Gregory VII: Call for a “Crusade”, 1074

Image: Engraving of Pope Gregory VII saying mass from Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints (1878).

Provided below are English and Latin accounts of Pope Gregory VII’s calling of a sort of proto-crusade as early as 1074. Although this venture never materialized, it is interesting to note that only three years after the events of Manzikert there was serious advocacy of providing major Western military aid to Eastern Christians by the papacy. Yet it never got off the ground due to the distractions and problems Gregory VII had to deal with as a result the Investiture Controversy.

In the meantime, from the time of this letter in 1074 until the calling of the First Crusade in 1095, the Byzantine Empire witnessed the conquest of many of its lands including much of once Christian Asia-Minor. These conquests included the historically important cities of Nicaea (the site of the perhaps the most important council in Christian history in 325) and Antioch, where early Christians first received the name “Christian” as a form of derision.

Byzantine Emperors continued to appeal to members of the western nobility and popes throughout this period (from 1074 until 1095), sometimes seemingly pleading for aid. It was not until the Council of Piacenza in early 1095 that Pope Urban II, whose papacy had recently stabilized during a lull in the Investiture Controversy, could agree to the request of Byzantine ambassadors in attendance to commit to providing western military aid. That commitment was realized in November of the same year with Urban’s calling of the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont.

The accounts of  Christian suffering in accounts of Urban II’s speech in 1095 are very similar to the accounts of Christian suffering described here by Gregory VII in 1074, twenty-one years earlier. In both cases, the popes’ depictions of the situation in the east would have been influenced by Byzantine correspondence. On this topic, one may also consider the Letter of Alexius to Count Robert of Flanders (c. 1088-1099), which emphasizes the suffering of eastern Christians. While historians generally agree that the letter is not genuine in its surviving form, many assume it is probably based on a genuine original source of correspondence between the emperor and the count.

The translated text selection by Thatcher has been transcribed by Paul Halsall’s Internet History Sourcebooks and is provided here with his permission. It is followed by the full Latin text transcribed from J.P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, 148: 0329.


Pope Gregory VII: Call for a “Crusade”, 1074 
Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to all who are willing to defend the Christian faith, greeting and apostolic benediction.

We hereby inform you that the bearer of this letter, on his recent return from across the sea [from Palestine], came to Rome to visit us. He repeated what we had heard from many others, that a pagan race had overcome the Christians and with horrible cruelty had devastated everything almost to the walls of Constantinople, and were now governing the conquered lands with tyrannical violence, and that they had slain many thousands of Christians as if they were but sheep. If we love God and wish to be recognized as Christians, we should be filled with grief at the misfortune of this great empire [the Greek] and the murder of so many Christians. But simply to grieve is not our whole duty. The example of our Redeemer and the bond of fraternal love demand that we should lay down our lives to liberate them. “Because he has laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,” [1 John 3:16]. Know, therefore, that we are trusting in the mercy of God and in the power of his might and that we are striving in all possible ways and making preparations to render aid to the Christian empire [the Greek] as quickly as possible. Therefore we beseech you by the faith in which you are united through Christ in the adoption of the sons of God, and by the authority of St. Peter, prince of apostles, we admonish you that you be moved to proper compassion by the wounds and blood of your brethren and the danger of the aforesaid empire and that, for the sake of Christ, you undertake the difficult task of bearing aid to your brethren [the Greeks]. Send messengers to us at once inform us of what God may inspire you to do in this matter.

In Migne, Patrologia Latina, 148:329
trans. Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905), 512-13


Epistola XLIX. Ad Omnes Christianos. (Anno 1074.)
Monet ut Constantinopolitanis opem ferant, qui a Saracenis multis calamitatibus afficiebantur.

GREGORIUS episcopus, servus servorum Dei, omnibus Christianam fidem defendere volentibus salutem et apostolicam benedictionem.

Notum vobis esse volumus, hunc virum praesentium portitorem, dum de ultramarinis nuper reverteretur partibus, apostolorum limina et nostram praesentiam visitasse. A quo, sicut a plerisque aliis, cognovimus gentem paganorum contra Christianum fortiter invaluisse imperium, et miseranda crudelitate jam fere usque ad muros Constantinopolitanae civitatis omnia devastasse et tyrannica violentia occupasse, et multa millia Christianorum quasi pecudes occidisse. Qua de re, si Deum diligimus, et Christianos nos esse cognoscimus, pro miseranda fortuna tanti imperii et tanta Christianorum clade nobis valde dolendum est: et non solum dolere super hac re debitae sollicitudini nostrae sufficit, sed animas pro liberatione fratrum ponere, exemplum Redemptoris nostri, et debitum fraternae charitatis a nobis exigit: quia, sicut ipse pro nobis animam suam posuit, et nos debemus pro fratribus nostris animas ponere. Scitote igitur nos, in misericordia Dei et in potentia virtutis ejus confisos, omnibus modis id agere atque parare ut adjutorium Christiano imperio quam citius, Deo juvante, faciamus. Unde vos per fidem, in qua per Christum in adoptionem filiorum Dei uniti estis, obsecramus, et auctoritate beati Petri apostolorum principis admonemus, ut et vos vulnera et sanguis fratrum, et periculum praefati imperii digna compassione moveat, et vestra virtus pro Christi nomine non invitam fatigationem ad ferenda fratribus auxilia subeat. Quidquid autem super hac re divina pietas vestris animis indiderit, sine mora certis legationibus nobis renuntiare studete.

Data Romae Kal. Martii, indictione duodecima.

Patrologia Latina, Volume 148: 0329B