The Siege of Jerusalem in the first Crusade

Here we will talk about two things regarding the Siege of Jerusalem. I will mention why the 1st Crusade started in the first place, and then I will move on to what the actual battle was like.

There are two main reasons why the 1st crusade started. The first reason being that Hakim, part of the Fatmid caliph, ordered the Holy Sepulchre to be destroyed, and they leveled most of it -leaving mostly just the first floor-. The second reason being that the Crusaders were responding to the preaching of Urban II.” the turks had in their frenzy invaded and ravaged the churches of God in the east and seized the Holy City.” Urban had proposed that people should go on a religious conquest to Jerusalem to liberate the Pagans and Muslims of their sins at Clermont cathedral in Auverne on Tuesday, November 27th 1095. (Tyerman. p27&p58) These two factors caused a wave of a Crusading spirit in Europe. Some would compare this situation to a more recent event; Osama Bin Laden’s attack on the Twin Towers and President Bush’s call to battle.

The crusaders marched mostly unopposed into Palestine in May of 1099, reaching Jerusalem on June 7th. Pressured by the Egyptian army coming to help the defenders of Jerusalem, the crusaders started siege on Jerusalem right away (Tyerman pg. 60). Jerusalem fell in 5 weeks, in which the Crusaders were able to turn around and defend their occupation of Jerusalem against the Egyptians.


Depiction of what a typical battering ram would have looked like during the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099.  “Battering Ram.” Encyclopedia Brittanica. Accessed December 3, 2018.

One major thing that affected the strategy of the crusaders was that the city was big enough that the city could not be entirely surrounded by the Crusading armies. The crusaders originally started by attacking only the west wall, but then split the army in half and attacked the west section of the north wall (Robert of Normandy, Robert of Flanders, Godfrey of Bouillon, Tancred) and the south wall (Raymond of St. Gilles) simultaneously. On the 8th of July, the crusaders walked around the city of Jerusalem, expecting similar results of what had happened at Jericho (Riley-Smith). Between July 9th and 10th of 1099, The Crusaders built siege equipment -including a siege tower and a battering ram- close to the quadrangular tower. They then disassembled the equipment and reassembled it on the northeastern side of the city. The reasoning behind that is because that part of the city was not only less fortified, but also had flatter ground for the equipment to rest on. (France).


The arrangement of the Crusading armies in relation to Jerusalem from July 7th to July 12th. France, John. Victory in the East: A Military history of the First Crusade. Cambridge University Press. 1994. pp. 339. Figure 17b.

The 14th was spent filling in a ditch to get the siege tower across.  Once the equipment was across the ditch, the equipment was slowly inched closer to the outside wall. In an attempt to stop the crusaders from advancing, the defenders attempted unsuccessfully to light the two structures on fire, in which the Crusaders used precious water to put out. (France).

The Crusaders had their battering ram leading the charge, with the siege tower following close behind it. The battering ram got up to the outside wall and was successful in forming a breach in the outside wall; there was a problem, however. The inside wall of the city was much more fortified and the crusaders knew that the battering ram would not suffice. It is a good thing that they thought to build a siege tower, but the battering ram was in the way of it. The ram could not go backwards because the siege tower was in the way, and the ram could not be moved forward and then turned to the side because of the proximity of the two walls. So, the Crusaders lit it on fire. The Defenders saw this and counteracted by trying to dump water off the wall on to the battering ram. They were unsuccessful and the ram burned to the ground. Afterwards, the crusaders were allowed to move their siege tower forward (France). In a final attempt to keep the siege tower away from the wall, the defenders strung a chain between the wall and the siege tower and attacked a flaming log onto it. This would have worked to burn down the siege tower, except the crusaders were smart enough to have soaked the tower in vinegar to make it fire resistant.  The Crusaders eventually got a hold of the log and ended up pulling it down and out of the way (France). After fighting the defenders off the wall, two knights from Tournai were the first to cross, followed by the Lorrainers. (Riley-Smith).

On the south side of the city, the crusaders were not doing so well.  The crusaders had a vicious time trying to fill in the moat that the defenders had built so that they could get their siege engines across, and even when that was completed, the battle got even tougher. The defenders made use of their wooden mallets by sticking a nail through it, and then lighting the mallet on fire, making a perfect fire starter for any object that the mallet gets stuck to. The crusaders also had to content with a machine called the noviter adinvento machinamento. This machine was used to launch flaming balls of resin, pitch, and hair into the crusader’s camps, causing hard to quench fires; and it was padded to the extent that the crusaders could not destroy it with it’s missiles. To counteract the machine, the crusaders launched a beam with a grappling hook on the end that grabbed the padding, in which the crusaders were able to pull the padding away from the machine and destroy it with missiles. Even with that small victory, the Crusaders were considering surrender. The main thing that stopped them was hearing that the north had breached through, so it was only a matter of time before the defenders were sandwiched in. Upon hearing the news, the crusaders made an advance (France).

*It is also important to mention that part of the reason why the Southern front was having so much trouble is that the Crusader’s camp was within bow shot of the wall.

Once the Northern front had gotten through, the defenders got sandwiched into the citadel, where the defenders made a truce with the Crusaders. The army would be spared, in exchange that the Citadel would surrender. Both sides agreed. However, a few days later, the Crusaders realized that there was a problem with keeping the people of Jerusalem alive. The Egyptian army was on their way to take back Jerusalem and the Crusaders did not want to have to deal with a rebellion within the city while trying to defend Jerusalem against the Egyptians, so the Crusaders massacred everyone (France). That marks the end of the Jerusalem Siege during the First Crusade.


Riley-Smith, Johnathan. The Crusades: A History. Bloomsbury Academic. 3rd edition. 2014. pp. 64-65.

Tyerman, Christopher. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. Belknap Press. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2006. pp. 27,58,& 60.

France, John. Victory in the East: A Military history of the First Crusade. Cambridge University Press. 1994. pp. 348, 350

“Battering Ram.” Encyclopedia Brittanica. Acessed December 3, 2018.

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