June 7, 2022

The Siege of Jerusalem

The Siege of Jerusalem

June 7, 1099.​​ After a long journey and many bloody battles, the first Crusaders finally reach the Holy City, beginning a siege that will lead to the formation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


Cold Open

CONTENT WARNING: A listener note. This episode contains descriptions of violence that may not be suitable for all audiences.

It’s summer 1099, in medieval Palestine.

The city of Jerusalem is under siege. Blazing fires light up the night sky, and the streets of this holy city reverberate with the sound of slaughter. Everywhere, invaders lay waste to Jerusalem’s Muslim population. Terrified civilians run for their lives in a desperate attempt to escape the crusading Christians.

Amid the chaos, an elderly Muslim cleric, or imam, shepherds a group of frightened women and children through the crowded street. They dart through the seething mass of bodies, heading for a nearby mosque, where they intend to take shelter. 

But suddenly… a band of Christian knights on horseback appear up ahead, their faces concealed by blood-spattered armor.

The knights draw their longswords… and begin butchering every Muslim in their path. The imam acts quickly. He swerves left, leading the women and children down a narrow alleyway.

They wind their way through the dingy backstreets, climbing a steep hill until eventually, they arrive at the mosque in the center of the Old City.

With trembling fingers, the imam unlocks the door.

Behind him, he can hear the hoofbeats of the knights’ horses, growing louder as they climb the hill toward the mosque.  

The imam’s heart pounds as he ushers the women and children through the door. Before following them inside, the imam turns around… just as the monstrous silhouette of a knight looms around the corner. 

The imam doesn’t wait for the figure to appear. He quickly slams the door and bolts it shut. 

The imam blows out the candles in the mosque. Then he and the women and children crouch in the darkness, shivering in fear.

The imam strains his ears. He can hear the knight patrolling outside the mosque. Then the footsteps stop. And for a brief moment, all is silent. 

Until the door of the mosque crashes open, and the knight strides open across the threshold, brandishing his longsword as he prowls through the gloom. The imam knows they’re caught. So he tells the women and children to remain hidden. Then he stands and faces the knight, hoping to appeal to his sense of charity. But this knight has no intention of showing mercy. As the imam raises his hands in surrender, the knight rears back his weapon; and in one swift motion – cuts off the imam’s head.

During the Siege of Jerusalem, 3,000 Muslims will be massacred by crusading Christians, who have traveled from Western Europe to recapture Jerusalem from its Muslim occupants. The Siege heralds the final action of what is known as the First Crusade, the initial campaign in a centuries-long “Holy War” to conquer modern-day Israel and Palestine for Christendom. As a place of religious importance for both Christians and Muslims, Jerusalem will remain at the heart of this bloody saga, with both sides vying for control over the Holy City, which was first besieged by Christian crusaders on June 7th, 1099. 


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is June 7th, 1099: The Siege of Jerusalem.

Act One: Council of Clermont

It’s August 27th, 1071, twenty-eight years before the Christian Crusaders first lay siege on Jerusalem.

High on the mountainous plains of eastern Turkey – a few miles outside the town of Manzikert – an imperial army travels east through the warm, starless night. Riding between two columns of heavily armored guards is the ruler of one of the world’s most powerful dynasties, the Byzantine Emperor, Romanus IV.

After the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Byzantium emerged as the dominant force in Europe and the Middle East. With its strong state, powerful army, and sophisticated bureaucracy, the Byzantine Empire subdued its enemies and asserted its Christian religion over much of the medieval world.

But that dominance didn’t last forever.

By 1071, Byzantium's supremacy had come under threat from a tribe of nomadic Muslim warriors: the Seljuk Turks. Throughout the 11th century, the belligerent Seljuks expanded their Empire from the grasslands of Central Asia to modern-day Iraq, Iran, and Syria, right up to the Eastern Mediterranean.

And they didn’t stop there. 

In the early 1060s, the Seljuks launched an invasion of Armenia, a region to the immediate east of Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey. Anatolia is the heart of the Byzantine Empire. And Emperor Romanus IV didn’t take kindly to the Seljuk incursion into his fear of influence. So Romanus assembled an army and marched to confront the marauding Seljuks at the town of Manzikert.

As he rides into battle, Emperor Romanus feels confident. His army is larger and better equipped than the enemy. And to his mind, the barbaric Seljuks are no match for his imperial troops. But Romanus has fatally underestimated his foe. The Seljuks are ready for the Byzantine army, and after withstanding the initial attack, they turn the tables on the enemy and force the emperor into a retreat.

Romanus and his defeated army ride west across the plains. The emperor is jumpy and tense and embarrassed he had to flee. He's already concocting a strategy to reassemble an attack again when, suddenly, there’s a whooshing sound, and an arrow thuds into the neck of the emperor’s horse. The animal stumbles and falls, sending the emperor sprawling to the ground. Seconds later, a horde of mounted Seljuks gallop into the midst of the Byzantine troops, cutting down the emperor’s guards, and placing Romanus under arrest.

Romanus’s humiliating defeat at Manzikert is the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire. Following their victory, the Seljuk Turks will continue their conquest of Anatolia, claiming the Byzantine city of Antioch in 1078, before heading south and setting their sights on the holiest city in Christendom: Jerusalem.

The Seljuks’ capture of that city will send shockwaves through the Christian world, provoking a reaction that will lead to more than two centuries of war.


It’s November 27th, 1095, fourteen years after the Battle of Manzikert.

On an overcast day, near Clermont in central France, the leader of the Catholic Church is about to address a gathering of religious elders. Pope Urban II is a tall man with a thick white beard and a commanding voice. He tells the elders that: “a grave report has come from Jerusalem… a foreign race alien to God has invaded the land of Christians…” Then the Pope asks his audience, “on whom does the task lie of avenging this if not on you?”

The Pope concludes his speech with a call to arms, saying: “Gird yourselves, oh thou most mighty, and act like mighty sons because it is better for you to die in battle than to tolerate the abuse of your race and your holy places.” At this, the crowd of elders erupts into cries of “God wills it!” And the Pope looks around with satisfaction. This is precisely the reaction he was hoping for.

After Jerusalem fell to the Seljuk Turks in 1087, the Christian world was outraged. Jerusalem, the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, is a major pilgrimage destination for Christians. But the presence of hostile Seljuks made travel to the Holy Land too dangerous. The new Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I, decided to harness the outrage over the loss of Jerusalem for his own political ends. In March 1095, the Emperor sent an appeal to Pope Urban II, requesting the help of western Christians in ousting Muslim infidels from the Holy Land, and restoring the region to Byzantine control.

When Urban II received the appeal, he immediately saw a way to use the situation to the Catholic Church’s advantage. Since 1054, there has been a schism between the two main branches of Christianity – the Western Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Byzantine Empire is Eastern Orthodox. By sending military aid to help the Byzantines, Pope Urban II would also be making strides toward uniting European Christendom and bolstering the power and prestige of the papacy.

That’s why the Pope made his rousing speech today in front of a council of church elders. He hopes to unite the church behind a holy crusade. His address – known as the Indulgence of Clermont – was carefully worded to frame the conquest of the Holy Land as a war of liberation. He exaggerated the outrages being committed by Muslims in Jerusalem and cited various Biblical justifications for violence. Above all, Pope Urban II emphasized that any Christian who takes up arms in defense of the Holy Land would be granted immediate passage into Heaven.

And the Pope’s speech has the desired effect. 

Following the Indulgence of Clermont, word of the Crusade will spread throughout Europe. And in the summer of 1096, some 60,000 Christian warriors will embark for Jerusalem, stirred by religious zeal, and emboldened by notions of personal salvation, pilgrimage, and the promise of material wealth.

But before they reach Jerusalem, the Crusaders will first have to travel through a treacherous land, scorched by the hot sun, and inhabited by a race of Muslim warriors, unlike anything Europeans have encountered before.

Act Two: The Siege of Antioch

It’s October 21st, 1097, one year after the beginning of the First Crusade.

At the northern border of Syria and Anatolia, a large Crusader army approaches the ancient city of Antioch.

Leading the Crusaders are three chivalrous knights dressed in white tunics emblazoned by a red cross. They are Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond of Toulouse, and Bohemond of Taranto. All three have come on the Crusade to pursue glory and wealth and to seal their legacies as heroic saviors of Christendom.

The three knights dismount their horses and stare in awe at the magnificent citadel rising from the fertile plain. With a steep mountain ridge protecting the rear of the city, and towering fortifications defending the other three sides, the Crusaders know that taking Antioch will not be easy. They’re in for a long, grueling siege. 

Among the 60,000 European men that departed for the Holy Land prepared to fight to defend Jerusalem were knights, vassals, and ordinary lay people hungry for adventure and eager to receive God’s blessing.

Under the leadership of Godfrey, Raymond, and Bohemond, the Crusaders reached Constantinople in early 1097. There, they rested, regrouped, and planned their advance into the Seljuk-held region of Anatolia.

With the help of Byzantine troops, the Crusaders recaptured the cities of Nicaea and Dorylaion. Heartened by these victories, the Crusaders continued their march across Anatolia, reaching Antioch three months later, in October.

As the former home of Saint Paul, Antioch is one of Christianity’s most important religious centers. Since falling into Seljuk's hands, however, the city’s Christian community has been ostracized and its leaders exiled. The Crusaders want to recapture Antioch.

But first, they will have to breach the citadel’s mighty walls. 

The three Crusader commanders – Raymond, Godfrey, and Bohemond – establish separate camps outside Antioch’s gates. Their troops are tired and depleted from the march, so the commanders decide that the best course of action is to lay siege to the city.

Over the next few months, the Crusaders stage a blockade of Antioch, preventing supplies from reaching the city, hoping to starve out its Seljuk defenders and force their surrender.

But the Seljuks’ are resilient. And as the fall turns into winter, they show no signs of giving up. Instead, it’s the Crusaders who struggle. With their supplies running low and no end to the siege in sight, Bohemond is forced to lead an expedition into enemy territory to forage for food.

Meanwhile, the Seljuks use the brutal winter to bolster their defenses. Soon, the governor of Antioch, Yaghi-Sivan, requests reinforcements. And within days, a Muslim relief army sets off from the city of Damascus. On December 21st, these reinforcements cross paths with Bohemond’s foraging expedition. The two sides go to battle, both sustaining heavy losses. In the end the Crusaders triumph – but only just. Bohemond and his remaining men limp back to camp, alive, but empty-handed.

Now low on men and morale, the Crusaders endure the miserable winter – repelling daily Seljuk raids and fighting off famine and disease. But as the weather improves, so do the fortunes of the Crusaders.

On March 6th, 1098, a friendly English nobleman arrives with food, weapons, and building supplies. The Crusaders put these resources to good use, constructing siege towers around Antioch, blocking the Seljuks’ exit routes, and setting the stage for an attack.

By May, the Crusaders are ready and equipped with state-of-the-art siege engines and divisions of hawk-eyed archers, they begin a relentless bombardment of Antioch. Gradually, cracks start appearing in the city’s defenses.

But around that time, word spreads that another, much larger Muslim relief army is approaching; if it reaches Antioch before the Crusaders can breach the citadel, the Christians will be annihilated.

But before that can happen, help for the Christians will come from inside Antioch, and the city walls will be breached, not by force, but by sabotage.


It’s the dead of night on June 2nd, 1098.

A group of sixty knights, led by Bohemond of Taranto, creep stealthily toward Antioch’s city walls. When they reach the base of the fortification, Bohemond peers up at the guard tower and flashes a signal with his left hand. Moments later, ropes descend from above, slithering down the wall like snakes in the moonlight.

Bohemond and his men quickly scale the fortress, clamber over the parapets, then drop silently into the courtyard below. As they do, a hunched figure emerges from the shadows. The knights instinctively draw their swords, but Bohemond orders his men to stand down. This man is not the enemy.

Several weeks ago, Bohemond was contacted by one of Antioch’s guards, an Armenian armor maker, and a recent convert to Christianity named Firouz. Firouz said he was willing to betray his city in exchange for money. And soon a plan was hatched. Tonight, Firouz and Bohemond are putting their scheme into motion.

After Bohemond and his Crusaders scale the city walls, Firouz directs them toward the city’s watchtowers. One by one, Bohemond and his knights enter the towers and silently slit the guards’ throats. Once these towers are safely in the hands of the Crusaders, Bohemond opens the main gates, where the rest of the Crusader army is waiting to storm the city.

By daybreak, Antioch has fallen. After a punishing, 8-month siege, the Crusaders are victorious. But their journey is far from over. Once they’ve recovered their strength, the Crusaders will turn south, setting their sights on their ultimate goal – Jerusalem. 

Act Three: Jerusalem

It’s June 7th, 1099 – one year after the Crusaders’ victory at Antioch. 

An army of Christians travels south through the hills of central Palestine. It’s been three years since the Crusade began. And of the 60,000 men who embarked from Europe, only 13,000 remain. Many died in battle. Many others succumbed to famine or disease. The remaining few look ready to collapse. Their faces are gaunt. Their skin is burnt and cracked by the hot sun.

Riding at the vanguard are two of the Crusade’s original leaders: Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey of Bouillon. After capturing Antioch, Bohemond of Taranto remained in the city, where he stayed to rule as governor. Now Raymond and Godfrey plod over the scrubby terrain, barely summoning the energy to swat away flies. 

But then the hazy outline of a city appears in the distance, shimmering like a mirage on the horizon. When they catch sight of Jerusalem, some of the Crusaders fall to their knees. Others throw up their arms and thank God. But Godfrey and Raymond remain stony-faced. They know that Jerusalem is well-defended. To reclaim this Holy City, they will again have to withstand a grueling siege; but this time not against the Seljuk Turks.

The Seljuks' captured the city in 1084, but Jerusalem has since changed hands. In 1098, the Holy City was re-conquered by the Seljuk Muslim rivals, the Fatimids of Egypt.

But the Fatimids are no match for the Crusaders, even in their depleted state. Using catapults, battering rams, and scaling ladders, the Crusaders breach Jerusalem’s walls on July 14th. Then having stormed the gates, the Crusaders proceed to massacre the city’s predominantly Muslim population in a frenzy of bloodlust that leaves 3,000 dead.

The First Crusade ends in victory for the Christians who successfully re-captured Jerusalem. But the war is far from over. The Crusaders have taken back the Holy Land, but it will spend the next 200 years trying to hold onto it, as a second and a third wave of Crusaders arrive from Europe to reinforce Christian dominance in the region.

These Crusades, as the ongoing wars are known, will define relations between Christianity and Islam for centuries to come; they are part of a sprawling and complex saga that sprang from the embers of the First Crusade, which came to an end when Jerusalem was captured on June 7th, 1099.


Next onHistory Daily.June 8th, 1789. American politician James Madison proposes to Congress the Bill of Rights, establishing what will become the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing and sound design by Mollie Baack.

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Joe Viner.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.