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The First Crusade from the Council of Clermont to Jerusalem

This map is part of a series of 8 animated maps showing the history of Middle Ages.

On 27 November 1095, Pope Urban II delivered a sermon at the Council of Clermont.

The text has not survived, but the pope probably called on Christians to free Jerusalem and the Holy Places.

The term ‘crusade’ did not exist at the time, but the pope’s call spread throughout the Catholic West and met with an enthusiastic response, particularly among the feudal nobility.

In the spring of 1096, some knights set out for the East leading a few hundred men. These troops committed a host of depredations en route, particularly against local Jewish communities. Considerably weakened by the time they reached Constantinople, they were then massacred by the Turks near Nicaea.

In the meantime, Western princes undertook to raise larger, better organised armies before setting out for Constantinople by various routes.

Hugues de Vermandois, brother of the King of France, left in mid-August 1096.

Godefroy de Bouillon also left in mid-August and was joined en route by many German lords.

In September, Raymond de Saint-Gilles, the powerful Count of Provence, and Robert of Normandy in turn embarked on the journey.

In October, Bohemond of Taranto, a Norman prince, crossed the Adriatic with his vassals.

It took these armies several months to reach Constantinople.

Hugues de Vermandois arrived in October 1096,

Godefroy de Bouillon on 23 December,

Bohemond of Taranto on 9 April 1097,

And Robert of Normandy and Raymond of Saint-Gilles at the end of April.

The Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus had asked the pope for help following the Turkish advance into Anatolia, but he was surprised by the size of the army that had been gathered – perhaps a hundred thousand men – and struggled to negotiate with the crusaders over the fate of the territories they were to recapture.

After crossing the Bosphorus, the crusaders took the city of Nicaea in June 1097 and then won a major victory over the Seljuk Turks at Dorylaeum. But hunger, thirst and constant fighting made for a punishing march through Anatolia and, by the time it reached the powerful fortress of Antioch, the gateway to northern Syria, in October, the army was exhausted.

During the very long siege, some crusaders gave up and returned to the West. The city was finally taken in June 1098 just in time to defeat a Turkish army led by the lord of Mosul.

The crusaders then took a long break to regain their strength… and plunder the surrounding towns. They set out again for Jerusalem in January 1099 and reached the walls of the Holy City on 7 June. The city was taken by assault

on 15 July 1099.

A large part of the population was massacred; the survivors were enslaved. As for the crusaders, many returned home having fulfilled their vow to free the city.