The First Crusade reached Jerusalem and began to besiege it on June 7th, 1099. An estimated 5,000 knights and 30,000 foot soldiers left Europe in the fall of 1096 on vows to journey to the Holy City and take it from the Muslim Seljuk Turks for Christianity. In the three years it had taken them, their numbers had dwindled to a scant 1,500 knights and 12,000 foot soldiers, and the Egyptian Fatimid Muslims had captured Jerusalem from their Turkish rivals. The Fatimid governor Iftikhar ad-Daula had evicted the Christian inhabitants in advance of their arrival, probably to prevent the kind of collusion that occurred at Antioch. He didn’t evict the Jewish residents, who fought on the side of the Shi’a Muslims against the Christian invaders.
Adhemar the deceased bishop and papal legate began to visit the knights in visions; this was a new Battle of Jericho and they must bring down Jerusalem’s might walls by shouting the Lord’s praises with Hosannas to the heavens! For about three days they circled the city barefoot, singing and chanting. Then Peter the Hermit, leader of the People’s Crusade, began a preaching circuit at some of the Holy City’s landmarks featured in the Gospels. He spoke at the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Mount of Olives. Peter’s sermons ignited their passions and on June 13th the Crusaders attempted a direct assault. It failed.
Time was running out. Hunger and thirst had killed far more of their soldiers and animals than battle, and this siege was no exception. The people in the city were better prepared to wait things out than the Crusaders camped outside. The Christians started gathering wood from Samaria to build siege engines and two Genoese supply ships arrived in Jaffa. They constructed two 50-foot high siege towers, a battering ram, and a number of catapults. Scouts brought intelligence reports that hastened the urgency of building: a Fatimid army was coming from Egypt to reinforce Jerusalem. If the Christians didn’t take the city soon, they would be slaughtered.
The night of July 14th, the Crusaders took one tower to the south wall and another to the northwest. Getting a siege engine to a city wall takes time. You can’t build it right outside: you’ll get pelted with defensive weaponry or harried in construction. Siege weapons were usually constructed nearby but not literally on site. The Muslim defenders aimed flaming arrows and pots of oil at the first siege engine as it was rolled forward. It was engulfed in fire and destroyed. Duke Godfrey was in command of the second north western tower. It took two hours for the siege engine to reach the weak point in the walls. Two Flemish brothers were the first Crusaders over the walls, and then a stream of knights followed after. They opened the gates and the massacring began.
Muslims took to the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque for shelter while Jews of the city fled to the synagogue. The Christians were bloodthirsty, by all accounts, including their own. Raymond of Aguilers wrote of the Temple Mount killings, “in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” The anonymous eyewitness author of the Gesta Francorum describes this same scene with the phrase, “the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.” An Arabic account states that all the Jews were burned alive in their synagogue, though Jewish records only record the destruction of the synagogue and suggest some of the Jews were ransomed by a nearby Jewish community in Ascalon.
Godfrey of Bouillon was made Advocatus Sanctus Sepulchri or Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre on July 22nd of the newly minted Kingdom of Jerusalem. He led his troops on August 12th against the Fatimid army reinforcements from Egypt at the Battle of Ascalon. The Crusaders had discovered the location of the True Cross from talking to Christian residents of Jerusalem, and that most holy of relics inspired them on to their final victory. The Crusade was a success. The Holy City had been reclaimed. The original Byzantine focus on dealing with a Turkish foe was of no concern to these zealous knights. They had fulfilled their spiritual obligations and their vows. Nearly all of them returned to Europe.