The Real Border Crusade, one familys journey

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By reinterpreting the Truce of God as a warrant for Europeans to kill Moslems and not each other, he also sought to embarrass secular leaders for all their intra-European wars which were now presented as "un-Christian," in spite of that fact that the Church had for centuries sanctioned European-upon-European carnage. For centuries to come the increasing claims of the papacy, generally bolstered by forgeries from the papal chancery, would unsettle secular rulers just as much as Orthodox Christians and Western scholars.

A majority of Christian Europeans saw Urban's call-to-arms as a means of salvation and a way of ridding the world of infidels. That, to them, referred not only to the Moslems but also the Jews in Europe, many of whom were slaughtered before the knights of the First Crusade set off in search of the Holy Lands.

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After all, good Christians couldn't send their men off to fight one infidel and abandon the homeland to another. With this early attempt at genocide, the crusaders surged out of Europe, spreading mayhem wherever they went. It was preached by Urban between and He assured his listeners that God himself wanted them to encourage men of all ranks, rich and poor, to go and exterminate Muslims.

He said that Christ commanded it. Even robbers, he said, should now become soldiers of Christ. Assured that God wanted them to participate in a holy war, masses pressed forward to take the crusaders" oath. They looked forward to a guaranteed place in Heaven for themselves and to an assured victory for their divinely endorsed army. The pope did not appoint a secular military supreme commander, only a spiritual one, the Bishop of Le Puy. Initial expeditions were led by two churchmen, Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless.


Peter was a monk from Amiens, whose credentials were a letter written by God and delivered to him by Jesus. He assured his followers that death in the Crusades provided an automatic passport to Heaven. One German contingent in the Rhine valley was granted a further sign from God. He sent them an enchanted goose to follow. It led them to Jewish neighbourhoods of Spier, where they took the divine hint and massacred the inhabitants. These pogroms completed, Peter the Hermit's army marched through Hungary towards Turkey.

They thieved and murdered all the way to Constantinople, by which time only about a third of the initial force remained. The Emperor was astonished.

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He had asked for trained mercenaries, but what arrived was a murderous rabble. To minimise the risks of danger to his own city he allowed the crusaders to proceed. Once across the Bosphorus, they continued as before. They looted property, and robbed, tortured, raped and murdered the mainly Christian inhabitants of the country, reportedly roasting babies on spits.

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Some 6, German crusaders, including bishops and priests, jealous of the French success, tried to emulate it. However, this time an army of Turks arrived and chopped the holy crusaders to pieces. Survivors were given the chance to save their lives by converting to Islam, which some did, including their leader Rainauld, setting a precedent for many future crusaders.

The principal expedition that followed was more organised, although crusaders continued to threaten their Christian allies in Constantinople on the way. He developed a technique for bringing the barbarian Westerners under control by speedily processing batches of them as they arrived. His technique was to induce them to swear fealty to him, then swiftly move them across the Bosphorus before the next batch arrived. On the far side of the water their massed forces were no threat to the city.

Apart from further devastating the countryside they could do little but prepare for their first encounter with their non-Christian enemies. Sieges were laid to a series of Muslim cities. Crusaders had little respect for their enemies and enjoyed catapulting the severed heads of fallen Moslem warriers into besieged cities.

After a victory near Antioch, crusaders brought severed heads back to the besieged city. Hundreds of these heads were shot into the city, and hundreds more impaled on stakes in front of the city walls. A crusader bishop called it a joyful spectacle for the people of God. When Muslims crept out of the city at night to bury their dead the Christians left them alone.

Then in the morning the Christians returned, and dug up the corpses to steal gold and silver ornaments. When the crusaders took Antioch in they slaughtered the inhabitants.

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Later the Christians were in turn besieged by Muslim reinforcements. The crusaders broke out, putting the Muslim army to flight and capturing their women. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres was proud to record that on this occasion nothing evil i. Time and time again Muslims who surrendered were killed or sold into slavery. At Albara the population was totally extirpated, the town then being resettled with Christians, and the mosque converted into a church. Often, the Christians offered to spare those who capitulated, but it was an unwise Muslim who accepted such a promise.

A popular technique was to promise protection to all who took refuge in a particular building within the besieged city. Then after the battle, the Christians had an easy time: the men could be massacred and the women and children sold into slavery without having to carry out searches. Clerics justified this by claiming that Christians were not bound by promises made to infidels, even if sworn in the name of God.

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At Maarat an-Numan the pattern was repeated. The slaughter continued for three days, both Christian and Muslim accounts agreeing on the main points, although each has its own details. The Christian account describes how the Muslims" bodies were dismembered. Some were cut open to find hidden treasure, while others were cut up to eat. The Muslim account mentions that over , were killed. When the crusaders captured Jerusalem on the 14 th July , they massacred the inhabitants, Jews and Muslims alike, men, women and children.

The killing continued all night and into the next day. Jews who took refuge in their synagogue were burned alive. Muslims sought refuge in the al-Aqsa mosque under the protection of a Christian banner. In the morning crusaders forced an entry and massacred them all, 70, according to an Arab historian, including a large number of scholars. The Temple of Solomon was so full of blood that it came up to the horses" bridles. The chronicler Raymond of Aguiliers described it as a just and wonderful judgement of God.

Even before the killing was over the crusaders went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre "rejoicing and weeping for joy" to thank God for his assistance. Muslim prisoners were decapitated, shot with arrows, forced to jump from high towers, or burned. Some were tortured first. Neither was this an isolated incident.

It was wholly typical. When the crusaders took Caesarea in , many citizens fled to the Great Mosque and begged the Christians for mercy. At the end of the butchery the floor was a lake of blood.

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In the whole city only a few girls and infants survived. Soon afterwards, there was a similar massacre at Beirut. Such barbarity shocked the Eastern world and left an impression of the Christian West that has still not been forgotten in the third millennium. By reinforcements were on the way, under the command of the Archbishop of Milan, to support the Frankish crusaders already in the Holy Land.

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Mainly Lombards, the new troops lived up to the record of their French and German predecessors, robbing and killing Christians on the way, and blaming the Byzantine Emperor for the consequences of their own shortcomings. At the first engagement with the enemy they fled in panic leaving their women and children behind to be killed or sold in slave markets. As Sir Steven Runciman, a leading historian of the period says: the Byzantines were "shocked and angered by the stupidity, the ingratitude and the dishonesty of the crusaders".

They also questioned the crusaders" loyalty to their Byzantine allies. The crusaders had purportedly gone to help Byzantium, and had sworn to restore to the Emperor any of his territory that they recaptured, but not a single one ever did so.