The Siege of Jerusalem During the First Crusade

Counquest of Jeusalem (1099)

Émile Signol/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain 

The Siege of Jerusalem was conducted from June 7 to July 15, 1099, during the First Crusade (1096-1099).



  • Iftikhar ad-Daula
  • Approximately 1,000-3,000 troops


Having captured Antioch in June 1098, the Crusaders remained in the area debating their course of action. While some were content to establish themselves on the already captured lands, others began conducting their own small campaigns or calling for a march on Jerusalem. On January 13, 1099, having concluded the Siege of Maarat, Raymond of Toulouse began moving south towards Jerusalem assisted by Tancred and Robert of Normandy. This group was followed the next month by forces led by Godfrey of Bouillon. Advancing down the Mediterranean coast, the Crusaders met little resistance from local leaders.

Recently conquered by the Fatimids, these leaders had limited love for their new overlords and were willing to grant free passage through their lands as well as trade openly with the Crusaders. Arriving at Arqa, Raymond laid siege to the city. Joined by Godfrey's forces in March, the combined army continued the siege though tensions among the commanders ran high. Breaking off the siege on May 13, the Crusaders moved south. As the Fatimids were still attempting to consolidate their hold on the region, they approached the Crusader leaders with offers of peace in exchange for halting their advance.

These were rebuffed, and the Christian army moved through Beirut and Tyre before turning inland at Jaffa. Reaching Ramallah on June 3, they found the village abandoned. Aware of the Crusader's intentions, the Fatimid governor of Jerusalem, Iftikhar ad-Daula, began preparing for a siege. Though the city's walls were still damaged from the Fatimid capture of the city a year earlier, he expelled Jerusalem's Christians and poisoned several of the area's wells. While Tancred was dispatched to capture Bethlehem (taken on June 6), the Crusader army arrived before Jerusalem on June 7.

The Siege of Jerusalem

Lacking sufficient men to invest the entire city, the Crusaders deployed opposite Jerusalem's northern and western walls. While Godfrey, Robert of Normandy, and Robert of Flanders covered the walls of the north as far south as the Tower of David, Raymond took responsibility for attacking from the tower to Mount Zion. Though food was not an immediate issue, the Crusaders had problems obtaining water. This, combined with reports that a relief force was departing Egypt forced them to move quickly. Attempting a frontal assault on June 13, the Crusaders were turned back by the Fatimid garrison.

Four days later the Crusader hopes were boosted when Genoese ships arrived at Jaffa with supplies. The ships were quickly dismantled, and the timber rushed to Jerusalem for building siege equipment. This work began under the eye of the Genoese commander, Guglielmo Embriaco. As preparations progressed, the Crusaders made a penitential procession around the city walls on July 8 which culminated with sermons on the Mount of Olives. In the following days, two siege towers were completed. Aware of the Crusader's activities, ad-Daula worked to strengthen the defenses opposite where the towers were being built.

The Final Assault

The Crusader's attack plan called for Godfrey and Raymond to attack at opposite ends of the city. Though this worked to split the defenders, the plan was most likely the result of animosity between the two men. On July 13, Godfrey's forces began their attack on the northern walls. In doing so, they caught the defenders by surprise by shifting the siege tower further east during the night. Breaking through the outer wall on July 14, they pressed on and attacked the inner wall the next day. On the morning of July 15, Raymond's men began their assault from the southwest.

Facing prepared defenders, Raymond's attack struggled, and his siege tower was damaged. As the battle raged on his front, Godfrey's men had succeeded in gaining the inner wall. Spreading out, his troops were able to open a nearby gate to the city allowing the Crusaders to swarm into Jerusalem. When word of this success reached Raymond's troops, they redoubled their efforts and were able to breach the Fatimid defenses. With the Crusaders entering the city at two points, ad-Daula's men began fleeing back towards the Citadel. Seeing further resistance as hopeless, ad-Daula surrendered when Raymond offered protection. Crusaders cried out "Deus volt" or "Deus lo volt" ("God wills it") in celebration.

The Aftermath

In the wake of the victory, the Crusader forces began a widespread massacre of the defeated garrison and the city's Muslim and Jewish populations. This was sanctioned mainly as a method for "cleansing" the city while also removing a threat to the Crusader rear as they would soon need to march out against the Egyptian relief troops. Having taken the objective of the Crusade, the leaders began dividing the spoils. Godfrey of Bouillon was named Defender of the Holy Sepulchre on July 22 while Arnulf of Chocques became the Patriarch of Jerusalem on August 1. Four days later, Arnulf discovered a relic of the True Cross.

These appointments created some strife within the crusader camp as Raymond and Robert of Normandy were angered by Godfrey's election. With word that the enemy was approaching, the Crusader army marched out on August 10. Meeting the Fatimids at the Battle of Ascalon, they won a decisive victory on August 12.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "The Siege of Jerusalem During the First Crusade." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). The Siege of Jerusalem During the First Crusade. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "The Siege of Jerusalem During the First Crusade." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).