The last years of the XI century. Answering the Pope’s Call, thousands of the finest European nobles gather near Constantinople, forming one of the biggest armies since the Fall of the Roman Empire. Their ultimate goal is the holy city of Jerusalem, the cradle of Christianity, currently under Muslim rule. The unprecedented string of both glorious and brutal events committed in the name of God, is about to begin. It is the year 1095. The Byzantine Empire was slowly recovering after a period of civil war and invasions from all sides. Emperor Alexios Komnenos struggled to recover the empire’s former power after years of poor rule at the hands of his predecessors, beginning the period known today as the Komnenian Restoration. He dispatched a message to Pope Urban II, requesting military support for his fellow Christians, hoping for help with reclaiming the lands lost to the Muslims in Anatolia and on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Pope Urban had numerous reasons to help, as he sought the possibility to warm relations between western and eastern Christendom after the Great Schism, and more importantly – strengthen his unstable position as leader of the Catholic Church. He organised the Council of Clermont, attended by both laymen and ecclesiastics, during which he moved the hearts of men with an inspirational speech, ending with the phrase: „Deus Vult!”, which soon became a motto for the upcoming Crusade. The Pope’s call to reclaim the Holy Land quickly spread over Western Europe through the following months, even though Jerusalem was taken by the Muslims almost 400 years earlier and three great religions coexisted in Levant with no major friction between them. Also the Seljuq Turk’s invasion of the Byzantine Empire wasn’t particularly recent news, as it was 25 years since the disastrous encounter near Manzikert, but one could not underestimate the power of words used at the right time and right place. With snow melting away in early 1096, various groups of peasants, townsmen, minor knights and even petty criminals gathered to follow the charismatic monk Peter the Hermit in a so-called People’s Crusade, unauthorised by Pope Urban, months before the planned gathering of European nobility. The beginning of their march was marked with Jewish massacres committed by crusaders in Rhineland and Central Europe. Despite the protection provided by Christian clergy, several thousand Jews were killed. The barely prepared and organised mass of people soon entered Hungary. Though initially welcomed by King Koloman, they quickly changed his mind by plundering Hungarian cities, searching for supplies and treasuries. Koloman was determined to protect his people and domain, as a result some regular fighting ensued. The ill-disciplined crusade finally reached Constantinople, and unexpecting emperor Alexios quickly transferred them through the Bosphorus to Asia Minor, to get rid of the problem. With no strong military leadership and lacking a good plan, the crusaders dispersed over the area and began unorganized raiding of Turkish territories. They took the minor castle of Xerigordon few kilometres from Nicaea, but that was just a single and not truly noteworthy success of the People’s Crusade. The end of their story is a brutal one. The Turkish sultan Kilij Arslan dealt with the invaders mercilessly. Xerigordon was retaken and its defenders killed. Separated groups of foraging Christians were slaughtered, while the main body of the army was lead to an ambush and virtually erased by superior Turkish forces near Civetot. Out of a total of 20,000 men, who reached Asia Minor, barely a few survived. Peter the Hermit avoided the massacre and later joined the Prince’s crusade, the first components of which soon reached the city of Constantinople. Emperor Alexios didn’t really expect such a far-reaching response. Thousands of Latin nobles heeded the Pope’s call and together with retinues departed their homelands to relieve their orthodox brothers in the East, and eventually take back the Holy Land from Muslim hands. Among the most famous crusaders were: Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lorraine, and his brother Baldwin, leading the Imperial contingent. Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy with another Robert, count of Flanders leading a detachment from Northern France. One of the wealthiest nobles of the time – deeply religious Raymond, count of Toulouse accompanied by the Pope’s representative Adhemar of Le Puy. And last but not least, fierce Bohemond, prince of Taranto, and his nephew Tancred, leading the Norman contingent from southern Italy. There were plenty of reasons for this unusual gathering, maybe even as many, as the number of European magnates willing to participate. The desire of adventure, remission of sins offered by the Pope and simple eagerness to fight the infidels were just the more popular reasons. But, let’s move the story forward. Alexios took advantage of the crusade leaders arriving at Constantinople one by one and forced them to pledge to return all future reclaimed lands back to the Empire. Just after making the vow, they were then transported via the strait to Anatolia, where the combined crusader force assembled in spring of 1097. Despite the inability to choose a single leader, they agreed to set the city of Nicaea as their first target. It was the former capital of the recently established Sultanate of Rum, a state that seceded from the Seljuq Empire, which suffered a heavy decentralization of power since the death of sultan Malik-Shah five years earlier. Nicaea was a well-fortified stronghold, on the eastern shore of Lake Ascanius. However, its walls were more than 6 kilometres long, making it quite hard to defend by the undermanned Turkish garrison. The first Christian units reached the city on the 14th of May, and began preparations for the siege. Alexios aided the crusaders with a two thousand strong detachment under general Tatikios together with an engineering unit and siege equipment. Nicaea was supplied across the lake to some extent, and stood strong despite lack of sufficient defence. The crusaders surrounded the city, but their initial attempts to crush the walls and storm inside failed. In the meantime, sultan Kilij Arslan rushed back west with relief forces. After wiping out the People’s Crusade, he had little respect for another Latin army gathering near Constantinople and was busy campaigning in the east. Yet as soon as he learned of how numerous the following Christian invasion was, he quickly moved the Turkish army back to defend his lands. They reached the besieged city on the 21st of May and immediately struck the crusaders from the south. The sultan’s forces tried to break through to the city, but the attack of his light armoured mounted units was pushed back by Raymond’s well equipped soldiers. It was surely a surprising experience for Kilij Arslan, when he saw the impetus of the charge of heavy cavalrymen serving the Frankish lord. Soon, willing to avoid further losses, the sultan commanded a general retreat, dismaying the Nicaean garrison. Despite the failed attempt to break the siege, the city garrison kept up a rugged defence, unwilling to surrender. Then, after a few days of fruitless attempts to overwhelm the Nicaean defence, crusaders finally decided to complete the encirclement using Byzantine help. Some ships of the Imperial fleet were pulled to the lake and soon blocked the harbour completely. Upon losing the last line of supply, the defenders morale was crippled. They surrendered the city to the Byzantine sailors during the night, yet kept the city gates closed. This was a part of Emperor Alexios’s plan, as for centuries, Nicaea was an important Byzantine stronghold, so he didn’t let the crusaders into the city, fearing the possible plundering. Of course, the crusaders felt cheated, when they saw imperial banners waving on the walls in the morning, but Alexios cunningly quelled their discontent with money and precious gifts. With the first objective accomplished after the one month long siege, the uplifted crusader army departed farther south in the middle of June. Due to the huge size of the marching column, the leaders made the uneasy decision to split their forces. Normans under Bohemond and Robert Curthose formed the vanguard, while the bigger part lead by Raymond and Godfrey marched a day behind them. They obviously knew, that such a move was risky, since the Seljuq troops were still a threat, but it was much easier to provision two smaller groups, especially on the hilly terrain the crusaders had to pass through. The Norman contingent reached a wide plain near the ancient town of Dorylaeum, and set a camp there in the evening of June 30th. Bohemond and Robert received scout reports about a brief Turkish presence in the vicinity a few days earlier, but they most likely underestimated the risk and didn’t even inform the rear-guard. This soon turned out to be a big mistake. With sunrise on the horizon, thousands of Turkish mounted units encircled the surprised Normans, raining arrows on their unprepared camp. Kilij Arslan allied himself with neighbouring Danishmends and struck the crusader force once again. Bohemond quickly organised the defence, and together with all Norman mounted knights lead a ferocious charge at the Turks. Yet the lightly armoured Muslim units easily evaded their attack, and horse archers armed with composite bows dealt significant damage while on the move. Bohemond rode back to the camp, realizing that he couldn’t defeat the enemy who presented an eastern style of warfare, exploiting hit and run tactics combined with outstanding mobility. Though the Normans formed a solid defence with dismounted heavy armoured knights on the front, their situation was disastrous. Yet in spite of being overwhelmed and encircled by an enemy raining thousands of arrows on them, the Norman army endured the Turkish attack thanks to the heavy armour of the frontal units, the brave attitude of their commanders, and an iron discipline. Regardless, their losses constantly increased. Five long hours had passed, when the first units of the rear-guard under Godfrey finally made it to the battlefield and immediately hacked their way to the besieged camp. Yet the relief force wasn’t able to turn the tide of the battle either. The now close-fought encounter raged for another two hours, when another relief force commanded by the Pope’s legate Adhemar le Puy and led by Byzantine guides, got around the hills and struck the Turkish camp and rear units. This was a decisive blow to the sultan’s forces. His tactical advantage rapidly diminished, many of the Turks fled the battlefield and the battle was essentially over. The casualties were significant, as probably more than 5,000 men in total among the opposing forces had fallen that day. It’s worth noting, that both sides were surprised by the other’s combat potential. The Muslim troops had shown a flexibility unknown to many Europeans, with crucial use of mounted archers, while the Crusader army made efficient use of heavy armour, endurance and discipline under constant pressure. Kilij Arslan learnt, that the Christian force was a hard nut to crack, and if he wanted to win this war, he needed to adopt a new approach to deal with this extraordinary threat. Meanwhile, after the initial successes, the Latin army treated their wounds and prepared to continue their march south to Cilicia, through the hot inland of the Anatolian plateau.