Siege of Jerusalem (1099)
Although they’d won the Siege of Antioch in 1098, deaths, capture, and political differences left the major princes of the First Crusade at loose ends. Disagreement amongst the princes about how best to proceed led some forces to leave Antioch and lay siege to other cities. By the end of 1099, the infantry and minor knights of the Crusade were threatening to continue their march to Jerusalem without their compatriots. Finally, it was agreed that the Crusaders would resume their march.
The Fatimid Dynasty attempted to broker a peace with the Crusaders, stipulating that they not continue towards Jerusalem. The Crusaders’ intentions of ignoring this clause was well-known to Iftikhar ad-Daula, the Fatimid govenor of Jerusalem. Ad-Daula responded to this by poisoning the majority of the local wells, and expelling all Christians from Jerusalem. The Crusaders met no further resistance on their march to the Holy City.
The Crusaders started their siege on the 7th of June; however, the lack of food and water resources outside the city meant that they suffered just as much, if not more, than the citizens. Ad-Daula had carefully prepared for the siege, and so had no qualms about waiting it out. By this time, the Crusader force was significantly smaller than it had been; only 1,500 of the original 5,000 knights remained, along with 12,000 of the original 30,000 healthy foot soldiers. When a direct attack on the walls on June 13 failed miserably, the Crusaders knew they were in deep trouble. Fortuitously, however, two Genoese galleys arrived at the port of Jaffa not long after this assault, and the Crusaders were able to restock their supplies. They also began gathering wood from Samaria so that they could build siege engines. Even after the happy coincidence of the galleys’ arrival, the army was still running out of food and water.
With the news of an approaching Fatimid army, morale amongst the Crusaders hit a critical low. A priest named Desiderius claimed to have had a vision from God in which Adhemar’s ghost told them to fast for three days before marching in a barefoot procession around the city walls. If they did this, then the city would fall in nine days. Despite the fact that they were already starving, the Crusaders decided to fast. With the clergy blowing trumpets and singing psalms, they made their procession on July 8, ignoring the mockery of Jerusalem’s defenders.
On the night of July 14th, the Crusaders rolled siege towers made from wood from the Genoese galleys up to the walls of the city. The next day, knights climbed over the walls from one of the towers and took the city. In the bloody battles that followed, the Crusaders slaughtered many of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Jewish residents, although some eyewitness accounts demonstrate that these citizens were permitted to live if they left the city.
The Crusaders’ victory at Jerusalem was a major turning point in the First Crusade. After the siege, many Crusaders considered their vow to have been fulfilled, and returned to their home countries. The European seizure and occupation of the city paved the way for the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and quickly became fodder for legends and chansons de geste.