Tag Archives: Massacre

Professor Thomas Madden on the First Crusade, Jerusalem, and the “Rivers of Blood”

In his entertaining 2012 essay for Revista Chilena de Estudios Medievales, St. Louis University Professor Thomas Madden, perhaps the leading U.S. historian of the crusades, considers the widely repeated claim that the crusaders waded in blood up to their ankles or knees during their violent conquest of Jerusalem in 1099.


Madden first considers how widespread this claim is, even citing its use in a speech by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, before subjecting it to careful analysis. He describes his reasons for pursuing the issue carefully, noting, to his his surprise, that even other crusade historians have embraced the claim. He writes:

“”In November 2008, Jay Rubenstein of the University of Tennessee gave a lecture for the Crusades Studies Forum at Saint Louis University. The title of the lecture was “The First Crusade and the End of the World”. In the questions that followed Rubenstein spoke of the crusaders in 1099 wading through the blood of their victims. I quickly pointed out that those reports were, of course, not meant to be taken literally. To my surprise, Rubenstein responded that he believed that they should be. He related his own experience witnessing a murder victim on a street in New York City and expressed his astonishment at the amount of blood that just one human body really contains. Since I have not witnessed a murder victim, I yielded the point. But the exchange has led me to take up the question of the massacre of 1099 and look more closely at common assumptions both in the general public and among crusade specialists…

Then Madden made an interesting point.

“Surprisingly, with all of this discussion of rivers, streams, or pools of blood, no one has ever attempted to discern whether such things are within the realm of physical possibility. Although we are dealing with an episode of bloody horror, we are also dealing with basic measurements that can be evaluated…” Continue reading