The passage of the first three crusades through the Balkans produced both destruction and opportunities for the local leaders to assert their independence, especially in Bulgarian and Serbian territories under direct Byzantine control. In 1096, the pilgrims led by Walter the Penniless plundered the countryside around Belgrade, and they were in turn attacked by the locals. The pilgrims sacked a little town near Semlin, while bands of “infidel” Pechenegs, perhaps auxiliaries in Byzantine service, harassed the pilgrims and forced them to hide in the “Bulgarian forest.” The pilgrims of Peter the Hermit followed the same route from the Hungarian–Byzantine border at Semlin to Niš, with a number of bloody skirmishes with the locals on their way. Skirmishes with the locals are also mentioned in relation to the crusaders who in 1098 followed a land route from Aquileia through northern Istria into Croatia under the leadership of Raymond of St. Gilles, Count of Toulouse. Under permanent attack by bands of locals emerging from the mountains of “Sclavonia,” Raymond stayed with his rearguard and ordered the mutilation of prisoners in order to deter further attacks. Raymond of Aguilers, the chronicler of the count of Toulouse, describes the local population as “aggressive and primitive,” a “wild people” with no knowledge of God. He further distinguished between the inhabitants of the local towns, who apparently spoke a Latin idiom recognized as such by the crusaders, and natives living inland who “employ the Slavonic tongue and have the habits of barbarians.