Peter the Hermit riding on his donkey; followed by a great many peasants, knights and laymen, women and children included.
While a contingent of pilgrims under the command of Emich and Gottschalk ravaged the Jewish communities in the Rhineland, Peter the Hermit and his followers stirred up great trouble in Nish.
Nicetas, the Bulgarian prince, received them well and so had the locals. Nicetas opened the markets to the crusaders, trusting that they would purchase everything they needed, then move on. Sadly that was not the case. As the crusaders set out east, few of the German knights in the rearguard set fire to seven of the mills situated along the river after having quarreled with a townsman.
The moment Nicetas learnt of this horrible deed, he sent his army after the crusaders. The Bulgarian troops attacked the rearguard of Peter’s army while Peter the Hermit journeyed on about a mile ahead. He didn’t know what was happening until one of his followers–probably one of his knights–raced up to him and alerted him of the attack. Peter turned his donkey around at once and headed back to Nish where he attempted negotiation with Nicetas. Whether Peter begged for mercy or aggravated Nicetas, we will never know. Regardless, Nicetas was so enraged by what Peter’s men had done that he attacked them anyway. In the event of the skirmish, thousands of crusaders were massacred; most of their supplies were plundered by the Bulgarians, including Peter’s treasure chest, full of silver and gold. Many crusaders who did survive were captured and held in captivity for the rest of their lives. A few lucky thousand escaped and hid in the mountains, including Rainald of Breis, Walter of Breteuil and Peter himself.
Once Nicetas returned with his army back to Nish, Peter the Hermit and what remained of his following, continued on their journey. The fugitives who had survived Nicetas’s wrath emerged from their hiding places and rejoined Peter until his following totaled 7,000.
When they reached Sofia in July, they met with the envoys that had been sent from Constantinople–the ones Nicetas had requested to accompany the crusaders. From there, the pilgrims’ journey went much smoother and more peaceful: their Byzantine escorts treated them kindly and the locals in Philippopolis gave them money, food, horses and mules.
Once they arrived in Constantinople, the Emperor Alexius invited Peter to court, but made sure the rest of the crusading army was camped outside the walls of the great city. He gave Peter gifts and advised him to stay in Constantinople and wait for the main crusading armies to arrive. In the meantime, few of the pilgrims camped outside the walls, set fire to some buildings and pillaged food and other supplies from the locals. Some pilgrims even stripped lead from church buildings.
Soon enough, news of the trouble those rabble rousing pilgrims caused found its way into the imperial court. Annoyed and worried that this disorder will escalate, Alexius had the pilgrims ferried across the Bosporus river in early August, nearly one month after they arrived in Constantinople. Against the advice of Alexius, Peter joined his followers.
Peter the Hermit meeting with Emperor Alexius I Comnenus at the imperial court in Constantinople.
Archer, T.A. and Charles L. Kingsford. The Crusades: The Story of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. New York; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900.
Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades: The First Crusade. Vol.1. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1951.