Before the crusades had begun, there was a strong Muslim presence in the Middle East. The Muslims had been constantly conquering and subjugating the lands in their path. It began in Saudi Arabia, when Mohamed preached spreading the Islamic message by the sword. His followers took his message to heart and began their quest to conquer the known world. They had begun with Palestine by capturing Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Several important early church cities such as Antioch and Nicaea had also been captured(20).
Christian Pilgrims often needed to travel through the now Islamic territory to visit certain holy sites such as Jerusalem, or other places in what had been previously known as Israel. Early Muslim rulers, such as Caliph Omar, allowed the pilgrims to make their journeys without persecution(20). Had it stayed this way, the crusades may not have happened.
Early in the eleventh century, Sultan Hakim of Egypt began to persecute the pilgrims of Palestine. In 1009, he demolished the Holy Sepulchre, one of Christianity's holiest shrines. After a while he changed his method, and rather than killing and destroying, he created a toll tax for Christian pilgrims entering Jerusalem. There was also a group of Turkish fundamentalist Muslims, the Seljuks, who were very powerful and determined. They increased their persecution of Christians, and stories of barbaric persecutions began to reach the Roman Empire(20).
Turkish Muslims were gaining territory in the Eastern Roman Empire. Alexius Comnenus had been fighting them for some time, but his troops were dying off, and he was beginning to lose ground. He quickly made an appeal to Pope Urban II, describing his plight, and the diminishing amount of soldiers. The Pope agreed to the request, realizing that he had copious quantities of unemployed soldiers in his empire, and that the Eastern Emperor was prepared to pay well(1).
The church then began to develop a plan to retake the holy lands from Islamic rule. Pope Urban II began several rallies for the crusade often used examples of the sufferings of pilgrims to aid his speeches. His rallies were of unexpectedly great success, and many more soldiers joined than he had planned. In fact, it was often described as a large scale migration(2). This began to worry the Alexius Comnenus, who feared that the unexpectedly immense amount of crusaders had an ulterior motive: The conquest of the Eastern Empire(21).
His fears were well founded. The fourth crusade did indeed sack Constantinople, bringing the eastern empire to its end.
Peter the Hermit was a dedicated preacher of the crusade. Even though Pope Urban II had thought up the plans for the crusades, popular opinion began to regard Peter the Hermit originator of the idea. He claimed that Jesus Christ had appeared to him in a dream, and given him a letter for the pope, which called for the crusade. Although the popular thought was that he went to the pope to describe the vision and deliver the letter, the truth is that he never went to Rome after the Council, and had never met the Pope(3).
He did much to bring people to the crusades though. He had a very strong charisma around him, and was highly regarded by everyone(4).
The first part of the crusade was called the “peoples crusade” because the army was comprised mainly of ordinary peasants rather than trained warriors. These were led by Peter the Hermit. They left early, without Urban II consenting to their plan. Their first difficulties were not experienced in enemy territory, but in the Christian land of the Eastern Empire. The crusaders asked the cities for food and supplies, but many of the cities refused to help. When they were traveling to Danube, the crusaders began to loot areas of Hungary for supplies. The enraged Hungarians retaliated, helped by the Bulgarians(5). Even a Byzantine legion, which they were supposed to be reinforcing, attacked them. One quarter of the army died, but the rest arrived safely in Constantinople(20). Alexius Comnenus did not intend on providing food and supplies for such a large army, so he quickly had them ferried across the Bosporus strait(5).
Once on the other side, the crusaders quickly began massacring everyone in their path. The problem was, they were still in the Eastern Empire. They were unknowingly butchering the populace of the very country that was supplying them with food and resources. Eventually, one group advanced into enemy territory, and attacked the real enemy, the Turks. They managed to capture the castle of Xerigordon, but Turkish reinforcements soon arrived and slaughtered them all(6). Peter the Hermit quickly returned to Constantinople, and asked for reinforcements for his army. While he was gone, the zealous crusaders decided to take things into their own hands. There were a few knights in the group who advised that they wait, but the impatient crusaders disregarded these and set out on their own to recapture Nicaea(6). This resulted in a disaster. The Turks had already prepared for the crusaders, and were bringing out their army to reinforce Nicaea. The ensuing battle was more of a massacre of the crusaders than a real battle. Only a quarter of the crusaders were actually able to fight, compared to the well trained Turkish army. Close to thirty thousand crusaders were massacred in that battle. Only two or three thousand actually managed to survive(6).
This was known as the people’s crusade because of the predominance of regular people and peasants within the army. The next crusade is known as the prince’s crusade, or the barons crusade. There has been a large amount of dispute as to how large this army actually was. Some sources suggest as little as 30,000 combined knight and foot soldiers(20), while others describe as much as 600,000(15). One of the reasons these estimates vary so much, is that a knight was a unit composed of several foot soldiers alongside it(8). This could cause the overall foot soldier count to be skewed. In any case, it was an army far more formidable than the pitiful peoples crusade. They had trained men in all aspects of warfare. There were not only foot soldiers, but also knights engineers, siege workers, and many men of other diverse war trades(8). There were four armies altogether, led by four leaders from various French, and Norman backgrounds(9). The first goal of these armies was to capture the city of Nicaea. Nicaea was a large city with an important history in Christianity.
The Seljuk Turks severely underestimated the crusaders army. They were expecting perhaps another peoples crusade, but in no way did the Turks realize the danger they were in. In fact, two Turkish rulers were already at war with each other at the time the crusaders invaded. By the time the current ruler had heard of the invasion and sent reinforcements the city had already been taken. The crusaders were joyful in the knowledge that they would soon be able to pillage the city, and enjoy increased wealth. Little did they know, but negotiations were already underway for a peaceful surrender of the city. This angered the crusaders, who had been intent on taking the city’s wealth for themselves. Alexius Comnenus realized though, that Nicaea was too valuable of a city to be pillaged, and successfully negotiated a surrender of the city which would leave its wealth and inhabitants intact(10).
The next plan of action was to take the city of Antioch. Five days after leaving Nicaea, they encountered the army of two Turkish Princes. Sultan Kilij Arslan, and the man he had just previously been fighting with, Gahzi ibn Danishmend. These two armies were combined with the common goal of eliminating the crusaders.
The Turkish army was much larger than the crusaders was, but the crusaders had better weapons, armour, and tactics, and were consequently able to obliterate the larger Turkish army(11).
From there they proceeded to Antioch to make war against it. They encountered little resistance on their way to Antioch(20), and soon were camped around it in siege. The city of Antioch was immense, and the idea of besieging it seemed somewhat fanciful due to the fact that it was easily supplied, and that it was too large to completely encircle. The crusaders decided to maximize the effectiveness of their forces by concentrating them at important positions such as bridges and gates(12). When they arrived the land had many granaries full of the year’s harvest. There were also many sheep and cattle As the months went on, forage parties were sent across the land to collect food for the crusaders(22). The crusaders began to grow weaker and weaker, from the lack of food and provisions. Also, governor of Mosul was leading a fearsome army to annihilate the remaining crusaders, and free Antioch from the siege. It seemed that all hope was lost. Bohemond was not worried, however. He had a plan. One of the guards of a primary tower was a Christian, and agreed to help Bohemond and the crusaders by betraying Antioch into their hands.
On the night of June 2, a group of crusaders led by Bohemond were let into the tower by means of a ladder. Once inside they quickly rushed to a small gate and opened it, making way for the main army of crusaders(23)(13)(20). The native population quickly joined the crusaders, and the Turks made a desperate run for safety in the citadel. The crusaders quickly shut themselves inside the city, and made preparations for the army that was advancing to Antioch. Just one day later, the Turkish army of 200,000 arrived(16). This was the most immense luck of all the crusades. If the Turkish army had arrived just two days earlier it would have easily annihilated the crusaders(14).
The crusaders were now put in an unusual position, they were both besieging and being besieged at the same time. There was a lack of food for the crusaders, so they began to lose hope. They were quickly reinspired when a previously unknown priest, Peter Bartholomew, claimed to have received a vision where St. Andrew appeared to him, and told him the location of the Holy Lance, the spear that pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion. The legend surrounding it was that whoever carried it into battle would emerge victorious(17)(24).
As the crusaders approached the Turks for battle, the Fatimid division suddenly left the Turkish army(18). With renewed moral, the crusaders put up a strong defence against the horde of Turks. They even claimed to see Legions from heaven led by St. George to help them in battle. Eventually they gained the upper hand, and slaughtered the now retreating Turkish army. Upon returning to the city, the crusaders were greeted with the news that the inner citadel had surrendered(18). The crusaders took a respite in Antioch for over five months, as they recovered from the lack of supplies they had been plagued with for the last nine months(19).
So far, the crusades had been very successful, having captured the two principal cities of Turkey. The crusaders had not come for Nicaea or Antioch though. They were in great expectancy as they began to dream of the grand prize which would await them in the next stage of their quest: the conquest of Jerusalem.