Conquest of Jerusalem – a crusader war crime?

In the year 1099, a crusader army led by Prince Tancred smashed their way into the city of Jerusalem. They tore into the population committing a huge massacre. Even the chroniclers of the time boasted of the streets running red with blood.

So – was this a medieval war crime?

Fulk of Chartres – chronicler of a medieval war crime in Jerusalem?

Fulk of Chartres chronicled the conquest of Jerusalem and described how scaling ladders failed to get men over the mighty walls.  So the crusaders set about pounding the walls and setting fires.  With sheer brute force and plenty of cries of “God help us”, they broke down Saracen resistance and ploughed in to the city.  From then, a scene of bloody mayhem broke out.   This is how Fulk of Chartres described what happened next:

Forthwith, they joyfully rushed into the city to pursue and kill the nefarious enemies, as their comrades were already doing. Some Saracens, Arabs, and Ethiopians took refuge in the tower of David, others fled to the temples of the Lord and of Solomon. A great fight took place in the court and porch of the temples, where they were unable to escape from our gladiators. Many fled to the roof of the temple of Solomon, and were shot with arrows, so that they fell to the ground dead. In this temple almost ten thousand were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.

DISCOVER: What medieval chroniclers said about the Knights Templar

Local people swallow gold coins!

The wading through blood is something I had heard before but Fulk goes on to describe the Christian warriors making the unpleasant discovery that the local people had taken to swallowing their gold coins in order to protect their wealth.  Well, your average crusader wasn’t going to take that lying down.  I’ll let Fulk tell you what happened then:

This may seem strange to you. Our squires and poorer footmen discovered a trick of the Saracens, for they learned that they could find byzants [note: a gold coin] in the stomachs and intestines of the dead Saracens, who had swallowed them. Thus, after several days they burned a great heap of dead bodies, that they might more easily get the precious metal from the ashes.

Having killed lots of men, women and children and extracted gold coins from smouldering corpses – it was time for a religious celebration.

DISCOVER: The origins of the Knights Templar

Afterward, all, clergy and laymen, went to the Sepulchre of the Lord and His glorious temple, singing the ninth chant. With fitting humility, they repeated prayers and made their offering at the holy places that they had long desired to visit.

And so the conquest of Jerusalem was complete – though in less than a hundred years, the city would be back under Muslim control.

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