To recreate the complete picture of the events of the past, especially when conflicts or wars are discussed, it is important to take into consideration the testimonies of all the parties that took part in those events. This particular case analyzes how Christian and Muslim sources help understand the motives, course, and results of the First Crusade. It was a campaign organized by the influential religious and political leaders, the main goal of which was the seizure of a new land full of riches, and which caused the death of thousands of innocent people and put the city of Jerusalem into ruins.
Indeed, although both Christian and Muslim sources describe the main events of the Crusade almost identically, the way they present the facts is different. Christian authors often attribute the failures or the successes of their campaign to the Gods intrusion, his rage or benediction, while Muslim chronicles are more scientific in their manner of recording historical events and seem more convincing and adequate.
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The siege of Jerusalem was hard for Christian forces. Raymond d'Aguiliers states that the Bishop had a revelation that the city will be captured in nine days; this author insists on the fact that the city was seized in nine days in his later description of the events, although a Muslim writer Ibn Al-Athir states that capturing the city took nearly six weeks. The Christian army was weakened by the lack of clean water, which led to the deaths of both men and cattle. The situation in the camp was also tense, since the leaders and bishops could not come to mutual agreement. All the misfortunes were explained by the Bishop Adhemar as the result of people turning away from the ways of God. He stated that the success would come only if all the people walked barefoot around the walls of Jerusalem worshipping God in order to purify themselves. If this was done, in nine days Jerusalem would be conquered as those were the words of God. The leaders decided to listen to the Bishop and walked in a procession around the city with crosses and other relics. The description of this can be found in the Gesta version and the version of Raymond d'Aguiliers. Then they proceeded to planning the attacks.
At first, the camp of Count Raymond was placed near the west wall of the city, but it was moved to the south. Duke Godfrey, the Count of Flanders, and the Count of Normandy planned their siege from the north. All of them decided to take Jerusalem with the help of siege machines although it was difficult to do since the wood for their construction had to be delivered from distant places. The captured local population was used as slaves who did all the hard work. The Saracens, seeing that the enemy is building the machines, strengthened the walls, and increased the height of towers.
The Christians planned to start the attack on Thursday after the machines were completed and it was decided where to situate them. The mistake of Duke Godfrey and the Counts of Flanders and Normandy, who attacked from the north, was that they did not notice that the people inside the city have strengthened the fortifications. Raymond d'Aguiliers describes how in one night the machines were moved from the previous location to a place where the walls were not that strong: Between the church of St. Stephen and the valley of Josaphat. Besides, he states that only 12,000 Christian knights were fighting against 60 thousand people within the city.
The first attacks were not successful, since the army was trying to weaken the walls and was attacked by stones and arrows, so it was decided to bring the machines closer and to hit the walls with firebrands. This way the fight continued. Later the Saracens brought their own machines. Raymond d'Aguiliers states, For one of ours they had nine or ten, the army was running out of resources and the battle did not progress. Then, an unknown knight from the Mount of Olives signaled to continue to fight; the fire shot from the machines captured the walls and towers, and made the defenders leave their places. Therefore, it was possible for the Franks to release the drawbridge and, as Raymond d'Aguiliers witnesses, the first to enter were Tancred and the Duke of Lorraine. The army of Franks followed them, killing the enemies in the city.
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Fulcher of Chartres gives another description of how the army entered Jerusalem. After a number of unsuccessful attacks with the machines, a hole in one of the walls was made with a ram. The Saracens inside tried to block the hole with two beams supported by ropes, which were cut down by the attackers. The beams fell and Franks made a bridge out of them. At the same time, the wooden beams of the fortification towers started to burn, which made the Saracens retreat and helped the Franks enter the city.
Three Christian sources agree upon the massacre in the Temple of Solomon stating that many people ran there to hide. Gesta version remarks that the fight continued there for the whole day, So that the Temple was covered with... blood, Raymond d'Aguiliers states that, in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins, while Fulcher of Chartres tells that, If you had been there you would have seen our feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. He also adds that almost ten thousand people were killed in that Temple and Ibn Al-Athir asserts only. According to him, about seventy thousand people were murdered by the Franks in that Crusade.
The only ones who managed to escape were a group of people, who hid themselves in the tower of David. Amin Maalouf states it was an Egyptian general Iftikhar and his men. The author also asserts that it was the Franks who offered them to surrender and leave the city alive. Raymond d'Aguiliers writes that the Muslims were asking Count Raymond for protection, and Gesta only marks that the tower of David surrendered to the Count, not mentioning what the circumstances were.
The Crusade finished with the victory of the Christian army, which took to its possession all the houses, gold and silver, cattle, and everything valuable. Ibn Al-Athir describes how the knights took forty silver candelabra and about one hundred and fifty smaller gold and silver lamps from the Dome of Rock. Amin Maalouf states that the Franks killed not only the Muslim population of Jerusalem but also the representatives of the Oriental rites Greeks, Georgians, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians. The Christian sources only state that everything was done for the glory of God, not mentioning, how the people suffered and what destruction the army brought to the city.
Analyzing Muslim and Christian testimonies allows to conclude that in some questions both of them can be considered reliable, since they describe some facts identically. There are facts, though, that are quite contradictory, and thus it becomes hard to understand which events really occurred and which did not, and whether some data was exaggerated or hidden. Regardless of that, since Muslim sources agree both with each other and with some Christian sources, while the Christian sources do not agree neither with each other nor with the Muslim authors, it is believed that the Muslim records should be considered more convincing since they provide more independent information about the events.
War always brings devastation, casualties, and death. The First Crusade was not an exception. Influenced by the powerful religious propaganda of the Pope Urban II, so called liberators of the Holy Land forgot the main ideas of the religion they were standing up for. The evidence found in both Christian and Muslim sources proves that the only matter of the interest for the knights that entered Jerusalem was murder of the enemies, no matter if those were armed men or helpless women and children, the devastation of the city, the exportation of everything valuable without hesitating to torture the captured people if it was required to get what was wanted.
The most terrifying fact is that the mass murder of innocent people was not regretted by the witnesses of those events. The killings are described as a necessary measure and an act that glorifies God. It is widely believed, that no religion can be an excuse for murder. Christian knights showed themselves, with a few exceptions, to be barbarians hungry for blood, enrichment, and glory, forgetting about the value of a human life.
Analyzing the First Crusade from the modern viewpoint brings the researcher to the conclusion that the deaths of thousands of men were meaningless. The Christians did not show themselves to be better or more merciful than the people they have captured. The First Crusade was a massacre, organized by the authorities with great political ambitions and the desire to gain even more power. They covered it with an inspiring idea of salvation of Holy Land from the unfaithful, but the casualties which it brought are not something human history can be proud of.