The First Crusade Timeline: Quest for Jerusalem

The First Crusade

Background and Context

The First Crusade, spanning from 1096 to 1099, marked the inception of a series of religious wars known as the Crusades. These conflicts were initiated, supported, and sometimes directed by the Latin Church during the medieval period. The primary objective was to reclaim the Holy Land from Islamic rule, particularly in response to the Seljuk threat to Christian populations, Western pilgrimages, and the Byzantine Empire.

Initiation and Papal Support

The earliest call for the First Crusade came in 1095, when Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos sought military aid against the Seljuk-led Turks. Pope Urban II, during the Council of Clermont in the same year, endorsed the Byzantine plea for assistance and urged devout Christians to embark on an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The People’s Crusade

The call resonated across Western Europe, leading to an enthusiastic response from diverse social classes. The People’s Crusade, led by the French priest Peter the Hermit, attracted predominantly poor Christians. However, their journey through Germany involved anti-Jewish activities, including the Rhineland massacres. They suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Civetot in October 1096.

The Princes’ Crusade

In contrast, the Princes’ Crusade, comprised of high nobility and their followers, was outlined in the late summer of 1096. Notable Western European princes, including Raymond IV of Toulouse, Adhemar of Le Puy, Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin of Boulogne, Bohemond of Taranto, Tancred, Robert Curthose, Stephen of Blois, Hugh of Vermandois, and Robert II of Flanders, led a vast feudal host estimated to be around 100,000, including non-combatants.

Military Campaign and Victories

The crusader forces, after several triumphs, gradually advanced through Anatolia. Victories at the Siege of Nicaea and the Battle of Dorylaeum set the stage for the subsequent Siege of Antioch, captured in June 1098. Jerusalem, under Fatimid control, was reached in June 1099, leading to a brutal Siege of Jerusalem from June 7 to July 15, resulting in the massacre of its residents.

Establishment of Crusader States

Following the success of the First Crusade, four Crusader states emerged in the Holy Land: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Tripoli. These states persisted in the region until the Siege of Acre in 1291 marked the loss of the last major Crusader stronghold.


The First Crusade, initiated as a response to the Seljuk threat and Byzantine appeal, achieved its primary goal of reclaiming the Holy Land. Despite subsequent losses and challenges, the establishment of Crusader states marked a significant chapter in medieval history.


March 1 to March 7, 1095
Council of Piacenza
Pope Urban II depicted in a c. late 12th-century – early 13th-century miniature, now at the National Library of France

The primary religious catalysts for the First Crusade originated from the Council of Piacenza and the subsequent Council of Clermont, convened in 1095 by Pope Urban II. These gatherings prompted the mobilization of Western Europe to embark on a journey to the Holy Land. Fearing the Seljuk Turks' encroachment into his realm, Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos dispatched emissaries to the Council of Piacenza in March 1095, seeking assistance from Pope Urban against the Turkish invaders.


November 27, 1095
Council of Clermont
Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, given a late Gothic setting in this illumination from the Livre des Passages d'Outre-mer, of c 1474 (Bibliothèque nationale)

At this historic gathering, Pope Urban II delivered a stirring speech calling for a holy crusade to reclaim Jerusalem from Muslim control. The council marked the beginning of the First Crusade, as Urban's impassioned call ignited a fervor that led to thousands pledging their lives to the cause. This pivotal moment in medieval history set the stage for a series of events that would shape the destiny of the Holy Land and leave an indelible mark on the pages of time.

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April 1096
People's Crusade
Miniature of Peter the Hermit leading the People's Crusade (Egerton 1500, Avignon, 14th-century)

The People's Crusade, sparked by Pope Urban II's call in 1095, was a grassroots movement led by the charismatic Peter the Hermit. Comprising peasants and untrained fighters, this unauthorized prelude to the First Crusade aimed to reclaim Jerusalem. Despite fervent zeal, the People's Crusade faced numerous challenges, culminating in devastating losses as they encountered resistance along their journey. This early episode highlighted the complexities and perils of the Crusades, setting the stage for the more organized campaigns that followed.

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Rhineland Massacres
Massacres of the Jews of Metz during the First Crusade, by Auguste Migette

The Rhineland massacres, also known as the German Crusade of 1096 or Gzerot Tatnó, were a series of brutal attacks on Jews carried out by mobs of French and German Christians during the People's Crusade. Occurring in 1096 or 4856 in the Hebrew calendar, these horrific events are often considered the earliest instances of anti-Semitic acts in Europe, foreshadowing later atrocities like the Holocaust. Key figures in these massacres included Peter the Hermit and Count Emicho. The destruction of Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms, and Mainz, known as the Hurban Shum (Destruction of Shum), marked a dark chapter in history as peasant crusaders targeted Jewish populations, a period some historians describe as "pogroms."

September 29, 1096
Siege of Xerigordos
Medieval illuminated manuscript showing Peter the Hermit's People's Crusade of 1096

The 1096 siege of Xerigordos, often referred to as Xerigordon in contemporary historical accounts, witnessed a clash between 6,000 Germans from the People's Crusade, led by Reinald of Broyes, and the Turkish forces commanded by Elchanes, a general serving Kilij Arslan, the Seljuk Sultan of Rûm. The crusaders aimed to establish a pillaging outpost, successfully capturing the Turkish fort near Nicaea. However, Elchanes arrived promptly, initiating a siege that lasted eight days. With no water supply, the crusaders surrendered on September 29. Some converted to Islam, while those who resisted met unfortunate fates.

21 October 1096
Battle of Civetot
Peter the Hermit and the First Crusade

On October 21, 1096, the clash at Civetot ensued between the People's Crusade and the Seljuk Turks of Anatolia, marking the conclusion of the former before the onset of the Princes' Crusade.

August 1096 - April 1097
The Road to Constantinople
The leaders of the Crusade on Greek ships crossing the Bosporus, a romantic painting from the 19th century

In August 1096, the four principal crusader armies embarked from Europe, adhering to the designated schedule. Diverging paths led them to Constantinople—some traversing Eastern Europe and the Balkans, others crossing the Adriatic Sea. Coloman of Hungary permitted Godfrey and his forces to pass through Hungary, contingent on the assurance of good conduct, with Baldwin, his brother, serving as a hostage. The assemblage occurred outside Constantinople's Roman-era Walls from November 1096 to April 1097, with Hugh of Vermandois arriving first, trailed by Godfrey, Raymond, and Bohemond.

May 14-June 19, 1097
Siege of Nicaea
Siege of Nicaea of 1096

The Siege of Nicaea, from May 14 to June 19, 1097, marked a pivotal moment in the First Crusade. Crusader forces, led by military leaders like Godfrey of Bouillon and Bohemond of Taranto, laid siege to the well-fortified city of Nicaea, a stronghold of the Seljuk Turks. Overcoming challenges such as the Turkish defense and lack of supplies, the Crusaders eventually emerged victorious. The successful capture of Nicaea not only boosted the morale of the Crusaders but also set the stage for further advances into Anatolia, highlighting the determination and resilience of the medieval expedition.

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July 1, 1097
Battle of Dorylaeum
The Battle of Dorylaeum

In the Battle of Dorylaeum on July 1, 1097, Bohemond's Crusader force faced a relentless Turkish onslaught. Surprised by a dawn attack, Bohemond's camp struggled, with knights countering in vain. The Turks, skilled mounted archers, inflicted heavy casualties on horses and foot soldiers. As Bohemond awaited reinforcements, his forces were pushed back to the Thymbris river. The marshy terrain offered some defense, but the relentless arrow barrage took a toll. After seven hours of fierce combat, reinforcements led by Godfrey and Raymond turned the tide. Bishop Adhemar's surprise attack sealed the victory, forcing the Turks to retreat from the battlefield.

October 20, 1097-June 28, 1098
Siege of Antioch
The siege of Antioch, from a 15th-century miniature painting

During the First Crusade, the Siege of Antioch unfolded in two phases from October 20, 1097, to June 3, 1098. The initial siege by the crusaders against the Seljuk-held city proved challenging due to the formidable Byzantine walls. The crusaders, besieged themselves by dwindling supplies and internal strife, faced a relief army led by Duqaq in December 1097. After defeating the relieving force, starvation and desertion plagued the crusaders. A second relief force under Ridwan arrived in February 1098, but it too succumbed to the crusaders. Antioch fell on June 3, 1098, marking a pivotal moment in the establishment of the Principality of Antioch.

January 13, 1099
March to Jerusalem
Route of the First Crusade through Asia

In late December or early January, a complex web of alliances and disputes unfolded among the Crusader leaders. While Robert of Normandy and Tancred pledged vassalage to Raymond, Godfrey of Bouillon, enriched by Edessa's revenues, stood independent. Raymond, with dismantled walls of Maarat, led the march to Jerusalem in January, flanked by Robert and Tancred. Their coastal journey encountered minimal resistance. Raymond aimed for Tripoli, besieging Arqa en route. Godfrey, joined by Robert of Flanders and Tancred (after leaving Raymond), converged at Arqa in March. Tensions escalated, involving clergy disputes and the discrediting of the Holy Lance. The siege of Arqa proved fruitless, prompting the Crusaders to reach Tripoli in May, with diplomatic overtures rejected. Poisoned wells and Christian expulsion marked the route. Continuing south, they reached Bethlehem on June 6, symbolizing progress towards Jerusalem.

June 7-July 15, 1099
Siege of Jerusalem
13th-century miniature depicting the siege

The siege of Jerusalem (7 June–15 July 1099) marked the climactic end to the First Crusade as Christian forces triumphed over the Muslim Fatimid Caliphate. This pivotal event established the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, lasting for nearly two centuries. Led by prominent crusader Godfrey of Bouillon, the capture concluded the crusades initiated in 1095. Eyewitness accounts, notably from the Gesta Francorum, documented the siege. Upon the declaration of a secular state, Godfrey was elected ruler, rejecting the title "king." The victory was marred by mass slaughter and the conversion of Muslim holy sites into Christian shrines, altering the city's religious landscape.

Recommended Books

The Crusader Strategy Defending the Holy Land by Steve Tibble
The Crusader Strategy Defending the Holy Land by Steve Tibble
The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge
The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge
Templars: The Knights Who Made Britain by Steve Tibble
Templars: The Knights Who Made Britain by Steve Tibble
The First Crusade The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials
The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials by Edward Peters


  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, December 2). First Crusade. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, November 17). Siege of Antioch. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, July 6). Battle of Dorylaeum (1097). Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, December 7). Siege of Nicaea. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, September 27). Christian forces of the First Crusade. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

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