Privation in Pursuit of Salvation

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“An army marches on its stomach”—an age-old axiom attributed to both Napoleon Bonaparte and Frederick the Great. Though crystallized into a succinct phase during the Enlightenment Era, the underlying truth about the nature of expeditionary warfare—that a steady supply of foodstuffs is paramount to all other military considerations—has been understood by military minds since the dawn of man. Surely the logisticians and civil leaders of Europe were not ignorant of this fact when planning to embark upon a campaign to take Jerusalem at the behest of Pope Urban II in 1096 AD.

Indeed, many of those who “took up the cross” were seasoned warriors and leaders within a military setting. However, the capture of Jerusalem, restoration of the territory of their Eastern Christian allies, and assistance in the Byzantine Empire’s ongoing efforts against the rising power of the Muslim Turks in Asia Minor and the Levant was a lofty goal. The Byzantines had lost a significant portion of territory in Asia Minor and Northern Syria after their loss to the Turks after the Battle of Manzikert. Furthermore, Jerusalem is nearly five thousand kilometers from Normandy, as the crow flies. Though extensive preparations were made to supply their armies, the logistical efforts of the Franks proved to be woefully inadequate to sustain the indefinite operation of Frankish forces thousands of kilometers from their home territories. This supply inadequacy would leave the Franks open to manipulation by their Byzantine allies and seriously limit their ability to achieve success.

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By the end of the First Crusade rich and poor like would feel the ache of malnutrition as a result of poor supply—with the poor even resorting to eating animal skin and kernels of grain from the manure of pack animals Though there is no evidence of specific budgetary documents until the Third Crusade, there is significant evidence to suggest that the Franks who set out on the First Crusade would have been concerned with adequate provisioning. Though not directly relating to the First Crusade, the Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 AD, reveals the standard European practice of war at the time. The Bayeux Tapestry displays a number of common practice activities relating to the logistical management of an army—from the use of messengers and scouts, to carpentry and engineering, and the acquisition of arms and foodstuffs.

This seems to indicate that European military minds of this era were not ignorant of the level of supply preparation that such a protracted military expedition would demand. It is evident that type of preparation practiced during the Norman Conquest did carry over into the preparations for war three decades later in 1096 AD. Many crusading husbands told their wives that they would return home within three years which gives some insight into how far in advance the Franks believed they needed to plan and what they expected they needed to provision. This was a military undertaking much larger than medieval Europe was used to. To that end, the Franks went to great lengths to acquire pack animals to carry the requisite consumables for such a journey—at great expense—and recognized the value of having pack animals and wagons over warhorses.

The Latin crusaders were aware of the sheer magnitude of supply required to march to the Levant and the inability of a man to carry enough food to travel any great distance. Aside from pack animals, European military leaders perceived that the addition of skilled professionals other than warriors to their armies would be an invaluable asset on campaign. For instance, there was a great deal of metal work to be done in a medieval army. Horses and pack animals needed to be re-shoed, weapons and armor would need mending, and siege engines needed to be constructed. For these purposes, entire regiments of blacksmiths were sought to accompany the crusaders. Similarly, though medieval medicine revolved around alleviation of suffering and palliative care, rather than curative medicine, there was a great demand for medical professionals within the Frankish camp. These medicos, physicians or surgeon-barbers, did have a reasonable amount of success in the realm of battlefield medicine—with one medico even saving the life of Godfrey of Bouillon by cauterizing an arterial wound.

There was also a great demand for clerics in martial service. The widespread existence of lower clerics within crusader armies is indicative of a perceived need for clerks within crusader armies thereby revealing the value the Franks placed on financial planning. They were needed to write, read, and keep record of administrative communications such as taxes, expenses, contracts and other such financial accounts. To neglect one’s finances was perceived as being akin to risking poverty and starvation. There was also a coordinated command and control network established within medieval Europe that was utilized by crusade leaders that allowed for such a concerted war effort. It mostly existed within feudal, religious, economic, and noble familial spheres. Without this network, and its effective utilization, it is highly unlikely that a disunited Europe could have cobbled together a pan-European crusader army out of individual armies of lords and other nobility.

Moreover, it would have been neigh on impossible for such an army to travel to Constantinople and congeal—much less be effectively led. A date was agreed upon for European armies to set out for the Holy Land, variation on that date was allowed to compensate for differences in regional harvest times, routes were set based upon existing trade and pilgrimage routes, and regional muster points were agreed upon in advance. Furthermore, provisioning was accounted for thanks to coordination and communication with Byzantine Emperor Alexius I.

The fact that Byzantine agents repeatedly showed up during the march of western forces to Constantinople as well as the fact that the Byzantines were able to handle the arrival of a large number of troops at Constantinople seems to suggest prior diplomatic arrangements between the Franks and Byzantines. What seems to have been foremost in Latin crusader logistical considerations was the accumulation of a sufficient level of money to sustain a multi-year military expedition. The crusades were seen by their supporters a wholly necessary pilgrimage to protect Christian interests and to obtain redemption in the eyes of God. The logistical aspects of crusading in terms of the basic essentials of life—as well as whether or not such a task was feasible—were of secondary consideration. So long as a man had enough money, the pervading attitude among the crusade leaders was that God would account for any other issue.

Men liquidated assets in order to gain enough physical wealth to purchase necessities on their journey and trusted the rest to divine providence; little concern was shown for whether such resources would be available in the type of quantity required to feed an army. The main purpose of carrying bullion was the purchase of food for the crusade, due to the inability of the armies to carry enough food in both terms of sheer weight and spoilage. Given that no additional supplies of money could not be brought to crusaders from Europe once they had embarked upon their campaign, it was estimated that a person would need four times their annual income to sustain themselves on crusade, with wealthier knights and princes requiring potentially seven times their annual income or beyond. To meet this lofty monetary requirement, Franks, both individual and noble, during the First Crusades would often sell, mortgage, and vifgage (to promise the revenue of a piece of land to a lender in exchange for liquid assets) large chunks of property, rights of jurisdiction, or other valuable items to come up with the required funds to crusade.

Due to these facts there was great concern among the crusaders regarding access to markets along their route and fair prices at these markets. This was essential, given that the crusaders could not carry all the food they needed and were wholly reliant on trade to avoid starvation. To that end, lords such as Stephen of Blois, Godfrey of Bouillon, and Tancred of Lecce expressed great concern for securing pay for their men so they could provide themselves with all the necessary materiel of war. Many crusaders during the First Crusade refused to embark upon crusade unless granted a “stipendiorum facultas”, or funding, from a lord in order to supplement their own funds. Though the Franks did not necessarily turn a blind eye to the fact that a military expedition to Asia Minor and the Levant would be an enormous undertaking and a strain on logistical infrastructure, they had certainly underestimated it.

Particularly in terms of the availability of food and water in the lands they were traveling through. Resupplying a large force would have placed a heavy strain on even fertile land; though crusaders were often given access to markets, many areas refused to sell provisions to the crusaders as they barely had enough food for their own subsistence. One of the primary issues in this respect was the European conception of how far away the Holy Land was from Europe as well as how large Asia Minor was. Inaccurate maps had a significant impact on the logistical preparation of the First Crusade particularly with Stephen of Blois. Maps lacked scale and showed a disproportionately large Holy Land with a small Asia Minor. Because of this he believed that his route from Nicaea to Jerusalem would take him 35 days when a more reasonable estimate would have been over 90 days. He also possessed dangerous misconceptions about the severity of the heat in Asia Minor as well as the terrain he would encounter en route. Given that he was named “Dominus, provisor atque gubernator” of the First Crusade, he was, in effect, in charge of the supply of the Frankish armies.

These misconceptions undoubtably negatively affected the level of success the crusaders could hope to achieve. To make matters worse, contingents of men, such as the one led by Bohemond, encountered other factors which significantly slowed the rate at which they could travel. For instance, when Bohemond pledged to join the First Crusade, he needed to cross the Adriatic Sea after his besieging Amalfi; he was only able to do this by ferrying his army across one the Adriatic Sea one portion at a time due to lack of ships. This would not be the only time a crusading army would be waylaid in this manner. Furthermore, the Egnatian Way, the route Bohemond took to Thessalonik?—the city he needed to reach in order to set sail for Bulgaria—was not an easy road. The route was very mountainous with few east to west passages. It was in An advanced state of decay given that its last probable upkeep was in the sixth century under Emperor Justinian. The Roman limestone roads, which were exceptionally slippery when wet, narrowed in forests and mountain passes from about three meters to less than two meters, and the ground was often not firm. This slowed what should have been a five kilometer per hour march, the standard infantry marching rate, to only six to seven kilometers travelled per day.

Though not all crusading armies travelling to the Holy Land the exact same issues Bohemond’s forces faced, his experiences were the rule rather than the exception. To understand precisely why such extension of the journey beyond what the Latin crusaders had anticipated was devastating and how it opened them up to Byzantine manipulation, one must understand precisely how vast a quantity of food men and animals require on the march. Men require approximately one kilogram of food and eight liters of per day under moderate strain; horses require over thirty-six liters of water and eleven kilograms of food under the same conditions. Pack animals can carry twenty percent of their own body weight; medieval warhorses could carry one hundred ten kilograms. Pack horses were expected to carry one hundred kilograms, saddle horses eighty kilograms, and ridden horses forty kilograms. This means that and average troop of 1 Knight, one squire, one groom, one war horse, four pack animals, and three footmen could carry three-hundred ninety-five kilograms of provisions for themselves.

Assuming a consumption of nearly twenty-three kilograms of food per day (nearly seventeen kilograms of dry fodder for horses—the rest of the daily requirement met via grazing—and six kilograms of food for men) armies could not go more than eight-teen days without resupply. If one accepts that a force like Bohemond’s likely contained nine hundred sixty-five knights, nine-hundred sixty-five grooms, two-thousand eight-hundred ninety-five footmen, and seven-thousand seven-hundred thirty animals—which is the maximum reasonable estimate given that Bohemond marched in one unbroken unit—the animals alone would require between eight and ten kilometers of waterfront and around one thousand square meters of gazing area in order to sustain themselves.

Given that very few available camp sites could have met such a requirement, it is likely that the majority of the time not spent marching would have been dedicated to gathering water and cutting grasses for the horses. It is also highly probable that the route the Franks took was largely dictated by supply requirements rather than military prudence. Once the Franks made it to Asia Minor, their route would have been a little easier due to the old Roman roads having been maintained by the Byzantines; however, the Latin Crusaders were not prepared for the excessive heat, the unavailability of water that was ahead. The best way to illustrate the dire straits the Franks would eventually find themselves in is to relate a firsthand account from Fulcher of Chartres: Then we came to Antioch, which they called the Lesser, in the province of Pisidia; thence to Iconium.

We very often suffered the lack of enough bread and other food in these places; for we found Romania…devastated and ravage by the Turks. Yet, ever so many times, you would see such a great multitude of people well refreshed by what was found on the scattered farms, which we found here and there in this region…Many of our people, lacking beasts of burden, because many had died, loaded wethers, she-goats, sows, or dogs with their possessions, such as garments, loaves of bread, or whatever pack is necessary for the use of pilgrims…When the Franks had besieged for some time, and had pillaged the surrounding region for food…bread could be bought nowhere, and they endured excessive hunger…both the rich and the poor were desolate from hunger as well as the daily slaughtering. At that time, the famished ate the shoots of beanseads growing in the fields and many kinds of herb unseasoned with salt; also thistles, which, being not well cooked because of the deficiency of firewood, pricked the tongues of those eating them…[At the siege of Jerusalem] because that place was dry, unirrigated, and without rivers, both the men and the beasts of burden were very much in need of water to drink. This necessity forced them to seek water at a distance, and daily they laboriously carried it in skins from four or five miles to the siege.

To understand why the once mighty Latin Crusader armies were reduced to that level of suffering, it is important to understand the political dynamic between the Franks and the Byzantines at the beginning of the First Crusade. Where the Frankish crusade leaders were concerned with the higher-minded ideals of religious warfare and the conquest of Jerusalem, the Byzantines, under Emperor Alexius I, seem to be more concerned with the immediate political situation at hand. According to Anna Comnena: Now [Emperor Alexius I] dreaded [the Frankish] arrival for he knew their irresistible manner of attack, their unstable and mobile character and all the peculiar natural and concomitant characteristics which the Frank retains throughout; and he also knew that they were always agape for money, and seemed to disregard their truces readily for any reason that cropped up. For he had heard this reported of them and found it very true…for the Frankish race, as one may conjecture, is always very hotheaded and eager, but once it has espoused a cause, it is uncontrollable.

Alexius I seems to have dreaded the arrival if the Franks; his own military situation was tenuous—having lost significant territories to the Saracens and being reliant on mercenaries rather entirely on his domestic military—and should the Franks decide to turn their swords on the Byzantines he would be hard pressed to stop it. As tenuous as the Byzantine military and political situation was, the Frankish supply situation was even more so. Alexius I was able to exploit this fact and use it to his advantage; Alexius I had promised to supply the Franks with food and money, without which the Franks would be unable to continue any military operation due to want of food and water.

This allowed Alexius I to keep the Frankish forces under his thumb and potentially even dictate the course of campaign—which would have a devastating impact on the level of success the Franks could hope to achieve in their quest to conquer Jerusalem and the Holy Land. According to Baldric of Dol’s account of the speech of Pope Urban II at Clermont, the Franks felt a sort of kinship with the Byzantines, recounting that the pontiff had said: If, forsooth, you wish to be mindful of your soul, either lay down the girdle of such knighthood, or advance boldly, as knights of Christ, and rush as quickly as you can to the defence of the Eastern Church.

For she it is from whom the joys of your whole salvation have come forth, who poured into your mouths the milk of divine wisdom, who set before you the holy teachings of the Gospels. We say this, brethren, that you may restrain your murderous hands from the

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Privation in Pursuit of Salvation. (2020, Feb 20). Retrieved from