The beginnings of the Turkish empire that would span across the Byzantium empire in future years was led by a young sultan, Kilij Arslan who was based in Nicacea, a few days march from Constantinople. It was in1096 that news of thousands of knights, farm-workers, women, and children often in rags with a cross stitched onto the back of their clothing were making there way over to Constantinople. The young Sultan sent out informants only to learn that a man by the name of Peter the Hermit was leading the Crusaders (known as Franj in Arabia). As the Franj marched, they proclaimed that they were here to exterminate the Muslims. However, the Turks under the leadership of the young Sultan were able to defeat the first onslaught of the Franj by a surprise ambush, nevertheless the Turks lost a heavy amount of soldiers. With the first great victory under the young sultan’s hands, Kilij Arslan had cause to celebrate.

The Seljuk Turks were able to unite the entire Muslim East for the first time in three centuries and defeat the Romans. The Roman emperors constantly traveled to the Pope to convince him to declare holy war against the Muslims in efforts to obtain outside support against the Muslim invaders. For Kilij Arslan the united territory under the Turks was no reason to let his guard down. The inner power struggles between the Turks caused Arslan to leave Nicacea and head east to succumb another Turk’s vie for more land. While he set off to thwart his countrymen, the Frankish army situated in Constantinople began to increase in numbers. Soon after, the Franj set forth towards Nicacea and laid siege to the castle. Arslan had two fronts to take care of and laid a truce with his neighboring Turk to handle the Franks. When he arrived, however, he was shocked to see not the peasants of before, but real soldiers. He soon realized that there was nothing he could do and being a people of nomadic descent, bid farewell to his castle and retreated to neighboring lands.

The Egyptian ruler al-Afdal was pleased to hear that the Franks were making their way across Asia minor and fully supported their expansion. The Crusaders made their way east and in1098 took Edessa and then Antioch, which lies across the tip of Palestine. The Egyptian leader did not possess any alliances or sympathies with the Turks because while the Turks conquered the Romans Asia Minor, they also conquered the lands of Damascus and Jerusalem which were held by the Egyptians. For this reason, the vizier of Egypt, al-Afdal made an alliance with Alexius, the Roman emperor in Constantinople. Al-Afdal proposed that the Franks take northern Palestine, while the Egyptians would control the South. However no set agreement was made and it seemed as if the Franj would continue to march down the east coast of Palestine and then on to conquer Jerusalem. Al-Afdal sent out another attempt to an agreement and this time received news that the Franj were heading out on their own without the supervision of Alexius. The response of the Franj was "We will go all of us to Jerusalem, in combat formation, our lances raised!(Maalouf)". This was a declaration of war and the city of Jerusalem prepared itself for a war or siege. The Franj arrived in mid-summer of 1099 and set camp outside the city. But instead of laying siege, many Christians walked around the city chanting. Two weeks after they had arrived, two towers were erected and from those towers the Crusaders tried to enter the city. The city fell when the attackers were able to penetrate the wall and while the Egyptian defenders were allowed to leave peacefully, the rest of the population was put to the sword. Ibn Al-Athir, an Islamic historian notes,

"The population of the holy city was put to the sword, and the Franj spent a week massacring Muslims. They killed more than seventy thousand people in Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Jews had gathered in their synagogue and the crusaders burned them alive. They also destroyed the monuments of saints, the mosque of Umar and the tomb of Abraham, may peace be upon him!"

The city of Jerusalem fell and with it thousand of Muslims and Jews. One of the monuments sacked by the invaders was the mosque of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who had taken Jerusalem from the Romans in 638. Umar had entered the city astride his white camel and assured the city’s religious leaders that no harm would come to his people or property. Umar toured the city and when a Muslim call for prayer came, he rolled out his mat and prayed and that is where the Mosque was built. The Frankish invaders came to conquer Jerusalem under religious reasons and instead they plundered and killed unshamelessly.

All quotes and much of the information was taken from Maalouf's book.


Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Translated by Jon Rothschild, 1984. Al Saqi Books, 26 Wetbourne Grove, London W2.