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Crusaders begin the Siege of Jerusalem

This Day in World History

7 June 1099

Crusaders begin the Siege of Jerusalem

On 7 June 1099, some 13,000 Christian Crusaders reached the outskirts of Jerusalem. They were poised on realizing the key goal of the First Crusade — capture of the holy city.

The declining power of the Byzantine Empire had allowed Muslims to seize parts of modern Syria and Turkey. Under threat, the Byzantine emperor pleaded with Western Europe for aid. At the same time, reports filtered west of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land harassed by Muslims.

In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a crusade to seize the Holy Land. The promise of spiritual blessing — and the opportunity to gain land and wealth — led nobles and knights (chiefly French) to form an army and set out for the east in 1096. Despite slow progress, the Crusaders succeeded in 1098 in capturing the fortified city of Antioch. Then quarrels among rival leaders delayed the Crusaders’ departure for Jerusalem.

After months of squabbling, the Crusaders finally set out for the ancient city. When they arrived, the Crusaders foolishly tried to storm the walls without benefit of siege towers. They succeeded in taking the outer walls, but couldn’t mount the inner walls in force.

Defeated, the Crusaders turned to building the siege engines they needed. With wood scarce, they destroyed homes and churches to confiscate any materials they could scavenge. Meanwhile, their lack of supplies caused widespread hunger and thirst. Eventually, supply ships from Genoa brought badly needed food. Revived by the food and the discovery of a forest some 30 miles from the city, the Crusaders resumed their efforts in earnest.

In mid-July, they mounted the final attack. After two days of fighting, the Crusaders gained the walls and forced the city’s surrender. Leaders promised mercy to the inhabitants, but the fighters could not be controlled. Hundreds of Muslims and Jews, including women and children, were killed in the slaughter that followed.

The First Crusade had attained its goal and simultaneously tarnished its achievement.

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