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The oaths of the leaders of the First Crusade to Emperor Alexius I Comnenus: fealty, homage - n (.ox L Q , S O U A E ia The armies of the First Crusade began arriving in Constantinople late in 1096. Hugh of Vermandois reached the capital first, in November, followed by Godfrey de Bouillon around Christmas. In May 1097 the last of the major armies, led by Robert of Normandy and Stephen of Blois, finally arrived. By that time Godfrey de Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, Robert II of Flanders, and Raymond IV of St Gilles had already been ferried across the Bosphorus with their forces. Robert's and Stephen's armies followed them almost immediately. For almost six months the reigning emperor of Byzantium, Alexius I Comnenus, had to grapple with the problem of how to deal with the proud and belligerent leaders of the Crusade and their unruly followers. He was confronted by two major problems: firstly, how to control the Crusader armies while they were within Byzantine territory, and, secondly, how to ensure that any ex-Byzantine territories which they might recover from the Muslims would be returned to Byzantine rule. For the most part the first of these two problems had been coped with already by the time that the armies reached the capital. None of the leaders was anxious to precipitate trouble with the Byzantine populace and government and, in spite of inevitable tensions and skirmishes, Byzantine forces avoided serious open conflict with the Crusaders. Escorts of Byzantine troops were provided and the Crusaders' passage was cleared by high-ranking envoys sent to meet them. However, the second problem was much more intractable. The method which the emperor used to overcome it was to bind the leaders of the Crusade to him by oaths. The precise nature of these oaths and of the juridical and political relationships established by them between Alexius, the empire, and the Crusaders have formed the basis of an enormous scholarship. For the most part, however, that scholarship has been remarkably naive in its historical methodology and extremely uncritical of the sources used to elucidate the problems. At the present time most historians of the Crusades seem to accept that the leaders performed homage to the emperor, becoming his vassals, and swore fealty to him according to the Latin-Frankish feudal understandings of those terms. I wish to dispute that understanding and to suggest two things. Firstly, that what the Byzantines and the Crusaders understood by the oaths were two entirely different things. Secondly, that what the Crusaders understood their oaths to be was oaths of fealty alone and that to them there was an enormous difference between the swearing of such oaths of fealty and the performance of vassal homage. Hugh, Count of Vermandois, the first of the Crusaders to reach Constantinople, had set out by ship from Bari. His fleet was virtually destroyed by a storm in the Adriatic and his own ship was wrecked on the 112 J.H. Pryor Dalmatian coast a few miles north of Durazzo. By the emperor's orders he was received and re-equipped by the governor of the city and then sent on to the capital under the escort of admiral Manuel Boutoumites. There he was held under restricted conditions although treated well. Then, according to Anna Comnena, he was persuaded to swear an oath to the emperor. Anna says that: ...JIELOEI napaxpfma avepwnov auxou veveaQai xov X O L Q Aaxivoiq auvriGn opicov ejiouoaduEvov. . . . he (Alexius) persuaded him (Hugh) on the spot to become his "man", having sworn the oath customary to the Latins. This oath taken by Hugh of Vermandois to the emperor was the first such oath taken by a Crusader. The description of it given by Anna Comnena, who is the sole source, is very important. But it immediately raises a series of methodological problems. Was Anna present in person at the oath-swearing ceremony? Even though she claims that she and the emperor's other children lived with their father, accompanied their mother, and were present at events reported in the Alexiad,6 it is nevertheless clear from her own text that she was not in fact present most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 111-141
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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