What were the Reasons for the Successes Achieved by the First Crusade?
In 1092 Pope Urban II appealed the Council of Clermont to call a Crusade. Despite there being an existence of four reports of this appeal, there is no doubt that it led to the First Crusade of 1095 on the Muslim world which was now in a state of disunity. The Seljuk leader, Malik Shah, had controlled swathes of Asia Minor and Syria and was a binding force of the Muslim world, but with his death in 1092, his lands fractured into separate emirates. This splintered Muslim world, which was to suffer the impact of the Frankish invasion, was amplified by a year of death among its hierarchy in 1094. This left Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine bereft of any major leaders to lead a unified Muslim force against the Franks, as the remaining rulers struggled to fill the power vacuum. Although Muslim disunity was a predominant factor for the successes of the First Crusade, it was not the sole factor, as the Franks faced stiff opposition in the forms of hunger, disease and battle, regardless. Therefore, one could argue that Muslim disunity gave the Franks a foothold to manipulate religious fervour, military expertise and a united cause to succeed in executing the First Crusade. The importance of these factors is exemplified with how, in their breakdown, the Frankish states struggled to maintain themselves in the face of a united Muslim world, which would use this breakdown of factors to achieve effective accomplishments against the Franks.
Muslim disunity in the creation of the Frankish states was the key to its success. In addition to this disunity, the Muslim world had little knowledge of the Franks in the First Crusade, with some Arab sources confusing them with Byzantines, which were not considered a threat to the Muslim world. Other Islamic chroniclers, such as Ibn al-Qalanisi, completely avoided the question of why the First Crusade was launched. Indeed, Kilij Arslan’s failure in successfully defending Nicaea originated from the fact he was campaigning elsewhere and because he misunderstood the gravity of the threat the crusaders posed to his lands. Therefore, it is evident that a Muslim world split by disunity and war simply saw the Franks as another invading force in an already hostile and divided land and not an alien force whose main concerns were that of religion.
One can see the extent of how fragmented the Muslim world was in the First Crusade by analysing the Frankish successes. With the siege of Antioch in question, one can see that the Muslim world was in a crippled state of unity. The two relieving Muslim of Antioch, led by Duqaq of Damascus and Ridwan of Aleppo, refused to pool their resources together against the Frankish forces, due to the fact Ridwan and Duqaq, despite being brothers, were at war. This fact augments the reality of a shattered Muslim unity, as members of the same families were warring amongst each other. Moreover, the third relieving army, led by Kerbogaha of Mosul despite outnumbering the Franks, was fragmented from within, leading to desertion among the ranks and Kerbogha’s eventual defeat when the Franks sallied forth from Antioch. The fact that the Franks were able to overcome a force far greater than theirs is a testament to the importance of Muslim disunity for the success of the First Crusade. The importance of this disunity is reaffirmed by analysing the later successes of the Muslims in the later period of Muslim disunity, as these successes could not be capitalised on in order to crush the Franks’ resolve. As the Battle of the Field of Blood in 1119 displays, the Muslim warlord Il Ghazi, despite accomplishing a decisive and clear victory over the Franks and slaying Roger of Antioch, could not push his advantage and capture Antioch. This was due to the fact he feared that other rivals would take advantage of this conquests and capture his unguarded lands. This allowed the Franks to recover with Bohemond II becoming King of Antioch in 1126. Therefore, it is evident that Muslim disunity had been a definitive factor in the success of the first crusaders, as it allowed them to overcome odds which were insurmountable had these odds not been broken apart through Muslim disunity. Indeed, this disunity perpetuated Frankish survival even when the Franks suffered defeat.