Crusaders: did they fight for God or gold?

Waging holy war in the Middle Ages could be a lucrative business. Medieval historian Dan Jones tells the story of the crusaders who returned from the front line with their souls cleansed – and their pockets full

Crusaders defeat the Turks at Dorylaeum in 1097, as shown in a 14th-century illumination

On the morning of 1 July 1097, tens of thousands of Christian pilgrim soldiers of the First Crusade scrambled to make a desperate stand against a horde of advancing Turkish horsemen.

The crusaders were only a few days into a three-month march through 800 miles of hostile terrain when the Turks took them by surprise, attacking early in the morning while the crusaders were still in camp, near an old Roman settlement in Anatolia called Dorylaeum. One eyewitness to the battle, a French priest called Fulcher of Chartres, recalled the terror he felt when the Turks descended, as he and his companions “huddled together like sheep in a fold, trembling and frightened”. The fighting raged for six hours until eventually – miraculously – it became clear that the Turks did not have the numbers to prevail. The Christian cavalry, commanded by a wily Norman nobleman called Bohemond of Taranto, held the tormentors at bay for long enough to allow reinforcements to arrive from several miles away. These fresh troops forced the Turks into a disorderly retreat, which soon became a rout. After it was finished, the crusaders buried their dead and gave thanks for their victory.

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