1314 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE MODERN WORLD.
The clergy were in the heyday of fanatical
glory. All the world swayed to and fro under
the magical scepter of Christ. The monks
found a good excuse to leave their cloisters
and share in the common activities of life.
They beheld all the offices of religion suddenly
elevated to a new respect and dignity. They
saw themselves become the leaders of society,
looked to as the arbiters of the common fate.
To no class did the crusade promise a
fairer prospect than to the toil-burdened
peasantry. To them it was an escape from
bondage and oppression. Those who were
in debt gladly threw off the burden by assuming the cross. The creditor might no
longer menace or disturb those who had become the soldiers of Christ. Offenders and
criminals also found the day auspicious.
No prison wall might any longer restrain
him who took the sword against the Infidel.
Over the thief and the murderer on whose
right shoulders appeared the sacred emblem
of the holy war the church threw the aegis
of her protection. All manner of crime was
to be washed white in the blood of the sacrilegious Turks.
In the midst of the excitement of these
scenes the Italian merchants began to build
up a profitable commerce. It was necessary that Europe should be furnished the
means of arming herself for the fray, and
of supplying her armies with provisions
for the war. Perhaps, of all the classes of
society, the traders gained the most solid
and permanent advantages from the great
commotion. They became the factors and
carriers of the time, and in many instances
furnished the money with which the lords
and vassals armed themselves and their
retainers. From the very first a certain
advantage was thus gained by the merchants and townspeople over the owners of
estates and country folk, who became indebted to them for the means of joining the
army of Crusaders.
The actual number of those who from the
various ranks of society sprang up as if by
a common impulse, took on the cross, and rallied at the call of Peter and his fellow apostles, can never be authentically ascertained. Europe seemed to rise as
if by common impulse. By one of the ancient chroniclers the estimate is placed at six
millions of persons. In an age when no authentic records were kept, every thing was left
to conjecture, but it is probable that after
making due allowances for various delays and
for the influence of returning reason, and for
the thousand accidental causes which would
operate to reduce the host, the number was
not much short of that given above. For
awhile it appeared that all Europe would be
The eastern frontiers of France became
the scene of the gathering. There Peter
the Hermit, as the chief promoter of the
enterprise, assumed the leadership of the
host. Without adequate preparation, without
suitable arms, without any appreciation of the
dangers and difficulties to be encountered, the
vast and tumultuous throng swept out of
France and into Germany. The great sea
of angry and excited humanity overflowed
the ordinary routes of travel, and spread
devastation on every hand. The means of
subsistence were quickly exhausted, and the
multitudes began to prey on the countries
through which they traversed. They swept
on through the German territories like an
army of devouring locusts, until through
sheer waste of resources they were obliged to
divide into smaller masses.
One band numbering about twenty thousand, commanded by Walter the Penniless,
of Burgundy, pressed forward through Hungary and Bulgaria in the direction of Constantinople. It is said of this advanced host
that there were only eight horsemen in the
whole number. The rest of the wretched
mob proceeded on foot, generally marching
without shoes and hundreds falling by the
wayside through exposure, disease, and famine.
Nothing but the tolerance and friendly disposition of Carloman, king of the Hungarians, saved the miserable vanguard from
entire destruction. In Bulgaria, however,
the lieutenant of the Eastern Emperor looked
with less favor upon the lawless horde that
had been precipitated into his kingdom.
The Crusaders were quickly cut off from
supplies and were obliged to have recourse
to violence, but they now found themselves opposed by a race as savage as themselves.
The track of Walter and his army was marked with blood
and fire. The Crusaders were cut off day by