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Siege of Jerusalem, 1099

Siege_of_JerusalemSiege of Jerusalem, medieval manuscript.

The Crusaders of the First Crusade reached the walls of Jerusalem in June 1099. The Crusaders were unable to conduct a proper siege of Jerusalem due to their depleted numbers. Additionally, the Crusader army was short on food and water. Instead of waiting for the surrender of the residents of Jerusalem, the Crusaders were forced to attack the city. They attacked from St. Stephen’s Gate and Jaffa Gate and were easily successful. There followed a massacre of Jews and Moslems and even some Christians by the Crusader army.

Al-Azimi’s narrative of the conquest is very brief-

“Then they turned to Jerusalem and conquered it from the hands of the Egyptians. Godfrey took it. They burned the Church of the Jews (Kanisat al-Yahud). This ‘church’ was presumably the principal Jewish synagogue.”

Ibn al-Qalanisi’s account-

“The Franks stormed the town and gained possession of it. A number of the townsfolk fled to the sanctuary and a great host were killed. The Jews assembled in the synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads. The sanctuary was surrendered to them on guarantee of safety on 22 Sha’ban [14 Julyl of this year, and they destroyed the shrines and the tomb of Abraham”

Ibn Muyassar-

“The Franks killed more than 70,000 people in the Aqsa mosque, among them a large group of Muslim imams, religious scholars, devout men and ascetics from amongst those who had left their homelands and lived in the vicinity of that Holy Place.”

Hillenbrand, Carole, The Crusades- Islamic Perspectives, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1999, p.64-66.

Mistaking the al-Aqsa mosque for the Temple of Solomon, Raymond of Aguilers wrote a notorious account of what he had observed. He conveyed a sense of his own religious ecstasy at experiencing such a complete and total Christian victory-

“Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are normally chanted … in the temple and the porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgement of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.”

Sinclair, Andrew. Jerusalem- The Endless Crusade. New York- Crown Publishers, 1995, p. 55-56.

An account in Gesta Francorum (The Deeds of the Franks) describes the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Moslems and Jews-

The defenders fled along the walls and through the city, and our men pursued them killing and cutting them down as far as Solomon’s Temple, where there was such a massacre that our men were wading ankle deep in blood … Then the crusaders rushed around the whole city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and looting the housing that were full of costly things. Then, rejoicing and weeping from excess of happiness, they all came to worship and give thanks at the sepulchre of our saviour Jesus. Next morning, they went cautiously up the temple roof and attacked the Saracens, both men and women [who had taken refuge there], cutting off their heads with drawn swords … Our leaders then gave orders that all the Saracen corpses should be thrown outside the city because of the stench, for almost the whole city was full of dead bodies … such a slaughter of pagans had never been seen or heard of, for they were burned in pyres like pyramids, and none save God alone knows how many they were.

Knight, Honest to Man– p82-83.

See also-

Medieval Sourcebook- The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem- Collected Accounts

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