The Capture of Jerusalem

| February 3, 2014

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The capture of Jerusalem France, John . History Today 47. 4 (Apr 1997): 37-42. Abstract (summary) The capture of Jerusalem by the forces of the First Crusade, despite the incredible odds against such a feat, is recounted. The Christian army laid siege to the Holy City on Jun 7, 1099 and was victorious on Jul 15. Headnote John France recounts the against-the-odds narrative of the capture of the Holy City by the forces of the First Crusade. On Tuesday, June 7th, 1099, the First Crusade arrived before the city of Jerusalem and began a siege which would end with its capture on Friday, July 15th. It was a moment of great rejoicing in the crusader host, because Jerusalem was the Holy Place for whose liberation they had set out on the long and bitter journey some three years before. After Pope Urban’s appeal for a military expedition to the East in November 1095, Western Europe had been swept by a wave of enthusiasm which inspired about 100,000 men, women and children to leave their homes. Many turned back, others died even as they began their journey: Fulcher of Chartres saw 400 drown at Brindisi when a pilgrim ship sank. Even so the group of armies which gathered before Nicaea in June 1097 was some 60,000 strong, including roughly 6-7,000 knights. Not since Roman times had such a host gathered in Europe, though this was not a single army like that of Rome, but a collection of armed bands massively encumbered with non-combatants. The major armies were commanded by the great princes – Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert Duke of Normandy, Robert Count of Flanders, Stephen of Blois, Hugh of Vermandois and Bohemond, son of Robert Guiscard. But there were many others with their own warbands who owed little loyalty to such men, and new leaders emerged during the journey. Bohemond’s nephew Tancred enjoyed an independent command at Jerusalem, while Godfrey’s younger brother Baldwin seized the principality of Edessa in March 1098. There were people of so many nationalities on the crusade that they found it difficult to understand one another, and since there was no overall commander the crusade was run by a committee of its most important members, presided over by the papal legate Adhemar of Le Puy who died, however, on August 1st, 1098. The result was a host of quarrelling nationalities presided over by bickering lords: the only unity came from the sense of a common mission reinforced by the dire peril to which they were exposed in the hostile Middle East. But even this mission was a cause of strife. Urban II had wanted his great expedition to aid the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus in his struggle with the Turks who had seized Asia Minor, to rescue the Christians of the East from their captivity under Islam and to liberate Jerusalem. But many of the crusaders came to regard Alexius as little more than a traitor who had failed to live up to his promises of help: the Count of Toulouse, commander of the biggest army, disagreed and was permanently at odds with his fellows. Few of the crusaders had a high opinion of the native Christians. As a result Jerusalem became the sole focus of their endeavours because it was the one objective on which they could all agree. Jerusalem had a special place in the religion and culture of medieval Europe for it was the place where Christ had died and his empty tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the very symbol of Christian belief. The people of the eleventh century were burdened by a profound sense of their own sinfulness, a perception increased by the confused state of theological ideas about penance. Heaven was a place for which `Many are called but few are chosen’ and the common fate of mankind must have seemed to be eternal punishment. Fear of hell has never prevented men from sinning, but at moments of crisis or illness eternal torment loomed large. In the late eleventh century the church preached peace to an upper class whose metier and delight was war the signs are that the tension engendered by this contradiction was unbearable. Pilgrimage was one deeply satisfying ritual of escape. Travel in the Middle Ages was hazardous and in such a context to undertake an ordeal voluntarily was admired as a commitment to Christ. The pilgrim took a public vow to complete his journey and assumed a special dress and badges. He left behind his loved ones, submitted to a self-denying discipline and went to a place where heaven and earth met the shrine of a holy saint – to atone for his sins. Of all pilgrimages the most distant, difficult and therefore respected, was that to the holiest of all places, Jerusalem, which was regarded as wiping a man’s slate clean of sin. When Urban launched his crusade he offered to all who participated this special `remission of sins’. He offered a vision of Jerusalem suffering under the tyranny of Islam and demanded that the military aristocracy avenge Christ for this suffering and recapture His most holy place. This was an opportunity for a warlike class to expunge their sins by a single convulsive act of violence. In this `new religion’ the business of fighting and killing was meritorious, equal to the traditional `good works’, prayer, fasting and charity to the poor. Those who went on this fighting pilgrimage regarded their sufferings as part of a ritual which freed individuals from sin and purified the army as a whole to be the `chosen of the Lord’ – and their ultimate trial was Jerusalem. Of course there were other motives. One eyewitness noted that as they approached the Holy City only ‘a few who held God’s command dear marched along barefooted, sending up deep sighs to God’, while many others indulged in ‘a mad scramble caused by our greed to seize castles and villas’, but even these could have argued that righteous war meant rightful plunder. The army which rejoiced as it reached the gates of Jerusalem on that June day was driven by a heady cocktail of greed and devotion. In their self-righteousness the crusaders gave little thought to the fact that this same Jerusalem was sacrosanct to Jew and Muslim also. The leaders were not totally ignorant of Islam. The Emperor Alexius had advised them to ally with the Fatimids of Egypt against the Seljuk Turks who dominated Syria and ruled Jerusalem. That alliance served them well, for when they broke it in May 1099 and entered the Fatimid lands of Palestine, the Egyptians were so surprised that they could offer no resistance to their march and even demolished the fortifications of Jaffa, the port of Jerusalem, because they could not defend it. The Fatimids had profited from the Seljuk conflict with the crusaders to seize Jerusalem in August 1098 and now they were faced with defending it against their former allies. For Jerusalem is sacred to Islam: its name al-Kuds, `the city of the sanctuary’, refers to the important shrine we now call the Dome of the Rock, built in 691, whence the angel Gabriel took Mohammed through the heavens. Its great golden dome and the magnificent al-Aksa mosque built nearby in 780 dominate the enormous structure of the Temple Mount which towers over Jerusalem: its western wall is the famous `Wailing Wall’ sacred to Judaism. The Jews had their own quarter in the north-east of the city and they were probably aware that Christian fanatics had massacred the Jews of the Rhineland cities even before setting out on the crusade, because Jews manned the walls in their own quarter and perished in the great massacre which followed the crusader capture. But the crusaders were not interested in the claims of other religions. Most of those from northern Europe would have known nothing of Islam before their journey to the East and the circumstances of that journey would not have encouraged curiosity. The defenders of the city stood in the way of their path to salvation, loot and land. In later years when they ruled Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock became the Temple of the Lord and the al-Aksa, the Palace of Solomon. History was rewritten to obliterate the memory of Islam, and the despised Jews were excluded from the city. In attacking Jerusalem the crusaders faced a formidable task. The city is set upon a steep sp
ur dividing the Kidron valley, which falls away southwards towards the Dead Sea. To the east the Valley of Josaphat cuts an enormous gash between the city and the Mount of Olives, while to the west the Valley of Hinnon provides a similar if less dramatic protection. Apart from a level stretch of some 250-300 metres around the Zion Gate, the land before the southern wall falls sharply to the Kidron valley: it was here that the Count of Toulouse chose to mount his attack, but he faced a deep ditch between the wall and his camp. The most vulnerable aspect of the city is the northern wall, about a kilometre long, which is built well below the brow of the hill; here the rest of the army gathered. The whole city was surrounded by a wall, three stories high, studded with projecting towers; the relative vulnerability of the northern wall was protected by an outer wall and beyond it a ditch extending from the citadel, called the `Tower of David’ by Jaffa Gate on the west side, to the platform over the Valley of Josaphat at the north-east corner. War, disease and desertion had reduced the once enormous crusader host to about 1,200 knights and 12,000 on foot. Through circumstance they had become efficient and seasoned soldiers, but there were not enough of them to surround the city. They were bitterly divided between the Provencals and the rest; only on the eve of the final assault were Raymond of Toulouse and Tancred publicly reconciled. The nearest Christian outpost was 500 kilometres away. The garrison had scorched the land about the city and blocked wells forcing the attackers to bring water from afar; according to Albert of Aachen some of this had leeches in it and when crusaders `swallowed down the slippery water-worms they were killed by a swollen throat or stomach’. Worst of all the garrison had destroyed or hidden every piece of wood, which was essential for the building of siege machinery. And the whole enterprise was a desperate race against time, for the Egyptians were known to be raising a relief army, a fact which encouraged the garrison recently reinforced by 400 cavalry. They were strong enough to defend the city, but not strong enough to mount sorties against the crusaders, and seem to have relied on forces already at Ascalon to harass the besiegers. When Tancred, struck by dysentery, sought privacy in a cave and discovered enough wood to build one ladder, the leaders were so anxious about the Egyptian threat that they mounted an attack on the northern wall on June 13th. It failed and Reybold of Chartres, the first on the ladder, had his hand cut off. This forced the crusaders to prepare a more deliberate assault, made possible by the arrival of a Genoese fleet at Jaffa on June 17th, bringing food, timber and above all, skilled labour. The Ascalon garrison attacked the crusader convoy going to Jaffa, but their defeat, near Ramla, ended the harassment of the crusaders. Throughout the crusade sea-power had been a vital factor and never more so than now as siege machinery could be built. The Count of Toulouse employed the Genoese engineer William Ricau to construct a siege-tower by Zion Gate. At the north-west corner of Jerusalem, Godfrey and the northern French built another, together with a ram to breach the outer wall. These great wooden towers were about four storeys high mounted on wheels or rollers. Brought close to the wall they could clear off the defenders by missiles, enabling others to attack by ladders and mining the walls, though they did not have drawbridges to mount an assault themselves. The defenders on the north wall did not sit idly by. They raised a wooden tower at the anticipated point of attack and brought up beams and padding to protect their defenders. Nine catapults, high-trajectory weapons which hurled stones in a great arc, were deployed against the Provencals, and five against the northern French along with a number of balistae, (giant crossbows). The crusaders also built a few catapults and balistae, and sent out every man, woman and child to bring light timber for the construction of ladders and mantelets, large shields to cover the attackers’ advance to the wall. In the fever of preparations visions were seen, including one of the dead legate, Adhemar, who commanded that before the assault a solemn procession should be made around the city in the manner of Joshua before Jericho; this duly took place on July 8th, raising morale. But the decisive event in the siege occurred on the night of July 9th-lOth, when Godfrey’s tower was dismantled and rebuilt at a weak spot on the northeastern corner of the city, almost a kilometre away from where it had been built. The defenders hastened to relocate their forces but they had little time to elaborate their defences before, on Wednesday July 13th, the grand assault began. By modern standards the whole business must have been painfully slow. The clumsy machines had been assembled as close as possible to the wall, towards which gangs of men pushed and dragged them on wheels or rollers. Before they could be brought into action the northern French had to flatten the ground along the line of attack, while the Provencals faced a large ditch which took three days to fill, with the labourers paid a penny for every three stones moved. Here on Mount Zion there was little room for manoeuvre, for the Provencal camp and the city wall were no more than fifty metres apart. Raymond’s mobile tower was severely battered by the nine machines deployed against it, one of which threw blazing balls of pitch and straw not merely at the tower but also into the camp and ultimately set the tower alight: this firethrower was dragged off its mounting on the wall when the Provencals improvised a hook mounted on a beam with a chain to drag it. By Friday July 15th, this southern attack was stalled, but it had diverted forces from the north. At the north-east corner of the city the ram lumbered up to the outer wall, its crew supported by bowmen and groups with scaling ladders. Godfrey used a cross-bow to set fire to the protective padding hung down the wall front. The Egyptians replied with streams of arrows from the wall-head and stones fired from catapults inside the city, and tried to set fire to the ram while the crusaders organised relays of waterbearers. The fighting at the fore-wall lasted all of Wednesday and into Thursday when the wall was penetrated – and then ensued a pantomime. The tower, slowly dragged up behind, now found its route to the main wall blocked by the ram which could not be cast aside because the outer wall was probably no more than 10 metres from the powerfully defended main curtain. The crusaders set fire to the ram, and now it was the turn of the garrison to throw water from the main wall, but in the end it was burned. Only on Friday, July 15th, did the tower approach the main wall. Wet hides hanging around it defeated enemy fire attack, while its osier covering cushioned somewhat the rain of stones. Even so it was badly damaged and the crusaders decided to push the tower right up against the wall. As a counter-measure the defenders hung a great tree blazing with naphtha, pitch and sulphur, on chains down the front of the wall but the crusaders managed to grapple this down and to manoeuvre the tower against the wall. Now the defects of the improvised defences were felt. Because of the sudden change in the crusader point of attack, the Egyptians had not had time to build platforms on the wall on which to mount their catapults: they were simply stationed in the streets of the city. These machines had thrown their missiles over the wall, but when the wooden tower moved up to it, their stones, moving slowly at the peak of their arc, merely bounded off onto their own men on, and behind, the wall: lack of time had not permitted demolition of houses to enable them to adjust their range. The crusaders in the siege tower, led by Godfrey with his crossbow, now engaged in a fire-fight with a nearby tower, supported by three catapults and numerous archers and ladder teams, while others tried to mine the wall. Then two Flemish brothers, Ludolf and Engelbert of Tournai, climbed ou
t from the top storey of the siegetower, improvising a bridge by cutting down logs used to reinforce its front, and established a bridgehead on the wall which rapidly expanded. As news of this breakthrough spread, resistance to the Provencals melted away and the garrison of the Tower of David surrendered in return for their lives. In the north there was a massacre as the crusaders poured through the Jewish quarter where the main synagogue was burned over the heads of those who took refuge there. Muslims fled to the Temple Mount where so many were killed that crusaders `rode in blood to the knees and bridles of their horses’. Tancred offered quarter to those who took refuge on the al-Aksa roof, doubtless hoping to ransom them, but in the morning, and much to his anger, they too were massacred. After a week in which they cleared the corpses from Jerusalem, the bickering crusader leaders elected Godfrey de Bouillon on July 22nd, as Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre `so that he might fight against the pagans and protect the Christians’. The conquest, however, remained provisional until, on August 12th, the crusader army surprised the relief force led by the Vizier of Egypt, al-Afdal, at Ascalon and destroyed it. Afterwards, the greater part of the host returned to the West. In terms of eleventh-century behaviour in war, the massacre at Jerusalem was not unusual. Later in the twelfth century Muslim writers spoke of 70,000 being killed at the alAksa alone, but this was propaganda for the holy war, Jihad, against the Franks. Not all the Muslims of Jerusalem were killed: many fled to form a suburb of Damascus taking with them the famous Koran of Uthman. Letters from the Cairo synagogue bear witness to the ransoming of Jerusalem Jews in the wake of the fall of the city. Most native Christians had been expelled before the siege, but those left behind welcomed the crusaders into the city. However horrible it may seem, what happened in Jerusalem was not then exceptional. The city had a strong garrison which could hope for relief – until the last minute they were receiving messages of support from Ascalon. Possibly they had heard exaggerated stories of crusaders’ cannibalism at Ma`arrat an Nu`man in Syria, a wholly exceptional event, which may well have stiffened their resistance. The truth was that in the Middle Ages any garrison which held out to the bitter end was liable to bring down massacre on its stronghold. This could hardly be prevented, for armies were poorly disciplined and, in the heat of a breakthrough, impossible to control. In 1057 the Turks massacred or enslaved the whole population of Christian Melitene. William the Conqueror harried the north of England so savagely that a contemporary thought 100,000 had perished, and so ruthlessly did he destroy Mantes in 1087 that many believed his death there was the vengeance of God. It is not simply the fact of the massacre and its scale which is shocking, but the fact that the crusaders rejoiced in it, as Raymond of Aguilers, who was present at the fall of Jerusalem, describes: How they rejoiced and exulted and sang a new song to the Lord! For their hearts offered prayers of praise to God, victorious and triumphant, which cannot be told in words. A new day, new joy, new and perpetual gladness, the consummation of our labour and devotion, drew forth from all new words and new songs. This day, I say, marks the justification of all Christianity, the humiliation of paganism, and the renewal of our faith. `This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’, for on this day the Lord revealed Himself to His people and blessed them. This passage may shock, but it should not surprise us. Each crusader was convinced that every Muslim he cut down represented a step nearer to paradise, for the essence of Urban’s message, which was the driving force of the whole expedition, was that killing Muslims was meritorious. To hack down a child, as many must have done in Jerusalem, was an act whose merit was equal to that of the Good Samaritan. These were rational people performing what they believed to be the will of God and certain that it would contribute to their own salvation. Such absolute self-righteousness cloaked much self-interest. Tancred seized Bethlehem as a prize of war as the army neared Jerusalem, and during the sack he plundered the treasures of the Dome of the Rock. But the real horror of the sack of Jerusalem is its legacy to us all. In the short-run the Christian crusade revived in ever fiercer form the Muslim jihad, which soon had plenty of massacres to its credit. Before the crusade most Western Christians had only a vague knowledge of Islam, which was not really relevant to their daily lives. Centuries of crusade propaganda changed that to a latent hatred. Islam and Christianity were in contact in Spain before the crusade, and relations between the two had never been simply characterised by conflict. On July lOth, 1099, as the crusaders prepared to attack Jerusalem, El Cid, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, died. He was well-versed in Islamic law and culture and had carved out a great career for himself in the service of Muslim and Christian alike. In the twelfth century his life had to be rewritten to make him a champion of Christendom and a worthy hero of the Spanish Reconquista in the new age. For the spirit of crusade, symbolised by the fall of Jerusalem, insisted on an absolute hatred of Islam. The inheritance of the crusades in the West is one of deep suspicion, very evident in our media’s portrayal of `Islamic Fundamentalism’. The inheritance of the capture of Jerusalem in the East is that it is fatally easy for those who would defend Islamic culture to be fearful of the West and to see in any intrusion evidence of a new crusade, and to react in the same way as they did to the old. FOR FURTHER READING: J.A. Brundage, The Crusades, a documentary survey (Milwaukee, 1962); S.B. Edgington, The First Crusade, Historical Association `New Appreciations in History’ No. 37 (London, 1996); J. France, Victory in the East: a Military History of the First Crusade (Cambridge, 1994), A. Maalouf, The Crusades through Arab eyes (London, 1984); J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades: a short history (London, 1987). AuthorAffiliation John France is Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Wales and author of Victory in the East: a Military History of the First Crusade listed above. *****  I need article analyses of the above posted article about the capture of Jerusalem. Each analysis should answer the following questions: 1) In one sentence, using your own words, state the main idea of the article. 2) In as many complete sentences as you feel is necessary, and using your own words, describe two significant points that the author makes to support his or her main idea. 3) In as many complete sentences as you feel is necessary, and using your own words, make two significant and interesting points evaluating how the article supplements your understanding of class lectures.
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