In early 1095 AD, Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos sent a letter to Pope Urban II warning that the Turks were about to overrun Constantinople. Hoping to reunite the Church, which had been in schism for 50 years, the Pope gave an impassioned speech at the Council of Clermont decrying the atrocities being committed by the Turks in their westward expansion and called for volunteers to launch a crusade to push them back.
Reports of the speech claim the crowd shouted in support “Deus vult,” a Latin phrase meaning “God wills it!” The Pope’s speech was just as well received across the empire, causing not only nobles and knights to join the cause, but the poor masses as well. Women and children were explicitly forbidden from joining the crusade, but to no avail; indeed whole families left everything they had to join this crusade, the first of many.
The Pope’s speech had single-handedly raised an army of thousands, the vast majority of whom were unarmed and untrained peasants. Indeed, his call for action was more successful than Pope Urban II envisioned or even wanted. If anything, the peasants only served to slow the armies. Read More