Were the Franks in the Minority? My Answer

Throughout the 200-year period of Christian rule in Palestine, the Franks did not make up the smallest portion of the population. While they weren’t numerically superior to Muslims, Jews, and eastern Christians the Frankish population was large.

At the turn of the 11th century the Franks were well in the minority, but Godfrey’s appeal for military aid from the west was certainly not ignored. The capture of Jerusalem fuelled crusading zeal in Western Europe. Those who did not take up the cross in 1095 traveled to the Holy Land to defend the new Kingdom: Though the Kingdom of Jerusalem didn’t just need fighting men. Undoubtedly Godfrey and the Kings who succeeded him required people to settle in Palestine as well. Throughout the course of 12th century, pilgrims and warriors settled in Palestine and raised families there. Intermarriage between Franks and the native Christians of the land was not uncommon.

Italian and Genoese merchants saw the crusades as one very lucrative opportunity. They were granted privileges in all the crusaders states. Palestine, renowned for its exotic goods – silks, spices, ivory, perfumes and jewels – brought great wealth to the Italian and Genoese merchants. Many merchants settled in all the major port cities in the Holy Land where they conducted trade with the West and with the rest of the kingdom.

News of Jerusalem’s restoration to Christian rule also encouraged many clerics from Western Europe to settle in the Holy Land. Many clerics wished to be where Jesus and His disciples’ had walked and to worship where Christ had preached. They believed that their presence in the Holy Land would somehow bring them closer to God. Throughout much of the 12th century, rulers of the crusader states sanctioned the establishment of monasteries, convents and Latin churches across the kingdom.

At the Battle of Hattin in 1187, the Christian force was about 15,000 strong; 1,200 of those warriors, mounted knights (Helena Schrader). In order to raise an army that large, the Kingdom of Jerusalem would have had to have a large enough Latin population. No doubt, the native Christians would have fought in the Christian army, thus making it much larger than it would have been if only Franks defended the Kingdom.

The exact number of Franks living in Palestine in the 12th century is unknown, but historians estimate the Frankish population to be about 60,000. However, it’s more likely the native Christians – Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Jacobite and Maronite Christians – bring the total number of Christians living in Palestine to that figure if not larger.

Categories: Fact or Myth | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

True or False: Franks Were in the Minority


The Kingdom of Jerusalem hugged the Palestinian Coastline; it spanned as far north as Antioch (southeastern Turkey) and about 50 miles inland from the sea. Had the crusaders not rushed to Jerusalem and conquered Damascus first, they would have gained a much stronger foothold in the Middle East. That is because, geographically, they would have divided the Muslim world in the east from the Muslim realm in Palestine. Possibly, Christian rule in the Middle East would have lasted longer than 200 years.

Common belief has it that only a few thousand Franks – European Catholics — ruled over the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Throughout the 200-year-span of Christian rule in the Middle East, Franks made up the smallest portion of the population while Muslims remained in the vast majority. There was no time when the Christian army numbered more than 2,000 warriors.

Is this fact true or false?

Categories: Fact or Myth | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Setting up the Kingdom of Jerusalem

After they took the Holy City, the crusaders wept and gave thanks to God for their victory. They couldn’t wait to tell their pope the ‘good news’. But news of Jerusalem’s capture never reached Pope Urban II. He died at the end of July; less than one month after Jerusalem fell to the crusaders. The crusaders’ victory was not complete though. They were faced with the task of setting up a new kingdom, a task not easy to accomplish, especially since they were literally surrounded by their enemies.

Setting up a Christian Kingdom in the Holy Land was no easy feat, but against all odds, the Crusaders persevered and they succeeded. The first task they were faced with following their capture of Jerusalem, was to find a man fit to rule the new kingdom. Even before they captured the Holy City, the princes squabbled over who was most spiritually and physically fit to rule the kingdom. If the Bishop of Le Puy had still been alive, they would have chosen him to be the ruler. He was, after all, their spiritual advisor. When the crusaders had operated under the guidance of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, the Bishop had maintained good relations with the Emperor. Needless to say, he was also a lion in battle. All those traits conformed to what every person considered the ‘ideal king’.

After they captured Jerusalem, the choice of leader became obvious to the entire Christian army: Godfrey of Bouillon had engineered the city’s capture and restored the Holy City to Christian rule once again. He also saved the Christian army from complete destruction. For those reasons, he was hailed a hero by every man, woman and child who had made it to Jerusalem. Godfrey was offered the crown, though he refused to be called king, stating that he ‘could not wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns’. (Stark, God’s Battalions, p. 166) He accepted the title of defender of the Holy Sepulcher instead.

Around that time, most soldiers and pilgrims returned home. They had fulfilled their vows, so they had no reason to stay in the Holy Land. Besides, those who had left family members behind wished to see those family members again. Also, most crusaders didn’t obtain any wealth or land in their journey. That was probably another reason why they chose to leave. The exodus of warriors left Godfrey with only a very small core of battle hardened knights — most of them his vassals. Fortunately for Godfrey, his tiny kingdom wasn’t the only Frankish kingdom in the Middle East. To the north, in South Eastern Anatolia (now eastern Turkey) there lay the principality of Antioch, a minor crusader state that was centered around the city of Antioch.

The principality of Antioch once belonged to the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, but after Bohemond of Taranto engineered the city’s capture in June of 1098, Bohemond refused to hand it over to the Emperor. So, the principality of Antioch remained an independent kingdom until 1119 when King Baldwin II incorporated it into the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Then there was the county of Edessa, located northeast of Antioch. Founded by Baldwin of Bouillon — Godfrey’s brother — in March 1098, Edessa became a fief of Jerusalem soon after Baldwin was crowned king. The county of Edessa was the first crusader state to be established, but it was also the first crusader state to fall to the Muslims. It was captured by Zengi’s forces in 1144, an event that sparked the second Crusade.

The County of Tripoli was the last crusader state to be established. It was founded by Raymond of Toulouse in 1102. He laid siege to the port city, but the Muslims quickly capitulated. After Raymond died in 1105, the county of Tripoli became a vassal state of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

At the turn of the 11th century, the Frankish force that ruled and defended the Kingdom of Jerusalem was quite small. However, the establishment of the crusader states in Antioch, Edessa and eventually Tripoli gave the Christians a strong foothold in the Middle East. It should also be noted that there was no concerted effort on behalf of the Muslims at this time to oust the Christians from their lands. They were either too busy fighting each other, or they genuinely didn’t see the crusaders as any serious threat. The crusaders used Muslim division to their greatest advantage and carved out a kingdom that would last for two hundred years.

Sources Used:

Paine, Michael. The Crusades. Vermont: Pocket Essentials, 2005.

Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades: The First Crusade. Vol.1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951.

Stark, Rodney. God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. New York; London; Toronto; HarperCollins, 2009.


Categories: The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Knights Templar: Myths Shattered!


Recently Crusades and Crusaders has partnered with Real Crusades History (a YouTube series hosted by J Stephen Roberts) to create the Real Crusades History (RCH) Talk Show aka Podcast. Our debut — which aired 12 December 2014 — examined the myths that still surround the Knights Templar today, or I should say we ‘re-examined’ those myths. Were the Knights Templar heretics, sodomites and secret friends of the Muslims? Watch the video and find out!

On a different note, I must admit I’m happy Crusades and Crusaders is back on its original platform. Earlier this year, I signed a contract with Scout.com to continue the narrative of the Crusades on their platform. It was a great opportunity and it might have worked out if I was a writer by profession. I love writing and I’m incredibly passionate about the Crusades. But I need much more than just ‘writing’ to sustain me. That’s the main reason I’m back to where I started with Crusades and Crusaders.

Categories: Fact or Myth | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Siege of Jerusalem in 1099: Savage Massacre or Typical Post-Siege Violence?


After spending two years fighting the Muslims, reconquering land for the Byzantines; faced with starvation, disease and near annihilation, the crusaders finally accomplished what they had set out to do; what their pope had urged them to do. Jerusalem was restored to Christian rule once again. Certainly not on peaceful terms though.

Maddened by victory, the crusaders rushed through the streets, killing everyone in sight. They beheaded men, rapaciously raped and murdered women and children. Historian Steven Runciman wrote that the massacre at Jerusalem ‘emptied Jerusalem of its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants.’ (A History of the Crusades: The First Crusade. Vol.1, p. 287) Thomas Asbridge painted the crusaders in the same dark colour: he referred to them as ‘blood-hungry, ravening packs who overran the Holy City.’ (The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land, p. 101) He further writes that ‘the Frankish massacre was not simply a feral outburst of bottled rage; it was a prolonged callous campaign of killing that lasted at least two days and it left the city awash with blood and littered with corpses.’ (p. 102)

Not surprising, Muslim and Jewish chroniclers of that time harbored the same level of resentment towards the Christians. ‘We received tidings of the great disaster and all-comprising visitation which befell our brothers, the Jews living in the Holy City, may God restore it forever, the holy Torah scrolls, and the captives, suffering multiple vexations inflicted upon them by the enemies of God and haters of His people,’ wrote one Jewish chronicler. The medieval Iraqi poet, Abu al-Abiwardi called for Islamic Jihad against the Christians:

‘I see my people slow to raise the lance against the enemy: I see faith resting on feeble pillars. For fear of death the Muslims are evading the fire of battle, refusing to believe that death will surely strike them.’

In 1105, Damascene religious lawyer and philology teacher, Ali al-Sulami shed light on the Muslims’ current situation and called for Holy War against the Christians. ‘Their (the Franks) hopes expand inasmuch as they see their enemies content to be at peace with them, so that they are convinced that all the lands will become theirs, and all the people prisoners in their hands. May God…humble their thoughts by uniting the community and setting it in order,’ al-Sulami wrote.

Reading these accounts, it’s easy to believe that the siege of Jerusalem in 1099 was barbaric and that the crusaders were blood-thirsty savages. The following is a run-down of what medieval Muslim chroniclers and many modern historians alike maintained happened in Jerusalem after the Christians captured it:

Immediately following the siege, a number of Muslim noncombatants retreated to the southern quarters where Iftikhar was still fighting Count Raymond’s forces. When Iftikhar saw the look of sheer terror on his subjects’ faces, he realized that all was lost. So, he and all those who were with him, retreated to the Tower of David where Iftikhar offered Raymond a large amount of money in exchange for his life, the lives of his bodyguard and for the lives of the other noncombatants who were with him. Raymond accepted his offer and they were escorted safely out of the city. They joined the Muslim garrison at Ascalon.

The Muslims who supposedly weren’t so lucky fled to the temple area of the Haram es-Sherif, the area where the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Aqsa stood. They had tried to use that area as their last fortress for which to launch an offense, but it was too late. Tancred and his men had forced themselves into the temple area. Desperate to save their lives, the Muslims surrendered with the promise to pay Tancred a handsome ransom. They even flew his banner over the mosque. Tancred, desiring nothing but wealth and property, took their word and, in return, promised to spare their lives. However, that promise was broken – albeit against Tancred’s wishes – when a bunch of knights stormed into the mosque and slaughtered the Muslims to a man. ‘In the Temple of Solomon and the portico (crusaders) rode in blood to the knees and bridles of their horses. In my opinion this was poetic justice that the Temple of Solomon should receive the blood of pagans who blasphemed God there for many years. Jerusalem was now littered with bodies and stained with blood,’ Raymond of Aguilers wrote in the early 12th century.

Meanwhile, the Jewish inhabitants fled to their synagogue. The crusaders, devoid of all love and sympathy for the Jews – they accused the Jews of siding with the Muslims – burned the synagogue to the ground killing 400 Jews. That’s how the story went and that same story lives on.

‘Thirteenth-century chronicler, Iraqi Muslim Ibn al-Athir estimated the number of Muslim dead at 70,000.’ (Asbridge, p.102). While historians have since discredited that figure, the image of blood-thirsty, savage Christians endures. No one can dispute the fact that the crusaders were violent: they slaughtered Muslims and Jews, not just in Jerusalem, but throughout their journey. They also plundered and looted extensively: All in God’s Holy name, a sin horrific beyond description. They also hated Jews just as much as they hated Muslims. However, was the massacre in Jerusalem a savage massacre, or was it just another example of typical post-siege violence? ‘The contemporary Arab writer Ibn al-Arabi estimated the number of Muslim dead at Jerusalem at only three thousand,’ historian Michael Haag wrote. (The Templars: The History and The Myth, p. 86) Three thousand is a large number, especially for that time. But that figure is a far cry from the over-exaggerated 70,000. It’s also a far more realistic estimate. Moreover, contemporary historians credit Raymond of Aguilers as a crazed fanatic who was delirious with religious zeal and hate for Muslims. No one takes Raymond’s accounts for truth.

A rule of thumb in siege warfare was this: surrender quickly and your lives shall be spared. Fight, and you will all be massacred. Ancient and Medieval times witnessed numerous prolonged sieges that ended in the demise of the besieged. The capture of Jerusalem in 1099 was no different. Historian and sociologist, Rodney Stark argues; ‘had the Muslims surrendered Jerusalem on 13 June when the towers were ready to be rolled against the walls, they would no doubt have been given terms that would have prevented a massacre.’ (God’s Battalions, p. 157) Stark makes a valid point. Since the crusaders were isolated, surrounded by their enemies, they would have embraced negotiations with Iftikhar had he decided to surrender the Holy City that June. Jerusalem would have been restored to Christian rule without a drop of blood being shed and perhaps the Christians’ praises to God would have been justified. Unfortunately it didn’t happen that way.

The crusaders, though, did not kill most of Jerusalem’s inhabitants as historians like Steven Runciman suggest. Translations from documents written shortly after the Christian conquest of Jerusalem prove that to be true. According to the Gesta Francorum, ‘our men took many prisoners, both men and women in the Temple. They killed whom they chose, and whom they chose, they saved alive.’

A letter written by a Jewish Chronicler in the summer of 1100 suggested that there were many Jews who weren’t slaughtered when the Christians captured Jerusalem. ‘News still reaches us that among those who were redeemed from the Franks and remained in Ascalon, some are in danger of dying of want.’

Many Jews and even Muslims were taken as captives. It’s quite possible that more were taken captive than killed. The crusaders forced them to collect the bodies, remove them from the city and burn them. Most likely, the crusaders also had their captives rebuild what had been destroyed during the siege.

It should also be noted that the east and west walls were left unguarded, so no doubt, several Muslim and Jewish inhabitants managed to escape unnoticed.

Given these facts, why was the siege of Jerusalem in 1099 portrayed as a savage atrocity? Muslim chroniclers writing in the 12th and 13th centuries, hyper exaggerated the Christians’ wrongdoings at Jerusalem to inspire Jihad against them. Long after the Christians were driven from the Middle East, western historians and apologists picked up on the belief that the crusaders were blood-thirsty savages who slaughtered all of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. Why? Because the Muslim accounts were so plausible and persuasive that it was easy to take their accounts for gospel.

Granted, it was a ruthless time in history. Warfare was bloody as it is now. Nothing ever pleasant happened in warfare, but the siege of Jerusalem was no more cruel than any other prolonged siege of that time. The violence that the Christians inflicted on Jerusalem’s inhabitants following their capture of the city was just another example of post-siege violence that was so typical of that time.


After they took the Holy City, the crusaders wept and gave thanks to God for their victory. They couldn’t wait to tell their pope the ‘good news’. But news of Jerusalem’s capture never reached Pope Urban II. He died at the end of July; less than one month after Jerusalem fell to the crusaders. The crusaders’ victory was not complete, though. They were faced with the task of setting up a new kingdom, a task not easy to accomplish, especially since they were literally surrounded by their enemies.

Sources Used:

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. Ecco; New York, 2011.

France, John. “The First Crusade: Impelled by the Love of God” in Crusades: The Illustrated History. Ed. Thomas Madden. London; Duncan Baird Publishers, 2004.

Haag, Michael. The Templars: The History and the Myth. New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; HarperCollins, 2009.

Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades: The First Crusade. Vol.1. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1951.

Stark, Rodney. God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. New York; London; Toronto; HarperCollins, 2009.

Ed. Tyerman, Christopher. Chronicles of the First Crusade. Penguin Classics; London; New York; Penguin Classics, 2012.


Categories: Jerusalem 1099, The First Crusade | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Final Assault on Jerusalem (Part 2)

Godfrey’s first priority was to break through the outer wall that protected Jerusalem’s northern battlements. That was the only way – and only place – where Godfrey could move his large, portable siege tower against the wall. During the three-week program of construction, the Frankish contingent under Godfrey’s command had built a massive, iron-clad battle ram, designed to smash through the outer defenses. Even though this siege machine was built on wheels, it was very heavy; it took the effort of several men and several hours to maneuver it into position. They also had to dodge the arrows and firebombs that were being shot at them from the Muslim defenders.

Eventually, with a lot of faith and a lot of strategy, the Franks succeeded: they had thrust the battle ram into the outer wall with such immense force, it broke down that portion of the wall. The Egyptians, thinking quick on their feet, poured sulfur, pitch and wax on the battle ram, setting it ablaze. The Franks rushed forward to save it, but Godfrey quickly realized that it posed a serious disadvantage: it blocked the one and only path to his siege tower. So, he ordered his men to burn the already charred battle ram.

The Egyptians, aware of what the Franks were doing, poured water onto the charred battle ram in efforts to preserve it and stymie the Franks’ advancement. However, the Franks succeeded once again. How they removed the remains of the battle ram is unknown, but by the end of that blistering July day, they had broken through the outer wall.

The situation at Mount Zion was quite different. Since Governor Iftikhar had predicted the Franks would launch their assault from Mount Zion, he had stationed the majority of his archers in that area of the city. Like Godfrey, Count Raymond had overseen the construction of his own siege tower. But, he made one crucial mistake: he had it built within site of the Egyptian garrison and then chose that same area to launch an assault. So, as the Provençals advanced their siege tower towards the wall, the Egyptians let loose a hail of arrows and firebombs on the siege tower. Their firebombs were a deadly mix of sulfur, pitch, wax and tow. They were also wrapped in rags and studded with nails so that they stuck to wherever they landed. Count Raymond’s force was no match for the Egyptians, so they were forced to retreat. Their retreat was humiliating and dispiriting to the Provençals, but probably even more so to Raymond because his already tarnished reputation and weak credibility as a military leader had been dealt with another blow. Yet, he was not going to give up.

The next morning, the Provençals advanced their siege tower once again, but to no avail. Firebombs and arrows rained down on them, eventually setting their siege tower on fire. With no alternative strategy for assault, the Provençals retreated back to Mount Zion.

However, the two-frontal assault on Jerusalem was a strategic move on behalf of the Franks because it strained the Egyptians’ resources and, consequently left the northern wall undefended, vulnerable to enemy attack. Yet, the Egyptians were able to put up a mighty strong resistance.

Though, as hard as they fought, they could not beat back Godfrey’s forces.

Godfrey and his men managed to haul their large siege tower up against the main wall, but the fighting was fierce. The Egyptians let loose a hail of arrows and firebombs upon Godfrey and his men. They also used a deadly weapon that was similar to Greek fire, if not the same. What made it so deadly was the fact that it could not be extinguished by water.

During this stage of the siege and in this corner of Jerusalem, many men died on both sides. How then, confronted with an equally formidable foe, was Godfrey’s army able to breach the northern battlements near the Damascus Gate while Raymond’s force was beaten back twice? The native Christians, of whom many had joined Godfrey’s forces, knew that vinegar was the only liquid that could put out Greek fire. So, prior to the final assault, Godfrey had filled several wineskins with vinegar and had stacked them inside his portable siege tower; something Count Raymond likely did not do.

If it had not been for that one tidbit of information, there is a good chance the crusaders might have been defeated. But we mustn’t forget that, prior to the First Crusade, the Franks had been embroiled in wars against other Kingdoms in Europe and/or against the Emperor Alexius over control of the Balkans. For that reason, the Franks brought with them skill and expertise in the art of warfare. It was that skill and expertise that saved them from complete destruction and brought them to victory time and again since they set foot in the Middle East. According to Raymond of Aguilers, “a youth shot arrows ablaze with cotton pads against the ramparts of the Saracens which defended against the wooden tower of Godfrey and the two counts. Soon mounting flames drove the defenders from the ramparts.” Raymond’s account proves how even timing is critical to an army’s success. Timing was one strategy the Franks had definitely mastered.

In that moment, as the Muslims escaped from the flames and the smoke, Godfrey hurriedly cut loose one of the wattle screens that protected the tower and turned it into a makeshift bridge. As his men clamored over the bridge onto the ramparts, soldiers, who had remained on the ground, rushed forward with scaling ladders and scurried up the wall and onto the ramparts.

The Egyptians, realizing all was lost, fled. Some of them might have even jumped from the walls to their death. Count Raymond knew that the Christian army had won when he saw the Muslim defenders abandon their post. Determined to have a share in the booty and to claim a palace for himself, Raymond and all of his men hurried into the Holy City to join their fellow crusaders.

Sources Used:

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. New York; Ecco, 2011.

Ed. Tyerman, Christopher. Chronicles of the First Crusade. Penguin Classics; London; New York; Penguin Classics, 2012.







Categories: Jerusalem 1099, The First Crusade | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Final Assault on Jerusalem (Part 1)

The Siege of Jerusalem 1099

The Siege of Jerusalem 1099

In early July, before they had completed the building of their siege engines, the crusaders learnt that Al-Afdal had gathered an army and was marching on Jerusalem. That news intensified their desperation and fear. Once again, as they had time and again since they left their homes in Europe, the crusaders sought out and prayed for some kind of spiritual miracle; one that would guarantee victory and save them from complete destruction. That spiritual miracle came through a man named Peter Desiderius.

Peter claimed that he had been visited by the late Bishop, Adhemar of Le Puy. According to medieval chronicler, Raymond of Aguilers, Adhemar had told Peter the following:

“(Crusaders) from distant lands…free yourselves from the filthy world and each one of you turn your back on sin. Then take off your shoes and in your naked feet walk around Jerusalem and don’t forget to fast. If you follow these orders, at the end of nine days the city will fall after a violent assault; but if not, the Lord will increase all the misfortunes of the past.”

Following Peter’s advice, the crusaders underwent a three-day trial of spiritual purification. Sermons were preached; lords, knights, men-at-arms and pilgrims alike made public confessions and prayed daily, probably even hourly. At the end of the trial, the entire army made a solemn procession around the Jerusalem as instructed. They all walked barefoot and carried palm fronds. “During the noisy march around Jerusalem, the Saracens and Turks walked along the top of their walls poking fun at us and they blasphemed with blows and vulgar acts; crosses placed on yoked gibbets and dragged along the walkways. We, in turn, confident of the nearness of God’s compassion…pressed forward by day and night,” Raymond of Aguilers wrote.

Feeling renewed and confident, the crusaders completed the building of their siege machinery by early-mid July. They were then ready to launch a full-scale assault on the Holy City.

The final assault on Jerusalem began the night of 13-14 July when Godfrey of Bouillon, with the help of several warriors, moved his portable siege tower to the Damascus Gate, more than half a mile away; a task that probably took them all night to complete. This was a smart move on Godfrey’s behalf because, over the previous three weeks, the Egyptians had watched the construction of this enormous siege tower. So, understandably, they strengthened the fortifications of the north wall, stationed a number of mangonels and several archers in that corner of the city, anticipating an assault. Raymond’s writing indicated just how predicable the Egyptians thought the crusaders were. “The Saracens were thunderstruck next morning at the sight of the changed position of our machines.”

Meanwhile, Count Raymond and his Provencal troops remained on Mount Zion, preparing to launch an assault at that end of the city.

Read Part 2

Sources Used:

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. New York; Ecco, 2011.

Ed. Tyerman, Christopher. Chronicles of the First Crusade. Penguin Classics; London; New York; Penguin Classics, 2012.

Categories: Jerusalem 1099, The First Crusade | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Siege of Jerusalem: The Need for Siege Engines

On 12 June, the princes made a pilgrimage to the Mount of Olives with the intention of purifying their souls, but also with hopes that one person or vision would promise them a swift victory. There, they were greeted by an old hermit — possibly one of the native Christian inhabitants who had been forced to leave Jerusalem. He implored them to attack Jerusalem at once. According to Raymond of Aguilers, a chronicler of the First Crusade, the hermit said this:

“The Lord will give you Jerusalem if you will storm it tomorrow until the ninth hour.”

The Christians replied; “We do not have any siege machinery.”

Then the hermit said; “God is so omnipotent that if he wishes, you could scale the wall with one ladder. He is with those who work for the truth.”

On the hermit’s advice, the crusaders attacked the north wall the next morning with much fervor. But since they had few scaling ladders and since they had set their ladders too far apart from each other, the crusaders were beaten back. Disappointed and disheartened, they retreated. The princes realized in that moment that faith alone wasn’t going to ensure them victory. So, on 15 June, the princes held a council meeting. In that meeting they agreed to hold off on another assault until the army was better supplied with scaling ladders, siege towers and mangonels.

They made their decision at the right time because, two days later, six ships from Europe made entrance into the harbor at Jaffa*. Two of those ships were Genoese, commanded by the Embriaco brothers. The other four ships were possibly from England. All ships carried soldiers, craftsmen and plenty of supplies needed to build siege towers, scaling ladders and mangonels.

When the crusaders learnt of this maritime relief force, they sent a small force under the command of Raymond Pilet to greet them.

Al-Afdal must have found out about the western relief force because, no sooner had the six ships entered the port, an Egyptian fleet appeared at Jaffa and blockaded the port. However, the crew, craftsmen and soldiers hastily abandoned their ships and marched to Jerusalem with Raymond Pilet and his force, carrying all the supplies they had brought with them.

The crusaders now had all the supplies they needed, but they didn’t have the wood needed to build the siege machinery. Thanks to native Christian intelligence, they didn’t have to wander aimlessly through the Judean countryside, searching for trees. The native Christians knew exactly where all the woodlands were and so, they led the crusaders to those areas.

The crusaders spent the next three weeks working furiously, chopping down trees, hauling them back to camp and then building the siege machinery. Elderly men, women and children even shared in the work: they sewed ox-hide and camel hide and nailed it to the ‘exposed parts of the woodwork as protection against the Greek fire used by the Saracens.’ (Runciman, 285)

Godfrey of Bouillon oversaw the construction of an immense siege tower. It was built beside the north wall, directly across from the Quadrangular Tower. Strategically, the design of this siege tower was brilliant: it could be dismantled into small, compartments that could be moved on wheels and erected quickly.

Meanwhile, on the south end of Jerusalem, at Mount Zion, Count Raymond had his men fill in the ditch with stones and oversaw the construction of his own siege tower, mangonels and scaling ladders.

The crusaders tried to build their siege engines out of the Egyptians’ site, but they could not escape Iftikhar’s watchful eye. As they built their siege engines, Iftikhar saw to it that the city’s fortifications were strengthened and oversaw the construction of his own mangonels. He looked upon the crusaders’ vigor and preparation with some trepidation. Yet, he wasn’t going to let them take his city. He was prepared to fight them to the bitter end. At the same time, Iftikhar wished his overlord, Al-Afdal would arrive soon with his relief army.

Make no mistake; the three-week period of construction on both sides did not pass without violence. Muslim warriors hung wooden crosses on the walls, spat and urinated on them in plain view of the crusaders.

Horrified and infuriated, the crusaders took their revenge in the most brutal manner. As they had done before, they decapitated all Egyptian spies they caught in their camp and catapulted their heads over the city’s walls. However, on one occasion, they stuck an Egyptian captive in a catapult alive and attempted to fling him over the city wall. But since the catapult was weighed to heavily by his body, he wasn’t flung far. “He soon fell onto the sharp stones near the walls, broke his neck, his nerves and bones, and is reported to have died instantly,” wrote one chronicler.” (quoted in Asbridge, 96)

*Jaffa is the nearest Mediterranean port to Jerusalem.

Sources Used:

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. New York; Ecco, 2011.

Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades: The First Crusade. Vol.1. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1951.

Ed. Tyerman, Christopher. Chronicles of the First Crusade. Penguin Classics; London; New York; Penguin Classics, 2012.

Categories: Jerusalem 1099, The First Crusade | Leave a comment

Godfrey of Bouillon: Leader of the Crusade

The odds of victory were stacked heavily against the Franks. Not only were they isolated, their army wasn’t big enough to encircle the entirety of Jerusalem. Granted, Jerusalem’s geographical setting didn’t allow for a full encirclement. The army was about 15,000 strong, but only 1,300 were knights. The Franks also lacked the resources necessary to mount an offensive. Not to mention, they faced a fierce, well-equipped and large Egyptian garrison.

In order to mount any kind of offensive, the Franks had to divide their army in half. It’s very possible that Jerusalem’s native Christians acted as guides to the Franks because only they knew the places where Jerusalem was most vulnerable to attack. So, based on their advice, Godfrey of Bouillon positioned the majority of the troops at the north wall, between the Quadrangular Tower and the Damascus Gate: Raymond of Toulouse positioned a small contingent of warriors — his own Southern French vassals — on Mount Zion near the Zion Gate.

It was at that time that Godfrey emerged as the leader of the Crusade because he displayed the greatest military prowess and prudence out of all the princes. It was those traits that compelled the majority of the army to recognize him as their true leader. Unlike Count Raymond, Godfrey never used any tool to win the people’s support, and he never bribed the other princes into recognizing him as their leader.

Since the Holy Lance scandal, Count Raymond lost a significant amount of support, if not all of it. The other princes abandoned him and joined forces with Godfrey. Even Raymond’s own Southern French vassals lost much respect for him. However, Raymond was their lord. He had, most likely, funded their participation in the Crusade. So, if they abandoned him, they risked losing all financial support and any lands they owned. For those reasons, they didn’t join forces with Godfrey.


The siege began once the army settled in their positions. That was on June 7th, the day they arrived. Thomas Asbridge suggested that the crusaders possessed only one scaling ladder. But there was absolutely no way they would have been able to besiege the city with only one ladder. The Egyptian garrison would have effortlessly crushed their efforts and the First Crusade would have come to an abrupt end. The Franks must have had with them at least a few mangonels because they were somehow able to put up a strong resistance against the Egyptian garrison. Regardless, that did not improve their situation. A few mangonels and one, or two, scaling ladders were not going to ensure victory. The only things that were going to save the Franks were their faith and their native Christian allies.

Meanwhile, Iftikhar kept watch on the road to the west, the one that led up to the Jaffa Gate. He was confident in the city’s battlements, the food provisions it offered, and in his garrison. But he hoped Al-Afdal would arrive soon with a relief force because Iftikhar did not know how long he was able to hold out against the Franks.

As the days went by, the crusaders began to face serious problems. Their food and water supplies grew short. There was no freshwater nearby because all of the wells had been poisoned. The only source of fresh water nearby was in the pool of Siloam. But that was located directly below the south wall. The Franks did not venture near there because of the Muslim archers who guarded that wall. Thanks to native Christian intelligence, the Franks learnt of streams that ran through the Judean landscape further away from the city. That source of water was the Franks’ only saving grace.

“During the siege, we suffered so badly from thirst that we sewed up the skins of oxen and buffaloes, and we used to carry water in them for the distance of six miles,” wrote Fulcher of Chartres.

The Franks were greatly relieved to know there was water somewhere, but they could not escape Iftikhar’s watchful eye. When Iftikhar learnt what they were up to, he sent a small force after them. “The Saracens used to lie in wait for our men by every spring and pool where they killed them and cut them to pieces,” Fulcher wrote. No doubt, several, if not hundreds, of pilgrims and soldiers died at the hands of the Muslims while fulfilling their most basic need: drinking water. The crusaders at that point knew their expedition was on the brink of destruction. If they didn’t take Jerusalem soon, they would all be annihilated.

Sources Used:

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. New York; Ecco, 2011.

Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades: The First Crusade. Vol.1. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1951.

Ed. Tyerman, Christopher. Chronicles of the First Crusade. Penguin Classics; London; New York; Penguin Classics, 2012.

Categories: Jerusalem 1099, The First Crusade | 1 Comment

Crusades and Crusaders: One Year!

The 28th of October will mark one year since I launched this blog, Crusades and Crusaders. My passion for History — medieval history and the Crusades in particular — compelled me to start this blog. One year later, that passion still burns strong.

I initially started Crusades and Crusaders with the intention of being neutral and with the goal to present events as accurate as I’m able to while avoiding the political correctness and bias that is so common in literature that examines this era in history (that includes translated documents from sources written by medieval chroniclers). That was the biggest challenge I faced when starting this blog, especially since I jumped from writing fiction to nonfiction  and since I knew very little about the Crusades. I needed to find my writing voice and also to find a method of learning without relying heavily on my resources.

While I feel much more confident on the writing front, I am still faced with challenges: the biggest challenge I am constantly having to confront is a lack of resources. I’m confident in the resources I do have, but I always feel like I do not have enough; like I need more. Not just any book or article on this topic, but good resources. Hence my desire to receive a Kobo for Christmas.

The question is; what makes a book good? What makes it a valuable addition to Crusades and Crusaders? Good writing is a necessity. I would far rather pick up a book that is well-written and engaging than one that is poorly written or where the writing is dry. However, most, if not all medieval scholars are slanted either in favor of the Muslims or of the Christians. Regardless, I enjoy reading material taken from all points of view even though I have yet to find and/or purchase resources written from the Muslim point of view.

Any Medieval historian will know that the surviving works written by chroniclers in the 12th and 13th centuries are heavily biased in favour of the Christian cause. I’m still slogging my way through the First Crusade, so all I know thus far is that the works that chronicle the First Crusade were written in the second decade of the 12th century, nearly twenty years after Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders. These clerics relied solely on memory. They were also moved by religious fervor and by a shared hatred for Muslims. Also, the Crusades happened so long ago that much of the truth of what really happened was lost or distorted in the passage of time. Yet, these medieval manuscripts continue to provide historians with the best information on the Crusades. They are our only window that looks into the past to that time in history. Without them, a history that is so bloody, yet vibrant and exciting would disappear into the abyss forever.

That said, I have never taken any sources, be it primary or secondary, for gospel and I never base my knowledge entirely on one or a few scholars’ works. This has not been an easy feat for me, but over the months, I have learned how to read between the lines. A good part of that involved me imagining what it was really like to live back then, and what it was like to be a crusader or a Muslim warrior. The series of fictional vignettes I wrote while writing about The People’s Crusade helped me to better analyze the content and to come up with my own opinions unique from that of other historians.

Aside from these challenges, a lot has changed in my life within the past year. I have decided to change my career completely. I am currently enrolled in a TESOL Diploma program with the goal to become an ESL teacher. For that reason, I have not been the most vigilant in keeping this blog updated as often as I’d like. Yet, before I enrolled in this program, I decided that Crusades and Crusaders was the only thing writing related I wanted to continue doing. Although, I have decided to keep the door to other writing-related opportunities (magazine and non-fiction related) open. So, even though I’m currently struggling to make ends meet with this blog, I’m determined to keep it active. Besides, I am not the kind of person who gives up on things, especially when I enjoy doing them.

Regarding research and writing, I have done the best with what little I have and I will forge ahead with the intention uphold my standards for this blog.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment