The Crusades Against Araby, more commonly known as the Great Crusades, or simply the Crusades, refers to a three-year-long military campaign launched by the Knights of Bretonnia and the Empire in order to free the distant Kingdom of Estalia from the enslavement of the Arabyan invaders of Sultan Jaffar. The Crusades against Araby were one of the greatest military expeditions ever organized, and probably the greatest of wars fought against an adversary other than the hordes of Chaos.
The King of Bretonnia, Louis the Righteous, raised a huge army of knights to free Estalia and punish Jaffar for the atrocities they had committed. Glory-hungry knights from all across Bretonnia joined the King's banners in what would become the first of a series of Crusades all across the known world. While this splendid army marched on Estalia, distant lands lent reinforcements to the brave Knights, such as the warships of Tilea.
The scale of the campaign resulted in the largest congregation of knights in known history, which would eventually lead to the creation of many of the Empire's Knightly Orders. Such was the zeal that the Knights brought upon the Arabyans, that the cities of their nation were torn down, their populations slaughtered, and their once great Sultan killed in the final battle that saw the true end of the war. Many Bretonnians consider this part of their history as one of the greatest victories of their time.
As a prelude, around the year 1430 of the Imperial Calendar, Sultan Jaffar, a powerful Arabyan sorcerer, forged a coalition among many desert tribes and expanded his power to forge a small empire by capturing Al-Haikk, Copher, Martek, and Lashiek, and overthrow the Great Sultan of the moment. Legends speak of him invoking demons and parleying with spirits. The Skaven of Araby secretly ally with Jaffar, spying for him and slaying his enemies in exchange for warpstone.
However, Jaffar never managed to unify all of Araby, as the sultans of El-Kalabad, Aiir and Ka-Sabar refused to obey him, and formed their own states, reaching the Sultan of El-Kalabad to proclaim himself King of Medes. Many claim that if Jaffar had the full force of Araby, the outcome of this war could have been different.
The Fall of Estalia
By the year 1448 IC, convinced by the nefarious Skaven that the Estalian Kingdoms were planning an invasion against his rule, Jaffar gathered a vast army and prepared his fleet for war. His armies made landfall within the southern shores of Estalia and quickly sacked the powerful port-city of Magritta before advancing on to the city of Bilbali. Sacking towns and cities as they head north, the Arabyans took thousands of slaves from the local populace and were sent back to Araby in chains, to be sold at the terrible slave markets of Lashiek. Having experienced no external threat to their lands since its foundation, the petty kingdoms of Estalia were far too weak and divided to put up a valiant effort against the superior numbers of the Arabyan invaders. As nearly half of Estalia falls into the hands of Sultan Jaffar, the perils of the Estalians reached a crisis point.
Moved by the plight of the Estalians, King Louis the Righteous called forth the first Errantry War upon the Arabyan invaders. Some say this was because the King feared the Arabyans might turn their attention to his own realm once Estalia had been conquered; others suggest it was the outrage felt by the noble ruler at the terrible deeds supposedly carried out by Jaffar's soldiers that moved his heart and forced his hand.
Whatever the case, the Kingdom of Bretonnia was at war. Looking to gain further military aid for his campaign, King Louis sent word to the Emperor Frederik III, but Frederik was reluctant to send his army south, for his Empire teetered on the brink of civil war and he felt he could not spare men to defend a foreign nation when the welfare of his own people hung in the balance. Nevertheless, Emperor Frederik did not ignore Louis entirely. No imperial army marched to war, but Frederik did appeal to the independent orders of knights who resided within the Empire to support the Bretonnians in their fight against Jaffar, and encouraged each of the Elector Counts to send a portion of their own forces to the aid of Estalia.
The Knightly Alliance
Unaware that to the north, the Empire and Bretonnia were preparing for war, the Sultan sent part of his forces east. A massive fleet sailed up the Tilean Sea to attack the city-state of Tobaro. Thinking such a small principality would be easy prey, the Arabyan commanders were surprised when it proved far harder to take than they had initially imagined. Despite being hugely outnumbered, the tenacious defenders managed to hold Tobaro's great sea walls, preventing the invaders from unloading their superior numbers even in the outer parts of their city. Ultimately, the Arabyans had to accept a humiliating defeat, and for the first time it was shown they could be beaten, even when gathered in force.[5a]
In time, the armies of both the Empire and Bretonnia have gathered and are ready to march south and face the invaders in open combat. The allied army consisted mostly of heavy cavalry, a thing the Arabyans lacked as their desert homeland isn't suited for large, powerful warhorses or thick plate armour. With this superiority, they crossed the mountains into Estalia and won victories against the lightly-armoured Arabyan army.
The sultan was greedy and cruel, but he was certainly not stupid, and he realized that he had nothing to do against the combined forces of the Old World, so he fled to Araby. He left a token force in the city of Magritta, under the command of Emir Wazar, better known as Wazar the Cruel and his elite Black Scimitar Guard.The Arab forces withdrew, though some of his generals stayed to buy time for his lord. Such was the case of Mustafa Amar, Castellan of Magritta, who faced the Bretonnians in his advance, to be assassinated by the Duke of Aquitaine.
As the inhabitants were enslaved and forced to fortify the city, the Arabyan army quickly withdrew south towards their ships and sailed back to Araby. Seeing how the vengeful Arabyans had put entire towns to the torch as they fled, the leaders of the Crusade vowed to take the battle all the way to Araby and topple the Sultan's Empire to the ground. As they assaulted Magritta they knew that the siege could go on for years, allowing Jaffar the time he needs to gather a fresh army in Araby and return back to Estalia if they didn't pursue now.
Thus they decided to split their army in two, one token force would stay to besiege Magritta and break the last Arabyan strong-point in Estalia before following the other army into the hot deserts of Araby, a task that would take eight years and the intervention of Myrmidia to complete. As the main force arrived in the ports of southern Estalia, warships were brought in from all over the Old World to ship the army across the sea, a navy that stretched from horizon to horizon.
Sacking of Copher
As the Crusaders sailed, Jaffar and his men began preparations for the coming invasion. When they finally arrived in the major spice-trading city of Copher, it was heavily fortified and the defenders were well prepared for the coming battle. Yet they were not prepared for the zealous wrath Jaffar's foolish warmongering have brought upon their shores, and once the defenders started to falter against the Crusader assault, a breach was made and soon the high spires of the city were pulled to the ground and much of the population was put to the sword. The crusaders unleashed much of their fury and hatred on the defenseless population. The Sack of Copher went down in history as the most dishonorable act in chivalry history, and Knightly Orders remember it with shame, vowing never to attack the innocent and defenseless again.
But that was exactly what Jaffar had planned, who withdrew to the vast city of Al-Haikk along with most of his army. He was confident that the Crusaders would lose their thirst for vengeance when they finished looting Copher and had to endure months of fighting and marching in the sweltering heat of Araby. They proceeded slowly and the forces of Jaffar, lightly equipped and highly mobile, could avoid pitched battles against the slow-moving Crusader army. The campaign soon dragged from one year to another, but the badly-mauled Crusaders were determined to fight on to the bitter end.
A critical point in the crusades was the Battle of the Nine Jackals. In that confrontation, the crusaders advanced to capture the Oasis of Gazi. His opponent was one of Jaffar's best generals, Mehmed-bey, known as "Mehmed the Butcher." The battle resulted in an ambush, and the Crusader forces were massacred. The few who survived ended up hanging from the palm trees by their feet, with their mouths full of salt and their lips sewn together. The terror Mehmed produced was excruciating, and no old man could hear his name without trembling.
In time, the determination of the Crusaders began to take its toll on Jaffar's armies. Tired of both Jaffar's tyranny and his incompetence in defeating this foreign power, several tribes simply deserted and fled into the vast expanse of the Great Desert. Seeing a chance for independence, the inhabitants Araby, having been conquered by Jaffar some time earlier have begun to lend their aid towards the Crusaders. For months they marched through the hot deserts towards Al Haikk, the capital of the Sultan's Empire where Jaffar had decided to make his final stand and where the outcome of the war would be decided, once and for all.
Battle of Al Haikk
As the wars reached the third year, Jaffar's forces began to disintegrate, as many of his warriors began to tire of his rule. Sultan Jaffar had been a despot and tyrant, hated almost as much by his own people as by the old worldlings, and during the Crusades against Araby many of his subjects seized the opportunity to rise up against the Sultan. Some tribes simply deserted and disappeared into the Great Desert awaiting the outcome. These uprisings generally had little impact on the Crusades, but when Old World Knights fell upon the city of Al-Haikk and began to besiege it, hundreds of tribal warriors recruited by the Sultan's army decided to rebel, as well as many Arabyan nobles, plunging the city into confusion and thwarting the defense plans meticulously laid out by the Sultan.
Jaffar was forced to give up his strategy of firmly resisting the assault of the knights and wearing them down in siege warfare. Chaos had taken over the Arabyan capital, so instead he had to face them in the open. Jaffar summoned the Djinns from the depths of the desert to fight alongside his armies, trusting that the desert sun and the fear that it inspired in men would procure victory for him. But the invaders had already learned to use magic and common sense to resist the ravages of the sun, keeping their heavy metal armor cool until just in time to enter combat. Although the two armies were evenly numbered, the crusaders numbered several thousand knights in plate armor riding on equally armored steeds; they were like an unstoppable wave of metal, thousands of tons of steel crushing the light armor of the sultan's spearmen and swordsmen. While the Old World Knights were unstoppable, the power of the elementals and the terrible magic of Jaffar swept through the enemy infantry, and for a few seconds that was the end of the invasion. But at that moment, a second contingent of knights appeared on the dunes, and charged again against the Arabyan rear.
That charge, immortalized in numerous legends and ballads, completely crushed and dispersed the Sultan's army; the blood stained that rocky ground red, and even today the color prevails. Desperate Jaffar himself summoned Kairos Fateweaver for help, who responded with demons that sprouted from the dunes, and a rain of blood on the Sultan's enemies, but it was not enough. Jaffar was killed by a Bretonnian spear as he fled the battlefield. The knights felt a righteous zeal that prevented them from being merciful, so they destroyed all the decaying palaces of the Sultan, burned the books in his libraries and smashed the idols of his temples, dedicated to the Djinns, the gods of Araby.
An army, led by the fearsome Mehmed-bey, tried to help Jaffar while the Siege of Al-Haikk lasted, but they were intercepted by the Duke of Aquitaine. He fell on them in a wadi, while the Arabyan horsemen rested. The Battle of the Black Lizard was tremendously tough, especially because of the fierceness of the Arabyans and the harsh terrain. But thanks to El Syf's strategy, Mehmed-bey's huge army was dispersed and totally defeated.
During these years, an order of Bretonnian knights known as the Holy Order of Saint Origo arrived on the Coast of Araby, seeking revenge and honor. They took the rich island of Fyrus, which was unprotected, because his troops had come to the call of Jaffar, and there they built a great temple known as the Sacred Monastery of the Divine Origo. This island was extremely important to the Arabyans, as the revered Mullah Aklan’d was born there, a legendary hero for the Arabyan people, so this invasion would not go unpunished for the inhabitants of the desert. The knights for their part set out to launch a campaign of looting along the Coast of Araby, devastating villages and towns, and ending whatever opposition they encountered on the high seas.
Jaffar died that day, pierced through the back by a Bretonnian lance as he fled. But even after the Sultan's dead, the Crusades did not come to an end. Two other large cities were held by those loyal to Jaffar; the impregnable Martek and the fearsome Lashiek. Martek was besieged by the Old Worlds and rebellious Arabyans, while Lashiek was siege by a large army. The allies marched south to take the city, and with towers and ladders stormed its walls. In the Siege of Lashiek, the famous Duke of Aquitaine, known to the Arabyans as El Syf, disappeared. After the battle he was found, already dying, to be taken to Bretonnia, where he would become the feared Red Duke.
Now seeing their honour satisfied, the knights of Bretonnia decided to return to Copher and sail home, for they found this land far too vast, hostile and inhospitable to conquer. The Bretonnian knights, who made up more than half the army, sail for their land in their ships with their holds loaded with exotic treasures. Yet most of the Imperial knights stayed for years hunting down and defeating remnants of Jaffar's dark empire, where only after a 100 years had passed before the very last of the Empire troops had returned home. Temples were sacked, evil books were burned and the idols of Araby were flung to the dirt. At that point, the main Crusade began to split into several minor crusades as the various contingents of knights pursued the remaining Jaffar soldiers and free every last of the captured slaves in the Old World. It was in this century that many of the Imperial Knightly Orders were founded, as they discovered many things previously unknown in the Old World.
One particular event occurred when what remains of the Crusader Knights found an army of the Sultan in the southern mountainous region of Al-Haikk, near the city of Martek. Once they've begun to march towards their location, they were harried by a variety of Giant Vultures capable of carrying an armoured man and his horse in the air, as well as ferocious felines who were attacking knights who deviated from the main army. This last remaining Crusader army tracked the last of Jaffar's soldiers into a massacre, ensuring that none of the Sultan's old regime shall ever return. Today, mountain dwellers within the region speak about silver warriors who clothed themselves with the skins of these large felines, becoming an instrument of justice and vengeance upon the battlefield. On returning home, the Knights Panther formed themselves into a brotherhood, ensuring the racial purity of the Empire and the persecution of all mutants. The new Great Sultan reconquered the island of Fyrus, and expelled the Bretonnians who had occupied it, massacring all who resisted. The Sacred Monastery of the Divine Origo was destroyed, and Fyrus was returned to the Arabyan crown. In this way, Araby was once again unified, thus beginning its reconstruction.
Among the skirmishes that occurred in these years, the confrontation against the Cult of Ishmail stands out. This mysterious sect had settled somewhere in the Atalan Mountains, from which they had spread their networks of influence throughout the peninsula. A coalition of Crusaders and Arabyan tribes stormed his fortress with the intention of erasing his stain from this land. During the battle, the Ishmailis unleashed strange magical powers, never before seen by any mortal, and only the sorcerers who accompanied the allies were able to resist their powerful spells. The magical duel ended up siding with the old worldlings, and finally the Ishmailis who were in the fortress were exterminated. But their order did not die with them, for their roots in the world are deep, and they still survive hidden in the shadows.
In the year 1475 IC, a large contingent of Imperial and Bretonnian knights decided to loot the ruins of the ancient Arabyan capital, Bel-Aliad. During their exploration of the ruins they unleashed an ancient power, an ancient and forbidden secret that wiped them off the face of the world. Years earlier, an insane Arabyan sorcerer named Mahik al'Rak created the Portal of Twilight in the ruins, enchanting a series of mirrors. Since then, what little remained of the formerly glorious Bel-Aliad has been transformed into the headquarters of the Cult of Mirrors, the worshiping sect of Tzeentch. The Crusaders activated this portal during their plunder, and they were lost in the Realm of Chaos, where they became part of Khorne's eternal war.
For Arabyans, the memory of this time would be bleak, and resentment and revenge would haunt them for years to come. Even in the midst of the crusade, Great Sultan Daryus-e Qabir would launch a series of religious wars against the Old World. These focused on trying to maintain Arabyan control beyond the sea, in Tilea and the Border Princes, but failed to prevent the following year, 1501 IC, Emir Abd al Wazaq was expelled from the island of Sartosa by Luciano Catena of Luccini, after 300 years of Arabyan occupation. Finally, in the year 1550 CI, the old world knights decide to withdraw permanently from Araby, with a few remaining in Antoch and Sudenburg. Those loyal to Jaffar had been destroyed, and with them their ambitions of conquest died as well. Peace returned to the lands of Araby, who reestablished their ancient trade routes with the Old World, restoring their rich empire, with the Great Sultan again as absolute ruler of the dunes, although with a power and a glory that would not reach that of their former golden age.
The concept of a crusade was intended to appeal to warriors, providing a reason for knights and templars to march to war, yet during the crusades against Araby, as well as most crusades since, many peasants and common folk marched along with the knights, sometimes with tragic consequences. The benefits to be gained from a crusade, both material and spiritual, prove very tempting, and many folk with no business on the battlefield take vows alongside the warriors. Whilst the idea of peasants marching on crusade is commendable, the strain they place on already thinly-stretched supplies, not to mention the lack of training and vulnerability of these irregulars, cause great headaches to the leaders of a crusade. Whilst cult leaders do their best to discourage these kinds of camp followers from marching on crusade, ultimately there is little that can be done to stop them. There have been some well-documented tragedies involving these types of common folk on crusade. The Wives’ Crusade was a pilgrimage made by the wives of many of the crusaders in an attempt to lend their support to their men as camp followers. Making their own way to Araby, largely unarmed and unprotected, the women were easy pickings for the slavers and soldiers who found them first upon arrival on the shores of Araby, and many were enslaved, murdered, or worse.
After the Crusades, the returning veteran knights founded some of the greatest Knightly Orders of the Empire, including, in addition to the Knights Panther, the Knights of the Golden Lion, the Jaguar Knights, and many more. This was not to the liking of the cults, for previously their Templars had been the only formal chivalric orders, but Arabyan gold bought the support of the Elector Counts, who formally recognized them. The Knights of the Blazing Sun, a new order of Imperial knights who had converted to Myrmidia during the Crusades, were the only non-secular order; but since they worshiped a foreign deity, they also received no better acceptance.
Aftermath: The Black Crusade
The Black Guard rarely march to war, spurning conquests and threats in favour of standing watch against enemies from the realms of the dead, however, they took part in the Great Crusades. Their presence was to prove invaluable during the siege of Al Haikk, when their silent and stalwart demeanour terrified many of the defenders, who believed they were the angry spirits of their ancestors returning to kill them.[9d]
The true reasons behind the Black Guard's involvement in the crusades became clear after the sultan was slain and his armies scattered. Rather than return home, the Black Guard marched onwards towards the Land of the Dead, Khemri. There they sought to do battle with the Undead armies of the Tomb Kings, and entered a protracted war with them, allying themselves with some of the native people who lived in their cold shadow.[9d]
Many of the Black Guard perished on the crusade in Khemri, named the "Black Crusade" in their honour, but those who returned brought with them fabulous treasures and dark tomes, now interned within sealed vaults beneath the temple in Luccini, opened only in times of great need.[9d]
- 1: Warhammer Armies: Bretonnia (6th Edition)
- 1a: pg 32 - 34
- 2: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition - Knights of the Grail
- 2a: pg 19
- 3: Warhammer Armies: Skaven (5th Edition)
- 3a: pg. 22
- 4: Warhammer Armies: Bretonnia (5th Edition)
- 5: Warhammer Armies: Dogs of War (5th Edition)
- 5a: pg. 89
- 6: Warhammer Armies: Daemons of Chaos (7th Edition)
- 6a: pg. 28
- 7: Warhammer: The Red Duke
- 8: Citadel Miniatures: Regiments of Renown '85
- 9: Warhammer RPG 2nd Edition: Tome of Salvation
- 10: Warhammer RPG 1st Edition: Core Rulebook
- 10a: pg. 261