toward Jerusalem: 1098

With Armenian Cilician somewhat relieved of Turkish presence, the region of Armenian Edessa established as a Norman-ruled Christian “county”, and Bohemund acting as Prince of Antioch, the next step had to be Jerusalem. Many of the knights had sworn not to go home until they had captured Jerusalem. They may have envisioned a much faster campaign; they had now been away from home for several years, and they had not yet seen the Holy City. Many of them were impatient to get to this final stage so that, if they survived, they would be free to leave.

When the Princes set out in 1096, Jerusalem was governed by Ilghazi, a Seljuk Turk. However, by the time they captured Antioch in 1098, the half-Armenian Vizier of Fatimid Egypt controlled the southern territory. In some respects, the Muslim Empire was in a civil war. While we look back and blur Turks, Persians, Arabs and North Africans, at the time these divisions were distinct. Turks were adopting and co-opting Persian culture and the Arabic religion; but they were still invaders. The North African and Arab culture of Fatimid Egypt looked on the Turkish invasion with horror.

During the siege of Antioch, the Fatimids sent messengers to the European princes. They suggested forming an alliance against the Turks. Similar alliances had been made between Muslim rulers and portions of the Byzantine Empire, so it seemed plausible to the Egyptians that the Franks would agree. Dividing the land along a Maginot Line, the Egyptians would control the territory south of Antioch, while helping the Franks fight the Turks in Damascus and Aleppo. It was a good strategic plan and would have resulted in a Crusader kingdom firmly planted in Lebanon and Syria.

However, times had changed. The Crusaders were driven by ideology as much as by greed for a new kingdom in the spice-rich East. They did not view the Fatimids as potential allies against the Turks; the Fatimids were just more Saracens. The same shift was also going on in Spain, where pragmatic Arab city governors invited North African extremists to be their allies since the Christian kings were uniting across lines of religion, not strategy. The Crusaders did not distinguish between past Fatimids (like the mad Caliph who destroyed churches) and present ones (who permitted rebuilding). Their grasp of Muslim history and ethnic groups was as weak as the Turks’ grasp of European affairs. So to the Fatimids’ astonishment, their embassy was treated politely but firmly refused. The Crusaders intended to capture Jerusalem; they preferred to fight the Fatimid Mamluk armies than to ally with them.

The Fatimid governor began to fortify the city, preparing for an assault. Like other ancient cities, Jerusalem was walled. It had been besieged many times in the past; there were cisterns and underground tunnels to bring in water. When the European army finally approached, the Fatimid governor expelled all Christians (Armenians, Syrians, Greeks) from the city and poisoned wells in the countryside.

But the Europeans did not march on Jerusalem right away. As they recovered from the grueling siege of Antioch, they were struck with troubles. Predictably, there was a typhoid outbreak. Adhemar, the Papal Legate (one of the few educated leaders), died. Bohemund was busy getting his new city under control and cleaned up, but he still tried to compete for even more leadership and power.

Raymond of Toulouse, the highest-ranking remaining Prince, led a side expedition to capture a Syrian city and fortress just to the south. By the time their full force was set up as a siege, winter was coming. They built a siege tower and had the city in their hands by the start of 1099. This siege of Ma’arat is infamous not for any brilliant warcraft, but for reports of cannibalism after the city fell. Ever since the siege of Antioch, the lower-ranking soldiers had been going hungry, but they kept pressing on. Now some of them may have roasted or boiled dead Ma’arat residents. If so, it was a nadir of morale; cannibalism was absolutely considered a sin.

Eventually, Raymond of Toulouse got the remaining princes to swear fealty to him as feudal lord, and they began the official march on Jerusalem. They marched south during May 1099 and arrived at the Holy City in early June. The wells around the city, of course, were poisoned and all farm produce (such as there is at that time of year) was inside the city. Once again, they faced siege conditions as the besiegers.

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