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Ekkehard of Aurach:
On the Opening of the First Crusade

Ekkehard, a well-known German historian had completed a history of the world in the year 1101 when he determined to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem On his return he entirely rewrote the particulars of his history relating to the First Crusade, and finally issued it as a little separate volume called Hierosolymita. His work is regarded by historical scholars as remarkably painstaking and temperate.

After mentioning the capture of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon and his fellow-crusaders in 1099, Ekkehard continues:

[Some declare the crusade inexpedient] Here I am very anxious to add certain details concerning these military undertakings, which are due to divine rather than human inspiration. This I do for the especial purpose of refuting those imprudent - or, better, impudent - critics. who, bound by prejudice, take it upon themselves with insolent lips to blame this novel enterprise, so necessary to a world that is growing old and nearing its end. They, like the Epicureans, prefer the broad way of pleasure to the narrow way of God's service. To them love of the world wisdom and those who despise it are fools....I, however, since I trust in the Lord and strive not for present but for future things, would, although only as an idle spectator yet a kindly well-wisher, exalt the glorious men of our time who have overcome the kingdoms of this world and who, for the sake of the blessed Shepherd who sought the hundredth sheep that was lost, have left wife and child, principalities and riches, and have taken their lives in their hands...

The many peoples who took part in the First Crusade.

[After Urban had aroused the spirits of all by the promise of forgiveness to those who undertook the expedition with single-hearted devotion,] toward one hundred thousand men were appointed to the immediate service of God from Aquitaine and Normandy, England, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Galicia, Gascony, France, Flanders, Lorraine, and from other Christian peoples, whose names I no longer retain. It was truly an army of "crusaders," for they bore the sign of the cross on their garments as a reminder that they should mortify the flesh, and in the hope that they would in this way triumph over the enemies of the cross of Christ, as it had once come to pass in the case of the great Constantine. Thus, through the +marvelous and unexampled working of divine dispensation, all these members of Christ, so different in speech, origin, and nationality, were suddenly brought together as one body through their love of Christ.

While they were all under one king, Christ, the several peoples nevertheless were led by their several leaders, namely Godfrey of Lorraine and his brothers Baldwin and Eustace, Robert of Flanders, Robert of Normandy, Count Regimund of St. Gilles, Hugh, brother of King Philip of France, and other warriors of similar energy, rank, and bravery. Over alll of these the above-mentioned pope placed Bishop Hademar a man of venerable holiness and wisdom. To him the pope granted the right to exercise in his stead the power transmitted by St. Peter to the Roman see of binding and loosing....

The West Franks were easily induced to leave their fields, since France had, during several years, been terribly visited now by civil war, now by famine, and again by sickness....Among the other nations, the common people, as well as those of higher rank, related that, aside from the apostolic summons, they had in some- instances been called to the land of promise by certain prophets who had appeared among them, or through heavenly signs and revelations. Others confessed that they had been induced to pledge themselves by some misfortune. A great part of them started forth with wife and child and laden with their entire household equipment.

The Germans at first regard the crusaders as madmen.

The summons, however, failed altogether to reach the East Franks, Saxons, Thuringians, Bavarians, and Alemannians. This was due especially to the division between the civil government and the priesthood, which from the time of Pope Alexander [II] to the present day has, alas, made us as hated and offensive to the Romans as the Romans are to us. So it came about that almost the whole German people were, at the beginning of the expedition, quite unacquainted with the reasons for it. Consequently the many legions of horsemen who passed through their land, the hosts of people on foot, the crowds of country people, women and children, were viewed by them with contempt as persons who had altogether lost their wits.

Those bound for the Holy Land seemed to them to be leaving the land of their birth and sacrificing what they already had for a vain hope. The promised land offered no certainty but danger, yet they deserted their own possessions in a greedy struggle for those of others. Nevertheless, although our people are far more arrogant than others, the fury of the Teutons finally gave way in view of the divine mercy, and after they had thoroughly discussed the matter with the multitude of pilgrims, they too inclined their hearts.

Prodigies announce the coming crusade

Moreover the signs in the sun and the wonders which appealed, both in the air and on the earth, aroused many who had previously been indifferent. It seems to us useful to interweave an account of a few of these signs, although it would carry us too far to enumerate them all. For example we beheld a comet on the 7th of October to the south, its brilliancy slanting down seemed like a sword...A few years ago a priest of honorable reputation, by the name of Suigger, about the ninth hour of the day beheld two knights, who met one another in the air and fought long, until one, who carried a great cross with which he struck the other, finally overcame his enemy....Some were watching horses in the fields reported that they had seen the image of a city in the air and had observed various how troops from different directions, both on horseback and on foot, were hastening thither.

Many, moreover, displayed, either on their clothing, or upon their forehead, or elsewhere on their body, the sign of the cross, which had been divinely imprinted, and they believed themselves on this account to have been destined to the service of God. Others likewise were induced, through some sudden change of spirit or some nocturnal vision, to sell all their property and possessions and to sew the sign of mortification on their mantles. Among all these people who pressed into the churches in incredible numbers, swords were distributed with the priestly benediction, according to new usage, along with the pilgrim's staff and wallet.

I may also report that at this time a woman after two years gestation finally gave birth to a boy who was able to talk,; and that a child with a double set of limbs, another with two heads, and some lambs with two heads were also born; and that colts came into the world with great teeth, which we ordinarily call horses' teeth and which nature only grants to three-year old horses.

Bad men and women join the crusaders

While through these and similar signs the whole creation seemed to offer its services to the Creator, the watchful enemy, who takes occasion when others sleep to sow his tares amongst the good seed, raised up also false prophets and mixed false brethren and degraded women among the Lord's host under the appearance of religion. In this way the armies of Christ were defiled not only through hypocrisy and lies but through shameless uncleanness, so that the prophecy of the Good Shepherd might be fulfilled, that even the elect may be led astray.


James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History: Vol. I: (Boston:: Ginn and co., 1904), pp.316-318

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.

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(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
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