Dear Poet Friends, our World today & especially Europe is threatened with terrorism from the religious fundamentalist groups like the ‘IS’ ! History teaches us that during the Middle Ages the Holy Crusades were launched with the combined forces of Christendom. May be History is repeating itself once again within a span of thousand years! Do kindly read with patience this True Story of the Holy Crusades in Verse, to see events in its proper historical perspective. Concluding portion as Part Two has also been posted here. You will find the portion on ''Motivation & The Medieval Mind'' to be interesting! Kindly take your time to read at leisure. No need to comment in a hurry please! Thanks, - Raj
STORY OF THE HOLY CRUSADE: (1096-1099)
For thousands of years the Holy Lands of Palestine on the eastern coast
of the Mediterranean Sea had witnessed,
Ferocious battles fought between the Christians, Jews, and the Muslims,
with much bloodshed;
For a strip of land few hundred miles in length and varying between some hundred miles in breadth,
Which they all righteously defended!
There the Ancient City of Jerusalem now stands as a World Heritage Site,
Sacred to the three of World’s oldest Religions and as their pride!
Jerusalem today is a symbol of unity amidst its religious diversity;
For on its Dome of the Rock, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Synagogues, are etched thousand years of Ancient History.
In 1096, Pope Urban the Second, motivated Christendom and launched the First Holy Crusade,
To liberate Jerusalem from 461 Years of MUSLIM dominance!
Some Historians have listed a total of Nine Crusades in all,
And I commence with the FIRST, being the most important of all;
For it recaptured Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks making it fall. (in 1099AD)
While subsequent Crusades did not make any appreciable dent at all!
Not forgetting the THIRD, led by King Richard ‘The Lion Heart’, -
Who made the Turk leader Saladin to agree,
For Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy shrines in Jerusalem and the Hills of Calvary.
The Crusades began towards the end of the 11th Century lasting for almost Two hundred years;
Had later turned into a tale of sorrow and tears!
Now to understand the Crusades in its proper perspective let us see,
The brief historical background of Europe during the early parts of
Second Millennium AD.
A BRIEF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
During the first century of the Second Millennium, Europe was in a formative stage, (11th Century AD)
It had began to emerge from its long period of hibernation called the ‘Dark Age’!
The Viking raids from those northern Norsemen had ceased subsequently,
As they became Christian converts settling in Northern France in the Duchy of Normandy.
In 1035 when Robert the Devil, 5th Duke of Normandy died on his way
to Jerusalem during a Holy Pilgrimage;
His only son William, who was illegitimate, was only seven years of age.
By 1063 AD these Norman settlers had intermingled and expanded their lands considerably,
By conquering Southern Italy and driving the Muslims from the Island of Sicily.
And in 1066 Robert’s son William shaped future events, -
By defeating King Harold at Hastings and by uniting England.
Now William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert the Duke of Normandy,
Participated in the First Holy Crusade, which has become both Legend
and a part of History!
These Normans though pious, were also valiant fighters,
And became the driving force behind the Crusades from 11th Century
MUSLIM CONQUEST AND EXPANSION
After the death of Prophet Mohammad during 7th Century AD,
Muslim cavalry burst forth from Arabia in a conquering spree!
They soon conquered the Middle East, Persia, and the Byzantine
And in 638 AD they occupied the Holy city of Jerusalem and
Beginning of the 8th Century saw them crossing the Gibraltar Strait,
To occupy the Iberian Peninsula by sealing ruling Visigoth’s fate!
Crossing Spain soon they knocked on the gates of Southern France,
When Charles Martel in the crucial Battle of Tours halted their rapid
advance! (Oct 732 AD)
By defeating the Moors, Martel confined them to Southern Spain,
And thereby SAVED Western Europe from Muslim dominance!
Charles Martel was also the grandfather of the Emperor Charlemagne.
The Sunni–Shiite split over the true successor of Prophet Muhammad,
and other doctrinal differences of Faith,
Had weakened the Muslim Empire till the Mongols sealed their fate!
THE SELJUK TURKS
Meanwhile around Mid-eleventh Century from the steppes of Central Asia,
Came a nomadic tribe of Seljuk Turks and occupied Persia!
In 1055 they captured Baghdad and took the Abbasid Caliph under their Protectorate.
The Persian poet Omar Khayyam, and the great Rumi the mystic sage,
Had also flourished during this Seljuk Age!
In 1071 at the Battle of Manzikirt the Seljuks defeated the Byzantines
and occupied entire Anatolia, (now Turkey)
And set up their Capital there by occupying Nicaea!
Deprived of their Anatolian ‘bread basket’ the Byzantine Emperor
Alexius Comnenus the First,
Appealed to Pope Urban II to save him from the scourge of those
The Seljuk Turks had also occupied Jerusalem and entire Palestine,
And prevented the Christian pilgrims from visiting its Holy Shrines!
The Seljuk, who converted to Islam, became staunch defenders of the
And played an historic role during the First Two Holy Crusades!
THE CHURCH AND THE SECULAR STATE (11th Century) :
The ecclesiastic differences and theological disputes between Western (Latin) and Eastern(Greek Orthodox) Church,
And the authority over the Norman Church at Sicily;
Resulted in the Roman and Constantinople Churches
ex-communicating each other in 1054 AD!
This East-West Schism was soon followed by the ‘Investiture Controversy’,
Over the right to appoint Bishops and many other doctrinal complexities;
Between Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV
Here I have cut short many details to spare you some agony!
Pope Gregory was succeeded by Pope Urban the Second,
Who was a shrewd diplomat and a great orator as Rome’s Papal Head.
Pope Urban seized this opportunity and responded to the Byzantine
Emperor’s desperate call,
Hoping to add lands to his Papal Estate after the Seljuk Turks fall!
Also to reign in those errant knights and warlords, -
Who plundered for greed and as mercenaries fought!
And finally, by liberating Jerusalem as Christendom’s Religious Superior,
Pope Urban hoped to assert his authority over the Holy Roman Emperor!
It is therefore an unfortunate fact of History, that the news of re-conquest of Jerusalem failed to reach Italy;
Even though Pope Urban died fourteen days later,
on the 29th of July, in 1099 AD!
MOTIVATION AND THE MEDIEVAL MIND
The Medieval Age was the Age of Faith, which preceded the Age of Reason;
A God-centred world where to think otherwise smacked of treason!
It is rather difficult for us in our Modern times,
To fully comprehend the Early Medieval mind!
The Church was the very framework of the Medieval Society itself,
With their Monasteries and Abbeys as front-line of defence
While combating the deceptions and temptations of the Devil!
It was a mysterious and enchanted Medieval World where superstition
and ignorance was rife;
Where with blurred boundaries both the natural and the supernatural
existed side by side !
When education was confined to the Clergy and the Upper Class of
the Society exclusively;
In such a world the human mind was preoccupied with thoughts
of Salvation and piety;
And in an afterlife hoping to escape the pains of Purgatory!
So in Nov 1095 at the Council of Clermont in France,
When Pope Urban II made his clarion call to liberate the
Holy Lands from the infidels,
The massive congregation responded by shouting, “God Wills It”,
‘’God Wills It’’, - which echoed beyond France!
The Crusade offered an opportunity to absolve oneself of sins,
And to even die a martyrs death for a Holy cause, which motivated
them from within!
Now for actual action kindly read the Concluding portion,
I tried to make it short and crisp!
STORY OF THE HOLY CRUSADE : CONCLUSION
THE PEASANT’S CRUSADE (April-Oct 1096) :
Even before the First Crusade could get officially organized,
A Peasant’s Crusade of around forty thousand took-off,
taking Pope Urban by surprise!
When these untrained motley body of men led by the French
Lord Walter Sans Avoir, and Peter Hermit reached Constantinople;
They disappointed Emperor Alexius, who for seasoned Norman
Knights had bargained.
So Alexius ferried them to Anatolia across the Bosporus Strait,
Only to be massacred there by the hardy Seljuk Turks who sealed
Thus ended the Peasant’s Crusade, also known as “The People’s
But Peter the Hermit survived as he had returned to Constantinople
And participated with the main Crusade, motivating them till the
With his sermons and prayers till their objectives were attained!
THE CRUSADE LEADERS AND THEIR ROUTES:
Now let me tell you about those Crusade Leaders and their routes,
For this true story to be better understood.
In the Summer of 1096 French nobles and seasoned knights,
along with Bishop Adhemar the Papal Legate,
Set out in large contingents by land and sea routes, forming the
Their rendezvous point being Constantinople, capital of the
And from there across the Bosporus to enter Turkey then known
To finally take on the Seljuk Turks, in response to the request
made by Emperor Alexius.
Raymond the IV of Toulouse, the senior-most and richest of
Was an old veteran who had fought the Moors in Spain was one of
the Crusade leaders.
He brought the largest army and was accompanied by the Papal Legate, and his wife Elvira,
And later played a major role in the siege of Antioch, and Nicea.
Raymond along with the veteran and pious bachelor knight
Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the First Ruler of Jerusalem
after its capture and fall;
Was accompanied by Godfrey’s ambitious brother Baldwin and
a large contingent, -
They followed the land route to Constantinople.
The fierce Norman knight Bohemond of Taranto, along with
Robert II Duke of Flanders, and the Norman knights from
Followed the sea route to Byzantium from the Italian port of Bari.
I have mentioned here only a few, to cut short my story!
At Constantinople Emperor Alexius, administered a Holy Oath of
allegiance to the Crusade Leaders;
Hoping to win back his captured lands after the defeat of the
THE SIEGE OF NICEA (14th May – 19th Jun 1097) :
This captured Byzantine City was then the Seljuk Capital;
With 200 towers its mighty walls was a formidable defence!
Emperor Alexius sent his army to help the Crusaders in the siege,
And by blockading the food supply lines the city was besieged;
In the absence of the City’s ruler who had gone on a campaign
to the East, -
Alexius’ Generals secretly worked out a negotiation of surrender
The Crusaders were angry and felt they were being cheated,
But Alexius gave them money, horses, and gifts to get them
On the 26th of June the Crusader army was split into two contingents,
And the Turks ambushed and surrounded the vanguard led by Bohemund the Valiant.
Turk cavalry shooting arrows mauled part of the vanguard,
When the rearguard of Godfrey, and Baldwin charged in
and rescued them from the Turks!
Historians call this the Battle of Dorylaeum; (1st Jul 1097)
It was the first major battle which provided a taste of
things to come!
SIEGE OF EDESSA:
Next a three month’s long and arduous march followed
under the sweltering Summer’s heat,
When five hundred lost their lives due to sheer fatigue!
Baldwin lost his wife God Hilda, a rich heiress;
Now with all her wealth going back to her blood line
as per tradition of those days,
Placed ambitious Baldwin under great mental and financial
So Baldwin with a few hundred knights headed East for the
rich Christian city of Edessa,
With intentions of claiming it as his own after the loss of his
The citizens there backed Baldwin and gave him an Armenian
Christian lady to be his wife,
And against their old childless Ruler Thoros, they plotted to
take his life!
It was not a great start for the idealism of the Crusade,
Since motivated by greed Baldwin had carved out his own
While Edessa also became the First State to be established
by the Holy Crusade!
THE SIEGE OF ANTIOCH (21 Oct 1097- 02 Jun 1098) :
Antioch was an old Roman city built around 300 BC,
Its six gates and towers fortified the city.
Its formidable walls were built by the Byzantine Emperor
Justinian the First,
And twelve years prior to the arrival of the Crusaders,
Antioch had got occupied by the Turks!
In the absence of a Centralised Command, the Crusade leaders
frequently argued and quarrelled;
Since the majority preferred a siege, so Antioch got finally
When food supply ran short during the winter, both
starvation and desertion plagued the Crusaders;
While Antioch’s Governor Yagi-Siyan appealed for
assistance from his distant brothers the Turks.
He tied messages on legs of trained homing pigeon,
A unique postal service of those early days!
End May 1098 brought news of a large Muslim army
commanded by Emir Kerbogha,
Had set course from Mosul to liberate Antioch from
The Crusaders now had to break in fast into Antioch,
or face those 75,000 strong Turkish force!
The Twin Towers on the southern side was manned by
an Armenian Christian Muslim convert named Firuz,
Who was bribed by Bohemund to betray Antioch!
Firuz let down rope ladders for the Crusaders to climb
And a massacre followed late into the ****** night!
Next day Emir Kerbogha’s troops arrived and the
situation got reversed,
The attackers now lay besieged by those Seljuk Turks!
After fifty-two days of trying siege food supply ran out,
Morale of the Crusaders were rather low, and some even
feared a route!
Now buried in the Church of St. Peter, Peter Bartholomew
the French priest found the ‘Holy Lance’,
About which he had a vision in advance!
This find raised the morale of the Crusaders, and some
even went into a spiritual trance!
For Peter claimed this ‘Holy Relic’ had pierced Christ’s body
after his Crucifixion;
And the Crusading army now moved out of the city in full
Soon after the Turkish army of Kerbogha retreated fearing
This victory has been attributed to God and His miraculous
LIBERATION OF JERUSALEM
After the conquest of Antioch in June 1098, the Crusaders
stayed on till the year got completed.
Though the death of the Papal Legate in August got them
While Bohemund of Taranto took over Antioch, which now
became the Second Crusader State;
And Raymond of Toulouse became the undisputed Leader
of The Crusade!
Next travelling through Tripoli, Beirut, Tire and Lebanon;
To liberate Bethlehem they sent off Tancred, and Baldwin
of Le Bourg.
On the 5th of June they liberated Bethlehem, and on the
Seventh of June they reached the gates of Jerusalem!
Facing acute shortage of food and water their initial attack
failed to materialise,
When priest Peter Desiderius’ vision of the deceased Papal
Legate came as a pleasant surprise!
This vision commanded them to fast, atone for their sins and
By walking barefoot in prayer around the Holy City of Jerusalem!
After a final assault on the 15th of July 1099, they broke into
Killing all Muslims and Jews with impunity!
Pious Godfrey of Bouillon refusing to wear the crown, became
the First Ruler of this Third Crusader State;
And objectives of the Crusaders were finally attained!
With the formation of warrior monks of ‘Hospitallers’ and
‘Knight Templers’, wearing White and Red Crosses respectivel
RELEVANT LESSONS CAN BE DRAWN FROM PAST HISTORY!