Wednesday, 13 July 2011


It's never easy to estimate the numbers in an army. But when they started, Bohemond of Taranto must have had 20,000, and Raymond of Toulouse 50,000. With us, there were another 50,000 directly under my friend Godfrey de Bouillon, of that I can be pretty sure, and another 30,000 reporting to the other nobles from France and the lands on the edge of the Holy Roman Empire. 150,000 in all, I'd guess, and that is ignoring the poor rabble that went first under Peter the Hermit and were massacred to the last man outside Nicaea before we'd even crossed the Hellespont.

Three years later there were just 15,000 of us left outside Jerusalem, exhausted, famished and ferocious. 15,000 left from 150,000. Nine out of every ten had fallen by the wayside. All right, I will allow that some went with black Baldwin to grab an easy billet in Edessa, and that many of the Normans from Apulia stuck with Bohemond in Antioch. A few just could not stomach it and trickled home with their tails between their legs - like that coward Stephen of Blois. Much good it did him, for his wife Adela bullied him until he returned to Outremer. She really did nag him to death, for he perished in 1102 against the Egyptians outside Ramlah.

Let's say 30,000 peeled off before completing the journey. That's still seven out of ten that died - a 70% casualty rate, as I think you'd put it today. Would any of your modern armies take that?

Where did they all fall? Our first encounter with the Saracens, at Dorylaeum, maybe accounted for 10,000. Perhaps the same number did not even make it that far. But it was that journey south across the Turkish desert that took our numbers down below 100,000 for the first time. What a time the vultures had!

And then Antioch, I suppose. I missed the siege, and although I certainly did not think so at the time, maybe I was better off where I was. By the time I reached what was once Byzantium's second city, there were only 45,000, maybe 50,000 left to face Kerbogha's hordes. They had died fighting off the Saracen relief army, or from famine and disease through that long winter of 1097/8. Kerbogha's divided host accounted for a few thousand more, and then the plague did its worst, taking 25,000 or 30,000 souls.

Not that they were too bothered of course - for those souls had been promised their places in the Kingdom of Heaven whether they made it to Jerusalem or perished on the way. Pope Urban made them an offer that they could not refuse - poor foolish believers. I know the truth of it, and now the irony is that I am the only one left.

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