Siege of Jerusalem in 1099: New Christian Rule

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The Siege of Jerusalem: Crusade and Conquest in 1099 by Conor Kostick
The Siege of Jerusalem: Crusade and Conquest in 1099 by Conor Kostick

THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM

Introduction

The First Crusade’s siege of Jerusalem, spanning from June 7, 1099, to July 15, 1099, lasted for one month and eight days. Executed by the Crusader army, it resulted in the successful capture of Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate, leading to the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This marked the conclusive major military encounter of the First Crusade, initiated in 1095 to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim control in the aftermath of the Muslim conquest.

The Crusaders, having reclaimed Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, committed a massacre of thousands of Muslims and Jews. Subsequently, as they gained control over the Temple Mount, recognized as the site of the two demolished Jewish temples, they took possession of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, converting them into Christian shrines. The anonymous Latin-language chronicle Gesta Francorum provides significant insights into the events through various eyewitness accounts.

Following the capture of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon, a prominent French nobleman among the Crusader leaders, was appointed as the Defender of the Holy Sepulchre to govern the newly established Christian state.

Background: Muslim Conquest of the Levant

In 1095, at the Council of Piacenza, Pope Urban II received a plea from Byzantine Emperor Alexios I for Western Christian assistance in liberating parts of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Seljuk Turks. Since 1070, the Seljuk Atsiz ibn Uwaq had conquered significant portions of the region, including Jerusalem in 1073. Urban responded with a call to arms at the Council of Clermont, marking the commencement of the Crusades—a holy war for the conquest of the Holy Land and the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to Christian hands.

Crusader Routes and Challenges

Following the successful siege of Antioch in June 1098, the Crusaders faced challenges and disagreements among their leaders. With the death of the papal legate Adhemar of Le Puy and Bohemond of Taranto’s claim to Antioch, dissent arose among the princes on their next move. Raymond of Toulouse, frustrated, left Antioch to capture the fortress at Ma’arrat al-Numan. As the year progressed, minor knights and infantry expressed a desire to march to Jerusalem without the leaders.

March Towards Jerusalem

On January 13, 1099, Raymond initiated the march south, down the Mediterranean coast, followed by Robert of Normandy and Bohemond’s nephew Tancred, who pledged vassalage. During their journey, the Crusaders besieged Arqa unsuccessfully and abandoned the siege on May 13. Despite Fatimid attempts to make peace, the Crusaders disregarded the condition not to proceed towards Jerusalem. In response, Iftikhar al-Dawla, the Fatimid governor of Jerusalem, expelled all Christian inhabitants. The march towards Jerusalem encountered no resistance.

TIMELINE

June 1098
An illustration of Kerbogha besieging Antioch, from a 14th-century manuscript in the care of the Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fall of Antioch
13 January 1099
Peter the Hermit and the First Crusade
March to Jerusalem Starts
7 June 1099
Modern-day reconstruction of Jerusalem during the reign of Solomon (10th century BCE)
Crusaders Reach Jerusalem
13 June 1099
13th-century miniature depicting the siege
First Attack
17 June 1099
The leaders of the Crusade on Greek ships crossing the Bosporus, a romantic painting from the 19th century
English and Genoese ships arrive at the port of Jaffa
July 1099
Ludolf of Tournai first crusader to mount the wall of Jerusalem
Crusaders Massacre and Take Jerusalem
22 July 1099
Godfrey of Bouillon, from the Roman de Godefroy de Bouillon by Maître du Roman de Fauvel, c. 1330
Godfrey of Bouillon, appointed as the Defender of the Holy Sepulchre
5 August1099
"The Discovery of the True Cross" (Gustave Doré)
Arnulf of Chocques discover Relic of the True Cross
9 August 1099
Miniature of Peter the Hermit leading the People's Crusade (Egerton 1500, Avignon, 14th-century)
Peter the Hermit encouraged a Thanksgiving Procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
12 August 1099
Bataille d'Ascalon, 12 août 1099 (oil on canvas by Jean-Victor Schnetz, 1847), Salles des Croisades, Palace of Versailles
Battle of Ascalon

OFFENSIVE

Fatimid Preparations for Siege

Upon learning of the Crusaders’ imminent arrival, the Fatimid governor, Iftikhar al-Dawla, took strategic measures to fortify the city. He formed an elite troop of 400 Egyptian cavalrymen, expelled Eastern Christians to prevent potential betrayal, poisoned water wells in the vicinity, and cleared the surrounding area of trees. The stage was set for a challenging confrontation.

Dual-Front Siege Challenges

As the Crusaders approached Jerusalem on June 7, 1099, they encountered the outer fortifications recently recaptured by the Fatimids. The city’s defensive wall, spanning four kilometers and reaching a height of fifteen meters, posed a formidable obstacle. Dividing into two groups, the Crusaders, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Flanders, and Tancred, planned a northern siege, while Raymond of Toulouse positioned forces to the south.

Crusaders’ Initial Obstacles

Facing a shortage of wood for siege equipment due to intentional deforestation, the Crusaders encountered their first setback on June 13. Undeterred, Tancred’s vision led them to discover a hidden cache of wood in a cave. Despite a failed initial assault, they regrouped after acquiring the necessary tools and equipment, contending with challenges like water scarcity, scorching heat, and food shortages.

Crucial Arrival of English and Genoese Support

On June 17, news of English and Genoese ships arriving at the port of Jaffa reached the Crusaders. Equipped with essential materials, including timber from nearby forests, the construction of formidable siege weapons began under the command of Guglielmo Embriaco and Gaston of Béarn. In almost three weeks, they crafted two massive wheel-mounted siege towers, an iron-clad battering ram, scaling ladders, and portable wattle screens, marking a turning point in their readiness for the final assault.

Final Assault and Breakthrough

On July 14, 1099, the Crusaders initiated their attack. Godfrey and his allies focused on the northern wall, successfully breaching the first line of defense by day’s end. Facing intense resistance in the south, Raymond of Toulouse persisted. The next day, July 15, the northern front witnessed further success, with Ludolf of Tournai becoming the first Crusader to mount the wall. As the city’s defenses crumbled, panic spread among the Fatimids. In the southwest, the Provencals stormed the walls, leading to the construction of the gate later named ‘Beaucaire Gate.’

CRUSADERS' ENTRY AND MASSACRE

Crusaders’ Entry into Jerusalem

On July 15, 1099, the Crusaders successfully breached the city of Jerusalem through the Tower of David. The ensuing events saw a brutal massacre of a significant number of inhabitants, including Muslims and Jews. The Fatimid governor, Iftikhar Ad-Daulah, managed to escape.

Debated Figures and Aftermath

The actual death toll remains a matter of historical debate, with the Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir’s estimate of 70,000 considered an exaggeration. Plausible figures suggest around 40,000 casualties, taking into account the influx of refugees in the city.

The aftermath of the siege witnessed the mass slaughter of thousands of Muslims and Jews. Contemporaneous sources describe the brutality as savage and widespread, leading to the conversion of Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount into Christian shrines.

Atrocities in the Context of Warfare

In the context of ancient and medieval warfare, it was customary for both Christians and Muslims to commit atrocities against the residents of cities taken by storm after a siege. Instances of such brutality were observed previously, with the Crusaders engaging in such actions at Antioch and the Fatimids themselves resorting to similar tactics at locations like Taormina, Rometta, and Tyre. Nevertheless, there is speculation that the scale of the massacre inflicted upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, encompassing both Muslims and Jews, might have surpassed even these established norms.

Eyewitness Accounts

Numerous Muslims sought refuge in key locations such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Temple Mount area during the siege of Jerusalem. The Gesta Francorum, specifically focusing on the Temple Mount area, vividly describes the intensity of the bloodshed: “…[our men] were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles…” Raymond of Aguilers, also concentrating on the Temple Mount area, similarly depicts a scene of horror: “In the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” Fulcher of Chartres, though not an eyewitness to the siege, recounts the Temple Mount’s grim fate, stating, “In this temple, 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there, you would have seen our feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.”

The Gesta Francorum, an eyewitness account, provides a nuanced perspective, mentioning that some individuals were spared. The anonymous author notes, “When the pagans had been overcome, our men seized great numbers, both men and women, either killing them or keeping them captive, as they wished.” Subsequently, the same source describes the disposal of Saracen dead due to the overwhelming stench, with the living Saracens arranging the corpses in heaps outside the gates.

Raymond of Aguilers, another eyewitness, reports the survival of some Muslims who sought refuge in the Tower of David, surrendering it to Count Raymond for protection. These survivors, along with the Fatimid governor, departed for Ascalon. A parallel account is found in the later writings of Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir, who mentions a group of Muslims barricaded in the Oratory of David, fighting for several days. They were granted their lives in exchange for surrendering, and the Franks honored their word as the group left for Ascalon under the cover of night. A Cairo Geniza letter also refers to Jewish residents leaving with the Fatimid governor during these tumultuous times.

Temple Quarter and Holy Sites

Tancred claimed the Temple Quarter for himself and offered protection to some Muslims, though he couldn’t prevent their deaths at the hands of fellow crusaders. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque were claimed as important Christian sites and renamed Templum Domini and Templum Salomonis, respectively.

Multiple Rounds of Slaughter

Albert of Aachen, while not personally present during the events, compiled his account based on independent interviews conducted with survivors in Europe. He documented that, following the initial slaughter accompanying the fall of Jerusalem, there was a subsequent round of violence. On the third day after the victory, leaders pronounced judgment, prompting everyone to arm themselves for a brutal massacre of the remaining crowd of Gentiles. These individuals had been spared previously, either for monetary reasons or out of compassion. The specific number of casualties is unspecified, and this additional massacre is not corroborated by other contemporaneous sources.

Despite the widespread killing of Muslim and Jewish residents by the Crusaders, eyewitness accounts from sources such as the Gesta Francorum, Raymond of Aguilers, and the Cairo Geniza documents reveal that some individuals from these communities were allowed to live, provided they evacuated Jerusalem.

Jews in Jerusalem

Jews had joined forces with Muslim soldiers in a united defense of the city. However, as the Crusaders breached the outer walls, the Jewish residents of the city withdrew to their synagogue, mentally preparing for an impending ordeal. According to the Muslim chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi, the Jews gathered in their synagogue, only for the Franks to set it ablaze over their heads. After this event, a contemporaneous Jewish communication validates the synagogue’s destruction, although it does not verify the presence of Jews inside when it was set on fire. This historic letter, unearthed from the Cairo Geniza collection in 1975 by historian Shelomo Dov Goitein, is believed to have been written just two weeks after the siege, establishing it as “the earliest account of the conquest in any language.” The letter from the Karaite elders of Ascalon found in the Cairo Geniza suggests that certain prominent Jews, detained by the Crusaders for ransom, were released when the Ascalon Karaite Jewish community paid the stipulated sums of money.

Eastern Christians in Jerusalem

No eyewitness source attests to Crusaders targeting Eastern Christians in Jerusalem, and early Eastern Christian sources like Matthew of Edessa, Anna Comnena, and Michael the Syrian make no such accusations against the Crusaders in the city.

According to the Syriac Chronicle, Christians had been expelled from Jerusalem before the Crusaders’ arrival, as mentioned in the context of potential collusion with the Crusaders. This expulsion was presumably orchestrated by the Fatimid governor.

Gesta Francorum’s Perspective on Eastern Christians

The Gesta Francorum offers a unique perspective. On Wednesday, August 9, two and a half weeks after the siege, Peter the Hermit encouraged a thanksgiving procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, specifically involving “Greek and Latin priests and clerics.” This implies the continued presence of Eastern Christian clergy in or near Jerusalem during the siege.

Post-Siege Interactions with Eastern Christians

In November 1100, as detailed by Fulcher of Chartres, there were encounters with Eastern Christians during a visit to Jerusalem by Baldwin. Both Greek and Syrian clerics and laity warmly greeted them, suggesting a lasting Eastern Christian presence in the city a year after the siege.

KINGDOM OF JERUSALEM

Council and Coronation

On July 17, a council convened to deliberate and decide the rightful candidate for the title of king of Jerusalem. The decision-making process culminated on July 22, with Godfrey of Bouillon, a key figure in the city’s conquest, being appointed as the Advocate or Defender of the Holy Sepulchre. Notably, Godfrey declined the title of king, citing his refusal to wear a crown of gold in the city where Christ had worn a crown of thorns.

Leadership Dynamics: Godfrey’s Stance and Raymond’s Pilgrimage

Godfrey’s principled refusal to assume the royal title left him as the Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre. Meanwhile, Raymond, another significant figure, rejected any title but was persuaded by Godfrey to relinquish control of the Tower of David. Subsequently, Raymond embarked on a pilgrimage. In his absence, Arnulf of Chocques, initially opposed by Raymond due to his support for Peter Bartholomew, was elected the first Latin Patriarch on August 1, disregarding the claims of the Greek Patriarch.

Discovery of the True Cross and Ascalon Campaign

On August 5, Arnulf, consulting the surviving inhabitants, unearthed the relic of the True Cross. Following this significant discovery, on August 12, Godfrey led an army, with the True Cross prominently carried in the vanguard, against the Fatimid army in the Battle of Ascalon in 1099. The Crusaders emerged victorious, but the aftermath witnessed a shift in their commitment.

Fulfillment of Vows and Return Home

After the triumph at Ascalon, a considerable number of Crusaders considered their vows fulfilled, and the majority, apart from a few hundred knights, decided to return home. Despite this, their success laid the foundation for the establishment of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.

Legendary Status: Impact on Literature

The rapid and legendary nature of the siege captured the imagination of the 12th century and became the central theme of the Chanson de Jérusalem, a significant chanson de geste in the Crusade cycle.

RECOMENDED BOOKS

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The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading by Jonathan Riley-Smith
The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading by Jonathan Riley-Smith
Victory in the East by John France
Victory in the East by John France
God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades

DOCUMENTARY

Source: (BazBattles, 2017)

Sources

  • France, J. (1994). Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade

  • Stark, R. (2009). God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. HarperOneCambridge: Cambridge University Press

  • BazBattles. (2017). First Crusade: Siege of Jerusalem 1099 AD [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2loWiJSUDIQ

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, December 13). Siege of Jerusalem (1099). Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(1099)

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