Crusades and Crusaders has Moved Again!

As of June 16th, 2014, Crusades and Crusaders has moved again hence the reason I haven’t updated this blog in months.  I should have posted this update much sooner than now, but it has been an incredibly busy summer.

To all my subscribers and readers, you will now find Crusades and Crusaders at

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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.


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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.







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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jerusalem: Most Heavily Fortified City in The Medieval World

Jerusalem at the time of the First Crusade.

Jerusalem at the time of the First Crusade.


The Christians believed that Jerusalem was the holiest city on Earth, just as did their Muslim and Jewish counterparts. It was the city where Christ had laid down his life for the sins of humankind; rose from the dead three days later and ascended into heaven. The Holy Sepulcher, which encloses the sites of Golgotha and of Jesus’ tomb, was built in the fourth century by the Roman Emperor Constantine to commemorate the sacrifice Jesus paid for humankind: A significant event well worth the treacherous 2,000 journey. Many Franks believed that the capture of Jerusalem would make the earthly Jerusalem one with the heavenly Jerusalem. That popular belief led to the creation of prophecies centered around the end times. No doubt, priests preached of Christ’s return once Jerusalem was restored to Christian rule.

Even amidst the religious fervor, the Franks could not ignore the fact that they were completely isolated, far away from any help. They had rushed down the Palestinian coast without establishing any military bases. They knew that, in a matter of time, Al-Afdal would arrive with an army, relieve the garrison at Jerusalem and annihilate their Holy expedition. So, the Franks were determined to capture the Holy city before it was too late.

They were, however, confronted with a challenge greater than what they encountered at Antioch. Jerusalem was one of the most — if not the most — heavily fortified cities in the medieval world. The walls enclosing the city were about sixty feet tall and ten feet thick. The Tower of David and the Quadrangular Tower were located adjacent to each other on the western wall. Both towers overlooked the road that ran up the hillside to the Jaffa Gate. Since Jerusalem was built, both towers had made it possible for every watchman to see an enemy army advance miles ahead.

The city’s geographical setting made its defenses all the more formidable. The south-east wall was protected by the Vale of Gehenna; the eastern wall stood atop of the ravine of the Kedron, and a third valley skirted the western wall. The only areas that were open to an attack were the south-western and northern walls. That was because the land in those areas was flat.

Jerusalem was also well garrisoned. The Egyptian governor, Iftikhar ad-Dawla commanded a large, highly-trained garrison of Arab and Sudanese soldiers. He didn’t have to worry about lack of water or food because the cisterns running through the city provided the city’s inhabitants with an ample amount of clean water. And the herds of sheep and other pack animals in the surrounding countryside provided plenty of food for Jerusalem’s inhabitants.

When Iftikhar learnt that the Franks were marching on Jerusalem, he had the wells outside of the city walls poisoned, trees chopped down, and the flocks of herds driven to confined areas where they would be safe. Next, Iftikhar banished all the Christians — Orthodox and Syrian — from the city. The Jews, though, were permitted to stay.

Runciman believed that the banishment of the Christian population was a wise move. Although they numbered in the thousands, the Christians were useless as warriors. But that was because, under Muslim law, they were forbidden to carry arms. Moreover, Runciman argued, Iftikhar wanted to prevent disloyalty within the city. Fewer people also meant fewer mouths to feed.

Runciman is right about Iftikhar’s motives, but he is wrong to suggest that Iftikhar’s decision to expel the Christians was a wise move. In his haste to repel the Frankish onslaught, Iftikhar failed to realize that his Christian subjects possessed important knowledge of military tactics and location of supplies. He also didn’t take into consideration that betrayal to the enemy is much worse than betrayal within strongly fortified walls. That one mistake would ultimately lead to his downfall and pave the way to victory for the Franks.

Sources Used:

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

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.


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The March to Jerusalem

The crusaders resumed their march to Jerusalem in April 1099, fifteen months since they had reached the walls of Antioch. In that time, important changes had occurred in the Muslim world.

The Fatimids of Egypt had two things in common with the Byzantines: they despised the Turks and they planned to use the Latins to their advantage in their effort to recover lands lost to the  Turks. Shah-an-Shah Al-Afdal, the ruler of Egypt at that time, was delighted to hear that Kerbogha had been defeated and the Turkish coalition, crushed. He had the Latins to thank for that, yet Al-Afdal could not ignore the fact that they were his new enemies. At Antioch, his embassy was unable to negotiate any kind of truce because, as Al-Afdal found out soon after his embassy returned to Cairo, the Latins were intending to march on Jerusalem.

Determined to capture the holy city, Al-Afdal assembled an army and invaded Palestine, seizing Jerusalem in August 1098. He allowed the Turkish garrison there to retire unharmed to Damascus.

By the fall of that year, the Egyptians occupied all of Palestine as far north as the Dog River which bordered Beruit. In that time, the Egyptions repaired Jerusalem’s fortifications — the walls had been severely battered during the siege, which had lasted for forty days — and garrisoned the city.

When the crusader princes learnt that Jerusalem had fallen to the Egyptians, they sent an embassy to Cairo to seek terms of settlement with Al-Afdal. They asked the Egyptian ruler to hand over Jerusalem to them, promising that, in return, they would cede partitions of conquered territory to the Egyptians. Al-Afdal refused their offer on grounds that Jerusalem was his. More importantly to him, Jerusalem was the cornerstone of Islam: it was the place where Mohammed had ascended into heaven. Al-Afdal did, however, offer the crusaders free access to the city and to all of their holy places with the promise that no Christian pilgrim would be harmed in the city or while travelling to and from Palestine. The princes turned down this offer, a move that ended their amicable relationship with the Fatimids and alienated them from all support.

Sometime after the Latin embassy left Cairo, Al-Afdal sent a letter to the Emperor Alexius — whom he was on good terms with — inquiring if the crusaders were acting in his service. Alexius wrote back, assuring Al-Afdal that the crusaders were no longer in his service, thus relieving himself of his responsibility for them. Bohemond’s actions at Antioch had taught Alexius that the Latins were not to be trusted, so he no longer felt compelled to help them.

The crusaders were now on their own, confronted with a new, formidable enemy: the Fatimids. So, how did they make it to Jerusalem without being annihilated?

The fractured Muslim world explains why the First Crusade was not crushed. The Arab Dynasties in northern Syria were equally glad to see the Turkish coalition collapse. They too were prepared to use the Crusade to their advantage. They were also terrified of the Latins. For those reasons, Muslim authorities entered negotiations with the crusaders. They provided the crusaders with guides; opened their markets and allowed the crusaders to take food from their orchards on condition they pass through their lands peacefully. The crusaders, for the most part, kept their promise.

Around that time — in February 1099 — the crusaders seized Tortosa, a town located on the coast. This victory greatly strengthened the Crusade because it opened up communications with Europe via Antioch and Cyprus. Pilgrims and warriors alike were heartened by this victory. To them, it proved that Christ was on their side, fighting with them. Yet, they were well aware of the fact that, at any time, Al-Afdal would arrive with an army and oust them from the Holy Land. For that reason and because they were anxious to fulfill their vows, the crusaders hurried through Arab territories. They travelled down to Arsuf, then turned inland and marched on Ramleh, a town inhabited entirely by Muslims. Ramleh didn’t have a large or even strong garrison, and it wasn’t heavily fortified. So, when the people saw the crusaders advancing on them, they all fled the town. Their going ensured a swift, bloodless victory for the crusaders.

The crusaders garrisoned the town and appointed Robert of Rouen — a Norman priest — as governor. Meanwhile, the princes debated their next course of action. Some men argued that the army should first attack Egypt, their real enemy, and crush the threat Al-Afdal posed to their holy mission. Their proposal, though, was roundly rejected, so the army resumed their march to Jerusalem on 7 June.

They marched along an ancient road that ran through the Judaean hills. As they traveled through the village of Emmaus, the princes were greeted by envoys from Bethlehem — the birthplace of Jesus Christ and the only village in Palestine that was entirely Christian. These men begged the princes to deliver them from Muslim rule. In response to their pleas, Tancred and Baldwin of Le Bourg set out for Bethlehem accompanied by a small contingent of knights.

While Tancred, Baldwin and their men restored Bethlehem to Christian rule, the rest of the army marched on until they saw Jerusalem’s great walls and towers in the distance. “All the people burst into floods of happy tears, because they were so close to the holy place of that longed-for city, for which they had suffered so many hardships, so many dangers, so many kinds of death and famine,” wrote Albert of Aechen.

Sources Used:

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

Hindley, Geoffrey. A Brief History of The Crusades. Constable & Robinson, Ltd; London, 2003.

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

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Map of Palestine During The Time of The Crusades

This is a map of Palestine in the year 1100, shortly after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem.

This is a map of Palestine during the years of the Crusades; what it became after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in July 1099.

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