That winter we retired Carty with full honors from our crusade. He had done superbly to walk the 2,000 miles as far as Turkey, but I did not want him to suffer the same fate as his forebears that had died of heat and exhaustion in Turkey’s desert steppes. True to his promise, our Austrian friend collected Carty and took him back to the Vienna Woods, where he
First to fall, the Seljuk city of Nicaea (modern Iznik) was walled on all sides, protected by Lake Ascanius in the rear, and defended by a fierce and skillful foe. The crusaders besieged the city, then hauled boats overland from the Sea of Marmara, launching them on the lake. Thus blockaded, the Turks surrendered.
Carty’s replacement was a mountain pack pony named Zippy, who was about a third Carty’s size. Zippy wore a perpetual put-upon look that would have won him an Oscar among pack ponies. He could give the impression that he was overworked, overloaded, and underfed, just at the moment he was contemplating making a run for it at a sizzling sprint that would leave Szarcsa and Mystery flat-footed. At the end of a long hard day Zippy would lie flat on the ground and kick his legs in spasms. This was, Sarah told me, the classic symptom of a dying horse. Zippy, it seemed, had read the veterinarian’s handbook.
Sarah and the three horses and I set off again in April across Anatolia, after the snowmelt but before the summer heat. We passed near the ancient site of Dorylaeum, where the crusaders fought a crucial and nearly fatal battle. The Turks pinned the advance group against a marsh and attacked with waves of mounted archers.
“All of us,” wrote Fulcher of Chartres, “huddled together like sheep in a fold, trembling and terrified. . . .”A messenger was sent to Godfrey, whose army was nearby. He and his fellow knights spurred to the rescue, leaving their infantry behind.
The mass of Frankish cavalry caught the Turks head on. “Suddenly,” wrote a vastly relieved Fulcher, “we saw the backs of the Turks as they turned in flight.” From that moment onward no opponent, whether Turk or Arab, ever willingly faced the shattering charge of the crusaders’ heavy cavalry.
But the crusaders’ real foe was the desolate, hostile expanse of the Turkish hinterland. As the Turks fell back, they blocked wells and destroyed crops. The host found itself marching through a wasteland in the heat of summer. “We suffered greatly from hunger and thirst,” recorded one knight, “and found nothing at all to eat except prickly plants which we gathered and rubbed between our hands. On such food we survived wretchedly enough, but we lost most of our horses, so that many of our knights had to go on as foot soldiers. . . .”
Irrigation has converted much of Turkey’s desert regions to rolling wheat fields, and Sarah and I found the Turkish code of hospitality flourishing in every village. Our horses were always fed and watered, and we were invariably quartered in the headman’s own home or the village guesthouse.
“Why are you making such a difficult journey?” was the standard question. Our answer was easy for Muslim villagers to grasp: “We are making a hajj to the holy city of Jerusalem.”
Just beyond the town of Kayseri we turned southeast to cross the Anti-Taurus Mountains.
The crusaders passed this way in autumn 1097. Winter was coming on, and after more than a year on the road there was no immediate prospect of reaching Jerusalem. What drove them onward? Greed for plunder, as many have charged? Dream of empire? Neither had much relevance in those raw mountains. What kept the crusaders going, planting one foot wearily in front of the other, had to be faith.
FRIDAY, JUNE 17, brought the lowest ebb of our journey; on that day we lost Mystery. For nearly the entire journey from Belgium she had led the way, and now, outside the Turkish city of Antakyathe Antioch of old—she developed a virulent and unidentified ailment that killed her within 12 hours. Sarah and I were devastated.
Mystery’s replacement was Yabanci —”foreigner” in Turkish — a palomino mare we found hauling baskets of coal in the bazaar at Antakya. She had been most cruelly used and was unkempt and terrified, a mass of oozing sores from a badly fitting harness. We bought her on the spot, bathed and medicated her, and within days she was a different horse.
The crusaders delayed more than a year at Antioch. They laid siege to the city, but the fortifications proved impregnable. Food ran out, not for the Turks inside but for the Christians outside. The poorest pilgrims were reduced to eating undigested seeds picked from animal dung, and pestilence ravaged their camp.
Finally the commander of one of Antioch’s wall towers was bribed into treacherously allowing a handful of knights to scramble up the ramparts, enter the city, and open the gates. The crusaders poured in and put the entire city to the sword. They were besieged in turn by a Turkish army that suddenly arrived, just too late, to relieve Antioch.
Morale among the Christians slumped to such depths that the exhausted men refused to do guard duty on the walls. Then one of the pilgrims claimed he had a vision that the holy lance— the weapon that pierced Christ’s side on the Cross—could be found buried beneath a church floor in the city. The “lance” was dug up, the crusaders carried it into a last desperate attack on the Turkish army, and the siege was broken.
Now, with only 400 miles between them and Jerusalem, the crusaders’ leaders did indeed seem more intent on seizing towns and booty than in reaching the Holy City. But at length the common pilgrims threatened to mutiny, forcing their leaders to continue the march.
The final sector of the crusaders’ route from Antioch to Jerusalem followed the Mediterranean coast road through Syria. There, in the shadow of a crusader castle that once guarded the strategic highway, I asked a Syrian schoolteacher what he told his pupils about such vestiges of foreign presence.
“I tell them it was just another form of colonialism,” he replied. “But how do you yourself feel?” I pressed him, and he merely shrugged. “As you would about the castles left in Spain by the Moors,” he answered deftly. “History moves on, and leaves its monuments behind.”
Unwilling to risk war-torn Lebanon, I decided to turn inland and approach Jerusalem by the old caravan route through Jordan. There we encountered the conditions the crusaders had endured: 107°F in the shade—though there was no shade on the open road. Fodder was desperately scarce. Sarah and I did not ride the flagging horses but walked beside them.
The Jordanians and Israelis had both given us special permission to cross the Jordan River via the historic Allenby Bridge. From our camp the last night we could see the lights of Jerusalem glittering on the hills of Judaea opposite us.
The next morning was stiflingly hot as we led the horses past groups of soldiers, a series of checkpoints, and the minefield and antitank ditch guarding the Israeli forward positions. It was not so different, I thought, from the moats and watchtowers that the crusaders had encountered.
When the pilgrims sighted the walls of Jerusalem on the seventh of June, 1099, they must have been half crazed by the immense exertion of reaching their goal. Some stood with tears running down their faces, others knelt and kissed the dusty road. Their zeal was great enough to launch the assault against the infidels immediately—only the equipment was lacking. A hermit on the Mount of Olives exhorted them to attack without delay.
“God is all powerful,” the hermit declared. “If He wills, He will storm the walls even with one ladder.” On June 13 the crusaders flung themselves into the battle so heedlessly that they would have swept aside the defenders — Fatamid Egyptians who themselves had captured the city only the year before — but for a crucial shortage of scaling ladders. The leading Christian knight fell back, his hand severed from his arm.
OR MORE THAN THREE WEEKS the host waited while two giant siege towers were constructed. Duke Godfrey himself initiated the successful breakthrough. On July 15 the siege tower in which he rode was levered and pushed to the weakest point of Jerusalem’s wall. Beams were run out at rampart height to make a bridge, and the first knights charged across.
Even their hard-bitten contemporaries were shocked by the terrible massacre that followed as the maddened crusaders rampaged through the city in a bloody catharsis for that appalling, three-year journey.
“No one has ever seen or heard of such a slaughter of pagans,” recalled one knight grimly. “Almost the whole city was full of their dead bodies.” The temple where the Muslims made their last-ditch stand, he said, was “streaming with their blood.” To know more read this http://www.mygreenandgold.com/
A plaque in Jerusalem’s Old City wall marks the spot where Godfrey’s knights cracked the Saracen defenses. Nearby is Herod’s Gate, and 889 years later Sarah and I walked through it, leading the horses. We threaded the city’s narrow lanes, past the hucksters and the rows of small stalls. Surely the medieval pilgrims would have recognized the souvenir sellers hawking their wares and services to passersby.
We headed for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Duke Godfrey’s last resting-place. When elected ruler of the conquered city, he had chosen the simple title of Defender of the Holy Sepulchre. He died of a fever in the Holy City a year later, fatally weakened by the exertions of the great journey.
Much of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was destroyed in a fire in 1808, and Godfrey’s tomb was lost. The epitaph engraved on his tomb had identified him as “renowned Godfrey of Bouillon, who won all this land for the Christian faith.”
The previous summer, as Sarah and I had ridden through a small village in Bulgaria, an old woman dressed in black had hobbled from a doorway into the street. She had pressed three small coins into my hand. “Place these by Christ’s grave,” she asked. And so, many months later, I stooped to enter the small chapel of the Holy Sepulchre and dropped the coins into the offertory box. Sarah’s and my journey was done at last.
AS DUKE GODFREY lay dying in Jerusalem, so the story goes, he summoned one of his knights and gave him a small casket. The duke instructed him to take it back to Château Bouillon in Belgium and there to open it.
The knight did as he was asked. “Weeping for joy,” the crusaders secured the shrine of the Holy Sepulchre (below), thought to be the tomb of Jesus Christ. Christendom hailed their triumph, even as Muslims plotted to reconquer the Holy Land. Although the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted a century, later crusades were ultimately unable to hold what the first had won.
Standing on the castle ramparts, he opened the casket and found a collection of seeds inside. The wind blew them away, and they fell into the castle courtyard below, lodging among the cracks between the great stones.
Every June the seeds bloom as small wild pinks, kindred flowers to the pale, delicate blossoms that flourish far away in Jerusalem itself.