The First Crusade - Conquering of Jerusalem

The First Crusade was the only one that reached its objective, the recovery of the Holy Sepulcher. The cross was the symbol of the crusaders, and the crusaders fought with the cross as their symbol. 1097-1099. Pope Urban II launched the great military movement of the crusade. In the eyes of the Eastern emperor Alexius, the crusaders were his allies. They had come to his assistance by request, to help roll back the tide of Turkish advance in the Empire's Asiatic possessions. Asia Minor and Syria must be recovered if the Empire were to gain any semblance of its former power. The viewpoint of the crusading princes were quite different. They had two objectives in mind, rescuing Holy Places and of carving out fiefdoms for themselves, they did however take the required oath of homage.

What Alexius I had in mind was the kind of mercenaries that had already fought with the Byzantines, to help him win back the Anatolian provinces won by the Seljuks. What he received was a gigantic movement with the aim of the Holy Land, and not Jerusalem. The goal of the Crusade was the pope's idea. His aim was to provide an outlet for the warlike proclivities of the knights of the west by letting them devote themselves to something useful and profitable to their souls. The Crusade promised to be a far more effective pacification turning their ferocity against each other unto the Moslems. Title of Crusader: crux = cross, take the cross. They were granted special privileges as soldiers of the Lord and Urban granted indulgences to all who took part.

A masterpiece of shrewdness, Urban appealed to the highest and lowest motives of men. He emphasized the appeal received from the eastern Christians, he preached to the throng of the faithful to help their brothers in difficulty, and painted in dark colors the hardships that faced pilgrims to Jerusalem. The pilgrim usually kept the garment he wore on entering Jerusalem for grave-clothes so that his immediate entrance into heaven might be assured, to liberate Jerusalem would certainly be a holy cause. To rescue the Holy Places was a much more vibrant rallying cry than to go to the aid of the eastern emperor. Urban recounted the atrocities that the vile race had allegedly committed against Christians. "An accursed race has invaded the lands of the East. Christians are enslaved, tortured and killed.. The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary is in their hands.. Come now to the defense of Christ. But now you are swollen with pride and cut each other to pieces. Forget feuds and fight infidels. Before you is the standard-bearer leading you to this war, the un-seen standard-bearer, even Christ." And all the host greeted this moving oration with the battle cry of Te Deum, "God wills it, God wills it." From Clermont the contagion spread.. For nine months after Clermont, Urban traveled in southern and central France urging the cause. Estimates vary from a few hundred thousand to a million. In the name of Christ, Urban exhorted men of all ranks, rich and poor, to exterminate the infidels. If a man were killed doing this work of God, he would automatically be absolved of his sins and assured of salvation. Throngs of volunteers took a solemn oath, and sewed crosses of cloth onto their clothes. They came by diverse routes from France, Normandy, Flanders, England, Southern Italy, and Sicily, and the will and power of them were the Normans.

From the beginning to the end the first crusade was marked by bickering among the princes and their vassals. They massacred Jews in the Rhenish cities and abused and robbed the Balkan peoples whose lands they crossed. The first wave crossed the Bosporus and captured Nicaea, which Alexius snatched away from them before they could loot it. Went on to Jerusalem. At length a regular army was organized under the command of Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lorraine, one of the most celebrated generals of his time. This disciplined Crusade left in August 1096 and consisted of five main contingents and a number of lesser ones commanded by Godfrey and his brother Baldwin of Flanders, and other princes. In the face of Byzantine grandeur & culture, Franks had strong sense of inferiority. The Latin warriors passed into Asia, leaving behind them worse enemies in the Christians of the Byzantine Empire than the Turks they had come to assail. . They arrived in Constantinople that winter and the next spring, probably not more than 30,000 crusaders set out across Asia Minor, fought their way through, captured Antioch in June 1098, with great slaughter, and the following year took Jerusalem. Shortly before the taking of Jerusalem that one Peter Bartholomew, reportably led by a vision and an audible communication from God, discovered the Holy Lance at Antioch and proved its genuiness by an ordeal by fire. The Spirits of the Crusaders were raised by the discovery of the Lance (actually a forgery) which was carried in battle before them..

Only a remnant finally arrived in Jerusalem. Within three years from the time of their starting, they had entered the Holy City and murdered in cold blood almost all of its civilian inhabitants. For thirty nine days the city was besieged until it finally fell by assault on July 15, 1099. The goal of the Crusade had been achieved. The Cross replace the crescent on the Dome of the Rock. The crusaders entry into the Holy City was an orgy of killing and looting. In August a more regular army followed. Even this army was ill organized under its several leaders, undisciplined footmen immensely outnumbered the knights on horseback. The great prize had been won at the cost of a terrible blemish that served to poison relations between Christians and Moslems for years and contributed to the Moslem fanaticism that resulted in the expulsion of the Christians from the East. When Jerusalem fell the Crusaders indulged in a wholesale slaughter of the Moslem and the Jews who were inside, over the heaps of bodies they made way to the holy shrines. The slaughter was terrible; the blood of the conquered ran down the streets, until men splashed in blood as they rode. .. feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. None of them were left alive, not women or children. A letter to Paschal II from Godfrey described that in Solomon's Porch and in his temple the men rode in the blood of the Saracens up to the knees of their horses, 10,000 Turks killed. The followers of the cross were guilty of massacre, robbery and any maniacal perversion thought of. Children's brains were dashed out against the stones, or their living bodies were whirled in demoniacal sport from the walls. Women were outraged prior to being murdered.

The authority of the patriarch of Jerusalem was at once seized upon by the Latin clergy with the expedition, and the Orthodox Christians found themselves in rather a worse case under Latin rule than under the Turk. Godfrey of Boullion was elected king of Jerusalem, and as Godfrey declined the honor of the title of king as unworthy to hold it, he accepted the actual rule and was made "Baron and defender of the Holy sepulcher". Godfrey died the next year, and his brother Baldwin allowed himself to be crowned at Bethlehem in 1100. Thus there was founded the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. The mass of the surviving crusaders returned home, and the leaders who remained in charge of the chief cities that had been captured - Jerusalem, Antioch, and Edessa - found to their dismay that they were left stranded, like shipwrecked sailors on three desert islands. They behaved as foreign princes colonizing a land that they had won by the sword. The kingdom of Jerusalem lasted for nearly a century. Their political structure was feudal which was normal for that day. It was the temporary disunity of the Moslems and their inability to present a united front that had made Jerusalem fall so easily.

Having massacred the Moslem and Jewish civilians in the Holy City, thereafter, the massacre of Jews was to become a normal feature of popular, as distinct from knightly crusades. It was said that whoever killed a Jew who refused baptism had all his sins forgiven him; and there were those who felt unworthy to go on a crusade until he killed one. Back in Europe many fighting men who could not conveniently go to Palestine to kill Turks, thought the next best thing was to kill Jews. Moslems and Jews, classed together as infidels, they could not fight one while sparing the other.

The Eastern Emperor, realizing its potential, and apprehensive, made the leaders swear that they would hold under his sovereignty any lands that they might conquer. This oath, they ignored. Antioch was captured by the Turks in 1098, Jerusalem in 1099; the first Crusade was a brilliant, if bloody success. They numbered about 25 or 30 thousand, impressive for the time. Urban died just before the news of the fall of Jerusalem. Modern research acquits the Turks of deliberate mistreatment of Christian pilgrims and of willful defiling of Holy Places. The westerners established in Moslem territory four independent states of their own, usually called the Latin States or Frankish states (to the Moslems, all westerners were called "Franks." Yet by 1187, the Moslems had retaken all but a remnant.
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