On This Day

The Siege of Jerusalem

On This Day: Crusaders Launch Siege of Jerusalem

June 07, 2009 02:00 AM
by Emily Coakley
On June 7, 1099, Christian knights launched an assault to free Jerusalem from Egyptian control as part of the first Crusade.

Turk Rule of Holy Land Prompts Crusade

After hearing about the abuse of Christians in Jerusalem, Pope Urban II called on other Christians to take back Jerusalem. Thousands of people heeded his call and marched from Europe to present-day Israel. The forces arrived outside of Jerusalem in early June 1099.

According to Boise State University, more than 13,000 knights, most on foot, were part of the battle. It took weeks for the crusaders to invade the city, because of the walls surrounding it.

The crusaders built weapons to get through the walls, explained Bernard McGinn, a historical theology professor at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, in a 1999 interview with PBS' “Frontline.” They weren't able to take the city until mid-July 1099.

Fulcher of Chartres, a historical chronicler who accompanied the crusaders to the Holy Land, described the siege in a written account: “With trumpets sounding and with everything in an uproar, exclaiming: ‘Help, God!’ they vigorously pushed into the city, and straightaway raised the banner on the top of the wall.”

What followed the entry into the city, according to Boise State, was the slaughter of the Jewish and Muslim people in Jerusalem. “The chroniclers tell of streets running with blood and of horses splashing blood up onto their riders' leggings,” the site said.

Fulcher said, “What more shall I tell? Not one of them was allowed to live. They did not spare the women and children.”

Background: The Crusades

The Crusades were a series of military operations led by European Christians during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Their initial goal was to regain control of Jerusalem, ruled by Muslims, but the siege of that city in 1099 was only the beginning of the religious wars, which lasted 200 years as the two sides fought over control of the Holy Land. Jerusalem is considered a sacred city in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. 

Eyewitness to History reports that Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem in 637, and “the city's Muslim masters exhibited a certain level of religious tolerance.” Crosses couldn't be displayed in public and new churches couldn't be built, but Christian pilgrims could visit their shrines for a fee. 

The Turks conquered Jerusalem in 1076, Eyewitness to History said, at which point the atmosphere changed. Pilgrims and the shrines alike were assaulted.

The seeds of the wars were planted in 1095 when Pope Urban II delivered a sermon at the Council of Clermont, calling for Jerusalem’s capture. In his sermon he spoke of “a horrible tale” that he had heard: “Namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians … has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire,” the Pope said, according to an account written by Robert the Monk, who may have been present at the council.

Robert the Monk went on to describe the audience's reaction to the sermon: “[H]e so influenced to one purpose the desires of all who were present, that they cried out, 'It is the will of God! It is the will of God!'”

Later Developments: The Crusades continue

Many historians believe there were seven major Crusades, although some say there were as many as nine.

Christianity Today summarizes the goals, leaders and outcomes of eight Crusades in a timeline published in 1993. Though the first Crusade was successful, to a point, the others were not.

The goal of the second crusade was to take another city, Edessa. But after being defeated in 1147 at Dorylaeum, Christianity Today said, “the crusaders abandoned any hope of retaking Edessa.” They turned their attention to taking Damascus, but were unsuccessful.

A Muslim general named Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, so the third crusade was to take back the holy city. The crusaders took Cyprus, Acre and Jaffa, “and negotiated Christian access to Jerusalem,” according to Christianity Today.

Reference: European map


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