Siege of Jerusalem – The First Crusade

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Caliph Omar conquers

The Seige of Jerusalem has its sides, as the story begins In 632 AD Arab Muslims, known as Saracens and led by the Caliph Omar, conquered most of the Eastern Mediterranean. Churches were destroyed and replaced with Mosques, also the Christians had to pay tax or deny their religion and become Muslim. Most holy areas were almost impossible for Christian pilgrims to visit. However, the cities of Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem remained Christian until the year 1071 when the Holy Land saw a new ruler, Malik Shah who was the leader of the Seljuk Turks.

Christian pilgrims refused

The Turks had overthrown the Byzantine army at Manzikert and captured Jerusalem. Malik Shah then refused entry to Christian pilgrims. It was because of this that the Byzantines decided to retaliate, but unfortunately their manpower was short because many of them had been killed at Manzikert. The Emperor Alexius I of Constantinople feared that the Muslims may capture Byzantium and he requested assistance from Pope Urban II.

Christians under the Seljuks

Soldiers in the west knew of the oppression that Christians suffered under the Seljuks, and if given the chance, they were willing to fight, and of course, there was always the prospect of conquering foreign lands and achieving wealth. Therefore, when Pope Urban II went to France to appeal for support, the French knights were keen to go to war.

After his initial visit to Raymond IV Count of Toulouse, who agreed that a holy war must be fought, the Pope then travelled to the outskirts of Clermont and delivered a poignant speech to a large gathering that consisted of all walks of life from princes to peasants. He spoke about the atrocities that the Christians suffered under the rule of Malik Shah and the Seljuk Turks. The news spread throughout the west and a number of armies were prepared for battle.

Peter of Amiens – Peter the Hermit

The first of these armies was led by Peter of Amiens, also known as Peter the Hermit, who was a peasant and preacher that travelled around on a donkey. Some say that Peter resembled his donkey, he was a man small in stature with long entangled hair and generally dishevelled in appearance, therefore it did not seem as if he could possibly lead a massive army on a crusade from France to Jerusalem, but this is exactly what he did, although somewhat haphazardly.

Shortly after the Clermont speech, Peter the Hermit travelled throughout France preaching about the benefits of a crusade and the necessity of recapturing Jerusalem. He dispatched some of his supporters to do the same in Germany, and within a year, he accumulated in excess of fifteen thousand followers and they gathered in Cologne to plan a course of action.

The First Cursade

Peter’s followers were mostly peasants and this is why the initial convoy of the first crusade is sometimes referred to as the peasants’ crusade. At this time peasant life was particularly brutal. In addition to a colossal amount of farm land being destroyed by Muslims and Vikings, the year 1094 had seen famine, drought and disease, therefore the peasants that followed Peter were destitute with nothing to lose, and they were particularly motivated by the possibility of wealth. In addition to this some considered themselves to be sinners, and Pope Urban II had said in his speech that since this was to be a holy war, that by taking part in the crusade they would be granted salvation by God. He had also declared that if they were killed they would go to heaven as they were fighting for God.

Rhine and Danube rivers

By the time Peter the Hermit and his band of followers reached the Rhine and Danube rivers their number had increased to more than forty thousand and supplies ran short. When they arrived in Hungary famine had set in and those in better health went ahead in search of provisions. At Seribin they were captured and killed by the natives who hung the bodies on the city walls. When the other members of Peter’s crusaders saw the corpses they killed four thousand Hungarians in a revenge attack.

In addition to Peter and his band of peasant followers were convoys consisting of princes and peasants, knights and tradesmen, farmers and women with children who came from a variety of Western European countries. Some of these larger armies were fortunate in that they were led by noblemen with professional leadership status such as Raymond IV Count of Toulouse, Raymond of St Giles and Godfrey of Bouillon among others, and many of the noblemen had sold their estates to raise funds for the crusade.

The road to Jerusalem

The crusaders travelled in extreme weather conditions from the blistering heat to mountain blizzards, many died from heat exhaustion, hypothermia, and a variety of other diseases; others simply deserted. However, the majority continued with the crusade although many armies split up along the way, and it seems as if, at times vast numbers of crusaders became diverted from their original mission. For example, following the catastrophe in Hungary, by the time crusaders of Peter the Hermit’s convoy arrived in Constantinople, they had become so deranged with rampaging that they continued to loot the churches and burn palaces and generally cause utter mayhem. Unfortunately Peter was not an experienced leader; therefore he could not control his band of crusaders. He sought advice from Emperor Alexius, but by the time he returned most of his followers had been slaughtered by the Turks at Civetot, however, Peter the Hermit made it to Jerusalem.

Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey of Bouillon

Crusading armies including those led by Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey of Bouillon marched into Syria and took the fortress of Antioch in June 1098. They eventually departed Antioch and continued with the original plan and in February 1099 the various armies united and began to advance on Jerusalem. At this time the number of crusaders had fallen to just fifteen thousand including women and children, only around one thousand three hundred were knights. Of course, they were too few to storm the city so they congregated around the city walls.

On 13th June the first attack was launched because leaders had made pilgrimage to Mount Olives and met a hermit who had told them to attack the city the next day. The crusaders were lacking in provisions and the assault was unsuccessful. However, help was shortly to arrive from European ships anchored at Jaffa and the crusaders were able to build towers and assemble ammunition and the final attack was launched on the night of July 13th.

Muslims and Jews of Jerusalem

The battle continued over the next few days and the crusaders brutally killed most of the Muslims and Jews of Jerusalem, they burned them alive and cut open the stomachs of Muslims as they believed they had swallowed their gold, and this is yet another example of how crusaders had seemed to have forgotten the objective of the crusade. However, the siege was successful and the Christians recaptured Jerusalem.

On 22nd July 1099, the crusaders elected Godfrey of Bouillon to be the Christian ruler of Jerusalem, but he refused to take the status of King on the principle that Jesus of Nazareth had died in the city; instead, he adopted the title of Duke and Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre.


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