Post-classical history



Shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the Lord most high is terrible.’ PSALMS XLVII, 1, 2

The city of Jerusalem was one of the great fortresses of the medieval world. Since the days of the Jebusites its site had been famed for its strength, which the skill of men had improved down the centuries. The walls beneath which the Crusaders found themselves followed the same line as the walls built later by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, which surround the old city to-day. They had been laid out when Hadrian rebuilt the city; and the Byzantines, the Ommayads and the Fatimids in turn had added to them and repaired them. On the east the wall was protected by the steep slopes of the ravine of the Kedron. On the south-east the ground fell to the Vale of Gehenna. A third valley that was only slightly less deep skirted the western wall. It was only on the south-west, where the wall cut across Mount Sion, and along the length of the northern wall that the terrain favoured an attack on the fortifications. The citadel, the Tower of David, was placed half-way down the western wall, commanding the road that slanted up the hill-side to the Jaffa Gate. Though there were no springs within the city, its ample cisterns secured the water supply. The Roman drainage system, still in use in the twentieth century, kept it from disease.

The defence of the city was in the hands of the Fatimid governor, Iftikhar ad-Dawla. The walls were in good condition; and he had a strong garrison of Arab and Sudanese troops. On the news of the Franks’ approach he took the precaution of blocking or poisoning the wells outside the city, and driving the flocks and herds from the pastures round the city into places of safety. Next, he ordered all the Christian population of the city, Orthodox and heretic alike, to retire outside the city walls. The Jews, however, were permitted to remain within. It was a wise move. In the tenth century the Christians outnumbered the Moslems in Jerusalem; and though the Caliph Hakim’s persecutions had reduced their numbers, and though many more, including most of the Orthodox clergy, had departed with the Patriarch during the uneasy times that followed Ortoq’s death, there were still thousands left, useless as fighting men as they were forbidden to carry arms, and unreliable in a battle against fellow-Christians. Moreover their exile meant that there would be fewer mouths to feed in the beleaguered city. At the same time Iftikhar sent urgently to Egypt for armed aid.

Even had the lie of the land permitted it, the Crusaders had insufficient forces to invest the whole city. They concentrated their strength on the sectors where they could come near to the walls. Robert of Normandy took up his station along the northern wall opposite to the Gate of Flowers (Herod’s Gate), with Robert of Flanders on his right, opposite to the Gate of the Column (St Stephen’s or the Damascus Gate). Godfrey of Lorraine took over the area covering the north-west angle of the city, as far down as the Jaffa Gate. He was joined here by Tancred, who rode up when the army was already in position, bringing flocks that he had taken on his way from Bethlehem. To his south was Raymond of Toulouse, who, finding that the valley kept him too far from the walls, moved up after two or three days on to Mount Sion. The eastern and south-eastern sectors were left unguarded.

The Defence of Jerusalem

The siege began on 7 June, the very day that the Crusade arrived at the walls. But it was soon clear that time was on the side of the besieged. Iftikhar was well supplied with food and water. His armaments were better than the Franks’; and he was able to strengthen his towers with sacks full of cotton and of hay, which enabled them to withstand the shock of the bombardment by the Frankish mangonels. If he could hold out till the relieving army from Egypt appeared, all would be over with the Crusade. But, large though the garrison was, it was barely sufficient to man all the walls. The Crusaders on their part soon were in difficulties over their water supply. Iftikhar’s measures had been effective. The only source of pure water available to the besiegers came from the pool of Siloam, below the south walls, which was dangerously exposed to missiles from the city. To supplement their supplies of water, they had to travel six miles or more. Knowing this, the garrison would send out small companies to ambush the paths to the springs. Many soldiers and pilgrims perished from such surprise attacks. Food also began to run short; for little could be obtained near the city. Heat and dust and lack of shade added to the discomfort of the Crusaders, coming as they did from cooler climates and wearing, many of them, armour ill-suited to the Judaean summer. It was clear to them all that they could not afford a long siege but must quickly take the city by assault.

On 12 June the princes made a pilgrimage to the Mount of Olives. There an aged hermit addressed them, bidding them attack the walls on the morrow. They protested that they lacked the machines for a successful assault; but the hermit would have none of that. If they had faith, God, he said, would give them the victory. Emboldened by his words, they ordered a general attack to be made next morning. But the hermit was mistaken or else their faith was too weak. The Crusaders went to the attack with great fervour and soon overran the outer defences of the north wall. But they had too few ladders to be able to scale the walls simultaneously in a sufficient number of places. After several hours of desperate fighting they saw that their attempts were useless and withdrew.

Trials of the Besiegers

The failure of the assault caused bitter disappointment; but it made clear to the princes the need for building more siege machines. At a council on 15 June they decided to withhold further attacks till they were better supplied with mangonels and ladders. But they lacked the material with which to build them. As at Antioch, they were now saved by the timely arrival of help from the sea. On 17 June six Christian vessels put into the harbour of Jaffa, which they found deserted by the Moslems. The squadron consisted of two Genoese galleys, under the brothers Embriaco, and four ships probably from the English fleet. They were carrying food supplies and armaments, including the ropes, nails and bolts required for making siege machines. Hearing of their arrival the Crusaders at once sent a small detachment to establish contact with them. Near Ramleh these troops were ambushed by a Moslem company, operating from Ascalon, and were only rescued by the coming of Raymond Pilet and his men close on their heels. Meanwhile an Egyptian fleet appeared off the coast and blockaded Jaffa. One of the English ships slipped through the blockade and sailed back to Lattakieh. The other ships were abandoned by their crews as soon as the cargo was landed; and the sailors marched up under Raymond Pilet’s escort to the camp outside Jerusalem. They themselves and the goods that they brought were very welcome. But it was still necessary to find wood with which to build the machines. Little was to be obtained on the bare hills round Jerusalem; and the Crusaders were obliged to send expeditions for many miles to collect what was required. It was only when Tancred and Robert of Flanders penetrated with their followers as far as the forests round Samaria and came back laden with logs and planks carried on camel-back or by captive Moslems, that work could start upon the machines. Scaling-ladders were made; and Raymond and Godfrey each began to construct a wooden castle fitted with catapults and set on wheels. Gaston of Beam was responsible for the construction of Godfrey’s castle, and William Ricou of Raymond’s.

But the work went slowly; and meanwhile the Franks suffered terribly from the heat. For many days the sirocco blew, with its deadly effect on the nerves of men unused to it. The provision of water grew increasingly difficult. Numbers of the pack-animals and the herds that the army had collected died daily from thirst. Detachments would go as far as the Jordan to find water. The native Christians were well-disposed and acted as guides to the springs and the forests of the neighbourhood; but it was impossible to prevent forays and ambushes from Moslem soldiers, either of the garrison or of companies that were wandering freely round the country. Quarrels arose again among the princes, concerning, first, the possession of Bethlehem. Tancred had liberated the town and had left his banner waving over the Church of the Nativity. But the clergy and the rival princes felt it to be wrong that so holy a building should be in the power of one secular lord. Tancred defended his claims to Bethlehem; and, though public opinion was against him, the matter was deferred. Next, discussions were begun about the future status of Jerusalem. Some of the knights suggested that a king should be appointed; but the clergy unanimously opposed this, saying that no Christian could call himself king in the city where Christ was crowned and suffered. Here again public opinion was on the side of the clergy; and further discussions were postponed. Their physical miseries, combined with disappointment at the failure of the attempted assault and the renewed quarrels of the princes, induced many of the Crusaders even now to desert the Crusade. A company of them went down to the Jordan to undergo rebaptism in the holy river; then, after gathering palm branches from the river bank, they journeyed straight down to Jaffa, hoping to find boats to carry them back to Europe.

Early in July it was learnt in the camp that a great army had set out from Egypt to relieve Jerusalem. The princes realized that there was no time for delay. But the morale of their men was low. Once more a vision came to their support. On the morning of 6 July the priest Peter Desiderius, who had already testified that he had seen Bishop Adhemar after his death, came to Adhemar’s brother, William Hugh of Monteil and to his own lord, Isoard of Gap, to say that the bishop had again appeared to him. After ordering the Crusaders to give up their selfish schemes, Adhemar ordered them to hold a fast and to walk in procession barefoot round the walls of Jerusalem. If they did so with repentant hearts, within nine days they would capture Jerusalem. When Peter Desiderius had claimed to see Adhemar suffering hell-fire for his doubting of the Holy Lance, he had been widely disbelieved; but now, perhaps because the beloved bishop was shown in a nobler light, and because the family of Monteil gave their support, the vision was at once accepted as genuine by all the army. Adhemar’s instructions were eagerly obeyed. A fast was commanded and steadfastly observed during the next three days. On Friday, 8 July, a solemn procession wound around the path that surrounded the city. The bishops and priests of the Crusade came first, bearing crosses and their holy relics. The princes and the knights followed, then the foot soldiers and the pilgrims. All were barefoot. The Moslems gathered on the walls to mock them; but they gloried in such mockery, and having completed the circuit ascended the Mount of Olives. There Peter the Hermit preached to them and after him Raymond’s chaplain, Raymond of Aguilers, and Robert of Normandy’s chaplain, Arnulf of Rohes, who was now considered the finest preacher with the army. Their eloquence moved and excited the host. Even Raymond and Tancred forgot their quarrels and vowed to fight together for the Cross.

Preparations for the Assault

The enthusiasm lasted on. During the next two days, in spite of their sufferings from thirst, the men of the army worked hard to complete the great siege towers. The skill of the Genoese, under William Embriaco, was of great assistance; and even the old men and the women did their part in sewing ox-hide and camel-hide and nailing it on the exposed parts of the woodwork, as a protection against the Greek fire used by the Saracens. On the 10th the wooden structures were ready and were wheeled up to their stations, the one against the north wall and the other on Mount Sion. A third, slightly smaller, was built to go against the north-west corner of the defences. The work of construction had been carefully carried on out of sight of the soldiers of the garrison; who were astounded and alarmed to find such castles opposing them. The governor, Iftikhar, hastened to reinforce the weaker sections of the defences; and the siege towers were steadily bombarded with stones and with liquid fire to prevent them from closing in against the walls.

It was decided that the assault should begin during the night of 13-14 July. The main attack would be launched simultaneously from Mount Sion and on the eastern sector of the northern wall, with a feint attack on the north-west angle. According to Raymond of Aguilers, whose figures need not be doubted, the effective fighting strength of the army was now twelve thousand foot-soldiers and twelve or thirteen hundred knights. There were in addition many pilgrims, whose numbers he does not try to assess, men too old or too sick to fight, and women and children. The first task of the assailants was to bring their wooden castles right up to the walls; which involved the filling up of the ditch that ran round their feet. All night long and during the day of the 14th the Crusaders concentrated on their task, suffering heavily from the stones and the liquid fire of the defence, and answering with a heavy bombardment from their own mangonels. By the evening of the 14th Raymond’s men had succeeded in wheeling their tower over the ditch against the wall. But the defence was fierce; for it seems that Iftikhar himself commanded in this sector. Raymond could not establish a foothold on the wall itself. Next morning Godfrey’s tower closed in on the north wall, close to the present Gate of Flowers. Godfrey and his brother, Eustace of Boulogne, commanded from the upper storey. About midday they succeeded in making a bridge from the tower to the top of the wall; and two Flemish knights, Litold and Gilbert of Tournai, led the pick of the Lotharingian army across, followed soon by Godfrey himself. Once a sector of the wall was captured, scaling ladders enabled many more of the assailants to climb into the city. While Godfrey remained on the wall encouraging the newcomers and sending men to open the Gate of the Column to the main forces of the Crusade, Tancred and his men, who had been close behind the Lorrainers, penetrated deep into the city streets. The Moslems, seeing their defences broken, fled towards the Haram es-Sherif, the Temple area, where the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of al-Aqsa stood, intending to use the latter as their last fortress. But they had no time to put it into a state of defence. As they crowded in and up on the roof, Tancred was upon them. Hastily they surrendered to him, promising a heavy ransom, and took his banner to display it over the mosque. He had already desecrated and pillaged the Dome of the Rock. Meanwhile the inhabitants of the city fled back in confusion towards the southern quarters, where Iftikhar was still holding out against Raymond. Early in the afternoon he realized that all was lost. He withdrew into the Tower of David, which he offered to hand over to Raymond with a great sum of treasure in return for his life and the lives of his bodyguard. Raymond accepted the terms and occupied the Tower. Iftikhar and his men were safely escorted out of the city and permitted to join the Moslem garrison of Ascalon.

Massacres by the Victors

They were the only Moslems in Jerusalem to save their lives. The Crusaders, maddened by so great a victory after such suffering, rushed through the streets and into the houses and mosques killing all that they met, men, women and children alike. All that afternoon and all through the night the massacre continued. Tancred’s banner was no protection to the refugees in the mosque of al-Aqsa. Early next morning a band of Crusaders forced an entry into the mosque and slew everyone. When Raymond of Aguilers later that morning went to visit the Temple area he had to pick his way through corpses and blood that reached up to his knees.

The Jews of Jerusalem fled in a body to their chief synagogue. But they were held to have aided the Moslems; and no mercy was shown to them. The building was set on fire and they were all burnt within.

The massacre at Jerusalem profoundly impressed all the world. No one can say how many victims it involved; but it emptied Jerusalem of its Moslem and Jewish inhabitants. Many even of the Christians were horrified by what had been done; and amongst the Moslems, who had been ready hitherto to accept the Franks as another factor in the tangled politics of the time, there was henceforward a clear determination that the Franks must be driven out. It was this bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism that recreated the fanaticism of Islam. When, later, wiser Latins in the East sought to find some basis on which Christian and Moslem could work together, the memory of the massacre stood always in their way.

When there were no more Moslems left to be slain, the princes of the Crusade went in solemn state through the desolate Christian quarter, deserted since Iftikhar had exiled its inhabitants, to give thanks to God in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Then, on 17 July, they met together to appoint a ruler for the conquered city.

The ruler whom most would have welcomed was dead. The whole army grieved that Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy should not be living to see the triumph of the cause that he had served. It was not to be believed that he had not really seen it. Soldier after soldier testified that there had been a warrior fighting in the forefront of the assault, in whom they had recognized the features of the Bishop. Others too, who would have rejoiced in the victory, did not survive to hear of it. Symeon, Patriarch of Jerusalem, had died a few days earlier in exile in Cyprus. Far away in Italy the founder of the Crusade was lying sick. On 29 July 1099, a fortnight after his soldiers had entered the Holy City, but before any news of it could reach him, Pope Urban II died at Rome.

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