A campaign in which an army of crusaders from western Europe joined troops from all four of the Frankish states in Outremer to assault the key Muslim city of Damascus. It was the result of a carefully calculated strategy by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and was closely connected with his efforts to settle the succession to his kingdom and to encourage the growth of the Order of the Temple.
When Baldwin II was released from Turkish captivity in August 1124, he embarked upon a period of vigorous military endeavor in order to reestablish his own authority and to capitalize on the recent capture of Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) in July 1124. In 1125 and early 1126, Baldwin mounted campaigns against Damascus, but following the second of these engagements he realized that he would require outside assistance to capture the city. He combined the aim of launching an attack on Damascus with, first, the mission of Hugh of Payns to secure papal endorsement and wider support for the nascent Order of the Temple, and, second, Baldwin’s own embassy, led by William of Bures, lord of Tiberias, which sought to persuade Count Fulk V of Anjou to marry Melisende, Baldwin’s eldest daughter and the heiress to the throne of Jerusalem. If Fulk accepted the offer, then he would be the obvious figurehead for crusaders to gather around.
Baldwin’s ambitious agenda shows his confidence in expanding the frontiers of Outremer. The Damascus campaign of 1129 was an early example of a crusade that was wholly aggressive in its purpose: the justification of defending holy places only applied in the sense that it removed a theoretical threat to Jerusalem. No papal bull endorsing the expedition survives, but there is unambiguous contemporary charter evidence of people taking the cross for the remission of their sins and in order to fight the Muslims. Furthermore, the papal legate to France was present at Le Mans in May 1128 when Fulk himself was signed with the cross, which suggests some form of papal endorsement. Hugh of Payns also visited England and Scotland, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that “he summoned people out to Jerusalem, and there went with him and after him so large a number of people as never had done since the first expedition in the days of Pope Urban” [Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. D. Whitelock (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1961), pp. 194-195]. The fact that the chronicler saw Hugh’s efforts in the same vein as the First Crusade (1096-1099) is also indicative that contemporaries saw this as a formal crusading expedition and not as a large armed pilgrimage that lacked the offer of full spiritual rewards.
The exact numbers recruited by Hugh are unknown, although both Christian and Muslim writers suggested that a significant force of men accompanied the future king of Jerusalem to the East. Fulk reached the Holy Land in late May, although it was not until the early winter that the crusaders and the armies of Antioch, Edessa, Tripoli, and Jerusalem assembled to begin the attack. The Franks advanced to within six miles of Damascus and set up camp. William of Bures led a large party of knights on a foraging expedition, but this group broke up into smaller bands and began to roam recklessly across a wide area.Būrī, the ruler of Damascus, learned of this breakdown of discipline and, leading out his finest warriors, fell upon the unsuspecting Christians. The Muslims routed their enemy, killing many knights and lesser men. Infuriated by this defeat, the Franks prepared to counter, but an enormous thunderstorm and dense fog prevented them from acting. The chronicler William of Tyre claimed that the Christians realized this natural phenomenon was a punishment for their sins and that they should retreat.
The crusader army returned home and broke up, a cause of great relief to the Damascenes; as the local chronicler Ibn al-Qalānisī commented, “So the hearts of the Muslims were relieved from terror, and restored to security after fear” [Ibn al-Qalanisi, The Damascus Chronicles of the Crusades, trans. Hamilton A. R. Gibb (London: Luzac, 1932), p. 200]. Baldwin’s bold plan had failed, although, as the campaign of the Second Crusade in July 1148 demonstrated, the Franks persisted in their attempts to take Damascus.