In November 18, 1095, a great council was held in the Auvernge region of Gaul, in the city of Clermont. Among those present at the council were the Roman Bishops and Cardinals and Pope Urban II. Ten days were devoted to purely ecclesiastical issues. Finally, it was announced that on Tuesday, November 27, the Pope would address a general gathering of both the clergy and the leity.
At this meeting Pope Urban II responded publicly for the first time to Alexius Comnenus' appeal for help against the Muslims. The Pope addressed the whole gathering in these words: Frenchmen! You who come from across the Alps; you who have been singled out by God and who are loved by Him.... We address these words, this sermon to you! Distressing news has come to us from the region of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinopole; news that people of the Persian kingdom,..., a race completely foreign to God has invaded Christian territory and has devastated this territory with pillage, fire and the sword. Who is to revenge all this, who is to repair the damage if you do not do it? You are the people upon whom God has bestowed glory in arms, greatness of spirit, bodily agility and the courage to humble the " proud locks " of those who resist you.... (Brundage. The Crusades p. 17-18 )
The success of this appeal was extraordinary. Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, was the first to take the cross and was followed by many knights of Christendom, who considered the Crusade to be a noble task. In August 1096, as the members of the Popular Crusade settled down at Cicevot, the first parties of European nobles were setting out for the East. As it had been agreed at Clermont, the army of the First Crusade was to reach Constantinopole under various leaders and there assemble under the leadership of the Papal Legate, Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy. The Crusaders' army would then battle its way through Asia Minor, re-establishing Christian rule and would eventually capture the Holy City .(Mayer, p. 41-48 )
The Crusaders made their way to Constantinopole in five groups. Each group composed of the vassals and the friends of the individual leader, thus giving the Crusading army a character of separate feudal forces. The first group was made up of knights from the Ile De France and was led by the brother of king Philip I of France, Hugh of Vermandois. Hugh and his army left on the Crusade in late August 1096. They arrived at Bari in early October. Having crossed the Adriatic sea, from Bari to Dyrrachium on the Balcan coast, Hugh of Vermandois was welcomed by John Comnenus, the brother of emperor Alexius. Having sworn an oath of allegiance to Alexius, Hugh was accommodated, under close Byzantine surveillance, in a monastery in Constantinopole, while his troops camped in the suburbs, waiting to cross over to Asia Minor.
The second group of the Crusaders was led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine who was accompanied by his two brothers; Count Eustace III of Boulogne and Baldwin of Boulogne. Godfrey followed to Constantinopole the route taken by the members of the Popular Crusade. Apart from a minor riot near Selymbria, on the coast of the Sea of Marmora, which was effectively dealt with, Godfrey arrived in Constantinopole in mid-December, 1096. Godfrey refused to take an oath to Alexius up until March of 1097, when Alexius started cutting off food supplies to Godfrey's force. On Holy Thursday, April 2, 1097, Godfrey attacked Constantinopole. On good Friday, he was defeated by Alexius and forced to take the oath. As soon as this had been done, Godfrey and his men were transported to a camp at Pelecanum in Asia Minor, where they settled waiting for the arrival of the other Crusading forces.
The third Crusading force composed of Norman nobles, who were led by Bohemund, Prince of Taranto and Tancred, Bohemund's nephew. Bohemund's forces crossed the Adriatic to Dyrrachium, travelled through the mountains of Macedonia and arrived in Constantinopole on April 9, 1097. Bohemund took the oath without protest and his army was transported across the straits to join Godfrey at Pelecanum. The largest of the five groups of the Crusaders, was the one led by Raymond of St-Gilles, Count of Toulouse. His force along with the Papal Legate, Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, left southern France in October 1096. They traveled across the Alps, through northern Italy and reached the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, arriving in Constantinopole on April 21, 1097. Like the other leaders, Raymond took the oath and had his army shipped across the Bosporus to join the rest of the Crusaders in Asia Minor.
The last of the major forces of the Crusade was a group composed of Norman knights from Britanny, Flanders and Normandy, who were led by three princes; Duke Robert of Normandy, Stephen of Blois and Count Robert of Flanders. The three leaders met at Pontarlier in Burgundy, in October 1096 and together marched across the Alps to the Norman duchies of southern Italy. Duke Robert of Normandy and Count Stephen of Blois spent there most of the winter of 1096-97, whereas Count Robert of Flanders immediately crossed the Adriatic, to Dyrrachium and finally Constantinopole, where he took the famous oath and joined the rest of the Crusaders in Asia Minor. The other two Norman leaders arrived in Constantinopole in May 1097, to discover that the rest of the Crusaders were already besieging Nicaea. (Brundage, p. 39-45 )
Once most of the troops of the Crusading army had arrived in Asia Minor, the military operations of the Crusade began. The first objective of the Crusading army was the city of Nicaea, a great fortress situated almost directly across the Bosporus. Nicaea was a place of vital importance to the safety of both the Crusaders and Constantinopole. Left in Turkish hands, Nicaea would endanger the lines of communication between the Crusaders and Constantinopole. Preparations for an attack against Nicaea began in late April, 1097. At the time, the Turkish Sultan; Kilij Arslan, was fighting in the mountains of Armenia against another Turkish ruler. About April 26, 1097, Godfrey of Bouillon led the way on the march out of the Crusaders' camp at Pelecanum. The Crusaders arrived at Nicaea on May 6. Nicaea was heavily fortified by four miles of walls and two hundred and forty (240) towers manned by a strong garrison. The city was pentagonal in shape and its western walls rose out of lake Ascanius. The Crusaders surrounded Nicaea and the siege began on May 14. (Oldenbourg, p.86-89). Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy reported: We spent seven weeks and three days in that siege and there many of our men became martyrs. With joy and gladness they gave their fortunate souls back to God.... Their souls were triumphantly carried to heaven, where they received martyrs' robes and cried out together, saying: O Lord, revenge our blood which was shed for You, who are blessed and worthy of praise, word without end. Amen. (Brundage, p.48) Eventually, the Sultana, Kilij Arslan's wife, negotiated the surrender of the city. The capitulation of Nicaea, provided the Crusaders the chance to rest and take stock of their resources.A council of crusading Princes decided to divide the army into two groups for the next stage of the expedition, with one division marching a day later than the other. The advance division comprised of Normans and was led by Bohemund, whereas the second one composed of French knights under Raymond of St-Gilles. Five days after leaving Nicaea, that is on July 1, 1097, the division led by Bohemund, on its way to Dorylaeum, suffered a surprise attack by Kilij Arslan who had hastily gathered his forces and was also assisted by another Turkish Prince; Ghazi Ibn Danishmend. Bohemund hold out until the arrival of the second division. The French knights surrounded the Turks and with their superior horses and armor managed a total defeat of the Turks. (Mayer, p.50-52) An account of the battle is given to us by Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy: They (Turks ) believed they could terrify the Frankish race by threatening them with their arrows, as they had terrified the Arabs, Saracens, Armenians, Syrians and Greeks. But, please God, they will never be as powerful as our men. By the grace of God, we defeated them.(Brundage, p.51).
The Christian army rested for two days at Dorylaeum. On July 3, the army started marching again to the south east, their final destination being Antioch. We can form a very clear idea of what the army suffered in this crossing of Asia Minor. Their chief enemies were hunger and thirst. As the Turks withdrew, they turned the land into a desert. Water supplies were limited, the heat was enormous and the heavily armored knights suffered in their metal armors. Horses and pack animals died from hunger and thirst. As a result, many knights marched on foot. The army reached Iconium in mid-August, where they were able to rest and replenish their supplies, only to march again to the city of Antioch. The march through the ancient Byzantine provinces of Asia Minor took for months. The Crusaders set out from Nicaea on June 26 and reached the outskirts of Antioch on October 20. Capturing Antioch was necessary before attacking Jerusalem, because unless Antioch was in friendly hands, no Christian army in Palestine or Syria was to be considered safe. Capturing Antioch, however, was difficult. The city was well fortified and guarded by a sizable garrison. The only way to capture Antioch according to Raymond of St-Gilles, was by relying on the panic effects of surprise and terror. His plan was opposed by Bohemund, who liked the idea of Antioch being controlled by the Crusaders, rather than be given to Alexius as the oath commanded. The siege of Antioch lasted seven and a half months, from October 20, 1097, to June 3, 1098. The Crusaders built wooden forts and siege towers, but the city was so formidable, that all attempts of bombardment or encirclement proved ineffective. The bitter winter and shortage in food supplies, had brought the Crusaders' morale at its lowest. Eventually, by June 1098, Bohemund was approached by a renegade Christian of Armenian descent, who lived in Antioch. His name was Firuz. Firuz offered to let the Franks into Antioch by treachery. On the night of June 2-3, Firuz opened the gates to the Crusaders' army. Taken by surprise, the garrison had no time to react. Antioch was finally in the hands of the Crusaders. (Newhall, p.46-48 )
Proof is once offered by the writings of Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy: There was a Turkish Emir named Firuz who became a close friend of Bohemund. In the messages which they frequently exchanged Bohemund promised that if Firuz would receive him in a friendly fashion within the city and would freely embrace Christianity, Bohemund, for his part, would make him rich and greatly honoured. Firuz was amenable to these words and said: " I have charge of three towers. I promise them freely to Bohemund and whenever he wishes, I shall let him into them. (Brundage, p.54 ).
However, the enthusiasm of the Crusaders for the capture of Antioch was shaded by rumours, that an enemy army was approaching the city. Just two days after the Crusaders entered Antioch, they found themselves besieged within the city , by an army led by Kerbogha; the powerful atabeg of Mosul. The situation within the city of Antioch was more than terrible; there was little food, there were hundreds, or even thousands of corpses scattered on the streets, increasing the possibility of an epidemic breaking out. The initial assaults of Kerbogha were successfully driven back only due to the mighty effort the Crusaders displayed, given the fact that the Muslim army outnumbered them. The situation was still very critical for the Crusaders, as mass desertions, including that of Stephen of Blois, were the case. Only a miracle could save the Crusaders and it was in fact provided by a peasant called Peter Bartholomew. Peter Bartholomew claimed, that Saint Andrew and even Christ visited him in his dreams. In one of these dreams, Christ revealed to him that the Holy Lance was buried under the pavement of one of the churches in Antioch. The Papal Legate was at first skeptical about the issue, but at length he authorized Bartholomew to excavate under the church of Saint Peter. A piece of rusty iron was actually discovered under the pavement of the ancient church. The news spread immediately throughout the city. The effect of this doubtful discovery was completely unexpected; men who had been exhausted and were demoralized, were now transformed into the most powerful soldiers, ready to face the Muslim army. Believing that the Holy Lance was a sign of certain victory sent by God, Crusaders launched a massive attack which resulted in the absolute defeat of Kerbogha's army .( Oldenbourg. P.105-111 )
No longer was it that one problem was solved, when another one appeared. Bohemund regarded Antioch as rightfully his. Therefore, he was unwilling to continue the pilgrimage. Raymond of St-Gilles, realizing the danger of the whole Crusade being terminated, communicated with Alexius Comnenus, offering him Antioch, according to the oath. Busy with other tasks, Alexius neglected to reply. Autumn came and the Crusaders were still waiting for the Emperor's reply. The Crusade was finally saved, thanks to a revolt of the common soldiers, who grew tired of watching the barons quarrel over the possession of conquered lands and thus rebelled on January 5, 1099. At this point, Raymond of St-Gilles decided to leave his rivals in Antioch and taking with him the Holy Lance led the army to Jerusalem. (Brundage, p.56-62 )
The Crusaders, following a coastal route trough southern Syria, reached the northern borders of Palestine on May 19, 1099. On the evening of June 7, the Christian army camped within sight of their final goal; Jerusalem. In fact, the army had decreased during the long march and now comprised no more than a thousand knights and five thousand men at arms. A prolonged siege was therefore a luxury Crusaders could not afford. After the initial attack against the city on June 13, the princes decided to built ladders and siege machines with supplies that arrived on June 17, by a Genoese fleet at the port of Jaffa. The army awaited the final assault in a state of exhaustion due to the intense heat. Just as in Antioch, physical exhaustion gave rise to belief in miracles. This time the miracle was provided by a priest, Peter Desiderius, who reported to have seen a vision of Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy ( who had died in Antioch on August 1, 1098 ). According to Desiderius, Adhemar promised that if the army repented sincerely and manifested their repentance by fasting and making a public procession around the walls of Jerusalem, the city would be taken in nine days. A three-day fast was therefore proclaimed and on July 8, clergy, barons, knights, archers, foot soldiers and civilians, marched around the walls of the Holly City singing psalms, while the Muslims leaned from the walls spitting and mocking them. Five days later, on July 13, the general assault was launched, which included massive bombardment of the walls and gates. After two days of constant fighting, Godfrey of Bouillon's men managed to make their way into the city. This happened on July 15. From then on capturing the city was a matter of hours. (Oldenbourg, p.128-137)
An Armenian eyewitness states the following: At dawn on Friday we attacked the city from all sides without being able to make any headway. We were all trembling and stunned. At the approach of the hour at which our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to suffer on the cross for us, our knights in the tower, namely Duke Geofrey and his brother; Count Eustace, made a fierce attack. Then one of our knights, named Lethold, climbed over the city's wall. As soon as he ascended, all the city's defenders fled from the wall. Our men followed, killing and beheading them all the way to the temple of Solomon. (Brundage, p.64)
Jerusalem was finally delivered. The first consideration of the Crusaders was how to keep it. In their great majority Crusaders decided that this would best be done with the creation of a feudal kingdom; a type of government the Crusaders were familiar with. A feudal kingdom would provide a centralized government, which would be capable of coordinating the defense of the newly acquired territory. Even though the idea was met with discontent by the clergy, who believed that the only proper government for the Holly City was an ecclesiastical one and that the civil ruler of the area should be subordinated to the clerical ruler, the imminent dangers to the newly acquired eastern territories were sufficient to convince most of the princes of the importance and necessity of a strong secular ruler. As a result, a week after Jerusalem was captured, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected as king of Jerusalem. Godfrey's election was shortly followed by the election of a Latin Patriarch, who was to be the chief ecclesiastical officer of the newly created state.(Newhall, p.49-50).
That the First Crusade did succeed, at least from the military point of view, is an unquestionable fact, as the two major practical purposes of the Crusaders ; the restoration of the Holly Places and the defense of the Eastern Empire against the danger of Turkish conquest, were achieved fully. The success of the second major objective of the Crusaders did not concern only the Empire of the East, but world history as well. It was an imperative necessity, that the advance of the Turks was terminated. It is thus of great importance to mention that all creations of the Crusades helped to delay if not stop the advance of the Turks. (Brundage, p.66-68)
The success of the First Crusade is in large part to be explained by the conditions prevailing among the Muslims during the last decade of the eleventh century. To begin with, the Seljuk principalities in Syria and Asia Minor were military states, with a military chief and his warriors imposing their authority over the mass of the population. Such a rule was by its nature superficial, causing local wars of conquest, rivalries for succession and on the whole political and territorial instability. The conquering union that the first two Seljuk Sultans had created, disappeared when an assassin murdered the third Sultan in the line of succession. The brotherhood of Assassins, a Shiite revolutionary organization aiming at the destruction of the Seljuk rule, was a new agent of political disorder within the Muslim world. Stimulated by religious fanaticism, members of this brotherhood carried on a new form of holly war by systematized assassination of political leaders, thus disillusioning Muslim politics. It should also be mentioned, that Syria was being disputed between the Sunite Turks and the Shiite Egyptians. Thus, each willingly saw the other beaten by the Crusaders. While the Crusaders defeated the Turks in northern Syria, the Egyptians drove the Turks out of Jerusalem. Even when the Crusaders were about to occupy Jerusalem, no assistance came to the Turks from the neighboring Shiite areas. Thus, throughout the First Crusade, Crusaders met with only local resistance , as for the Muslims the Crusades were episodes of merely local significance. (Newhall, p.43-46)
It would be only fair to refer to the negative aspect of this First Crusade as well, and namely to the massacre perpetrated by the Crusaders in Jerusalem, an incident which has been placed among the greatest crimes in history. During the days of July 15-16, the Crusaders were the masters of the Jerusalem. They destroyed everything and killed everyone that fell on their path, including unarmed population, women, children and old people. The Jews of the city received part of the Christians' fury as well. As many of them as the building could hold were shut up in the Synagogue, which was then set on fire. Both Latin and Muslim historians, agree that the population of the city was more or less exterminated by the Crusaders. It has been estimated that, between July 15-16, 1099, the Crusaders murdered about forty thousand people, the majority of whom were unarmed civilians. William of Tyre, writing after ninety years describes the scene: The city offered a spectacle of such slaughter of enemies, such a profusion of bloodshed, that the victors themselves could not help be struck with horror and disgust. But that was afterward, when there was no longer anyone left to kill.(Oldenbourg, p.137-140) No doubt a black shade over the glorious and victorious First Crusade.