When Was the First Crusade?

The Pope’s call for the First Crusade on November 27, 1095, came after the Byzantine Emperor’s plea for assistance. The plea came as the Seljuk Turks hit the Empire hard, inflicting defeats and taking territory.

May 25, 2024By Matt Whittaker, BA History & Asian Studies

when was the first crusade 1095


The Empire’s call for help fell on attentive ears. Pope Urban II saw this as an opportunity to increase the papacy’s prestige, strengthen the Church in Italy, and regain control of the Holy Land. The Holy Land fell during Islam’s first great expansion and remained so. Adding fire to this was the Muslims threatening local Christians and stopping pilgrimages to Jerusalem. So now the call fired up Western religious fervor as nobles, knights, peasants, and all in between wanted to do their part. To entice more to enroll, Pope Urban granted a full absolution of sins of any who took the oath to become Crusaders, even murder. The First Crusade would change the Holy Land for two centuries.


The Leaders 

council clermont first crusade manuscript
Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, from Livre des Passages d’Outre-mer, 1474. Source: Gallica National Library


The First Crusade’s leaders, primarily French nobles, became leaders dependent on their abilities, wealth, and army size. Names like Raymond IV of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillion, and Bohemond of Taranto signed on. These nobles also saw the chance to carve out kingdoms in the Holy Land to rule beholden only to themselves. The Pope added Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy to represent the Papacy. Adhemar prayed and fought, fighting in two later important battles. The fighting bishop would pass away just short of Jerusalem. The leaders did function well despite numerous rivalries and disagreements.


Onto Constantinople and Beyond: 1096

reconstruction of constantinople
Constantinople, as it would have looked around the 10th century, rendering by Antoine Helbert. Source: Vivid Maps


The Crusaders arrived in Constantinople between December 1096 and April 1097, and most traveled on foot; estimates for this first Crusade number about 100,000. The Crusaders crossed into Asia in May, defeating the local Seljuk Turk sultan and capturing the important city of Nicaea. The army moved south and pillaged supplies if needed. One cunning Crusader, Baldwin of Boulogne, went east into Cilicia and Armenia. Through diplomacy, force, and bribery, he became Count of Edessa, securing the Crusader’s supply route. The Turks wouldn’t retake the city until 1144.


Midway at Antioch: 1097

siege antioch first crusade
Siege of Antioch, by Jean Colombe, from Les Passages d’Outremer by Sébastien Mamerot, 1474. Source: Bibliotheque Nationale de France

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The Crusaders besieged Antioch on October 21, 1097. The Turks and Crusaders realized the city’s critical position halfway between Constantinople and Jerusalem. The Turkish leader, Yaghi-Siyan, requested reinforcements to attack the Crusaders and raise the siege. The siege lasted until June 1098, only the city’s citadel holding out. But the requested Seljuk soldiers arrived to encircle the former attackers! The Crusaders came out of Antioch and defeated the reinforcements, so badly the citadel surrendered.


crusaders reach jerusalem first crusade
Crusaders Reach Jerusalem (First Crusade), designed by Domenico Paradisi, 1689-93 (woven 1732-39), Source: The MET, New York

In what became a morale boost during the battles, a camp follower, Peter Bartholomew, claimed to have discovered the Holy Lance, used by Roman legionnaires to impale Jesus as he hung from the cross. The Crusader leaders kept silent with their doubts. Like wildfire, the discovery ignited the Crusaders’ religious passion as they sortied to defeat the Turkish army a second time. Antioch fell to Bohemond of Taranto to rule their newly acquired territory, one of the Crusade leaders. At Antioch, the Pope’s representative, Adhemar, died from typhus. While a blow, the Crusaders kept going.


Onwards to Jerusalem: 1099

first crusade sack jerusalem
Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, 15th July 1099 by Émile Signol, 1847. Source: History Extra

Inspired again and with strong bases behind them, the Crusaders continued south along the Holy Land’s coast, fighting several battles. Fatimid representatives from Egypt appeared as they marched, asking the Crusaders to stop. The Fatimids had taken Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks and promised Christian access to the city. The Crusaders refused, which caused the Fatimids to expel many Christians. Despite an arduous march, the Christian army arrived at Jerusalem on June 7, 1099-the siege was on. 


The Great Siege of 1099

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts, 1627. Source: Creazilla
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts, 1627. Source: Creazilla


The Crusaders wasted no time, starting to build three siege towers. Jerusalem would be no pushover with miles of walls, nine feet thick and nearly fifty feet high. The besiegers also needed to deal with ravines, moats, and two huge towers – the Tower of David and the Quadrangular Tower. The siege didn’t take shape until July 14, when the towers were ready. On July 15, the Crusaders assaulted the defenses, gaining a foothold on the northern walls. On the southwest walls, the Crusaders got over the walls and beyond. All defenses quickly collapsed.


Finale and Aftermath

Kingdom of Jerusalem Coat of Arms Source: Wikimedia
Kingdom of Jerusalem Coat of Arms Source: Wikimedia


The Crusaders poured in, showing little mercy. They massacred thousands of Muslims and Jews, looted much of the city, and converted any holy sites to Christian ones. They defeated an Egyptian army two weeks later. The Crusaders established the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted for two centuries. The First Crusade exposed medieval Europe to a more sophisticated world influencing commerce, politics, and culture. The subsequent Crusades also exposed Europe to a wider world through contact and returning soldiers.

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By Matt WhittakerBA History & Asian StudiesMatt Whittaker is an avid history reader, fascinated by the why, how and when. With a B.A. in History and Asian Studies from University of Massachusetts, he does deep dives into medieval, Asian and military history. Matt’s other passion besides family is the long-distance Zen-like runs.