The significance of the ?discovery? of the Holy Lance at the foot of St. Peter?s Basilica, Antioch 14th June 1098

Synopsis of Thomas Asbridge, The First Crusade, A New History (London: Free Trade Press, 2004)
Asbridge offers a critical reinterpretation of the origins of the First Crusade, challenging the concept of crusader greed and instead suggesting an ideological incentive. The monograph follows the journey of the Crusaders from Pope Urban II?s ?momentous? sermon at Clermont, November 1095 to the sack of Jerusalem, 15 July 1099. Asbridge refers to the crusades as ?proactive rather than reactive?designed first and foremost to meet the needs of the papacy?, also to dismiss the Byzantine appeal for military assistance (Council of Piacenza) as a legitimate primary cause. Joan Acocella argues that Asbridge places far too much emphasis upon the ?Crusaders sense of religious duty, as opposed to blood-lust and greed?. Traditional historian Steven Runciman adopts a similar view, ?High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed?the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.?
Remarkable, is that a loosely organised enterprise with little knowledge of the terrain and limited provisions were able to escape defeat so regularly. Asbridge justifies this through stating, ?Modern historical analysis can offer a rationalization of their accomplishments, but for contemporaries living in the medieval age one thing alone explained the spectacular triumph...God's omnipotent will.? Asbridge uses primary evidence to good effect, but is careful when utilising texts such as the Gesta Francorum, believing the text to have fabricated certain evidence.
A major theme throughout is the power struggle between crusading knights, with Asbridge focussing upon several key figures, Bohemond of Taranto, Raymond of Aguillers, Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon and Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy. Asbridge correctly identifies a major problem that these leaders must have faced, a language barrier. As Fulcher of Chatres remarked, ?who ever heard such a mixture of languages in one army?. The integration of such primary evidence coupled with Asbridge?s own research enriches our understanding of the crusader hierarchy. Adhemar Le Puy could claim spiritual primacy of the crusade, however Asbridge makes it quite clear that overall strategic command of the crusades would fall to one of the crusading elite. ?From Nicaea onwards, the crusaders were forced to feel their way towards an organisational structure, through a process of innovation and experimentation? .
It would be fair to argue that Asbridge occasionally contradicts himself in this text, as initially we are told of the ideological draw that caused a surge in crusading fervour. Throughout the monograph Asbridge comments upon crusader greed, in particular Bohemond, whose desire to sieze Antioch following the second successful Latin siege marks a period of intense factional rivalry. A link that Asbridge fails to make is Bohemond?s inherent mistrust of the Byzantines. We are made aware of Bohemond?s struggle against the Byzantines in securing Norman primacy of southern Italy, surely leaving him to cede control of Antioch to Alexius, despite previous agreements (Constantinople-1097).
A significant section of Asbridge?s focus appears to be upon the significance of the battle of Antioch in shaping the crusade, with hard-fought success here on 28 June 1098 marking a momentous display of crusader devotion to the cross. Asbridge is quick to dispel the discovery of the Holy Lance at the foot of St Peter?s Basilica on 14 June 1098 as the immediate cause of crusader uprising. Instead, unlike historians such as Hans Eberhard Mayer, who argued that the Lance?s discovery immediately roused the Latin ranks to a crucial victory at Antioch, Asbridge comments upon the significance of the two week gap between the lance?s discovery and the first signs of battle. Asbridge provides a further cause for Latin victory, arguing the crusaders possessed a desperate common cause and had experienced fighting alongside each other for months; Kerbogha?s army was cobbled together from disparate elements.
Finally, it?s important to understand Asbridge?s viewpoint on the crusader?s ultimate arrival and then sack of Jerusalem. The crusaders, fresh from bloodthirsty slaughter and rapacious plundering, turned their hands to acts of worship and devotion. As Asbridge argues, ?the sack of Jerusalem proves one thing beyond contestation ? in the minds of the crusaders, religious fervour and barbaric warfare were not mutually exclusive, but could exist at the same time?. Asbridge?s modern interpretation of the First Crusade offers a clear analysis of the main events of the crusade,