Christians love to apologize for the Crusades. In the modern climate of the ever more liberal Christian denominations, this moment in its history is often perceived as an ill conceived war of aggression by a western civilization dominated by an opportunistic Catholic Church. Modern scholars, using modern vernacular, will often attribute this to a form of “Christian Fundamentalism.” One could even be led to believe that the Muslims were just peacefully minding their own business, in lands that were legitimately theirs, until the European Crusaders came crashing into their benevolent kingdom forcing Christianity on them by the sword. Worse, the Crusaders are often seen as imperialists simply seeking to create new colonies for the profits of the “not so pious or faithful” adventurers seeking personal fame and fortune. Unfortunately this is a modern fabrication.
Lets make this nice and sparkling clear: The Crusades were absolutely justified by every standard of the world of that time and, if fairly and factually told, they should be seen as justified, and even necessary, by modern standards. It could be fairly stated that sometimes the behavior of the Crusaders themselves was beneath “Christian” standards, but NEVER beneath those applied by the Muslims. For some reason westerners, particularly the liberal academic intelligentsia whose job it is to teach such things, accepts the notion that the Europeans alone were aggressive. Somehow Islam is always allowed to project itself as a victim.
The Crusades were a DEFENSIVE war launched in response to centuries of Muslim aggression and conquests. In fact, by the start of the first crusade, 2/3 of the Christian world had been attacked and subjected to three choices. (1) Fight and die. (2) Surrender and convert to Islam and pay the zakat tax. Or (3) surrender and keep their Biblical faith and pay the jizya tax. Usually they chose the third option if they were allowed to live long enough to make the choice. The truth is that Islam, beginning with the fine example of Muhammad himself, has been on a “crusade” for world domination that began long before the European Crusades and, in fact, continues to this day! The death of Muhammad did nothing to impede the progress of Islamic aggression. In fact, it may have accelerated it. Here is an abbreviated time-line highlighting the major Islamic campaigns of aggression:
632 Muhammad’s death
635 Muslims besiege and conquer of Damascus.
636 Muslims defeat Byzantines decisively at Battle of Yarmuk.
637 Muslims conquer Iraq at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah
638 Muslims conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines.
638-650 Muslims conquer Persia (Iran), except along Caspian Sea.
639-642 Muslims conquer Egypt.641 Muslims control Syria and Palestine.
643-707 Muslims conquer North Africa.
644-650 Muslims conquer Cyprus, Tripoli in North Africa, and establish Islamic rule in Afghanistan.
673-678 Muslim Arabs besiege Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire.
710-713 Muslim Crusaders conquer the lower Indus Valley.
711-713 Muslim Crusaders conquer Spain and impose the Kingdom of Andalus.
732 The Muslims are stopped at the Battle of Poitiers; that is, France.
809 Muslims conquer Sardinia, Italy.
831 Muslims capture Palermo, Italy; and conduct raids in southern Italy.
837-901 Muslims conquer Sicily, launch raids into Corsica, Italy, and France. 970 Seljuks enter conquered Islamic territories from the East. Seljuks are Muslim Turks.
1012 Beginning of al-Hakim’s oppressive decrees against Jews and Christians.
1071 Battle of Manzikert, Seljuk Turks defeat Byzantines and occupy much of Anatolia.
1071 Seljuk Turks invade Palestine.
1073 Conquest of Jerusalem by Muslim Turks.
1075 Seljuks capture Nicea
1094 Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus asks western Christendom for help against invasions of Seljuk Muslim Turks in his territory.
As the time-line plainly illustrates, the Muslims were not peaceful nor were they minding their own business. The lands they claimed were, even after their conquest, largely populated by Christians who had to endure the subjugation and ostracization of their Islamic overlords and their draconian laws against non Muslims. These lands were, by no means, territory that they had any right to claim. They were taken by perpetrating violence against the populations living therein. Islam, you should know, sprung up from an exiled tribe of thieves that supported itself initially by conducting raids against the very people who banished them. They sought to anoint their banditry with a religion that they conceived to give their murder, slavery, and extortionist thievery the illusion of a higher purpose. Never forget that Islam is not a religion that has ever attempted to encourage its followers to follow a “higher calling.” Instead, it excuses, and even provokes its followers into practicing all of the worst traits of human behavior. If Satan were to establish a worldwide system of worship, you would expect it to display all of the characteristics of Islam. I do not say this out of “Islamophobia.” It is history. Learn it!
In 1071 after the annihilation of the Byzantine army at Manzikert, the Byzantine Empire collapsed into civil war and lost most of Anatolia. In 1081 a general named Alexius Comnenus captured the throne and and reimposed control over a considerably reduced empire. With most of his Byzantine Empire already under Muslim control, and fearing Constantinople could be next, the emperor Alexius I Comnenus ASKED the Christians in the west for help. This was not something done casually. By and large the Byzantines viewed western Europe as being inhabited by barbarians, even if they were Christians. They believed these westerners held heretical beliefs, not the least of which was granting the Pope authority over all Christians. Times were desperate however, and he needed help. In fact, as we shall see, he got more help than he could handle.
It is upon this foundation that the Crusades began. The entire reason for the Crusades is as a response to the aggression of Islam, and they went by invitation. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that were it not for these actions taken at this time, there would be no “Western Civilization” as we have come to know it.
At the Council of Clermont in 1095, Pope Urban II asked for the “Knights Of Christendom” to mount the counterattack against Islam. Thousands chose to “take up the cross” and make this armed pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It may be hard to understand now, but the Holy Land was considered very important to the mind of the Medieval Christian. That it was taken by Islam was nothing new as it had been under Muslim control for centuries by this time. However, the Muslims had been allowing pilgrims to visit the Holy sites. This was, in fact, the lucrative reason for wanting to control the area. Pilgrims, or what we would simply call tourists, brought money. The Seljuk Turks however, would not allow Christians access to the Holy Land. At the Council Of Clermont the atrocities that the Turks perpetrated against Christians and their holy sites were laid clear in such a way as to infuriate a culture built on militant Knighthood and Christianity.
It is interesting to note that the term “Crusades” was never used to describe them in their own time. They regarded themselves as “taking up the cross,” and truly perceived it as an act of faith and devotion to Christian duty.
At this point it is a good opportunity to look at the motivations of these original Crusaders. Perhaps no group of people have ever been so maligned as the Crusaders. Almost always they are portrayed as rogues and scoundrels, dressed in a false piety, while seeking fame and fortune as they murder and plunder through the Holy Land. Or they were second or third sons who had no wealth or property of their own who sought, through a conquest veiled in religion, what they didn’t get through inheritance. This couldn’t be farther from the truth but in a “Post-Christian” western society drunk on self loathing, it has become the accepted view of people who need to apologize for the difficult decisions and actions of the past. Actions that they lack the courage to carry out themselves today. I guess if you suffer guilt for the perceived wrongdoing of your ancestors you can claim to be a “victim” of their behavior and, in a sense, entitled to be a protected class of citizen in these “politically correct” times. However, the truth is not so heartwarming as some false sense of rising above your ancestry. The Crusaders, in fact, were quite a noble, if imperfect, collection of personalities.
The reality is that the Crusading Knights were generally wealthy men with great estates that they willingly left behind to “take up the cross” and make the long and dangerous pilgrimage to the Holy Land where they stood a good chance of being killed. And here is the thing: Just who do you think PAID for the Crusades? Wealthy knights sold their own holdings and used their own wealth to raise and finance the armies that marched to the Middle East. Now there is something you won’t hear brought up too often. A military venture personally led by the wealthy, and paid for by the wealthy, out of their own pockets. For the modern anti-war liberal this would appear to be a dream army. But alas, there is that other motivating factor…God.
The fact is, that as a financial investment, the Crusades offered a poor rate of return. Especially considering the risk to both life and wealth. They did this not out of an expectation of treasure from this earth, but from the “Kingdom Of Heaven.” One cannot disregard the purity of the pious intentions of the Crusaders, no matter how much our modern civilization scoffs at such overtly religious values. The church, of course, provided a further incentive by promising remission of sins for all those who took the vow of the cross. The Crusades were seen by all of Christendom as a noble act of charity. The living breathing example of this Bible verse:
MATTHEW 19:21: Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me…
To a large degree the Crusaders did just that. They cast off their worldly concerns and pursued the path of the cross.
This is not to suggest that the Crusades were full of puritanical saints. Quite the opposite. Their behavior was often not up to the standards of their idealistic motives. Yet they were hardly the first soldiers to succumb to the stresses and temptations that often accompany warfare. They certainly were not against plundering and grabbing such treasure as might make itself available. In fact, the armies of this time didn’t carry long supply trains to support them, therefore plundering would often be necessary just to keep the army fed when operating away from its bases. This was just the nature of armed conflict in Medieval times, not the invention of rampaging imperialistic Europeans.
Pope Urban II gave the Crusaders two primary goals. The first, was to rescue the Christians living under the yolk of Islam. It was argued that one could not love his neighbor as as he loved himself if he knowingly allowed him to be bound in Muslim slavery. The Crusade was seen as an act of Christian love and charity. The second goal was to liberate Jerusalem and other places that were considered to be holy through the life of Christ. The Crusaders took a vow to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher after they arrived, and subsequently liberated, Jerusalem.
It was decided that the main body of the First Crusade would depart from Constantinople on August 15, 1096. But first, those armies had to get there by making their way across the European continent. This, in and of itself, was quite a monumental task. The various armies were to be united in Constantinople, with the Byzantines, for the march to the Holy Land. There were five primary armies, and therefore, five primary leaders for the First Crusade. They were: Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois, Bohemond of Taranto, Raymond the Count of Toulouse, and Robert the Duke of Normandy and son of William the Conqueror. They each arrived at Constantinople separately and, as they arrived, each one was persuaded to swear an oath (liege) to the emperor of Byzantium, Alexius I Comnenus. This oath stated that any lands captured by the Crusaders, that had previously belonged to the Byzantine Empire, would be immediately returned to the emperor. Though there was some reluctance, particularly from Raymond who believed he had come only to serve God, they all inevitably acquiesced and were then given passage across the Bosporus, a strait that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. The First Crusade was under way.
The Crusader army was unlike the armies we know today. It was not a unified army under a single commander. It is an international army with various languages, loyalties and customs adding to their complications. The army itself numbered around 100,000 men however their true numbers were swelled by family members who accompanied them with intentions of settling in the lands to be retaken. Also, due to the fact that a plenary indulgence was offered by the church to all who made the pilgrimage, thousands more people who did not particularly serve any useful purpose were tagging along. It is under these circumstances that the Crusader army approached its first objective. Nicea, the capital city of the Sultan Kilij Arslan. Since Nicea was designed by the Byzantines, it was well prepared for defense, with massive city walls. Arslan, as luck would have it, was not in the city when the Crusaders initiate their siege. For two weeks they attempted to get their siege towers close enough to scale the walls. They also made attempts to dig under them. All to no avail. It would appear to be hopeless except Arslan makes a fatal mistake…he returns with his army. He is convinced, largely through his experience with an earlier expedition of Knight-less Christians, that he will make short work of the crusading army. The Turks had never encountered the tactics of “heavily armored cavalry” before. The Crusaders would not break their formations which would have allowed the swifter Turk horsemen to isolate and destroy them piecemeal. Instead, they held solidly together and battered Arslan’s lightly armored army. The result was a tremendous victory for the Crusaders with King Arslan fleeing the battlefield. Yet the siege had not succeeded in causing Nicea to surrender. Since Nicea is located on the shores of a lake there is a constant supply of water and food available. This supply line is finally cut off when Alexius arrives overland carrying boats that he puts into the lake.
With their army defeated and their supplies totally cut off, the Turks negotiated for terms to surrender the city. It was a negotiation conducted in the dead of the night so that by the next morning the banners of the empire were flying over the city. This took the Crusaders somewhat by surprise as they fully expected an opportunity to plunder the city, as was the custom in the warfare of the time. The suddenness of the surrender prevented any such thing and since they had vowed to return Byzantine territory back to the emperor, their job at Nicea was finished. They marched on toward Antioch.
DORYLAEUM…Does this name mean anything to you? Well it should, as it is one of the greatest moments in Western military history.
In June 1097 the Crusaders set forth toward the city of Antioch and make both a fatal mistake, and a brilliant tactical decision at the same time. The army decides to separate into two groups. The first army. led by Bohemond, Tancred and Robert, leads the way while a second army, led by Godfrey and Raymond lags one day behind. This would make it somewhat easier for the Crusaders to travel and would also ease some of the competition between Bohemond and Raymond for control of the entire expedition. However, separating your forces in enemy territory can be a fatal mistake, especially if your enemy has his forces concentrated and prepared for battle. Unknown to the Crusaders, King Arslan, freshly offended by his defeat at their hands at Nicea, has joined forces with Danishmend. Together they have prepared an ambush along the narrow road to Dorylaeum. Arslan intends to vindicate himself of his loss at Nicea by massacring the Crusader army. Bohemond’s army made camp in a perfect location for disaster. When the sun arose the next morning that disaster came pouring in on them from the mountains…and from all directions!
Bohemond reacts quickly. His knights make up his first line of defense with his infantry standing in close support behind them. In his center he was protecting all of the non-combatants and, fortunately, a standing supply of fresh water. He would need it.
The fighting was fierce and relentless. The Turks charged repeatedly and the Crusaders suffered heavy losses, but they never broke from their tight defensive formation. This is in spite of the fact that Arslan is swarming around them with a 360,000 man force!! Bohemond’s defenders number only 30,000!! These torrential attacks went on for over eight hours when suddenly, and quite unexpectedly as far as the Turks were concerned, Raymond and the second Crusader army arrived on the scene. Even with Raymond’s arrival the Turks still enjoyed a 3-1 advantage in manpower. However there is a military axiom which states that an army, surprised from behind in battle, will not stand and fight. The Turks, surprised by the arrival of the second Crusader army, did not stand and fight. They panicked, and from the jaws of defeat, the Crusaders turned the battle into a rout. They pursued the Turks throughout the day and the following night and captured much treasure in the process. If they didn’t believe it to begin with, the battle of Dorylaeum convinced the Crusaders that God was truly on their side.
The Crusaders resumed their march toward Antioch. This was not a good time to be moving across Asia Minor as the temperatures reach 110 degrees and their are no water sources along the way. There also are no food resources available for the army to forage either. By the time they finally reach a river the army is more depleted by hunger and thirst on the march than by the previous battles. They stop to recover their strength in an area inhabited by Christians who look after them. While they were held up there to collect themselves, several small engagements and raids were conducted that led to the conquest of Edessa. Baldwin was then pronounced Prince of the new territory of Edessa. It would turn out to be the first of the Crusader States that would soon be established.
THE SIEGES OF ANTIOCH
On October 21, 1097 the Crusaders caught their first sight of the impressive walls of Antioch. The walls stretch for 25 miles and contain over 400 watchtowers. The city was well prepared to withstand an attack and it possessed an excellent system of deep wells to go along with its high defensive walls.
The Crusaders at this point are as unimpressive a sight as Antioch is impressive. Their supplies are depleted to nothing and desertion has become a problem for the army. It was not the best set of circumstances to be attempting a siege of the most heavily fortified city in Byzantium.
Antioch was ruled by Yaghi-Suyan, who upon seeing the Crusader army massing outside his walls, proceeds to drive all the Christians out of the city. All but one that is. In order to taunt the Crusaders he places the Archbishop in a cage and dangles him out over the wall where everyone can see him.
Yaghi-Suyan had tremendous success at keeping up with the Crusaders plans. When he expelled all the Christians from Antioch he slipped in many Muslims, disguised as Armenian Christians, to spy on the Crusaders and report to him on their ongoing attempts to break into the city. Bohemond became aware of the spy problem and wasn’t squeamish about dealing with the situation. He rounded up hundreds of them and had them placed before the main gate to the city. He then has his men slit their throats and skin them. Then they rammed cooking spikes through their bodies so that they could be roasted before the eyes of Antioch’s defenders. Spies throughout history have never been looked upon favorably.
As the winter pressed on, the news got even worse. Infighting within the Islamic world led the Fatimids of Egypt to attack the Turks in Palestine. They attacked Jerusalem and many of the Turks displaced in that conflict made their way to Damascus, Aleppo and Mosul. There they combined with other troops under the command of Kerbogha of Mosul, and marched toward Antioch to relieve the city. It seemed as though the Crusaders were destined to be crushed between the besieged Antioch and this huge Turkish army.
Alas, fate, cleverness and corruption would intervene on the Crusaders behalf. Bohemond had been attempting to bribe a disenchanted guard on the the city’s wall and he was having success at corrupting him. He then gathered together the other Crusader leaders and convinced them to allow him to keep the city for himself, if he could take the city unassisted. They of course were oblivious to his wheeling and dealing with the guard in the city and, believing there was no real likelihood of him being able to take the city, they therefore agreed to this strange proposition.
On June 3, 1098 Bohemond’s men were allowed to climb over the city’s wall and open the gates for the Crusaders. As the city slept they poured in and took it. They killed every Turk in sight, including Yaghi-Suyan whose head is presented to Bohemond as a trophy. In a matter of hours all of Antioch, with the exception of the city’s citadel, was in Crusader hands.
Meanwhile as Kerbogha was making his way toward Antioch, he allowed himself to be distracted by attempting to retake the city of Edessa. For three weeks he unsuccessfully fought to retake the city from Baldwin and the small force that was left behind to defend it. He ultimately concedes failure and has to resume his march to relieve Antioch. It turned out to be a crucial delay, for had he arrived just 24 hours sooner, he could have saved Antioch. Now, the Crusaders have had crucial time to occupy the city.
Poor Bohemond, in spite of his agreement with the other Crusader leaders to be allowed to keep Antioch for himself, he was not going to be able to bring up the subject just yet. Kerbogha and his army arrived and set upon the complete surrounding of the city. Strangely, the Crusaders, who just days before were laying siege to Antioch, now found themselves besieged inside Antioch! Many attempted to desert the city in the face of this new threat, while others were captured trying. Those captured, were tortured and mutilated within sight of the city’s walls. The Crusade appeared to be in a fatal grip. They were surrounded by a powerful Muslim army while also the Muslims still held the citadel within the city’s walls…
…And yet it could still get worse. Stephen of Bloise and four thousand Crusaders were separated from the main body of the army when Antioch was taken. When they returned from nearby Alexandria they saw that, although Antioch had been taken by their fellow Crusaders, the Crusade itself appeared certain to be destroyed. Stephen believed the situation was hopeless and decided to abandon the Crusade. He decided he and his men were heading back to France. Inside the city there was no food or water and the dead bodies of all the Turks, killed in the taking of the city, were decaying all around them. The stench from the dead bodies was unbearable. The Crusaders only hope was that the Emperor Alexius would come, with his Byzantine army, and relieve the city from its siege. As luck would have it, Alexius was coming to Antioch, if for no reason other than to be sure the Crusaders would be faithful to their oath to restore the city to him. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Stephen found Alexius before he got there and relayed the situation to him. When told that Kerbogha had arrived with a superior army, and had himself laid siege to the city, Alexius thought better of the decision to go there and turned his men around. He was returning to Constantinople, and Stephen resumed his trek back to France. The Crusaders were on their own.
Make no mistake about it. The news of Alexius’ withdrawal traveled fast. The Crusaders regarded both Stephen and Alexius as cowards. The oath they had taken to restore the territory to the emperor was now officially repudiated. They could not honor a promise to a traitor. However that wasn’t going to solve their dilemma…but divine intervention might.
Throughout the Crusade, various people were claiming to have “religious visions.” This is not an unusual expectation on an adventure with such “holy” underpinnings. Real or imagined, such “visions” were commonplace. One person making such a claim was a man named Peter Bartholomew. Bartholomew was no religious figure. Quite the opposite. He was a peasant with a reputation for drinking and whoring. Yet he claimed that St. Andrew appeared to him in a vision and told him the location of the Holy Lance, the spear that was used to pierce the side of Christ at the Crucifixion. Now prior to this, it was largely believed this lance was in Constantinople. At least there was a lance there that was being treated as though it was the authentic Holy Lance. Holy relics, and the fraudulent stories that often accompany them, are just as commonplace as “holy visions” at this time. The Papal legate, Adhemar of Le Puy, was openly skeptical of Bartholomew’s claim but Raymond was convinced his story was true. Add to this the fact that on June 14 a meteor streaked across the sky, which to many, was a sign from heaven itself. The people were desperate for hope.
The next morning Peter Bartholomew led Raymond to the Cathedral of St. Peter and showed him a place to dig. They proceeded to dig for hours. Of course, nothing was found. At the point they were ready to give up, Bartholomew himself jumped into the hole and began to dig. After a few minutes he came out…bearing the head of a lance. Never mind the fact that he almost certainly went into the hole with it. The people celebrated the delivery of a miracle. Raymond attached it to a pole and carried it throughout the city for all to see. Whether or not the lance was real was not important. They believed the lance was real and it was a sign from Christ himself that he was going to deliver them a victory. Drunk on a religiously inspired euphoria, the morale of the Crusader army skyrocketed. They were not going to let this moment pass. Adhemar ordered a three day fast to begin on June 24. Not a difficult proposition considering their predicament.
At dawn on June 28, the Crusaders confess their sins, attend mass, and receive Holy Communion. Then, the gates of the city are opened. They have only 100 horses and a starving army to go up against Kerbogha’s strong and well positioned forces. In spite of this, they came out anyway. Strangely, Kerbogha did not strike immediately. He found himself impressed with the audacity of the Crusaders, and likewise felt they were up to something. It placed a bit of doubt in his mind. Kerbogha actually presumed the siege had impaired the Crusaders more than it now appeared. He sent men to discuss a truce but the Crusaders would have none of it. For their part, many Crusaders claimed they could see angels on horseback, ready to join in battle with them. As a result they were headstrong for a fight.
The reality of the Turk’s situation was about to rear its head. Kerbogha’s forces were not loyal to him. The coalition that had brought them together was quite fragile, and many in the Muslim army feared the prospect of him acquiring too much power. Just the kind of power that would make itself available with a military victory. When it became obvious that a bloody fight was at hand, many of Kerbogha’s allies withdrew their men. The Crusaders, displaying great discipline, advanced in good order and maintained their tight formations as the battle commenced. Still more Turks, seeing this audacious Christian advance, fled the battlefield. By morning’s end the battle was over. The Crusaders had won the day. With Kerbogha’s forces eliminated, the holdouts at the city’s citadel also surrendered. Against the most horrendous of odds, the Crusaders now safely controlled Antioch.
The conquest of Antioch put the Crusaders in a relatively good position. At least they were as well off as they had been since they left Constantinople. They now controlled a port city, which would come in handy for maintaining a steady stream of supplies for their newly acquired territory.
At this point, however, internal bickering would rise up and paralyze the Crusade. Raymond did not want Bohemond to take possession of Antioch. He wanted Bohemond to honor his obligation to see the Crusade through to Jerusalem. Bohemond, for his part, felt he had fulfilled his requirement to take the city and by their previous agreement, the city should belong to him. Certainly there was no way it should be restored to Alexius as he abandoned them in their hour of need.
It was in the midst of this squabbling that a plague broke out in the city and many lives were lost, including the Papal legate Bishop Adhemar. This did not help with the internal bickering as it was Adhemar who had been a voice of reason, moderating the relations between the Crusader leaders. It finally reached a point where Hugh of Vermandois decided he had had enough. He gathered his forces and left to return to France. When he does finally arrive in France he is not looked upon favorably by anybody there. In fact the disdain from his fellow nobles is so great that he would later feel obligated to take part in what would later become the Second Crusade to redeem himself.
After the plague has run it’s course, Raymond attempts to get the remaining leaders to renew the mission to Jerusalem. The army is anxious for movement but Bohemond isn’t. He initially agrees to go, as long as he can retain the rights to Antioch, but it soon becomes obvious he has no real intention of leaving. As a result, Godfrey and Robert also refuse to take up the march to Jerusalem. Desperate for the mission to be resumed, Raymond and his men leave for the Holy City on January 13, 1099. Raymond makes a big show by leaving barefoot and saying he wants to enter the city where his Lord was crucified in the spirit of piety and humiliation. This had the desired effect of shaming Godfrey and Robert to the point that they gathered their men and joined him. Bohemond, determined that Antioch rightly belonged to him, stayed behind with his forces. The final march toward Jerusalem was under way.
The Crusader army that at one time had as many as 100,000 men now marches toward Jerusalem with a mere 20,000! In a strange twist of fate, the situation in Jerusalem itself has changed. The Fatimid Muslims, who are somewhat friendlier to Christians, have driven the Seljuk Turks out of the Holy City. Alexius is attempting to negotiate a treaty with the Fatimid Muslims, who are willing to resume allowing Christian pilgrims to have open access to the city. That is, providing the Crusaders abandon their plans to take it. The Crusaders swore an oath, at the start of the Crusade, to worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher after liberating the Jerusalem. They intend to keep it. Certainly they were not going to honor any obligations to, or any treaty arranged arranged by, Alexius, after he abandoned them at Antioch. The Fatimid Muslims themselves attempt to dissuade the Crusaders from taking the city by explaining that the Turks were their common enemy, and they should combine forces against them. The Crusaders at this point are reasonably unwilling to trust anyone, and therefore will have none of it. They don’t recognize any particular distinctions between Muslims. Islam is Islam. In fairness, Islam has never recognized any distinctions between Christians either.
On May 19 the Crusaders entered into territory now controlled by the Fatimid Muslims. Most of the cities they encountered on the march were willing to surrender and provide the Crusaders with supplies in return for not being molested. The Crusaders were now operating with a singular vision to get to Jerusalem as quickly as possible, so they were generous in their terms. Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Acre, Haifa and Jaffa all fell to the Crusaders in quick succession. On June 6, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ and a city almost entirely populated by Christians, greeted the Crusaders as liberators. That night they witnessed a lunar eclipse in the heavens….another sign from God. The next day they would arrive at their ultimate destination.
On June 7, 1099 the Crusaders finally cast their eyes on the Holy City of Jerusalem, the center of the world. Jerusalem is protected by two walls. The outer wall being lower than the main city wall. It also has a 62 foot wide and 23 foot deep dry moat between these walls. It is a more than formidable defensive fortification.
The size of the city, along with the size of the attacking Crusader army, made a fully enveloping siege of the city impossible. Jerusalem was governed and defended by an Egyptian named Iftikhar al-Daula, and he saw to the preparation of the city’s defenses effectively. He expelled all the Christians in the city to prevent Jerusalem from being compromised in the way that Antioch had been previously, even though the same precaution had failed to save Antioch from the consequences of espionage and betrayal. He also poisoned all the nearby wells forcing the Crusaders to expend considerable manpower retrieving and transporting water from the Jordan River. Also, Iftikhar al-Daula is not expecting a long siege, as he has sent word to Cairo requesting reinforcements. He has confidence in his defensive preparations and is therefore willing to resist the attacks of the Crusaders, fully knowing the consequence that befalls cities that resist sieges in warfare of this time….sacking! His overconfidence, even though based on reasonable knowledge and observation of the situation, is at least as much to blame for the ensuing sequence of events as are the actions of the Crusaders.
On June 12, a hermit approached the Crusader’s encampment claiming to be a prophet. He said he had a message from God and stated that if they strike the city in the ninth hour of the next day, the city would be delivered into their hands. This, in spite of the fact that a source of wood to construct siege towers, ladders and trebuchets (counterweight catapults) had not yet been located. Such weapons were too bulky and heavy to transport and had to be built on location and they were necessary for a reasonable chance at successfully assaulting the city. The Crusaders were simply not prepared to attack Jerusalem’s fortifications at this time. Nonetheless, being firm believers in visions at this point, they attacked anyway. No doubt they were themselves overconfident they possessed the unique blessing of God from their previous successes, which they considered nothing less than Divine Intervention.
The Muslims are totally surprised at the foolhardy assault the Christians made the next day, June 13. Few of the Crusaders even made it to the outer wall and those that did were compelled to retreat when Greek fire was poured on them. The medieval equivalent of napalm, Greek fire would burn anything it attached to, and was very difficult to put out. The attack is a dismal failure and the Muslims are left thinking little of the Crusaders intelligence or sanity. This only furthered the overconfidence of Iftikhar al-Daula.
Although this miracle failed to materialize, another one, requiring a little more patience, did. Six Genoese and English vessels bearing supplies for the Crusaders, arrived in the port of Jaffa. By utilizing the wood used to construct the ships, the Crusaders now had the materials to build proper siege weapons. This was time consuming work, and with an Egyptian army closing in on them, time was something they could not spare. It was known to them that the Egyptian army would arrive within the month. As had happened so many times on this Crusade, they found their backs against the wall facing impending disaster.
And it happened….again. The Crusaders were presented with a vision and an accompanying miracle. A priest named Peter Desiderius received a vision from none other than the recently deceased Bishop Adhemar. Adhemar, you will recall, had succumbed to the plague that struck Antioch after the successful conquest of the city. Now, in the form of this vision, he chastised the Crusaders for their lack of faith and ordered them to fast, and to walk around the city of Jerusalem….barefoot! He told them that if they would parade around the city barefoot in humility before God, and put their sins behind them, then in nine days the city would be delivered to them.
On the morning of July 10, the 20,000 Crusaders did just as the vision instructed. Many of the Crusaders were wearing only their underwear on their barefoot march around the city. The Muslims, already overconfident in their situation and doubting the sanity of the Crusaders, jeered at them and made obscene gestures as they paraded around the city. Eight days after Adhemar’s vision, they are prepared to make their attack. Their siege machines are constructed, including a massive battering ram that requires sixty soldiers to operate.
On July 14, 1099 the Muslim defenders of Jerusalem are awakened by the sound of the massive battering ram pounding against the outer defensive wall. Their attempts to disable the battering ram with Greek fire are this time met with accurate Crusader trebuchet fire. They quickly smash through the outer wall and begin filling in the moat that separates the two walls with rubble and rock to make it passable. As it grows dark the Crusaders are able to bring their siege towers toward the larger inner city wall. The Muslims throw tremendous volleys of arrows and Greek fire at the towers as they approach the wall. Several times the towers and the battering ram are hit, and start to catch fire, but the Crusaders successfully squelch the flames. Nightfall forces the Crusaders to pull back and wait.
The attack resumes again the next morning. The Muslims attempted to cushion the walls from the battering ram by hanging bales of straw and mattresses over the wall. Unfortunately for them, this quickly catches fire, and greatly reduces their visibility as the smoke rises up and into the faces of the Muslim defenders up on the high wall. By noon on July 15, Godfrey’s siege tower reaches the inner city wall. The Crusaders would enter the city at the same hour Jesus is said to have died on the cross and, perhaps more importantly, on the exact day the vision of Bishop Adhemar had prophesied.
And then it happened….
If you have been told anything about the Crusades, doubtless it was of the massacre that followed as the Crusaders stormed into Jerusalem. By all the standards of warfare at the time, the Crusaders would be justified in sacking the city and killing all the city’s inhabitants. It sounds gruesome to modern ears, but this was a time when war was not entered into lightly. Particularly where the applications of laying siege to a city are employed. If a city is approached by an aggressor army and it surrenders, generous terms are expected and normally granted. No army believed there was any good or glory to come from waging wars on noncombatants. However, if a city chooses to resist and a battle ensues, then the standard that would be applied to a defeated army in the field would be applied to the entire population of the defeated city. Armies at this time in history tended to fight battles of annihilation. This means that when the battle is over, only one of them is left. Any soldiers that were allowed to survive from the defeated army would be sold into slavery unless they possessed enough wealth to purchase their own ransom. When a city chooses to resist a siege, its population forfeits its right to be viewed as noncombatants. Iftikhar al-Daura had confidence in his ability to defend Jerusalem long enough to allow the the coming Egyptian army to arrive and relieve the city of the siege. He gambled. He lost. It was he who put the city’s population at risk. He knew what he was doing and he is entitled to an equal share of blame for the carnage that ensued in the subsequent sacking of Jerusalem.
Contrary to popular belief, the Crusaders did NOT kill everyone in Jerusalem. The blood did not run in rivers up to the Crusader’s knees. There has been considerable exaggeration as to the extent of the massacre over the centuries. Some of this, of course, is due to the Crusaders themselves in retelling the stories. However, in modern culture it has become the “politically correct” norm to blame all Christian/Muslim conflicts on the Crusades. Particularly for the Crusaders’ treatment of the inhabitants remaining in Jerusalem when it was taken. In truth, the Crusaders surely killed most of the Muslims in the city, although many were ransomed. It is also a popular myth among the “politically correct” crowd that the Crusaders were so “blood drunk” that they killed indiscriminately and even slew the Christians in Jerusalem. Since the Christian population was expelled from the city upon their arrival, the Crusaders would certainly not have been looking to cull Christians from the rest of the population. Quite the opposite. Since the Muslims expelled the people they felt were not loyal to them, the Crusaders had every reason to believe that all those remaining inside the city were hardcore supporters of their Muslim defenders. It is true, that sacking a city is hardly something that fits with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but these historical denunciations of the conquest of Jerusalem are merely exaggerations by people whose agenda is to disgrace the Crusades as an act of Christian imperial aggression. There is simply no truth to this. The Muslims bear considerable responsibility for their own fate. The sack of Jerusalem was well within the rules of engagement considered normal for the time.
Let us also not forget that in 1187, when the Muslim leader Saladin would himself lay siege to Jerusalem, it was his entire intention to put every Christian to the sword. He was only prevented from doing so because Balian threatened to kill every Muslim in the city, and destroy the Dome of The Rock, before he could do it. This, combined with a more effective defense, forced Saladin to negotiate. Iftikhar al-Daura, having himself expelled the Christian inhabitants of the city, could not make such a threat. He therefore had no bargaining leverage. An extremely important factor in determining the outcome.
At sunset on July 15, the Crusaders gather at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and fulfill their vows. They celebrate mass just as they promised they would when this adventure began. Against all odds the First Crusade achieved all of its objectives. Ordained by God?….You better believe it!
I bet you are wondering about that Fatimid army dispatched from Cairo that was on its way to relieve Jerusalem from the siege. It looks like it could be a repeat of Antioch doesn’t it? The Crusaders could find themselves trapped in Jerusalem with a huge Muslim army pressing them from the outside…but this story doesn’t end that way. Instead, quarreling among the Crusader leaders rears it head again. After a brief period of celebration, the Crusaders got together and offered the Raymond the crown of the city. Ever the pious one, he declined, however when the same offer was made to Godfrey he initially refused, but then accepted. This angered Raymond so much that he and his troops left the city.
The Fatimid army that was closing in on Jerusalem expected the Crusaders to remain in the city the same way they remained in Antioch. When Raymond vacated the city he discovered the Egyptian army was encamped at Ascalon and making preparations to retake Jerusalem. Raymond informed the other Crusaders and rejoined them for an attack on their encampment. This caught the Egyptian army totally by surprise and it was thoroughly destroyed. The Holy Land was now, not only conquered by the Crusaders, it was safe.
There were many subsequent crusades but the generally accepted rule is that there were seven crusades launched between 1095 and 1250 that constitute “The Crusades.” The Crusader states lasted until 1291 when the Muslims took Acre and the other remaining outposts either fell or were abandoned. After 200 years the Europeans seemed to lose interest in expending “blood and treasure” in faraway lands.
What did the Crusades accomplish? Some would suggest that since they inevitably abandoned the Holy Land, that they ultimately accomplished nothing. Well nothing could be farther from the truth. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that Western Civilization, as we have come to know it, would not have even come into existence were it not for these defensive military campaigns. For 200 years, the expansion of Islamic conquest was halted. The Crusades may ultimately have failed to hold the territory they retook, but they certainly thwarted the expansion of Islam.
This can be proven by just how quickly the Jhihadist expansion of Islam resumed afterward. The Muslims moved against Europe, occupying Gallipoli in 1354 and captured Adrianople in 1357. It didn’t stop there. The Islamic juggernaut roared into Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia. On June 5, 1389 they defeated a Western army in Kosovo. The Europeans called for more crusades, but now they were fighting a lot closer to home. In 1426 Cyprus fell. In 1430 it was Thessalonica that succumbed to Islam’s sword. Then, on May 29, 1453, the crown jewel of the Byzantine Empire fell…Constantinople. There, the Muslims massacred men women and children without discrimination or mercy. A scene far worse than either the reality, or the fiction, of the massacre at Jerusalem in 1099. Yet we are supposed to accept guilt for the atrocities of Christian Crusaders in Jerusalem, when the sacking of Constantinople and so many other Islamic massacres goes unmentioned in our “politically correct” culture. Constantinople is now renamed Istanbul.
Twice, the “religion of peace” got as far as Vienna. Imagine how far Islam might have gotten if the Crusades hadn’t stunted its growth for 200 years. We OWE the Crusaders our gratitude, NOT our condemnation. Instead, we see the same sort of condemnation that has historically been heaped on the Crusades applied to President Bush’s “War On Terror.” Islam is again being portrayed as the victim of Western aggression as though they have been peacefully minding their own business. Too many people are willing to blame their own countries and their policies instead of seeing Islamic terrorism for what it is. The great military strategist Carl von Clausewitz would recognize it as “war by other means.”
The first siege of Vienna failed in 1529. But Islam is on a course for world domination and therefore setbacks are only temporary. They always come back. Islam reached its high water mark when it again laid siege to Vienna in 1683. Islam would enter into a period of decline when Poland’s King Jan III Sobieski and 30,000 soldiers broke the siege…..
…..And don’t you want to know what day that was?….September 11, 1683….Now you know why Osama Bin Laden chose September 11 to send his message to the world. Islam is prepared to pick up where it left off in 1683. They always come back…It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what God you believe in or what God you don’t believe in. They have time, and they are prepared to use that as their greatest weapon.
All religions are NOT created equal. Islam is an expansionist, imperialistic theocratic tyranny. It has more in common with Stalinist communism and National Socialism (Nazism) than it has with true religion. It just uses God to give it the false impression of a higher validation. The Crusades neither inspired nor amplified the aggressive behavior of Muslims. It was there from the time of Muhammad. They also didn’t put an end to Islam’s desire to dominate with a worldwide Caliphate. But for 200 years the Crusades held Islam in place. Not a weakened Islam, but an Islam of equal, or perhaps superior, military capability. Islam does not negotiate in good faith, and it preys on any sign of weakness. We dare not display any. We could do worse than to follow the Crusaders’ example today. In fact, if we fail to show equal resolve and courage, Islam will steal our culture away from us. Just as it has done to all the cultures that have crossed its path before. Believe it…Or bury your face in the dirt facing Mecca.
The Author is a true believer!
“For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it.”
From Pope Urban II’s call for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont, 1095
“The New Concise History Of The Crusades” Thomas F. Madden
“Crusades: The Illustrated History” Thomas F. Madden
“The Politically Incorrect Guide To Islam And The Crusades” Robert Spencer
“The Idiot’s Guide To The Crusades” Paul L, Williams
“The Crusades: An Illustrated History” James Harpur
“God’s War” Christopher Tyerman
“The First Crusade” Thomas Asbridge
“The Crusades,” David Nicolle
Friday, September 7, 2007