A Greek Source on the Origin of the First Crusade
By Peter Charanis
Speculum, Vol.24:1 (1949)
Introduction: A Greek chronicle contains the following passage concerning Alexius Commenus and the role he played in bringing about the First Crusade:
Having considered, therefore, that it was impossible for him alone to undertake the battle on which everything depended, he decided that it was necessary to take the Italians as allies, and to succeed in this he used dissemblance of thought, wise tact and cunning. For he found it a godsend that this nation considered unbearable the domination of Jerusalem and the life-giving Sepulchre of Our Savior Jesus Christ by the Persians [Turks] and this he wed as a pretext. By the dispatchings of ambassadors to the bishop of Old Rome and to, as they would say, kings and rulers of those regions, and by the use of appropriate arguments, he prevailed over not a few of them to leave their country and succeeded in directing them in everyway to the task. That is the reason why many of them, numbering thousands and tens of thousands, having crossed the Ionian Sea, reached Constantinople with all speed, and, having exchanged assurances and oaths with them and concluded agreements, he advanced towards the East. With the aid of God and their alliance and by his own efforts he expelled the Persians [Turks] from the Roman territories, liberated the cities and restored the control of the East to its former glory. Such was this emperor: great in the conception of plans and the doing of deeds.
The chronicle containing this important text was composed in the thirteenth century and was published anonymously by Sathas under the title of Synopsis Chronike. It has since been established, however, that it is the work of Theodore Skutariotes, an important personality of the second half of the thirteenth century. The Synopsis Chronike is a world history which comes down to 1261. Its principal sources are known; but here and there it contains information found nowhere else. This is particularly true for the period of the early Comneni. Skutariotes obviously had access to sources of information now lost. It was no doubt from such a source that he drew the text presented here. There is no reason to doubt its accuracy.