16) Siege of Jerusalem

Taking the Holy Land by Surprise


Pauper's Crusade Massacre
We finished the last chapter with the Prince’s Crusade en route to Constantinople and the Pauper’s Crusade having been thoroughly routed. Upon discovering the fate of the earlier, largely civilian expedition, members of the purely militarily based Price’s Crusade must have been horrified, if not shocked into resolve. After all, some 40,000 Europeans had left for the Holy Land and less than 3,000, including wounded and dying, had managed to return from Anatolia, nowhere close to Palestine.

The "Paupers" had stumbled into Anatolia, poorly armed with little understanding of the state of the Seljuk Turks, who had recently wresled the territory from Constantinople's failing grip on the region and remained fiercely prepared to retain it.

There exists no evidence that the Muslim of the East ever used the term “Crusades” when referring to the European invasion of the Holy Land. However, they did reference these incursions as the “War of the Franks” and as a "barbarian invasion".

Council of Clermont


The intended use of the word “barbarians” by Muslims to describe the invading Europeans was not necessarily vindictive nor sarcastic. Having not attended Pope Urban II's public address at the Council of Clermont, the Muslim’s were unaware of any existing riff between themselves and Europe. Yes, there had been the burning of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a generation earlier, but amends had been made, the church rebuild, and Christians pilgrims (mostly Byzantine) once again present within Jerusalem, under Muslim protection.

Aside from this single incident by Caliph Al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allah, Muslims had, under Mohammed’s own example, worshipped side-by-side with Christians and Jews within territories conquered by the Muslim Caliphate. The polytheistic Zoroastrians were the real target of Muhammad’s conversion. Any subsequent wrath was aimed at polytheists, not the Jews and certainly not Christians. For Muslims, Jesus had always been a revered and holy figure in the Quran.

Before the Crusades, Eastern Muslims had no quarrel with Europe. There had been Islamic advances in Spain, but Muslims involved in the Reconquista were of the East African Almoravids Caliphate and not the Seljuq or Fatimids Caliphates located near the Holy Land. To further support the use of the term “Barbarians”, these “Franks” would give no quarter once inside the walls of Jerusalem. They would indiscriminately kill all the inhabitants. Quite accurately, this type of blood lusting was thought to be only be the work of barbarians. Later, the term would be further confirmed when word of cannibalism by the crusaders after the Siege of Ma’arra would become known and spread like fire across Islam.

European with Arab Mathematician

Cultural Differences

There were also cultural reasons for the barbarian description applied to the European invaders. Muslims were apt to be more schooled and literate than were their Europeans counterparts. Unlike the early Christians who catered to the illiterate congregations with oral tradition, Muslims had the foresight to transcribe the Quran early own to avert any plurality of message and transmutation, which occurs from oral interjection. Muslims had a choice between learning to read the Quran or memorizing its text. There was to be no deviation from the word of The Prophet (only the interpretation differences that exist in all religions).

As a result, Islam was able to totally sidestep any need for religious reorganization, like what occurred at the Council of Nicea. In addition, the eastern Greeks, Arabs and Indians had long been the world’s leaders in mathematics. Even today, the world’s numeric system employs Hindu-Arabic numbers. By comparison, most Europeans (Franks) could not read, write or perform the simplest arithmetic. To the Muslims, this class distinction reduced the European perception to a less than civilized state.

Siege of Antioch
Road to Jerusalem

The Prince’s Army under Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond and Trancred, both of Taranto, would arrive only after a rolling three year assault (1097-99) that would include the restoration of Nicaea to the Byzantines (1097) and the Battle of Doryleaum (1097), where the Europeans broke with the Byzantines. Doryleaum was followed by the Siege of Antioch (1097-98), a large city that requiring formidable resources.

Cannibalism at Ma'arra
Decent into Cannibalism

During this latter siege, the Crusaders had their ranks reduced by plague. It was during the Siege of Antioch that the Crusaders’ stores of provisions declined. The horse population was reduced as well. Subsequently, the western Christians pillaged the town of Ma’arra for food, known as the Siege of Ma’arra (though hardly a siege).

It was there that, as the chronicler Radulph of Caen wrote, when adequate replenishments could not be found they (the Crusaders) “boiled adults in cooking pots and impaled children on spits to devour once they were grilled”. Another chronicler, Fulcher of Chartres wrote “…when it was not yet roasted enough by fire, they devoured it with savage mouth”. Of course, all of this occurred under the auspices of Pope Urban’s ongoing plenary indulgences.

Siege of Jerusalem

Once replenished, the Crusaders encountered little resistance on their march to JerusalemWord of Ma’arra had spread so local residents were more willing to supply provisions along the way. However, upon arrival, the Crusaders still lacked adequate stores required for a siege, so they instead decided upon a direct assault upon the city. The news had spread and the Fatimid Caliphate was en route, so rapid entry was essential. After a failed attempt with divided forces, they quickly regrouped into a single offensive effort. Assaults upon both southern and northern gates began on July 15, 1099. After two days, the northern wall of the city was captured and entry was obtained.

19th Century Depiction of Jerusalem Victory

The slaughter that followed has since become infamous. Having thrown away the last vestige of civilization with the cannibalism of Ma’arra, the crusaders were free to perform whatever acts they were physically capable of, without the burden of conscience. A killing frenzy ensued.

Jerusalem Stronghold used by Crusaders
Even though they could have been in no way associated with the Crusaders, the Eastern Christians (the Byzantines) then resident within Jerusalem had been expelled by the city’s government before the assault and subsequently had their lives spared during the attack that followed. Some Muslims and Jews managed to escape while the Crusaders entered the city. Those that retreated within the city and took refuge within their homes or places of worship were slaughtered, along with any Christian pilgrims that may have remained behind. Of all those that were trapped within the wall of the city, only the Crusaders and their accompanying clergy were left standing by end of the onslaught. According to chronicler Gesta Francorum“…the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles...”


Godfrey of Bouillon
Godfrey of Bouillon, the unacknowledged leader of the Crusades remained to govern the city. He deferred the title of “King” and instead took that of “Defender of the Holy Sepulchre”. However, most of the Crusaders now saw their mission complete, they still had to deal with the approaching Fatimid army. On August 12 Godfrey, leading his forces with what were considered the relics of the True Cross, led the Christians of the First Crusade into one final battle at Ashkelon (now known as the Battle of Ascalon). The Egyptian Fatimid forces under Caliph Al-Afdal. The Fatimid army greatly outnumbered that of the Crusaders. However, these troops proved poorly trained and were not battle-hardened.

Battle of Ascalon
The delay in arrival and the inferior training was likely the result of an ongoing war between the Egyptian Fatimid and the Seljuk Turks. In addition, Al-Afdal had no previous experience with Crusaders and initially though he was dealing with the Byzantines, who he had always come to agreement with in the past. He likely thought that just a show of force was all that was required for some negotiation. It is known that he arrived with considerable treasure, which was captured by the Christians as the Fatimid fled.

Through surprise, daring and this last killing frenzy, the European Christians successfully wrestled away the Holy Land from the control of Islam. Unlike the Muslims, the religious intolerance express by Pope Urban at the Council of Clermont would not permit Muslim or Jewish pilgrims. Conversely, through confusion and territory struggles between the Caliphates, ruling Muslims had allowed the fall of Jerusalem to occur. However, it would not be long before word would spread throughout all the Muslim caliphates that they had lost Jerusalem. They would also learned of the slaughter of both Jews as well as Muslims, and that Jerusalem was now part of a segregated European Christian colony of captured towns, right in their own backyard.

Though there had been some animosity between Christian and Muslims before the Crusades, this First Crusade would forever damaged the religious tolerance that was initially expressed by the Prophet Mohammed. Christians maintaining the Crusader's vigil would only rule Jerusalem for 88 years. By July of 1187, Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (known to the West as Saladin) would conquer all the citadels of the European colony, including Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut, Ascalon and finally, Jerusalem. Eight more Crusades over seven centuries would follow to reclaim the territory. All would fail.

The reality surrounding the siege of Jerusalem is nowhere close to the fantastic tales of chivalry so enshrined in western myth. In fact, it wasn’t a siege at all. It was a frenzied attack on a holy walled city with minimal defenses. To demonstrate this, the Crusaders, low on provisions, had to take the town or perish. They fought no army. Their only resistance was a single garrison left to guard the entire city.

WWII Nazi Holocaust
Standing ankle deep in blood the Crusader's slaughter at Jerusalem had been a culmination of butchery that had begun in Europe against non-Christian Jews, while en route to the Holy Land. The real Crusader movement resembled the Nazi Holocaust more than the Romantic novels and movies we’ve become familiar with over the years. The carnage and debauchery was unlike anything that had come before.

All was the consequence of Pope Urban’s public address at the Council of Clermont, to take back Jerusalem, which had never belonged to the Latin West. He recklessly disenfranchised Europe’s Jewish population and inclusively placed them under the sword with the same plenary indulgences provided to remove Crusaders from any state of sin during the act of murdering non-Christians. In the end, the prize of Christian Jerusalem could not be sustained, due to limited resources and the vast distances over land and sea. It resided within the land of an enemy the Crusaders themselves had created and forged in blood, an enemy whose own religious tolerance towards Christians they had managed to diminish of not extinguish. A lasting tribute, it is an intolerance observed by many Christians and Muslims today, nearly a millennium after the Pope’s address. The beatification of Pope Urban II in 1881 certainly didn’t aid in remedying that prejudice.

Click here for 17) East & West Crusades

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