The Crusades >> The
First Crusade >> Belgrade Is Sacked
Peter left only days behind Walter, leaving Cologne on April 20, 1096,
with about 20,000 followers. This was an enormous army by the standards of
the day, perhaps the largest assembled in Europe in centuries. Most in the
army were commoners, but a substantial number of knights had joined. The
poor went on foot, of course, while the knights were mounted. We know there
was a supply train with wagons, which included the army's treasury. Peter traveled
as he always had, on a donkey.
These Crusaders, too, passed through Germany and Hungary without
incident, leading us to conclude that they were paying their own way to the
satisfaction of local merchants. At Semlin, however, trouble broke out.
This was the town that had punished the sixteen knights from Walter's
army. The sixteen suits of armor were still nailed to the town walls, which
did not please the new Crusaders. Peter tried to move his army quickly on,
but an argument broke out in the rear, allegedly over payment for a pair of
shoes--an important item for Crusaders!--and the quarrel escalated quickly
into a full battle. Peter's army stormed the citadel and sacked the city,
killing several thousand inhabitants and local Byzantine troops.
Semlin was across the Danube from Belgrade. The military commander
quickly sent his few hundred Petchneg troops to prevent the Crusaders from
crossing the river. He then ran for Nish, whereupon the citizens of Belgrade
abandoned the city. The loyal Petchnegs died defending the crossing, but
they were hopelessly outnumbered. Belgrade, too, was sacked.