Making the Crusades possible: the agricultural revolution

A series of revolutions in economic and political life transformed Northern Europe. Technology (tools) drove the process, and it was the entrepreneurial spirit of inventive farmers, craftsmen, and what we call today business that triggered change. The monastery as an economic enterprise provided central direction upon reflection and quickly adopted the technologies to enhance the productivity of the monastery. The Cistercian Order under Saint Bernard is found in the middle of the process. 

The soil of northern Europe was too dense and damp to be plowed efficiently with the scratch plows of the day to produce much past subsistence. In order to cut the heavy soil, the heavy plow was invented which included a cutter, plowshare, and wheels and was initially drawn by oxen. The need for speed and horse power, as horses pulled two hours longer and faster, lead to the invention of the horse collar which solved the problem of the oxen yoke which choked the horse. The hooves of horses did not fare well in the damp earth, unlike oxen, which lead to the use of horse shoes. 

Oxen could survive largely on hay, but horses needed vegetable protein such as from grain and legumes (beans). The additional protein in farmers diets lead to increased energy in the people in the area. Since legumes contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia, they were found to restore nitrogen to farmland. Crop rotations changed from fallow and wheat to fallow, wheat, and legumes, a change to three crop rotation which also extended the productive use of the land.

This text consists of slightly edited quotes from the blog The Cistercian Connection by Gordon S Fowkes. The illustration is from the same source.

Crusading for the sake of commerce - the Genoa case

"There were another body of crusaders, outside the knightly class, to whom it is worth turning in any discussion of the economic gains and losses of the First Crusade. By the end of the eleventh century a growing social milieu was beginning to assert itself in parts of Europe: the urban manufacturer and merchant. (...)

In Italy, a number of cities were beginning to emerge as independent powers; importantly for the history of the First Crusade, Genoa was already organising itself into a commune in 1052 and by 1095 was governed by elected consuls. Sources nearly contemporary with the First Crusade noticed the consules of Genoa as the leading figures of the city. (...)

Marshall examined the sources for the First Crusade to show that many contemporary authors treated the Genoese fleet as fellow crusaders. But no one, even the crudest advocate of the ‘booty’ position, would expect eleventh century sources to do otherwise. The point here, as with the argument about motivation in general, is to ask whether there were contemporary social and economic trends which would contribute to an enthusiasm, sincere or otherwise, for the First Crusade among the consules of Genoa? (...)

When, in 1101, a fleet from Genoa made a convention with King Baldwin I of Jerusalem, the agreement is another good illustration of how contemporaries had no difficulty combining their religious beliefs with their own material interests. The treaty was made, reported Fulcher, with the consuls of the fleet. If, out of the love of God and with His assistance, they and the king could take any of the cities of the Saracens, a third of the wealth of the inhabitants would go to the Genoese, theother two thirds to the king. Additionally, a section in each captured city would be given to the Genoese in perpetuity.31 This agreement became a standard one for relations between Italian cities and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, leading to considerable long-term benefit for the cities.

Is it plausible to deny that the prospect of such arrangements formed part of the considerations of the Italian republics when they heard and accepted the crusading message?"

This blog quotes an abbreviated section of the book The Social Structure of the First Crusade by Conor Kostick (2008), which is available at Brill Leiden/Boston via http://bit.ly/2UkqvRF. This is an open access title distributed under the terms of the cc-by-nc License, which permits any non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. Illustration from Wikipedia shows the city of Genoa in a woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

March 18, 2019, the 705th anniversary of the death of Jacques de Molay

On March 18, 2019 we commemorate the 705th anniversary of the death of the last official Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay. De Molay, born in 1244 was put to death in Paris by the King of France on 18 March 1314. He was the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, leading the Order from 20 April 1292 until it was dissolved by order of Pope Clement V in 1307.

Though little is known of his actual life and deeds except for his last years as Grand Master, he is the best known Templar, along with the Order's founder and first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens (1070–1136). Jacques de Molay's goal as Grand Master was to reform the Order, and adjust it to the situation in the Holy Land during the waning days of the Crusades.

Death-site plaque of Jaques de Molay on Isle des Juifs, Paris
As European support for the Crusades had dwindled, other forces were at work which sought to disband the Order and claim the wealth of the Templars as their own. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars, had De Molay and many other French Templars arrested in 1307 and tortured into making false confessions. When de Molay later retracted his confession, Philip had him executed by burning upon a scaffold on the Paris Ile des Juifs in the River Seine on 18 March 1314.

source text and illustrations wikipedia.org

Numbers of participants of the First Crusade

"The most thorough discussion of the number of combatants on the First Crusade is that offered by John France and this study cannot improve on his painstaking assembly of the relevant data and the plausible manner in which it assessed. At its height, gathered together at Nicea, John France estimates the Christian army to have been composed of some 50,000 combatants, of whom 7,000 were knights. Using these figures as a guide, the overall composition of the crusade would have, very approximately, been as follows. Nine princes, 200 magnates, 7,000 knights, 40,000 footsoldiers, and 40,000 pauperes.

This overall figure of around 90,000 people differs from France’s estimate of 50–60,000 inclusive of non-combatants and it is at the high end of estimates by other modern historians, even though most have revised upwards the estimate in Steven Runciman’s discussion of the subject, that there were 4200 to 4500 cavalry and 30,000 infantry.

Jonathan Phillips offers the figure of 60,000, although somewhat confusingly these are divided between 6,000 knights and the rest ‘servants, pilgrims and hangers-on.’ In other words, the footsoldiers are absent. (...)

The huge variation of the various estimates is a fair reflection of the difficulty of the sources in regard to the reporting of numbers and this study claims no great authority on the matter. It does seem inconsistent of France, though, to assess the number of combatants of the First Crusade at 50,000, yet the overall number, including non-combatants, at 50–60,000. The discussion in Chapter Three shows that when the People’s Crusade departed and, indeed, the various contingents of the princes, the movement had something of a mass emigratory character.

The People’s Crusade was overwhelmingly made up of pauperes, but they were also present in substantial numbers among those marching with the princes. Even after the destruction of the People’s Crusade, thousands of survivors (and later, returned prisoners) joined up with the united army.

That is why it seems reasonable to push the overall figure for the expedition to the higher one of 90,000 by including some 40,000 non-combatants with the 50,000 soldiers."


This blog quotes an abreviated section of the book The Social Structure of the First Crusade by Conor Kostick (2008), which is available at Brill Leiden/Boston via http://bit.ly/2UkqvRF. This is an open access title distributed under the terms of the cc-by-nc License, which permits any non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. Illustration shows The siege of Jeriusalem at 1099, Source Wikimedia Commons