The city was huge, an amalgamation of peoples from many places, all there to be in the shadow of religious temples commemorating both men and great events from centuries, if not millennia, of history. This place was for atonement, for revelation, for sanctification, for suffering, for enterprise, and for the taking by an army strong enough to seize it from those who had marched upon it before them. Warriors were garrisoned in the city, but they were few compared to civilians: merchants, women, children, elderly, fools, and even the infirmed teamed the streets, the bazaars, the temples, and the shops that coursed through the narrow passages that divided sprawling neighborhoods, usually delineated by religion or religious particulars.
It was AD 1099, in the blistering heat of early Summer, when the Franj began to arrive. From across Europe, they had answered the call of Pope Urban II to take back "the land of milk and honey" that was in the hands of "bastard Turks." Much was made of the accumulation of outrages against Christians and Christianity. The Pope spoke of this intolerable situation as he exhorted an enormous crowd of commoners and noblemen to do what would be necessary were Jerusalem ever to be safely the place for worshipping Jesus where He had lived as both god and man.
There was really no place at all in the city of Christ for the pagans who had come later or for the people of the religion that had instigated the monstrous death of the Lord on a cross at the hill called Calvary. Such people are outside the Grace of God; and no Commandment proscribes the killing for just cause of one who does not accept Christ as Lord.
The Pope meant for this to be the time of reunification of the Church of the West with the Church of the East. This was to be the victory of Christ's soldiers over the heathen who had for too long been encroaching ever more across Asia Minor and the Middle East. Nothing less than overwhelming defeat of the Saracens would fulfill the sworn duty of the Franj to bring to a complete and utter end the time of the Saracens.
"God wills it."
Pope Urban II
Urban promised that those who joined this great crusade were certain to be absolved in the Holy Land of their sins. But far, far more was at stake for all of Christendom: that place, that sweet Jerusalem, must be in Christian hands if The Revelation of the end of the world were to come so that Christ could return.
Already, there had been brutal battles between contingents of Franj and warlords of the region. Even before entering the land of the Saracens, mobs of untrained Europeans had encountered armies that several times had to kill and capture the Christian soldiers just to stop the pillaging. This had been especially true in Hungary. Other places, though, the unruly mobs had met no resistance as they murdered the locals, pillaged the homes and churches, and burned the communities of Jews and Christians alike.
But when they finally met the Turks, their ranks were obliterated by the superior strategies of warlords like the young Sultan Kilij Arslan ibn Süleyman and by their own stupidity and lack of discipline. This "People's Crusade," comprising as it did the ignorant, the greedy, the wretchedand led by an ascetic known as Peter the Hermitwas no match for the warriors of Arslan; and so this first and minor part of the Crusade was at an end long before it arrived at places of any importance. But behind the fools of that first contingent were Crusaders of a much different sort: four separate armies of professional warrior knights from France, Normandy, England , Italy, and Germany were amassing for their march to the Holy Lands.
More men from the Westmany, many more of themhad converged from sieges and battles at Nicaea, Antioch, and other places along the road to the prize. They brought with them weapons of war: heavy sword, mace, well-trained horses, and most importantly, growing experience in the ways of war against Saracens. All of this was to the practical end of what would be a single, massive push into Jerusalem, a push that was intended to overwhelm with sheer numbers the fighters of local warlords and generals, weakened as they were by their lack of numbers, their incessant infighting, and their lack of grasp of just what it was that approached.
Stunning was the depth to which the first morning wave of Crusader attacks penetrated the city. Defenders, who might have better held their ground with more time to prepare, were rapidly routed by massive horseback assaults. Some were killed where they stood, some driven to fortifications within shrines. Thousands were put to death just within the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where they had tried in vain to assemble a stand with insufficient time.
No resident of Jerusalem could be spared the agonizing horror of bladed death. Jews and orthodox Christians of all sects were given no sanctuary: they died right alongside their Muslim neighbors. A contingent of Franj chased Jews into a large synagogue, barred the doors, and then burned that holy place to the ground, the screaming of thousands incinerating within being drowned by the hymns sung by the Crusaders who had set the conflagration.
"Many people were killed. The Jews had gathered in their synagogue and the Franj burned them alive. They also destroyed the monuments of the saints and the tomb of Abraham, may peace be upon him.
Other Jews fled to the top of Solomon's Temple, where they would meet their doom:
"[M]any were shot to death with arrows and cast down headlong from the roof. Within this Temple about ten thousand were beheaded. If you had been there, your feet would have been stained up to the ankles with the blood of the slain. What more shall I tell? Not one of them was allowed to live. [The Crusaders] did not spare the women and children."
Fulcher of Chartres
It was not enough only to kill the men, women, and children; many were butchered into pieces and disemboweled, at least in some cases because of stories that the heathen secured their gold by swallowing it.
"[There were] piles of heads, hands and feet."
Raymond of Aquilers
The killing was on a scale simply incomprehensible to people who have never seen battle waged against largely civilian populations poorly defended. The term "genocide" is meaningless in the sensorial gluttony of such times.
"[O]ur men rode in the blood of the Saracens up to the knees of their horses."
Duke Godfrey, Archbishop of Pisa
Various accounts told of massacre for several days to a week. When it was finished, not one Muslim or Jew was alive within the city walls. Only a small contingent of Muslims escaped, and then only because the knights besieging them were anxious to stop fighting and start claiming the properties that the former residents of the city would no longer need.
Thousands. Tens of thousands. Perhaps hundreds of thousands. All unworthy of property, life, and their own names for God. All of them despatched from the city of God to that place where the "bastard Turks," in the words of Pope Urban II, and the "murderers of Christ," in the words of Peter the Hermit, would surely face the immortal punishment that must follow their earthly rout. And Jerusalemthat place of the Passion feeding such passions that men will kill men in orgiastic gleewas ready once again for the return of the Lord, led by His armies.
"They desired that this place, so long contaminated by the superstition of the pagan inhabitants, should be cleansed from their contagion."
Fulcher of Chartres
As are all such victorieseven to our own in this day, nine centuries laterit was a victory of unimaginable importance.
"This is a day the Lord made. We shall rejoice and be glad in it."
Raymond of Aquilers
Many are the days the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in all of them.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
Maalouf, Amin. Crusades Through Arab Eyes. New York: Schocken Books. 1984/1989. ISBN: 0805208984
McFall, J. Arthur. "Taking Jerusalem: Climax of the First Crusade." Military History (June 1999), Vol. 16, Iss. 2.