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First Crusade
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First Crusade

This article is part of the
Crusades series.
First Crusade
Second Crusade
Third Crusade
Fourth Crusade
Albigensian Crusade
Children's Crusade
Fifth Crusade
Sixth Crusade
Seventh Crusade
Eighth Crusade
Ninth Crusade
Northern Crusades
The First Crusade was launched in 1095 by Pope Urban II at Clermont, France with the explicit objective of regaining control of Jerusalem and the Holy land from the Muslims, and also helping the Byzantine Empire fight the Seljuk Turks.

It succeeded in establishing the "Crusader States" of Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Tripoli in Palestine and Syria.

Table of contents
1 Origins
2 The "People's Crusade"
3 The "Princes' Crusade"
4 Siege of Jerusalem
5 Establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
6 External link


As early as 1074, three years after the Seljuks had defeated the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert, Pope Gregory VII had projected a war against the Muslims, which he hoped would also lead to reunion with the Greek Orthodox Church. However, the plan was pushed into the background by the Pope's conflict with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over the investiture controversy and other Gregorian reforms.

Pope Urban II, who was pope from 1088 to 1099, next took up the idea of a Crusade to capture the Holy Land. Urban was motivated as much by actual religious impulse as by the political considerations of Gregory. The disunity in Europe at the time presented several opportunities beneficial to the papacy; if a crusade was called and attracted loyalty from a wide range of disparate nations, this would assert the idea of the power of the pope being as superior to that of kings. From the Church came the impelling force; on the secular powers rested the actual execution of the plan.

At that time, the borders of Islamic territory in Europe were being pushed back. The Moorish lands of Spain were under assult during the ongoing Reconquista led by the Spanish Christians; the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard had conquered the "toe of Italy," Calabria, in 1057 and was holding what had traditionally been Byzantine territory against the Muslims of Sicily; and Pisa, Genoa and Catalonia were all actively fighting Islamic strongholds in Majorca and Sardinia, freeing the coasts of Italy and Catalonia from Muslim raids. Because of these ongoing wars, the idea of a crusade against the Muslims was not implausible to the European nations.

The Byzantine emperor Alexius I was quite aware of these activities when he turned to Urban for aid against the Turks, sending envoys to the Council of Piacenza in March of 1095. For his part, Urban was well aware of the Emperor's mission before the first Byzantine emissaries set foot in Italy and had developed his own plans. The emperor's request met with a favourable response from the Church. When the Greek ambassadors arrived, Urban prepared them for the Council of Clermont, for which he urged the French bishops and abbots to bring with them the most prominent lords in their provinces. Before he began speaking, Urban had arranged that Raymond, Count of Toulouse, would step forward to take up the cross then and there. The Pope first preached the crusade on November 26, 1095 — in words which have been lost to history but which apparently stirred the crowd to a frenzied enthusiasm, with cries of "Deus vult! Deus vult!" ("God wills it"). The response came as well from the noble knights of Western Europe with their lust for adventure and conquest. Urban offered protection for their estates at home while they were gone, and more. In an unprecedented move he offered plenary indulgence for any who took up the cross, an inducement that echoed the assurances of heaven in the Qur'an for any Muslim warrior who died defending the faith.

Urban had domestic reasons for supporting a crusade; he was French, from Rheims, and needed to give an impression of the church militant, extending the religious mission from monks to the nobility. The aristocracy supported the Crusades: many younger sons could not inherit land, and Jerusalem was an opportunity. The Crusade was available as a religious penance as much as it was an economic opportunity. Merchants and financiers from the northern Italian towns (Genoa, Pisa, Venice) also saw opportunities in setting up trading routes and outposts in the newly conquered territories, or closer to home, simply in financing and outfitting the undertaking itself. The Crusade was a massive undertaking in a primitive European economy.

Papal legates preached the crusade through the south of France and in Italy. The number of those who rose to join the Crusade increased daily, and the movement, soon exceeding papal restraint or orderly preparations, seized upon the fervor of the lower classes. Peasants exchanged plows for arms and were joined by the dissatisfied, the oppressed, and the outcast, including members of the lower clergy, runaway monks, women, and children. This popular mob, swayed by an apocalyptic vision, believed themselves to be led directly by God.

The "People's Crusade"

These events led to the legend that Peter the Hermit of Amiens, not Urban, was the true representative of the crusading idea. Peter was one of the leaders of the fanatical bands, whose contribution to the enterprise was a story of an alleged personal appearance of Jesus. According to Peter, Jesus had given him a letter describing the sad condition of the Holy Land, and commanding Peter to lead an army to re-establish Christian power there. Conveniently, most of Peter's followers were at best semi-literate. Peter also had the support of the knight Walter the Penniless, who, as his name suggests, was an impoverished knight with no lord and no vassals. Their unarmed, unorganized army had little idea of the world outside their own lands, and at every city of any great size they believed they had arrived, at last, at Jerusalem.

Their march was filled with wild excesses. The Jews were their principal targets, and many communities along the Rhine were slaughtered with the help of another peasant army led by Emich of Leiningen (see "German Crusade" below). On their way down the Danube, Peter's mob attacked Hungarians, Slavs, and anyone else they suspected of being "heathens." Most of Peter's army was massacred before they even reached Constantinople. Peter survived, however, and would later join the main Crusader army.

The "German Crusade"

Setting off in the early summer of 1096, the German crusade was a large contingent of around 10,000 soldiers. Led by Gottschalk and Volkmar, Emich of Leiningen, and Gottschalk, they proceded southwards along the Rhine. However, here began what is known as "the first Holocaust."

At the time there was growing anti-Semitism, and Germans perceived Jews as just as much of an enemy as Muslims. This grew to violence as the forces past through Cologne and southern Germany. Thousands of Jews were massacred by the Crusading forces. This was justififed through the speech made by Pope Urban II at Clermont in November 1095, where he is reported to have said that Christians would receive "spiritual reward" if they took part in the Crusade and would not be punished by God for killing non-Christians. It is worth noting that the killing of Jews was never intended by the Papacy and was condemned and prevented in future Crusades.

The "Princes' Crusade"

The real armies set out in 1096. The main contingents were men of Lorraine under the brothers Godfrey of Bouillon, Eustace and Baldwin of Boulogne; Flemings under Count Robert II of Flanders; northern French under Robert of Normandy (older brother of King William II of England), Stephen of Blois, and Hugh of Vermandois (younger brother of King Philip I of France); Provencals under Raymond IV of Toulouse; and Normans of Italy under Bohemund of Taranto and Tancred of Hauteville.

There was some dissension among the leaders, especially over who was the actual leader, though Urban himself appointed his legate Adhemar of Le Puy overall leader. The army also had to contend against the wishes of Alexius I, who was understandably suspicious of a massive army that included many of his old Norman enemies. Alexius would not let them leave until the various leaders had sworn fealty to him, and had them promise to return to the Byzantine Empire any land they recovered from the Seljuks; these oaths would quickly be broken once the Crusaders crossed into Asia Minor.

Nicaea, capital of the Seljuk "Sultan of Rum" Kilij Arslan I,was taken in early 1097, and Kilij Arslan himself was defeated at Dorylaeum. The Crusaders then marched across Asia Minor. At this point Baldwin of Boulogne set off on his own towards the Armenian lands around the Euphrates. In Edessa he was adopted as heir by King Thoros, a Greek Orthodox ruler who was disliked by his Armenian subjects. Thoros was soon assassinated and Baldwin became the new ruler; the city became the County of Edessa, the first of the Crusader states.

The main Crusader army, meanwhile, marched on to Antioch, which was captured after a long siege on June 3, 1098, but only by deception - a former Christian guard in the city opened one of the gates for the Crusaders. Almost immediately, an army from Mosul arrived to besiege the newly conquered city; on June 28 Antioch was successfully defended against this army thanks largely to the efforts of Bohemond, who claimed the city for himself as Prince of Antioch. According to legend, an army of Christian saints, including the martyrs who had been killed at Nicaea and Dorylaeum, helped rout the Turks outside the city, allowing for the success of the siege. The Crusaders also believed they were aided by the discovery of the Holy Lance inside the city.

Siege of Jerusalem

After a break, the rest of the Crusader army marched on to Jerusalem, which had, in the meanwhile, been recaptured by the Fatimids of Egypt. After a lengthy siege in which the Crusaders probably suffered more than the citizens of the city (with 15,000 starving Crusaders marching round its walls in penitence on July 8), Jerusalem was taken on July 15, 1099. The Crusaders massacred the whole Muslim and Jewish population, men, women and children. The Jews were burned alive in their main synagogue where they had fled; the Muslims were slaughtered in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and according to the accounts their blood ran ankle-deep. In the days following the massacre, Godfrey of Bouillon was made Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Protector of the Holy Sepulchre), refusing to be named king in the city where Christ had died. In the last action of the Crusade, he led an army which defeated an invading Fatimid army at Ascalon. Godfrey died in July, 1100, and was succeeded by his brother, Baldwin of Edessa, who took the title of "King of Jerusalem". Baldwin and his successors, Baldwin II (d. 1131), and Fulk (d. 1143), extended the boundaries of the Kingdom of Jerusalem through successful warfare.

Establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

The new kingdom drew strength from the influx of new crusading forces in 1101, from the presence of the Italian merchants who established themselves in the Syrian ports, and from the religious and military orders of the Knights Templars and the Knights of St. John which were created during Baldwin I's reign.

The First Crusade marks the emergence of a self-confident, aggressive and expansionist Latin society, as newly-achieved stability in the West left a warrior aristocracy in search of new conquests and patrimony. The new prosperity of major towns also meant that money was available to equip expeditions. The seaborne towns, in particular Venice and Genoa, were interested in extending trade. The Pope saw the Crusades as a way to assert Catholic influence as a unifying force, with war as a religious mission. This was a new attitude to religion: it brought religious discipline, previously applicable to monks, to soldiery—-the new concept of a religious warrior and the chivalric ethos.

See also: Crusade, Adhemar de Monteil, Albert of Aix, Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, Kingdom of Jerusalem, William of Tyre

External link