (Cambridge, 1965) p.113/114.
- Ibid, p. 122.
- France, Victory in the East p. 91.
- All the narrative of this section is largely based on Runciman, A History of the Crusades Vol.1 pp. 142-171
- France, Victory in the East, p. 143.