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Christian Outremer (Beyond the Sea) / The Crusades

The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II in 1095 during a momentous speech in Clermont-Ferrand in France. There is no exact record of what he said, but in basic terms it consisted of a general denouncement of the continual warfare which plagued Europe. Then he led his audience to even worse warfare, that of the Turks attacking the Christian Byzantine empire, and he begged the soldiers present to attack the Muslims rather than their fellow Christians. Once last piece of encouragement was the offer of a Papal Indulgence which promised the immediate remission of all sins of any who participated in the expedition. The crowd responded with the chant the was to become the war cry of the First Crusade. 'Dieu li volt!' ('God wills it!'). Following the call to arms, Bishop Adhémar of Le Puy gave out crosses made of cloth that could be sewn onto the clothes of those who had vowed to take part.

Having traversed Europe from west to east, the nobles, soldiers, and camp followers of the First Crusade assembled in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, the last, great fortress of Christendom in Eastern Europe and arguably the greatest city on Earth, complete with one of the biggest churches on Earth, the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Hagia Sofia. Before they were ready to depart, Peter the Hermit led, against all good advice, a motley band of civilians and soldiers into Anatolia. They were almost wiped out in a running battle with Seljuq Turks at Civetot. By the middle of 1096, the main force was ready to leave, and the Crusades began in earnest.

(Additional information from the BBC documentary series, The Crusades, first broadcast on 18 January 2012, and from External Link: The Story of the First Crusade.)

1096

Nicaea in western Anatolia is the first Islamic town to fall to the Crusaders, who cross the Bosphorus alongside the forces of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus. The Christian soldiers briefly besiege the town before it falls. Islam is divided and in conflict with itself, and the ruling Seljuq Turks are in no position to offer immediate retaliation.

After Nicaea, the vast 60,000-strong force of the Crusade divides in two, so that supplies will be more readily available along the way. With the plan of reuniting at Dorylaeum, an abandoned Byzantine camp 150 kilometres (a hundred miles) south-east of Nicaea, the first wing is led by Bohemond of Taranto. As it marches across the plains of Anatolia, Bohemond's force is ambushed by the Turks and experiences its first taste of eastern fighting. Horse-borne archers shower the Crusaders with arrows, and the Turkish soldiers howl like wolves. The Crusader camp is penetrated and soldiers and civilians are hacked down without mercy. Up to 4,000 Christians are killed, but the Crusaders stand firm and after five hours of fighting the Turks are driven off.

Enduring the heat of an Anatolian summer and a lack of water, many Crusaders drop out along the continued march southwards. Large numbers of their horses die, leaving Crusaders riding donkeys and mules as they face the terrifying traverse of the Taurus Mountains.

Crusaders
The coming of the Crusaders occurred at a time when the Islamic world was deeply involved in factional in-fighting, and at first they were dismissed as being a a mere Byzantine raid

1097 - 1098

After surviving the crossing of Anatolia, perhaps half of the original force of Crusaders survives. Leaving the main Crusader force in 1098, Baldwin I de Boulogne travels south into Cilicia, then east to Edessa. He has himself adopted by its Greek Orthodox lord as a son and heir and quickly inherits the city, becoming the first Crusader count of Edessa.

By the autumn of 1098, the rest of the Crusaders reach the great city of Antioch in Syria, complete with a defensive force of 5,000 Islamic troops and massive fortifications. The city is placed under siege for eight long months and with the threat of an approaching Islamic army which outnumbers the Crusaders by two-to-one, it takes Bohemond of Taranto to break into the city and defeat the Muslim garrison in a savage bloodbath of killing on 3 June 1098. Then the Muslim army under Kerbogha arrives and the Crusaders become the besieged, enduring desperate privations. Faced with total defeat and refused terms for an honourable surrender, the Crusaders launch themselves at Kerbogha's patchwork army and rout it. Bohemond becomes the first Christian prince of Antioch.

1099

With Fatamid power in the region at an all-time low and the Seljuq rulers of Aleppo and Damascus at each other's throats, the main Crusader force, now under Godfrey de Bouillon, conquers the Holy City. Godfrey becomes the 'Protector of Jerusalem'. Islam barely registers the loss, so divided is it between warring Sunni and Shiite factions.

The prevailing belief is that this is a short-term Byzantine raid in strength that will eventually go away. Instead, four main Crusader States are formed, Antioch, Edessa, Tripoli, and the primary Crusader state, the kingdom of Jerusalem. Reinforcements continue to flood in from Europe, including a party led by Alain IV, duke of Brittany. From this point forwards, Jerusalem takes precedence in all matters relating to the Christian presence in the region, acting as the overlord for all Crusader states and actions.