Lairdx on the Crusades.

Were the Crusaders mercenary in their motive or were their intentions more spiritual?

I have just watched Kingdom of Heaven (set just before the third crusade.)

It has encouraged me to have another think about a paper I wrote last year. We might as well start at the beginnng with the 1st Crusade. My argument tends to give the crusaders the benefit of the doubt.

Here's a short version. What do you reckon? How many different groups of people went on the First Crusade, and what were their motives?

The First Crusade was possibly one of the most bizarre events in medieval history. The sheer number of participants was totally unprecedented. Huge numbers set off for Constantinople, “some sixty thousand in all” embarked from their homes in Western and Eastern Europe in response to Pope Urban II’s request for martial aid to assist the beleaguered Byzantine Emperor Alexius.

This request had been made before, by Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) who had been willing to help the Emperor in return for the Eastern Church recognising the supreme authority of the pope.

“This dream of a unified church inspired Urban II……At the Council of Clermont in November 1095 he appealed for western armies to go to the aid of ALL the Christians of the East and to liberate Jerusalem from the infidel- his vision was no less than the rolling back of Islam and the restoration of Christianity.”

As an incentive for people to go Urban offered something quite new – this was a meritorious war and those who participated in a proper spirit should have all their sins forgiven them and, furthermore should they die in the holy land, the gates of heaven would be open to them. The warlike, militant and bloody military elite of Europe thought that all their Christmases had arrived at once. The Pope announced that they could find salvation by active participation in their favourite pass-time, war – each death they caused of a Moslem would be a sin forgiven. This offer was particularly attractive to the Normans. The Norman nobility took an almost psychopathic enjoyment in warfare and to the younger son’s of Norman dukes and barons this was a potential chance to carve out their own petty duchy or principality as well as a chance to test their muscle and exercise their sword-arms.

Who travelled to Constantinople to join the assault on the Holy Land? As well as the obvious nobility, who provided the military elite, such as Robert of Flanders, Raymond of Toulouse and Robert of Normandy amongst others, there were numerous other groups. The medieval army was in some respects much like a modern army in that for every fighting man there were a dozen non-combatants who provided a supporting role and a retinue of men at arms. Each Knight would have been accompanied by at least one but often many squires and the Norman/Frankish Nobleman would expect to travel in style. Wagon drivers would have carried his provisions, Tents were often large elaborate affairs which were fully furnished and hung with tapestries – These knights did not travel light. There would have been donkey drivers, cow-herds (meat is fresher if it is still walking.) There would have been cooks, washer-women, servants, blacksmiths, some knights even went so far as to take their wives along; and what would happen when the army arrived at Jerusalem? Jerusalem was a fortified town (as were most during this period) there would be high, thick walls at the very least which would need to be breached, climbed or undermined. Hundreds of engineers would be needed. The retinue of the Knight was a large group of people.

As well as the military elite, their families and the paid help, whose motivation to take the cross was decided by their lord, there were other people who took the cross for personal reasons. A travelling army required provisions and merchants followed in the baggage train hoping to sell their wares . No doubt tasty snacks were on sale to supplement the issued rations, balms and ointments to soothe the feet after a hard days march across tough country, good quality steel sprung crossbows from France (Bargain! never fired – dropped only once!) or a weapon of Spanish steel and any other necessary item which a crusader might need on his long journey. There were also a large number of prostitutes who sated the more base needs of the crusaders and according to one source “A solitary nun, of dubious morality.” Did the presence of these sinners on a holy mission matter? Not if Urban’s message was taken literally. If every Muslim death would be a sin forgiven a crusader could do what he wanted on the way to Jerusalem (he would just be rather busy when he got there.)

Why were so many prepared to go? Well, motives were mixed, For the merchants and prostitutes and other camp followers obviously the motive was financial but one must not overlook the importance of the spiritual motive for which the opportunity to find salvation inspired men – it is otherwise hard to explain why rich magnates like Robert of Flanders and Raymond of Toulouse should have gone. It is easy to dismiss these men as being mercenary in their ambitions but Pope Urban’s call to crusade did not directly include an offer of land and wealth although younger nobles and knights would have seen the possibility of enrichment – loot and land, “for Urban made it clear that rightful gain would be the result of righteous war,” however the principle motive of these men was the spiritual one. They believed they were doing God’s will and hoped for salvation. If the opportunity for more material reward arose it was a bonus.

Other Noblemen hoped for a solution to their problems – Robert of Normandy was in difficulty at home and the crusade gave him an opportunity to escape with papal protection. Whist Stephen of Blois took the cross because his wife, the rather fiery and influential daughter of William the Conqueror and Sister of Robert of Normandy, told him to.

As well as those who followed in the baggage train or retinue of the crusading noblemen there was another group. This group was the motley collection of people who had been inspired to take the cross by the preaching of Peter the Hermit. Many of Peter’s followers were peasants but there were also some noblemen too. Peter preached across what is now modern France into Germany and although the Frankish nobility did not follow Peter but rather preferred to accompany the great lords this was not the case in Germany. None of the most influential German nobles took the cross and those lesser nobles who had been inspired by the crusading idea followed Peter instead. By the time Peter left Cologne to head towards the Austrian Kingdoms he had amassed a following of some twenty thousand . These followers came from a variety of backgrounds but all were united in their Christian faith.

“Most of them were peasants but there were townsfolk among them, there were junior members of knightly families, there were former brigands and criminals. Their only link was the fervour of their faith.”

Exactly what Pope Urban II thought of Peter’s ‘army’ is unclear but it is certain that he had intended for the professional military nobles to heed the call to arms and not the peasants.

What were the Peasants motives? Why would they wish to leave their homes and undertake such an arduous journey? For the Peasants the hope of salvation was equally attractive and again the principle motivation was the higher spiritual one. This was an opportunity to go on a pilgrimage which they might never have seen again. There were other issues too which encouraged them. The peasants of Europe were during this period going through a particularly hard time.

“Life for a peasant in north-west Europe was grim and insecure. Much land had gone out of cultivation during the Barbarian invasions and the raids of the Norsemen. Dykes had been broken, and the sea and rivers enroached into the fields”

So agriculture was in disarray during this period and it wasn’t helped by the fact that many noblemen were reluctant to clear forests to make way for farming as it meant the loss of their hunting grounds.

Urban had appealed to Genoa for naval support which would be a vital condition of success, and the Genoese were interested in establishing trading bases in the middle-east. For the Genoese the allure of money was the principle motive and in order to bring about success on the venture they employed a large expeditionary force of mercenaries. Men motivated by gold.

There were then numerous different groups of people with an interest in the crusading cause. Some were motivated by the opportunity for personal gain but for the vast majority of crusaders the real motive was the spiritual one. The opportunity to carry out God’s will and the quest for redemption.

J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades. A Short History, (London, 1987)
J. Riley-Smith, The First Crusade And The Idea of Crusading, (London, 1993)
W.B. Bartlett, God Wills It! An Illustrated History of The Crusades, (Stroud, 2000)
Walter Porges, ‘The Clergy, The Poor and The Non-Combatants on The First Crusade.’ Speculum 21:1 (1946)
Steven Runcimen, A History of the Crusades 1: The First Crusade, (Cambridge, 1951)
Brain drain first paragraph, it's all too late but tomorrow I will.

I hope you realise with a rugrat on the way you won't have time for all this.
Same as your other essays a very good one!

Concerning the peasants, don´t forget that the idea of heaven and hell was very very real for the medieval people.The clerics interpreted the bible literaly, and many crusaders believed that they would improve their chances of going to heaven if they destroyed the enemies of the church. One of the results was the slaugther of German Jews by crusaders passing through southern German towns.


Edit for typo
Unfortunately Peter's rabble got a little carried away and sacked the odd Christian community here and there. The Peasants at this time, particularly in northern and eastern Europe had little to lose due to an economic situation which wasn't really going to get any better until the labour demand caused by the black death a couple of centuries later.

Even if the peasants did not intend to crusade, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was suddenly an option. Even to die on the way was acceptable but to die in the Holy land offered redemption.

Salvation was the spiritual motive I reffered to in the text. If you get the opportunity I can suggest Terry Jones' book The Crusades. Not too heavy going. Written with an element of wry humour which makes it enjoyable and very thought provoking.
Walther said:
Same as your other essays a very good one!

Concerning the peasants, don´t forget that the idea of heaven and hell very very real for the medieval people.The clerics interpreted the bible literaly, and many crusaders believed that they would improve their chances of going to heaven if they destroyed the enemies of the church. One of the results was the slaugther of German Jews by crusaders passing through southern German towns.

Had to do a study on this many moons ago and Walthers interpretation is pretty accurate. The belief that people held was way in excess of what even the staunchest of hard liners would hold today, their beliefs were all encompassing and it was a very "black and white" world.

One thing that I do remember though about my studies of the Crusades as a whole were the reports of Richard The Lionheart as a soldier. Forget the somewhat questionable tactical (led by religious "visions") decisions he made like walking away from certain victory in the Holy Land more than once, sailing away, coming back etc. As a soldier the man was truly formidable. Islamic reports (which are backed up by the Christian reports but emanated from Sitreps of the enemy) describe him as a ferocious warrior who was once seen at port surrounded by Islamic warriors and certain to die. When the dust settled there was one man standing with a large red cross on his chest and many, many enemy soldiers dead around him. The man was a truly formidable warrior, an excellent motivator of men and deserved of the legend that surrounds him.

It's just a pity that the cnut hardly spent anytime in Britain and chose to live in what is now (NOTE, I say what is NOW, not what was THEN) france.

People that engaged in the Crusades back then were not fighting simply for an ideology, they were fighting for what they saw to be their immortal soles, which, if you believe in that sort of thing as they did, is a damn good motivator.
I found reading about the "Childrens' Crusade" very interesting.
(Chronica Regiae Coloniensis Continuatio prima, s.a.1213, MGH SS XXIV 17-18, translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 213)

In this year occurred an outstanding thing and one much to be marveled at, for it is unheard of throughout the ages. About the time of Easter and Pentecost,4 without anyone having preached or called for it and prompted by I know not what spirit, many thousands of boys, ranging in age from six years to full maturity, left the plows or carts which they were driving, the flocks which they were pasturing, and anything else which they were doing. This they did despite the wishes of their parents, relatives, and friends who sought to make them draw back. Suddenly one ran after another to take the cross. Thus, by groups of twenty, or fifty, or a hundred, they put up banners and began to journey to Jerusalem. They were asked by many people on whose advice or at whose urging they had set out upon this path. They were asked especially since only a few years ago many kings, a great many dukes, and innumerable people in powerful companies had gone there and had returned with the business unfinished. The present groups, morever, were stfll of tender years and were neither strong enough nor powerful enough to do anything. Everyone, therefore, accounted them foolish and imprudent for trying to do this. They briefly replied that they were equal to the Divine will in this matter and that, whatever God might wish to do with them, they would accept it willingly and with humble spirit. They thus made some little progress on their journey. Some were turned back at Metz, others at Piacenza, and others even at Rome. Still others got to Marseilles, but whether they crossed to the Holy Land or what their end was is uncertain. One thing is sure: that of the many thousands who rose up, only very few returned.
In 1212 ands 1213 thousands of children, inspired by two child leaders from France and Cologne, packed up their stuff and headed off to reclaim Jerusalem. The French contingent marched to Marseilles and the "Germans" headed across the Alps, losing many en route. One German contingent made its way to Italy, where some managed to board ships for Palestine and the remainder headed for Rome, where the Pope told them to go home. The second German contingent arrived at the Italian coast and, when the sea failed to part for them, some boarded ships and most headed home.

The French crusaders boarded ships in Marseilles and were never seen again. It is most likely that those who found ships to Palestine were either shipwrecked or sold into slavery.

So perhaps we should have a modern Childrens' Crusade. We can provoke the children of the chav class into action by telling tales of the largest Elizabeth Duke jewellery store in the world located in the Holy Land, where tonic wine flows in rivers and micro-chips grow on trees. The rest, as they say, will be history!
Auntie Stella. You are bang on. The contemporary accounts both the Gesta Francorum and the account of Baha a' din describe both Richard and Sala a' din as fierce warriors but also as courtious and chivilrous enemies. If they had met under different circumstances they would perhaps have got on well. Both had respect for one another and it is notable that the Islamic sources do not attempt to villify Richard. Perhaps more surprisingly the Christian/Frankish Sources pay tribute to Sala a' din as a man of noble character.


Kit Reviewer
Lairdx said:
Auntie Stella. You are bang on. The contemporary accounts both the Gesta Francorum and the account of Baha a' din describe both Richard and Sala a' din as fierce warriors but also as courtious and chivilrous enemies. If they had met under different circumstances they would perhaps have got on well. Both had respect for one another and it is notable that the Islamic sources do not attempt to villify Richard. Perhaps more surprisingly the Christian/Frankish Sources pay tribute to Sala a' din as a man of noble character.
Did they ever actually meet though ?
I thought that the accounts of meetings were just romantic writings.
The met and treated each other with mutual respect. A contemporary tapestry shows a rather goblin like Sala a' din tilting (Jousting) with Richard I. This is certainly a romanticised account, however, the Gesta Francorum (The Deeds of the Franks) has several accounts of meetings. often to discuss such things as terms of surrender or the exchange of captives/hostages.
A detailed examination of Baha a' dins surprisingly well-rounded biography of Sala a' din gives us a picture of the man's character. I have looked at the document and selected key points which I think are interesting.

Undoubtedly the most famous of the Muslim leaders of the crusades, Saladin or Salah al-Din Yusuf bin Ayub to give him his full name, proved to be a significant adversary to King Richard I of England and those who accompanied him to the holy land on the third crusade.

“The great Christian counterattack of the Third Crusade was… …stalemated by Saladin's military genius.”

Saladin’s exploits have become legendary to the extent that a comparison with the British legend of King Arthur can be drawn in that later rulers wished to link themselves to him through dubious genealogical lineage in order to legitimise their own positions. Geoffrey of Monmouth used Arthur to legitimise Norman supremacy over the Anglo-Saxon population in England and in the same way Saladin has been used as such a figure in the Middle-East, most recently by Sadam Hussain, the Iraqi dictator.

When one considers the evidence it is very easy to see why Saladin has become such a popular figure. The document under scrutiny here is an account of Saladin’s character written by Baha’ad-Din, his biographer. It is perhaps unsurprising that the source is heavily biased in Saladin’s favour. Baha’ad-Din was writing from an Islamic perspective and his account suitably glorifies his patron.

Baha’ad-Din describes Saladin’s drive and ambition, his ruthless and single-minded pursuit of Jihad; A Holy War against the Christian forces which Saladin was prepared to prioritise over his own family and his personal comforts.

"Saladin did not spend a single gold or silver coin on anything except a jihad (holy war). Out of his desire to fight for God's cause he left behind his family, children, country, home and all the towns under his control.”

Baha’ad-Din endeavours to demonstrate Saladin’s extreme piety and describes him as “a man of firm faith, one who often had God’s name on his lips,” and indeed many of Saladin’s deeds were arguably demonstrations to his followers or those who might later become his followers of how good a Muslim Saladin was. It was no mere coincidence that following the fall of Jerusalem,

“Saladin entered the city on the anniversary of Mohammed’s journey to heaven from the foundation stone. In a very deliberate contrast to the way the crusaders had taken it eighty eight-years earlier, not a building was looted and no person [civilian] was harmed.”

It is notable that Baha’ad-Din is not unique in his praise of Saladin. In fact favourable descriptions of Saladin were written by his enemies as well. Both Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi and The Chronicler Ernoul, whose sympathies lay clearly within the Frankish camp agree. Ernoul wrote an account of Saladin’s merciful and indeed generous behaviour.

“When the Frankish ladies who had ransomed themselves came in tears to ask him [Saladin] where they should go, for their husbands or fathers were slain or captive, he answered by promising to release every captive husband, and to the widows and orphans he gave gifts from his own treasury.”

The reputation that Saladin had among the Christians for generosity and chivalry seems to have been more than just a legend but Saladin was also a ruthless leader as he demonstrated by his execution of all senior members of the Knightly Orders whenever he captured a town or city.

“… All the other nobles were to be spared with the exception of the Templars and Hospitallers. All of these were executed by Moslem Sufis, men of religion whose devotion to their cause was as fanatical as that of the Military Orders. As for the rank and file? Saladin’s clemency could not be expected to extend to them…”

This ruthlessness was to a certain extent more pragmatic than evil. The Templars and Hospitallers provided the Franks with a fearsome, battle-hardened, military elite. By executing these men Saladin effectively ensured that his army would never have to face them in battle and Baha’ad-Din is honest enough to admit that Saladin was not, as some would have us believe, totally fearless. He obviously feared the armoured cavalry charges of the Templars and Hospitallers not, importantly, from any fear for his personal safety but from a fear of the defeat of his forces at the hands of these fierce warrior-monks. “He had these particular men killed because they were the fiercest of all Frankish warriors.” Saladin also was shrewd enough not to slay a captive who might be ransomed and thus was able to fund his campaigns at the expense of his enemies. Warfare after all is an expensive undertaking.

Saladin’s mercy extended to Christian civilians and despite being pressed by his followers to destroy the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, he permitted it to continue and even allowed the continuation of Christian pilgrimages… for a fee of course. Pilgrimage was big business in the Holy Land and as far as Saladin and his Jihad were concerned “the money was needed.” It is unlikely, however, when one considers Saladin’s other actions that his motivation with regard to this lenient treatment of Christians was purely financially motivated. When one examines these actions in more detail Saladin emerges as a chivalrous fellow worthy of Arthur’s Round Table if only he had not been Muslim.

Baha’ad-Din also depicts Saladin as an able military commander and uses as one example the siege of Tiberius which although helped by poor judgement on the part of the Frankish commander, who abandoned his fortified position to offer battle, was a near perfect strategic victory. The account also shows that Saladin was an inspiring leader when, in an episode reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Saladin is seen galloping up and down his lines “encouraging and restraining his troops where necessary” and inspiring one of his young mamluks to lead a “terrifying charge on the Franks and perform prodigious feats of valour.”

The event’s following the battle, which Baha'ad-Din describes are further demonstration of Saladin’s benevolence. The Frankish Countess of Tripoli requested safe conduct through Saladin’s lines for herself and her children he agreed and more importantly kept his word. Of course there followed the usual execution of Templar and Hospitaller prisoners but by now these men would have been aware of the fate that awaited them should they be defeated, and further more the execution of Prince Arn’at a deed which Baha’ad-Din excuses as Arn’at was an oath breaker, a breaker of truces, a defiler of sacred places and all round untrustworthy scoundrel. Saladin executes him personally such is his anger at this man.

“‘Twice,’ he [Saladin] said, ‘I have sworn to kill that man when I had him in my power: once when he tried to attack Mecca and Medina, and once again when he broke the truce to capture the caravan.’”

To conclude, Baha’ad-Din’s account is too heavily biased in Muslim favour to be regarded as a reliable Document on its own. The account is clearly an attempt to glorify Saladin. If however this is taken into account and combined with the information from other sources Baha’ad Din’s document does give the historian a lot of detail and as there is an element of consistency in all of the Arabic sources (as well as some Frankish ones) we can assume that the account is true as Hisham Nashabe’s Studia Palaestina, a more recent Arabic interpretation of events neatly summarises.

“There is some measure of coherence among the Arabic accounts as well as between the Arabic accounts and Ernoul's account. The consistency of these accounts itself supports their claim to authenticity”

Steven Runciman appears to have used Ernoul’s account as one of his principle sources for descriptions of the events surrounding Saladin’s rise to power and his impact on the Frankish Kingdoms in the middle-east. When one considers that Ernoul was a historian in the Service of king Baldwin’s brother in law Balian, he will have been privy to much information about the ruling Frankish dynasty at this time and his account can be assumed to be reliable. Despite the obvious Frankish bias the account does try to be objective and most importantly it supports Baha’ad-Din’s account of the description of Saladin’s Character. Saladin was then, the epitome of medieval chivalry, which is rather ironic considering that the Christian Knights were his enemies. Steven Runciman is certainly an admirer.

“He [Saladin] had avenged the humiliation of the first crusade, and he had shown how a man of honour celebrates his victory.”


Baha’ad-Din’s Biography of Saladin
W.B. Bartlett, God Wills It! (Stroud, 2000)
Ernle Bradford, The Sword and the Scimitar, (Barnsley, 2004)
H.A.R. Gibb, The Arabic Sources for the Life of Saladin, (Oxford, 1950)
Terry Jones and Alan Ereira, Crusades, (London, 1996)
Mas Latrie (Ed.), Chronique d’Ernoul et de Bernard le Tresorier, (Paris, 1871)
Joshua Prawer, The World of the Crusaders, (London, 1972)
Steven Runcimen, A History of the Crusades 2: The Kingdom of Jerusalem, (Cambridge, 1952)
Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades 3: The Kingdom of Acre, (Cambridge, 1954)
Hisham Nashabe (Ed.) Studia Palaestina: Studies in honour of Constantine, (Beirut 1988)
Stubbs (Ed.) Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, (London, 1864)
There is a story about their meeting that was ' immortalized ' in a rather mediocre movie of many years back..
At a tent in the ' desert ' Richard and Saladin share a bite to eat with their respective entourages..

Richard, to show his power takes a knight's helm and places it on a table and then pulls out his sword and with one mighty swing splits the steel helmet in half and buries the sword in the table a few inches..

Saladin smiles, pulls out a silk scarf and tosses it into the air where it floats delicately and slowly to the ground. He takes his scimitar and glides it gently under the scarf as it descends and the scarf, hitting the blade, slices into two pieces as it passes over the sword..

supposed to be all allegorical and point out the differing beliefs and philosophies of the two civilizations..

blunt force raw power versus subtle precision elimination or some such twaddle.. never could find the original ' authentic' account, so I don't know if there was a contemproary or early source for the tale or it was a fiction of the screenwriter...
That's interesting Rocketeer. I had heard of the same account and wanted to use it in my paper but had been unable to track down the source of it. I suspect it is a rather romanticised account but we can be fairly certain that Richard I was a brute of a man. In battle he prided himself of being able to cleave a man from shoulder to groin. brute stregnth indeed.

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