The first crusade was a response to a very inspiring speech by Pope Urban II on November 27, 1095. At the start of the 11th century, Christians were often persecuted in Jerusalem under Islamic rule. Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos was also threatened by the Islamic Seljuq Turks and called for military help to repel them from Anatolia during a meeting with the Pope. The Pope, in return, delivered his influential speech, calling on all Christians in Europe to volunteer in a war against Islam, by the “will of God” and to reclaim the Holy Land for Christianity.

First Volunteers, the “People’s Crusade”

Although the Byzantine emperor had only asked for some military help to protect his empire, the main goal of the crusade quickly became the recapture of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. It is said that between 60,000 and 100,000 people responded to the Pope’s call and started marching in unorganized groups of mostly German and French peasants. Most of them were not trained soldiers, so they were no match for the military precision of the Turks and the furthest they ever made it was to Constantinople, where they were slaughtered.

The First Military Crusaders

Finally in 1095, the main force that made it all the way to Jerusalem, started out as an army of 4,000 knights on horseback and 25,000 infantry. They were led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Orlando and Robert of Flanders. After suffering many losses along the way, about 1,200 cavalry and 12,000 finally made it to the heavily fortified Jerusalem. After building siege towers, they managed to get over the wall and open the gates, capturing the city and slaughtering many Muslims, Jews and Christians in the process. The Muslims retaliated, prompting several successive crusades and the Christians remained in control over the Holy Land for 200 years.