The Siege of Jerusalem took place from 07 June to 15 July 1099, during the First Crusade. The climax of the First Crusade, the successful siege saw the Crusaders take Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate and laid the foundations for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The siege is notable for the mass slaughter of Muslims and Jews perpetrated by the Christian crusaders, which contemporaneous sources suggest was savage and widespread.
After the successful siege of Antioch in June 1098, the Crusaders remained in the area for the rest of the year. The papal legate Adhemar of Le Puy had died, and Bohemond of Taranto had claimed Antioch for himself. Baldwin of Boulogne remained in Edessa, captured earlier in 1098. There was dissent among the princes over what to do next; Raymond of Toulouse, frustrated, left Antioch to capture the fortress at Ma’arrat al-Numan in the Siege of Ma’arra. By the end of the year, the minor knights and infantry were threatening to march to Jerusalem without them. Eventually, on 13 January 1099 Raymond began the march south, down the coast of the Mediterranean, followed by Robert of Normandy and Bohemond’s nephew Tancred, who agreed to become his vassals.
On their way, the Crusaders besieged Arqa but failed to capture it and abandoned the siege on 13 May. Fatimids had attempted to make peace, on the condition that the Crusaders do not continue towards Jerusalem, but this was ignored; Iftikhar ad-Daula, the Fatimid governor of Jerusalem, was aware of the Crusaders’ intentions. Therefore, he expelled all of Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants. The further march towards Jerusalem met no resistance.
The Fatimid governor Iftikhar al-Dawla prepared the city for the siege as he heard about the arrival of the Crusaders. He prepared an elite troop of 400 Egyptian cavalry men and had expelled all the eastern Christians from the city due to the fear of betrayal from them (in the siege of Antioch an Armenian man named Firoz helped crusaders enter the city by opening the gates). To make the situation worse for the crusaders, ad-Daula poisoned or buried all the water wells, and cut down all trees outside Jerusalem. On 07 June 1099, the crusaders reached outside the fortifications of Jerusalem, which had been recaptured from the Seljuqs by the Fatimids only the year before. The city was guarded by a defence wall 4 km long, 3 metres thick and 15 metres high, there were five major gates each guarded by a pair of towers. The Crusaders divided themselves into two large groups- Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Flanders and Tancred planned to besiege from north while, Raymond of Toulouse positioned his forces on the south.
Now the Muslims (Fatimids) had to be prepared to fight on two fronts. After taking their positions the crusaders launched their first attack on 13 June, the main problem was that they did not have access to wood for siege equipment. But then Tancred had a vision he found a stack of wood hidden in the cave, they used it to make a ladder. A knight named Rainbold scaled the ladder to gain foothold on the wall but was unsuccessful. Since this assault was a failure the crusaders retreated and did not make any attempt until they got their tools and equipment. The crusaders faced a lot more difficulties due to lack of water and scorching heat of the Palestine, shortage of food etc and by the end of June there was news that a Fatimid army was marching north from Egypt. Due to the mounting pressure the crusaders had to act quickly.
The Final Assault
On 17 June 1099, the crusaders heard about the arrival of Genoese ships at the port of Jaffa. The Genoese sailors had brought all the necessary equipment with them for the construction of the siege equipment. Robert of Normandy and Robert of Flanders procured timber from the nearby forests. Under the command of Guglielmo Embriaco and Gaston of Bearn, the crusaders began the construction of their siege weapons. They constructed the finest siege equipment of the 11th century in almost 3 weeks. This included: 2 massive wheel-mounted siege towers, a battering ram with an iron-clad head, numerous scaling ladders and a series of portable wattle screens. On the other hand the Fatimids kept an eye on the preparation by the Franks and they set up their mangonels on the wall in the firing range once an assault began. The preparation by the crusaders was complete.
On 14 July 1099, the crusaders launched their attack, Godfrey and his allies were positioned towards the Northern wall of Jerusalem, their priority was to break through the outer curtain of the walls of Jerusalem. By the end of the day they penetrated the first line of defence. On the South Raymond’s (of Toulouse) forces were met with ferocious resistance by the Fatimids. On 15 of July the assault recommenced in the Northern front, Godfrey and his allies gained success and the crusader, Ludolf of Tournai was the first to mount the wall. The Franks quickly gained the foothold in the wall and the city’s defences collapsed, waves of panic shook the Fatimids.
Aftermath and Legacy
Crusaders enter Jerusalem
On 15 July 1099, the crusaders made their way into the city through the tower of David and history witnessed one of the most bloody encounters. The crusaders massacred every inhabitant of the city (Jerusalem), Muslims and Jews alike. The Fatimid governor of the city, Iftikhar Ad-Daulah managed to escape. According to eyewitness accounts the streets of Jerusalem were filled with blood. How many people were killed is a matter of debate, with the figure of 70,000 given by the Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir (writing c.1200) considered to be a considerable exaggeration; 40,000 is plausible, given the city’s population had been swollen by refugees fleeing the advance of the crusading army.
The Crusaders had already endorsed themselves with genocide done so at Antioch. However, the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, both Muslims and Jews, may have exceeded even these standards. Historian Michael Hull has suggested this was a matter of deliberate policy rather than simple bloodlust, to remove the “contamination of pagan superstition” (quoting Fulcher of Chartres) and to reform Jerusalem as a strictly Christian city.
Many Muslims sought shelter in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Temple Mount area generally. According to the Gesta Francorum, speaking only of the Temple Mount area, “…[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…” According to Raymond of Aguilers, also writing solely of the Temple Mount area, ” in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” Writing about the Temple Mount area alone, Fulcher of Chartres, who was not an eyewitness to the Jerusalem siege because he had stayed with Baldwin in Edessa at the time, says: “In this temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured 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 eyewitness Gesta Francorum states that some people were spared. Its anonymous author wrote,”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.” Later the same source writes, “[Our leaders] also ordered all the Saracen dead to be cast outside because of the great stench, since the whole city was filled with their corpses; and so the living Saracens dragged the dead before the exits of the gates and arranged them in heaps, as if they were houses. No one ever saw or heard of such slaughter of pagan people, for funeral pyres were formed from them like pyramids, and no one knows their number except God alone. But Raymond caused the Emir and the others who were with him to be conducted to Ascalon, whole and unhurt.”
Another eyewitness source, Raymond of Aguilers, reports that some Muslims survived. After recounting the slaughter on the Temple Mount he reports of some who “took refuge in the Tower of David, and, petitioning Count Raymond for protection, surrendered the Tower into his hands.” These Muslims left with the Fatimid governor for Ascalon. A version of this tradition is also known to the later Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir, who recounts that after the city was taken and pillaged: “A band of Muslims barricaded themselves into the Oratory of David (Mihrab Dawud) and fought on for several days. They were granted their lives in return for surrendering. The Franks honoured their word and the group left by night for Ascalon.” One Cairo Geniza letter also refers to some Jewish residents who left with the Fatimid governor.
Tancred claimed the Temple quarter for himself and offered protection to some of the Muslims there, but he was unable to prevent their deaths at the hands of his fellow Crusaders. Additionally, the Crusaders claimed the Muslim holy sites of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque as important Christian sites, and renamed them Templum Domini and Templum Salomonis, respectively. In 1141, the Templum Domini would be consecrated, and the Templum Solomonis would become the headquarters for the Knights Templar.
Albert of Aachen, who personally was not present but wrote using independent interviews conducted with survivors back in Europe, wrote that even beyond the first round of slaughter that accompanied the fall of Jerusalem, there was another round, “On the third day after the victory judgement was pronounced by the leaders and everyone seized weapons and surged forth for a wretched massacre of all the crowd of gentiles which was still left…whom they had previously spared for the sake of money and human pity”. The number killed is not specified, nor is this massacre related in any other contemporary sources.
Although the Crusaders killed many of the Muslim and Jewish residents, eyewitness accounts (Gesta Francorum, Raymond of Aguilers, and the Cairo Geniza documents) demonstrate that some Muslim and Jewish residents were allowed to live, as long as they left Jerusalem.
Jews had fought side-by-side with Muslim soldiers to defend the city, and as the Crusaders breached the outer walls, the Jews of the city retreated to their synagogue to “prepare for death”. According to the Muslim chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi, “The Jews assembled in their synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads.” A contemporary Jewish communication confirms the destruction of the synagogue, though it does not corroborate that any Jews were inside it when it was burned. This letter was discovered among the Cairo Geniza collection in 1975 by historian Shelomo Dov Goitein. Historians believe that it was written just two weeks after the siege, making it “the earliest account on the conquest in any language.” Additional documentation from the Cairo Geniza indicates that some prominent Jews held for ransom by the Crusaders were freed when the Ascalon Karaite Jewish community paid the requested sums of money.
Contrary to what is sometimes alleged, no eyewitness source refers to Crusaders killing Eastern Christians in Jerusalem, and early Eastern Christian sources (Matthew of Edessa, Anna Comnena, Michael the Syrian, etc.) make no such allegation about the Crusaders in Jerusalem. According to the Syriac Chronicle, all the Christians had already been expelled from Jerusalem before the Crusaders arrived. Presumably this would have been done by the Fatimid governor to prevent their possible collusion with the Crusaders.
The Gesta Francorum claims that on Wednesday, 09 August, two and a half weeks after the siege, Peter the Hermit encouraged all the “Greek and Latin priests and clerics” to make a thanksgiving procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This indicates that some Eastern Christian clergy remained in or near Jerusalem during the siege. In November 1100, when Fulcher of Chartres personally accompanied Baldwin on a visit to Jerusalem, they were greeted by both Greek and Syrian clerics and laity (Book II, 3), indicating an Eastern Christian presence in the city a year later.
A New Ruler
On 17 July, a council was held to discuss, Who shall be crowned the king of Jerusalem? On 22 July, Godfrey of Bouillon (who played the most fundamental role in the city’s conquest) was made Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (“advocate” or “defender of the Holy Sepulchre”) on 22 July, refusing to be named king in the city where Christ had died, saying that he refused to wear a crown of gold in the city where Christ wore a crown of thorns. Raymond had refused any title at all, and Godfrey convinced him to give up the Tower of David as well. Raymond then went on a pilgrimage, and in his absence Arnulf of Chocques, whom Raymond had opposed due to his own support for Peter Bartholomew, was elected the first Latin Patriarch on 01 August (the claims of the Greek Patriarch were ignored). On 05 August, Arnulf, after consulting the surviving inhabitants of the city, discovered the relic of the True Cross.
On 12 August, Godfrey led an army, with the True Cross carried in the vanguard, against the Fatimid army at the Battle of Ascalon. The Crusaders were successful, but following the victory, the majority of them considered their crusading vows to have been fulfilled, and all but a few hundred knights returned home. Nevertheless, their victory paved the way for the establishment of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The siege quickly became legendary and in the 12th century it was the subject of the Chanson de Jérusalem, a major chanson de geste in the Crusade cycle.
The first crusade was a successful endeavour. Pope Urban II ignited the flame of holy war in the Council of Clermont. Through time many more crusades were launched for various reasons and motives. Jerusalem remained in Christian hands for almost a century until the crusaders faced their final defeat from Salah Al-Din at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, and three months later the last defenders were expelled from the city. The conquest of Jerusalem (in the 1st crusade) continues to reverberate through time and has shaped relations between the different faith traditions of this region to the present day.