By Johannes Preiser-Kapeller
Published in Karfunkel – Zeitschrift für erlebbare Geschichte. Combat-Sonderheft 10 (2014)
Abstract: The Crusaders, who in the 11th Century moved in the thousands from Western and Central Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean to liberate the Holy Grave from the “infidels”, found themselves confronted not only with foreign cultures and violent armed resistance, but also with an alien natural environment and climatic conditions that could prove to be sometimes just as fatal as the arrows of the enemy. At the same time the Crusades fell into a period of quite changeable climatic conditions in Europe and the Middle East, which must be included as well in the historical analysis of the military events.
Intoduction: The most troublesome part of the “armed pilgrimage” was the several thousands of kilometres trip to the Holy Land. Coming from the temperate regions of Europe, the Crusaders had to traverse first the Balkan Peninsula, and then after crossing over the straits (with Byzantine naval support) to start a march through Anatolia. While the coasts of Asia Minor are influenced by the Mediterranean climate, the interior of Anatolia is determined by a continental climate, with hot dry summers and cold winters; in addition there is also low rainfall, so that the highlands at 800-1300 m above sea level are also characterised by salt lakes and steppes. To the south and east rises the mountain chain of the Taurus with over 3000 m and 4000 m altitude (in the east), which the traveller had to overcome on his or her way to Syria and Palestine.
Accordingly, already the participants of the First Crusade (1096-1099) on their midsummer march through the Central Anatolian region in 1097 suffered greatly from the heat. Animals and man were weakened by thirst, horses died and knights had to march on foot. That the crossing of Anatolia nevertheless succeeded, the Crusaders owed to their rapid victories over the Seljuk Turks at the beginning of the campaign in Asia Minor and the subsequent phenomena of dissolution in the sphere of power of the Sultan and to the logistical support of the Byzantines. When the crusade then was preparing in October 1097 to cross the slopes of the Antitaurus to Cilicia and northern Syria in different groups, the at that time of the year usual onset of rains turned all routes into “muddy mule tracks”, which could be used only with great difficulty and danger. Nevertheless, the invasion of Syria, the conquest of Antioch and of Jerusalem ultimately succeeded in July 1099.