First crusade

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First crusade
date 1096-1099
location middle East
exit Jerusalem is captured by a Christian army
follow Jerusalem has been under Christian rule for 88 years
Parties to the conflict

French, Norman, German and Italian crusaders

Rum Seljuks


Hugo von Vermandois
Godfrey of Bouillon
Bohemund of Taranto
Raymond IV of Toulouse
Robert II
Peter the Hermit

al-Afdal Shahanshah
Kerboga from Mosul
Radwan from Aleppo
Duqaq from Damascus
Kilich Arslan

Troop strength
130,000 Tens of thousands, including around 20,000 soldiers under al-Afdal

115,000 to 120,000


The First Crusade was a Christian campaign to conquer Palestine , which Pope Urban II had called for in 1095. Its original goal was to support the Byzantine Empire against the Seljuks . The crusade began in 1096 on the one hand as an armed pilgrimage by laypeople, on the other hand as a procession of several armies of knights from France, Germany and Italy and ended in 1099 with the capture of Jerusalem by a crusader army .

Causes and Reason

Above: Jerusalem with its gates open. Below: Jerusalem is besieged and conquered by Gentiles, weeping for Jesus. From the Gospel Book of Otto III. around 1000

Palestine was part of the Eastern Roman Empire until it was conquered by the Arabs in 637 (see Islamic expansion ). Pope Gregory VII planned to head a campaign to conquer Jerusalem in 1074 in order to regain the places of activity of Christ in the Christian West . The turmoil of the investiture dispute prevented the implementation of this project.

A few years later, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Alexios I Komnenos made several requests for help to Latin Europe, as his empire was increasingly threatened by the Turkish Seljuks. After the battle of Manzikert , which they had won against Byzantium, they had conquered Anatolia and Antioch in 1071 . Byzantium, shaken by internal and external crises, did not have the military means to retake it. In order to mobilize European military power and the Church, the Byzantine ambassadors exaggerated and dramatized in their reports the desecration of the holy places and the situation of the Christians living in the Holy Land . However, apart from the Byzantine propaganda, there were also Christian reports of atrocities by the Islamic rulers against the Christian population of the Holy Land and the devastation of Christian sites, for example the Church of the Holy Sepulcher 1009 in Jerusalem. Al-Azimi, a Muslim chronicler from Aleppo , also reports of Muslim attacks on pilgrims, which made access to the holy places impossible. During the Abbasid and later Fatimid rule over Palestine, both local Christians and pilgrims from Europe were tolerated, but around 1073 the Fatimids lost Jerusalem to the less tolerant Seljuks, which led to riots against the Christian population after the country had already passed the wars had been affected. Vizier Al-Afdal Shahanshah was able to wrest control of the country back in 1098 from the Ortoqids , who had been appointed governors . The later crusade participant and preacher Peter the Hermit had been mistreated by Turks on an earlier pilgrimage to Jerusalem and forced to repent. At the same time, Alexios I offered a union of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches .

From November 18 to 28, 1095, a synod was chaired by Pope Urban II in the cathedral of the French city of Clermont . In addition to 182 cardinals , bishops and abbots from Italy, Spain and France, a Byzantine embassy, ​​among others, had arrived. It was already announced in advance that the Pope would announce an event of great importance for Christianity. Chroniclers say that thousands flocked together so that the proclamation did not take place in the cathedral but in front of the east gate of the city.

When the Pope stepped before the expectant crowd on November 27, 1095, he gave a highly dramatic speech about the sufferings of Christianity in the East and the need for the liberation of the holy places, according to chroniclers, who passed down different versions of the wording, from the crowd was enthusiastically received. Allegedly, the later motto of the Crusades - Deus lo vult ! (“God wants it!”) - coined. Adhemar de Monteil , Bishop of Le Puy , who was later appointed leader of the procession, knelt in a previously discussed appearance immediately after the end of the speech in front of Urban II and was the first to ask for permission to march. Many others are said to have joined him. After that, Pope Urban II held synods in Tours and Rouen , which spread the appeal. The Church's itinerant preachers sent across the country did the rest, ensuring that many simple people, adventurers, criminals, but also peasants went to war. Those willing to fight were promised indulgence for their sins. Under the motto God wants it! those who answered the call were promised never fading glory in the kingdom of heaven .

Behind the carefully and long-term planned papal call to the crusade concealed more than just the aspired reconquest of the Holy Land and the goal of liberating the Christians who were oppressed there and sometimes suffered from atrocities by Muslims. It was a cleverly initiated instrument of power politics in a Europe that was fragmented and shaken by power struggles. On the one hand, Urban II sought reunification with the Byzantine-led Eastern Church, on the other hand, he was able to establish the church as a target-oriented regulatory power in Central Europe, which after the end of the Carolingian Empire disintegrated into feuding aristocratic areas of influence, with churches and monasteries often being attacked and looted .

The opportunity for such a call was favorable. The 11th century was marked by strong religiosity in large parts of the population and fear of the impending end of the world. Pilgrimages and pilgrimages to the holy grave , as a possibility of repentance and for the indulgence of sins, experienced a great upswing, which of course also played a strong motivation to recapture the most sacred Christian sites. In addition, there were numerous sons, especially among the lower nobility in many regions of Europe, who inherited little or no possessions and therefore had a great interest in a campaign to acquire treasures and lands.

The call to the crusade was at least partially successful. Urban II united for the first time the French nobles, who had long been involved in quarrels among each other, and gave them an ideal basis for this with the aim of a just struggle in the service of the Christian cause, which at the same time strengthened the claim to supremacy of his office: the peace of God demanded before the call, which the Limitation of the still outstanding feuds between the nobles, at the same time strengthened the authority of the church intervening here and represented an essential event in the development of the power-political role of the church and the papacy in the medieval history of Europe too great power-political differences ultimately.


People's Crusade

Peter the Hermit shows Jerusalem to the Crusaders. French illustration around 1270

Caused by the Pope's sermon on the crusade, an unorganized mass of people set out for Palestine in the spring of 1096. This crusader army consisted primarily of ordinary people, farmers and their families, which is why one speaks of the People's Crusade . However, there were also lower nobility and individual knights among the crusaders. The procession was led by preachers like Peter of Amiens . This hasty crusade found its first victims in eastern France and in the Rhineland (Cologne, Mainz, Worms), where mass murders of the Jewish population occurred ( see German Crusade of 1096 / Gezerot Tatnu ). Chroniclers emphasize the particularly cruel character of these pogroms , even by the standards of the time . There were also riots and looting in the Balkans , near Belgrade and Niš , with the crusaders meeting stronger resistance for the first time. The crusaders followed the Via Militaris to the southeast. After the crusaders arrived in Constantinople in August , Emperor Alexios I, worried about his capital, had them transported across the Bosporus as quickly as possible . In Asia Minor in October 1096 they met troops of the Rum Seljuks near Nicaea , who destroyed a large part of the undisciplined Army of the Cross. The survivors, including Peter of Amiens , returned to Constantinople to wait for the crusaders who followed.

Formation and departure of the crusader army

The course of the first crusade

In the same year a much better organized and for the time very large crusader army was formed, consisting primarily of French , French and southern Italian Normans , Flemings and Lorraine . The leaders of the crusade were Robert of Normandy , Godfrey of Bouillon , Bohemond of Taranto , Raymond IV of Toulouse , Baldwin of Boulogne , Robert of Flanders , Hugo of Vermandois and other members of the French and Norman nobility. Papal crusade legate was Adhemar de Monteil , Bishop of Le Puy. One could not agree on a commander in chief, which should lead to various conflicts in the course of the crusade. The German King Heinrich IV and the French King Philip I did not take part in the First Crusade, as both were banned from church at the time.

The Crusader army broke out in several broad moves and united in Constantinople, where the first of them arrived in November 1096, the last in April 1097. According to recent estimates, the size of the army was around 7,000 knights and noble lords and a 22,000-strong infantry. Including the unarmed, the total army comprised around 50,000 to 60,000 people. The number of horses is estimated at 50,000. Emperor Alexios I showed great distrust of the crusaders, as there were many southern Italian Normans among them - they had undertaken various campaigns against the Byzantine Empire. In addition, Alexios feared that the Crusaders would claim former Byzantine territory for themselves. Therefore, he got the leaders of the crusade to swear the feudal oath so that all areas they were to conquer from the Muslims would come under his suzerainty. Alexios had the partial army of the crusaders shipped quickly across the Bosphorus to Asia Minor, where they waited for the others.

Train through Asia Minor

The siege of Nicaea

The united army now continued the march through Asia Minor, where fighting quickly broke out with the Rum Seljuks. From May they besieged their capital Nicaea. On May 21, they defeated a Rum-Seljuk relief army under Sultan Kilij Arslan I. While the crusaders were besieging the city, a small detachment of the Byzantines arrived and came to an understanding with the inhabitants of Nicaea. On June 19, the city surrendered to the Byzantines, annoying the Crusaders who escaped the spoils of a sack of the city. On the march on, the crusaders met the army of the Rum Seljuks under Sultan Kilidsch Arslan I on July 1st and defeated them decisively in the Battle of Dorylaeum . The Christian army could now make its way unhindered through Asia Minor.

In Cilicia , tensions escalated among the leaders of the crusade: Baldwin of Boulogne and his followers left the army and went to Edessa . There Baldwin established the county of Edessa , the first crusader state, in 1098 by breaking the feudal oath against Alexios .

Battle for Antioch

The siege of Antioch

The rest of the crusader army, which had also conquered cities in Asia Minor and claimed them for themselves, had meanwhile moved towards Syria , where the siege of Antioch began in October 1097 . The food supply during the seven-month siege was completely inadequate, and many crusaders died of starvation or deserted.

The city was not captured by treason until June 1098 and all non-Christian residents were killed. The crusaders were now besieged themselves, as a united relief army of the emirs of Mosul , Aleppo and Damascus with a strength of 200,000 men arrived just five days later. At this point in time (including non-combatants) there were only 20,000 people on the side of the crusaders. To make matters worse, there was no more food in all of Antioch as a result of the siege. In this desperate situation, they declared a three-week fast. Meanwhile, Bohemond of Taranto spread the rumor of the Holy Lance . A monk named Peter Bartholomäus is said to have had a vision in which St. Andrew appeared to him and showed him the true whereabouts of the Holy Lance. At first this statement was doubted, but after a pastor had such a vision, the doubts were overcome. During excavations, a lance was actually found that was considered a sacred lance. Motivated by the find, the crusaders faced the Muslim relief army to fight. The besiegers, among whose ranks there had been internal disputes, were defeated after a short battle and put to flight, despite their massive superiority. Bohemond of Taranto appointed himself prince of Antioch , with which he founded another crusader state and also disregarded the feudal oath towards the Byzantine emperor. He ended his participation in the crusade prematurely and went on to expand the rule in his principality. In his place, his nephew Tankred moved on towards Jerusalem.

After a successful defense of the city, the food supply did not improve. Epidemics were also rampant among the starved crusaders, to whom Adhemar de Monteil also succumbed. So the crusaders plundered the surrounding area in search of food. It came in December 1098 with the conquest of the city of Maarat an-Numan to cannibalism ; Radulf von Caen reported:

"In Maara our people cooked the adult heathen in kettles, pulled the children on skewers and ate them roasted."

- Radulf of Caen: Gesta Tancredi In Expeditione Hierosolymitana.

The reports about Maara found wide circulation in the Arab world, as an example of the cruelty of the invaders, who were perceived as barbaric. Even today, people in Arabic folk songs speak of "ogres" when they refer to Franconia.

Train through Palestine

While Adhemar de Monteil had died and Bohemond of Taranto stayed in Antioch, Raymond of Toulouse now took over the leadership of the crusade. On January 13, 1099, he set out with the remaining crusader army, which was estimated to include 14,000 men capable of fighting, including around 1,500 knights, in the direction of Jerusalem. Most of the cities they passed offered them food and let them move quickly. Raimund probably intended to establish a rulership around Tripoli as a counterweight to Bohemond in Antioch . In February 1099, for example, he had Arqa Castle near Tripoli besieged. At the urging of the other crusaders, impatient to reach Jerusalem, the siege was unsuccessfully abandoned on May 13th and the journey along the Mediterranean coast continued. On the way, the crusaders brought several port cities, including Jaffa , under their control, from where they moved inland via Ramla .

Conquest of Jerusalem

The Siege of Jerusalem 1099, late medieval miniature

At the beginning of June 1099 the crusaders reached Jerusalem, which had been under the rule of the Egyptian Fatimids since 1098 . The crusader army was confronted with unexpected difficulties: the lack of food and, above all, water, the extreme heat and the epidemics demoralized the attackers. In addition, there were regular failures of the defenders, who on top of that expelled all Catholic Christians from Jerusalem, who now had to endure with the besiegers in the hostile landscape in front of the walls of the city. The defenders had filled up all the wells in front of the city and had all the trees felled so that the Christians could not build siege equipment. Water brought in from a distant source was of poor quality. Many crusaders either succumbed to the hardships or left the camp to return home on their own.

The city walls could not be overcome without siege engines, so that an attack initially seemed pointless. Nevertheless, the leaders of the crusader army decided to attack the city on June 13, 1099. The unaided attack failed despite the tireless running up and the temporary conquest of the northern fortifications.

After some search, timber was finally obtained from distant Samaria and the crusader army began building siege towers, rams and catapults. With the help of these siege engines, the crusaders took the city on July 15, 1099 after a five-week, costly battle. Christian and Muslim chroniclers report that after the storming of the city the crusaders wreaked horrific slaughter among the Muslims and the Jews and also killed Christians (Coptic and Syrian) who remained in the city. Muslim sources put 70,000 dead, Christian estimates 10,000, but these high numbers have been refuted by recent research. On the basis of a Hebrew source, it is now assumed that 3,000 victims were taken when Jerusalem was captured, during which many prisoners were also taken. It can be concluded from this that in the Middle Ages the idea of ​​the brutality of the Crusaders on both sides of the conflict was a subject of manipulation and exaggeration.

Godfrey of Bouillon refused to be crowned King of Jerusalem because he did not want to be crowned king in the city where Jesus Christ wore the crown of thorns . He was therefore appointed advocatus sancti sepulchri ("Protector of the Holy Sepulcher") and ruler of the newly established Kingdom of Jerusalem . Under his leadership, a Fatimid army was defeated at the Battle of Ascalon , which finally brought the First Crusade to a close. When Gottfried died in 1100, his brother Baldwin of Boulogne accepted the title of King of Jerusalem and left the county of Edessa to his cousin Baldwin of Bourcq . Raymond IV of Toulouse established the county of Tripoli , the fourth crusader state, on the Syrian coast in 1109 .


The crusader states after the first crusade

The First Crusade led to the establishment of several crusader states , which weakened each other through disputes, while the previously disunited Muslims united. As the crusaders conquered several coastal cities in the eastern Mediterranean, trade in the Orient experienced a tremendous boom, from which Italian port cities such as Genoa and Venice in particular benefited. The contact with the Byzantine and the Arab world led to a cultural advancement of the Occident. The repeated breach of trust by the leaders of the crusaders towards the Byzantine emperor laid the foundation for further conflicts, and the crusade was to shape further disputes with the Islamic world. The beginning of the Crusades also ushered in the gradual development of common knightly ideals in Western Europe, which were more strongly shaped than before by Christian ideas.

According to the Lebanese-French journalist Amin Maalouf , the incidents during the conquest of the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan (near Antioch), “almost a thousand years ago, left a lasting trauma in the collective memory of the Muslim world. The bewilderment and horror of a highly civilized society in the face of the 'barbaric invaders' from the West, who did not shy away from cannibalistic excesses, are reflected in almost all Arabic chronicles and reports from the period between 1096 and 1291. "

Historian Thomas Asbridge contradicts this view . The Crusades did not play a role in the Muslim world for centuries, and it was not until the mid-19th century that the first signs of interest began to appear. Also, the events were initially not interpreted religiously, but as a war against the Franks ( Ifranji) . It was not until 1865 that the term al-hurub al-Salabiyya (the "cross wars") was first used in translations of French history books . After that, the Muslim world's interest in the Crusades slowly increased. According to Asbridge, the founding of Israel in 1948 marked the transition point to an intensive occupation with the Crusades. As a result, the crusades and individual Islamic personalities, especially Saladins , were increasingly instrumentalized by Middle Eastern despots such as Hafiz al-Assad and Saddam Hussein .



Web links

Commons : First Crusade  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Single receipts

  1. Rodney Stark: God's Warriors. The Crusades in a New Light, 3rd edition, Berlin 2015, p. 196.
  2. See Stark 2015, p. 225.
  3. Stark 2015, p. 197.
  4. al-Azimi: La chronique abrégée d'al-'Azîmî, années 518–538 / 1124–1144 . In: Revue des Études Islamiques . 1991, p. 110 .
  5. Steven Runciman: History of the Crusades . Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-39960-6 , pp. 111 .
  6. ^ Edward Gibbon: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire . tape 2 , p. 337 .
  7. Thomas S. Asbridge: The Crusades . 7th edition. Klett-Cotta, 2016, p. 94 .
  8. Quoted from Amin Maalouf: The Holy War of the Barbarians. The Crusades from the perspective of the Arabs. Munich 1996, p. 53.
  9. Cf. Amin Maalouf: The Holy War of the Barbarians. The Crusades from the perspective of the Arabs. Munich 1996, pp. 52-55.
  10. Thomas Asbridge: The Crusades . 7th edition. Klett-Cotta, 2016, ISBN 978-3-608-94921-6 , pp. 117 ( ).
  11. Amin Maalouf: The Holy War of the Barbarians. The crusades from the perspective of the Arabs , dust jacket of the edition of Diedrichs Verlag Munich 1996, ISBN 3-424-01250-5 .
  12. Thomas Asbridge: The Crusades . 7th edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-608-94921-6 , pp. 723 .