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Defending the First Crusade Part II

By Luke Lancaster

Actual Crusade Start Date

Around 60,000 Norman and Frankish warriors left on the Pope’s actual start date of 1096 AD. They were led by what seemed like the Avengers of the West: Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse (the richest and most powerful of the Crusading leaders, but rather old in age); Hugh, Count of Vermandois; Bohemond of Taranto (most experienced warrior); Robert II, Count of Flanders; Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy; Stephen II, Count of Blois; and the French brothers: Godfrey of Bouillon, Eustace III of Boulogne, and Baldwin of Boulogne. This group, as stated above, partly went on

Crusade due to their numerous penances that they needed to perform, which the indulgence was wiping away, so some of them were shady and murderous characters.

When the Crusaders arrived at the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, the Eastern Emperor, Alexios, was afraid of them. There were 60k murderous men who answered his call for help from the Pope. The Byzantine Emperor was supposed to lead them into battle but decided not too out of fear of betrayal. This presumably frustrated the Pope, who wanted both West and East fighting together in unity. Alexios was concerned, though, and before letting the Crusaders go off to fight against the invading Muslims, he requested that the Crusaders swear oaths to him. These oaths said that he was their highest lord and that every land that they captured was for Byzantium. The Crusaders did this, and set out in 1097 AD.

Justified War?

Americans often think that the Crusaders were not justified in fighting against Islam. Yet this is entirely inconsistent logic. America has acted like the Crusaders before! Take 9/11 as an example. Americans did not just ignore the thousands who died from Islamic militants. America responded with war. This mindset of self-defense is still deep in the minds of Americans today. For if, hypothetically, the Eastern coast of America were conquered by North Korea, taking hostage Miami, Atlanta, Boston, and New York, would America respond? Would it be justified for the United States to do something against North Korea in this hypothetical situation? Yes, and the same is true for the Crusaders.

On the Way to Antioch

As the Crusaders marched on with the blessing of Emperor Alexios, they first attacked the capital of the Muslim lands closest to Constantinople: Nicaea. That city had been taken from the Byzantines only a few decades before the Crusaders came. To the surprise of the Muslims, the Crusaders defeated them, giving the city back to the Byzantine Empire. Another major battle occurred in 1097 AD called the Battle of Dorylaeum and this was a narrow victory for the Crusaders. After Dorylaeum, another powerful state, Edessa, East of Antioch, wanted to join the Crusaders’ cause. Edessa feared the threats of the Islamic Turks, so they joined the Crusading cause. After Nicaea, Dorylaeum, and the addition of Edessa, the next major battle was in Antioch, which is just a little north of Jerusalem. Antioch was considered to be impossible to overtake, for it was on a large mountain range.

The Crusaders struggled mightily to take Antioch, and the battle was easily the most difficult battle for them. They suffered through the winter with little food and much sickness. A Byzantine leader, Taticius, left them for Constantinople to secure provisions, which seemed dishonest. The battle was difficult, but was aided by an Edessan and English fleet, both of which combined to give provisions, horses, and weapons. Yet the Crusaders’ hopes were crushed when they heard of a Muslim relief army approaching. They were also dampened when Stephen II, Count of Blois, left the Crusading cause in fear. Yet, over time, through the brilliant plan of Bohemond, the Crusaders took Antioch in 1098 AD. It had taken them 8 months to take the city.

However, while Stephen II was on his way home after abandoning the Crusaders, he ran into the Byzantine Emperor Alexios, who had brought with him a large army to help the Crusaders take back Antioch. Yet in order to not appear like a coward, Stephen told Alexios that the Crusaders had all died, and that Alexios would die as well if he continued onward. So, Alexios unfortunately went home to Constantinople. His army would have assisted the Crusaders in their fight against the next Muslim relief army, yet unfortunately this is left to the “what-ifs” of history.

With the Crusaders in charge of Antioch, they had to face another Muslim relief army, led by Kerbogha, and this army seriously outnumbered the Crusaders. The terror of the Crusaders was alleviated a bit, though, by a man named Peter Bartholomew, who claimed to have visions of St. Andrew. The saint told Peter Bartholomew that the spear that stabbed Jesus was under the church, and that with it the Crusaders would win the battle against Kerbogha’s Muslim army. While digging underneath the church, the people ended up supposedly finding the spear, and with it, received great hope to fight off the Muslims. The underdog Crusaders, led by Bohemond, ended up winning the battle against the mighty Kerbogha, and Antioch was solidly in Christian hands. Bohemond then decided to make himself ruler of Antioch and refused to go to Jerusalem. With this, the Crusaders turned to Raymond of Toulouse to lead them in their final push for Jerusalem.


On the path down to Jerusalem, they met various cities of Muslims, yet those Muslims were divided amongst themselves, living in rebellion to their leadership in Damascus. The various cities sent tribute to the Crusaders and were not attacked. This made the trek towards Jerusalem easier. Finally, in 1099 AD, the Crusaders reached Jerusalem. Only 12,000 warriors remained of the 60,000 that had left the West. The Crusaders approached Jerusalem and, as per custom, offered peace terms to it if the Muslims surrendered. There would be no violence if the Muslim intruders backed off. But the Muslims knew that the Christian pilgrims would run out of supplies if they just waited it out, so they refused peace terms.

The Crusaders then attempted to overtake Jerusalem, but there were no trees to make siege engines, so they were unsuccessful. But when an English and Genoese fleet arrived with timber, the Crusaders were able to make siege engines. This greatly enhanced their chances at winning. Then, Fr. Peter Desiderius saw a vision that, if they fasted and processed around the city with relics, then the Crusaders would enter Jerusalem. This Jericho-style miracle occurred, and the Christians got through the city walls. The Crusading forces defeated the Muslims and, as per the warfare custom of the day, sacked the city for three days. Non-combatants died, sadly. It also gave the Crusaders money as a reward.

The fact that any non-combatants died in Jerusalem is wrong. However, this should not paint the entire 1st Crusade as evil. The purpose was in self-defense and fully justified. The Crusades did involve evils, yet as Mark Shea has argued, World War 2 did as well. The Allies killed millions of innocent people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they didn’t help the Warsaw movement in Poland, and they didn’t bomb the lines going to Auschwitz. They were even allied with the profoundly evil Joseph Stalin of Russia. Yet WW2 is still looked upon as a fully justified war against Hitler. With this logic, the same should be true for the 1st Crusade.

After Jerusalem was brought back into Christendom, Godfrey was made the leader of Jerusalem. He subsequently prepared to fight against another Muslim relief army, except this time from Egypt. The battle of Ascalon raged on. The Crusaders won the battle, and Jerusalem became a Latin Kingdom. The Crusader states of Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli (between Antioch and Jerusalem), and Jerusalem were created, and the trip was considered a success.

Conclusion: The Crusades cannot be reduced to mere European colonialism. They were to defend the innocent Christians of the East. This was a noble cause and should not cause Christians to look down in shame. Instead, it should be a moment of pride.

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