The Crusades >> The
First Crusade >> Walter The Penniless
One who left early was a Frankish knight called Walter. You will
sometimes see him referred to as Walter the Penniless, from which some infer
that he was a poor knight. In truth, Walter's family name was Sans-Avoir and
he was almost certainly not penniless. In any case, Walter left Cologne just
after Easter 1096, with a few thousand followers.
Walter marched up the Rhine River, then up the Neckar River. From its
headwaters is only a short trek overland to the Danube River. It appears
that Walter's army had sufficient finances to pay their way. They passed
through Germany and then through Hungary without incident. They crossed into
Byzantine territory at Belgrade at the end of May. With no disruptions and
delays, then, it took just over a month to go from Cologe to Belgrade.
The military commander at Belgrade was not expecting the Crusaders.
Unsure as to what to do with several thousand armed Franks and Germans, he
did what provincial commanders have long done: he sent back to the
provincial governor for instructions. The provincial governor at Nish in
turn what provincial governers have long done: he sent back to the capital
This may all sound like bureaucracy, but it had an immediate practical
effect: shopping. Thousands of foreigners, with foreign currency and
language, needed to have a special market set up. The granting of market
privileges was a fundamental requirement for an army to pass peacefully
through friendly territory. Refusal to grant a market was a standard way for
a local power to tell the army to keep moving, that it was not welcome.
Belgrade had not exactly refused to grant a market, but the delay in
waiting for instructions meant in fact there was no market. It did not take
long before the Crusaders were running short on supplies and on patience.
They began to take what they needed from the surrounding countryside, and
Belgrade shut its gates. At a nearby town, sixteen knights were caught
pillaging (they would have said "requisitioning"). The townspeople
stripped them and hung their armor on the town walls as a warning to others.
Before the situation got out of hand, word arrived from Nish that the
Crusaders should move on to that city. There the Crusaders acquired a
Byzantine military escort. The Crusaders proceeded to Constantinople in good
order, and Alexius Comnenus greeted them cordially. Walter was treated very
well, even though he and his band were not really what the Emperor was
But Walter's band was nothing compared to what was coming, a little
further up the road.
is sacked -->