PART – I
For thousands of years the holy lands of Palestine on the
eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea had witnessed,
Ferocious battles fought between the Christians, Jews,
and the Muslims, with much bloodshed!
For a strip of land few hundred miles in length and
varying between some hundred miles in breadth;
Which they all righteously defended!
Where the ancient city of Jerusalem stands, now as a
World Heritage Site;
Sacred to the three of world’s oldest religions and as
Jerusalem today is a symbol of unity amidst its religious
For in its Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher and the Synagogues, are etched thousand year’s
of Ancient History!
In 1096 Pope Urban the Second, motivated and launched
the First Holy Crusade,
To liberate Jerusalem from 461 year’s of Muslim dominance!
Some Historians have listed a total of Nine Crusades in all,
And I commence with the First, being the most important
For it recaptured Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks making
it fall! (1099AD)
While subsequent Crusades did not make any appreciable
dent at all!
Not forgetting the Third, led by King Richard ‘The Lion
Heart’, who made the Turk leader Saladin to agree,
For Christian pilgrims to visit the holy shrines in Jerusalem,
and the Hills of Calvary!
The Crusades began towards the end of the 11th Century
and lasted for almost two hundred years;
Had later turned into a tale of sorrow and tears!
Now to understand the Crusades in its proper perspective
let us see,
The brief historical background of Europe during the
Second Millennium AD.
Brief Historical Background
During the first century of the Second Millennium, Europe
was in a formative stage, (11th century AD)
It had began to emerge from its long period of hibernation
called the ‘Dark Age’!
The Viking raids from those northern Norsemen had ceased
And they became Christian converts settling in northern
France in the Duchy of Normandy!
In 1035 when Robert the Devil,5th Duke of Normandy,
died on his way to Jerusalem during a holy pilgrimage;
His only son William, who was illegitimate, was seven
years of age!
By 1063 AD these Norman settlers had intermingled and
expanded their lands considerably,
By conquering Southern Italy and driving the Muslims
from the island of Sicily!
And in 1066 Robert’s son William shaped future events,
By defeating King Harold at Hastings and by uniting
Later, William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert the
Duke of Normandy,
Participated in the First Holy Crusade, which has become
both Legend and History!
Now these Normans though pious were valiant fighters,
And became the driving force behind the Crusades from
11th Century onwards!
Muslim Conquest and Expansion:
After the death of Mohammad during 7th Century AD,
The Muslim cavalry burst forth from Arabia in a conquering
They soon conquered the Middle East, the Persian and the
And in 638 AD they occupied the holy city of Jerusalem
and Palestine entire!
Beginning of the 8th Century saw them crossing the Gibraltar
To occupy the Iberian Peninsula by sealing ruling Visigoth’s
Crossing Spain soon they knocked on the gates of Southern
When Charles Martel in the crucial Battle of Tours halted
their rapid advance! (Oct 732 AD)
By defeating the Moors he confined them to Southern Spain,
And thereby saved Western Europe from Muslim dominance!
Charles Martel was also the grandfather of the Emperor
The Sunni–Shiite split over the true successor of Prophet
Muhammad, and doctrinal differences of faith,
Had weakened the Muslim Empire till the Mongols sealed
The Seljuk Turks:
Meanwhile around mid-eleventh century from the steppes
of Central Asia,
Came a nomadic tribe of Seljuk Turks and occupied Persia!
In 1055 they captured Baghdad and took the Abbasid Caliph
under their protectorate;
The Persian poet Omar Khayyam and Rumi the mystic sage,
had also flourished during this Seljuk Age!
In 1071 at the Battle of Manzikirt the Seljuks defeated
the Byzantines and occupied entire Anatolia, (Turkey)
And set up their capital there by occupying Nicaea!
Deprived of their Anatolian ‘bread basket’ the Byzantine
Emperor Alexius Comnenus the First,
Appealed to Pope Urban II to save him from the scourge
of those Seljuk Turks!
The Seljuk Turks had also occupied Jerusalem and entire
And prevented the Christian pilgrims from visiting its
The Seljuk, who converted to Islam, became staunch
defenders of the Muslim faith,
And played an historic role during the first two holy
The Church and the Secular State (11th Century) :
The ecclesiastic differences and theological disputes
between Western (Latin) and Eastern(Greek Orthodox) Church,
And the authority over the Norman Church at Sicily;
Resulted in the Roman and Constantinople Churches
ex-communicating each other in 1054 AD!
This East-West Schism was soon followed by the ‘Investiture
Over the right to appoint Bishops and many other doctrinal
Between Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor
Henry IV of Germany!
Here I have cut short many details to spare you some
Pope Gregory was succeeded by Pope Urban the Second,
Who was a shrewd diplomat and a great orator as Rome’s
Pope Urban seized this opportunity and responded to the
Byzantine Emperor’s desperate call,
Hoping to add lands to his Papal Estate after the Seljuk
Also to reign in those errant knights and warlords,
Who plundered for greed and as mercenaries fought!
And finally by liberating Jerusalem as Christendom’s
He hoped to assert his authority over the Holy Roman
It is therefore an unfortunate fact of History, that the
news of re-conquest of Jerusalem failed to reach Italy,
Even though Pope Urban died fourteen day’s later,
on the 29th of July, in 1099 AD!
Motivation and the Medieval Mind:
The Medieval Age was the Age of Faith, which
preceded the Age of Reason;
A God-centered world where to think otherwise
smacked of treason!
It is rather difficult for us in our modern times,
To fully comprehend the early Medieval mind!
The Church was the very framework of the Medieval
With their monasteries and abbeys were frontline of
defense against evil;
While combating the deceptions and temptations
by the Devil!
It was a mysterious and enchanted Medieval World
where superstition and ignorance was rife;
Where with blurred boundaries, the natural and the
supernatural existed side by side!
When education was confined to the clergy and the
upper class of the society exclusively;
In such a world the human mind was pre-occupied
with thoughts of salvation and piety;
And in an afterlife hoping to escape the pains of
So in Nov 1095 at the Council of Clermont in France,
When Pope Urban II made his clarion call to liberate the
Holy Lands from the infidels,
The massive congregation responded by shouting,
“God Wills It! ”
The Crusade offered an opportunity to absolve oneself
And to even die a martyrs death for a holy cause,
which motivated them from within!
** PART – II **
The Peasant’s Crusade (April-Oct 1096) :
Even before the First Crusade could get officially
A Peasant’s Crusade of around forty thousand took-off,
taking Pope Urban by surprise!
When these untrained motley body of men led by the
French Lord Walter Sans Avoir and Peter Hermit reached
They disappointed Emperor Alexius, who for seasoned
Norman Knights had bargained!
So Alexius ferried them to Anatolia across the Bosporus
Only to be massacred by the hardy Seljuk Turks, who
sealed their fate!
Thus ended the Peasant’s Crusade, also known as’ The
But Peter the Hermit survived as he had returned to
Constantinople for help,
And participated with the main Crusade, motivating them
till the very end,
With his sermons and prayers till their objectives were
The Crusade Leaders and their Routes:
Now let me tell you about those Crusade leaders and their
For this true story to be better understood!
In the summer of 1096 French nobles and seasoned knights,
along with Bishop Adhemar the Papal Legate,
Set out in large contingents by land and sea routes, forming
the Christian brigade!
Their rendezvous point being Constantinople, capital of the
And from there across the Bosporus to enter Anatolia;
To finally take on the Seljuk Turks, in response to the
request of Emperor Alexius!
Raymond the IV of Toulouse, the senior-most and richest
of the Crusaders,
An old veteran who had fought the Moors in Spain was
one of the leaders.
He brought the largest army and was accompanied by the
Papal Legate, and his wife Elvira,
And later played a major role in the siege of Antioch and
He along with the veteran and pious bachelor knight
Godfrey of Bouillon,
Who became the first ruler of Jerusalem after its fall;
Accompanied by Godfrey’s ambitious brother Baldwin,
those knights, princes and nobles,
Followed the land route to Constantinople!
The fierce Norman knight Bohemond of Taranto, along
with Robert II Duke of Flanders, and the Norman knights
from Southern Italy,
Followed the sea route to Byzantium from the Italian
port of Bari!
I have mentioned here a few to cut short my story!
At Constantinople Emperor Alexius, administered a
Holy Oath of allegiance to the Crusade Leaders;
Hoping to win back his captured lands after the defeat
of the Seljuk Turks!
Siege of Nicea (14th May – 19th Jun 1097) :
This captured Byzantine city was then the Seljuk Capital,
With 200 towers its mighty walls a formidable defense!
Alexius sent his army to help the Crusaders in the siege,
And by blockading the food supply lines the city was
In the absence of the city’s ruler who had gone on a
campaign to the east,
Alexius’ generals secretly worked out a negotiation of
surrender and peace!
The Crusaders were angry and felt they were cheated,
But Alexius gave them money, horses and gifts, to get
On the 26th of June the Crusader army was split into two
And the Turks ambushed and surrounded the vanguard
led by Bohemund the valiant!
Turk cavalry shooting arrows mauled part of the vanguard,
When the rearguard of Godfrey and Baldwin charged in
and rescued them from the Turks!
Historians call this the Battle of Dorylaeum (1stJul 1097) ,
It was the first major battle, which provided a taste of
things to come!
Siege of Edessa:
Next a three month’s long and arduous march followed
under the sweltering summer’s heat,
When five hundred lost their lives due to sheer fatigue!
Baldwin lost his wife God Hilda, a rich heiress;
Now with all her wealth going back to her blood line
as per tradition of those days,
Placed ambitious Baldwin under great mental distress!
So Baldwin with a few hundred knights headed East for
the rich Christian city of Edessa,
With intentions of claiming it as his own after the loss
of God Hilda!
The citizens there backed Baldwin who took an
Armenian Christian as his wife,
Against their old childless ruler Thoros, by plotting
against his life!
It was not a great start for the idealism of the Crusade,
Since motivated by greed Baldwin had carved out his
While Edessa also became the First State to be
established by the Crusade!
Siege of Antioch (21 Oct 1097- 02 Jun 1098) :
Antioch was an old Roman city built around 300 BC,
Its six gates and towers fortified the city.
Its formidable walls were built by the Byzantine
Emperor Justinian the First,
And twelve years prior to the arrival of the Crusaders,
Antioch got occupied by the Turks!
In the absence of a centralized command, the Crusade
leaders frequently argued and quarreled;
Since the majority preferred a siege, so Antioch got
When food supply ran short during the winter, both
starvation and desertion plagued the Crusaders;
While Antioch’s Governor Yagi-Siyan appealed for
assistance from his distant brother Turks!
He tied messages on legs of trained homing pigeons,
An unique postal service of those early days!
End May 1098 brought news of a large Muslim army
commanded by Emir Kerbogha,
Had set course from Mosul to liberate Antioch from
The Crusaders now had to break in fast into Antioch,
Or face those 75,000 strong Turkish force!
The Twin Towers on the southern side was manned by
an Armenian Christian Muslim convert named Firuz;
Who was bribed by Bohemund to betray Antioch!
Firuz let down rope ladders for the Crusaders to climb
And a massacre followed late into the bloody night!
Next day Emir Kerbogha’s troops arrived and the
situation got reversed,
The attackers now lay besieged by those Seljuk Turks!
After fifty-two days of trying siege food supply ran
Morale of the Crusaders were rather low, and some
even feared a route!
Buried in the Church of St. Peter, Peter Bartholomew
the French priest found the ‘Holy Lance’,
About which he had a vision in advance!
This find raised the morale of the Crusaders, and
some even went into a spiritual trance!
For Peter claimed this ‘Holy Relic’ had pierced Christ’s
body after his crucifixion;
And the Crusading army now moved out of the city
in full battle formation!
Soon after the Turkish army of Kerbogha retreated
This victory has been attributed to God and His
Liberation of Jerusalem:
After the conquest of Antioch in June 1098, the
Crusaders stayed on till the year got complete.
Though the death of the Papal Legate in August got
them pretty depressed;
While Bohemund of Taranto took over Antioch, which
became the Second Crusader State;
And Raymond of Toulouse became the undisputed
leader of The Crusade!
Traveling through Tripoli, Beirut, Tire and Lebanon;
To liberate Bethlehem, they sent off Tancred and
Baldwin of Le Bourg.
On the 5th of June they liberated Bethlehem, and on
the 7th of June they reached the gates of Jerusalem!
Facing acute shortage of food and water their initial
attack failed to materialize,
When priest Peter Desiderius’ vision of the deceased
Papal Legate, came as a pleasant surprise!
This vision commanded them to fast, atone for their
sins, and to make amends;
By walking barefoot in prayer around the holy city of
After a final assault on the 15th of July 1099, they broke
into the City,
Killing all Muslims and Jews with impunity!
Pious Godfrey of Bouillon, refusing to wear the crown,
became the first ruler of this Third Crusader State;
And objectives of the Crusaders were finally attained!
With the formation of warrior monks of Hospitallers
and Knight Templers, wearing white and red crosses
All pilgrims and devotees were protected dutifully!
Later, after the conquest of Tripoli on the 12th of July in
All four Christian Kingdoms of Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch,
and Tripoli, became know as the ‘Outremer’;
While in the Romanesque style of architecture they rebuilt
the Church of Holy Sepulcher.
With this Readers I conclude this true story, leaving out
many minor details of History.
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.