Knights of the Cross - By Harper, Tom


In trying to make sense of the tangled history of the First Crusade, I have relied principally on the judgements of two clear-thinking historians: Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades (Penguin) and John France’s Victory in the East (Cambridge University Press). Elsewhere, the heretical ritual and creation myth in chapter 26 are adapted from translations in Walter Wakefield and Austin Evans’ Heresies of the High Middle Ages (Columbia University Press); the passage from Tertullian in chapter 12 is adapted from a translation in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (; and the visions of Peter Bartholomew and Stephen in chapter 31 are adapted from translations by August Krey in The First Crusade (Princeton). Most of all, I am indebted to Dr Susan Edgington, who very generously gave me access to the draft typescript of her translation of Albert of Aachen’s narrative. When it is eventually published by Oxford University Press, it will fill one of the great remaining gaps in the historiography of the First Crusade. I have used the work of all these historians and many others; sometimes I have probably confused their scholarship, and sometimes I have deliberately abused it for my own purposes. Any errors or distortions in this book are of course my own.

I am particularly grateful to all those who helped me on my research trip across Turkey, especially Ohrlan Pammukale, who taught me the true meaning of Turkish hospitality. My wife Marianna stoically shared the heat, the driving, the dodgy kebabs and the language barrier; then came home and offered me her usual unstinting support. Helen, George, Iona and my mother read the first draft: their enthusiasm and criticism was a great help. As ever, my agent Jane Conway-Gordon moved in mysterious ways and performed wonders.

At Random House, I owe a great many thanks to my wise and patient editor Oliver Johnson, his assistant Emily Sweet, my publicist Emily Cullum, Richard Ogle and the long-suffering design department, Chris Moore for the artwork and Rodney Paull for the wonderful maps – as well as all those whom I never see working behind the scenes.



7 March – 3 June 1098


It was a restless day for the dead. I stood in a grave before Antioch, and watched the Army of God dig the corpses of their enemies from the fresh earth where they had been buried. Men half-naked and smeared with grime worked with passionate intensity to dispossess the dead, plundering the goods they had taken to the afterlife: unstrung bows curled up like snails, short knives, round shields caked with clay – all were dug out and hurled onto the spoil pile. A little further away a company of Normans counted and arranged more gruesome trophies: the severed heads of the corpses we had recalled from death. The day before, an army of Turks had sallied from the city and ambushed our foraging expedition; we had driven them back, but only with a great effort that we could ill afford. Now we opened their graves, not from wanton greed or cruelty – though there was that also – but to build a tower, to watch the gate and keep the city’s defenders penned within their walls. We made a quarry of their cemetery, and the foundations of our fortress from their tombs.

The giant who stood with me in the grave shook his head. ‘This is no way to wage a war.’

I looked up from the tombstone that I was trying to dislodge and stared at my companion. An unrelenting season of cold and rain had returned his stout features to the sallow colour of his ancestors, while his unkempt hair and beard were almost of a colour with the rusting links of his armour. Like all who had survived the winter horrors, his skin hung loose from his bones, his shoulders seemed too narrow for his mail coat, and the tail of his belt flapped from being drawn so tight. Yet still there was strength in the arms which had once seemed like the columns of a church, and a gleaming edge on the axe which leaned against the wall of the trench.

‘You’ve served twenty years in the Emperor’s army, Sigurd,’ I reminded him. ‘Would you have me believe that you never plundered your enemies, nor took booty from the battlefield?’

‘This is different. Worse.’ He wormed his fingers into the earth and began tugging on the stone, rocking it back and forth to loose it from the mud that held it. ‘Looting the fallen is a warrior’s