Thursday, 19 February 2015

cowboys and indians: side-show

A word or two more on the quite disastrous dress-rehearsal that preceded the commencement of the opening act: Urban II was not quite alone in stirring up furor, but surely the Pope’s summons inspired all the other holy-recruiters. The group that managed to get themselves, mostly, massacred in Anatolia, however, probably did not need to be enticed, over-much, to leave behind the drudgery of the manor to secure a blessing in a distant land, maybe even the Holy Land, which they understood to be the land of milk and honey. Being the first wave to embark on their crusade, the peasant army had easy going at first, but soon ran into complications.  Urban II orchestrated the details of the adventure carefully, delaying departure until after the autumn harvest, so the rear-detachment that kept the home-fires burning, already having lost a good deal of their manpower to the advance-party, would not be without food during the winter and the Crusaders might encounter farmers with their lagers full and would be willing to share their bounty.
 Aside from the awful mission-creep that excused the marchers to torment the Jews (which the nobility also championed though not condoned by the Church), it also apparently became license for indiscriminate pillaging and violence, plundering everything in their wake as they crossed the frontier into Byzantium, murdering any one who crossed them, even before the reached total desperation with their supplies dwindling, the local being left with little to share with the advancing horde, the summertime being the leanest season a thousand years ago, as the afore-mentioned crops had not matured and last year’s harvest was nearly depleted. By the time the rabble arrived in Constantinople, under escort, the Emperor Alexius was rather at a loss for words, as this group of untrained hooligans was not exactly the calvary he’d asked the Pope to send. In fact, camped outside the city walls while the emperor tried to figure out how to manage this influx, this relief army proved a much greater liability and terrorised the countryside even more than the occasional, more scrupulous raids carried out by the Turks and Normans—another desperate group of restless plunders suffering from mission-creep. Given a target in Turkish-controlled territory, the peasants decamped and were more or less summarily dispatched, but not without leaving an important blemish—not on the Crusades really since there are no winners in this exercise but on humanity. A few of the peasants even defected, as it were, to the other side, not that as if their convictions had not been tossed away long ago, and fight to expel the Byzantine Greeks. Once the professional crusaders came through months later, following the same route along the Danube to reach the Levant via Anatolia, they were regarded with great suspicion, locals fearing more of the same trouble and disappointment, and the Crusaders faced mounting resistance when it came to provisioning. Moreover, the Seljuk Turks assumed when the encountered this new army that it would be as handily rebuffed as the previous mob.