Cannibals and Crusaders: The Shocking Truth About the First Crusade!

The First Crusade (1095–99) was led by Pope Urban II in an attempt to gain power over the holy land of Jerusalem, which was once the center of Jewish life and worship before being conquered by the Muslims in the 7th century.

As you’re about to see, this war against Muslims included some very questionable practices that were shocking even by medieval standards of warfare. After reading this post, you’ll never think of this historical event in the same way again!

The First Crusades Battle

An Introduction to the First Crusade

The First Crusade was a failed attempt to wrest Jerusalem from Muslim control. When the crusaders arrived at Ma`arra in 1098, they encountered the remains of the Muslim dead, who had been killed by their own people.

Map of First Crusade Leaders and Route to Jerusalem

Armed with this grisly discovery, the Franks cannibalized the corpses of Muslims in retaliation for what they saw as cannibalism on behalf of the enemy.

Leaders of First Crusade Gustave Dore Crusades Bohemond Rampart of Antioch

The Frankish Invasion of Muslim Spain

The Franks continued their invasion of Muslim Spain. They reached Ma`arra on October 20, 1098 and were able to capture it after a long siege that lasted from September 8 until October 22. It was at this time that the Franks resorted to cannibalizing Muslim dead for survival.

Leaders of the First Crusades According to Wikipedia

The Siege of Ma`arra

After capturing Ma`arra, the Franks found themselves in a difficult situation. Fearing starvation, Tancred led a raiding party of 700 knights to seize supplies from Ma`arra. They found no food there, but they did find a large number of Muslim dead – many killed by Christians.

The holylands jerusalem

Tancred’s raiders stripped the dead of their clothing and armor, then dismembered them. We had some cooked meat from these carcasses, wrote one knight.

The Aftermath of Ma`arra

over a dozen spoken or written accounts described this act of cannibalism, but with major differences in the detail. Many historical sources describe how the Franks cannibalized the bodies of dead Musilims in the city of Ma`arra, but mostly they differed in their details of the event.

pile of bones g2de223305 640

Skull and Bones

Through an examination of the different accounts, we find that these acts of cannibalism were not limited to the city of Ma`arra, but also occurred at other Muslim cities taken by crusading forces during 1096–99.

First Crusades Baldwin of Boulogne entering Edessa 1098

After examining three specific accounts, we can see that some aspects of crusader cannibalism seem to have been more ritualistic in nature, while others appear to have been motivated by hunger or hatred for Muslims. Regardless of motivation, these actions are shocking when we examine them closely.

Carolingian People Franks

The Impact of Cannibalism on the First Crusade

The cannibalism of the First Crusade has been a controversial topic of discourse for centuries. Cannibalism is a crime against humanity, but it was also the most powerful tool in the Franks’ arsenal during their conquest of Ma`arra.