The People's Crusade

At the beginning of the year 1095 CE, there was great discourse between the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. This was the cause of different opinions on where the church and the emperor stand in terms of power. There were also the pressing issues of the Seljuk Turks taking over land that belonged to the Christian Byzantine empire which allied itself with the Holy Roman Empire. These problems soon led to the creation of the First Crusade, but before that, there was the People’s Crusade.

Rising Tensions

Alexios Komnenus, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire, sent envoys to Pope Urban II asking for the aid of fellow Christians to reclaim his land that had been taken by Turkish Muslims known as Seljuk Turks. The Seljuk Turks had managed to claim most of what was the Byzantine Empire and Alexios at this point was running out of options. In his request he asked the Pope for a force of men, food, weaponry, and other supplies that may aid him in reinstating Byzantium as the forefront of Chrysanthemum against the Muslims. Although he was asking the Pope for aid in order to reestablish Christian order against the Muslim invaders his true intentions were to reclaim his land and expand his borders without the use of his own resources. 

At this point in time Pope Urban II also had other issues at hand. He was no longer the only Pope of Christianity. With rising tensions between the Church and the Holy Empire, The Holy Roman Emperor at the time instituted that a Bishop of Rome would become the new Pope, and he would become known as the Antipope Clement III. Clement III lived in Ravenna Rome, which was close to the Holy Roman Empire capital and gave him more control over the Christian masses in Rome. This meant that Pope Urban II would have competition in continuing his role as the Pope. With this and Alexios' request in mind, the Pope came up with a plan.

Pope Urban II Delivers his Speech

During mid to late 1095CE Pope Urban set his plan into action.

Pope Urban II met at the council of Clermont and delivered a rousing speech summoning both the poor and rich to stop their in-fighting and embark on a righteous war to him by Christ. The purpose of the war was to help fellow Christians in the East and take back Jerusalem which he stated was stolen from the Christians. This and many other claims the Pope made would be reviewed by historians and historians have not found much if any evidence that his claims of the horrors of the Muslim people were true. In his speech he would denounce the Muslims and exaggerate stories of their anti-Christian acts. The reward for embarking on this quest given by the heavens was pure absolution and remission of sins for all who died in the service of Christ. This speech caught attention across all of Europe as it would be repeated from one to another within the community. The speech sparked the saying of “Deus Vult” meaning “God Wills It” throughout the Holy Roman Empire and many were quick to join arms in the quest.

It had never occurred that a Pope offered the promise of absolution and remission of sins for those joining in a war, and it brought a lot of undesirables to the quest’s cause. Those who had spent their lives fighting, stealing, and murdering saw this as an opportunity to be forgiven as well as an opportunity to get rich. Many of those willing to join the First Crusade sought it out for personal gain.

Faith during medieval Europe was very strong and many feared that they would not reach heaven. With the opportunity to get into heaven no matter their sins, many people began joining the crusade. The people were so eager to earn their heavenly reward that they would eventually start the crusade ahead of the set date of 1096, and they would soon embark on what is regarded as the People’s Crusade.


The People's Crusade Begins

In France, Peter the Hermit began spreading word of the Crusade and told the people of all the horrors of the Muslim people. Although there is evidence that he never actually went to the holy land and witnessed these horrors that he spoke of he gathered a large force that would be among the first to begin the crusade. He told people of these horrors, and he told the people that Christ himself told him that they would all be protected on their journey to Jerusalem. His words soon sparked the enlistment of people who would follow him on the crusade and he eventually gathered tens of thousands of people to join him.

There was also the French Lord Walter Sans Avoir that led another large group of ill-disciplined people. They left sometime before Peter the Hermit’s group and they would be the first of the people’s crusade to reach Constantinople where the bulk of the crusade were meant to join forces before retaking the holy land.

The Journey Through Christian Lands

The journey for Peter the Hermit and Lord Walter Sans Avoir’s forces began before the Church or Holy Roman Empire were ready and before the set attack date. This meant the two large forces were going to travel across the empire’s lands and the forces were both very unprepared.

The French Lord Walter Sans Avoir’s army had stopped by Belgrade, a city of the Byzantine
 Pope Urban II Delivers his Speech    
Empire to inform them that they were ready for the Crusade and would need some supplies before continuing to Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was not expecting an army this soon before the start of the crusade, and informed the force that they would have to wait outside the city walls until they had received word from Constantinople that this was indeed an army apart of the crusade.

The rugged army was at this point on the brink of starvation and would need food and water very soon. The solution was that groups would break off of the main force and begin pillaging the countryside. This resulted in the deaths of many Christian farmers and would not stop until the Byzantine guard fought and apprehended the groups that were causing so much trouble. The main force would soon be sent on their way since the mayor of Belgrade did not have the time nor resources to deal with such a large army. The force of Sans Avoir was escorted by Byzantine guard to Constantinople in order to keep them from terrorizing any more of the countryside.

The next group that would travel through the Byzantine empire was led by Count Emicho of Leiningen. He was intrigued by Peter the Hermit’s preaching and gathered his own force that would aid in the holy war. However, once his forces reached the Byzantine empire’s border they were turned away since the empire now feared the pillaging of their lands. The result of this was the siege against a Christian city known as Moson. This resulted in the defeat of Count Emicho and his army.

Not long after Peter’s force would travel through the borders of the Byzantine empire and along their way they had managed to sack the Christian city of Belgrade and even attempted to attack the walls of the Christian city of Nis which resulted in the loss of ten thousand Christian lives. Peter and his forces retreated from this battle and continued onward and finally reached Constantinople.

The end of the People's Crusade

Upon reaching Constantinople the groups that had gathered included Peter, and Sans Avoir’s forces. They were presented with two options since they were still very ahead of the scheduled crusade. Go into Muslim territory and start the crusade or wait for the main forces to arrive.


The forces decided to enter the Muslim territory and would eventually split into two. One group was led by Peter and Sans Avoir, and another led by a knight known as Rainald. The forces would continue their pillaging through what a few years ago was Christian land and they had accomplished claiming a city and capital. Soon after these feats were accomplished Rainald’s forces were captured by a Turkish army and forced to convert to Islam or face execution. 


During the capture of Rainald’s forces, Peter’s forces began to hear rumor of Rainald’s forces great successes and decided that they needed to catch up or they would miss all of the great looting. This was a group comprising of forty thousand attempting to catch up with Rainald’s forces, and they were soon ambushed on their journey to join up with Rainald’s forces.  Of the forty thousand that had set out to join Rainald only three thousand survived.


The end result of the People’s Crusade was Rainald converting to Islam and offering to aid the Turkish forces in fighting off the soon to come Crusaders, Count Emicho’s forces dying in an attempt to claim a Byzantine city, and Peter retreating to Constantinople to wait for the main forces to arrive for the actual First Crusade.

Works Cited


Sources for Topic

Chakra, Hayden. “The First Crusade Part I: The People's Crusade.” About History, 10 Oct. 2020, 

Hayden Chakra shares his knowledge and understanding of the people’s crusade and offers insight on why the people’s crusade was so successful in terms of gathering forces, and also in terms of how it is regarded as history's greatest failure.

Community “People's Crusade.” Crusades Wiki,'s_Crusade. 

In this community document individuals bring information from multiple books and websites providing a broad spectrum of information on the topic of the people’s crusade and is valuable when understanding and writing about the events surrounding it.

Crusader History. “The People's Crusade.” Crusader History, 9 July 2016, 

Crusader History brings together a large amount of historian research and documents to present a clear and unbiased understanding of the people’s crusade and helps clarify information gathered from other documents listed here.

Snell, Melissa. “The People's Crusade.” ThoughtCo, 18 July 2018, 

Melissa Snell holds a B.A. of history acquired at the University of Texas at Austin so the information that she presents can be considered reliable and she puts into her words the events of the people’s crusade or as she puts it the peasant’s crusade. She offers an easy to understand discussion of the events and her work is very easy to learn from and has helped me greatly understand this topic.


Sources for Imagery

“Alexios Komnenos (Co-Emperor).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 June 2020,

This source was used for its imagery and information about the imagery only. This is a mosaic with no listed artist. It was constructed in Hagia Sophia and shows the emperor Alexios Komnenos at the age of 16 or 17 at the time of his coronation.

Delgado, Jose. First Crusade - East at the End of the 11th Century, Blogger, 25 Jan. 2013,

This source was used for its imagery and information about the imagery only. These pieces of art and subtext describe and narrate the defeat of the people’s crusade by eastern forces.

“Peter the Hermit.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Aug. 2020,

This source was used for its imagery and information about the imagery only. This painting is of Peter the Hermit preaching the First Crusade and is by James Archer in Cassell’s History of England, Vol 1.

“Pope Calls Migrant Crisis 'Arab Invasion', Says Europe Must 'Rediscover Its Cultural Roots'.” Addis Ethiopia Weblog, 5 Mar. 2016,

This source was used for its imagery and information about the imagery only. This painting shows Pope Urban II’s speech against the Eastern Muslims being presented to the council of Clermont.

“Pope Clement III.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Aug. 2020, 

This source was used for its imagery and information about the imagery only. This is a piece of art depicting how Antipope Clement III looked at the time of his coronation.


Sources for Surrounding Information to Topic

Baldwin, Marshall W. “Crusades.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Oct. 2020.

Marshall W. Baldwins Crusades provides a deeper insight on the Crusades on some topics that have not been covered in class and also provides imagery which may provide an intro to my topic idea. The imagery used in this source is also dated back to the times of the Crusades so they provide an insight on the theme of the painting and how things may have been illustrated to fit the times.

Beck, Elias. “Impacts of the Crusades.” History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More, History Crunch, 17 Nov. 2019.

Since my research is generally around the impacts of the Crusades on the people and their influential value in regard to the wars. This source also provides imagery that depicts how the participants of the Crusades were ordered, and the lasting effects of the conquering of lands from the Crusades

Cartwright, Mark. “The Crusades: Consequences & Effects.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 16 Nov. 2020.

This source has imagery of the map of the first Crusade routes and imagery of the sack of Constantinople. The source also follows in depth on the conquests during this time in regards to the Crusades. It furthers the understanding of the reader on the lasting effects of the Crusades in different areas and discusses the trade changes.

Lester, Anne E. “A Shared Imitation: Cistercian Convents and Crusader Families in Thirteenth-Century Champagne.” Journal of Medieval History, Elsevier, 2 Oct. 2009.

This article examines the relationship between Cistercian convents and the Crusade movement, and increases readers' understanding of the relationship between the people and the Crusades. This gives me a closer look at the implications the Crusades had on the people involved or not.

Malkiel, D. “The Underclass in the First Crusade:: a Historiographical Trend.” Journal of Medieval History, Elsevier, 29 Apr. 2002. 

This article dives into the underclass in the first crusade and the lasting effects of the war to those involved in the war as well as those not involved. The underclass that this source depicts is primarily the women in the Jewish society of Latin Europe and this source allows me to look at historiographical trends that resulted due to the Crusades.

Myers, P. V. “Effects of the Crusades.” The Crusades, Lords and Ladies, 2017.

This source provides me with all aspects of the Crusades from the people, commonfolk, Crusaders, and rulers. This source allows me to connect knowledge of events occurring during the Crusades to the actual Crusades. There are a lot of connections between the Crusades and the church’s decisions surrounding the Crusades.

Paul, Nicholas L. “Crusade, Memory and Regional Politics in Twelfth-Century Amboise.” Journal of Medieval History, Elsevier, 23 May 2005.

Nicholas L. Paul’s Crusade, Memory and Regional Politics in Twelfth-Century Amboise looks closely at regional politics and how they were derived from the Crusades themselves. This source looks less at the Crusades and more at the changes in the political sphere giving the reader insight on the lasting changes. This source allows me to look at how the lifestyles may have been changed as a result of the Crusades.

Virgili, Antoni. “Angli Cum Multis Aliis Alienigenis: Crusade Settlers in Tortosa (Second Half of the Twelfth Century).” Journal of Medieval History, Elsevier, 26 July 2009.

This source looks at the movement of Crusaders from Dartmouth to take part in the Second Crusade. These participants of the Crusades were granted many rewards raising them to the ruling oligarchy in the early years of feudal Tortosa. I think this source gives a better understanding that the individuals who partook in the Crusades often became left in the areas that they were “crusading” since they were given real property within the lands that had been “crusaded”. It is very interesting to look at how the lifestyles of those who joined the crusades rapidly changed because of the wars.