Jerusalem, June–August 1099 Part II

13th century miniature of the siege.

So by God’s grace the enemy was routed and put to flight and around two hundred were killed and great booty was captured. The spoils may be accounted for by a custom among pagans; namely, if they were in flight and hotly pursued they would fling down their arms, then their garments, and finally their saddlebags. Thus our small number of knights slew the enemy until weary and kept the spoils of those who fled.

Following the fight and the collection and division of the booty, our knights went to Jaffa where the sailors joyously received them with bread, wine and fish. Now heedless of danger they neglected their ships and posted no seaward look-outs in the crow’s nest. Soon the happy and heedless sailors found themselves surrounded from the sea by their enemies, largely through their negligence in posting watchers. At daybreak they saw they had no chance to fight the superior force, so they left their ships and bore only the spoils. Thus in a fashion our force returned to Jerusalem both victorious and vanquished. One plundering ship, absent at the time, escaped capture. Laden with booty upon its return to Jaffa, it saw the Christian fleet surrounded by a superior force. Reversing its course, it returned by oar and sail to Latakiah and reported to our associates and friends the true state of affairs at Jerusalem.

We know that we got our just deserts, because we had no faith in God’s messages. Consequently, the crusaders gave up hope of God’s mercy and so marched down to the plain of Jordan. There they gathered palms, and were baptised in the Jordan river; and since they had viewed Jerusalem, they planned to give up the siege, go to Jaffa and, in whatsoever manner they could, return home; but the Lord took care of the ships for his unbelievers.

We now called a meeting because of the general quarrels among the leaders and specifically because Tancred had seized Bethlehem. There he had flown his banner over the church of the Lord’s Nativity as if over a temporal possession. The assembly also posed the question of the election of one of the princes as a guardian of Jerusalem in case God gave it to us. It was argued that it was common effort which would win it, but it would be common neglect that would lose it if no one protected it.

But the bishops and the clergy objected by saying: ‘It is wrong to elect a king where the Lord suffered and was crowned. Suppose that in the elected one’s heart he said, “I sit upon the throne of David, and I possess his dominion.” Suppose he became a David, degenerate in faith and goodness, the Lord would, no doubt, overthrow him and be angry with the place and the people. Moreover, the prophet cries out, “When the Holy of Holies shall have come, unction will cease,” because it was made clear to all people that he had come. But let us select an advocate to guard Jerusalem and to divide the tributes and rents among the protectors of the city.’ As a result of these and other reasons, the election was not held until eight days after the fall of Jerusalem. Nothing good came from this quarrel, and only work and grief doubled each day upon the people.

Finally, a compassionate and kind Lord, both for his respect and for preventing the pagans from mocking his laws by questioning, ‘Where is their God?’, told us through a message from Adhemar, bishop of Le Puy, how to appease him and gain his mercy. But we spread God’s commands publicly without connecting them with his name in fear that the people would disobey them and so be punished more severely because of their guilt. The gracious Lord sent numerous messengers to us but, since they were our brothers, their testimony was held worthless.

At this time Adhemar instructed Peter Desiderius: ‘Command the princes and the public, “Crusaders from distant lands, now here to worship God and Lord of all armies, free yourselves from the filthy world, and each one of you turn your back on sin. Then take off your shoes and in your naked feet walk around Jerusalem and don’t forget to fast. If you follow these orders, at the end of nine days the city will fall after a violent assault; but if not, the Lord will increase all the misfortunes of the past.” ’

Following this report of Peter Desiderius to his lord, Count Isoard, to Adhemar’s brother, William Hugh, and to some clerks, these confidants called a general assembly and spoke as follows:

‘Men, fellows, you know the causes of the journey and our great weariness, and also that we heedlessly procrastinate in building weapons to besiege Jerusalem. Further, we not only neglect to make God friendly with us but even displease him in every way imaginable in all things; also we even drive him out and make him an outcast because of our filthy deeds. Now if you think it proper, let bygones be bygones, and let a spirit of forgiveness pervade the Christian brotherhood. Following this let us lose our pride in the sight of God, walk around the Holy City barefoot, and implore the loving kindness of God through the intercession of the saints.

‘Pray, we say, that Almighty God, who abdicated his heavenly lordship and became human for us and of us, his servants, and who humbly sitting upon an ass entered Jerusalem in a procession flanked by crowds waving and paying great honours only to suffer the Passion on the Cross as a sacrifice for us; pray, we say, that he may throw open the gates of Jerusalem and yield it to us to the glory and honour of his name, while he makes judgement of his enemies, who gained it unjustly, defiled the place of his Passion and burial, and who now work hard to exclude us from the great benefits of the shrine of his divine degradation and our redemption.’

The above instruction met with general approval, and an order went out that on the sixth day of the week clergymen with crosses and relics of saints should lead a procession with knights and the able-bodied men following, blowing trumpets, brandishing arms and marching barefoot. We gladly followed the orders of God and the princes, and when we marched to the Mount of Olives we preached to the people on the spot of Christ’s Ascension after the Resurrection. At this time we exhorted them: ‘We followed the Lord to the spot of Ascension and since we can do no more, let us forgive those who have hurt us so that Almighty God can be merciful to us.’

I need not say more on this topic. A spirit of forgiveness came over the army and along with liberal donations we implored God’s mercy. We urged that he should not forsake his people at the last moment after he had brought them gloriously and marvellously thus far in their quest of the Holy Sepulchre. God now was on our side because our bad luck now turned to good and all went well.

Despite many omissions of events, I cannot overlook this one: during the noisy march around Jerusalem, the Saracens and Turks walked along the top of their walls poking fun at us, and they blasphemed with blows and vulgar acts crosses placed on yoked gibbets along the walkways. We, in turn, confident of the nearness of God’s compassion, because of these very abuses pressed forward by day and night the final assault preparations.

Godfrey and the counts of Normandy and Flanders appointed Gaston of Béarn to supervise the labourers who were building wattles, ramparts and siege instruments. The assignment fell to this nobleman because of ability and honesty. It proved to be a wise choice, because Gaston instituted a division of labour and speeded the job while the princes attended to the hauling of wooden materials. Count Raymond also put William Ricau† in charge of similar operations on Mount Sion and gave the bishop of al-Bara the job of supervising the Saracens and other workmen hauling timbers. Raymond’s men forced the Saracens from captured castles and towns to work as serfs. You could see fifty or sixty of them carrying on their shoulders a building beam too heavy for four pairs of oxen to drag. But I shall not bother you with more details.

Collectively, we pressed the work, we laboured, built and cooperated, and neither sloth nor unwillingness retarded our work. Only the artisans, who were paid from public collections, and the men of Raymond, who got wages from his treasury, worked for money. Certainly, the hand of the Lord was in our work. Soon preparations were completed and after a council the leaders ordered: ‘The fifth day will be the zero hour. In the mean time devote yourselves to prayers, vigils and alms, and give your beasts of burden and servants to the artisans and carpenters for the work of dragging in beams, poles, stakes and branches necessary for the construction of mantelets. Knights, the construction quota of two of you shall be one crooked mantelet or one ladder. Work hard for God, because our job is almost ended.’ All gladly turned their shoulders to the task, and orders went out for the attack position of princes and the disposition of siege machinery.

The besieged Saracens observed the completed siege weapons and so bolstered the weak spots that a successful attack seemed hopeless. Godfrey and the counts of Flanders and Normandy now noted the Saracen build-up, and consequently throughout the night before the set day of attack shifted their siege weapons, both wattles and towers, to a position between the church of the blessed Stephen and the valley of Josaphat. Believe me, the disjointing, transporting over a mile and erecting of these machines was no small job. The Saracens were thunderstruck next morning at the sight of the changed position of our machines and tents, and, I hasten to add, so were we, the faithful, who saw the hand of the Lord in this.

To brief you on the move to the north, I must say that two factors motivated the change of position. The flat surface offered a better approach to the walls by our instruments of war, and the very remoteness and weakness of this northern place had caused the Saracens to leave it unfortified. The count of Toulouse laboured no less at Mount Sion to the south and received aid from William Embriacus and his Genoese sailors, who, as I related earlier, lost their ships at Jaffa, but had salvaged ropes, hammers, nails, axes, mattocks and hatchets, all indispensable tools. Now I shall leave off any more details and go on with the story of the storming of Jerusalem.

The day of the fight dawned and the assault began. But at this point we wish to add these statistics. To the best of our and other estimates there were sixty thousand combatants in Jerusalem, and women and children without number. On our side we had not more than twelve thousand able-bodied men, along with many disabled and poor people; and as I think, no more than twelve to thirteen hundred knights. We introduce these figures and contrasts to show you that all affairs, be they great or small, undertaken in the Lord’s name will succeed, as the following pages of my book will prove.

First, we began to push our towers against their walls and then all the hellish din of battle broke loose; from all parts stones hurled from tormenta and petrariae flew through the air, and arrows pelted like hail.† But God’s servants, resolute in their faith regardless of the outcome of death or immediate vengeance on the pagans, endured this attack patiently. The fight was indecisive at this point, and as the machines came close to the walls defenders rained down upon the Christians stones, arrows, flaming wood and straw, and threw mallets of wood wrapped with ignited pitch, wax, sulphur, tow and rags on the machines. I wish to explain that the mallets were fastened with nails so that they stuck in whatever part they hit and then burned. These projectiles of wood and straw thrown by the defenders kindled fires which held back those whom swords, high walls and deep ditches had not disconcerted.

The deeds performed in the day-long battle were so marvellous that we doubt that history recorded any greater. We, assured of divine mercy, again prayed to our leader and guide, all-powerful God. With the coming of night, fear settled down on both camps. With the outer wall broken and the ditch filled, speedy access was open to the inner wall, and the Saracens feared the fall of Jerusalem that night or the following day. The crusaders, in turn, were apprehensive lest the Saracens would strengthen their cause by finding a way to burn the nearby machines. Alertness, labour and sleepless anxiety prevailed in both camps, and on our side confident hope, but on theirs gnawing dismay. The Christians besieged the city willingly for the Lord, and the pagans resisted reluctantly for Muhammad’s laws.

Incredible activity in both camps went on during the night. At the break of dawn our men eagerly rolled their siege weapons into place only to be met by the Saracens, who blocked us with their machines which outnumbered ours nine or ten to one. I shall not linger on this detail because this was the ninth day, the day which the priest had predicted would mark the fall of Jerusalem. Despite the splintering of our siege engines by the rain of stones and the lagging spirits of our bone-tired troops, the always dominant, unconquerable mercy of God was ever present in our travail. However, I cannot pass by this interesting incident. When two women tried to cast a spell over one of our petrariae, one of the stones from the same machine hurtled whistling through the air and smashed the lives out of the two witches as well as the lives of the three nearby small girls, and thus broke the spell.

At midday we were in a state of confusion, a phase of fatigue and hopelessness brought on by the stubborn resistance of many remaining defenders, the lofty and seemingly impregnable walls, and the overwhelming defensive skill of the Saracens. As we wavered and the pagans took new heart, the ever-present healing compassion of God came to us and changed our melancholy to gladness. At the very moment when a council debated the wisdom of withdrawing our machines since many were burned or badly shattered, a knight, whose name is unknown to me, signalled with his shield from the Mount of Olives to the count and others to move forward. This had a psychological effect on our spent forces, and some revitalised crusaders renewed the attacks against the walls while others began to climb ladders and ropes. At the same time a youth shot arrows ablaze with cotton pads against the ramparts of the Saracens which defended against the wooden tower of Godfrey and the two counts. Soon mounting flames drove the defenders from the ramparts. Hurriedly Godfrey lowered the drawbridge which had defended the tower, and as it swung from the middle of the tower it bridged the wall, and the crusaders, unafraid and undaunted, poured into the stricken city.

Tancred and Godfrey in the vanguard spilled an incredible amount of blood, and their comrades, close at their heels, now brought suffering to the Saracens. Now I must tell you of an astonishing circumstance; namely, in one part of the city resistance had practically ceased, but in the area near Mount Sion the Saracens fought fiercely with Raymond’s forces as if they had not been defeated. With the fall of Jerusalem and its towers one could see marvellous works. Some of the pagans were mercifully beheaded, others pierced by arrows plunged from towers, and yet others, tortured for a long time, were burned to death in searing flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet lay in the houses and streets, and indeed there was a running to and fro of men and knights over the corpses.

Let me tell you that so far these are few and petty details, but it is another story when we come to the Temple of Solomon, the accustomed place for chanting rites and services. Shall we relate what took place there? If we told you, you would not believe us. So it is sufficient to relate that in the Temple of Solomon and the portico crusaders rode in blood to the knees and bridles of their horses. In my opinion this was poetic justice that the Temple of Solomon should receive the blood of pagans who blasphemed God there for many years. Jerusalem was now littered with bodies and stained with blood, and the few survivors fled to the Tower of David and surrendered it to Raymond upon a pledge of security. With the fall of the city it was rewarding to see the worship of the pilgrims at the Holy Sepulchre, the clapping of hands, the rejoicing and singing of a new song to the Lord. Their souls offered to the victorious and triumphant God prayers of praise which they could not explain in words.

A new day, new gladness, new and everlasting happiness, and the fulfilment of our toil and love brought forth new words and songs for all. This day, which I affirm will be celebrated in the centuries to come, changed our grief and struggles into gladness and rejoicing. I further state that this day ended all paganism, confirmed Christianity and restored our faith. ‘This is the day which the Lord has made; we shall rejoice and be glad in it,’ and deservedly because on this day God shone upon us and blessed us.

Many saw Lord Adhemar, bishop of Le Puy, in Jerusalem on this day, and many also asserted that he led the way over the walls urging the knights and people to follow him. It is also noteworthy that on this day the apostles were thrown out of Jerusalem and dispersed throughout all the world. On this day the children of the apostles freed the city for God and the Fathers. This day, the ides of July, shall be commemorated to the praise and glory of the name of God, who in response to the prayers of his Church returned in faith and blessing to his children Jerusalem as well as its lands which he had pledged to the Fathers. At this time we also chanted the office of the Resurrection, since on this day he, who by his might, arose from the dead, restored us through his kindness.

Fulcher of Chartres, although not an eyewitness to the siege, constructed his account from the experiences of others, basing it on the Gesta and Raymond of Aguilers.

When the Franks beheld the city and realised that it would be difficult to take, our leaders ordered wooden ladders to be made. By carrying these to the wall and erecting them, and climbing with fierce energy to the top of the wall, they hoped with the help of God to enter the city.

These ladders were made, and on the seventh day after the arrival our leaders gave the command for the attack. At the sound of the trumpets at daybreak our men attacked the city on all sides with remarkable energy. But when they had continued the attack up to the sixth hour of the day and were not able to enter by means of the ladders which they had prepared because the ladders were too few, they reluctantly gave up the assault.

Then after consultation our leaders ordered the engineers to make machines of war. They hoped when these were moved up to the walls to attain the desired result with the help of God. Therefore this was done.

Meanwhile, however, our men did not suffer from lack of bread or meat. Yet because the area was dry, unwatered and without streams our men as well as their beasts suffered for lack of water to drink. Wherefore, because necessity demanded it, they brought water daily to the siege from four or five miles away, laboriously carrying it in the skins of animals.

When the machines were ready, namely battering rams and scrofae, our men again prepared to attack the city. Among those contrivances they put together a tower made of short pieces of timber because there was no large stuff in that area. When the command was given they transported the tower, in sections, by night to a corner of the city. In the morning they quickly erected it, all assembled, not far from the wall, together with petrariae and other auxiliary weapons which they had prepared. After they had set it up and well protected it on the outside with hides, they pushed it little by little nearer the wall.

Then some soldiers, few it is true but brave, climbed upon the tower at a signal from the trumpet. The Saracens nevertheless set up a defence against them. With fundibula they hurled small burning brands soaked in oil and grease against the tower and the soldiers in it. Therefore many on both sides met sudden death in this fighting.

From the side where they were located, namely Mount Sion, Count Raymond and his men launched a heavy attack with their machines. From the other side where Duke Godfrey, Count Robert of Normandy and Robert of Flanders were stationed there was a still greater assault upon the wall. These were the events of that day.

The next day at the sound of the trumpets they undertook the same task with still more vigour. As a result they made a breach in the wall by battering it in one place with rams. The Saracens had suspended two timbers in front of the battlements and tied them there with ropes as a protection against the stones hurled at them by their assailants. But what they did for their advantage later turned to their detriment, by divine providence. For when the Franks had moved the aforesaid tower up to the wall they used falchions to cut the ropes by means of which the two beams were suspended. With these timbers they contrived a bridge and skilfully extended it from the tower to the top of the wall.

Already one stone tower on the wall, at which those working our machines had thrown flaming brands, was afire. This fire, gradually fed by the wooden material in the tower, caused so much smoke and flame that none of the city guards could remain there any longer.

Soon therefore the Franks gloriously entered the city at noon on the day known as dies Veneris [Friday], the day on which Christ redeemed the whole world on the Cross.† Amid the sound of trumpets and with everything in an uproar they attacked boldly, shouting ‘God help us!’ At once they raised a banner on the top of the wall. The pagans were completely terrified, for they all exchanged their former boldness for headlong flight through the narrow streets of the city. The more swiftly they fled the more swiftly they were pursued.

Count Raymond and his men, who were strongly pressing the offensive in another part of the city, did not notice this until they saw the Saracens jumping off from the top of the wall. When they noticed it they ran with the greatest exultation as fast as they could into the city and joined their companions in pursuing and slaying their wicked enemies without ceasing.

Some of the latter, Arabs as well as Ethiopians, fled into the Tower of David, and others shut themselves up in the Temples of the Lord and of Solomon. In the courts of these buildings a fierce attack was pressed upon the Saracens. There was no place where they could escape our swordsmen.

Many of the Saracens who had climbed to the top of the Temple of Solomon in their flight were shot to death with arrows and fell headlong from the roof. Nearly ten thousand were beheaded in this Temple. If you had been there your feet would have been stained to the ankles in the blood of the slain. What shall I say? None of them were left alive. Neither women nor children were spared.

How astonishing it would have seemed to you to see our squires and footmen, after they had discovered the trickery of the Saracens, split open the bellies of those they had just slain in order to extract from the intestines the bezants which the Saracens had gulped down their loathsome throats while alive! For the same reason a few days later our men made a great heap of corpses and burned them to ashes in order to find more easily the above-mentioned gold.

And also Tancred rushed into the Temple of the Lord and seized much gold and silver and many precious stones. But he restored these things, putting them or their equivalent back into the Holy Place. This was in spite of the fact that no divine services were conducted there at that time. The Saracens had practised their rule of idolatry there with superstitious rite and moreover had not allowed any Christian to enter.

With drawn swords our men ran through the city

Not sparing anyone, even those begging for mercy.

The crowd fell just as rotten apples fall

From shaken branches and acorns from swaying oaks.

After this great slaughter they entered the houses of the citizens, seizing whatever they found in them. This was done in such a way that whoever first entered a house, whether he was rich or poor, was not challenged by any other Frank. He was to occupy and own the house or palace and whatever he found in it as if it were entirely his own. Thus they mutually agreed upon this right of possession. In this way many poor people became wealthy.

Then the clergy and laity, going to the Lord’s Sepulchre and his most glorious Temple, singing a new canticle to the Lord in a resounding voice of exultation, and making offerings and most humble supplications, joyously visited the Holy Places as they had long desired to do.

O day so ardently desired! O time of times the most memorable! O deed before all other deeds! Desired indeed because in the inner longing of the heart it had always been hoped by all believers in the Catholic faith that the place in which the Creator of all creatures, God made man, in his manifold pity for mankind, had by his birth, death and resurrection, conferred the gift of redemption, would be restored to its pristine dignity by those believing and trusting in him. They desired that this place, so long contaminated by the superstition of the pagan inhabitants, should be cleansed from their contagion.

It was a time truly memorable and justly so because in this place everything that our Lord God Jesus Christ did or taught on earth, as man living amongst men, was recalled and renewed in the memory of true believers. And this same work which the Lord chose to accomplish through his people, his dearly beloved children and family, chosen, I believe, for this task, shall resound and continue memorable in the tongues of all nations until the end of time.

On 22 July the conquerors elected Godfrey of Bouillon as ruler of the captured city. More or less his first duty was to lead the western army against the expected Egyptian relief force under the vizier al-Adil which was destroyed outside the walls of Ascalon on 12 August, consolidating the newly won Christian hold over the Holy City. Following this triumph, most of the surviving crusaders, a tiny fraction of those who set off three years earlier, embarked for home, the light of their extraordinary achievements shining brightly on their helms, as it has shone for nine hundred years.

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