Episode 214 – The Prince’s Crusade

Bohemond of Antioch by Merry-Joseph Blondel c1800

Bohemond of Antioch by Merry-Joseph Blondel c1800

The senior nobles of the First Crusade make the journey to Constantinople. There Alexios asks them to swear an oath of allegiance to him.

Period: 1096-7

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Categories: Podcast | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “Episode 214 – The Prince’s Crusade

  1. David Thompson

    Hello Robin:

    What was the value of Antioch in all this? Wasn’t it quite far from Constantinople and almost surrounded by Muslim states at this point? As far as I know it wasn’t really a port city, although close to the Mediterranean it was quite far inland relative to a proper port.
    Was there a large population of Greek Orthodox there or lucrative trade routes or do I have an incorrect view of the situation.

    Thanks, and great episode as always.

    • Great questions and I will talk all about it when we get to Antioch. But since you asked now:
      1) The Romans needed manpower if they were going to retake Anatolia. They were so bogged down with wars in Europe it was clear that the Balkans couldn’t provide enough troops to also cover the East.
      2) The Mediterranean coasts of Anatolia generally produced a civilian population. While the plateau was now dominated by the Turks. The only area with a tough, soldierly, Christian population was the Armenian and Taurus mountains.
      3) So the plan was to retake Antioch and Cilicia and the surrounding cities and slowly rebuild the army there. With Nicaea back in the fold then presumably they could have cut the Turks on the plateau off from contact with the wider world and force them to become Imperial clients as had happened with the Pechenegs.
      4) This strategy would only be possible if the world of the former Caliphate could be kept out of Anatolia. And so Antioch was key for shutting out any interference from Syria.
      5) Only Antioch would do in this regard. If it was in enemy hands then the other cities of the area were too vulnerable to attack. Antioch was a huge city with the walls to keep enemies out and a population that could support an army and administration.
      6) There was PR and ideology wrapped up in it too. Antioch was one of the churches of the Pentarchy with a long Christian tradition. And Alexios’ brother had briefly been governor there.

      • Yo mama

        I also seem to remember that the Patriarch of Antioch has been in Constantinople this whole time, presumably bothering everyone about the Muslim takeover. Hehe

        Also Bohemond ‘of Antioch’ … spoilers man :(((

        jk I assume everyone knew that already.

    • 🙂 You’re right – the Patriarch was at Constantinople for most of this time which indeed may have added to the embarrassment

      • George

        That actually does make me think. During the previous centuries of Muslim rule, the Patriarchs seemed to have no problem with it. One of them even supposedly crowned Thomas the Slav. What exactly was different this time? Was it just an individual preference of the Patriarch involved or…?

    • The difference there is that during the Caliphate the Patriarch of Antioch was under Muslim supervision. As in he was drawn from the local population and would have understood the limits of his authority and what not to do to upset the powers that be. Whereas this Patriarch was appointed by the Emperor and so would clearly be a Byzantine agent operating in a Seljuk controlled city.

      • George

        Interesting! Was there any attempt by the Seljuks to elect ‘their’ own Patriarch? Or did they not care enough.

    • I imagine the Patriarch’s deputy was running things and both sides left it at that. We don’t have Seljuk sources for this period so we can’t say for sure. But given the fractured nature of politics in Syria at the time I suspect those in charge of Antioch would have wanted to keep the Christian population on side rather than meddling in their affairs.

  2. Ilya

    Hi Robin –

    I am perplexed by your reference to a lack of manpower. During the Peloponnesian war as well as during the Persian invasions in 5th century BC, Athens and Sparta both regularly fielded armies of 10,000+ hoplites. Pyrrhus of Epirus fielded an army of 35,000 in the 1st century BC. Philip II fielded an army of 25,000 Macedonians in 4th century BC. There are many more such examples of regional powers in the area with sizable armies during antiquity. Did the Byzantine empire get massively depopulated between late antiquity and the middle ages? Or is there something else going on?


    • Hey,
      It’s an excellent question and one we could potentially spend a long time on. I will try to summarise.
      1) First off we always have to put a caveat next to any numbers given by ancient and medieval sources. One Latin chronicler estimates that there were 600,000 Crusaders at Nicaea. You get the idea.
      2) But it is true that in general we see higher numbers for the classical period than the medieval period and that does seem to coincide with a general drop in population. Estimates suggest that the population of the Roman Empire (the area which it covered) may have dropped by as much as a 3rd between the 1st century AD and the 7th. It seems to be a change in climate and the cycle of plagues alongside political disturbance.
      3) I think the political structure of states is very important here. The city state could only function with conscription. Forcing adult males to fight for its survival. We see this with the Roman Republic when they are able to put armies into the field even after catastrophic defeats.
      4) This changes completely with the absorption of the Mediterranean by the Roman Empire. Now local militias are discouraged. Citizens are not to be armed or they might turn on their political masters. This leads to huge swathes of territory becoming entirely civilian concerns for centuries.
      5) So by the time Alexois is looking for troops – it’s ingrained in the culture that ordinary Romans don’t really fight. They farm or trade or do other civilian jobs. They don’t have a militaristic culture and aren’t encouraged to have one for fear of rebellion.
      6) The Empire came to rely on borderland populations who were naturally militarised: first Germans then Slavs and Armenians and now Bulgarians, Pechenegs and Normans. Native Roman officers from the upper classes were still expected to fight but that is only a small segment of the population.
      I hope that helps,

      • Ilya

        Very interesting. Thanks!

        Fascinating that even during times of serious manpower shortages, broad based conscription and mobilization of the peasantry (or perhaps of the residents of Constantinople and other large cities) wasn’t attempted. Assuming that the population was still at least a few million people, they might have been able to assemble an army in the hundreds of thousands. In WW2 the Soviets had 10% of the population under arms. While that’s an anachronistic analogy, seems like the Roman Republic of 3rd and 2nd century BC might have had even higher rates of participation in the military.

      • David Thompson

        Thanks for all the information. I hope we aren’t spoiling the future episodes too much. Ilya brings up a question I have always had too. For all the empires shrinking and depopulation, If you add up all the armies that even modern historians attribute to the areas the Byzantines control and compare the numbers in the classical age to the Byzantine, you would come up with a very strange result.

        I have often wondered whether the fall of the Roman empire and the slow territorial shrinking of the Byzantine were the result of the demilitarization of their cultures. It isn’t by any means an original idea, but it doesn’t seem a lot of historians don’t address it as much as say the plagues, movement of peoples, breakdown of trade, moral breakdown etc. Not that those aren’t important but when you look at it, I don’t think the late Roman army at its height could muster the numbers that the Republic did during the Punic wars.

        It would be interesting to see some scholarship by someone who could comment on the “demilitarization” of late Roman and Byzantine empires. Heck, I get the impression that even most Western Europeans were less militarized after Rome than before, at least the non-elite population.

    • One thing I should add is the changing nature of warfare. I haven’t studied the earlier period in detail. But if we think about the Greek phalanx and the Roman legion they are infantry formations. Whereas by the Byzantine period cavalry ruled the battlefield. So those earlier city-states and the Republic could more easily rely on a mass mobilisation of civilians who could be trained to be infantrymen. Whereas training cavalry takes much longer and really needs one to practice from childhood.

      So Ilya is right Byzantium could have mobilised large forces even in Alexios’ day but they would have been next to useless when faced with Steppe archery or Norman cavalry charges. The Byzantines don’t seem to have prioritised creating a native cavalry tradition which was a failing on their part. Obviously the Theme system did provide this for a long time but by Alexios’ day Theme service had largely been commuted to a cash payment and he couldn’t easily transform that over night.

      • George

        How about the Steppe civilizations? I know they are a bit of a different beast but they do seem to have entire populations ready to be turned into cavalry. As I said I assume a lot of it is due to their unique conditions, but it also seems to me that the militarization of the ‘civilian’ population might have a much larger role. I seem to recall the king of Armenia offering Crassus 10 000 Cataphracts if we look at that from the point of view of this podcast one would have to wonder what kind of blood magic did the king of Armenia have to create such a number.

    • No you are right about the militarisation of the civilian population. In Steppe society almost all males would be mounted warriors of one sort or another. That was just the way of life. Because they might need to threaten walled cities in order to get supplies they needed they lived a very militarised life.

      Though not to the same extent – Armenia was also a very militarised society. As was most of the Armenian/Caucus mountains. The small pockets of fertile farm land were extremely valuable and so a culture of violence developed where adult males were expected to defend their patch or extend it. Byzantium’s period of expansion in the 10th century relied heavily on recruiting Armenians to serve in the army.

      Obviously we’ve seen with the Latin West that feudalism created a class of mounted warriors. The upper classes extracted wealth from those below them and used it to pay for expensive horses and armour and defended or extended their territory. This type of behaviour was less common in Byzantium where service to the Emperor in civilian roles could bring great wealth. And legal protection for property ownership was stronger.

      • George

        Do you think that a united Armenia would be able to pull something like that off in the 11th century? 10 000 cataphracts and 30 000 infantry does really seem like a lot.

    • Though my knowledge is limited I believe the Chinese suffered from similar issues to Byzantium – a civilian run Empire who rarely managed to convince its elites to become a warrior class.

    • 10,000 cavalry sounds like a lot but isn’t implausible. 30,000 infantry sounds too much. But there’s no reason the whole of Armenia could not produce those numbers. It just sounds like a lot for one monarch to be able to offer given that Armenia was politically fragmented.

      But as we’ve discussed – it’s not the numbers themselves that are implausible necessarily. It’s just the quality of those troops. If Byzantium had wanted to put together an army of 50,000 infantrymen they could have done. But they would have been 90% peasants being forced into it with little training or discipline. Which would make that force useless against a strong professional army. So maybe the King of Armenia was going to scare up thousands of peasants and force them to fight which is much less help than the raw numbers would suggest.

  3. Andrew Burmester

    Another great podcast Robin! I have a small question at 15:12 you say that Godfrey was warned not to take gifts from Alexis because they “might be poisoned”. Was the concern that it might be figuratively poisoned, i.e. taking it would result in committing to an unforeseen web of obligations and diplomatic intrigue that could ensnare and control the recipient, or was the fear that the treasure was literally poisoned, as in touching it would result in death?

    • It may be silly propaganda but yes Godfrey was warned that a cloak he was given as a gift might be poisoned. I suppose the truth in the anecdote is the idea that Alexios might have Godfrey assassinated in order to force the East Frankish army to choose a new leader who would be more pliable.

  4. Hi Robin, fascinating episode as always. You referenced the crusaders as coming from southern Frankia and northern Frankia. I always thought of them as French however. Did the crusaders still see themselves as still Frankish i.e. heirs of Charlemagne? When does Frankia becomes the France that we know?

    • I use both words interchangeably at this point. As you can tell from a quick glance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_France it’s not clear when France would have become accepted as the name of the land or the people of the area. I use Frankia simply as a catch all as lots of people on the Crusade would have been surprised to know that they were from the same ‘place’ as fellow Crusaders who they considered pretty foreign. North and southern French dialects were quite distinct at this stage. They definitely considered themselves heirs of Charlemagne but then so did people in Germany and elsewhere.

      I think we should remember that the modern concept of a country only really begins to form around 1789. But from wikipedia it seems like the terms France and French become more common after 1300.

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