The First Crusade. The Rabble And The Tragedy.

by Daniel Russ on December 22, 2011

Godfrey Bouillon, Gidfrey of Lorraine  led French in battle

Godfrey Bouillon, Gidfrey of Lorraine

 

1095. Alexis Comnenus is busy. He is preparing to defend Constantinople from the hordes of mounted Arab warriors who have begun a long process of overtaking the Mediterranean. The Seljuk Turks storm out of Anatolia and all but sack Constantinople. He is defending the same city he sacked in 1081 on his way to power. He knows its strengths and weaknesses. To the best of his ability, he has been raising troops and trying to assemble an army to keep this last vestige of the Byzantine Empire alive in the Greek and Roman traditions, not in the Muslim traditions forced upon them by their tormentors. What he did next changed European history forever. The results of his request will resonate across Europe and the Mideast to the present day.

 

He asked the Pope for help.

 

The Pope was also busy defending the Catholic Church, not so much from enemies without, but from enemies within. In fact, he was busy consolidating power and eliminating competing views of the world. His goal was to elevate Christendom to a one world monarchical power, with the Pope as the absolute ruler with authority of God and therefore with absolute power. Pope Urban II was smart and realized that reframing Christians as victims of Muslim empire building would go far in building resentment needed to launch a military campaign. Of course the Muslims were not just infidels, they were living in the land of Moses and Jesus and therefore, a replevin was needed. Who would rise to the occasion and rescue the church?

 

What the Pope did was light a fire to the dynamite of hatred and competing religious views. For the next millennium, the fire of that hatred burned effulgent from the United States to the Middle East and everywhere between. It was an invasion by other means. A taking of land and power based on the direct authority of a God that enemies might not recognize.

 

Pope Urban went to the Abbots of Cluny and tapped into their majestic riches and connections and raised an army largely of the weakest, poorest European commoners. Alongside them were the highly paid and highly trained orders of the Knights, but they did not sshown up until after the citizen army made itself known.

 

While building this army, the Pope delivered a few philippics that made war a devotion, it made the invasion of the Mideast a prayer, and it made war as a crusade an instrument of Christ. He said:

 

“Warfare against Saracens is the only righteous war.”

 

He made mad power grabs and elevated taking an oath to the crusading cause enough to have one excommunicated if he or she demurred on the offer. The Vatican then became the world’s biggest military power.

 

Along the way, Europeans became not just serfs, but serfs to religious tyranny, one that would divide and soak the soil of every country in Europe with blood. Religion became synonymous with intolerance often it wasn’t just the Muslims who were targeted by the Crusaders. It was the Jews as well. The First Crusades helped to institutionalize anti-semitism.

 

In the town of Ma’ arrah, 200 miles north of Jerusalem in 1098, thousands of Christian Crusaders marched into town 2000 miles away from their homes. They showed up hungry and self righteous. And armed. So they pillaged and sacked the city, and “burned pagans in a cooking pot and impaled children on spits and ate them grilled”. Radulph of Caen was at Ma’arra in 1098, wrote. Fulcher of Chartres also refers to the same instance of cannibalism at Ma’arra. In A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, Fulcher writes that the crusaders, often poor and ill equipped to an extended expedition, “suffered from excessive hunger…..I shudder to say that many of our men, terribly tormented by the maddness of starvation, cut pieces of flesh from the buttocks of Saracens lying there dead. These pieces they cooked and ate, savagely devouring the flesh while it was insufficiently roasted.”

Often these Crusaders were just large armed bands of angry hungry people who stole from everyone they came across, plundered, pillaged and sometimes even worse. In Semlin, on the way to Constantinople, an argument with a Crusader ended in violence that left 4000 dead. They burned and pillaged Belgrade next. After four months of walking, the army shows up at the door of Alexius’ Constantinople. He thought that the Pope would act as a typical Byzantine administrator, and requisition, some mercenaries, a few impressive companies of knights. Instead, he is greeted by a large, unstructured angry, hungry rabble of 60,000 semi literate troopers, most of them armed with little more than a sharpened stick. Many of these people came with families, and farm animals and many were bearing crosses.

 

The Knights ravaged Nicea, cooking people alive on spits, eating them, and torturing old people, and had no idea that they were killing Christians. As Alexius predicted, these First Crusaders were no match for the military might of the Turks. The French Knights were tricked into an ambush and slaughtered. The First Crusade was a military success largely because the French offered almost 30,000 Knights and Pikemen and archers and infantry and all well trained. The disastrous First Crusade went on for a few years after an inauspicious start and ended after Jerusalem fell to the Pope’s army. Militarily it was the most successful of the remaining eight to come.

 

Painting of The First Crusade

First Crusade

 

Wiki, History Channel, Medieval Warfare

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