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27 Jul

First Crusade (1096 – 1099)

The Western European princes and nobles finished their last military preparations at the same time when the People’s Crusade ended as a failure and departed on the First Crusade also known as the Prince’s Crusade. Some of the participants of the First Crusade were inspired by religious devotion, the others by lure of travel and adventure but most of them saw an opportunity to gain land, wealth and power. For that reason the First Crusade was massively responded by younger sons of noble families because the primogeniture principle granted the family’s titles and estates to the firstborn sons.

The majority of the participants and leaders of the First Crusade were the French, while every leader gathered his own group of Crusaders: Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine gathered the Germans, the Flemish and the French from the area between the rivers Metz and Rhine, Hugh of Vermandois, brother of Philip I of France, Stephen II, Count of Blois and Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy gathered an army in northern France and brought in the volunteers from England and Scandinavia, while Raymond IV of Toulouse mobilized his army of Crusaders in southern France. The First Crusade was also joined by the Normans of Southern Italy under leadership of Bohemond of Taranto and his nephew Tancred.

An 11th century depiction of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I Comnenus

Alexius I Comnenus

The Crusader armies should meet in Constantinople in 1096 and launch a military campaign against the Seljuk Turks but the Crusaders have chosen three different paths and arrived in Constantinople late in the spring in 1097. The Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Comnenus disturbed by Crusader sacking and rioting on their way to Constantinople was not particularly thrilled about their arrival especially of the Normans who were his former rivals. In addition, Alexios wanted to recapture lost territories from the Seljuk Turks, while the Crusaders were eager to conquer Syria and Palestine and partition the lands among themselves. For that reason Alexios forced the Crusaders to swear fealty before he transported them across the Bosporus. The Byzantines and Crusaders also made an agreement that any land recovered from the Seljuks will be returned to the Byzantine Empire in return for supplies.

The tension between the Crusaders and the Byzantine Empire continued and even increased after Alexios secretly accepted the surrender of city of Nicaea and forbade the Crusaders to plunder it. The Crusaders continued their journey to Jerusalem defeating the Seljuks in the Battle of Dorylaeum on July 1, 1097, and reaching Antioch by October in 1097. The Crusaders captured Antioch after a seven-month long siege and slaughtered nearly all its inhabitants. At the beginning of year 1099, the Crusaders continued their campaign down the coast of Mediterranean leaving Bohemond behind as the Prince of Antioch. The timing of their journey from Antioch to Jerusalem could not be better because the Seljuk Turks at that time quarreled with Fatimids of Egypt who captured Jerusalem from the Seljuks in 1099 but were not able to establish their authority outside the city. The petty Arab emirs who ruled the Holy Land failed to withstand the advancing Crusaders who practically met no resistance until reaching Jerusalem on July 7, 1099.

The Siege of Jerusalem lasted until July 15 when the Crusaders managed to break down sections of the walls and entered the city. Once inside, the Crusaders massacred nearly all of its inhabitants including women and children as well as Jews and Orthodox Christians. Having captured Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher the Crusader campaign was completed. Eight days after capturing Jerusalem, the Crusaders elected Godfrey of Bouillon as the defender of the Holy Sepulcher but he refused the title King of Jerusalem. However, his successor Baldwin I did not hesitate in proclaiming himself King of Jerusalem.

The First Crusade resulted in the establishment of the Crusader States: Kingdom of Jerusalem, Principality of Antioch, County of Edessa and County of Tripoli which were organized after Medieval European model. However, the Crusaders States were in a very difficult position. Most of their inhabitants were Muslims, while the majority of the Crusaders returned to Europe after capturing Jerusalem. In addition, all Crusader States lacked sufficient defensive forces. Their best warriors were the members of religious/military orders such as Knights Hospitaller who built massive fortresses and castles on strategic important places. The best known is probably Krak des Chevaliers located atop a 650-meter high hill east of Tripoli, Lebanon, which withstood at least twelve sieges.

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