Traveling during the First Crusade

The notion of trip, as we understand it today, the movement of a person to a distant region is an original phenomenon in the Middle Ages. By this we mean those who take the via, the land route to move from one place to another. We prefer to speak of a peregrini, of a `` pilgrim '' to qualify the one who takes part in the Crusade, or Hierosolymitani, the usual name given to those who go to Jerusalem. The direct actors of this expedition call themselves thus, the term crusade does not yet exist (1).

In the 11th century, population movements were generally only the object of short-distance journeys: the neighboring village, a market, a fair, rarely further away. The lords and the knights themselves do not undertake long journeys when they go to war, the military service that a vassal owes to his lord does not exceed forty days a year. The Crusade therefore goes to the antipodes of the customs of the feudal society of the time. It requires a long journey, a peregrinatio, where soldiers, clergymen and non-combatant pilgrims, most of them from poor and peasant backgrounds, must rub shoulders.

Religious or secular army? Although the Crusaders are in the service of God, hence their name Miles Christi, no supreme leader commands the army. Pope Urban II, religious leader, preaches the Crusade while remaining in the West. The Byzantine emperor Alexis Comnenus refuses to ensure the conduct of the Crusade despite his appointment having been proposed several times by the leaders leading the expedition. The real "leaders" of this operation are jointly men of the Church and members of the nobility, those historiographers call "bedside tables (2)".

The Crusade: an international enterprise

Strictly speaking, there are two types of armies, that of the so-called “poor” on the one hand, and that commonly called “of the Barons” on the other. The former are not regular armies but are made up of crowds which in their great majority are non-combatants, galvanized by the exhortations of the disseminator, the popular preachers, illustrated by the figure of Peter the hermit. The armies, which we call “baronial” are led by lay lords, landowners, and made up in a larger proportion of combatant elements.

The main areas of recruitment of the first crusaders are in France, in the south of Italy and in the south-west of the Holy Empire. The Pope personally preached between 1095-1096 in the south and west of France, where the participation of the nobles and their vassals was the most important. Popular preachers were more successful in the east, in the regions of Swabia and Franconia. The pope's speech in Clermont, as reported by William of Tire, suggests that the pontiff wanted a massive participation "of all Christians". Foucher de Chartres, who participated in the Council reports that “three hundred and ten bishops or abbots” are present (3). These men and women from different countries will then preach at home. The speed at which the plan of the crusade is spreading in the West is apparently very slow, and the participation of the people far exceeds that hoped for by the Pope. For Robert le Moine, this message is known to the whole earth: "everywhere it was known that the pilgrimage to Jerusalem had been decided in this council" (4).

Donation and mutual aid: the material conditions of departure.

Going on a crusade cannot be done without having first gathered the necessary resources for the trip. Expenses for food, mounts and equipment are heavy; many give up everything they own. The appeal launched by the Church demands a real sacrifice, even if the Pope has promised that “the goods of those who leave would remain in the care of the Holy Church; and those who would harm him would be excommunicated ”(5).

In order to help the most deprived, the nobility takes care of part of their needs. Thus, Raymond de Saint Gilles, the richest of the Crusader princes, considers himself bound to support the pilgrims and devotes considerable sums to them. Guillaume de Tyr describes how the feudal relationship evolves according to the originality of the company: the poor decide to give their allegiances to such and such a baron in exchange for "his help and protection on the way" (6). The neediest also find help from the Church. These donations are necessary for the survival of the armies. During the skirmish between the Bulgarians and the troops of Peter the Hermit near the city of Nish (north-west of the city of Sofia), the latter lost a tank, loaded with the money that had been given to them. in France to help the poorest in the army.

Those who leave have no idea how long it takes to complete this pilgrimage, nor how far away they are from Jerusalem. In a letter written by Etienne de Blois, during the siege of Nicaea in May 1097 to his wife Adele of England, the latter wrote that it would take the army "about five weeks to get to Jerusalem (7)" . It takes more than two years to complete this journey. Foucher de Chartres stages the departure of a "husband announcing to his wife the precise time of his return, assuring her that if he lived, he would see her country and her again after three years (8)".

The motivations of the crusaders

The Crusader Army is made up of volunteers. The reasons for leaving are various. In the first place, the vow of a crusade can be part of the classical logic which advocates pilgrimage as an expiation for faults. According to the historian Laurauson-Rosaz, all the lords of the south who took the cross had more or less something to be ashamed of (9) ”. As the historian Jaques Heers rightly said, "it would be too schematic if to show the princes pursuing a common goal, to take the cross did not imply to submit in the same way to the vow of pilgrimage or to forget everything. political consideration and dreams of conquest (10) ”. Princes like Bohemond of Tarente and Baudouin du Bourg decide to take the cross because their homeland offers them no future, while they can carve out kingdoms in the East. When they leave, they take their wives and children with them, proof that they do not intend to return.

For knights, the crusade can come across as a blessing. In the West, the movements of Peace and Truce of God, instituted by the popes impose "to work to make peace in wars and to impose long truces" on the warrior nobility. The crusade is a way to use this violence for a just cause: to defend Christians and their heritage. Michel Balard explained how the territorial fragmentation, associated with a phenomenon of overpopulation has led to the impoverishment of individuals, in particular among the landlords: “The Franks live in a small and poor territory between sea and mountain which can barely feed its inhabitants (11 ) ”. He sees in particular the cause of the internal wars which made the nobles tear each other apart, and one of the factors which led to the massive departure of the petty nobility to the crusade between 1095 and 1096. At a time when violence tended to become obsolete , the crusade gives the opportunity to a declining social category, chivalry, to be useful, therefore to exist.

Urban II appealed to members of the clergy to regain legitimacy on the international political scene. They are in charge of guaranteeing the protection of the goods and lands of the men gone to the crusade, by making them inviolable: "those which would do damage there would be excommunicated". It is also the bishops and archbishops who have the right to choose those who are fit or not to leave. Robert le Moine, present at the Council of Clermont, informs us more precisely about the status of these religious, saying that "it is not allowed either for priests or clerics, whatever their order, to leave without it. leave of their bishop, because if they went there without this leave, the trip would be useless to them (12) ”. As for fighting, the Pope clearly defined at the Council of Clermont that a man of the Church does not have the right to bear arms. The prelates are there to accompany the laity and ensure the pilgrimage of a spiritual character. On the battlefield, priests play a role of assistance and comfort.

The small clergy, made up of monks and priests, allows the Crusaders to keep a strong link with their spirituality. Very numerous, they provide services equivalent to those they usually provide: they say mass, confess, pray and sermon (13). The prospect of being appointed to higher ecclesiastical positions may also be an explanatory factor for such massive participation of lower clergy. "A cleric who came on pilgrimage with Duke Godefroy who was from the same country" is ordained by the latter archbishop of the city of Caesarea (14). The examples of Pierre Barthélémy (15), who after having found the Holy Spear in Antioch becomes one of the most listened to men in the army, and that of Peter the Hermit, who is "after the Lord God, the one in whom they (the people) were grateful for having so energetically undertaken to deliver them (16) ”are also examples of the power that certain religious were able to acquire during the crusade.

A land company

For logistical reasons, it is preferable that the different army corps evolve separately. The first regrouping must take place in front of the city of Nicaea, located opposite Constantinople, which happens in the spring of 1097 (17). The first army, commanded by Gautier-Sans-Avoir, a French knight, arrived there on August 1, 1096 and the last, led by Robert, Duke of Normandy with the lords of northern France, did not enter Constantinople until May 14. 1097 (18).

There are three main roads used to get to Constantinople. The first, which starts from the north of France or the Holy Roman Empire, depending on where the different armies are gathered, crosses Germany and Hungary. The southern route passes through Lombardy, Veneto and the Balkans and reaches Constantinople by crossing the Byzantine Empire via the Via Egnatia, the ancient Roman road. The last possible route, adopted by the other chiefs who take the southern route, is that which crosses the Adriatic to reach Albania. For this, the ports of Bari and Brindisi allow in four days (19) to arrive in Duras (Durazzo), and especially to avoid the long and dangerous road through Dalmatia, that retained by Raymond of Saint Gilles. The journey from this city to Constantinople still requires a month's walk.

The siege of the city of Nicaea began on May 14, 1097, only nine months after the Pope's sermon in Clermont. The Crusade has then completed more than two-thirds of the road it must finally cover before reaching Jerusalem. The second part of the journey requires a travel time twice as long, since the holy city is not taken until July 1099. The journey undertaken by the crusaders, of which August 15, 1096 is recognized as the official departure date - even If we must take into account that at that time the popular crusades were already underway for several months - finally takes three years to achieve its goal. Of the tens of thousands of men who undertake it (20), there are only "a few thousand" at the siege of Jerusalem, including the reinforcements arrived by sea throughout the campaign.

Difficulties and hazards of the road

In the 11th century, as throughout the Middle Ages, traveling on foot remained the most convenient way of getting around. The journey takes place in stages, the speed at which one goes from one to the other can vary according to the terrain, the state of the roads, the season, the physical condition and the morale of the army. Jean Verdon, in his statistics, admits depending on these variations that an army can cover between ten and thirty kilometers in the mountains uphill, from thirty to forty on the descent. In the plains, this ranges from ten to sixty kilometers per day - this maximum figure should only apply to an equestrian troop. (21) If we calculate the number of kilometers covered by the Crusaders compared to the number of days walking, we see that they cover between thirty and thirty-five kilometers per day.

Favoring the land route as part of a journey comes up against a whole series of pitfalls. The first natural difficulty is linked to the liquid element which implies having recourse to navigation if there is no bridge or ford to cross. The fear of water was very widespread in the 11th century. Godefroy de Bouillon prefers to take the road which crosses central Europe because it does not oblige, like the one which cuts to the south by Italy, "to go by sea (22)". Raymond de Saint-Gilles also prefers to avoid having to go to sea and takes the road which crosses Dalmatia from Lombardy via the Balkans, despite a very advanced winter. It took him forty days to complete this stage, while four or five were enough to cross the Adriatic, which testified to his skepticism at the idea of ​​taking his army across the sea.

The other problems encountered by the Crusaders are the mountain stages and the passages of passes. The paths, unmarked, steep, where the roads are often rutted, flooded and muddy as soon as it starts to rain, are all the more difficult to cross for the Crusader soldiers who are heavily equipped. The climate becomes extremely trying in the countries crossed, in particular when the army engages on the road of the Anatolian plateau (23). William of Tire writes: “People on foot were exhausted and all fell, fat women, through the anguish of heat and the suffering of thirst, gave birth to their children on the road. During the day, at the height of misery, there were well five hundred dead, both men and women ”(24).

What also surprises Westerners is the harshness of Eastern winters; A letter from Etienne de Blois to his wife Adèle expresses his astonishment at the harshness of the Syrian winter: “They say that, in all the extent of Syria, one can hardly bear the heat of the sun. This is false, because their winter is similar to our winters in the West (25) ”.

Guides and support from local populations

The inclination to the choice of routes rests with the leaders of the expedition. The latter have never set foot in these regions and logically attach themselves to the services of guides for all pilgrimages. It should be noted that the city of Constantinople itself is not so easy to find without outside help: thus Peter the Hermit sees himself "yawning by the Emperor a good guide, bonets û r, until" they arrive in Constantinople (26) ”. The Byzantines are essential allies to ensure the Crusade a crossing of their empire in its part o c c i d e n t a l e, also through the territories of the Near East which were until recently under their jurisdiction. The Armenian kingdoms of Syria and Anatolia, the country the Seljuks call “de Roum” includes all the regions between the Sea of ​​Marmara in the north, the Taurus Mountains in the south and the Euphrates in the east. This space is a former imperial province where the Byzantines are still operating militarily a few decades before the start of the Crusade.

From the moment the Greeks left the Crusaders, they could only count on the support of the local populations, mainly Christians as far as Palestine. The latter have every interest, beyond their religious affiliation, to ally themselves with the Crusaders who are the only military force able to resist the Turks. During an ambush set out by Turkish elements on the road to Rohez, it is the Armenian governor of a castle who saves the Normans by welcoming him in his stronghold.

Many guides present themselves to the army to offer their services. These can also be sent by city governors, sometimes even Muslims (27), who wish to see the Crusaders move away from their lands as quickly as possible: “Syrians arrived at the army. The great men called them and implored them to teach them the most direct route. They advised them the route along the sea for many reasons. The Syrians went ahead to lead them, the bailiff of Tripoli (an Arab Muslim) gave them some of his people (28) ”. At the siege of Jerusalem, a local teaches them about the existence of a valley where they can find trees large enough to build war machines, when "it seemed impossible to them to find the trees they had around. need ”. At the same siege, it is once again "natives, inhabitants of Bethlehem" who show where to find streams, wells and cisterns, at the very moment when Christians are suffering from a famine.

An army to feed: a multifaceted supply

The main difficulty with which the Crusaders are confronted daily is the supply of the troops, strong of several tens of thousands of men. If the soldiers know the means to get supplies in foreign territory, in particular by raiding the countryside, the non-combatants, the simple pilgrims owe their subsistence to the donations of the populations, to the army and especially to the disposal of the lay leaders of the expedition that take it upon themselves to feed them. In a letter to his wife Adèle, Etienne de Blois wrote how without the help of the barons “and his own purse”, many poor people would have died of hunger and misery (29). Despite the rivalries between the different barons, the charity they show remained a permanent element, and a fundamental factor in the success of the First Crusade.

The second way to get supplies is to buy food from merchants and local people. The advantage of this practice is to be able to establish commercial links between the Crusaders and the indigenous populations. Throughout the journey, the Crusaders can count on the presence of merchants who supply the army, even when it is under siege. The capture of coastal towns, particularly deep-water ports, was a sure way for the Crusaders to keep reliable lines of communication, allowing merchants to always carry supplies. The choice of the coastal road after the capture of Antioch to Jerusalem goes in this direction.

Finally, the armies can make the decision to seize, by looting and raiding, the resources of the villages and the countryside when they no longer have the possibility of obtaining supplies from the merchants, or when they are in enemy territory. It is also a means of pressure for the Crusaders in the diplomatic midfield. When they find themselves in front of Beirut, they threaten to destroy the orchards if the city's bailiff does not provide them with the supplies they ask for.

In enemy territory, raiding is the only way to meet the needs of the army. During the sieges of cities, these expeditions became the main occupation of the troops (30) who exploited an area of ​​several tens of kilometers around the besieged cities. These companies are dangerous and many crusaders are killed or captured while carrying out raids to the point that in Antioch, they find themselves practically locked in their own camp (31).

Crusaders do not seem to be masters of the art of logistics. On several occasions, it is question of the “waste” which they make of their food. When they arrived in Antioch, they destroyed fruit trees, in particular apple and fig trees, "in great quantity" to set up their tents there (32). Many towns, like Alexandretta (Iskenderun, in Syria) that the Crusaders razed to the ground, were taken only in the hope of finding supplies, and not for a strategic purpose.

There is never any question of a long period of abundance within the Crusader army. Food shortages, whether due to the negligence of the Crusaders or as a result of climatic hazards are regular, and the leaders never manage to prevent them, nor to manage them effectively. Guillaume de Tire offers an idea of ​​the costs that foodstuffs can then reach: “A man made his meal with two cents of bread. A cow cost three marks of silver, whereas it was initially for five sous. A lamb or a little kid, which we had previously for three or four deniers, cost six sous. Horse meat was sold for eight sous. Thus the price of a cow had fallen from five to thirty sous; and that of a lamb from four to seventy-two denarii ”. (33) The enormity of these figures corroborates with those of the Anonymous who values ​​a donkey at one hundred and twenty sous in deniers (34).

Despite all these difficulties, the Crusaders made a journey of several thousand kilometers through hostile lands, without knowing the climate they were going to suffer, the terrain they had to cross and without having previously received the guarantee of having effective support on their rear bases. From this point of view, we can say that the success of the First Crusade is the fruit of a formidable improvisation whose objective of the trip is achieved after three years of efforts.

1 The term crusade, cruciata in Latin, does not appear until around 1250.
2 Old form to say “captain”, term designating a commanding authority.
3 Foucher de Chartres, History of the Crusade, the account of a witness of the first Crusade. 1095-1106., I, p.14.
4 Robert le Moine, I, 3, p.730.
5 William of Tire, 1, XIV -‐ XV, p.28. 6 William of Tire., 1, XVI, p.29.
7 Baudry de Dol, Historia Jerosolimitana, 1, I, 8; Manuscript from the Bilbiothèque Nationale de France, Arsenal, lat. 1101.
8 Foucher de Chartres, History of the Crusade, Cahord, 2002, II, p.17.
9 Lauranson -‐ Rosaz, C., “Le Velay et la croisade”, in the Council of Clermont of 1095 and the Crusade, (Proceedings of the International University Colloquium of Clermont -‐ Ferrand (23-‐25 June 1095), Rome, 1997, p.51.
10 Jaques Heers, The First Crusade, p.112.11 Michel Balard, "La preparazione economica della crociata", in Il Concilio di Piacenza e le cruciate, Piacenza, 1996, p.193-‐194.
12 Robert le Moine, 1, II.
13 Jacques Heers, La Première Croisade, p.107-‐112, on the role of priests during the crusade.
14 William of Tire, 10, XV, p.345.
15 If most chroniclers give little confidence to the authenticity of this spear, all agree in saying that from this episode, he is a preacher listened to, and that until he died a few months later, during an ordeal.
16 William of Tire, 8, XXIII, p.287.
17 The second book of the chronicle is the account of the journey of the “baronial” armies, from their point of departure to Constantinople.
18 Hegenmeyer, Chronology of the First Crusade, August 1096 -‐ May 1097.
19 Robert from Normandy embarked on April 5 arrives on 9.
20 We give as a probable estimate the figure of 60,000 "crusaders" who passed through Constantinople between 1096 and 1097.
21 Jean Verdon, Voyager au Moyen Age, p.17.
22 William of Tire, 2, II, p.53.
23 The track passes through arid land between mountains and desert.
24 William of Tire, 3, XVII, p104.
25 Comte Riant in "Inventory of historical letters of the crusades", (1881), p.169.
26 William of Tire, 1, XVIII, p.33.
27 The chronicles do not mention a Muslim guide in Seljuk territory, but the small Arab principalities in Lebanon and Palestine largely contribute to the advance of the Crusader troops as far as Jerusalem.
28 William of Tire, 7, XXI, p.246.
29 Translation taken from J.F.A. Peyré, History of the First Crusade, Aug. Durand, Paris 1859, vol. 2, pp. 475-‐479.
30 Several chroniclers speak of four hundred men while the Anonymous advances expeditions of up to twenty thousand men, knights and pedestrians. It is probable that the first figure put forward are those of customary expeditions, whereas The Anonymous cites an extraordinary operation there.
31 William of Tire said “that they no longer dared to go and pillage” 4, XVI, p.139.
32 William of Tire., 4, XIII, p.135.
33 One pound = two marks = twenty cents = two hundred and forty deniers.
34 Anonymous History of the First Crusade, p.77.



- KONSTAM Angus, Historical Atlas of the Crusades, France, Seine, 2009, 192 pages.

- RILEY-SMITH Jonathan, translated from English by Camille CANTONI, Atlas des Croisades,
Otherwise, Paris, 1996 (1990).


- CHARTRES Foucher de, Histoire de la Croisade, the account of a witness of the first Crusade. 1095-1106, presented and adapted and annotated by M. GUIZOT, Paris, 1825. Modern transcription by Jeanne MENARD, Cahors, 2002.

- DOL Baudry de, Historia Jerosolimitana, Manuscript of the Bilbiothèque Nationale de France, Arsenal, lat. 1101.

- EKKEHARD, Speech and sermon by Pope Urbain II in Clermont on November 27, 1095 for the Crusade, in, Hierosolymitana, Rec. of Hist. of cr. Hist. occ. V.

- LE MOINE Robert, History of the First Crusade, J.-L.-J, Brière, Paris, 1824; trad. Duc de Castries, The conquest of the holy land by the crusaders, Paris, Albin Michel, 1973, p.

- TYR Guillaume de, Chronicle of the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem from 1095 to 1184, book 1, translated by Geneviève and René Métais, 1999.


- BALLARD Michel, "La preparazione economica della crociata", in Il Concilio di Piacenza e le cruciate, Piacenza, 1996, p.193-194.

- HEERS Jacques, La Première Croisade, liberating Jerusalem 1095-1107, Tempus, Paris, 2002 (1995).

- HEGENMEYER Heinrich, Chronology of the First Crusade 1094-1100, Georg Olms, Germany, 1973.

- Lauranson-Rosaz, C., “Le Velay et la croisade”, in the Council of Clermont of 1095 and the Crusade, (Proceedings of the International University Colloquium of Clermont-Ferrand (23-25 ​​June 1095), Rome, 1997, p .51.

- PEYRE J-F-A, History of the First Crusade, Aug. Durand, Paris, 1859, vol.2, p.475-479.

- RIANT Paul Edouard Didier (count), Inventory of historical letters of the Crusades, Nabu Press, 2010.

- VERDON Jean, Voyager au Moyen Age, Perrin, Paris, 2007, (1998).

Video: First Crusade Part 1 of 2 (January 2022).