The First Crusade from 1096 to 1099 A.D. was a military expedition initiated by Pope Urban II. with the goal to reconquer the Holy Sepulchre and Jerusalem, the holy city, for Christianity. Despite enormous threats, dangers and logistic problems, the Christian army finally succeeded. The aim of this paper is to analyse and to critically discuss the strengths which enabled the crusaders to succeed in the troublesome recapture of Jerusalem, and the weaknesses of this expedition, which nearly led to the failure of the holy mission.
Without a doubt, one of the most obvious strengths of the crusaders was their faith. They truly felt themselves as tools for the fulfilment of “God´s will1 ” and as “soldiers of Christ2 ”. By wearing the cross, people felt protected and supported by heaven´s power3. Their faith and their hope in the Lord´s support was it, that made them stronger and more resistant than any atheist army of that time could have been. This can be seen in the author of the Gesta citing Acts 9:16, “you must suffer many things for my name”, to stress the crusaders´ willingness to suffer for God´s glory4. Where an atheist army probably would have given up, the Christians endured the immense exertions and were ready to give their lives for the achievement of God ´s mission.
Additionally, this kind of believe in doing the right thing made people from totally different social and cultural backgrounds work together and led to solidarity among each other5. They were united by a common goal, the release of Jerusalem from the heathens.
Further, the crusaders´ faith in the triune God had a huge effect on their morale and also on their behaviour in battle. As they believed to fight in God´s name, they were expecting all kind of support and miracles by God. In the used primary sources, Fulcher of Chartres and the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum nearly always ascribe a military victory or a strange natural phenomenon to God6. This means that the crusaders´ confidence in God´s support grew with every victory. One should not underestimate the power of such kind of thinking. An army like this, believing in supernatural support, would also possess the courage to face an enemy whose army is way superior in number. If it had not been for such wise and sensible men like Bishop Adhémar of Le Puy and the princes, this kind of mentality could also have been a weakness of the movement. Basically, blind faith combined with poor equipment and bad preparation was it, what led to the defeat of the People´s Crusade. However, the First Crusade was completely different. The afore-mentioned courage gained by faith was, sensibly used, a big strength of the Christian army. Where unbelieving armies would have fled, the crusaders often managed to hold the line and to face their enemies in the hope of support by God7.
The most obvious event depicting faith as a big strength of the First Crusade is the siege of Antioch. After eight arduous months of siege, the crusaders finally captured Antioch. Unfortunately, a relief army of the Muslims under Kerboga arrived and laid siege to the crusaders. These were short of food, exhausted after such a long siege and totally demoralized. Anyway, their strong conviction of God´s support was their salvage in this desperate situation. Several visions of a certain priest Stephen8 and the discovery of the Holy Lance by Peter Bartholomew9, although the authenticity of this relic is very doubtful, totally changed the morale of the Christians and triggered off their fighting spirit. The morale of the army was restored, and, like it is written in the Gesta Francorum, “all took it up with great joy and dread (…) [and] there was boundless rejoicing10 ”. Their faith in the help of God definitely made them stronger than an unbelieving army could have been in such a situation.
Another big strength of the First Crusade was the weakness of their enemy. After the impression of the poorly organised, badly-equipped and undisciplined Peasant´s Crusade, the Muslims seemed to underestimate the Christians and did not really recognise the threat11. Both the Gesta Francorum and Fulcher of Chartres´ Chronicle mention Kerboga´s misjudgement at the siege of Antioch. In the latter, he is playing chess while the Franks are squaring off12, and in the Gesta he uses old and useless weapons, maybe remnants of the People´s Crusade, to make fun of the Christians and to encourage his soldiers13. According to the used sources, this was not the only military mistake committed by the Turks14. At the battle of Dorylaeum for example, they nearly crashed the first army of the Crusaders, but they were caught by surprise by the second army coming to help their comrades. In fact, these afore-mentioned military mistakes of the Turks were interpreted by the Christians as indicator of God´s support15. This weaknesses of the enemy coincidently reinforced the morale of the crusading army.
1 According to the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum, “God´s will” (Latin: “Deus vult !”) was the war-cry of the crusaders (I [iii]). In addition, Fulcher of Chartres mentions in the prologue of his Chronicle of the First Crusade that the pilgrimage to Jerusalem took place by “God´s ordination”. This indicates that the crusaders truly believed to act in favour of Christ.
2 Gesta III [ix]. Additionally, Norman Daniel describes in his work The Arabs and Mediaeval Europe the idea of crusaders only being the guardians of God, who would actually act in them and so recover his own land (111).
3 For the 2 functions of the cross please see: Mayer, H.E., The Crusades (Oxford, 1972), 41.
4 Gesta IX [xxviiii].
5 In his work Western Warfare in the age of the Crusades 1000-1300, John France describes this phenomenon, when he mentions that “the growing cohesion of the First Crusade was a vital factor in its success” (70). See additionally: Fulcher of Chartres XIII 5.
6 See for example: ”by God´s will, on that day our enemies were overcome“. Gesta VI [xvii]; “enemies were defeated by the power of God an the Holy Sepulchre”. Gesta VII [xviii]; “(...)with God arranging”. Fulcher of Chartres: Chronicle of the First Crusade, XI 7; “That very night there appeared a fire in the sky, coming from the west, and it (…) fell upon the Turkish army”. Gesta XXV [xxvi].
7 That is what the crusaders do in the battle of Dorylaeum when the first army is nearly crashed. They hold the line and pray to God that he might send the other army quickly.
8 Gesta IX [xxiiii].
9 Fulcher of Chartres XVIII 1; Gesta IX [xxv].
10 Gesta IX [xxviiii].
11 This can also be seen in Kilij Arslan´s acting. He did not seem to expect any threat by the Christians, left Nicea with his main army. After his experience from the People´s Crusade, he did not take the crusaders serious. See for example: Setton, A history of the Crusades (Madison, 1914), 289.
12 Fulcher of Chartres XXII 5.
13 Gesta IX [xxi].
14 “Their [the Turks´) movements were uncoordinated”. Riley-Smith, J., The Oxford illustrated History of the Crusades (Oxford, 2001), 223.
15 According to Fulcher of Chartres, Kerboga lost because God was on the crusaders´ side. Fulcher of Chartres XXIII 4; Please see also: Gesta III [ix].
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- Kreuzzüge; First Crusade Erster Kreuzzug Schwächen Stärken Mittelalter Papst Urban II Gott Glaube Christentum Islam