On this day, in the year 1099, the armies of the First Crusade (1096-1099) reached the walls of the city of Jerusalem. What began as one Byzantine Emperor’s cry for help as his dominion was threatened by the Selijuk Turks sparked military conflict between Western European states united under the banner of the Holy Catholic Church and Muslims in the Levant that would not see an end until the close of the 17th century. As a response to Byzantine Emperor Alexius I’s plea for military support in 1095, Pope Urban II issued an edict at the Council of Clemont the next year that called for Christians everywhere to unite in a war against the Turks. Additionally, as if his papal authority were not enough to draw legions of soldiers to the cause, the Pope also promised that the immediate remission of sins would be granted to any who lost their life in this holy endeavor.
On August 15, 1096, the motivated band of Church-sanctioned soldiers now called the crusader armies set off from France and Italy. With a pledge to restore lost cities and lands to the empire, the armies quickly made their way eastward by land through the capital city of Constantinople and on south through Anatolia. After capturing a number of weaker territories along the way, the crusaders saw their first major victory when, on June 3, 1098, they sacked the city of Antioch. As for standard military philosophy when an enemy force refused to surrender a besieged city, the baron-led armies of knights left no mercy for Antioch, pillaging and destroying the city while massacring as many of its inhabitants as possible along the way. Strengthened by this victory, the armies then marched on toward the holy city of Jerusalem.
After nearly thirty-four months of campaigning, the armies, by this point only a fraction of their original force, finally reached the walls of Jerusalem on the seventh day of June in the third full year of the fighting. Here both Jews and Muslims alike united in defense of their home against this western opposition. After an initial assault of the city failed, the Crusaders regrouped and attacked once again on July 13th. Two days later, it was this final push that eventually found the Christian armies breaking through the northern wall and capturing the holy city.
The lasting effects of the first crusade, alongside the eight others recorded during the 11th to 13th centuries, are surely still felt throughout the world today. Tensions between western Europe (including the United States) and the Middle East have never been higher. War of massive and nuclear proportion threatens both sides. To many, this seems indicative that mankind is in fact living out its last days.