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7-08-2015, 23:55

The first crusade

By 1095 Alexios had pacified the Balkans, brought peace to the church and restored sound government.He was in a position to contemplate recovering Anatolia from the Turks. He moved troops across the Bosporus and using Nikomedeia as a base created a defensible zone, but it soon became clear that he did not have the resources to effect a reconquest of Anatolia; his preoccupation with Europe had given the Turks the opportunity to settle key parts of Anatolia in depth. Alexios had made the situation still worse at the very beginning of his reign by withdrawing the remaining Byzantine garrisons from Anatolia. Paradoxically, the only area where there was potential support for a Byzantine reconquest was in the Euphrates lands and Cilicia where the Armenians had retained their independence. Alexios needed troops. The Byzantines had long appreciated the martial qualities of the Franks, but had reason to fear their indiscipline and ambition. The main recruiting ground had been among the Normans of southern Italy, but a chance meeting in 1089 opened up a new source of Frankish cavalry. Robert I, count of Flanders, was returning overland from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He made a detour to pay his respects to Alexios I Komnenos, then in winter quarters in Bulgaria. He offered to send Alexios a force of 500 cavalry and sealed the bargain by taking ‘the usual Latin oath’ to the emperor. The count was as good as his word and the Flemish cavalry arrived the next year. They were sent to guard the area of Nikomedeia, but were then evacuated in 1091 in order to take part in the campaign against the Pechenegs which culminated in victory at Lebounion. They were an important addition to Alexios’ forces at a critical moment. However, Alexios required more than a contingent of 500 Flemish cavalry if he was to have any chance of recovering Anatolia. He turned for help to Pope Urban II (1088–99), with whom he had been conducting negotiations over the reunion of the churches. Their outcome was inconclusive, but relations remained cordial. Urban II knew that his mentor Gregory VII (1073–85) had tried and failed to organise a papal expedition, which was to go to the rescue of Constantinople and then press on to Jerusalem. Whether Alexios knew about this too is another matter, but he was well aware of the importance to Latin Christians of Jerusalem. In the spring of 1095 Urban II held a council at Piacenza. Byzantine envoys were present and made a plea for papal aid against the Seljuqs, although the exact terms in which this plea was couched cannot now be recovered. Urban then held a council at Clermont in November 1095, where he made an appeal to the knighthood of France for an expedition to go to the rescue of eastern Christendom. The pope linked this with pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the attendant spiritual rewards.He fixed 15 August 1096 as the day of departure for Constantinople, which was to be the assembly-point. The passage of the crusade was to present Alexios with huge problems. The numbers are not easy to estimate. Modern calculations vary from 30,000 to 70,000 soldiers – over 100,000 if non-combatants are included. The first contingents started to arrive in the early summer of 1096 with Peter theHermit. They were perhaps less of a rabble than Anna Komnena would have us believe. The swiftness of their arrival took Alexios by surprise. He shipped them over to Asia Minor, where many were killed by the Turks. Alexios was better prepared for the crusading armies that followed in the autumn and winter of 1096. These were under the command of western princes, such as the dukes of Normandy and Lower Lorraine, the counts of Toulouse, Blois, Vermandois and Flanders, and worryingly, the Norman Bohemond. Alexios had had time to establish markets along the main routes to Constantinople. As the crusade leaders came one by one to Constantinople he was able to persuade them to take ‘the customary Latin oath’ to him, as the prospective leader of the expedition against the Turks. Raymond de Saint-Gilles, count of Toulouse, was the leader who gave him most trouble, refusing to take any oath to the emperor. Of all the crusade leaders he was the closest to Urban II. The pope had consulted him before making his appeal at Clermont and he was the first of the princes to take the cross.He also took a vow never to return from the east. The papal legate Adhemar of Le Puy was attached to his contingent. Raymond therefore had some claim to be the military leader of the crusade. The emperor had to be content with an alliance, whereby each agreed to respect the life and honour of the other. The first task was to conquerNicaea, nowthe headquarters of an emirate. The Turks preferred to surrender the city to the Byzantines rather than face the fury of the Franks. The fall of Nicaea opened the road leading up to the Anatolian plateau. Alexios had turned down the proposal made by the crusade leaders that he should take personal command of the expedition. But he supplied an important contingent under the command of Tatikios, one of his most trusted commanders. Alexios’ strategy was to encircle the Turks: the crusaders were to force a passage across Anatolia and establish control over Cilicia, the Euphrates lands and northern Syria, where there was still a reasonable basis for the restoration of Byzantine rule. At first all went according to plan and the crusaders won a great victory over the Turks on 1 July 1097 at Dorylaion on the edge of the Anatolian plateau. By the end of the summer they were encamped in Cilicia and had started to blockade Antioch. Alexios followed up the victory by conquering large parts of western and northern Asia Minor and pushing the Turks back to the Anatolian plateau (see below, p. 710). But the period of cooperation was soon over. Ostensibly the stumbling block was control of Antioch, but tensions went much deeper than this. The hardships of the passage across Anatolia followed by those of the siege of Antioch transformed the crusade from a joint venture of Byzantium and the west into an ideology that was fixated on Jerusalem and quickly took on an anti-Byzantine stamp. Such was crusader hostility that the Byzantine commander Tatikios abandoned the siege of Antioch and returned to Byzantium. His withdrawal was taken as an act of betrayal. The crusaders’ distrust of Byzantine intentions was then reinforced by Alexios’ failure to go to their rescue. He had set out and reached Philomelion, a Byzantine outpost on the Anatolian plateau, when he was met by two of the leaders of the crusade who had fled from Antioch in despair. They told the emperor that all was lost. Alexios therefore turned back. This was the sensible thing to do, but in fact all was far from lost. Thanks to Bohemond the lower city was secured at the beginning of June 1098 and on 28 June the crusaders inflicted a crushing defeat on the Seljuq relief force. Bohemond secured possession of the city for himself, while the crusade moved on towards Jerusalem.

 

 

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