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27 Jul

People’s Crusade (April 1096 – October 1096)

The People’s Crusade was an expedition which preceded the First Crusade and lasted from April to October 1096. Urban’s call to the Crusades took up many wandering preachers, notably Peter the Hermit and Walter Sans Avoir also known as Walter the Penniless. They mobilized an army by some estimations numbering from 60,000 to 100,000 of unskilled and undisciplined peasants, lowly knights, and even women and children who departed on the Crusade on their own.

Medieval depiction of Peter the Hermit as leader of the Crusaders

Peter the Hermit leading the People’s Crusade

Peter the Hermit gathered his army in Cologne in April 1096 and marched through the Balkan Peninsula. Before departure, they attacked the Jewish communities in the Rhineland because of the outbreak of anti-Semitism and the conviction that the Jews were responsible for crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. However, the persecutions of the Jews were probably also motivated by need of money. Their passage through Balkan Peninsula was accompanied with rioting, sacking and fighting with the local population which resulted in the loss of about one forth of the Crusader army before reaching Constantinople. There they were joined by the French group led by Walter the Penniless who was not willing to wait for Peter and the Germans and departed earlier, and several bands of Italian Crusaders who arrived about the same time.

The Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Comnenus surprised over such unusual and unexpected army quickly transported them across the Bosporus and warned them to wait for the Princes and the main army. However, once in Asia Minor the Crusades began to quarrel and split in two groups, while both Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless lost their authority. The Crusaders got involved in military conflicts with the Seljuk Turks who easily defeated the peasant army in October 1096. Thus the People’s Crusade ended with a failure, while the few survivors returned to Europe or joined the later bands.

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