Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Crusades

Most folks get their information about the Crusades from hostile, third-hand sources. It is always good to go back to the primary sources.

Here’s an excerpt of the speech that got the whole ball rolling. Although this document is a product of its times, the causus belli is statable in modern terms: The Muslims waged a war of aggression, invading sovereign territory, committing war crimes and ethnic cleansing. The Crusaders came at the express invitation of Alexius I.


Urban II:
Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, according to Fulcher of Chartres

In 1094 or 1095, Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor, sent to the pope, Urban II, and asked for aid from the west against the Seljuq Turks, who taken nearly all of Asia Minor from him. At the council of Clermont Urban addressed a great crowd and urged all to go to the aid of the Greeks and to recover Palestine from the rule of the Muslims.


Then the pope said that in another part of the world Christianity was suffering from a state of affairs that was worse than the one just mentioned. He continued:

"Although, O sons of God, you have promised more firmly than ever to keep the peace among yourselves and to preserve the rights of the church, there remains still an important work for you to do. Freshly quickened by the divine correction, you must apply the strength of your righteousness to another matter which concerns you as well as God. For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it.



From Bongars, Gesta Dei per Francos, 1, pp. 382 f., trans in Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905), 513-17


In addition to Urban’s account of the Muslim invasion, we have independent confirmation from the daughter of Alexius.


Anna Comnena:
The Alexiad


[Alexiad 1:4]

The truth is that in this area the [E. Roman] empire was reduced to its last men. Turkish infiltration had scattered the eastern armies in all directions and the Turks were in almost complete control of all the districts between the Black Sea and the Hellespont, the Syrian and Aegean waters, the Saros and the other rivers, in particular those which flow along the borders of Pamphylia and Cilicia and empty themselves into the Egyptian Sea.

[Alexiad 3:11]

As I have said in a previous chapter, the godless Turks were in sight, living in the Propontis area, and Sulayman, who commanded all the east, was actually encamped in the vicinity of Nicaea. His sultanate was in that city (we would call it his palace). The whole countryside of Bithynia and Thynia was unceasingly exposed to Sulayman’s foragers; marauding parties on horseback and on foot were raiding as far as the town now called Damalis on the Bosphorous itself; they carried of much booty and all but tried to leap over the very sea. The Byzantines saw them living absolutely unafraid and unmolested in the little villages on the coast and in sacred buildings.

[Alexiad 11:5]

While these events were taking place at Antioch, the emperor was very much concerned to bring help personally to the Kelts, but the despoiling and utter destruction of the cities and districts by the sea held him back, however impatient. For Tzachas held Smyrna as though it were his own private property, and Tangripermes retained a city of the Ephesians near the sea, in which a church had once been built in honour of the apostle St. John the Divine. One after the other the satraps occupied fortified posts, treating the Christians like slaves and ravaging everything.



The Alexiad of Anna Comnena (Penguin Books 1969), 38, 129, 345-46.


For the Christian character of the Mideast and the Levant before the Islamic takeover, see the Pilgrimage of Etheria, available online at:


1 comment:

  1. Steve, just a blog-related note: you notice that the time stamp on comments on your blog don't tell you what day the comments were written? You can change that by going to settings and clicking formatting and choosing a different way to identify each comment other than just time alone. It is useful to know what day a comment was written on. As it is now all the comments in a thread could have been written on one day or could be written over a period of a year, but you can't know.