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Friday, May 6, 2011

Guest Nan Hawthorne: Why We Can Thank the Massacre at Mersivan for the Europe We Know

Linda Banche here. Today's guest is Nan Hawthorne and her medieval historical novel, Beloved Pilgrim. Here she tells us about the doomed Crusade of 1101.

The Crusade of 1101 is clearly not as well known as its predecessor, the First Crusade, which it was meant to bolster, but it may have had a more significant and lasting impact on European history than it or any of the several other numbered Crusades. It was such a monumental failure, it’s crowning moment the Battle of Mersivan Plain, that not only the future of the Crusades but also the economic and political development of Europe was utterly changed.

In brief, the Crusade of 1101 was called by Paschal, the successor of Pope Urban, who died before he learned of the capture of Jerusalem, at the request of the triumphant leaders of the First Crusade as well as Alexios II of Byzantium to cement the success by repelling those “Paynim” forces that might threaten it.

The Crusade of 1101 consisted of four basic expeditions. The first two, led at the outset by Archbishop Anselm of Milan and Raymond de St. Gilles, a hero of the First Crusade, set out from Nicomedia in Byzantium together and were almost immediately diverted north and east instead of south to the Holy Land. The Lombard contingent insisted that the entire body of crusaders head for where they believed Bohemond of Antioch was imprisoned. In spite of Raymond’s intense rivalry with Bohemond, he had no choice but turn the whole procession away from their chosen route. The result, after a few months, was that of the more than 6,000 pilgrims and fighters all but a hundred or so were either captured at Merzifon Plain and sold into slavery or massacred. The few survivors were the household knights of Raymond and the other leaders, such as Stephen of Blois, Constable Conrad, and Stephen and Odo of Burgundy, all of whom slipped away leaving their men at arms and all the clergy and peasants to the Turks. The two remaining expeditions of the crusade not knowing of the massacre set out from Constantinople separately even from each other and met similar fates in deadly ambushes. Only a score of these crusaders made it out alive, and again it was only the leaders who did. These four arms of the Crusade never even made it out of Turkey.

Even before the Crusade of 1101 was over, the first deadly impact was felt. The third and fourth expeditions were attacked by the newly reinforced and confident follows of Kilij Arslan, the Sultan of the Turks, and his allies. Demoralized after the successes of the First Crusade, the Muslim forces had fragmented. With Arslan’s overwhelming success at Mersivan, they were reenergized. War leaders flocked to Arslan ‘s banner. Immediately after Merzifon they rode to head off the two remaining expeditions and crushed them utterly.

The next impact was the destruction of the political power of those leaders fully or tangentially involved in the Crusade of 1101. Alexios II never recovered from the disaster and lost influence in the region rapidly. Many of the leaders of the Crusade itself may have escaped but died soon thereafter, Raymond from fever several years later, and the others in battle after returning to the Holy Land rather than return home to Europe under a cloud.

With the recapture of the roads south from Byzantium the Turks effectively cut off all future land routes to the Holy Land. No longer could vast armies ride across country, but instead were forced to find sea routes. The initial difficulty for this type of transport led to something entirely unanticipated. Those nations, namely the city-states of Venice, Genoa and Milan, took advantage for the need for their maritime resources and acumen to build themselves up into the primary rulers of the Mediterranean Sea. One can attribute the development of these unprecedented powers to the disastrous Crusade of 1101.

Tancred of Antioch no longer had the Byzantine Empire on his frontier, so his own preeminence in the Holy Land was assured, changing irrevocably the power base of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and its allied cities.

There were successes to come for Crusaders in later crusades but it was never again so easy to dominate the Saracen world or to hang onto gains in the Holy Land. In some ways the Crusade of 1101 acted like a vaccination against disease. Like the body that develops stronger defenses against a weaker disease-causing organism, the success of the Turks and their allies over the ineffectual leadership of the Crusade of 1101 brought them together in stronger alliances and numbers. The Crusaders could never rest on their success again.

Source: Runciman, Steven (1951) A History of the Crusades, vol. 2: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East, 1100-1187, Cambridge University Press.

Watch Nan's trailer about Beloved Pilgrim here, or link to it directly on YouTube at

Nan Hawthorne is the author of “Beloved Pilgrim”, a novel of the doomed Crusade of 1101. It is available at Amazon and at Smashwords. Visit the author’s web site at for more on the novel and the historical events and personages.

About the Author - Nan Hawthorne

Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and doted-upon cats. She has been in love with history and historical fiction since, at four, she discovered the Richard Greene “The Adventures of Robin Hood” television series. She wrote her first short story at seven, then launched into the letters and stories with a teen friend that ultimately became her first novel, AN INVOLUNTARY KING: A TALE OF ANGLE SAXON ENGLAND (2008). The author of one nonfiction work on women and body image, she now concentrates primarily on historical novels set in the Middle Ages. Her latest novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, looks at gender identity and self-realization during the chaotic and doomed Crusade of 1101. She writes several blogs on historical themes, owns the catalog and also Internet radio station, Radio Dé Danann.

1 comment:

catslady said...

The older the time period, the more I seem to enjoy it. This is a subject that I know very little about and would enjoy reading more. It's all very fascinating. Nice trailer too!