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[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Battles of the Crusades: The Road to Dorylaeum

Battles of the Crusades: The Road to Dorylaeum

I'm pleased to present the first entry in the "Battles of the Crusades" series by Rand Brown II. Rand will be bringing us short essays on some of the most important battles of the crusades at irregular intervals. For each battle, he plans to provide a discussion of the circumstances, leadership, forces and objectives in one entry and a description of the battle, its aftermath and consequences in a second. He starts with the Battle of Dorylaeum in the First Crusade.



After Pope Urban II officially began the First Crusade with his famous Clermont address in November of 1095, it was nearly a year and a half later before the first real military clash between Latin crusaders and their Islamic foes took place.  Understandable for an undertaking of this magnitude, the First Crusade had gotten off to a rocky start – in the previous year, a mob of commoners led by the self-proclaimed visionary Peter “the Hermit” ignored Pope Urban’s exhortation to wait for the various lords selected to lead the crusade and marched off in a frenzy for Constantinople.  After crossing the Bosphorus against the advice of Emperor Alexios, they were promptly and easily massacred by the Seljuk Turks - who at that time handily controlled the vast majority of Asia Minor having seized it from the Eastern Roman Empire throughout the previous century.  According to various sources, the Turks made massive mounds of the pilgrims’ bones that were still there when the actual crusading army passed that way.  However, this tragic event actually worked in the crusaders’ favor, as it fooled the local Turkish sultans into thinking that Peter’s ill-fated mob had been the extent of the West’s efforts to reclaim the East, causing them to be caught completely off guard at the arrival of the far more professional Lords’ crusading armies.   

Although the logistics of meeting up all the various contingents at Constantinople had been a fraught and time-consuming process that took over a year after Clermont, the armies that crossed the Bosphorus in early 1097 were well-equipped, disciplined, and led by a cadre of some of the finest leadership in Europe.  With virtually no warning, the crusaders – bolstered by contingents of Byzantine forces – rapidly seized the famed city of Nicaea which surrendered with very little resistance.  The local sultan, Kilij Arslan, was now faced the dilemma of having to respond once again to an unexpected foreign threat or lose vital credibility as a leader among his fellow Turkic warlords.  As the crusaders continued to make their way eastwards, Kilij knew he had to act and soon.



In stark contrast to the disastrous lack of leadership of the so-called “People’s Crusade,” the armies of the First Crusade followed representatives of perhaps one the finest generations of Western medieval leadership.  Broken into regional contingents and strongly divided along ethnic identities, the crusading army sported a sort of “council” of nobles who all viewed each other (more or less) as peers.  Some of the more prominent obviously carried a bit more weight with regards to administrative and command decisions.   

At the nominal head of the army was the papal legate, Bishop Adhemar le Puy, who had been hand-picked by Pope Urban to represent papal authority for the pilgrimage and serve as both the moral guide and unifying element for the lay leaders who might be tempted to stray from the intended goal or, worse, begin fighting among one another.  Among the lay leadership, Count Raymond of Toulouse had been one of the first to take the cross and was allegedly personally involved with Pope Urban during the planning phases even before Clermont.  An elderly man by the time of the First Crusade, Raymond had already fought Moors in Spain in his younger years – according to some sources, he had even ridden alongside Rodrigo de Vivar (the famed “El Cid”).  He was also handily the wealthiest of the crusading lords, bringing immense financial resources from his holdings in the Languedoc to the disposal of the crusade.  Raymond led a vast contingent of troops from Provence, Aquitaine, Gascony, and the north-eastern coast of Spain.   

Juxtaposed to Raymond was the Italio-Norman warrior, Bohemond of Taranto.  He was the son of the famed Norman adventurer, Robert Guiscard – who gave Bohemond his nickname (his Christian name was Mark) due to his immense size in reference to a giant in Italian folklore. Bohemond’s participation in the crusade was at first problematic.  For the past several decades, Bohemond’s family had relentlessly attacked Byzantine territories in the Adriatic and Bohemond himself had dealt the Emperor Alexios a particularly humiliating defeat at Dyrrhachium in 1081.  It took the swearing of multiple oaths before Alexios relented to Bohemond’s presence within the crusader leadership, and even then, the tension was palpable.  However, Bohemond was by far the most militarily experienced leader among the various lords, having spent a lifetime fighting in the eastern Mediterranean and who knew what to expect once they crossed into Asia Minor.  His expertise would prove invaluable during the engagement at Dorylaeum as would his contingent of crack Italio-Norman knights, Sicilians, and Neapolitans.   

Representing many of the northern European nobles was Godfrey of Boullion.  A highly respected lord within Europe, he had initially been a key vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor and incorrigible enemy of the papacy, Henry IV.  After the end of the Investiture Crisis, however, Godfrey became closely aligned with the Popes in Rome and his joining the crusade against the wishes of his excommunicated liege-lord must have been a significant public relations victory for Pope Urban.  After selling off his lands, Godfrey used the sum to raise a considerable force from the Rhineland, Flanders, Lorraine, and other territories loosely associated with the German Empire.  Lastly, the crusader lords were accompanied by a Byzantine military advisor, Tatikios, and a nominal contingent of Imperial troops from Constantinople.  Relations between the Western lords and Emperor Alexios were strained at best and a significant amount of distrust resided between both sides.  Tatikios essentially served as the eyes and ears of Alexios on this endeavor and ensured that any formerly Byzantine territory recovered by the crusaders was promptly returned to Imperial rule.


On the opposite side, the crusaders were about to face one of the premier Seljuk warlords of the day, Kilij Arslan (whose second name means “the Lion” in Seljuk), the sultan of Rum.  Kilij was a formidable leader who belonged to the same generation of Turkic warriors that had inflicted the disastrous defeat upon the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071 (which provided the initial inspiration for the First Crusade).  However, Seljuk society was still predominantly nomadic and they were definitely the newcomers in Asia Minor.  Seljuk society was stratocratic in nature and fiercely competitive – the loss of prestige for a particular warlord could easily mean his downfall.  Petty rivalries between various tribes and chieftains were the order of the day and, unbeknownst to them, the Western crusaders marched into a land with very little real unity governing over it.  In his effort to halt the crusader advance, Kilij called upon his kinsman, Ghazi, of the Danishmendid tribe to assist him.  While very little is known about Ghazi, he was undoubtedly one of the few warlords Kilij could trust to answer his call in his desperate hour.



The crusader army that marched upon Asia Minor was the product of nearly 500 years of Western military tradition that arose after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  This was the era of the heavily armored knightly cavalryman and the dawn of the military tradition that would later become known as chivalry.  Developing from old Roman cavalry methods and Frankish improvisations during the Carolingian period, the premier Western warrior was the knight.  Heavily armored with maille hauberk and coif, armed and trained for close-in melee combat, and mounted on steeds especially bred for massed charges, the Western knight in the 11th Century was the epitome of shock and maneuver and was especially lethal in hand-to-hand combat.  Supporting these knights were thousands of infantrymen of varying degrees of quality – ranging from highly disciplined specialists wielding both melee and ranged weapons to inexperienced volunteers eager to do their part in the “fighting-pilgrimage” to Jerusalem and who would often prove to be a hindrance in battle rather than a help.


In stark contrast to the melee-centric traditions of the Western crusaders, the Seljuks exemplified the skirmishing traditions of their fellow steppe-peoples.  As with their Hunnic, Avar, and other Central Asian kinsmen, the Turks relied on a potent mix of mounted speed, maneuver, and massed firepower to rapidly outmaneuver and swarm their foes – all while staying clear of any close encounters until the odds were heavily in their favor.  Turkic armies of this period were almost entirely mounted on hardy steppe breeds that were tough, but fast when well-handled.  The core of the army usually formed around the warlord and his elite retinue of Sipahi, hybrid mounted warriors who usually carried both lance and bow.  While these were the cream of the horde, the meat consisted of thousands of mounted archers – all barely armored, but carrying the classic weapon of the steppe cultures, the recurve bow.  

Small in size, but very powerful within its 150-200yd range, the recurve bow was comprised of wood, horn, and sinew all glued together and “recurved” for greater power within a smaller frame – the ideal weapon for the mounted archer.  Crusader chroniclers like Raymond of Aguilars commented that in battle the Turks “have this custom in fighting, even though they are few in number, they always strive to encircle their enemy.”  They often used feigned retreats and ambushes to overwhelm squadrons of pursuing opponents, as they did in several engagements with the Byzantines.  Speed, surprise, and mobility were critical for the Seljuks – because the alternative often meant their ruin.  In close quarters melee, even the finest Seljuk warrior was at a disadvantage.

For those who wore any armor at all, Turkic armor consisted of multiple variations on the lightweight hazagand – a sort of cotton jerkin coat with possible scale or light maille sewn into it.  Compared against the far heavier and higher quality steel armor and weaponry of the West, the average Turk stood little chance in close melee unless his arrow-fire had sufficiently worn down his opponent.  These two warfighting traditions were on a collision course as the crusader host precariously made their way across Anatolia towards the small abandoned military outpost of Dorylaeum.