History Lesson: The First Crusade, Part II

Rooster continues her look at The First Crusade in Part II of a two-part series on History Lesson.

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“Let this then be your war-cry in combats, because this word is given to you by God” – Pope Urban II

With their first victory won, the emboldened crusaders continued their march across Anatolia. They split into two more manageable companies for the trek, one led by the Norman Bohemond and one led by the Frankish Godfrey.

The Normans arrived first at Dorylaeum and made camp, but they were ambushed at dawn by Sultan Kilij Arslan. After his defeat to the crusaders and Byzantines at Nicaea, Arslan regrouped with a larger force. He quickly surrounded the Normans at Dorylaeum with his swift mounted archers, inciting the Norman camp into disarray, and a storm of Turkish arrows slew many panicked Norman foot soldiers and non-combatants in the chaos. Bohemond ordered his forces to dismount and form defensive lines in front of the more vulnerable people and provisions.

With the Normans withdrawn and fortified, the Turks had full reign over the battlefield and moved in for quick mounted attacks. However, their arrows had little effect on the heavily armoured Norman defense. Word of the their plight was sent to Godfrey, and the Normans were able to fend off the Turkish warriors until midday, when groups of Frankish relief began to arrive. After seven hours of battle, the Turks were finally outflanked, and, unable to overcome the crusaders’ endurance, they fled the battlefield in retreat.

After their success at the Battle of Dorylaeum, the crusader army continued the rest of their march across Anatolia to Antioch virtually unopposed.

Once known as the “cradle of Christianity,” Antioch was a huge city, and the task of taking it was extremely daunting. The city was so large that the crusader army could not entirely surround it, nor could they fully prevent provisions from entering. Nevertheless, the crusaders began their siege in October of 1097 and it lasted a total of eight months.

During the winter of 1097, the crusaders’ food supply fell critically low and Godfrey became ill, forcing them to venture farther and farther for food and leaving their divided army more vulnerable to attacks. But the crusaders endured, and in March they received much needed relief from the new “Saxon Crusade” fleet.

In May, Bohemond successfully bribed a city guard to surrender his tower and sneak in the crusaders. Bohemond informed the army that he had access into the city, but would only reveal his method if they agreed in advance to make him Prince of Antioch. The other leaders were furious with Bohemond, but they had received word that another Muslim army was en route to break their siege. Stuck in a desperate situation, they had little choice but to accept Bohemond’s ultimatum. Once inside the city, they began a swift and brutal massacre of all inhabitants — Christian and Muslim alike.

A few days later, the new Muslim army arrived outside the city to lay siege to the besiegers. Having taken Antioch, the crusaders were filled with holy fire. Upon leaving the city walls to confront the Muslim army, they were joined by visions of St. George, St. Mercurius, and St. Demetrius riding out with them, and they fought with religious fervor and wild abandon. The Fatimid Muslim faction retreated from the onslaught, drastically reducing the numerical advantage on their side. From there, the battle was quick and disastrous for the remaining Turks.

Several weary knights deserted the crusades at this point, and on their march back to Constantinople, they crossed paths with Alexios and shared with him news of their victory. Alexios was headed to help take Antioch, but, realizing there now was no need to do so, he turned back around. Bohemond spun the Byzantine withdrawal as a betrayal to the Crusades, arguing that this nullified the crusaders’ oath of fealty to Alexios, and thus allowing Bohemond to rightfully rule Antioch himself. Strife grew amongst the crusader leaders as they disputed Bohemond’s claim to power; but their armies were again running out of food, and they threatened to leave for Jerusalem without their bickering commanders. In order to calm the mutinous troops, Raymond and the other rulers finally just left the city behind, ceding full control to Bohemond, the new Prince of Antioch, while they continued on to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem had already been recaptured from the Seljuq Turks by the Fatimid Muslims under governor Iftikhar ad-Daula, and he knew the crusaders were coming. Fearing the potential that he might be hosting a traitor in his city, ad-Daula expelled all of Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants, and poisoned all its surrounding wells. The crusaders arrived to dire circumstances as there was no food or water available, yet many still wept to finally see Jerusalem, the holy city.

By this point in their journey, the crusaders lacked the supplies and troops to undertake a lengthy siege. Instead, they resolved to try and take Jerusalem by sheer force. With camaraderie at an all time low, the uncoordinated crusading groups stationed around the city did not synchronize their attacks and were easily rebuffed. Story spread of a vision that this was a repeat of the Biblical Battle of Jericho, when the righteous Israelites destroyed the impenetrable walls of Jericho with the blasts of their trumpets. Seeking the blessing of God, the crusaders fasted, marched around the walls of Jerusalem barefoot, and listened to fervent sermons delivered by our old friend Peter the Hermit. Energized with renewed purpose, the crusaders once again surged with religious zealotry, and this time there was no stopping them.

A two-pronged attack was launched by the crusaders on July 14th, 1099, utilizing two siege towers — one each to the North and South of Jerusalem. The southern siege tower was put to flame by the Fatimid Muslims. But, the northern tower was successful in breaking through a weak spot in the walls. Godfrey and Tancred, Bohemond’s nephew, were the first through the breach. Once the crusaders had made it through to the north, the southern guards retreated in panic, allowing the southern crusading army to enter the city as well.

Just as in Antioch, the crusaders began a brutal and bloody massacre of Jerusalem. This was more than the expected medieval bloodlust; this was the calculated cleansing of the “contamination of pagan superstition.” In the Temple of Solomon, the blood was said to be ankle deep. Neither woman nor child was spared.

A council was held to determine who would rule over the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and Godfrey of Bouillon was elected. After Godfrey’s election, the crusaders fought a brief battle against another Fatimid army led by al-Afdal Shahanshah at Ascalon. But, the Muslims were ill prepared, and they quickly retreated back to Egypt. With their final enemies defeated and Jerusalem conquered, the First Crusade was officially over. All but a few hundred knights returned to Europe, content that their vows had been fulfilled.

The Byzantine Empire regained some of its Anatolian territory and experienced relative peace and economic revival during the 12th century, thanks to the crusaders’ help. The First Crusade saw the establishment of the “crusader states” in conquered territories: the County of Edessa, Principality of Antioch, Kingdom of Jerusalem, and County of Tripoli. In 1144, the Second Crusade would be launched in response to the fall of the County of Edessa. The fight between Christians and Muslims began again.

Catch up on part one of History Lesson: The First Crusade here.

Rooster stars in the history/spooky/society and culture/current events/everything show, Phone It In. She also covers the broad, daunting topic of ‘general history’ on History Lesson. Follow her on Twitter @SoBroRooster

Check out the SoBros Shop. Become a Patron. Give us money for no reason. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @SoBrosNetwork. Watch on YouTube. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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