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Medieval Sourcebook:
De expugnatione Lyxbonensi, 1147
[The Capture of Lisbon]

[Adapted from Brundage] The first groups to depart on the Second Crusade were Anglo-Norman and Flemish sailors and troops who left Dartmouth on May 19, 1147 bound for Spain. Their goal was to conquer a number of position on the west coast of Iberia, among them the city of Lisbon. Affonso I of Portugal was already in the field there when the Anglo-Norman troops landed on the beaches in June 1147.

An account of the expedition survives, written by Osbernus.

The city of Lisbon at the time of our arrival consisted of sixty thousand families paying taxes-this figure includes the suburbs round about, except the free ones, which pay taxes to no one. A circular wall there surrounds the top of the hill and, at the left and right, the city walls descend to the banks of the Tagus River. The suburbs, down below the city wall, are cut into the banks of the river in such a way that each of them has a superbly fortified citadel. The place is girded with pitfalls. The city was populous beyond belief, for, as we learned from its alcayde, or governor, after the capture of the city, it had one hundred fifty-four thousand men, not counting women and children, but including the citizens of Scantarem who had been expelled during this year from their stronghold and who were living in Lisbon as guests and immigrants. This number also included the leading citizens of Cintra, Almada, and Palmela, and many merchants from all parts of Spain and Africa. Although there were many citizens, the city had only fifteen thousand lances and shields with which to arm its men. They therefore came out in shifts, exchanging their weapons with one another, as their prince decreed.

The city's buildings were jammed so closely together that it was scarcely possible, save in the merchants' quarters, to find a street more than eight feet wide. The reason for such a dense population was that there was no established religion there. Each man was a law unto himself. As a result the basest element from every part of the world had gathered there, like the bilge water of a ship, a breeding ground for every kind of lust and impurity

On the vigil of St. Peter the Apostle [June 30 1147] we arrived there at the dinner hour. After the meal some of our men landed from the ships on the shore next to the city. The Moors opposed their landing, but they were unable to withstand our forces and were driven back, not without losses, to the gate of the suburb. Saher of Archelle, however, angered at the enemy's scheme, called our men back from the attack and thanked God that, unlike those who had previously attempted this task, we had had a different experience at the outset. He convoked those who were there and ordered that the tents be pitched atop the hills which overlooked the town, barely a stick's throw away. He held that it would be a shame to give ground after the first brush with the enemy, lest we seem to be yielding to them. All those present favored his stand. When the first watch of the night came, however, only two tents - those of Hervey of Glanville and Saher of Archelle - had been pitched, for all the others had gone back to the ships. Although there were but a few of us - a mere thirty-nine -we kept watch, not without fear, through the night and so celebrated the solemn vigil of St. Peter with our hauberks on. In the morning everyone pitched his tent as quickly as he could, as if they had not known before about our situation. As bad previously been arranged, the bishops who were with us went to the King to make him come out to meet us. They returned with him in a short time, since he had been in the vicinity for more than eight days awaiting our arrival. He had heard of our coming from those of our men who had separated from our expedition and had come in five ships after a five-day sail from Dartmouth. This group had arrived eight days earlier than we did. When the King arrived, therefore, almost all of us, rich and poor, went out to meet him as usually happens in such a mob. When the King inquired who were the chief men among us, or whose advice carried most weight with us, or if we had entrusted the charge of replying for the whole army to anyone, he was told in short order that we had so-and-so as our chief men, that their advice and actions carried the most weight, but that they had not yet decided to whom they would entrust the office of spokesman....

Representatives were elected from among our leaders, together with those of the men from Cologne and Flanders, so that they could act on our behalf with the King and reach a definite agreement between us and him. Later, the representatives together with the King, the Archbishop and the bishops, the clergy, and the laity caused the protocol of the confirmation of the agreements to be published before everyone in these words:

"Let the terms of the agreement reached between me and the Franks be known to all sons of the Church, both present and to come. Namely that I, Affonso, King of the Portuguese, with the consent of all my people, so that it may be remembered by future generations, do provide by this protocol of confirmation that the Franks who shall remain with me in the siege of the city of Lisbon shall have and take into their power and possession the goods of whatever kind belonging to the enemy and that I and my men shall have no part whatever of them. The Franks shall freely have the ransom money from the enemy prisoners who are taken alive and who wish to be ransomed. The prisoners, moreover, they shall release to me. If they should, perchance, take the city, they shall have it and hold it until it has been searched and despoiled, both of prisoners for ransom and of everything else. Then, when it has been as thoroughly searched as they wish, they shall turn it over to me. Afterwards, the city and the conquered territory shall, under my direction, be divided among the Franks according to ranks, as these are best known to me, to be held in accordance with the most honorable customs and liberties of the Franks.

Over them there shall be reserved for me only the power of an advocatus. I release firmly and in good faith, moreover, the ships and goods of the men who shall have been together with me at the siege of Lisbon and their heirs from all of the commercial tax which is commonly known as the pedatica from this time onward in perpetuity throughout my whole land. . . ."

Twenty sure hostages, bishops and laymen, were given on oath and warranty, on behalf of the King for the observance of this agreement. The King swore, moreover, that he would observe the treaty and agreement aforesaid. He further agreed that he would not desert us unless he were stricken with a mortal sickness or unless his lands were occupied by the enemy. . . . We also bound ourselves likewise to uphold the agreement, took an oath, and gave twenty hostages....

When morning came the constables and leaders of our side went again to the King's court at about the ninth hour of the day in order to turn over the hostages and to attend to the many things necessary for the siege. Those of our boys who were carrying slings, meanwhile, provoked the enemy into advancing onto the field with the result that, being the more provoked by the slinging of stones from a distance, the enemy ventured a major attack. As our men, little by little, armed themselves, the enemy shut themselves within the suburb. They threw stones from the roofs of the houses which were enclosed by parapets, and thus they made it difficult for our men to enter. Our men, who were looking for an opening whereby they might get in, if there were such a thing, drove them back into the middle of the suburb. There they put up a strong resistance to us. Our men, little by little, increased in numbers and made a fiercer attack. Many, meanwhile, were struck by arrows and the missiles of the balistas and fell, for the volley of stones made it impossible to approach closer. Thus a great part of the day was spent. Finally, at sunset, our men got through some twisting passages which were scarcely passable even for unarmed men and, after a major encounter, occupied part of a hill....

The Moors , meanwhile, made frequent sorties against our men by day because they held three gates against us. With two of these gates on the side of the city and one on the sea, they bad an easy way to get in and out. On the other hand, it was difficult for our men to organize themselves. The sorties caused casualties on both sides, but theirs were always greater than ours. While we kept watch, meanwhile, under their walls through the days and nights, they heaped derision and many insults upon us. They considered us worthy of a thousand deaths, especially since they thought that we spurned our own things as vile and lusted after others' goods as precious. Nor did they recall doing us any injury, save that if they had anything of the best quality in their possession we might consider them unworthy of having it and judge it worthy of our possession. They taunted us with the many children who were going to be born at home while we were gone and said that our wives would not be anxious about our deaths, since home was well supplied with little bastards. They promised that any of us who survived would go home miserable and poverty-stricken and they mocked us and gnashed their teeth at us. They also continuously attacked Blessed Mary, the mother of God, with insults and with vile and abusive words, which infuriated us. They said that we venerated the son of a poor woman with a worship equal to that due to God, for we held that he was a God and the Son of God, when it is apparent that there is only one God who began all things that have begun and that he has no one coeval with him and no partaker in his divinity.... They attacked us with these and similar calumnies. They showed to us, moreover, with much derision the symbol of the cross. They spat upon it and wiped the feces from their posteriors with it. At last they urinated on it, as on some despicable thing, and threw our cross at us....

[Finally, after the siege had lasted for nearly seventeen weeks, on October 23 we] decided, when all had returned to the camp, to enter the town at sword's point. The men of Cologne and the Flemings, meanwhile, were indignant because the King seemed to be favoring the hostages. They rushed armed out of their camp to sieze the hostages violently from the King's camp and to take vengeance on them. All around there was tumult and clashing of arms. We were midway between the King's camp and theirs, still talking and waiting, and we reported to the King what was being prepared, The Flemings' leaders, Christian and the Count of Aerschot, although they were barely armed, put a stop to the tumult among their men as soon as they learned of it. When the tumult had been quieted they went to pacify the King, assuring him that they were not involved in this action. After he had taken surety from them and had finally quieted the Flemings down, the King ordered them to put down their arms, asserting roundly that he would put off the siege until the next day. It was decided, therefore, on the following day that all the followers of each of our leaders would swear fealty to the King on behalf of themselves and their people, to be kept so long as they remained in his land.

When these matters had been agreed upon by both sides, the arrangements which the Moors had proposed on the previous day for the delivery of the city, were accepted. It was decided among us that one hundred and forty of our armed men and one hundred and sixty of the Flemish and the Cologne contingents should enter the city before everyone else and peacefully take over the fortifications of the upper fortress so that the enemy might bring all of their money and possessions there and give a guarantee by swearing before our men. When all these things had been collected, the city was then to be searched by our men. If any further possessions were found, the man in whose house they were discovered was to pay for it with his head. When everyone had thus been despoiled, they were to be let go in peace outside of the city. When the gates had been opened and those who were chosen were allowed to enter, the men of Cologne and the Flemings thought up a sly method of deceiving us: they requested our men to allow them to enter first for the sake of their honor. When they had received permission and got a chance to enter first, they slipped in more than two hundred of their men, in addition to those who had been selected. These were also in addition to others who had already slipped through the ruined places in the walls which lay open to them, while none of our men, except those selected, had presumed to enter.

The Archbishop and the other bishops went in front of us with the Lord's cross and then our leaders entered together with the King and those who had been selected. How everyone rejoiced! What special glory for all! What great joy and what a great abundance there was of pious tears when, to the praise and honor of God and of the most Holy Virgin Mary the saving cross was placed atop the highest tower to be seen by all as a symbol of the city's subjection, while the Archbishop and bishops, together with the clergy and everyone, intoned with wonderful rejoicing the Te Deum, Laudamus and the Asperges me, together with devout prayers.

The King, meanwhile, went around the strong walls of the fortress on foot. The men of Cologne and the Flemings, when they saw in the city so many spurs to their greed, did not observe their oaths or their religious guarantees. They ran hither and yon. They plundered. They broke down doors. They rummaged through the interior of every house. They drove the citizens away and harassed thern improperly and unjustly. They destroyed clothes and utensils. They treated virgins shamefully. They acted as if right and wrong were the same. They secretly took away everything which should have been common property. They even cut the throat of the elderly Bishop of the city, slaying him against all right and justice. . . . The Normans and the English, however, for whom faith and religion were of the greatest importance, contemplating what such actions might lead to, remained quietly in their assigned position, preferring to stay their hands from looting rather than to violate the obligations of their faith and their oathbound association. This affair covered the Count of Aerschot, Christian, and their leaders with very great shame, for while their men had patently disregarded their oath, ours, by staying out of it, made the greed of the others plain. Finally they came to themselves and besought our men with earnest prayers that we should occupy the remaining sections of the city together with them so that, after the loot had been divided, all the injuries and thefts might be discussed peacefully and they would be prepared to make amends for the evils they had presumed to commit. The enemy, when they had been despoiled in the city, left the town through three gates continuously from Saturday morning until the following Wednesday., There was such a multitude of people that it seemed as if all of Spain were mingled in the crowd.

Thereafter a miracle worthy of great admiration was reported: for fifteen days before the capture of the city, the enemy's food supplies bad become inedible because of an intolerable stench. Afterward we tasted them and found them pleasing and acceptable, both to us and to the enemy. When the city was despoiled, there was found in the cellars some eight thousand seams" of wheat and barley and some twelve thousand pints9 of oil. . . . There was discovered in their temple, which rises on seven ranks of columns with arches atop them, nearly two hundred corpses as well as more than eight hundred other people who were sick and remained there in all their squalor and filth.


Osbernus, , De expugnatione Lyxbonensi, ed. William Stubbs, , Chronicles and Memorials of the Reign of Richard, Rolls series (London: Longmans, 1864), I, clv-clvi, clx-clxi, clxiv, clxvi, clxxviii-clxxx, 20-23, translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 97-104

Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover he gave permission for use of his translations.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall December 1997


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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 20 January 2021 [CV]