This anthology of primary sources from the Europeans and Middle Easterners, that were involved or documented the First Crusade, should be required reading for anyone investigating the nature of violence. This anthology provides essential background and background texts which shed the best light on the issue of why the Crusades started when they did and not before. The foundations for fighting on most sides were definitely secular such as political maneuvering, resources, territory, betrayal, abuses, and humanitarian principles. The documents are sometimes theologically overtoned, but the secular foundations and reasons can clearly be seen throughout the accounts. The Crusaders were all Pilgrims and considered themselves as such. They did not see themselves as soldiers and warriors for a divine cause. They did not consider themselves as "Crusaders" nor as Crusading until centuries after the conflict began. The Bible is rarely referenced in any of the historical documents, but when it is referenced, the citations are usually about calls for unity for Christians like Matthew 10:38-39 and similar calls to follow Christ wholeheartedly. The Psalms or verses concerning spreading the Christian message to others in hopes of saving people were also cited. Strangely enough, the Bible was not used as a source for encouraging violence since references from Jesus encouraging killing of others are virtually nonexistent. Though the Pilgrims could have used the Book of Joshua constantly or other Biblical accounts of war as a potential sources for wanting to fight and kill others, they simply didn't.
Another great anthology of primary sources for the first crusade is The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-Witnesses and Participants.
The best part of this anthology is that you get the perspectives of the Christians, Muslims, and Jews in their sufferings and triumphs. The views of Jews, Muslims, and Christians were very much influenced by their experiences in these times and their frustrations are reflected in their interpretations of God blessing or cursing their causes. The complexity of all the Crusades is seen by the fact that the conditions changed all the time including Christians fighting Christians and Jews supporting Muslims. The First Crusade, from the Christian's side, was really an unguided set of battles by Pilgrims from many nations who went to defend their cultures as a whole and where leadership was not uniform or rigid. Interestingly, neither Pope Urban II or Emperor Alexius I Comnenus lead these Pilgrim expeditions. Pilgrims did the grunt work themselves. Read on.
For more Muslim perspectives on these times and beyond please read: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes and Arab Historians of the Crusades (Islamic World).
For more Jewish perspectives see: The Jews and the Crusaders: The Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades.
The Introduction, by Peters, is definitely worth the price of the book because it documents the reforms in institutional powers and changes in views from clergy, warriors, and laypeople on when violence was allowed in Christianity. He mentions how being a Christian and being a soldier had its paradox. Penance for soldiers was done in many different manifestations like periodical suspension of military duties, becoming a monk later on, etc. These were means of handling sin, penance, and salvation for soldiers, warriors, and other men in a position to use force to protect their lands and nations. Peters claims, "But before the eleventh century no one had worked out a doctrine whereby fighting itself might be considered a penitential and spiritually meritorious act." (8) This means that Christianity had not developed a concept of, what some have erroneously dubbed, "Holy War" for at least the first 1,000 years of existence. In other words, such a concept was more of a gentile-European invention than a Biblical or Judeo-Christian worldview trademark. The incidents in the Old Testament were not used at all as models of how to fight others since Europeans preferred Gentile culture over Jewish history. As will be seen, much of the conflict was neither religious nor holy, but fundamentally and overwhelmingly secular (worldly). Europeans seemed to have developed a different sense of Christianity than historical Christianity which was Jewish to the core as is seen by the fact that nearly all the authors of the books of the Bible were Jews, Jesus himself was Jew who did not abandon Judaism, his disciples were Jews, his ministry never went far from Israel, the first Christians were all Jews from Israel and Paul was a Jew who emphasized to the Jews first then the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). Overall, the Bible is really all about Jews with some moderate focus on gentiles from beginning to end. It is in Europe that Jesus begins to be depicted as a white, blue eyed, Latin speaking icon - even though he was none of these and spoke Aramaic. Culture has way more power and influence than Scripture on many levels - especially concerning wars and conflicts.
Peters mentions how language such as "enemies of God" emerged in the 10th and 11th century and how border areas of contact between Muslims and Christians such as Spain, Sicily, Italy, and Byzantium did not generate this attitude of opposition because of the daily interactions in these countries made for tolerant views of each other's cultures. It was in remote places like Burgundy, Lorraine, and France, where there was little or no contact between Muslims and Christians, that the views of being unavoidable enemies emerged in the late 11th century.
Peters states, "Not only in Spain, however, were armed penitents welcome. The invasions of Europe by Vikings, Magyars, and Muslims in the 9th and 10th centuries had appeared to many as an attack on their lands and their faith. Other enemies appeared in the eleventh century." (11)
He also states, "Early Christianity, which had reluctantly accepted St. Augustine's justification for legitimacy of war under certain specified conditions, had rarely regarded warfare in any way virtuous and often expressed concern for the salvation of those who killed enemies in battle, regardless of the cause for which they fought. The new perils of the 9th and 10th century invasions, however, the clearly acknowledged duty of the powerful to protect the poor and defenseless, and the new successes of Christian armies in Spain, south Italy, and Sicily all represent a slow process by which Christianity came to terms - but its own distinct terms - with war." (15-16) Christian Pilgrims seemed also to be able to fight well when needed.
He notes, "The First Crusade received its name and its shape late. To its participants, it was a journey or pilgrimage, for which the Latin words "iter" and "expeditio" and "peregrinato" sufficed; the later terms "crosata" and "croseria" to designate crusade do not appear until the late 12th and 13th centuries. The men who went on this journey were "peregrini" - pilgrims- and not until much later "crucesignati", "those signed with the Cross"-crusaders." (21)
He mentions, that the First Crusade began with a proclamation of the Peace and Truce of God which was a universal peace for the first time proclaimed throughout all Christendom. It included the Western Church (Rome) and the Eastern Church (Constantinople).
Overall, a few things or events triggered the First Crusade:
* Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) from the Byzantine Empire requested help from Pope Urban II and Western Europeans in 1095 concerning an invasion by Middle Easterners from the Eastern part of the empire.
* Pope Urban II at the Council of Clement gave a speech including the Truce and Peace of God which was very much humanitarian oriented, an appeal for assisting the Byzantine Empire halt the Middle Easterner expansions in Romania and other parts of the empire, an appeal by Urban II to make an expedition to free Jerusalem (partly for safety of pilgrims even though some stories may have been exaggerated), a guaranteeing of salvation to those who fought for these causes.
* Pope Urban II toured Europe recruiting people.
* Before that time there had been many attempts of invasion by "outsiders" on the lands of Europeans (in past few centuries and right before the call from Pope Urban II).
* Stories of abuses of Pilgrims in Jerusalem where the Turks ruled, meaning that Pilgrims from various cultures were being taken advantage of physically and economically on their trips to the city and their rights were not protected as harmless visitors of the city. This is why pilgrims even before the first crusade, still armed themselves to make their pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
and a few other events and changes in views of institutions (i.e. separation of religious and secular powers in the same century as Pope Urban II's speech) made the fuel for the Crusades start off.
Here I will cite the section titles and some comments on what is found in these sections:
I. Pope Urban II at the Council of Claremont, November 27, 1095
This section includes 4 versions of Pope Urban's famous speech (Anonymous Gesta, Robert of Rheims, Baldric of Dol, and Guibert of Nogent) including different versions of his the Truce of God which is a utopian vision of peace among Christians of every nation and a stance against injustices. The appeal to protect and repel those who wish to conquer territories held by Christians in the East is seen through these texts among some theological implications of Christians vs Anti-Christians. Heightened views of the significance of the places that are from the Holy Land are part of the message along with an offer for penance of all sin if one becomes a martyr. Fulcher's version of the Speech is in the next section and is considered perhaps the most reliable. The 4 versions of the speech is a good exercise for testing for reliability and convergence of some of the sources which get quoted throughout the rest of the book. It's a good introduction to how historians can establish reliability.
II. The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, Book 1 (1095-1100)
Here we see Fulcher's version of Urban's speech, comparison with the Maccabees and Israelites as being successful in their campaigns, Wibert - Urban's adversary, names of important pilgrims. Overall summary of the First Crusade between the "Turks" (common title for Middle Easterners) and the "Franks" (common title for the Europeans). Also there are the reference of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus asking Pope Urban II for help against the Turks (52). Also there are details of how the unity and brotherhood brought by the common causes extended to many nationalities. (68)
III. Peter the Hermit and the "Crusade of the People"
The section documents the disorganized campaigns by unorganized groups of nobles, fighting men , pilgrims, etc. which ended in disaster after leaving Constantinople and being beaten by the Turks. Stereotypes and hostility between groups are found here. Slaughter of Jews are observed along with attempts by some Christians to protect the Jews. This section also has Jewish chronicles and accounts on the acts of Christians and the suffering of Jews. Both Christian and Jewish accounts balance out well. Interesting account found in other sections of the book are from the daughter of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, Anna Comnena.
IV. The Journey to Constantinople (August, 1096-May, 1097)
This is the first stop of the Crusades. As willful and hopeful armies marched to Constantinople to aid their Eastern brothers against the Turks, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, who had requested aid from Pope Urban II in the West, mistreats some of the Pilgrims by attacking, capturing, killing, and trying to force some of them to pledge loyalty to him. These events would contribute to anti-Byzantine attitudes and distrust by Westerners later on.
V. The Crusaders at Constantinople (October, 1096-May-1097)
Emperor Alexius I Comnenus eventually offers food and shelter while trying to extract oaths of loyalty from the Pilgrims who felt betrayed since in their minds, they had come from the West to help their Eastern Christian brothers, not fight with them or their Emperor. Westerners began to have distrust of Byzantinium and this "greatly hampered the Second Crusade in 1147 and helped provide a rationale for the later diversion of the Fourth Crusade to the capture of Constantinople itself in 1204." (159) More accounts of the Emperor attacking and killing other "People of Christ" are seen. The Emperor and Godfrey of Bouillon (aka Duke Godfrey) who was a Pilgrim, were in bitter terms with each other and some killings and abuses occurred on both sides.
VI. The Seige and Capture of Nicaea (May-June, 1097)
Accounts on the first victory of the Crusades. Both the Western Pilgrims and Eastern Byzantines fought together to halt the invasion by the Turks.
VII. The Seige and Capture of Antioch, Kerbogha's Attack, and the Discovery of the Holy Lance (October,1097-July,1098)
Here are accounts of the suffering and hardships faced by the Pilgrims such as desertion, fatigue, starvation, etc. One account mentions how messengers were sent to the Turks to ask them why they came and why they attacked Christians. They offered a clean peace if the Turks leave these Christian lands alone. The Turks reply that these lands were theirs first (221-222). Two Muslim Arabic chroniclers show their perspectives.
VIII. The Seige and Capture of Jerusalem (June-July, 1099)
The title says it all. This is the end of the First Crusade. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim accounts are found here for perspectives.
IX. Letters of the Crusaders
X. Three Problematic Texts
Interesting but controversial documents.
A look at how views of the Crusades have changed through time.
Overall this book deserves a wide audience. These selections give a great amount of context on why the Crusades even began at that point in time and not before. They also show how people saw their place in this world.
For Fulcher of Chartres complete account see A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127 (he is considered one of the most reliable sources of the First Crusade).
Since some maybe interested in reading this because they are interested in "religious violence", it would be wise to see other books such as The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict and reflect on "secular violence" in Death by Government to see that it is the same phenomenon and that the phenomenon of violence is incredibly complex. See also primary sources from other events like The Spanish Inquisition, 1478-1614: An Anthology of Sources, The Witchcraft Sourcebook, "Buddhism and Violence (Publications of the Lumbini International Research Institute, Nepal)", and Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism to get a broad perspective on what starts violence and what triggered the conflicts.