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  Home >> The Crusades >> The First Crusade >> The Main Participants


Before continuing on to the actual first crusade, you should take note of some other leaders, none of whom got even so far as Constantinople, partly to show how these spontaneous movements failed and partly because these are the ones guilty of attacks on the Jews. These were all crusaders in the mold of Walter Sans-Avoir and Peter the Hermit: individuals who felt called by God to respond to Urban's plea to liberate the Holy Sepulchre. They were not in any sense sponsored by the Church; that is, they were not consecrated as pilgrims by their local bishop acting in accordance with the crusading bull issued at Clermont. But, then, neither was Peter. All these people certainly believed they had God's blessing, and they probably believed they would receive the same benefits of remission of sins and so on, for these promises were repeated widely in the months after Clermont.

A few leaders are known by name: 

  • A priest named Gottschalk, 
  • Volkmar about whom we know very little, and 
  • Count Emich of Leiningen (in the Rhine River valley). 

Each of these operated independtly and gathered their own followers of some few thousands. Gottschalk set out from Cologne a few days after Peter in April 1096. They behaved themselves in Germany, but while negotiating for entry into Hungary some of the Crusaders got drunk and plundered the countryside. The locals retaliated, the Crusaders fortified their position, but they were overrun and the entire force dispersed. That was the end of Gottschalk's expedition.

Something similar happened to Volkmar. It is known that he passed from Saxony into Bohemia. They were probably responsible for the attacks on Jews we know about at this time in Magdeburg and in Prague. This band, too, was attacked and dispersed when it tried to enter Hungary.

Additionally, there was Count Emicho. He was a typical robber baron, preying on merchants and others. He claimed to have received divine revelations designating him the leader of the crusade. Other lords who joined him also had bad reputations, but the Count was nevertheless able to assemble a large force along the middle Rhine. He moved down the Rhine that spring, presumably because Cologne was serving as an assembly point. He arrived there on May 29th, plundering and killing Jews in towns along the way. Finally, filled up with loot, he went back up the Rhine then across to the Hungarian border. Once again, King Coloman refused them entry, there was battle, and the Crusaders were routed. Emicho disappears at this point, but some of the survivors made their way to Italy and eventually to Constantinople, though there weren't many who did.

Why were the Jews being attacked? The Jews always held a distinctive and awkward place in medieval Europe. They were always treated as outsiders, strangers within the small communities that made up medieval towns. They had been encouraged to settle in the Rhenish towns by the bishops and by the emperors. Their money-lending practices gave the locals practical excuses for hating Jews. Their own religious and cultural practices kept the Jews a people apart. While the Jews were legally protected by the local authorities, in fact the Jews were highly vulnerable to outbreaks of mob action. In the excited atmosphere of 1096, mob action came easily.

Most of the Crusaders passed through these cities without attacking the Jews. This is not to say that they thought kindly of the Jews or even behaved well toward them, but that as long as the leaders of the crusader bands did not encourage it, there was no violence. Gottschalk may not have encouraged the attacks, but we know that his army had no money and expected to live off the land. Attacking and looting a Jewish community under the excuse of attacking the enemies of Christ was at the very least convenient.

Count Emicho attraced the worst elements. Even groups that came from France to join with Emicho were attacking Jews at Metz in May. The pattern there was typical: the Crusaders told the Jews to be baptised or face death. This pseudo-religious action was always accompanied by seizing the possessions of those killed. A massacre was prevented at Speyer because the local bishop gave the Jews refuge in his palace. The Bishop of Worms tried to do the same thing, but on May 18th, the Crusaders forced their way in and killed everyone. The first time Emicho was responsible was soon after, at Mainz. The Archbishop there closed the city gates against Emicho, having been paid by the Jews to protect them. Two days later, they were betrayed. The gates were opened, Emicho entered and killed all the Jews he found. The archbishop and the money both disappeared.

After these events, the Jews of Cologne, the richest city on the Rhine, were naturally worried. Many fled. There may have been a massacre of Jews there, though the sources are less clear. It is certain, however, that the Jewish quarter was plundered, further enriching Emicho and his followers. Having built a war chest by killing and looting the Jews all along the Rhine, Emicho's army marched off toward Hungary and eventual destruction there.

While the Jews were not attacked by all the Crusaders, these events show clearly that anti-Semitism was a very real force at the time. It was seen to appear again later. Having decided to fight the enemies of Christ in the Holy Land, the Crusaders seem to have readily generalized their definition of "enemy" to include anyone who opposed them, either as a group or individually. 

The First Crusade began with violence against innocents; it would end the same way.

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