Nine hundred years ago western Europe was ignited by a call to Holy War. Tens of thousands of Christians left their homes, travelling across the face of the known world to recapture the city of Jerusalem from Islam. For four years these First Crusaders endured shattering exhaustion, deadly disease, wretched starvation and bloodthirsty battle on the road to the Holy Land. Stricken by thirst in the blistering summer heat, some resorted to drinking horses’ blood; others, destitute in mid-winter, turned to cannibalism. Only a fraction survived the journey.
Spurred on by the ravings of fanatical prophets, a tattered but hardened core of Crusaders finally reached Jerusalem in 1099. Once-proud knights were reduced to riding donkeys and oxen, but against all odds they succeeded in forging a path through to the world’s most sacred city. The tide of chilling barbarity then unleashed by the pilgrims on their Muslim foes transformed relations between Christendom and Islam, setting these two great religions on a course towards long-enduring enmity.