De Itinere Navali: A German Third Crusader’s Chronicle of his Voyage and the Siege of Almohad Silves 1189 AD

third crusade bookDe Itinere Navali: A German Third Crusader’s Chronicle of his Voyage and the Siege of Almohad Silves 1189 AD

Edited and translated by Dana Cushing

Antimony Media, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-989-2853-1-5
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9892853-0-8

Eleven shiploads of German crusaders from the cities of Lübeck and Bremen departed the Holy Roman Empire in 1189CE, part of Frederick Barbarossa’s crusader army destined for the Holy Land via England, Portugal, and the Mediterranean polities.


Leaving a trail of ships wrecked, towns ruined and shrines visited, this periplus (travelogue) manuscript records the sole surviving eyewitness testimony of early crusader sailing and of the tiny Kingdom of Portugal’s campaign to annex the neighbouring Kingdom of the Algarve by using Europe’s crusader armies to take its capital Silves (Xelb) from the Islamic Emperor of Morocco, a medieval naval superpower called the Almohad (Muwahid) dynasty.

This crusader’s chronicle provides fascinating and accurate detail of medieval travel and warfare, including the devastating human consequences of shipwreck, siege, and invasion that bring the late twelfth century vividly into our minds.


As vicious underground battles are waged by candlelight, and as desperate citizens leap from city walls when death, disease and starvation overwhelm them, Cushing’s insightful analysis of both Christian and Muslim sources – including newly-discovered medieval sources unavailable to previous editors, and modern multidisciplinary research of unparalleled breadth and quality – provides the reader with a well-rounded scholarly study for this dramatic, engaging historical text.

Click here to read our Interview with Dana Cushing

Excerpt from the translation: In the morning [4 September], with a fair amount of decency, the defeated were lead beyond the three gates, and only then did we witness their plight for the first time: They were emaciated and could hardly walk; many were crawling; some were supported by our people; others were lying in the public squares, dead or half-dead; and the stench was enormous, from corpses both of the people and of the livestock in the city. Moreover, the Christian prisoners were being brought out barely gasping: For, as they told us, in four days, one used to have only as much water as an egg-cup could hold [20 mL], and others even less, and also water used to be given to no-one unless he were willing to fight. And each man shared that little bit with [his] wife and children. Nor was bread made, for lack of water, but they ate life-saving figs, and thereby most of the grain was spared. Also the prisoners used to be stripped naked at night, and they laid upon the cold stones, such that they might become damp and survive. The women and children used to eat moist dirt, too. And it is to be noted that, when first we arrived, Silves had 450 captives; but we found barely 200 alive. …

Note that, when first we arrived, our army had only 3500 [combatants] of whatever age or rank – actually, a bit fewer. But the King’s army was large, [comprised] of horsemen, of footmen and of sailors. And with them were religious knights from three Orders: The Templars, the Knights of Jerusalem who bear swords upon their robes, get married, and wage steady war against the Saracens, and yet live according to a Rule. And the Knights of the Cistercian Order, who have this single indulgence – that they eat meat three days in a week, but only once and for one dish when they are at home; but when on a mission, they follow men – whose head is Calatrava in the Castillian realm and Evora in the Portuguese realm, but Calatrava is the mother and Evora the daughter [foundation]. Also, [the warriors] of the Jerusalemites – some were from the Temple, others from the Holy Sepulchre, others from the Hospital – and they each have revenues in that land. The city having been captured, we Franks had the mastery of it, and no-one else was allowed entrance.

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