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Raymond of Aguilers

In the retinue of the Count of Toulouse and of the Bishop of Puy, were two Crusaders, the one a brave and worthy knight ; the other an ecclesiastic, uneducated, but well disposed. These two men were intimately bound together by friendship. The knight Pontius, Lord of Baladun, was desirous that the memory of so many great exploits should not perish for want of a chronicler. He was constantly pressing his friend to write down, in the quiet of his tent, the events that had occurred in the battle-field, to edify and stir up all the faithful, and especially their friend the Bishop of Vivars. The ecclesiastic Raymond was easily moved thereto : he wrote down day by day what he had seen, always with the help and encouragement of his friend, until Pontius found an honorable death in battle, before the castle of Arkas. Nevertheless he did not leave off the work begun in common with his friend. "My best friend", said he, "died in the Lord ; but love dieth not, and in love will I finish this work ; so help me God".

Raymond of Aguilers only received consecration as a priest on his way to the Holy Land , and then became one of the immediate personal followers of the Bishop of Puy and the Count of Toulouse. He was present at the discovery of the Holy Lance ,  carried this relic in the battle against Kerboga , and read the formulary at the ordeal by which Peter Bartholomew proved the identity of this instrument of the Passion . There is no doubt, therefore, as to the opportunities he had of observing ; and his capacity to judge events may be gathered from his works. Above all things, Raymond is simple and straight forward; he states, in the strongest and coarsest manner, what he thinks. We may have some doubt as to the correctness of his facts, but never as to ' the truth of the impression they make on him. Then he is Provencal to the backbone. He is not highly gifted, but thoroughly enthusiastic for the success of the undertaking, and, whenever there is an opportunity, for his countrymen and their leader. The manifestations of his character are not always of the pleasantest : they display an extravagant belief in miracles, and a fierce hatred of all who are opposed to him, and a vile way of connecting divine things with the lowest motives; when to this is added a very rude manner of expressing himself, it is obvious that in the course of his narrative there must be many things to shock the reader.

Por instance, he mentions as a glorious deed of the Count of Toulouse, that once when hard pressed by the Dalmatians, he caused the eyes of six of the prisoners to be tom out, and their noses, arms, and legs to be cut off, in order to inspire the rest with terror;“ At the taking of Antioch, he says, "Something pleasant and diverting occurred after their long tribulations. A troop of Turkish horse, more than three hundred in number, hard pressed by the Crusaders, were driven over a precipice; a pleasure to see, much as we regretted the loss of the horses .”  It is true that in this war little regard was paid to humanity, but it would be difficult to find a second example of such excessive virulence.“ Thus he goes on, expressing delight and rapture with the same eagerness, and is completely carried away when a supernatural apparition manifests itself within his immediate circle. When the point of the Holy Lance projected above the earth, he says, “ Then I, Raymond the chaplain, sprang forward to kiss it .” The narratives of subsequent visions occupy about one-fourth of the whole book.  In one word, his was a vigorous but vulgar nature, thrown by a great impulse into an extraordinary course. The book would soon excite disgust, were it not so guilelessly written, and did it not so thoroughly show the personal character of the man.

It is obvious that his judgment is only to be trusted in certain cases : he can be followed when once he is known. He may be depended upon as to matters of fact, which he narrates with the strictest accuracy. He is rich in detail, but not in anecdote. A few cases, unimportant in themselves, may be found in which we are forced to reject his statements ; on the other hand, he gives conclusive accounts of the most important events, and, in comparison with others, he must be looked upon as a guiding authority. On some points his narrative is essential to a right view of events, eg. the battle with Kilidje Arslan, before Nicaea — the siege of Antioch — and, above all, the quarrel between Bohemund and the Count of Toulouse. He agrees perfectly in the main points with the ‘ Gesta Francorum the discrepancies are few, and those only on special matters, quite independent of the general view of affairs.

Moreover, the two works are quite independent of each other, although, from their similarity, it has been supposed that they had a common origin ,  and that Raymond had only amplified the * Gesta.’ Each author tells the exact truth as far as he knew it, the one as to what occurred among the Normans, the other among the Provencals. The events were neither secret nor involved, and the similarity of the statements of the two authors is therefore by no means wonderful. Identity of expression, even in isolated passages, nowhere occurs ; in two places, pointed out by critics, it is only apparent : but at the end of the book, which has not come down to us in its perfect, form from Raymond himself, passages have been added from the ‘ Gesta ’ by a foreign hand.

The question is, when and by whom the interpolations were made. In all manuscripts which have hitherto been found, the passages in question invariably occur. It is still more important that Tudebod, who in this instance follows Raymond, found these words, and copied them ii^to his text, perhaps comparing them with the * Gesta .’  It is probable, indeed, that Raymond himself made the interpolations, that he felt the omission in his own narrative, and endeavoured to fill it up with the fragment from the ‘ Gesta.’ This circumstance is important, as affording the most convincing proof of the contemporaneous composition of the ‘ Gesta,’ even if the book did not contain sufficient internal evidence.

We have dwelt at some length on this apparently trifling circumstance, for various reasons. First, in order to establish the date of the ‘ Gesta,’ and next for those which relate to the subject itself. We hear on all sides that it is impossible to form an exact or authentic picture of the occurrences in Constantinople from the original authorities . This is mainly owing to the confusion that prevails in Albert’s narrative , which renders it impossible to combine the Latin authorities with the Alexiade, But if we can succeed in extracting from the eyewitnesses clear and unanimous statements, if we have the courage upon their authority to pronounce a strict judgment on Albert of Aix, the apparent discrepancies which exist in Anna Comnena’s w orks offer no further difficulties.

To sum up our judgment on the work of Raymond of Agiles, we should say it was full of ample and trustworthy details, the value of which is somewhat impaired by the passion and superstition of the otherwise veracious author. As a writer, Raymond, in spite of his violent, zealous, and superstitiou8 nature, takes a correct view of things, and with all the vulgarity of his mind he is a true representative of his time and of his country. He is genuine and outspoken, and no one who enters into his spirit can read his work without benefit.

References:

Raymond of Aguilers, in August C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-witnesses and Participants, Princeton University Press, 1921.

Varney (A.), The Crusades: Campaign Sourcebook, Lake Geneva, 1994.

Peters (E.),  The  First  Crusade:  The  Chronicle  of  Fulcher  of  Chartres and other source materials, 2nd ed,  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

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