Thomas Asbridge
The First Crusade

By 1 April local Muslim powers were practically fighting for the opportunity to offer the most generous terms in return for peace and safety:
The emir of Tripoli offered us 15,000 gold pieces of Saracen money plus horses, she mules, many garments' and even more such rewards in succeeding years. In addition the lord of Jabala, fearful of another siege, sent our leaders tribute of 5,000 gold pieces, horses, she mules, and an abundant supply of wine. Now we were well provisioned because many gifis from castles and cities other than Jabala were sent to us.
With so much wealth pouring in, it was decided to further refine the system governing the distribution of booty by setting up a special fund which saw one-tenth of all spoils put into a communal kitty. Even though only a quarter of this was eventually dispersed among the 'poor and infirm,' it still made a marked difference to their standard of living. As his lands back in Europe lay on the border with Iberia, Raymond of Toulouse would have been aware that for much of the eleventh century the Christians of northern Spain had grown rich on the tribute extracted from their Muslim neighbours to the south in what amounted to little more than protection racketeering. As time went on this system had become so profitable that the Christian kings of Leon-Castile had actually become reluctant to overthrow their ever-weakening Islamic 'enemies' for fear of losing valuable revenue.

A similar reluctance seems to have taken hold of Raymond in the latter stages of Arqa's investment. If the town fell he would either have to follow up his threats and assault Tripoli itself or move on south, but so long as the siege continued and the local Muslim world remained cowed, he could reap a rich harvest. Unfortunately for Raymond, cracks soon started to appear in this comfortable arrangement. A number of lesser crusade figures became increasingly greedy and each, hoping to establish his own tribute network, 'dispatched messengers with letters to Saracen cities stating that he was the lord of the crusaders.' The emir of Tripoli also started to wonder why he was paying so much money to protect himself from the Franks when they were not even able to capture Arqa. The crusaders countered the first signs of this questioning with a brutal raid against Tripoli, of which Raymond of Aguilers happily reported: '[Afterwards] the land stank of Muslim blood, and the aqueduct [which ran into the city] was choked with their corpses. It was a delightful sight as its swirling waters tumbled the headless bodies of nobles and rabble into Tripoli.' For the time being a rebellion had been averted, but the precarious balance between threat and exploitation could not remain in place for ever.

In this context, two events sealed the fate of Raymond of Toulouse and the siege of Arqa. Ever since Peter Bartholomew had 'discovered' the relic of the Holy Lance of Antioch, in June 1098, and Raymond had endorsed his story the countt status and prestige had grown alongside that of the visionary. With Adhemar of Le Puy's death the Provencals had begun promoting Peter as the expedition's new, popular spiritual leader. Given Peter's unpredictability, Raymond's patronage of him was always going to be as risky as it was empowering, but as the months progressed Peter's visions and pronouncements became ever more fantastical.

This reached a peak after 5 April 1099 when Peter Bartholomew came forward claiming to have witnessed a new vision of Christ, St Peter and St Andrew. The message he bore to the crusaders was utterly extraordinary. According to his story, the Lord had proclaimed the existence of many sinners among the crusading ranks and instructed Peter to root them out in the following manner: Raymond of Toulouse was to call forth the entire army and have them 'line up as if for battle or for a siege.' Peter would then 'miraculously' find the crusaders arrayed in five ranks. The Latins in the first three ranks would be devoted followers of Christ, but the remainder were those polluted by sins ranging from pride to cowardice. Peter actually came forward saying that God had instructed him to oversee the immediate execution of any crusader found wanting in this bizarre selection process.

Not surprisingly, there was an almighty uproar once Peter's story had been broadcast throughout the army. Antagonisms, resentments and jealousies towards the upstart prophet that had been held in check by his widespread popularity now bubbled to the surface. Outside the Provencal contingent, crusaders may have harboured nagging doubts about the authenticity of Peter's revelations, but in the tide of zealous veneration for the Holy Lance that followed the seemingly miraculous victory over Kerbogha they had thought better of openly challenging the visionary. Peter's claims after 5 April were so outlandish, his recommendations so extreme, that for many his spell was broken. At last doubts were openly expressed, and their mouthpiece was Arnulf of Chocques, chaplain to Robert of Normandy. Already 'a respected man because of his erudition,' Arnulf was unswervingly ambitious and must have realised that by discrediting Peter Bartholomew he himself might be lifted to prominence. He publicly challenged the validity of Peter's visions and, by association, the authenticity of the Holy Lance. Bartholomew's bluff had been called, but even in the face of these accusations he refused to back down, offering instead to prove his integrity through an ordeal.

Ordeals played an important if infrequent role in medieval systems of justice. Our popular modern perception—that brutal trials by fire or water were the mainstay of the legal system during the Middle Ages—is far from the truth. In reality, ordeals were used only as a last resort and, in particular, when an individual's moral character could not be vouched for within society. In such cases, where an oath could
not be busted, the accused might undergo some form of trial, usually under the supervision of the clergy. This might involve holding on to a red-hot iron or placing one's hand in a cauldron of boiling water. Again, contrary to modern misconceptions, it was not generally expected that the defendant would emerge totally unscathed even if innocent. Instead, the wounds of the accused would be bound and inspected some days later, with any sign of infection being taken to indicate guilt.

By April 1099 Peter Bartholomew must himself have been totally convinced of the Holy Lance's authenticity and his own role as God's messenger, because he chose to undergo a particularly harsh and hazardous trial by fire, reportedly saying: 'I not only wish, but I beg that you set ablaze a fire, and I shall take the ordeal of fire with the Holy Lance in my hands; and if it is really the Lord's Lance, I shall emerge unsinged. But if it is a false Lance, I shall be consumed by fire.'

Peter underwent four days of fasting to purify his soul before the test. Then on Good Friday, before a massive crowd of crusaders, dressed in a simple tunic and bearing the relic of the Holy Lance, he willingly walked into an inferno—blazing 'olive branches stacked in two piles, four feet in height, about one foot apart and thirteen feet in length.' Contemporary authors provide very different accounts of what happened to Peter in those flames. Raymond of Aguilers, an eyewitness, but also a steadfast champion of the Holy Lance and its discoverer, believed that he emerged unscathed:
Peter walked through the fire, and his tunic and the Holy Lance which was wrapped in the most exquisite cloth, were left unsinged. As he emerged Peter waved to the crowd, raised the Lance, and screamed out, 'God help us.' Whereupon the crowd seized him, seized him I say, and pulled him along the ground. Almost everyone from the mob pushed and shoved, thinking Peter was nearby and hoping to touch him or snatch a piece of his clothing. The mob made three or four gashes on his legs in the tussle, and cracked his backbone. We think that Peter would have died there if Raymond Pilet, a renowned and courageous knight, had not with the aid of numerous comrades charged the milling mob, and at the risk of death snatched him from them. But we cannot write more because of our anxiety and distress.
It is not inconceivable that Peter was trapped and injured by a hysterical riot—charismatic spiritual figures were often mobbed by ecstatic crowds in the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the early thirteenth century a frail and sickly St Francis of Assisi made his last journey in the company of a bodyguard, because it was feared that if he died on the road his body would otherwise be ripped apart by relic hunters. Even so, Raymond of Aguilers admitted that Peter suffered some 'trivial burns on his legs' during the trial.

The northern French crusade chronicler Fulcher of Chartres, who was not present at Arqa, was much more sceptical:
The finder of the Lance quickly ran through the midst of the burning pile to prove his honesty, as he had requested. when the man passed through the flames and emerged, they saw that he was guilty, for his skin was burned and they knew that within he was mortally hurt. This was demonstrated by the outcome, for on the twelfth day he died, seared by the guilt of his conscience.
However they were inflicted, there was no escaping the fact that within two weeks Peter Bartholomew died from the injuries received on the day of his ordeal. His Provencal supporters saw to it that he was buried on the site of his trial, but for most crusaders his reputation had been irredeemably tarnished. The true efficacy of the Holy Lance was now doubted, its cult widely criticised, even ridiculed.

At the same time, grievous damage was done to Raymond of Toulouse's reputation. Having ridden on the back of the Lance's cult, he now suffered a severe reversal at its refutation. Then, just as his claim to lead the crusade was faltering, a second dilemma emerged. Around 10 April ambassadors from the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus arrived at Arqa. They had come to protest loudly Bohemond's retention of Antioch and the contravention of the oaths given at Constantinople. Offering 'large sums of gold and silver' as an enticement, they instructed the crusaders to wait for Alexius himself to arrive on 24 June, 'so that he could journey with them to Jerusalem.'

This news prompted the emergence of a definite rift within the expedition. Raymond, who had been pursuing a policy of d6tente with the Greeks, now argued that Alexius' arrival would only strengthen the crusaders' chances of reaching Jerusalem. While they waited the Franks could concentrate on finally overcoming Arqa and thus avoid a harmful blow to their martial reputation. The majority, however, distrusted the emperor's intentions or, indeed, doubted whether he would ever actually make the journey to Arqa. By mid-April a fully fledged stalemate had been reached, with neither side willing to budge. The dispute became so heated that the clergy declared a period of fasting, prayers and alms-giving in the hope that God would then return peace to the expedition.

Raymond of Toulouse was in a desperate fix. He still enjoyed considerable support, but even some Provencal crusaders were beginning to lose faith. Around this time, Tancred, whose support Raymond had earlier bought with the handsome gift of '5,000 solidi and two thoroughbred Arabian horses,' broke ranks with the count and transfened his allegiance to Godfrey of Bouillon. Sensing that the aura that had surrounded the Holy Lance was now shattered, Raymond made a calculated decision: no longer able to rely upon the power gained from association with one relic cult, he cynically resolved to 'create' another. In order to replace the totemistic energy of the Lance, Raymond looked once again to appropriate the memory of Adhdmar of Le Puy. In life the bishop had carried a relic of the True Cross—a small piece of wood believed to have been part of the cross upon which Christ was crucified—and on his death this had found its way to the port of Latakia. Raymond now dispatched Adhemar's brother, William Hugh of Monteil, on an urgent mission to Latakia to recover the relic. Raymond's plan was not bluntly to forsake the Holy Lance, but rather initially to augment and then gradually replace its cult with that of Adhemar's cross. This scheme was not wholly successful, for when William Hugh duly returned with the relic in hand Raymond's own entourage became so imbued with crusading zeal that they too wanted only to make an immediate departure for Jerusalem.

Ultimately, Raymond manoeuvred himself into a corner. He allowed his capability as a leader to be too closely equated with success at Arqa. As the crusaders' siege of the town foundered, the double blows of Peter Bartholomew's death and the widespread unpopularity of Raymond's pro-Byzantine stance left the count reeling. With even his own men demanding a resumption of the march south, he was forced to concede. In the first week of May, Raymond finally agreed to leave Arqa unconquered and continue the journey to Jerusalem.

As the march began, the crusaders were pleasantly surprised to find that the southern Levantine climate affected seasonal change. One writer observed: 'We were eating spring beans in the middle of March and corn in the middle of April.' With an earlier harvest they hoped to find plentiful supplies on their journey through Palestine. Once the decision was reached, the siege of Arqa was promptly abandoned. The crusaders passed through Tripoli in peace and by 16 May they were at last set on the road to Jerusalem.

The pilgrimage to the Holy City was now in its final stage, but the crusade would never again be dominated by Raymond of Toulouse. The count had, for a time, held sway over the expedition, even coming close to standing as its unchallenged leader, but the debacle at Arqa was a watershed in his career. From now on he would have to share power and prestige with his fellow princes.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.