Siege of Jerusalem (1099)

gigatos | November 25, 2021


The siege of Jerusalem, which lasted from June 7 to July 15, 1099, was the culminating and decisive moment of the First Crusade. Under the guide of Godfrey of Buglione and Raymond IV of Toulouse, the crusaders succeeded, after a brief siege, to conquer the city and to take possession of the sacred places of the Christian religion.

After fierce fighting inside the city against the Egyptian garrison, the Crusaders occupied and devastated the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem and brutally crushed all resistance, summarily slaughtering Muslim and Jewish fighters and civilians, including old men, women and children.

The conquest of Jerusalem completed the First Crusade with an extraordinary success and allowed the establishment of the Latin Christian states in the Near East.


The advance of John I, Emperor of Byzantium (969-976), into those Muslim territories defined as the Holy Land, seemed for a moment to give Europe the hope that they could return to the bosom of Christianity; an illusion that lasted only a moment.

Revolts in Lebanon did not allow John I to conquer Jerusalem and with the passing of time the Muslims, pushed by the Turks, the new driving force of Islam, took revenge. The emperor Roman IV Diogenes was defeated by the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan (the strong lion) in Manzicerta.

After a period of turbulent events, Alexis I, a member of the Comnenian dynasty, took power in Byzantium and decided to side with the Pope and the West. Putting aside the religious disagreements between the Eastern and Western churches, he tried to urge Pope Urban II to call as many Christians as possible to liberate Jerusalem. It was always unclear what kind of help the Byzantine emperor really intended: in all likelihood immense and uncontrollable armies crossing his territory were the last thing the Comnenus wanted. This was at the basis of the ever fluctuating and conflicting relationships between the crusaders and the Christians of the East, from now until the end of the epic of the Crusades.

In November 1095, at the Council of Clermont, accepting the requests of the Comnenus, the pope launched an appeal for a crusade. The first to welcome him were a mass of common people led by Peter the Hermit and some shabby knight, as Gualtieri Senza Averi. During the journey, they started to massacre the Jews in Eastern Europe, giving birth to the first pogrom in history. Uncontrolled as they were and without real military experience, they were immediately exterminated by the Turks in Anatolia.

The First Crusade

The only crusade that conquered Jerusalem was one in which no sovereigns participated. Philip I of France was excommunicated, William II of England, one of the Conqueror”s sons, disagreed with the pope, and so the crusade was led by nobles hoping to take new territories with arms, to gain fame or sincerely convinced to serve God.

Godfrey of Bouillon Duke of Haute-Lorraine, Raymond of Saint-Gilles Count of Toulouse, the Normans Bohemond and Tancred of Taranto, Robert of Normandy, another son of the Conqueror, who to finance his enterprise sold his possessions to his brother King of England, are the best known.

The first problems that were created were with the Byzantine emperor Alexis, who wanted an oath of fidelity from the crusader barons; they were convinced that their help to Christians in need of support, but still schismatic, was in itself sufficient to obtain all possible support and a good dose of gratitude; Alexis I, however, understanding that many turbulent Westerners could be, for his empire, more dangerous than Muslims, demanded that they fight for him and not independently. On the other hand, Byzantine help was absolutely necessary in the early stages of the advance and an agreement was reached, through an oath to the West, not fully understood by the Greeks and very little binding, according to the Crusaders. But the agreement was safe for the moment, with the promise that of the conquered lands, those belonging to the Byzantines would be returned to them, while any other subjugated territory would go to the Western nobles.

Arrived in Anatolia, Crusaders and Byzantines defeated, in the spring of 1097, the Turkish sultan Qilij Arslan I, took Nicea and headed towards Syria. Defeated again the Turk to Dorileo, the crusaders in 1098, they headed towards Antiochia. They had to proceed to a difficult siege, with the continuous threat of the arrival of Turkish armies of reinforcement. The many internal disagreements did not allow the Muslims to bring aid to the city favoring, now as later, the Christian aims. The still prestigious city fell into the hands of the invaders after a difficult siege, infrettato according to tradition, from many duels to singolar tenzone and miraculous events.

Bohemond, after various disagreements, obtained the principality of Antioch, allowing part of his troops, under the command of his nephew Tancred, to continue the advance towards Jerusalem, since he, paid by the result obtained, even if formally remained vassal of Alexius Comnenus, refused to continue.

The one who was really unhappy was Raymond of Saint-Gilles, who had always wanted to be the leader of the expedition, since he was the only one who, by leaving, renounced something, the kingdom of Toulouse; in fact the others had little to lose by leaving, but only to gain, and it is enough to see Bohemond, who had already acquired Antioch. To Toulouse, however, touched only Tripoli, a city on the coast conquered during the advance towards Jerusalem.

After the conquest of Antioch in June 1098, the crusaders remained in the area for the rest of the year.The papal legate Ademaro of Monteil had died, and Bohemond of Tarentum had claimed Antioch for himself.Baldwin of Boulogne remained in Edessa, captured in early 1098. There was no agreement among the princes as to what was to be done; Raymond of Toulouse, frustrated, left Antioch to undertake the siege of Ma”arrat al-Nu”man.Toward the end of the year the lesser knights and infantry threatened to leave for Jerusalem without them.

The siege of Arqa

In late December or early January, Robert of Normandy and Bohemond”s nephew Tancred agreed to become vassals of Ramon, who was wealthy enough to reward them for their service.Goffredo of Bouillon, on the other hand, who had rents from his brother”s territory in Edessa, refused to do the same. On January 5, Ramon dismantled the walls of Ma”arra, and on January 13 he began a march south, barefoot and dressed as a pilgrim, followed by Robert and Tancred.Proceeding along the Mediterranean coast they met little resistance from the local Muslim rulers, who preferred to make peace and provide provisions rather than fight.Perhaps the local Sunnis preferred crusader control to the rule of the Fatimid Shiites.

In the meantime, Gottfried, together with Robert of Flanders, who had refused to become a vassal of Raymond, reunited with the crusaders who had remained in Latakia and headed south in February. Bohemond left with them but soon returned to Antioch.At this time Tancred left Ramon”s service and joined with Goffredo, it is not known what the cause of the quarrel was.A separate contingent of forces, though linked to that of Goffredo, was led by Gaston IV of Béarn.

Goffredo, Roberto, Tancredi, and Gastone arrived in Arqa in March, but the siege continued.The situation was tense not only among the military commanders, but also among the clergy who, since the death of Ademaro had been without a true leader, and furthermore after Peter Bartholomew had found the Sacred Spear in Antioch, there were accusations of fraud among the different factions of the clergy. Finally in April Arnulf of Chocques challenged Peter to an ordeal by fire.Peter submitted to the ordeal and died of burns, this discredited the Sacred Spear, which was considered false and Ramon”s residual authority over the Crusaders.

Arrival at the Holy City

The siege of Arqa ended on May 13 when the crusaders left without having achieved anything.The Fatimids attempted to conclude peace, on the condition that the crusaders would not continue to Jerusalem, but of course they were ignored; Iftikhar al-Dawla, the Fatimid governor of Jerusalem, apparently did not understand why the crusaders had come. On the 13th they went to Tripoli where they received money and horses from the city”s governor who, according to the anonymous chronicle Gesta Francorum, also vowed to convert to Christianity if the Crusaders succeeded in removing Jerusalem from its Fatimid enemies. Continuing south along the coast, the crusaders passed Beirut on May 19, Tyre on May 23, and turning inland at Jaffa, on June 3 they reached Ramla, which had already been abandoned by its inhabitants. Here the diocese of Ramlah-Lidda was established in the church of St. George (a popular hero among the crusaders) before they continued on to Jerusalem.On June 6, Godfrey sent Tancred and Gaston to conquer Bethlehem, where Tancred raised his banner over the Basilica of the Nativity.

On June 7, the Crusaders reached Jerusalem. Many screamed when they saw the city they had traveled so far to reach.

As in Antioch the city was placed under siege, probably the Crusaders themselves suffered more than the citizens of Jerusalem, due to the shortage of food and water around Jerusalem.The city was well prepared for the siege, and the Fatimid governor Iftikhar al-Dawla had expelled most of the Christians.

Of the estimated 7,000 knights who had taken part in the Princes” Crusade, only about 1,500 remained, along with perhaps 20,000 infantrymen, of whom 12,000 were still in good health.Goffredo, Robert of Flanders, and Robert of Normandy (who had also left Ramon to join Goffredo) besieged the walls from north to south as far as David”s Tower, while Ramon camped on the western side, from David”s Tower to Mount Zion. A direct assault on the walls on June 13 was a failure. With no water or food, both men and animals were rapidly dying of thirst and hunger, the Crusaders realized that time was not on their side.

Finally, on June 17, Genoese reinforcements arrived at Jaffa by sea, bringing sufficient supplies for a short period and siege machines, built under the supervision of Guglielmo Embriaco; with the Genoese, the Christian forces reached 15,000 men, the Muslims inside the city perhaps 7,000.

The Crusaders also began to collect wood from Samaria for the purpose of building siege machines.

They were still short of food and water, and by the end of June news came that a Fatimid army was heading north from Egypt.

The barefoot procession

Facing a seemingly impossible task, their spirits were lifted when a priest named Peter Desiderius claimed to have received a divine vision in which the ghost of Ademaro instructed them to fast for three days and then march barefoot in procession around the city walls, after which, the city would fall in nine days, following the biblical example of Joshua at the siege of Jericho. Although they were already dying of hardship, they fasted, and on July 8 they made the procession, with priests blowing trumpets and singing psalms, taunted by the defenders of Jerusalem all the while.The procession stopped at the Mount of Olives, and Peter the Hermit, Arnulf of Chocques, and Raymond of Aguilers delivered sermons.

The final assault

During the siege several assaults were made on the walls, all of which were repulsed, but the Genoese troops, commanded by Guglielmo Embriaco, dismantled the ships with which they had arrived in the Holy Land; Embriaco, using the wood from the ships, built some siege towers, which were pushed towards the walls on the night of July 14th to the surprise and concern of the defenders.

Ramon would attack from the gate near Mount Zion and Goffredo and William of Normandy from the north.

The assault succeeded rather easily; on the morning of July 15, Goffredo”s tower reached the section of wall near the northeast corner gate, and according to the Gesta, two Flemish knights from Tournai, Lethalde and Engelbert, were the first to break into the city, followed by Goffredo, his brother Eustachio, Tancredi, and their men.

Ramon”s tower was initially stopped by a ditch, but since the other Crusaders were now inside the city, the Muslims guarding the gate surrendered to Ramon.

After the crusaders had crossed the outer walls and entered the city, they went on a massacre, almost all the inhabitants of Jerusalem being killed in the course of that afternoon, evening and next morning.

Many Muslims sought shelter in the al-Aqsa Mosque where, according to a famous account in the Gesta Francorum, “…the carnage was so great that our men walked in blood up to their ankles… “According to Raymond of Aguilers, “the men rode in blood up to their knees and reins.” Fulcherius of Chartres, who was not an eyewitness to the siege as he was with the future King Baldwin I in Edessa, tells of 10,000 deaths in the area of the Temple Mount alone.

Ibn al-Qalanisi”s chronicle states that the Jewish defenders, who had fought side by side with Muslim soldiers in the defense of the city, retreated as soon as the Crusaders opened a breach in the outer walls, seeking refuge in their synagogue, but the “Franks burned it above their heads,” killing all those inside.The Crusaders surrounded the burning building chanting “Christ, we adore You!” Documentation from the Cairo Geniza indicates that some of the captured Jews were able to take refuge in Ascalon against ransom paid by the local Jewish community.

Tancred claimed for himself the Temple quarter where he offered protection to some of the Muslims, but he could not prevent their deaths at the hands of his crusader followers.

The toll varies according to sources: for Christians, 10,000 dead, for Muslims, 70,000.

The Fatimid governor Iftikhar al-Dawla retreated to the Tower of David, which he soon handed over to Ramon in exchange for a safe-conduct for himself and his guards in Ascalon.

The Gesta Francorum relates that some managed to escape the siege unharmed. Its anonymous author, an eyewitness, writes, “When the pagans were overpowered, our men took a great number of prisoners, men, women, and even children, whom they killed or held in captivity, according to their wishes.” they also ordered all the dead Saracens to be thrown out because of the terrible stench, for the whole city was full of their bodies; and so the surviving Saracens dragged the dead before the gates and arranged them in piles, which looked like houses. No one had ever seen or heard of such a massacre of pagans, pyramid-like funeral pyres were erected, and only God knows their number. But Ramon saw to it that the Emir and those who were with him were brought safely to Ascalon.”

Although the Crusaders killed most of the Jewish and Muslim residents, eyewitness accounts (Gesta Francorum, Raymond of Aguilers, Cairo Geniza documents) indicate that a portion of them were spared their lives, provided they left Jerusalem.

These accounts, moreover, exclude the hypothesis of killings perpetrated by the crusaders against Eastern Christians. Similarly, later Eastern Christian sources on the First Crusade, such as Matthew of Edessa, Anna Comnena or Michael the Syrian, make no mention of it. According to an anonymous Syrian chronicle, all Christians had been expelled from the city before the arrival of the crusaders, probably to avoid possible collusion with the besiegers.

The Gesta Francorum narrate that on August 9, three and a half weeks after the siege, Peter the Hermit invited all the Greek and Latin clergy to undertake a procession to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, proving that some of the Eastern clergy remained in or near Jerusalem during the siege. In November 1100, when Fulcherius of Chartres personally accompanied Baldwin I on a visit to the city, both were greeted by Latin and Greek clergy and faithful, indicating an Eastern Christian presence in the city a year after the siege.

After the massacre, on July 22, Godfrey of Bouillon was appointed Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Defender of the Holy Sepulchre), he refused the title of king of the city where Christ had died, asserting that “never would he have worn a golden crown where Christ had worn it of thorns”. At his death in 1100, his brother Baldwin became king, with the name Baldwin I.

Raymond had refused any title, and Godfrey persuaded him to renounce even the Tower of David.Raymond then went on pilgrimage, and in his absence Arnulf of Chocques, who had been opposed by Raymond who supported Peter Bartholomew instead, was elected first Latin Patriarch on August 1 (the claims of the Greek Patriarch were ignored).On August 5, Arnulf after consulting the surviving inhabitants of the city, found the relic of the True Cross.

On August 12, Godfrey led an army, with the True Cross carried in the vanguard, against the Fatimid army at the Battle of Ascalon.It was another success for the Crusaders, but after the victory, most of them considered their vow fulfilled, and all but a few hundred returned home.Nevertheless, their victory paved the way for the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The new conquests, defined as “Outremer”, created the conditions for encounter, when there was no war, between Christians and Muslims, who learned to live together, albeit with mutual difficulties and mistrust.

Jerusalem remained Christian until 1187, when it was reconquered by the Kurdish sultan Saladin, of the Ayyubid dynasty; in 1291 the Turkish Mamluk sultan of Egypt al-Ashraf Khalil, conquered Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the East.

The siege soon became legendary and in the 12th century became the subject of the Chanson de Jérusalem, one of the major chanson de geste of the Crusade Cycle.


  1. Assedio di Gerusalemme (1099)
  2. Siege of Jerusalem (1099)
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