A Coin of Bohemond III
The First Crusade is the most documented of all the Crusades. Each Royal Court had its own historian, who told his Lord's story of conquest and adventure, emphasizing his Lord's actions and heroics.
After the initial preaching of the Crusades in 1095, the actual movements of the Royal Armies did not start till 1096. In 1095, an unofficial Crusade was led by a radical monk named Peter the Hermit. He preached the Crusades to the poor peasant fanatics, and collected a small army to pilgrimage to the Holy Lands ahead of the main army.
Peter the Hermit was venerated as a Saint by his followers, and historians reported him as being mystifying in his preaching, whipping up his listeners into a religious fury.
Needless to say, Peter's Quest was doomed. They behaved poorly along the route, thieving food and ransacking homes for supplies. The worst was the persecution of the Jews before even leaving Europe.
The Jewish peoples had lived in relative quiet amongst the Christians up to this point. Though not accepted in the Communities, they were tolerated and business was conducted in a relatively civilized manner.
The Jewish peoples had their own communities and though they were looked down upon, they were not opposed till now. Peter's army lacked funds. It was suggested that if the Crusaders could kill the enemies of God abroad, then what's to stop them at home. Let it be noted that the Church did not condone this. Bishops locally preached against this, and some were attacked for their preaching. The Bishop of Spier¹ saved many lives, but at Worms the Bishop was driven from his home and the Jews he sheltered were slaughtered. Same thing at the town of Mainz. The Bishops could not stop Peter's army. They continued their rage across Europe to Constantinople.
Arriving there, Alexis didn't know what to make of them. Not wanting them to stay to cause further trouble in his city, he made arrangements to have them shipped over the Bosphorus river to Anatolia. Five days after they arrived, in July 1096, they were moved to Turkey. Most never saw the Grand city of Constantinople much to Alexis' relief.
Once in Anatolia, Peter's followers felt it was time to start Crusading in earnest, torturing, pillaging and massacring indiscriminately. However, as it turned out, most of their victims were Byzantine Christians who lived in and around Nicaea.
They took up residence in a castle called Xerigordon. Kilij Arslan I (of the Seljuk Turks) realized what a danger to his lands this army of rag tag pilgrims were, and not wanting them to continue into his territory, he lay siege to the fortress for 8 days. With a show of strength on his part he felt it would stop the Crusades in their tracks. He cut off the fortress water supply and the people surrendered. After a series of offers and counter offers, Arslan ambushed the pilgrims as they were leaving the fortress, killing all.
So ended the Peoples Crusade.
The real army of the Crusades arrived in Constantinople in February/March 1097. The first to arrive was the army of Hugh Vermandois. Alexis, having already had Peter's army and knowing what damage a real army could inflict, wanted some assurance of fidelity from these visiting Lords. His answer was to ask for an oath of liege from Hugh and wine and dine him and sent him on his way before the arrival of the next part of the army arrives. Hugh was all too happy to oblige. And Alexis escorted Hugh and his army to Anatolia to await the rest of the army.
Godfrey and his brother Baldwin arrived next. Godfrey had no intention of taking an oath to the prissy Byzantine King. And Godfrey knew that all he would have to do is wait till Bohemond and his army caught up to him. Alexis didn't want that and thought to starve him out. Godfrey responded with some selective pillaging, and Alexis restored supplies. With Bohemond rapidly approaching, Alexis tried again. This time, Godfrey responded with an attack on the city. Alexis sent out his army and by Easter Sunday it was over, with Godfrey taking the oath and Alexis shipping them over to Anatolia to wait with Hugh.
Three days later in April, Bohemond arrived. Bohemond had come from Sicily where his uncle had conquered the Arabs, who had been the previous rulers. For more information, Google "Normans in Sicily". The local Arabs had been utilized and there had existed a peace between Arabs and Christians which had melded a culture of Arab science, Byzantine Craftsmanship and Norman common sense.
Bohemond presented himself as quite the character, as Alexius's daughter recalls:
"I will describe in detail the Barbarian's characteristics. His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest men. He was slender of waist and flanks, with broad shoulders and chest, strong in the arms; in general he was neither skinny nor heavily built and fleshy, but perfectly proportioned.
There was a certain charm about him, but it was somewhat dimmed by the alarm his person as a whole inspired; there was a hard savage quality to his whole aspect, due, I suppose, to his great stature and his eyes; even his laugh sounded like a threat to others."
Bohemond took the oath, both men knowing full well it was for looks only, and by the end of April, Bohemond and his troops were across Bosphorus. His cousin Tancred, who had stayed with the main part of Bohemond's army, slipped through the city, never taking the oath.
Across Turkey the armies would march. The first objective was Nicaea, where Peter and his army had ended their crusade. Kilij Arslan I was in the East, leaving his wife and children in the city with a small army. Arslan felt after what had happened to Peter, the Crusaders wouldn't dare come through. Godfrey arrived reinforced by Bohemond's army. Raymond arrived soon after, followed by Robert of Normandy. Arslan's army could never arrived in time to reinforce the city. However, the Crusaders never had a chance to assault the city. The Emperor Alexius negotiated a surrender with the Turks and never informed the Crusaders. They felt they were cheated of a victory. The Emperor gave the leaders a portion of the city spoils for their part. Alexius then demanded the Oath be taken by the lesser Lords and those who had not taken the Oath. The focus was on Bohemond's nephew Tancred, who ended up taking the oath.
What surprised the Crusaders was Alexius' treatment of his prisoners. The Crusaders had hoped to hold the family of Arslan for ransom. Alexius released them without ransom, as a courtesy. The Crusaders saw this as being disloyal to the cause, which fueled their already strong dislike of the Byzantine Emperor.
From Nicaea, they proceeded to Antioch. It was decided to split the forces. One army was to be lead by the Normans with the troops of the Counts of Flanders, Blois and Byzantines. The second was the Southern French and Lorrainers and the Counts of Vermardois. Bohemond was regarded as the leader of the first army and Raymond of Toulouse the leader of the second group.
¹ According to Prof. Achim Bonawitz, a medievalist of
the Middle-High-German language and literature: