On this day in 1095, Pope Urban II calls for the First Crusade to the Holy Land at the Council of Clermont. It had started as a widespread pilgrimage of western Christendom and ended as a military expedition by Roman Catholic Europe to regain the Holy Land taken in the Muslim conquests of the Levant (632–661), ultimately resulting in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.
Since the 6th century, Christians frequently made pilgrimages to the birthplace of their religion, but when the Seljuk Turks took control of Jerusalem, Christians were barred from the Holy City. So, politics typically lurking near religion, when the Turks then threatened to invade the Byzantine Empire and take Constantinople, Byzantine Emperor Alexius I made a special appeal to Urban for help. This was not the first appeal of its kind, but it came at a critical time for Urban. Wanting to reinforce the power of the papacy, Urban seized the opportunity to unite Christian Europe under him as he fought to take back the Holy Land from the Turks.
All told, between 60,000 and 100,000 people responded to Urban’s call to march on Jerusalem. Not all who responded did so out of piety: European nobles were tempted by the prospect of increased land holdings and riches to be gained from the conquest. These nobles were responsible for the death of a great many innocents both on the way to and in the Holy Land, absorbing the riches and estates of those they conveniently deemed opponents to their cause.
Tens of thousands, soldier and civilian alike, were killed in the conquest of Jerusalem. The Crusaders themselves indeed suffered; historians estimate only one in 20 survived to even reach the Holy Land. It is estimated that 1.7 million souls perished over the course of these fervently ill-fated jaunts between 1095 and 1291.