It is often said that the conflicts between Israel and Palestine since 1948 would never have occurred if the Romans had not reached the Promised Land in 63 BC, when Pompey fought near the territories we now know as Israel and Palestine. In this conflict to conquer Syria, the Roman ambassador heard that there were Jews in Rome who were sympathetic and others were not. Later, he decided to capture Jerusalem, resulting in the death of more than 12,000 people. This was the first of many massacres in the area.
But nothing like Jerusalem, a thousand years later, between June 7 and July 15, 1099, during the First Crusade: an estimated 70,000 Muslims were killed by Christians in one week, according to the Spanish newspaper ‘ABC’. The destruction was so massive that traces of barbarism can still be seen today.
In 2019, a team of archaeologists jointly led by the University of North Carolina and the University of Haifa in the United States made an important discovery in an excavation at Mount Zion that confirmed historical accounts of the First Crusade.
These refer to the siege, conquest and sacking of the Holy City at the hands of the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt. The remnants of this battle, which determined the demise of the only Shiite, Islamic caliphate in history, mark a critical moment in the violent history of Jerusalem, which was completely destroyed and recolonized by the invaders.
“For three days, maybe even a week, the crusaders committed all kinds of atrocities, including rape and murder,” assured Shimon Gibson, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, who spoke to ‘Europapyrus’ in 2019. ‘Rivers of blood’ ran through the streets of the city, and this is no exaggeration. Atrocious crimes were committed and many, including Christians, died. Local Christians were considered heretics, just like Muslims and Jews. They turned Jerusalem into a ghost town,” the expert added.
During the excavations, a trench was discovered in the southern wall of Jerusalem that the defenders of the Caliphate had dug to protect themselves from Crusader attacks. Artifacts from the siege have been found, including arrowheads, bronze cross medallions from the Crusaders and a fascinating piece of Muslim gold jewellery, which may have been part of the spoils of victory. All this treasure was found inside an ancient building that was in ruins at the time of the attack, which was certainly used by the Crusaders to defend themselves.
“It looks like there are several buildings scattered outside the walls. We excavated one of them, which may have been damaged by the 1033 earthquake,” Gibson said. “You can imagine the Crusaders attacking the city from the south, finding the moat and this building in ruins, and using them as cover. This explains some of the arrowheads that have been found, which had rain on them”, he explained.
These findings seemed to confirm the historical image of contemporary historians, whose accuracy has always been considered questionable. According to them, the Crusader attack on the city of Jerusalem was bloody and occurred in both north and south. However, as the northern side was successful, little is known about this attack from the south.
The First Crusade began after an appeal by Pope Urban II during the Council of Clermont that called for the conquest of the Holy Land from the Muslims. Until then, the Crusades were very successful and managed to capture the city of Antioch in 1098. After attempting to capture the city of Arga, in early 1099, the Christian army marched on Jerusalem. The Pathimids tried to reach a peace treaty but were ignored. On June 7, they arrived in Jerusalem.
At the sight of the holy city, many crusaders began to weep and immediately began a siege. The city was well prepared to resist and the Fatimid governor expelled most of the Christians to secure more food. Of the 7,000 knights who had started the First Crusade, only 1,500 remained in the Christian army, with an additional 12,000 foot soldiers.
The first attack on 13 July failed. The task seemed impossible, and according to legend, the key rested with Father Pedro Desiderio, who revealed that he had a divine vision that told the army to fast for three days and then march barefoot along the city walls. After that, the city of Jerusalem will fall in a few days.
Despite the use of siege towers, attacks on the walls began and were initially repulsed. Finally, on the morning of June 15, two knights—Letaldo and Engelberto—entered the city first through the walls at the northeast corner of the city. The Christians entered through a gap and the first Muslim guards began to surrender.
Once in the city, the massacre began – it lasted throughout the afternoon, night and the next morning, in which almost all the inhabitants of Jerusalem died: Muslims, Jews and some Christians. Many Muslims took refuge in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where, according to the ‘Gesta Fraquorum’, “the massacre took place to such an extent that our men walked with blood up to their ankles”.
According to Raimundo de Aguileras, one of the participants in the massacre, Puy’s canon left the following description: “The wonderful sights enchanted our vision. Some of us, the most pious, cut off the heads of Muslims; Others made them targets for their arrows; Others went further and dragged us to the fire. In the streets and squares of Jerusalem nothing but piles of heads, hands and feet could be seen. So much blood was spilled in the mosque built in Solomon’s temple that corpses floated in it. In many places the blood reached the knees. When there were no Muslims to kill, the military leaders marched to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for a thanksgiving ceremony.
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