Rivers of Blood: An Analysis of One Aspect of the Crusader Conquest of Jerusalem in 1099
By Thomas Madden
Revista Chilena de Estudios Medievales, No.1 (2012)
Abstract: Many medieval chroniclers described the Christian conquest of Jerusalem during the First Crusade in 1099 and their words have been repeated ever since without much scrutiny. As horrible as the carnage was in the mosque and in the rest of the city, it could never be enough to sustain the reports of streets of blood that are heard so often today. These are fantastical descriptions, clearly impossible. Modern descriptions of crusaders wading through streets of blood turn a historical massacre into little more than a cartoon. The blood that was spilled in the massacre of Jerusalem was real; the rivers of it that course down the pages of modern newspapers and popular books are not.
Introduction: On November 10, 2001 – a month after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States – Former President Bill Clinton gave a speech to the students of Georgetown University. In that speech he attempted to contextualize the recent shocking events within a larger framework of history and modern foreign affairs. Surprisingly, the crusades were part of that effort. He said:
Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless. Indeed, in the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple Mount. The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple Mount, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees. I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it.
This disturbing image of blood running up to the knees of the crusaders – or to other levels – after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 has become one of the most recognizable episodes in medieval history.