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 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

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 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

Crusading, an "act of love"

"Upon leaving for the crusade, very many property owners made substantial donations to the church, in return for ready coin with which to finance their involvement on the expedition. These transactions were recorded and churches and monasteries preserved the charters throughout the centuries, being ever diligent on such matters.

Methodologically, the inclusion of such charters in a discussion of the First Crusade is unfaultable; the database created as a result of research into donation charters is extremely valuable. By the mid 1990s, for the period 1095–1131, it comprised 549 men and women who definitely took the cross, 110 who probably did so, and 132 who might have become crusaders. Insofar as such a database helps reveal the geographical and familial networks of the nobles who participated in the First Crusade, charter evidence is a welcome addition to the crusading sources. But their use as the key evidence in refuting the popular notion that crusaders were greedy knights, who cloaked their desire for booty in a pretended piety, is problematic.

Essentially, the argument in favour of seeing the motivation of the crusaders as primarily spiritual consists of three observations based on the charter evidence. Firstly, the cost of going on the crusade was shown to be extremely high; four times a knight’s annual income. The enterprise was not ‘cost effective’. Secondly, the proportion of second sons going on the crusade was demonstrably low. Therefore the theory that those who had no other prospects were the main driving force behind the crusade was rejected. Thirdly, the charters are consistent in expressing a deep concern for the salvation of their soul and a love of Christ.

The core of the ‘act of love’ position rests on the point that, in the absence of material motivations, the professed piety of the first crusaders must be considered to be the best guide to their outlook. Those who set forth on the First Crusade did so out of love of Christ and their neighbour."

This blog quotes a section of the book The Social Structure of the First Crusade by Conor Kostick (2008), which is available at Brill Leiden/Boston via 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 Pope Urban II preaching the crusade. Source Wikimedia Commons

Prologue of the Crusades: Jerusalem and the Seljuks

"When the Muslim Seljuks, a Turkish steppe tribe, spectacularly defeated an army of the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert in ancient Armenia in August 1071 CE, a series of events followed which would lead to centuries of East-West warfare couched in religious terms: the Crusades.

The Seljuks created the Sultanate of Rum and conquered Byzantine Edessa and Antioch in 1078 CE. Next, they captured Jerusalem from their rival Muslims, the Fatimids of Egypt, in 1087 CE (the city had been in Muslim hands since the 7th century CE).

Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor (r. 1081-1118 CE) realised that Seljuk expansion into the Holy Land was a perfect opportunity to gain the help of western armies in his battle to control Asia Minor and so he sent a direct appeal to Pope Urban II in March 1095 CE. Both the Pope and western knights would respond in a far greater capacity than Alexios could ever have imagined.

Urban II was disposed to give military assistance to the Byzantines for various reasons. A crusade to bring the Holy Land back under Christian control was an end in itself - what better way to protect such important sites as the tomb of Jesus Christ, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Christians living there or visiting on pilgrimage also required protection.

In addition, there were very useful additional benefits. A crusade would increase the prestige of the Papacy, as it led a combined western army, and consolidate its position in Italy itself, having experienced serious threats from the Holy Roman Emperors in the previous century which had even forced the popes to relocate away from Rome. Urban II also hoped to make himself head of a united Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christian church, above the Patriarch of Constantinople. The two churches had been split since 1054 CE over disagreements about doctrine and liturgical practices."

Quotes and illustration from Cartwright, M. (2018, October 22). Council of Clermont. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from This quote is licensed under equal terms as the original publication, being Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

Modern Templars at Relic Pilgrimage, Maastricht, the Netherlands

"Participants in a historic religious procession during the 2018 Heiligdomsvaart (Relics Pilgrimage) in Maastricht, Netherlands. 
The history of this seven-yearly catholic pilgrimage goes back to the Middle Ages. The first 'modern' version took place in 1874. On both Sundays of the 10-day festival, a procession is held in which the main relics and other devotional objects are exhibited. 
This photo was taken at Het Bat during the (second) procession on Sunday 3 June 2018. This particular group consists of members of the interdenominational OSMTH Order of the Knights Templar. They are followed by a group representing the nearby parish of Houthem-Sint Gerlach, where Saint Gerlachus is venerated."

Source text and illustration Wikimedia. Photo by Kleon3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

The Knights Templar: orthodox of heretics?

"Sophia Menache pointed out in her article ‘Contemporary attitudes concerning the Templars’ affair’ (1982) that  local chroniclers in England ‘supported the French version of the Templars’ heresy’, although King Edward II and his prelates did not. This raises the question of whether local chroniclers were aware of irregularities in the Templars’ religious beliefs that were not known to the higher authorities.

The records of the Templars’ estates in Britain and Ireland at the time of the Templars’ arrests early in 1308 include inventories of their chapels, offering an insight into the Templars’ religious practices. Is there anything in these inventories to suggest that there was substance behind the charges against the Templars?

Drawing on unpublished and published inventories and estate records from the National Archives of the UK, this chapter argues that, far from revealing irregularities, these records show that the Templars’ beliefs were entirely orthodox. However, although the chapels of their major houses were sumptuously equipped, those at smaller, more remote houses contained little equipment and must have relied on the services of hired priests. Such reliance on outside spiritual services meant that the Templars’ religious practices must have been closely linked to those of the society in which they operated."

This blog quotes the summary of the paper (2018) by Helen Nicholson (Cardiff University, UK) entitled "Evidence of the Templars' religious practice from the records of the Templars' estates in Britain and Ireland in 1308", published in Communicating the Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of Sophia Menache. Crusades Subsidia 11, ed. Irish Shagrir, Benjamin Z. Kedar and Michel Balard, 2018 and on  Illustration engraving by Tommaso de Vivo showing ClementV interrogating Knights Templar, source

890 Years Knights Templar Rule - 1129 - 2019

The Primitive Rule of the Templars

The Latin Rule, also known as the Primitive Rule, was the result of the discussions that took place at the Council of Troyes, which was under the heavy guidance of Bernard of Clairvaux, the new rising star of the Church. This Council took place in January 1129.

The original Latin Rule, from the Council of Troyes, was actually written by the council’s scribe, John Michael, though the credit for its contents goes to St Bernard; ‘At the very least he must have been a major influence on the framing of the Latin Rule, for it is clear that the later Templars valued their Cistercian links above all’.

The structure of the text is strikingly similar to that of ‘Carta Caritatis’ and the Rule of St Benedict, which implies a replication of Cistercian organisation and values. What is very interesting to note is that it was at the Council of Troyes that the Knights Templar came to follow the Rule of St Benedict; ‘At the time of the Council, the Templars had been following the Rule of St. Augustine, however, this changed in 1129 with the direct influence of the Cistercian abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux.’

The Rule itself describes procedures that the Templar brothers should adhere to on a day-to-day basis. The description of procedures -in particular clause three, which relate to clothing- resonates the tone of both the Cistercian ‘Charter of Charity’ and also the Rule of St Benedict. In fact much of the Rule appears to have strong monastic overtones, rather than a military aspect and the detail that is given to food and drink is very similar to that of the Cistercians.

Buy your own Rule here.  For the original Latin Rule in French visit 

This blog is in part based on the thesis by Lori Firth, Hull University (2012):  "A Comparison of the Cistercian and Knights Templar Orders, And the Personal Influence of Bernard of Clairvaux", to be found here

The Primitive Rule in English is quoted below in its entirety. Source:

"Sint Gummarus Processie" 21 November, 2018 at Lier, Belgium

Every year the city of Lier (Belgium) is celebrating its patron Saint St Gummarus by a procession. The Saint Gummarus procession takes place on the first Sunday after 10 October (Sint-Gummarus fair).

Sixteen members of the Society of the Bearers carry the silver reliquary of St. Gummarus, which weighs more than 800 kg, through the streets of Lier.

During the feast day of the Saint (11 October), pilgrims from everywhere world come to the Sint-Gummarus church to ask for healing of malfunctions and call in the Saint's help to stay free of fractures.

In pronouncing the blessing, the priest puts the belt of Saint Gummarus on the shoulders of the pilgrim, the ritual of laying the band. This refers to the story where Saint Gummarus healed a cut down tree by wrapping his belt around the trunk and bringing it back into bloom.

source text (in Dutch)

The Holy Sepulchre, cradle of the Knights Templar

"According to a chronicle on the Templars’ beginnings, attributed to Ernoul, (...) the first Templars were a group of knights who had dedicated themselves to the Holy Sepulchre after the First Crusade. They realized that the country needed warriors, and criticized themselves for living an idle and comfortable life when they should be working. So they decided, with the permission of the prior of the Sepulchre, to elect a Master who could lead them in battle as necessary. King Baldwin II gave his approval for the scheme, and called the patriarch of ]erusalem, the archbishops and the bishops, and the barons of the country together. After discussion the new Order was approved. King Baldwin gave them land, castles and towns and persuaded the prior of the Sepulchre to release them from their obedience to him. (...)

Although this account was written after 1187, when the Saracens captured Jerusalem, it does give a convincing account of the Order’s beginnings. It combines the suggestions of the earlier accounts: the Order of the Temple was set up on the initiative of the knights themselves, and that these knights were pilgrims who had come to the kingdom of Jerusalem but who had settled in the city, and who saw that the country needed warriors. The new Order was approved both by the king and by the patriarch. In addition, this account would help to explain why writers in the West were sometimes confused about the relationship between the Hospital of St John, set up in the 1060s or 1070s to care for poor sick pilgrims to Jerusalem, the Order of the Temple, and the canons of the Holy Sepulchre, the priests who lived and worked in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It also explains why the Hospitallers and the Templars in the Holy Land followed the liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre in their church services, and why the seal of the Master of the Temple bore the image of the dome of the Holy
Sepulchre. According to ‘Ernoul’, all three groups were originally together. The Hospitallers and Templars had begun life as part of the religious community based in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre."

This blog quotes from "The Knights Templar - a brief history of the warrior Order" by Helen Nicholson (2010);  illustration Seal of the Master of the Knights Templar showing the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, source Wikipedia