The Siege Of Jerusalem (1099) - Émile Signol, 1847

The First Crusade saw European soldiers lay siege to the Muslim Fatimid Caliphate, capturing the Holy City of Jerusalem and setting the groundwork for the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted over two centuries. The capture of Jerusalem was the final major battle of the First Crusade, which began in 1095, intending to 'liberate and occupy the Holy Land.

The First Crusade (1095–1099) was the first of a series of religious battles or Crusades, a holy war of sorts that the Latin Church organized, supported, and at times directed during the medieval period. The goal was to liberate the Holy Land from Islamic authority. While Jerusalem had been under Muslim administration for hundreds of years, the Seljuk conquest of the region in the 11th century posed a threat to local Christian people and the Byzantine Empire itself.

Closely associated with this Western concept of holy war was another popular religious practice, pilgrimage to a holy shrine. Eleventh-century Europe abounded in local shrines housing relics of saints, but three great centers of pilgrimage stood out above the others: Rome, with the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul; Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain; and Jerusalem, with the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus Christ’s entombment. Pilgrimage, which had always been considered an act of devotion, was regarded as a more formal expiation for serious sin, even occasionally prescribed as a penance for the sinner by his confessor.

In 1095, Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested military assistance from the Council of Piacenza in the empire's battle with the Seljuk-led Turks, which began the First Crusade. Later that year, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II approved the Byzantine appeal for military help while also encouraging devoted Christians to make an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

This call was greeted with enthusiasm by people from all walks of life in Western Europe. Thousands of primarily poor Christians, headed by a French priest named Peter the Hermit, were the first to respond. The People's Crusade, also known as the Rhineland Massacres, traveled through Germany and engaged in a wide range of 'anti-Jewish' activities.

In the late spring and summer of 1096, crusaders destroyed most Jewish communities along the Rhine in a series of unprecedentedly large pogroms in France and Germany. Thousands of Jews were massacred, driven to suicide, or forced to convert to Christianity. Twelve Jews were murdered in Speyer, where the Bishop saved the rest of the Jews, but in the Worms massacre, some 800 were murdered. Over 1,000 Jews were murdered in Mainz and more in Trier, Metz, Cologne, and elsewhere. Others were subjected to forced baptism and conversion. The preacher, Folkmar, and Emicho of Flonheim were the main inciters and leaders of the massacre. The major chroniclers of the 1096 killings are Solomon bar Simson and Albert of Aachen.

Estimates of the number of Jewish men, women, and children murdered or driven to suicide by crusaders vary, ranging from 2,000 to 12,000 from May to June 1096.  In total, approximately one-fourth to one-third of the Jewish population of Germany and Northern France were slaughtered during this period. The clergy and nobility of Europe condemned the killing of Jews and forbade it on subsequent crusades.

The Crusaders who committed the Rhineland massacres were annihilated in a Turkish ambush led by the Seljuk Turk, Kilij Arslan in the Battle of Civetot in October 1096 after leaving Byzantine-controlled territory in Anatolia. The Seljuks were a disorganized group of Islamic warriors that wreaked havoc across the Byzantine empire and wrestled control of much of Asia-minor from Constantinople. 

On June 7, 1099, the Christian army, which was down to roughly 1,200–1,500 cavalry and 12,000-foot soldiers—encamped before Jerusalem, whose governor was well supplied and confident that he could withstand a siege until a relief force arrived from Egypt. On the other hand, the Crusaders were short of supplies and would be until six ships arrived at Jaffa and were unloaded before an Egyptian squadron could blockade the port. Siege towers were carried up to the walls on July 13th, and on July 15th, a French nobleman named Godfrey Bouillon, who was one of the leaders of the Crusades, had his men take a sector of the walls, and others followed on scaling ladders.

When the nearest gate was opened, Tancred and Raymond of Toulouse, another French Nobleman competing for the leadership of the Crusade forces entered, and the Muslim governor surrendered to him in the Tower of David. Along with his bodyguard, the governor was escorted out of the city. Italian Crusader, Tancred of Hauteville, later to be crowned 'Prince Of Galilee', promised the inhabitants protection within the confines of the Al Aqsa Mosque, but his orders were disobeyed by Godfrey and Raymond's men. Hundreds of men, women, and children, both Muslim and Jewish, died in the slaughter that followed.

After Jerusalem was secured, a successful surprise attack on the Egyptian relief army ensured the Crusaders’ occupation of entire Palestine. Having fulfilled their vows of pilgrimage, most of the Crusaders departed for home, leaving the problem of governing the conquered territories to the few who remained. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre hosted a council on July 22 to determine Jerusalem's governance. According to one school of thought, the death of the Greek Patriarch meant that there was no obvious ecclesiastical candidate to create a religious dominion. Although Raymond of Toulouse had been the preeminent crusade leader since 1098, his popularity had eroded following his failed effort to besiege Arqa and establish his own country. It is perhaps for this reason that he declined the crown, claiming that only Christ could wear it. Many speculate that Raymond's rejection of the crown could have also been an attempt to persuade others to reject the title, but French nobleman Godfrey Bouillon had no such reservations.

The appearance of a huge force from Lorraine, led by him and his brothers, Eustace and Baldwin, enforcers of the Ardennes–Bouillion dynasty, was probably more persuasive to the council, and fear was a great motivator. As a result, Godfrey was elected, and he gained secular power under the title Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Defender of the Holy Sepulchre). In a fit of rage, Raymond attempted to take the Tower of David before fleeing the city.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem would last until 1291, but the city of Jerusalem would fall to the Muslims in 1187 due to the crucial Battle of Hattin. Jerusalem's history records Muslim dominion for 40 years until restoring to Christian power during a series of later Crusades. During this time, the Jews were mostly protected from Muslim pogroms, however, they suffered abuse at the hands of the crusaders.

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