The Crusaders & their typical gear

Deutschritter sind Kreuzritter des Deutschritterordens, einem Ritterorden aus der Zeit der Kreuzzüge.

The man’s armour shines in the midday sun, lances and horse harnesses clatter. Nobleman Gottfried von Bouillon rushes on to meet the enemy Seljuk army on July 1, 1097 A.D., next to him his knights. As one of the first crusaders in the Middle Ages, the Duke spread fear and terror among his enemies. The equipment of the heavily armoured riders was especially impressive. But what is a crusader and what is his typical gear?

Pilgrimage with military destinations

Before going into detail about the equipment of the knights, let’s take a quick look at the origin of the crusaders. After the belligerent Seljuks from present-day Turkey conquered parts of the Middle East, the raids on Christian pilgrims began to mount up. In 1095 A.D. in Rome, Pope Urban II called on all warriors of Christianity to reconquer Jerusalem. Many nobles, but also peasants and ordinary soldiers from today’s France, Germany and Italy followed the call. But why were these people called “crusaders”?

Die Belagerung von Jerusalem durch Kreuzritter (crusader), 1099; Illustration vermutlich aus dem 14. / 15. Jahrhundert
The siege of Jerusalemby the crusaders, 1099 (late medieval illustration, maybe 14th/15th c.)

Where does the name “Crusader” come from?

Those who took the cross usually renounced any worldly possessions. At the same time, the Crusaders in the Middle Ages were promised the forgiveness of all sins if they died during the perilous pilgrimage. Thus, these warriors were on an equal footing with Christian martyrs. So that everyone could see who had taken the vow, the crusaders wore a cross on a tabard and shield as a means of identification. The most famous example of this is the Knights Templar with a red cross on a white background. The Order of Knights is also associated with myths about the search for the Holy Grail.

Symbol of the Middle Ages: The Sword

It is the symbol of the Middle Ages: the sword, the most important weapon of a knight. Swords of the typical crusaders we have to think of as longswords had a length of about 1.20 meters. On the iron blade sharpened on both sides, two bars are attached to the lower end to protect the hand, the parry rods. The sword handle, also called a grip, often ends in a richly decorated pommel for the right hold and as a counterweight. For safe storage, the Crusaders transported their weapon in a sword sheath worn at the hip.

Brutally effective: the Crusader and his lance

Recall the scene from the beginning: A crowd of 50 heavily armored riders rides towards the enemies in full gallop. In such an attack, the Lance plays the most important role as a knight’s second main weapon. Lances consist of a wooden shaft with iron tip, approximately 2.50 to 4 meters long. Through use of the stirrup, the riders had enough hold to insert the weapon under the armpit. The force of the impact could easily penetrate light and medium armor.

Armor in the Middle Ages: Good protection, but heavy

Speaking of armor, nowadays we can no longer imagine a Crusader without iconic armor. Mostly, the courageous knights wore chain shirts and helmets, and less often also plate armour. In the late middle Ages, the armor became so heavy that the fighters had to be hoisted onto the battle horse by crane. Don’t worry, you’ll find matching armor that doesn’t make you collapse right away. The armor offered effective protection against the weapons used by the Muslim troops, such as bow and arrow or light saber.

Shield protected the Crusader from attack

In addition to the armor, most crusaders carried a wooden shield in the side hand. This was used to parry blows and fend off arrows. The shield was often reinforced by a metal hump and metal strip and was hung around the shoulder. As it reached from the ground to the shoulder, a shield provided sufficient protection for the warrior’s entire body. On the shield there was usually a cross or a painted coat of arms of the family or the lord to which the crusader was aligned to.

With pot helmet, charm and chain shirt

A knightly display would be accompanied by violent rattling of chain mail: the chain shirt in the Middle Ages reached up to the knees and protected the body, arms and legs. Often, a chain hood also afforded protection for the head and neck. Above it, the Crusader of the World wore a pot helmet or a Norman helmet with nose protection. From the 13th century, a breastplate was placed over it. A colorful tabard as top layer and a Gambeson as an undergarment for padding under the chain shirt and you were ready for battle.

Other arms of the Crusader in the Middle Ages

Other weapons of the crusaders in the Middle Ages were also less frequently found on battlefields, including the one-leafed battle axe and the mace with four or six star-shaped sharp metal leaves at the end. The hammer, which could cause fatal wounds as a force weapon, is modelled on a forging hammer. A morning star is a shaft at the end of which an iron ball reinforced with spines is attached to a chain. The swing of the ball created a very dangerous and impressive weapon that could penetrate even heavy armour.

Biggest problem for a crusader: The weight

When you try your gear for the first time, you’ll quickly notice it: Armor, shield and weapon have a weight that should not be underestimated. Crusaders therefore had to carry out regular training courses in the Middle Ages. Toughness, perseverance and strength turned them into serious opponents. The weight of a sword and its sharpness meant that often a targeted blow was enough to eliminate the adversary. The other side of the Seljuks and later the Saracens relied on a different kind of warfare.

Die Ausrüstung der Kreuzritter (Crusader)

Differences in warfare among crusaders and their enemies

In the Middle Ages, two worlds met during the Crusades: the Orient and the Occident. While the Crusaders focused primarily on brute force, strength and perseverance in close combat, the focus of the Muslim troops was more on bow and arrow. The mounted archers attacked the Crusaders’ army from a distance and then quickly rode away. In the melee, fatigue and hail of arrows were especially deadly to the horses and unarmored troops of the crusaders. When battle on the field came, their enemies were mostly crushed.

In the Middle Ages, the crusaders relied mainly on lance, sword and horses. The fighters were protected by chain shirts, pot helmets or helmets with nose protection and shields. Breastplates were later added to protect against heavy projectiles such as crossbow bolts. As rarer weapons, the Crusaders used battle axes, mace, morning stars and hammers. And which equipment would you choose?