December 12, 1098: Siege of Ma’arra, 20,000 Massacred and Cannibalized?!

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A Brief History

On this date, December 12, 1098, in what is now Syria, Crusaders massacred 20,000 Muslims and ate some of them!

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find European Christians launching what is now known as the First Crusade, an attempt to take back lands overrun by the sweeping Muslim hordes.

Besieging a city at Ma’arra (various spellings) the Crusaders were at the walls on December 12, 1098 when the Muslims inside finally surrendered after about a month of resistance. Promises of the safety of residents to the contrary, the Crusaders began the systematic slaughter of the population.

Frustrated by long months of fighting throughout the area, the weary and hungry Crusaders did not find the loot and food stores they had assumed were within the walls of Ma’arra. Approaching starvation, the crusading knights began to eat the corpses in abundance!  According to Radulph of Caen (before 1079–after 1130), Crusaders boiled adults in pots and roasted children on spits over fires like a macabre barbecue!

Another source, Fulcher of Chartres (born around 1059), said that impatient Crusaders often did not wait for the “meat” to be done and crammed raw chunks into their mouths.  Perhaps most disturbing to pet lovers, the Christians were also accused by Albert of Aix (floruit circa AD 1100) of killing and eating dogs.

Considering Muslims as “pagans,” Christians of those days did not believe that non-Christians were owed any sort of the same rights and respect that Christian people deserved.  Likewise, Muslims considered non-Muslims “infidels” that likewise could be treated as less than total humans.  Incredibly, the lasting stain of incidents like this massacre color our world today, and religious hatred and intolerance continues to cause wars and cost lives.

As for the Crusaders, they ultimately lost Jerusalem and then wound up fighting fellow Christians.

Question for students (and subscribers): Why did the Crusaders feel justified going on crusades?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information on this event in the broader context of the Crusades, please read…

Haag, Michael.  The Tragedy of the Templars: The Rise and Fall of the Crusader States.  Harper Paperbacks, 2013.

Kostick, Conor.  The Siege of Jerusalem: Crusade and Conquest in 1099.  Continuum, 2009.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.