Page 1314

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

depopulated.

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