The First Hurrah eText - Primary Source

Primary Source

The conquest of Antioch by the Crusaders, as described by Anna Comnena in The Alexiad. Archivo Iconografico, S.A./Corbis. Reproduced by permission. The conquest of Antioch by the Crusaders, as described by Anna Comnena in Published by Gale Cengage © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./Corbis. Reproduced by permission
Crusaders using a catapult to siege the city of Antioch during the First Crusade as described by Stephen, the count of Blois. Leonard de Selva/Corbis. Reproduced by permission. Crusaders using a catapult to siege the city of Antioch during the First Crusade as described by Stephen, the count of Blois. Published by Gale Cengage © Leonard de Selva/Corbis. Reproduced by permission

Excerpt "Stephen, Count of Blois and Chartres, To His Wife Adele" (1098)
Originally written by Stephen of Blois; Reprinted in "Letters of the Crusades," from Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History; Edited by Dana Munro; Published in 1896

Excerpt from The Alexiad (c. 1148)
Originally written by Anna Comnena; Translated by Elizabeth A. Dawes; Published in 1928

The Council of Clermont was called by Pope Urban II in November of 1095. Various pieces of church business were dealt with over the several days of the conference, but on the final day the pope called for a holy war to overthrow the Muslims from power in the Holy Land and return it to Christian domination. Urban II played up the desperate situation of the Byzantine Empire and also the supposed mistreatment of Christians at the hands of Muslims in the region. His words were met with excited approval, and as a result, the First Crusade was officially launched. It would take more than half a year, however, to organize the mission. Western leaders slowly began gathering their soldiers while the wandering preacher Peter the Hermit roused the people of Europe with his fiery speeches and sermons. The people he thus inflamed with the Crusader cause grew impatient. They did not want to wait for the nobility to collect their armies; instead, they formed what became known as the "People's Crusade," an army of poor farmers and laborers who set out—men, women, and children—in the spring of 1096 for Constantinople, where the Crusade was to begin. Led by Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, these followers were poorly equipped and attempted to live off the land as they crossed Europe and headed southwest for Constantinople. In Hungary and Bulgaria they caused great unrest, and thousands among these unlikely Crusaders and the local populations died in disputes over food and property.

The Byzantines were shocked when this mob arrived. They had been expecting an elite corps of soldiers to help them battle the Seljuk Turks, and now they were stuck with this undisciplined crowd. The Byzantine emperor was happy to ferry them across the narrow straits and into Asia Minor, where they were promptly destroyed by the Turks in August 1096. At about this same time, the real Crusader armies began arriving in Constantinople. These Crusaders included Godfrey of Bouillon, who later became the unofficial leader; Raymond of Toulouse, the oldest and best-known of the nobles; Robert of Flanders; Stephen of Blois; and Bohemund of Sicily, who arrived only in April 1097. No kings took part in the First Crusade, and most of the armies were led by French-speaking knights. For this reason, the soldiers quickly became known to the Byzantines and the Muslims as Franks.

Again the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, was surprised by the force sent to help him. These knights seemed to have their own plans. Although he attempted to have them pledge their loyalty to him, it quickly became clear that the Crusaders were not simply on a goodwill mission. Relations were never very good between the Byzantines and the Crusaders. The first major battle of the Crusade, at the city of Nicaea, close to Constantinople, made it apparent to both sides that they could not trust each other. As the Crusaders were busy attacking the gates, Alexius I plotted behind the scenes to work out a handover of the city from the Turks. By the time the Crusaders entered, the Byzantine flag was already flying over the city.

The victory at Dorylaeum on July 1, 1097, proved to be more of a cooperative effort, however. The Turks attacked the advancing Crusader army, but the Christians held their ground and were aided by the Byzantines, driving the Muslims off. The Crusader army pushed on across Anatolia and south to the great city of Antioch, arriving on October 20, 1097. There they found a well-fortified city that would not be easily captured. The Crusaders gathered their forces for a long and difficult siege. A letter from Stephen of Blois to his wife and excerpts from Anna Comnena's The Alexiad provide different viewpoints of this first major conflict of the First Crusade. Stephen of Blois was one of the nobles who participated in the siege of Antioch, and his description of events to his wife adds a more personal glimpse into the costs of war. Anna Comnena, daughter of the Byzantine emperor, wrote the biographical account of her father's deeds late in life, relying on memory and court records.

Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts on the taking of Antioch:

  • The Crusader army that gathered at Constantinople numbered about four thousand mounted (horse-riding) knights and at least twenty-five thousand foot soldiers. Simply feeding such an army was a difficult task.
  • Antioch was the third great city of the old Roman Empire. At the time of the First Crusade, it was strongly fortified with more than four hundred towers built along its huge walls.
  • The siege of Antioch lasted seven and a half months, from October 20, 1097, to June 3, 1098. Then the Crusaders themselves, having taken the city, were put under siege for another three weeks by a Muslim army.

Excerpt: "Stephen, Count of Blois and Chartres, To His Wife Adele"

Count Stephen to Adele, his sweetest and most amiable wife, to his dear children, and to all his vassals of all ranks—his greeting and blessing.

You may be very sure, dearest, that the messenger whom I sent to give you pleasure, left me before Antioch safe and unharmed and through God's grace in the greatest prosperity. And already at that time, together with all the chosen army of Christ, endowed with great valor by Him, we had been continuously advancing for twenty-three weeks toward the home of our Lord Jesus. You may know for certain, my beloved, that of gold, silver and many other kind of riches I now have twice as much as your love had assigned to me when I left you. For all our princes, with the common consent of the whole army, against my own wishes, have made me up to the present time the leader, chief and director of their whole expedition.

You have certainly heard that after the capture of the city of Nicaea we fought a great battle with the perfidious Turks and by God's aid conquered them. Next we conquered for the Lord all Romania and afterwards Cappadocia. And we learned that there was a certain Turkish prince Assam, dwelling in Cappadocia; thither we directed our course. All his castles we conquered by force and compelled him to flee to a certain very strong castle situated on a high rock. We also gave the land of that Assam to one of our chiefs and in order that he might conquer the above-mentioned Assam, we left there with him many soldiers of Christ. Thence, continually following the wicked Turks, we drove them through the midst of Armenia, as far as the great river Euphrates. Having left all their baggage and beasts of burden on the bank, they fled across the river into Arabia.

The bolder of the Turkish soldiers, indeed, entering Syria, hastened by forced marches night and day, in order to be able to enter the royal city of Antioch before our approach. The whole army of God learning this gave due praise and thanks to the omnipotent Lord. Hastening with great joy to the aforesaid chief city of Antioch, we besieged it and very often had many conflicts there with the Turks; and seven times with the citizens of Antioch and with the innumerable troops coming to its aid, whom we rushed to meet, we

Anna Comnena who wrote The Alexiad, the biographical account of her father, Byzantine emperor Alexius I. Photograph courtesy of The Library of Congress. Anna Comnena who wrote Published by Gale Cengage Photograph courtesy of The Library of Congress
fought with the fiercest courage, under the leadership of Christ. And in all these seven battles, by the aid of the Lord God, we conquered and most assuredly killed an innumerable host of them. In those battles, indeed, and in very many attacks made upon the city, many of our brethren and followers were killed and their souls were borne to the joys of paradise.

We found the city of Antioch very extensive, fortified with incredible strength and almost impregnable. In addition, more than 5,000 bold Turkish soldiers had entered the city, not counting the Saracens, Publicans, Arabs, Turcopolitans, Syrians, Armenians and other different races of whom an infinite multitude had gathered together there. In fighting against these enemies of God and of our own we have, by God's grace, endured many sufferings and innumerable evils up to the present time. Many also have already exhausted all their resources in this very holy passion. Very many of our Franks, indeed, would have met a temporal death from starvation, if the clemency of God and our money had not succoured them. Before the above-mentioned city of Antioch indeed, throughout the whole winter we suffered for our Lord Christ from excessive cold and enormous torrents of rain. What some say about the impossibility of bearing the heat of the sun throughout Syria is untrue, for the winter there is very similar to our winter in the West.

When truly Caspian [Bagi Seian], the emir of Antioch—that is, prince and lord—perceived that he was hard pressed by us, he sent his son Sensodolo [Chems Eddaulab] by name, to the prince who holds Jerusalem, and to the prince of Calep, Rodoarn [Rodoanus], and to Docap [Deccacus Ibn Toutousch], prince of Damascus. He also sent into Arabia to Bolianuth and to Carathania to Hamelnuth. These five emirs with 12,000 picked Turkish horsemen suddenly came to aid the inhabitants of Antioch. We, indeed, ignorant of all this, had sent many of our soldiers away to the cities and fortresses. For there are one hundred and sixty-five cities and fortresses throughout Syria which are in our power. But a little before they reached the city, we attacked them at three leagues' distance with 700 soldiers, on a certain plain near the "Iron Bridge." God, however, fought for us, His faithful, against them. For on that day, fighting in the strength that God gives, we conquered them and killed an innumerable multitude—God continually fighting for us—and we also carried back to the army more than two hundred of their heads, in order that the people might rejoice on that account. The emperor of Babylon also sent Saracen messengers to our army with letters, and through these he established peace and concord with us.

I love to tell you, dearest, what happened to us during Lent. Our princes had caused a fortress to be built which was between our camp and the sea. For the Turks daily issuing from this gate killed some of our men on their way to the sea. The city of Antioch is about five leagues' distance from the sea. For this reason they sent the excellent Bohemond and Raymond, count of St. Gilles, to the sea with only sixty horsemen, in order that they might bring mariners to aid in this work. When, however, they were returning to us with those

mariners, the Turks collected an army, fell suddenly upon our two leaders and forced them to a perilous flight. In that unexpected flight we lost more than 500 of our foot soldiers to the glory of God. Of our horsemen, however, we lost only two, for certain.

Excerpt from The Alexiad

What happened next…

The siege of Antioch was an up-and-down battle for the Crusaders. The Christians surrounded the fortified city all winter long, surviving cold and hunger. By January some of the Christians were already running away; among them was the Byzantine general Taticius,

mentioned in Anna Comnena's account. With the spring came a new threat to the Crusaders, a Turkish army coming to help the people of Antioch. At this point, Stephen of Blois also decided to leave the battlefield. Meeting the Byzantine emperor on his way, Stephen told Alexius I of the desperate situation at Antioch, and the emperor turned back to Constantinople.

However, at Antioch matters improved for the Crusaders. A Muslim force coming to the aid of the city was met and defeated by the Franks and finally, on June 3, 1098, they took the city, killing all Muslim occupants. Then the Crusaders found themselves under siege when another Islamic force, under the Muslim leader Karbugah, attacked the city. Inspired by the discovery of what was supposed to be the lance that pierced the side of Jesus Christ as he died on the cross, the Crusaders rushed out of their fortified city on June 28 and defeated this Muslim army.

The ultimate goal of the First Crusade, liberating Jerusalem from Muslim control, was attained more than a year later when, on July 15, 1099, the western forces took that city and slaughtered all the Muslim inhabitants, including women and children. Jews also were included in the general massacre. After this victory, the Crusaders established the Latin Kingdom, a group of states set up in a narrow corridor along the Mediterranean Sea from Jerusalem to Antioch. Godfrey of Bouillon refused the title of king and, instead, became Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, or Christ's tomb. Those who followed him were less humble and became kings of Jerusalem. The Christians came into control of the Holy Land once again as a result of the First Crusade. However, this resulted in bad feelings between the Europeans and the Byzantine Empire. The Crusaders felt that the emperor had let them down, and the emperor for his part felt that the Crusaders had not kept their promise of loyalty to him. Instead of helping him get rid of the Turks, the Crusaders had created another power base with their Latin Kingdom, in direct competition with the Byzantine Empire. And Stephen of Blois, by the time he reached home, was met with general disapproval for deserting the battle. As the historian Hans Eberhard Mayer noted in The Crusades, Stephen's "wife's welcome home was anything but friendly."

Did you know…

  • One of the four Crusader states created in the Middle East was Edessa, a Christian city occupied by the Turks. Baldwin, Godfrey of Bouillon's brother, freed that city even as the Crusaders were pushing on to Antioch. The County of Edessa became the first of the Crusader kingdoms to be established and Baldwin its first ruler.
  • So many thousands were slaughtered by the Christian soldiers in Jerusalem that blood flowed ankle deep in the streets.
  • News traveled slowly at the time of the Crusades. Pope Urban II, who had called for the First Crusade, died on July 29, 1099, before word arrived of the Crusaders' success. He never knew what events his words had inspired.
  • Soon after the fall of Jerusalem, many of the knights and common soldiers in the Crusader army returned to Europe. The number left to protect the Holy Land shrank to only thousands. But those who stayed behind built well-fortified castles, and three religious orders of knights were formed as elite fighting forces: the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Templar, and the Teutonic Knights. With these soldiers, the Europeans were able to hold on in the Holy Land for two centuries.

Consider the following…

  • Explain some of the primary causes of the First Crusade (from the Western point of view).
  • The Crusaders went to the Holy Land for a variety of reasons. Discuss some of the motivations of these Christian warriors.
  • If, in 1097, you were a citizen of Constantinople—one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities of the world in its day—describe how you would feel to have the Crusaders arrive in your neighborhood.

For More Information


Armstrong, Karen. Holy War. New York: Anchor, 2001.

Comnena, Anna. The Alexiad. Edited and translated by Elizabeth A. Dawes. London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1928.

Hindley, Geoffrey. The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and Holy War. London: Constable, 2003.

Mayer, Hans Eberhard. The Crusades. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Munro, Dana C., ed. Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1896.

Web Sites

"The Crusades." The ORB: On-line Reference Source for Medieval Studies. (accessed on August 2, 2004).

"Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Crusader Letters." Fordham University. (accessed on August 2, 2004).

"Internet Medieval Sourcebook: The Alexiad: Book XI." Fordham University. (accessed on August 2, 2004).