The First Crusade

In 1096, a large Christian army set out on a 2,500-mile journey through hostile lands to capture the city of Jerusalem. But why?


11th Century Holy Land

Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands since Islamic armies had driven out the Christian Byzantine Empire in 639. In 1071, Muslim Turks swept into Asia Minor and, by the 1090s, threatened the Byzantine capital. The Byzantine Emperor asked Pope Urban II for help.

Pope Urban II

In 1095, Pope Urban held a council at Clermont in France where he called for a Crusade to help the Christians in the east and free Jerusalem. He promised rewards in heaven for those who 'took the cross'.

Motley crew

The Crusading idea took hold and, in 1096, 60,000 people set out for the Holy Land. Just 10 per cent were knights: the rest were servants, women and children, who all needed protecting. The expedition was led by the Pope's legate Adhemar of Le Puy and included great nobles such as Godfrey of Boullion and Raymond of Toulouse.


After reaching the Byzantine Empire, the Crusaders marched into Asia Minor, whose Muslim rulers were divided and did not unite against the invaders. With help from the Byzantines, the Christians took the city of Nicaea in northwest Turkey in May 1097, and defeated a Muslim army at nearby Dorylaeum. For the rest of their march to Antioch, their main enemies were heat and hunger.


Antioch was the gateway to the Holy Land. The Crusaders besieged it for eight months in terrible conditions. Many died of exposure; others starved or resorted to cannibalism as they became trapped in part of the city by an approaching Muslim army. But the discovery of the Holy Lance (said to have pierced Christ's side during the Crucifixion) inspired the Christians to victory.


In June 1099, the Crusaders besieged Jerusalem. Led by bishops, the army marched barefoot around the city as a sign of devotion and, on 15 July, fired by religious fervour they broke into the city. There followed a terrible massacre of thousands of inhabitants - Muslims and Jews alike.


After Jerusalem's capture, the Crusaders cemented their victory by defeating a relieving Egyptian army. Most of the Crusaders then left for home but some settled, creating states that would last for 200 years.