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.
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.