Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Human Body, Illness and Death in the Crusader Era

It is often assumed that the people who practiced medicine in the Middle Ages were ignorant, untrained, guided by “pure superstition” and accountable to no one. Today’s post, the first in a series of guest essays by German scholar Fermin Person, looks at medical practitioners and standards in the Crusader States.

The medieval concept of illness was different from our current understanding. In the medieval period, medical theory (common to both East and West) explained illness as an imbalance of the four humours (body fluids), as divine punishment, as astrology or as the working of evil entities.

These basic concepts existed parallel to each other and mixed to some degree during the medieval period. There already existed the notion of infectious diseases and of epidemics, but with the very limited diagnostic capabilities of the period (seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling), it was not possible to differentiate infectious diseases from auto-immune disease or poisoning.

Excurs: Bloodletting
Following the works of Galen bloodletting was practised extensively both in the western as well in the Islamic world since the antiquity. Bloodletting was used prophylactically in healthy persons as well as during illnesses. The statutes of the Templars and of the order of St John specified, for example, the possibilities and the treatment of members of the Orders that had been bloodlet. The laws of Outremer specifically demanded that a physician use bloodletting, if a patient was suffering from fever.

Ergotism (called “holy fire” or “St. Anthonies Fire”) for example, caused by alkaloids produced by fungus that befall cereals during wet weather, broke out in epidemics.

There was some understanding that blood loss from wounds was an important factor in the death from injuries, but there was still no understanding of the pathophysiology of haemorrhagic shock.

Another point of discussion was whether pus in wounds was something negative or positive. Medieval western (and Arabic) physicians lacked an understanding of infectious diseases and microbiology. 

Similarly, the exact function of many organs was unknown or was misinterpreted, and the working of the circulatory system was also wrongly understood. For example, based on the classical scholar Galen, medieval physicians considered the liver to be the place of blood production.

Excurse: Galens teaching of Humours
Galenos of Pergamon (129/131 – 200/215 a.C.) was a Greco-Roman physician and anatomist. His works were translated into the Arabic language. He influenced heavily both western Christian, eastern roman and Arabic medicine. He applied the teaching of humors to medicine. According to him there were four body fluids blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. If the four humors were in misbalance illnesses could result from that. Through diet, appropriate medication and bloodletting the body fluids could be brought into balance again.

Additionally, physicians generally had only had a rudimentary understanding of the internal anatomy. Knowledge of the anatomies resulted most probably from animal corpses, practical experience with wounds and from antique literature. Autopsies started in the western world only at the beginning of the Renaissance at the end of the 14th century. This is in contrast to the Eastern Roman Empire, where it is reported that in 1110 a contingent of Scandinavians that had taken up the cross fell ill in Constantinople. Autopsies were performed on the dead to clarify the cause of their death.

The medieval attitude to death was likewise different.

About 1/3 of the children born in the medieval west died before the age of five. Overall life expectancy varied significantly based on period, location and social strata a great deal. Based on archaeological and genealogical evidence it can be assumed that life expectancy was as low as 25-30 years during the medieval period. No exact data was available on the live expectancy in Outremer. 

In short, death was much more present in the medieval world than in the modern period. During the medieval period the average human had a strong belief in an afterlife and the later bodily resurrection of the dead. It was considered ideal to have a period of illness before death in order to prepare as a good Christian for death. A sudden unprepared death, in contrast, was considered something terrible.


Mitchel, Piers D.  (2007) Medicine during the crusades, Cambridge University press
Tony Hunt (1999) The Medieval Surgery, Boydell & Brewer Inc
Edgington, S. (1994) Medical knowledge of the crusading armies: the evidence of Albert of Aachen and others. In M Barber, The Military Orders: Fighting for the Faith and caring for the Sick, (Aldershot, Ashgate)
Keda, B (1998) A twelfth century description of the Jerusalem Hospital, In H. Nicholson (ed.). The Military Orders. II Welfare and Warfare (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 3-26.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eleanor of Aquitaine on Crusade

“I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn, but the troops were dazzled.”
 Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1967 film “The Lion in Winter” starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn.

As with most good historical fiction, there is more than a grain of truth to this fictional line from The Lion in Winter. Not only did Eleanor of Aquitaine take part in the Second Crusade, her role soon became  controversial and her participation precipitated a marriage crisis. Here is a summary of what happened.

In 1144, the crusader County of Edessa was overrun by the atabeg of Mosul, Zengi.  The news shocked Western Europe and Pope Eugenius III called for a new crusade. St. Bernard of Clairvaux enthusiastically took up the call, and at the pope’s bidding preached the crusade far and wide, including on Easter Sunday in Vezelay, Burgundy.  Here King Louis VII of France knelt before the abbot and took the cross to the thunderous cheers of his vassals and subjects. When he finished, his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, knelt beside him and likewise took the cross.

Eleanor did so as the Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou – not as Queen of France. The importance of her gesture was to muster support among the barons and lords who owed her, but not Louis of France, homage.  However, Eleanor’s example inspired many other noblewomen to take the cross as well. 
When King Louis’ crusaders set forth on their crusade, the estimated 100,000 French included an unnamed number of ladies – or “amazons” as some liked to call them – determined to take part in the crusade themselves.  Far from being Eleanor’s “maids,” most of these women were the wives of noble crusaders, wealthy enough to afford horses and armor, since according to a Greek chronicler writing some fifty years after the event, they rode astride and wore armor.  They were also accompanied by servants and a great deal of baggage.
Depiction of Eleanor of Aquitaine in a German 12th century Manuscript
The first stages of this crusade went remarkably well, with the army making good progress.  Although accounts differ on the extent to which Louis was able to prevent pillaging and abuse of the civilian population along the route, it is clear that the French intention was to pay for provisions and leave the Christian populations in peace. Unfortunately, they were preceded by German crusaders under the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III that behaved so badly the French found all the cities closed to them, and the price for goods exorbitant.
Nevertheless, they reached Constantinople in comparatively good order, and while the common soldiers encamped outside the walls, the nobles, including Eleanor and her ladies, were introduced to the luxuries and splendors of the fabled Queen of Cities. They were lodged in palaces the like of which they had never seen before, feted and entertained. 
The news that the Byzantine Emperor had just concluded a 12 year truce with the Turks, however, cast serious doubts upon his reliability.  The mistrust of the Greeks only increased when the Byzantine Emperor tried to make Louis swear to turn over any territories his army conquered to the Emperor. Louis thought he had come to fight the Turks and restore Christian rule – not expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.  Nevertheless, Louis rejected calls by some of his advisors to capture Constantinople and depose the Greek emperor.  Instead he set out for Jerusalem determined to fulfill his crusading vow – and consult with the King of Jerusalem about further action.
The French crusaders advanced along the southern, coastal route at a leisurely pace until at the end of October they encountered deserters from the German crusade, who reported that the Turks had all but annihilated the Germans and now lay in wait for the French.  A few days later, the French caught up with what was left of the Germans, including Emperor Conrad, who was suffering from a head wound. Together Louis and Conrad’s crusaders followed the Mediterranean coast, finally reaching Ephesus in time for Christmas. Here, however, Conrad decided he was too ill to continue, so he and his nobles took ship back for Constantinople, while what was left of the foot soldiers continued with Louis’s army.
No sooner had the German Emperor departed, than adversity struck the French. Torrential rains lasting four days washed away tents, supplies, and many men and horses. After this catastrophe, Louis elected to strike out inland across the mountains, despite the absence of guides, in an attempt to reach Antioch as soon as possible.  This route, however, was not only through rugged terrain and along bad roads, but took the French where they were constantly harassed by Turkish skirmishers. By now, at the latest, the “gayness and the gilt” of Eleanor and her lady-crusaders (or amazons) were “all besmirched with rainy marching in the painful field.”
Disaster, however, did not overtake them until mid-January, when two Poitevin nobles in command of the van took fatal independent action.  They had been ordered to set up camp for the main army at a specific place, and Eleanor was sent with them. (Throughout the crusade, King Louis maintained separation from Eleanor in order not to be tempted to break his vow of chastity for the duration of the crusade.) When the main army reached the designated camp, however, they found it empty. The vanguard of Poitevins with the Queen had decided to move to a more attractive-looking spot down in the valley. The exhausted troops at the rear, including the King with Eleanor’s baggage train, could not possibly catch up and as darkness fell a large gap had opened between the Christian van and main force. The Turks quickly exploited the situation. They attacked the main force, killing Louis’ horse under him and some 7,000 crusaders before darkness fell, putting an end to the slaughter. Many in the army blamed Eleanor, because it was her vassals who had left the main French army in the lurch.
After this disaster, the French returned to the coast, now determined to continue the crusade by ship. They were without supplies, however, and soon reduced to eating their horses before what was left of Louis’ force finally reached Antalia on January 20, 1148.  Here they discovered it was impossible to find sufficient ships for the whole force at prices King Louis was willing to pay. Plague broke out in the crusader camp, decimating a force already on the brink of starvation. At this junction, King Louis VII (not to be confused with his namesake and future saint, Louis IX) abandoned his troops and took ship with his wife and nobles for Antioch. Abandoned by their king, some 3000 French crusaders are said to have converted to Islam in exchange for their lives and food.
Louis and Eleanor, meanwhile, arrived in Antioch. Antioch was a magnificent, walled city, which had been one of the richest in the Roman Empire. At this time it was inhabited by a mixed population of Greek and Armenian Christians ruled by a Latin Christian elite, headed by Raymond of Poitiers, the younger brother of Eleanor’s father, William Duke of Aquitaine. The language of the court at Antioch was Eleanor’s own langue d’oc, and the customs were likewise those of the Languedoc. Within a very short time, Eleanor and her uncle developed such rapport that the king became jealous and then suspicious. The clerical chroniclers are united in condemning Eleanor of forgetting her “royal dignity” – and her marriage vows.
The situation was aggravated by the fact that Raymond of Antioch thought the crusaders had come to restore Christian control over the county of Edessa – and so secure his eastern flank, but Louis thought he had come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and insisted on continuing to the Holy City, rather than following the Prince of Antioch’s military advice. At this junction, with Louis already jealous of Eleanor’s close relationship (sexual or not) with Prince Raymond, she announced that she – and all her vassals – would remain in Antioch, whether Louis went to Jerusalem or not. Since her vassals made up the bulk of what was left of the French forces, this was an effective veto. Louis threatened to use force to make her come with him as was his right as her husband. Eleanor retorted their marriage was invalid because they were related within the prohibited degrees and demanded an annulment. Louis responded by having her abducted in the middle of the night and carried away from Antioch by force. 
Although Eleanor then spent several months in Jerusalem while her husband’s crusade came to its final humiliating disaster outside Damascus, nothing is recorded of her activities.  Her influence on Louis and her role in the crusade was over. Furthermore, despite an attempt to patch up the marriage, after their return to France, the birth of a second daughter made a divorce a dynastic priority, paving the way for Eleanor to marry Henry of Anjou, the future King Henry II of England.
(Truly, fiction does not get better than facts like these!)
There are many biographies of Eleanor, I personally relied on Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England, (London, Pimlico, 1999), and Amy Kelly’s Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, (Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1950). There are innumerable novels about Eleanor. I have not read them all and the ones I did read, failed to do her justice, so I’ll refrain from a recommendation.

Eleanor’s Tomb at the Abbey of Fontevrault

Helena P. Schrader is the author of a number of books set in the Middle Ages. Her most recent series, a three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin a contemporary of both Eleanor, has to date won 8 literary accolades. 

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Crusader States

The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

The first crusade re-established Christian rule over some parts of the Holy Land, notably Antioch and Jerusalem, but the Western knights and noblemen who finally made it to Jerusalem felt they had been betrayed by the Byzantine Emperor. Instead of returning the territory they had captured to Byzantine control, the crusaders established a series of independent states with Christian rulers: the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli, and – most important – the Kingdom of Jerusalem. (Later, during the Third Crusade, the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus was also established, but that will be dealt with in a separate entry.)

Initially, these "kingdoms" were little more than Christian-controlled islands in an Islamic sea, separated from one another by large swaths of territory. Between 1099 and 1144 the Christians steadily increased their area of control -- in most cases giving the defeated Muslim defenders of cities and castles a safe-conduct after surrender. By 1144, the crusaders controlled the entire coastline of the Levant from south of Gaza to roughly Antalya. In short, the crusader kingdoms covered all of what is now Israel, most of modern Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria and Anatolia as well.

Likewise, initially there was only a tiny elite of Latin Christians, dependent economically on the local population composed predominantly of Melkite (both Greek and Arabic speaking), Jacobite, Maronite, and Armenian
Christians, with smaller populations of Jews, Samaritans, and Muslims. However, with the establishment of Christian control over the Holy Land a wave of immigration from Western Europe began. By 1180, an estimated 20% of the population was composed of settlers from the West – all speaking a variety of languages - including second and third generation immigrants descended from earlier settlers.

These "crusader states" were distinctly different from the feudal societies from which the founders of these states stemmed. To be sure, leaders of the First Crusade sought to recreate familiar structures and customs, but they had to adapt these to the unusual circumstances in which they found themselves. The result was a hybrid-society composed of diverse elements, many of which were found nowhere else in the medieval world.

In future entries, I will explore the following unique features of the crusader states: 1) the elected kingship and the role of the High Court; 2) the high status, power and independence of women, 3) the multi-cultural, multilingual native population; 4) the "sergeants" and settlers that  made up the backbone of the feudal army 5) the urban economy, 6) a rural economy based on trade,  7) the sophisticated administrative apparatus, 8) the complex legal system; 9) the militant orders, and last but certainly not least 10) the powerful, educated and independent knights.  

The Cloisters at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem: A Crusader Legacy
In my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin I endeavor to portray the crusader society as accurately as possible.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Interview with Wayne Turmel Author of "Acre's Bastard"

Today I'm interviewing the author of a new book set in Outremer, "Acre's Bastard." This book was released just two weeks ago and is available in trade paperback or kindle formats.

Wayne Turmel is the author of a recently released novel “Acre’s Bastard: Part I of the Lucca le Pou Stories.” “Acre’s Bastard” follows the adventures ― or should I say misadventures? ― of a 10-year old orphan of mixed native/crusader heritage in the city of Acre on the eve of the Battle of Hattin. The hero, Lucca, has been raised in the Hospitaller orphanage of the city and goes by the name of Lucca the Louse. In a series of fast-paced but believable adventures, Lucca finds himself a witness, always believably on the fringes, of this important moment in history. Turmel calls this book an “adventure” story, and, while the setting is historical, the purpose of the book is not to describe the historical events or to educate but rather to entertain. And that it does―with an engaging cast of characters and irreverent humor.

Wayne agreed to answer a number of my questions about this book. Here are his answers:

What inspired you to write about this place and period? Why the Holy Land in 1187? Why Acre rather than Jerusalem?

Wow, why not? Since I was a kid, I was entranced by stories of knights and chivalry. All my favorites--Robin Hood, Ivanhoe—had people either riding off to, or coming back from, Crusade. Swords are way cooler than guns. As I got older, the clash of cultures obviously became more important and intriguing. I mean, it’s not like it’s still relevant or anything, right?

When I went to Jerusalem, and stood in front of the ruins of the Hospital, I kept asking myself, “What the @#$@% were they thinking?” That question never stopped resonating with me. I confess to being very cynical about the Crusades. The battle of Hattin is just such a prime example to me of where bravery, faith, honor, politics and humanity’s innate stupidity collide. Just like in most wars.

I chose Acre intentionally because it wasn’t the center of the action. So much of what we read about that time is centered on the big characters—kings, knights and the like. But what about the people who were just trying to live their lives? I also didn’t want a setting that had been written about a lot. People have all kinds of emotional reactions when you mention “Jerusalem.” I didn’t want that getting in the way of the story.

The multi-cultural aspect of the coastal cities of that time also got me thinking a lot. Like children in most cities, there’s a better chance for exposure to different cultures than in an isolated village. It’s the biggest part of Lucca’s education.

The hero is a 10 year old boy. Why select a character so young? What were the advantages of a hero in that age group?

Making Lucca 10 was a risk, as was making him bi-racial (Frankish and Syrian). In fact, my last publisher didn’t want to do the book because of his age. I wanted the character to be young enough to offer a naïve perspective, allowing for the humor in the book to come through, without being too young to think for himself and survive. The disadvantage of his age was it pretty much eliminated romance, and some people really hated that he was in such jeopardy. But if you look at the pictures of the children coming out of Aleppo today, you realize terrible things happen to children in war. And the fact this is the first in a series is probably a pretty good hint he makes it. Should I have said, “Spoiler alert?”

Lucca being an orphan doesn’t have a family so the obvious “supporting cast” are missing. Can you tell us a little more about the other characters in the book? Which of them do you see playing a role in the next books of the series?

Most of the characters are fictional. The only real-life people who show up in the book are Raymond of Tripoli, and Saladin (or Salah-adin). Of course, that gives me license to have fun creating the other players.

The most fun was writing Brother Marco (who, without giving anything away for the uninitiated) is a Knight of St Lazar, and Sister Marie-Pilar who is a nun/nurse. Al Sameen (the Fat One) is a ruthless Saracen spy who Lucca takes great delight in tormenting. Brother Idoneus just gave me the willies. There are good guys and bad guys on all sides of the war.

I’ve actually started the second book, so Brother Marco, Sister Marie-Pilar and Ali the Saracen all make appearances.

Venue and setting are also very important in a novel of this kind and you do a wonderful job of taking us into the allies of an oriental city. At the same time, you almost slip into the cliché of describing this immensely fertile region (the biblical land of “milk and honey”), which in this period produced a variety of crops, as desert. Why did you choose to depict what would have been a thriving agricultural landscape as so bleak?

Thank you for that. I had a lot of help getting it right. I know it’s not desert because the day I landed in Tel Aviv it was pouring rain with a chance of snow in the hills, which caught me a little off guard. In fact, Israel, Lebanon and that whole region reminded me of California: there’s a very green fertile patch of desirable land along the Mediterranean coast and along the rivers, but you don’t have to go very far inland for it to get very hot, rocky and forbidding.

1187 was a drought year, so in July things were pretty brown and parched, even the fields that would normally have been in fruit. It also foreshadows what happens at Hattin, where the lack of water was decisive in the battle.

Tell us a little more about your readers? Who did you set out to reach with this series? Adults or young people? Why should they be interested in this book? What can they get out of it?

This book was written for anyone 15 or 16 and up who enjoys adventure, history and a touch of humor. I say 15 because that’s about the time I started reading books adults felt I wasn’t ready for. Maybe that was my motivation to read them…. Rule breakers are welcome and encouraged.

The origin of this book actually started with a bar argument with a fellow writer. I was bemoaning the fact that so many books were aimed at “YA” audiences. I felt that did readers a disservice. I remember reading books like “Kim” and “The Three Musketeers,” as a kid. They weren’t aimed at young readers, but a smart teen could easily read and enjoy them (although there is one scene in my book that is pretty close to R Rated). In fact, the title of the book was changed from Brat to Bastard just so people wouldn’t think it was a YA book, despite Lucca’s age.

Meanwhile, adults like me shun material that’s intentionally aimed at a younger audience, so it was important it didn’t get that dread “YA” label.

I’m also surprised how many women readers enjoy Lucca’s story. I was afraid the subject matter would appeal only to people who already read Crusader fiction; stereotypically, that would be men into hard-core military history. This is a much more accessible story than that, and I’m gratified at the reception so far.

As a reader, it’s clear that you enjoyed writing this book. Which scene did you like writing most? What scene is your favorite (which may or may not be same thing, of course….)?

Chapter one, where Lucca and his street rat buddies are getting into trouble by trying to peer through a brothel window actually made me laugh as I wrote it. I think it’s a really fun way to set up a story and let us know that kid is pretty much a smart aleck and destined for trouble. He’s also resourceful and brave enough to get out of it.

Now the other side of the coin: What scene did you find most challenging to write?
I’m going to cheat and give you two. The hardest one to write emotionally was chapter 2, when a pedophile attacks Lucca and drives him from the orphanage and into the streets. I needed to create real, believable danger, while not making it salacious, exploitive or too hard to stomach. It literally kept me awake at night finding the right balance.
The second challenge was logistic. How do I put a ten-year-old in the center of a battle? Logically, what was he doing there? It took a couple of drafts to come to the solution, but I think I worked it out.

What now? Acre falls six days after the Battle of Hattin, betrayed by the Queen’s uncle, the Count of Edessa (who was probably not even at Hattin). Will that be the next episode in the Lucca le Pou series?

Poor Lucca doesn’t get much of a break. He has to flee Acre for Tripoli carrying a message for Count Raymond. He’s accompanied by Sister Marie-Pilar, a young Druze girl named Nahida, and a Hospitaler knight, Brother Gerhardt, with a dark tragic secret.

How many books do you envisage in this series?  Do you know what the ending of the series will be? Are you going to let Lucca grow-up, or will all episodes be in a time-frame where he remains a young boy?

At the moment, I’m thinking three books. “Acre’s Orphans” starts two days after the first book, so Lucca’s still 10 going on 11. The third will have Lucca at 15 following Richard in the retaking of Acre.  I think. There are so many other stories set in other times I want to tell that I need to get Lucca out of my system so I can move on.
Thanks for talking to me, Wayne. I appreciate the time and I’m sure readers will be intrigued and inspired to buy “Acre’s Bastard.”

"Defender of Jerusalem" covers the Battle of Hattin from the perspective of Balian d'Ibelin.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Battle of Dorylaeum

Two weeks ago, in his first guest post, Rand Brown looked at the start of the First Crusade. Today he examines the first important battle of that military campaign.

For reasons not entirely clear from the sources, the Crusader lords decided to divide the army into two columns – a smaller vanguard and a larger main body – as they marched through the inhospitable Anatolian plateau.  This plan may have been determined according to sound contemporary military practice in Europe where dividing one’s force allowed for more efficient foraging.  Although the vanguard was the smaller, it benefited from the military experience of Bohemond who commanded overall as well as the reinforcement of his highly competent Italio-Norman forces.  Accompanying him were the equally competent Duke Robert Curthose of Bohemond’s ancestral Normandy, the son of the famous William the Conqueror, and Duke Robert of Flanders along with their forces and thousands of pilgrims, including women and children.  Also joining them was the Byzantine advisor, Tatikios, and his nominal force which really amounted to a glorified bodyguard.  The main body contained the rest of the army and was led by Count Raymond, Duke Godfrey, and Bishop Adhemar.  Although the two columns were separated by about a half-day’s march distance (about 5km according to John France’s estimates), almost all the chroniclers attest to vast amounts of pilgrim stragglers strung out between them, perhaps thinking that they could retreat to the safety of either if attacked.

The Anatolian Plateau is still characterized by a labyrinthine network of ridges and valleys that considerably impact the passage of large forces.  In the late 11th Century, army movement through this region would have been tortuously slow.  Additionally, the chroniclers attest to the harsh conditions of the dry and barren climate, noting that the suffering among the many non-combatant pilgrims was already taking its toll and perhaps weighed heavily on the Crusader lords’ minds.  While there is still room for debate about the actual location of the first epic engagement of the First Crusade, Dr. France has made a very convincing argument for a patch of ridge-flanked valley about 4km north of the modern Turkish city of Bozüyük and 45km northeast of the site of the Dorylaeum outpost.  At this particular site, the west-to-east valley takes a decided turn southwards after passing through a thin passage that forms an excellent choke-point.  It is not hard for one to imagine that this choke-point would serve as an excellent place for Kilij Arslan to spring an ambush.
On 1 July, 1097, the sun rose over the makeshift camp of Bohemond’s vanguard column that had just spent the night somewhere near the Bozüyük choke-point.  It is not unreasonable to assume that a commander of Bohemond’s considerable experience would have chosen a site that at least took advantage of whatever defensible terrain features existed at the time – which, according to the chroniclers, included a slight hillock on the site itself and a marsh on one flank.  Surrounding them were tiny ravines and trails that led down from the surrounding ridges, impossible for large armies to traverse, but perfect for small parties.  It was still early when word of first contact came back from Crusader scouts who reported brief skirmishes with Seljuk counterparts in the valley leading south.  The intensity of these skirmishes probably alerted Bohemond that these were more than mere local raiders and that Kilij was lurking somewhere nearby, waiting for the right moment to spring his trap.  Realizing the precarious nature of their position, Bohemond halted the many knights from impetuously chasing after the small parties of Turkish harassers with the help of Robert of Normandy.  Maintaining strict command and control over his isolated column would be essential to surviving this engagement as the Seljuks triumphed when they could divide and scatter their more heavily armored foes.

Bohemond quickly ordered all knights in the camp to dismount and form a solid rank facing southwards, reinforced by the thousands of common infantry behind them.  At about the same time, the first elements of Kilij Arslan’s mounted horde began streaming down from the many paths and ravines from the surrounding hills.  Fulcher of Chartres and the anonymous author the Gesta Francorum offer vivid descriptions of the engagement and may have been personally present for it.  They both recount the terror and chaos in the vanguard camp as the first clouds of Seljuk arrows crashed among them, wounding both soldier and non-combatant alike.  However, the ranks of the dismounted knights stood firm, bolstered by the iron discipline imposed by Bohemond and his fellow lords along with the superiority of their armor.  Ralph of Caen, a Norman chronicler of the First Crusade, bore explicit testimony to this when he wrote, “The enemy were helped by their numbers – we by our armor.”  Although many unarmored pilgrims suffered grievously from the Turkish attack, the real priority of the Crusade – the armored knightly professionals upon whom the entire effort relied – weathered the storm well and stood as a wall against the chaotic Seljuk maneuvering.

According to all the chroniclers, this initial phase of the fight lasted for an extremely long time – at least a six hour stretch from dawn until sometime around 12 noon.  This would be consistent for an action where the Western forces entrenched into an almost “wagon fort” stance while the Turks raced about, loosing arrow after arrow and probing for weaknesses to exploit.  While they still possessed ammunition, the Seljuks had little reason to engage in close quarters fighting.  However, this rapidly changed as arrow reserves began to run low with no real impact on the solid ranks of knights and footmen.  Steadily, bands of Turks attempted to charge through into the Western camp.  Many of the chroniclers describe this moment as their most desperate, with a few Turks making it inside the camp to strike terror into the women, priests, and wounded within.  However, wherever the Turks got close the initiative then swung in favor of the heavier armored Latin knights and infantry who were far more skilled at melee combat than their foe.  Also, the terrain benefited Bohemond’s force, as the elevated ground forced the Turks to charge upwards and the marsh on the west flank bogged down the Turkish riders who ventured into it and become easy targets for Crusader infantry.  Kilij must have begun to sense that these Latins were a vastly different breed than the disordered mob Peter the Hermit had led to the slaughter a mere year ago.  As more and more Turks were forced to charge in for close combat, the situation began to embarrass Seljuk overconfidence.  Around the noon hour, horns were heard in the hills to the west and announced that the Turkish situation was now hopeless.

Bohemond’s great gamble had been to hold just long enough with his vanguard for the much larger main force (at least two to three times the van’s size) to link back up with him.  By brilliantly executing superb command and control over his forces, he had been able to do just that despite nearly being surrounded by Seljuk attackers.  As the mounted forces of Godfrey, Raymond, and the rest of the Crusader host crested the ridge to the west, the Turks had nearly run out of ammunition and were hopelessly pinned against Bohemond’s dismounted lines.  

What followed was a mass charge that smashed into the confused Seljuk ranks and scattered them, while Bishop Adhemar held high the white banner of St. Peter he had received from Pope Urban.  What must have begun as a confident ambush turned into a complete disaster for the Seljuk warlords and, with the arrival of the main body, the situation for Kilij Arslan was unrecoverable.  The surviving Turks vanished back into the surrounding hills, individual chieftains undoubtedly giving into self-interest at the expense of any unified effort for Kilij’s sake.  Almost as quickly as it had begun, the first true battle of the First Crusade was over.


Although the Crusaders held the field on that July day, they did so at a frightful cost.  Even though there had been few casualties from among the knights and professional soldiers, thousands of unarmored pilgrims had fallen to Turkish arrowfire and skirmishing.  Some of the largest numbers came from those pilgrims who had been straggling in between the two columns and who were virtually defenseless against bands of Seljuk riders.  Also, while many of the chroniclers attest otherwise with figures that beggar belief, the Crusaders are thought to have actually outnumbered the Seljuks in this fight.  Somewhere about 200,000 is thought to be the total head count for the Latin host, with around 50,000 of that number being actual knights and professional fighters.  Kilij Arslan would have been lucky to raise even 20,000 fighters in his hasty rush to intercept the Latin host.  However, they knew the land far better and, with the division of the Crusader columns, had possessed a golden opportunity to destroy them piecemeal – an opportunity they utterly failed to seize.

Kilij Arslan fled back into the depths of Anatolia with the shattered remnants of his forces and his reputation.  According to the Anonymous, the would-be sultan had to lie to the remaining garrisons of Anatolia, telling them of a “great victory” just so they would open their gates and let him pass through.  Never again would Kilij Arslan pose a threat to the movement of the First Crusade.  As the Latin host proceeded, city after city would submit and return to Byzantine control.  However, the reconquest of Asia Minor was not the goal of the great Western effort – much to Byzantine frustration.  After recovering from their desperate first engagement, the united Crusader army rapidly made their way southwards towards the friendlier territory of Armenian Christian Cilicia, where they could conserve their strength before pushing towards the great city of Antioch – where Asia Minor and Syria met and where the Latin host would need to pass in order to gain access to the Levant and, ultimately, Jerusalem.

Dorylaeum represented the first real clash of arms between the Western forces of the First Crusade, teaching them lessons of warfare in the Near East that would prove invaluable as they drove ever closer to their ultimate goal in Palestine.  It also allowed the various Crusader lords – formerly only experienced in European warfare – to see just what exactly they would be facing and how to defeat it.  If any credit is given for the Latin victory there, it would be rightly bestowed upon the superior armor and melee skills of the Western knights.  Later on in the Crusades, Islamic chroniclers would refer to the Latin knights as “the men of steel” whose far superior armor could almost negate the impact of their mounted archers.  However, this capability was only effective if Latin commanders could keep their troops in strictly ordered ranks and refused to let them become scattered chasing after bands of mounted archers feigning retreat.  Here is where Bohemond’s skill as a military leader paid off in dividends for the Crusade.  With his experience fighting in the East, he knew how imperative strict command and control was when facing the rapid fluidity of the Seljuk fighting style.  Had he not been in command of the vanguard, it is very probable that it would have met the same fate as the pitiful People’s Crusade and the First Crusade as a whole might have ended in bitter disappointment.  The victory at Dorylaeum allowed the Crusade to continue with enhanced momentum toward their final objective and even tipped the scales within Asia Minor back in favor of the beleaguered Byzantines for at least a time.

Sources Referenced:

John France.  Victory in the East – A Military History of the First Crusade.  Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

_______.  Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades 1000-1300.  Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Fulcher of Chartres, et al.  The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials.  Ed. Edward Peters.  Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.

Rand L. Brown II is a co-founder of Real Crusades History.  He possesses a MA in Military History from Norwich University and currently serves as a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps.