Natural setbacks for crusaders: plagues, droughts and earthquakes

During their campaigns, the crusaders faced not only Muslim opponents but also natural misfortunes such as plagues, droughts and earthquakes.

"Raymond of Aguilers is one of several writers to describe how starvation gripped the crusaders’ camp during the winter of 1097–8, a situation exacerbated on the kalends of January (1 January 1098), when there was a frightening earth tremor.

In the twenty years between 1097 and 1117, Fulcher of Chartres recorded six separate earthquakes, including the most serious in 1114, which, although the epicentre appears to have been at Marash, which was destroyed, was strong enough to damage buildings in Antioch, 60 miles to the south.

The twelfth century was a particularly active period for earthquakes in this region, culminating in May
1202, when, according to Philip of Plessis, master of the Temple, ‘we suffered the sort of earthquakes not seen since the creation of the world’.

Equal in severity to that of 1202 was the Syrian earthquake of 29 June 1170, which brought down the cathedral of St Peter in Antioch, as well as the walls of the city, and ruined many of the great castles of the military orders in the county of Tripoli. Muslim cities were similarly struck, especially Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Baalbek. Tremors were felt as far south as Jerusalem and as far north and east as the Jacobite monastery of Mar Hanania, near Mardin, over 100 miles east of Edessa. Aftershocks continued for three to four months.

The earthquakes of August and November 1114 had been preceded in the spring by locusts, which, says Walter, the chancellor of Antioch between c.1114 and c.1122, ‘stole nearly all the things necessary to feed the farmers of Syria. Then they were dispersed partly by crawling along the ground, partly through the air, and they afflicted almost the whole region of the eastern  Christians to the same devastating effect.’ It was not only crops that were vulnerable. Ambroise, the Norman poet who took part in the Third Crusade, describes the afflictions of King Richard’s army in August 1191. Encamped
south of Haifa, they were disturbed during the night by an ‘attack from stinging worms and tarantulas which harassed them greatly, stinging the pilgrims who would at once swell up’."

This blog quotes sections, slightly editedand rearranged, from The Crusader States by Malcom Barber, (2012, p 161, 251-252), Yale University Press. Fair Use intended. Illustration shows locusts plague in present day Madagascar. source, FairUse

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