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1204: The Capture of Constantinople
- Text in English

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Anna Comnena

On the Crusaders

[From Alexiade, Belles Lettres, translated by B. Leib, Paris, 1967, vol. 2, pp. 206-9.]

Alexius had no time to relax when he heard a report of the approach of innumerable Frankish armies. He feared their arrival since he knew the Latins' uncontrollable spirit, their unstable and changeable character, as well as all the rest that pertains to the Celtic temperament with its inevitable consequences: how greedy for money they were and how they always seemed without scruple and ready to break their own agreements for any reason whatever. He had always heard this mentioned and it was quite true. Yet, not at all discouraged, Alexius prepared himself completely so that he would be prepared for war if such a contingency arose. But the actual events were more frightful than the rumours, for the entire West, as many of the barbarian peoples as lived in the lands between the Adriatic [Sea] and the Straits of Gibraltar, all were moving en masse with their families through Europe toward Asia.

Now here in outline is the cause of this mass movement. A certain Celt named Peter, with the surname Koukoupetros, went off to worship at the Holy Sepulchre, and after suffering many frightful things at the hands of the Turks and Saracens who were plundering all of Asia, barely and only with great difficulty succeeded in reaching home. But he could not bear to have failed in his plan [to go to Jerusalem]. And so he wished to make a second journey, but realizing that it was not wise for him by himself to make the trip to the Holy Sepulchre (for something worse might happen to him), he worked out a clever scheme. It was to preach in all the lands of the Latins: "A divine voice has called me to proclaim before all the counts of France, that all [of you] should leave your homes and go off to worship at the Holy Sepulchre and with all your might and soul should strive to free Jerusalem from the hands of the Agarenes [Muslims]:" And he actually succeeded [in his aims]. As if he had imbued the hearts of all with a divine voice, he made preparations in order that all Celts should assemble, one after another from all areas, with arms and horses and all other implements of war. They were full of ardour and passion and they filled every highway. A number of people, more numerous than the sands of the shore and the stars, accompanied these Celtic soldiers, bearing palms and with crosses on their shoulders. Women and children left their own countries. Like certain rivers, which flow together from all directions, they moved toward us, for the most part through Dacia [modern Rumania].

The incidents surrounding the coming of the barbarians occurred in the following manner, and there was in it something strange, although recognizable to intelligent people. For the arrival of these many people did not occur at the same time, nor did they come by the same route (for how could such a great multitude, coming from many different areas, cross the Adriatic in such great numbers?) Some of them first, some second, others behind, and so on, all making the voyage, and then marched overland. As I said, a plague of locusts preceded each army. All [the Greeks] then, after seeing this phenomenon once or twice, believed that locusts were the forerunners of the Frankish battalions. And when certain groups had begun to cross the Straits of Lombardy [i.e. Otranto in the old Byzantine theme of Longobardia], the emperor summoned certain of the commanders of the Byzantine forces and sent them off to the regions of Dyrrachium and Avlona, charging them to receive the voyagers benevolently and to provide them, from all lands [of the empire], abundant supplies along their route. And [he also ordered them] to observe the armies discreetly, following them so that, should they notice them making raids or turning off to plunder any adjoining areas, they should restrain them by means of light skirmishing. There accompanied these [Byzantine] officers certain specialists in the Latin dialect[s] whose duty it was to suppress any conflicts arising between Byzantines and Latins.

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