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  Home >> 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 for instructions.

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 expecting.

But Walter's band was nothing compared to what was coming, a little further up the road.

Belgrade is sacked -->

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