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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On the Crusade of the Faint-Hearted

Milan cathedral

Accompanied by my wife I arrived this morning in Milan to begin a two week drive through northern Italy and attend a conference in Venice. It has begun with a sleepless night and an early flight, during the beginning of which I shared about half of my seat with the extremely large gentleman who also occupied the seat next to mine. At present I feel rather crushed and frail, but will nonetheless write something about an event that began in this city, which I last visited, also accompanied by my wife, exactly four decades ago, on the occasion of our honeymoon.

A crusade began here in September 1100, one that is usually regarded as quite a minor part of crusading history, but in fact had major consequences. In September 1100, a large group of untrained Lombardian peasants set out from Milan on a belated crusade to the Holy Land. Some of them were late-starters, others had participated in the First Crusade two years earlier, but had returned home when things got rough. One of the latter was the hapless Stephen of Blois. This crusade has sometimes been referred to as the Crusade of the Faint-Hearted, and certainly that name stems from the participation of the likes of Stephen, whose wife Adela had been so ashamed by his cowardice on abandoning the crusade during the siege of Antioch in 1098, that she had not let him back home. One wonders how much of his renewed effort was carried out in genuine crusading spirit and how much in order to get back into his wife's good books.

The crusaders of 1100 followed in the footsteps of the peasants' Crusade of 1096 in being more active in its early stages in pillaging than crusading, and as with those earlier crusaders, the Byzantine emperor Alexios was no overly pleased with their arrival at Constantinople. He was quick to ferry them across the Bosporus, though not quick enough it would seem, as they managed to pillaged the Blachernae palace and kill the emperor's pet lion. At Nicomedia, in May 1101 they were joined by other crusaders from France and Germany, and by one of the leaders of the First crusade, Raymond IV of Toulouse. They had some successes against the Seljuq Turks, but at Mersivan (Merzifun) the Seljuq leader, Kilij Arslan, together with Ridwan of Aleppo and other Danishmend princes, defeated them in a battle that took place over several days. Reinforcements arrived but also suffered defeats, and the whole affair was one huge fiasco. Although Tortosa (Tartous) was later taken by the crusaders, the crusade ended up as little more than a pilgrimage, its survivors straggling into Antioch in late 1101, and Jerusalem the following Easter.

This rather pathetic crusade was not considered to be important enough to deserve a number of its own and is sometimes merely regarded as a later phase or follow-up of the First Crusade. However, it was in fact to have a much greater impact on the Latin East, and in turn on the West, than many of the other and better-known crusades. Kilij Arslan was able, thanks to his successes, to establish his capital at Konya on the south-western edge of the Central Anatolian Plateau, and to cut off the overland route that the First Crusade had carved through Asia Minor. That left the newly established kingdom of Jerusalem and the other crusader states entirely dependent on the sea routes, and that in turn created the need to occupy the coastal cities, necessitated the participation of the Italian fleets and created the theatre in which Italian-led commerce would have a profound effect on the late medieval development of Europe.

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