First Crusade

The First Crusade meant a great deal to the Christian world. The western soldiers wrestled back control of the Holy Land for their faith, and in doing so, cemented their place in heaven!

First Crusade First Crusade

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Table of contents

    First Crusade Map

    The main issue for the Crusaders was that the Holy Land, Jerusalem, was under Islamic rule. The Crusaders viewed Muslim as infidels who had no right to rule over Jerusalem.

    Infidel

    An archaic term that was used to describe someone with differing religious beliefs.

    Let's examine the map to see the route of the Christian soldiers who marched across Europe and into Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and the Levant (the strip of land on the east of the Mediterranean Sea.

    The First Crusade, A Map of Europe and the Mediterrean Sea, along with North Africa and the Levante. Cities like Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem are marked. The Main routes of the Crusade is marked in red. StudySmarterThe Main Routes of the First Crusade - StudySmarter

    First Crusade War

    At the Council of Clermont in 1095, Pope Urban II gave a rallying cry to the Franks who followed him. It was time to defend their faith through battle.

    Frank

    Originally a Germanic people, the Franks occupied much of modern-day France and were under the pope's command after his rigorous touring of their territory and northern Italy.

    The years that followed would come to be known as the First Crusade, a religiously charged rite of passage for anyone who called themselves an ardent believer of Christianity.

    First Crusade Timeline

    Before we can find out exactly why this campaign occurred, we should examine the key moments and men that defined the expedition.

    DateEvent
    1 - 7 March 1095At the Council of Piacenza in Italy, Pope Urban II received the first appeal for aid from the Greek Orthodox Church from the ambassadors of Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos. They informed the pope of the threat of Seljuk Turks in Anatolia, spawning fears of a Muslim invasion of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople.
    18 - 28 November 1095Another meeting of the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Clermont addressed issues within the church including simony - referring to the selling of religious services in exchange for salvation. Near the end of the event, Pope Urban II preached to a gigantic crowd, imploring them to support their Byzantine Christian allies and fight to regain the Holy City of Jerusalem. Effectively, the pope said that 'journeying east was a journey in this life and a way to reach paradise in the next.'1
    21 November 1096Although Pope Urban II had appealed to Knights and nobles to lead his campaign, his speech encouraged mostly ordinary men to be the First Crusaders. Led by Peter the Hermit, they arrived in Constantinople and were transported to the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, Nicaea. Muslim Sultan Kilij Arslan I quickly defeated the common men.
    1 July 1097Following a rendezvous in Constantinople between the crusaders and Alexios Komnenos, the Byzantine ruler was unwilling to leave his city unguarded. The crusade was left to the Western Christians. They included military units led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Flanders, Raymond IV of Toulouse, and Bohemond of Taranto. They succeeded where the first Crusaders failed, capturing Nicaea and then winning the nearby Battle of Dorylaeum and toppling Kilij Arslan.
    October 1097With the notion of the development and growth of a Frankish state in Mesopotamia, Godfrey of Bouillon sent his brother Baldwin to capture Edessa and strengthen the position of the Franks in the region. Through clever diplomacy and the marriage of Baldwin to an Armenian woman, this was successful.
    2 June 1098Reinforced by men from Edessa and buoyed by the arrival of English provisions, the Crusaders had the crucial Syrian city of Antioch in their sights, home to many Christians who lived alongside their Seljuk rulers. As the city walls seemed impregnable. Bohemond's knowledge of Greek was vital. Over a period, he befriended an Armenian guard named Firouz. Eventually, the guard betrayed the leaders of his city and opened the gates. The Christians killed mercilessly and looted the city, decapitating leader Yaghi-Siyan.
    28 June 1098The remaining resistance in the city and the swift arrival of Kerbogha of Mosul and his troops knocked the Crusaders back. They needed a sign from God and, according to Peter of Bartholemew, the Holy Lance used to wound Jesus Christ himself was under the Church of St Peter. Upon finding this Lance, the Christians mounted a final attack and defeated Kerbogha. Bohemond became the Prince of Antioch, largely satisfied with his work, but the other crusaders had their eyes set on Jerusalem, the ultimate prize.
    10 January 1099With Bohemond satisfied with his lot, Raymond IV of Toulouse departed with a small contingent of men including Norman leader Tancred. Entering the territory of the Fatimid Muslim Caliphate, they met little resistance on their path to Jerusalem, exchanging supplies for peace. They would be joined in their attempt to take the city by Jerusalem's Christians, but their first attempt, in July 1099, failed.
    24 July 1099After the arrival of materials from English and Genoese boats, the crusaders quickly assembled their siege engines. With more trickery at the daunting city walls, Godfrey of Bouillon moved and reassembled these during the night so that the city's weakest point could be exploited by surprise. A bloodbath ensued and the crusaders regained Jerusalem after hundreds of years. Godfrey became the leader of the city and the crusaders knelt at the tomb of Jesus Christ.

    With victory secured, Pope Urban II's legacy was safe.

    Did you know? Pope Urban II and subsequent Christian leaders would use the success of the First Crusade to wage future religious wars. He supported the conflict in the immediate aftermath against the Muslim Moors in Spain which would become known as the Reconquista.

    Godfrey remained in Jerusalem as the new temporary leader and Raymond of Toulouse secured Tripoli.

    There were four Crusader states - the Principality of Antioch, the Counties of Edessa and Tripoli, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This idiosyncratic patchwork of interrelated fiefdoms became known as the land of 'Outremer', 'Across the Sea'.

    -Simon Sebag Montefiore, 'Jerusalem: The Biography', 20202

    Now that we know that the First Crusade resulted in an emphatic Christian victory, we must gain a more in-depth understanding of its exact causes.

    First Crusade Godfrey of Bouillon StudySmarterFig. 2 - Godfrey of Bouillon

    Causes of the First Crusade

    Though Pope Urban II's speech was the tangible starting point for the First Crusade, it was not the only factor that contributed to such an unprecedented religious campaign. Let's examine some of the other reasons that the Crusade took place.

    Factor

    Explanation

    Pope Urban II's position

    Pope Urban II was following in the footsteps of a predecessor, Pope Gregory VIII, who was a keen reformer seeking to remedy the church's malpractices. He was elected in 1088, but not without opposition, including a previous antipope, Clement III. Thus, when an opportunity to cement his power presented itself, he jumped at it.

    Alexios Komnenus

    The Byzantine Emperor feared for the position of his capital Constantinople with the growing threat brewing in the east. He coaxed Pope Urban II into action, initially asking for some mercenaries to fight alongside him. This fooled the pope into thinking he may have been able to unite the Roman Catholic Church with the Eastern Orthodox Church once more, following the Great Schism in 1054.

    The reality could not have been more different. Alexios himself was unwilling to leave Constantinople and thus had little impact on the First Crusade himself. Ultimately, Alexios was only interested in re-establishing order in Anatolia but the Western Crusaders desired to go to Jerusalem.

    The Seljuk Turks

    Spreading their influence across Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), the Seljuk Turks led by Arp Arslan won the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Not only was this a decisive defeat for the Byzantine Empire, but it also resulted in the capture of their emperor, Romanus IV. This unnerved Komnenus, who was already putting out fires in the Balkans in cities such as Adrianople. By the time he was able to focus on the Seljuk Turks, they inhabited most of Asia Minor and were far too close for comfort.

    The Seljuk Turks clearly had their eyes on further expansion. They had gained a reputation as fearsome warriors and were attempting to continue the growth of the Sultanate of Rum.

    Antipope

    A person who tries to depose the pope who has been legitimately elected by the cardinals.

    Asia Minor

    Another name for Anatolia, the western peninsula of Asia that is now modern-day Turkey.

    Below is a representation of just how close they were to the Byzantine Empire before the Crusades.

    First Crusade Sources

    Modern understanding of the Crusades stems from a Western viewpoint. Primary sources such as the Gesta Francorum (written anonymously by a companion of Bohemond), the Fulcher of Chartres (a French priest participating in the Crusade) and Raymond of Aguilers (the Chaplain of Raymond of Toulouse), despite their small discrepancies, all paint the Muslims as infidels and unholy trespassers. The accounts also tend to ignore any history before what they see as the inaugural First Crusade. This characterisation is particularly problematic when considering the forays that the Christians had already made into Muslim territory in the Mediterranean earlier in the century.

    A Muslim Perspective

    When interviewed, a Muslim scholar agreed with this notion:

    To say the Crusades started in Clermont in 1095 and ended at Acre in 1291, we are fooling ourselves. History is not that clean-cut. What came before and after reflected a lot of continuity and not an abrupt change.

    - Suleiman Mourad interviewed by Missy Sullivan, 'Why Muslims See the Crusades So Differently from Christians', 20183

    This is a call for further Muslim historical perspectives on the Western Crusaders so that they can contextualise it within their own knowledge of the period. Despite the ultimate loss of Acre for the Christians, it seems like they have managed to push their narrative on the Crusades, ignoring everything that came before and after. Historians must be careful to take a more holistic approach in the future, departing from the existing notion of numbering the Crusades.

    Five Facts about the First Crusade

    Though we have to acknowledge the one-sided nature of many primary sources, here are five facts about the First Crusade that we do know.

    1. After the victory at Jerusalem, there was more work to be done to secure the kingdom and its surrounding land. Godfrey of Bouillon surprised Fatimid leader Al Afdal at the Battle of Ascalon shortly after.

    2. Despite his reluctance to participate in the Battle of Jerusalem, the Prince of Antioch (Bohemond) joined Godfrey of Bouillon in Jerusalem for Christmas in 1099.

    3. There was an attempt by Alexios Komnenus to regain some of the Crusader territories but this was unsuccessful.

    4. The First Crusade did not only involve Muslims. There was also the mass murder of Jews across Europe in 1096 on religious grounds that they were infidels.

    5. In 1100 Godfrey's brother Baldwin would become the first king of Jerusalem.

    First Crusade Baldwin I of Jerusalem StudySmarterFig. 4 - Baldwin I of Jerusalem

    First Crusade - Key takeaways

    • The First Crusade lasted from 1096 until 1099. It refers to the Christian Crusader battles against the Muslims in the Levant (the Middle East) and Anatolia (modern-day Turkey).
    • The Crusade led to a Christian victory, culminating in the reconquering of Jerusalem in 1099.
    • Although Pope Urban II's speech at the Council of Clermont was the catalyst for the First Crusade, it was not the only cause of it. Other causes include the papal motivation to consolidate his power, the role of Alexios Komnenus and the threat of the Seljuk Turks.
    • At the end of the First Crusade, four Crusade states were created in Antioch, Edessa, Jerusalem and Tripoli.

    References

    1. Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015), pp. 137.
    2. Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (2020), pp. 256.
    3. Missy Sullivan, Why Muslims See the Crusades So Differently from Christians', History.com (Sep 3 2018).
    Frequently Asked Questions about First Crusade

    When was the First Crusade?

    The First Crusade began in 1096 and ended in 1099.

    Where did the First Crusade happen? 

    The First Crusade took place in the Middle East and climaxed in Jerusalem in the Levant.

    Who won the First Crusade?

    The crusaders won the First Crusade to the detriment of the Seljuk empire.

    What is a Crusade?  

    A crusade is a religiously-motivated war. It specifically refers to wars initiated by the Latin Church to reclaim the Holy Land of Jerusalem.

    How many people died in the Crusades?  

    Approximately one million people died in the Crusades, however, this is a conservative estimation. In reality, millions more may have died.

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