Jerusalem, June–August 1099 Part I

Nearly three years after leaving their homes in the west, on 7 June 1099 the crusader forces finally reached their objective, Jerusalem. Fulcher of Chartres, who would live there for more than a quarter of a century after 1100, describes the Holy City as he knew it.

The city of Jerusalem is located in a mountainous region which is devoid of trees, streams, and springs excepting only the Pool of Siloam, which is a bowshot from the city. Sometimes it has enough water, and sometimes a deficiency due to a slight drainage. This little spring is in the valley at the foot of Mount Sion in the course of the Brook Kedron which, in wintertime, is accustomed to flow through the centre of the valley of Josaphat.

The many cisterns inside the city, reserved for winter rains, have a sufficiency of water. More, at which men and beasts are refreshed, are also found outside the city.

It is generally conceded that the city is laid out in such proper proportion that it seems neither too small nor too large. Its width from wall to wall is that of four bowshots. To the west is the Tower of David with the city wall on each flank; to the south is Mount Sion a little closer than a bowshot; and to the east, the Mount of Olives a thousand paces outside the city.

The aforesaid Tower of David is of solid masonry half-way up, of large squared blocks sealed with molten lead. Fifteen or twenty men, if well supplied with food, could defend it from all assaults of an enemy.

In the same city is the Temple of the Lord, round in shape, built where Solomon in ancient times erected the earlier magnificent Temple. Although it can in no way be compared in appearance to the former building, still this one is of marvellous workmanship and most splendid appearance.

The Church of the Lord’s Sepulchre is likewise circular in form. It was never closed in at the top but always admits the light through a permanent aperture ingeniously fashioned under the direction of a skilful architect.

I cannot, I dare not, I know not how to enumerate the many objects which it now contains or contained in the past lest in some way I deceive those reading or hearing about the matter. In the middle of the Temple, when we first entered it and for fifteen years thereafter, was a certain native rock. It was said that the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant along with the urn and tables of Moses was sealed inside it, that Josiah, king of Judah, ordered it to be placed there, saying, ‘You shall never carry it from this place.’ For he foresaw the future Captivity.

But this contradicts what we read in the descriptions of Jeremiah, in the second Book of the Maccabees, that he himself hid it in Arabia, saying that it would not be found until many peoples should be gathered together. Jeremiah was a contemporary of King Josiah; however, the king died before Jeremiah.

They said that the angel of the Lord had stood upon the aforesaid rock and destroyed the people because of the enumeration of the people foolishly made by David and displeasing to the Lord. Moreover this rock, because it disfigured the Temple of the Lord, was afterwards covered over and paved with marble. Now an altar is placed above it, and there the clergy have fitted up a choir. All the Saracens held the Temple of the Lord in great veneration. Here rather than elsewhere they preferred to say the prayers of their faith although such prayers were wasted because offered to an idol set up in the name of Muhammad. They allowed no Christian to enter the Temple.

Another temple, called the Temple of Solomon, is large and wonderful, but it is not the one that Solomon built. This one, because of our poverty, could not be maintained in the condition in which we found it. Wherefore it is already in large part destroyed.

There were gutters in the streets of the city through which in time of rain all filth was washed away.

The emperor Aelius Hadrian decorated this city magnificently and fittingly adorned the streets and squares with pavements. In his honour Jerusalem was called Aelia. For these and many other reasons Jerusalem is a most renowned and glorious city.

The siege of Jerusalem lasted from 7 June until the city was taken by storm on 15 July. The crusader army divided into two main groups: Raymond and the Provençals camped before the Sion Gate to the south of the city while the rest, under Godfrey of Bouillon and Robert of Normandy, laid siege first to the north-western corner of the city before transferring to positions opposite the Damascus Gate in the northern walls. The two eyewitness accounts – the Gesta Francorum and Raymond of Aguilers – reflect this division, even though both seem to have most information from the Provençal army.

Early assaults failed to make an impression on the city walls. Only after timber and engineers arrived from a Christian fleet that had put in at Jaffa could effective siege engines be constructed. After a religious procession around the walls on 8 July, preparations for a major attack began, fuelled by rumours of an Egyptian relief army. The final assault was launched on two sides of the city at once, the crusaders keeping in touch by means of signallers on the Mount of Olives. A breach in the northern wall on 15 July soon led to the capitulation of the city and one of the most grotesque massacres in medieval warfare, ‘the wine press of the Lord’, as Raymond of Aguilers, quoting from the Book of Revelation, described it.

The Gesta Francorum

We, rejoicing and exulting, came to the city of Jerusalem on Tuesday 6 June and established a very thorough siege. Robert the Norman took up his station on the north, next to the church of St Stephen the Protomartyr, who was stoned there for the name of Christ, and Robert count of Flanders was next to him. Duke Godfrey and Tancred besieged the city from the west. The count of St Gilles was on the south, that is to say on Mount Sion, near the church of St Mary the mother of the Lord, where the Lord shared the Last Supper with his disciples.

On the third day some of our men – Raymond Pilet, Raymond of Turenne and many others – went off to fight, and found two hundred Arabs. The knights of Christ fought against these misbelievers, and by God’s help bravely defeated them, killing many and capturing thirty horses. On the Monday we pressed upon the city in such a vigorous assault that if our scaling-ladders had been ready we should have taken it. We did indeed destroy the curtain wall, and against the great wall we set up one ladder, up which our knights climbed and fought hand-to-hand with the Saracens and those who were defending the city, using swords and spears. We lost many men, but the enemy lost more. During this siege we could not buy bread for nearly ten days, until a messenger arrived from our ships, and we suffered so badly from thirst that we had to take our horses and other beasts six miles to water, enduring great terror and apprehension on the way. The Pool of Siloam, at the foot of Mount Sion, kept us going, but water was sold very dearly in the army.

After the messenger from our ships arrived, our leaders took counsel and decided to send knights who might provide a faithful guard for the men and ships who were in the harbour of Jaffa. At dawn a hundred knights set out from the army of Raymond, count of St Gilles. They included Raymond Pilet, Achard of Montmerle and William of Sabran, and they rode confidently towards the port. Then thirty of our knights got separated from the others, and fell in with seven hundred Arabs, Turks and Saracens from the army of the amir. The Christian knights attacked them bravely, but they were such a mighty force in comparison with ours that they surrounded our men and killed Achard of Montmerle and some poor foot-soldiers. While our men were thus surrounded and all expecting death, a messenger reached the others, saying to Raymond Pilet, ‘Why are you staying here with your knights? Look! All our men are trapped by the Arabs and Turks, and perhaps at this very moment they are all dead, so bring help, bring help!’ When our men heard this they rode at once as hard as they could, and came quickly to where the others were fighting. When the pagans saw the Christian knights they split up into two bands, but our men called upon the name of Christ and charged these misbelievers so fiercely that every knight overthrew his opponent. When the enemy saw that they could not stand up to the brave attack of the Franks they turned tail, panic-stricken, and our men pursued them for the space of nearly four miles, killing many of them, but they spared the life of one so that he could give them information. They also captured 103 horses.

During this siege, we suffered so badly from thirst that we sewed up the skins of oxen and buffaloes, and we used to carry water in them for the distance of nearly six miles. We drank the water from these vessels, although it stank, and what with foul water and barley bread we suffered great distress and affliction every day, for the Saracens used to lie in wait for our men by every spring and pool, where they killed them and cut them to pieces; moreover they used to carry off the beasts into their caves and secret places in the rocks.

Our leaders then decided to attack the city with [siege] engines, so that we might enter it and worship at our Saviour’s Sepulchre. They made two wooden siege towers and various other mechanical devices. Duke Godfrey filled his siege tower with machines, and so did Count Raymond, but they had to get the timber from far afield. When the Saracens saw our men making these machines, they built up the city wall and its towers by night, so that they were exceedingly strong. When, however, our leaders saw which was the weakest spot in the city’s defences, they had a machine and a siege tower transported round to the eastern side one Saturday night. They set up these engines at dawn, and spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in preparing the siege tower and fitting it out, while the count of St Gilles was getting his engine ready on the southern side. All this time we were suffering so badly from the shortage of water that for one penny a man could not buy sufficient to quench his thirst.

On Wednesday and Thursday we launched a fierce attack upon the city, both by day and by night, from all sides, but before we attacked our bishops and priests preached to us, and told us to go in procession round Jerusalem to the glory of God, and to pray and give alms and fast as faithful men should do. On Friday at dawn we attacked the city from all sides but could achieve nothing, so that we were all astounded and very much afraid, yet, when that hour came when Our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to suffer for us upon the Cross, our knights were fighting bravely on the siege tower, led by Duke Godfrey and Count Eustace his brother. At that moment one of our knights, called Lethold [of Tournai], succeeded in getting on to the wall. As soon as he reached it, all the defenders fled along the walls and through the city, and our men went after them, killing them and cutting them down as far as Solomon’s Temple, where there was such a massacre that our men were wading up to their ankles in enemy blood.

Count Raymond was bringing up his army and a siege tower from the south to the neighbourhood of the wall, but between the wall and the tower there was a deep pit. Our leaders discussed how they should fill the pit, and they had it announced that if anyone would bring three stones to cast into that pit he should have a penny. It took three days and nights to fill the pit, and when it was full they took the siege tower up to the wall. The defenders fought against our men with amazing courage, casting fire and stones. But when the count heard that the Franks were in the city he said to his men, ‘Why are you so slow? Look! All the other Franks are in the city already!’ Then the amir who held David’s Tower surrendered to the count, and opened for him the gate where the pilgrims used to pay their taxes, so our men entered the city, chasing the Saracens and killing them up to Solomon’s Temple, where they took refuge and fought hard against our men for the whole day, so that all the temple was streaming with their blood. At last, when the pagans were defeated, our men took many prisoners, both men and women, in the temple. They killed whom they chose, and whom they chose they saved alive. On the roof of the Temple of Solomon were crowded great numbers of pagans of both sexes, to whom Tancred and Gaston of Béarn gave their banners.

After this our men rushed round the whole city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and houses full of all sorts of goods, and they all came rejoicing and weeping from excess of gladness to worship at the Sepulchre of our Saviour Jesus, and there they fulfilled their vows to him. Next morning they went cautiously up on to the Temple roof and attacked the Saracens, both men and women, cutting off their heads with drawn swords. Some of the Saracens threw themselves down headlong from the Temple. Tancred was extremely angry when he saw this.

Our leaders then took counsel and ordered that every man should give alms and pray that God would choose for himself whomsoever he wished, to rule over the others and to govern the city. They also commanded that all the Saracen corpses should be thrown outside the city because of the fearful stench, for almost the whole city was full of their dead bodies. So the surviving Saracens dragged the dead ones out in front of the gates, and piled them up in mounds as big as houses. No one has ever seen or heard of such a slaughter of pagans, for they were burned on pyres like pyramids, and no one save God alone knows how many there were. Count Raymond, however, caused the amir and those who were with him to be taken to Ascalon, safe and sound.

Raymond of Aguilers

We packed our camels, oxen and other beasts of burden and left for Jerusalem after taking leave of the bishop and his garrison. In the mad scramble caused by our greed to seize castles and villas, we failed to remember and held valueless the command of Peter Bartholomew that we were not to approach within two leagues of Jerusalem unless barefoot. It was customary that no one seized a castle or town flying one of our standards and first touched by one of our men. So driven by ambition, many got out of bed at midnight and, unaccompanied by their comrades, captured all of the mountain forts and villas in the plains of the Jordan. But a few who held God’s command dear marched along barefoot, sending up deep sighs to God because of the flouting of his will, but they recalled not one friend or comrade from the vain course. When we approached Jerusalem on this haughty march, the townspeople struck our vanguard, wounded some horses seriously as well as many men, and killed three or four from our ranks.

In turning to the siege we note that Godfrey, the count of Flanders, and the count of Normandy encamped to the north and invested Jerusalem from the centrally located church of St Stephen to the angular tower adjacent to the Tower of David. Raymond along with his army established himself on the west and laid siege to the city from the duke’s line to the foot of Mount Sion. However, a ravine between his camp and the walls prevented an even approach and caused the count to wish to change his camp and location.

One day while Raymond was encircling Jerusalem he stopped and visited the church of Mount Sion, where he heard of God’s miracles there and was so impressed that he addressed the princes and those present: ‘What would happen to us if we abandon these sacred gifts of God and the Saracens should seize them, and, perhaps, defile and break them because of their hatred of the crusaders? Who knows that these gifts of God may not be tests of the intensity of our love for him? This I do know, namely, failure to guard the church of Mount Sion zealously will cause him to withhold like spots in Jerusalem.’

Thereupon in contradiction of the wishes of the princes the count of Toulouse ordered the moving of his camp to Mount Sion. This move caused him to suffer such ill will from his people that they neither wished to change camp nor to keep watch through the night, and so with the exception of a few who went to Mount Sion all the others remained in the original camp. But the count daily garrisoned his stand by paying his knights and footmen large sums of money.

I shall now digress by listing some of the sacred things there: the tombs of David, Solomon and the protomartyr, St Stephen. There the blessed Mary died; Christ ate there, and following his Resurrection appeared to his disciples and to Thomas. In that very same place the apostles were aroused by the coming of the Holy Spirit.

One day following the investment of Jerusalem a hermit on the Mount of Olives told some princes there, ‘The Lord will give you Jerusalem if you will storm it tomorrow until the ninth hour.’

The Christians replied, ‘We do not have any siege machinery.’

Then the hermit said, ‘God is so omnipotent that if he wishes, you could scale the wall with one ladder. He is with those who work for the truth.’

So they stormed Jerusalem the next morning until the third hour with such siege weapons as they could improvise during the night. They broke the outer wall, forced the Saracens back to the inner wall, and a few crusaders climbed atop the inner fortification. At the very moment capture was imminent, the assault was broken off by sloth and fear.

Following this reverse the Christians went foraging in the neighbourhood and ignored preparations for a new attack, each preferring to gratify his palate and belly. Even more detestable was the fact that they failed to pray to God to deliver them from the many great evils threatening their very existence. New threats came from the Saracens who had covered the mouths of wells, destroyed the cisterns and choked the flow of springs, all of which brings to mind the Lord, who ‘turneth rivers into a wilderness and water springs into dry grounds … for the wickedness of them that dwell therein’. So for the above reason water was very scarce.

The Pool of Siloam, a great fountain at the foot of Mount Sion, flows every third day; but formerly, according to the natives, it flowed only on Saturday and was on other days marshy. Certainly, we offer no explanation of this phenomenon other than God’s will. According to reports, when it gushed forth on the third day the frantic and violent push to drink the water caused men to throw themselves into the pool and many beasts of burden and cattle to perish there in the scramble. The strong in a deadly fashion pushed and shoved through the pool, choked with dead animals and filled with struggling humanity, to the rocky mouth of the flow, while the weaker had to be content with the dirtier water.

The weak sprawled on the ground by the fountain with gaping mouths made speechless by their parched tongues, and with outstretched hands begged for water from the more fortunate ones. In the fields stood horses, mules, cattle, sheep and many other animals too weak to take another step. There they shrivelled, died from thirst and rotted in their tracks, and filled the air with the stench of death.

This unfortunate turn forced the Christians to lug water from a spring some two or three leagues away and to water their cattle there. But the Saracens learned that our unarmed men passed back and forth through rough terrain and so ambushed, killed and captured many of them and led away their cattle and flocks. Water brought in for sale in containers was sky-high, and 5 or 6 nummi [pennies] was an inadequate sum for a day’s supply of pure water for one person.

The mention of wine was seldom if ever made. The thirst, already unbearable, was made worse by the searing heat, the choking dust and the strong winds. But why should I waste time on these mortal things? Only a few thought of God or the essentials of the siege. The crusaders did not pray for God’s mercy and so we ignored God in our chastisement, and he in turn did not provide for ingrates.

At this time news of the anchoring of six of our ships at Jaffa came to us as well as demands from the sailors that we send a garrison to protect the towers of Jaffa and their ships in the port. Jaffa is almost one day’s journey away and is the nearest port to Jerusalem, but little remains of the demolished place except one intact tower of a badly wrecked castle. The crusaders gladly sent Count Geldemar Carpinel with twenty knights and some fifty footmen; then in his wake Raymond Pilet with fifty knights, and last William Sabran and his entourage. Four hundred crack Arab troops and two hundred Turks stood in the way when Geldemar arrived at a plain near Ramleh.

Geldemar drew up his knights and archers in the front ranks because of his small numbers, and confident in God’s help immediately marched against the enemy. The opposition, sure that they could annihilate the Christians, rushed forward, shot arrows, and circled around. They killed four knights as well as Achard of Montmerle, a noble young man and well-known knight. They also wiped out all of our archers and wounded others from Geldemar’s force, but not without heavy losses to themselves.

Despite these casualties neither did the pagan attack diminish nor did the strength of our knights, truly Christi militia, weaken. Rather, inspired by wounds and even death, they carried the attack more energetically as they underwent greater pressure. Finally, beset by fatigue rather than fear, the leaders of the small band noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon at a time when they were about to break away. This sight was caused by Raymond Pilet and his men who gave spurs to their horses, and in the mad charge kicked up so much dust that the enemy believed there was a large approaching force.

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