Crusades besieging Damascus, under banners of England, France and the Holy Roman Empire, during the Second Crusade, 1148. From the Latin History of the Crusades. Bruges, 15th century.

Crusades besieging Damascus, under banners of England, France and the Holy Roman Empire, during the Second Crusade, 1148. From the Latin History of the Crusades. Bruges, 15th century. (Bridgeman Images)

Weapons of War in the Crusades

Turkish archers versus Frankish heavy cavalry. The Crusades marked a period of technological breakthroughs in the art of war that would decide the conflict.

A French royal crusading army was on the point of collapse and a very long way from help. By January 1148 it was midway in its journey across Anatolia – a graveyard of armies – and had just suffered a serious defeat while crossing a mountain pass. The vanguard had advanced too far ahead from the main army and the Turks had swept into the gap, charging down the lines of marching crusaders and causing substantial casualties. Louis VII of France was almost killed, surviving only by climbing a rock and fending off a multitude of attackers.

The battle may have been a fiasco, but it had an interesting postscript. Reflecting on his predicament and recognising his inexperience in dealing with Turkish forces, Louis VII turned over control of his army to the Knights Templar. These professional warriors, experts in Near Eastern warfare, immediately re-organised the entire force. The host was divided into small, tightly disciplined defensive groups, each under the command of a designated officer. This proved effective and the army’s survivors managed to resist several Turkish attacks, even winning some encounters, before reaching the relative sanctuary of the Byzantine city of Adalia.

Louis VII’s experiences on the Second Crusade were not uncommon for crusading armies setting out for the Near East. Wars in that region were conducted in a very different manner from those of Western Christendom and, as soon as they crossed into Turkish territory, crusade commanders needed to start learning how to deal with a fundamentally different kind of conflict.

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