Early Clashes with the Crusaders
The Outbreak of War
The Aftermath of Hattin
The Third Crusade
Saladin's Holy War of 1187-1192 was the culmination of a lifetime of planning, and saw Saladin inflict a crushing defeat on the Crusaders at Hattin, capture Jerusalem and conquer most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and then successfully defend most of those conquests against the forces of the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart, king of England.
Saladin spent much of his career carving out an empire that could successfully challenge the powerful Crusader armies. His career began in the service of Nur ad-Din, son of Zengi, a successful leader in his own right. Nur ad-Din had united most of Syria and achieved his own successes against the Crusaders. He had then launched three campaigns in Egypt (between 1164 and 1169), each commanded by Saladin's uncle Shirkuh. The third of these campaigns ended with Shirkuh's army firmly in control in Egypt, but soon after this Shirkuh died. Saladin took over, becoming Vizier of Egypt and commander of the Egyptian army.
After Nur ad-Din's death his empire in Syria began to fall apart. Saladin was soon invited in by the leaders in Damascus, and over the next ten years extended his control to include Aleppo and Mosul (Saladin's Conquest of Syria). By the start of 1186 Saladin had thus created an empire that included parts of the North African coast, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and upper Mesopotamia. He was thus in a strong position to attack the Crusader kingdoms.
In the 1180s the Crusader kingdoms occupied the entire eastern end of the Mediterranean, from the borders of Egypt in the south to the edge of Anatolia in the north. The most northerly of the surviving Crusader states was the Principality of Antioch, centred around that great city. Next was the County of Tripoli, but the most important was the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which included most of the land west of the River Jordan as well as a significant border-zone east of the river.
Saladin's clashes with the Crusaders fall into three general sections. The first saw him engaged in a series of minor battles, sieges and raids, with varying success. The second began in 1187, and involved the first full-scale attack after he gained control of Mosul. This part of the war included the victory at Hattin, the fall of Jerusalem and the conquest of most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The third phase was a defensive battle against the forces of the Third Crusade, under the command of Richard the Lionheart, king of England. This saw the Crusaders gain a more secure foothold on the coast, while Saladin maintained his control of the bulk of the kingdom and most importantly of Jerusalem.
Early Clashes with the Crusaders
Saladin had a number of clashes with the Crusaders during his time as vizier of Egypt, but his first significant raids came after he had established himself at Damascus and returned to Egypt. In November 1177 Saladin led the Egyptian army north. He bypassed Gaza and its Templar garrison, and Ascalon, where King Baldwin was pinned. As Saladin moved rather carelessly towards Jerusalem, Baldwin managed to rally an army, and at Mons Gisardi or Ramlah he attacked the scattered Muslim army and routed it. Saladin and his men fled south, suffering more losses as they crossed the desert to reach Egypt.
The next outbreak of fighting was triggered by a Crusader breach of a treaty, in this case an agreement not to fortify Jacob's Ford, on the Jordan. King Baldwin, under pressure from the Templars, began work on a castle at the ford. Saladin was forced to intervene in an attempt to uphold the treaty. A first campaign early in 1179 was inconclusive, but in June 1179 King Baldwin was tricked into attacking Saladin's main army at Mardj 'Uyin and was badly defeated. The king managed to escape, but Jacob's Castle was left vulnerable and was destroyed in August 1179.
In May 1182 Saladin left Cairo for the last time, at the start of the campaign that would secure give him control of Aleppo and eventually Mosul. The Crusaders attempted to intercept Saladin at Petra, but without success. After reaching Damascus Saladin led his army into the Kingdom, and in July an inconclusive running battle was fought near Belvoir. In the following month Saladin attacked Beirut, but the garrison held out until King Baldwin approached with the main army. Saladin withdrew rather than risk a battle.
Late in 1182 Raynald of Chatillon launched a dramatic raid into the Red Sea. For a short time it looked like he might even threaten Mecca, but Saladin's brother al-Adil was able to overpower the raiders who were forced to retreat.
In the summer of 1183, after capturing Aleppo, Saladin summoned an army for a raid into the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This force crossed the River Jordan on 29 September, after a slow advance that allowed the regent, Guy of Lusignan, to assemble a powerful army at Saffuriyah. The Crusaders were able to force their way to the Spring of Goliath, where a five-day long standoff followed. Guy followed the advice of Raymond of Tripoli and other cautious leaders and refused to risk a battle. Eventually Saladin retired back into Syria, after a fairly successful raid. The Crusader's decision not to fight was probably the right one on the day, but it had a fairly disastrous aftermath. Guy and Raymond soon became bitter rivals, and that played a part in Guy's decision to try and lift the siege of Tiberias in 1187, in the build-up to Saladin's victory at the Horns of Hattin.
Late in 1183 Saladin besieged Raynald's castle at al-Karak. This may have been a serious attempt to capture the castle, or it might have been a diversion to allow for the safe passage of a caravan coming from Egypt. The Egyptian army was involved in the siege, while al-Adil, Saladin's brother, was moved from Egypt to Aleppo during the campaign. When the Crusader army approached al-Karak Saladin lifted the siege. The same happened in 1184. Once again both the Syrian and Egyptian armies were involved in the siege of al-Karak, and once again they both left when the main Crusader army approached. The first of these two sieges became famous at the time because it took place while Humphrey IV of Toron and Isabella of Jerusalem were celebrating their wedding within the castle. Saladin is said to have asked which chambers they were using so he could avoid firing at them.
The Outbreak of War
In August 1176 the boy king Baldwin V died, leaving the Kingdom of Jerusalem divided. There were two claims to the throne, through the princesses Sibylla and Isabella. Baldwin IV's will had put in place a process for dealing with this problem. Raymond of Tripoli, the regent of the kingdom, was to remain regent until the Holy Roman Emperor, Pope and the kings of France and England could agree which of the two princesses had the better claim. This process would have been time consuming and left the kingdom vulnerable, but worse was to come. Sibylla and her husband Guy de Lusignan held Jerusalem, and took advantage of that to seize the throne. Most nobles of the kingdom accepted the new monarchs, but Raymond retreated to Tiberias, where he demanded that Guy give him Beirut and may have entered into negotiations with the Moslems.
While the kingdom was split between Guy and Raymond more trouble came from Raynald of Chatillon, lord of al-Karak. This castle dominated the land routes between Egypt and Syria, and had been attacked by Saladin on several occasions. Raynald wasn't interested in the four year truce that had been agreed with Saladin, and in the summer of 1186 he attacked a trade caravan, slaughtered many and took the wealthy merchants prisoner. Saladin sent an envoy to al-Karak, where Raynald refused to even meet him. The envoy went on to King Guy, who ordered Raynald to make reparations. Once again Raynald refused, and this ended the truce. Saladin was free to prepare for an all-out attack on the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The call to war was issued early in 1187. Troops arrived from Saladin's Syrian strongholds, from Mosul and from his allies. Another army was ordered up from Egypt. Saladin's army mustered at Damascus, then moved south. The army then split. Saladin led the main army south to secure the route to Egypt, while his son al-Afdal was given two tasks - to wait for late arrivals and to carry out a probe into Galilee to see if Count Raymond would stick by their alliance.
Saladin's expedition achieved its main aim. Raynald of Chatillon had planned another raid into Arabia and then intended to prevent the Egyptian army from moving north. Saladin's arrival, with his main army, forced Raynald to withdraw. Saladin ravaged his lands and then in late May returned north.
Al-Afdal had even more success. He began by requesting permission to move a force of 7,000 cavalry through Galilee, partly to scout out the area where the main campaign might take place and party to test the limits of Raymond's agreement with Saladin. Raymond was now in a very difficult position. King Guy had already summoned the Kingdom's army to muster at Nazareth, and intended to force Raymond to submit. Raymond thus couldn't afford to alienate his one remaining ally, and gave al-Afdal limited permission to cross Galilee as long as he didn't attack any towns or peasants. By chance al-Afdal's expedition was crossing Galilee at the same time as an embassy from Guy to Raymond, which included the grand masters of the Templers and the Hospitallers. On 30 April Gerard de Ridefort, grand master of the Templars, learnt of the presence of the Muslim force. He was outraged and summoned every Templar in the area to join him. On the next day, at the head of only 150 knights, Gerard found the Muslim force at Saffuriyah and attacked. Outnumbered, the small Crusader force was wiped out. Only three of the knights survived, amongst them Gerard de Ridefort.
This minor disaster did at least end the open breach between Raymond and King Guy. Raymond joined the Royal army, which was now one of the largest ever mustered by the Crusader states. Saladin's army was larger, but the Crusaders had defeated many larger Muslim armies in the past. Saladin knew that he would need to force the Crusaders into offering battle on his terms, a mistake that they had refused to make in previous years. He decided to attack Tiberias, which was held by Raymond's wife, the Countess Eschiva. His hope was that the Crusaders would attempt to lift the siege. This would force them to move across a large dry plateau, where they would struggle to find any water. Saladin's men would be able to harass them as they moved in the hope that gaps would open in the Crusader force, making it vulnerable to attack.
On 1 July Saladin's army crossed the Jordan and attacked Tiberias, which was defended by Raymond's wife, the Countess Eschiva. The town fell quickly, but the Countess was able to retreat back into the citadel, which held. She was also able to get a message to the main Crusader army, at Saffuriyah, asking for help. On 2 July the Crusaders held a council of war to decide what to do next. There were two factions. The first, led by Count Raymond, argued that the main thing was to keep the army intact. The march to Tiberias was too dangerous to risk, and if the army was lost then the kingdom was lost. This was especially true because in order to produce such a large army most garrisons had been almost emptied. If the Crusaders stayed where they were then Saladin would have to make the next move. He could take Tiberias, but would probably struggle to keep it once his army began to break up at the end of the campaigning season. If he decided to attack the Crusaders, then they would have the best position and there would be a chance to inflict a heavy defeat on Saladin.
The other point of view was argued by Gerard de Ridefort and Raynald, both of whom wanted to attack Saladin at Tiberias. They believed that this was a great chance to crush Saladin's army, which would be trapped against the Sea of Tiberias with no easy escape route. If Saladin chose not to fight and instead return home without a battle then his prestige would be badly damaged and his empire might begin to break up.
At the end of the council King Guy decided to follow Raymond's advice and stay put. Gerard and Raynald stayed behind and convinced him to change his mind. Guy had made a similar decision three years earlier and been stripped of the regency. Raymond had succeeded him as regent. Raymond had also only recently been allied with Saladin. Gerard also claimed that a decision not to move might weaken the loyalty of the Templers. Guy was convinced, and on the morning of 3 July the army broke camp and began the twenty mile march towards Tiberias.
The Crusader army was soon under attack. Saladin's archers kept the flanks and rear of the army under constant fire. This didn't cause many casualties, and the normal Crusader response was to continue moving towards their destination without breaking formation. The attacks could slow down the army, but on a normal march, with water available along the route, that didn’t really matter. On this day, with no water and hot temperatures, the delays proved to be fatal. Eventually, after a march of only ten miles, the army was forced to camp for the night.
On the following morning Saladin launched a full scale attack on the isolated Christian camp. The resulting battle of the Horns of Hattin (4 July 1187) was his most important victory. The Christian infantry and cavalry were soon separated. Raymond made an attempt to break a hole in the Muslim lines, but his opponent simply opened a gap in his lines, allowing the charge to pass through. Raymond realised that there was no point in attempting to return to the fray and led his men away to Tripoli. Back inside the trap King Guy moved onto a nearby hill, the Horns of Hattin. His men made a series of attacks on the Muslim lines, probably in an attempt to reach Saladin. These failed, and after a long day of fighting King Guy and the surviving Crusader leaders were captured.
The Aftermath of Hattin
Most of the captured Crusader leaders were well treated and eventually released. Raynald of Chatillon was the main exception. Saladin had already sworn to kill Raynald if he had the chance, and he was beheaded before the end of the day. The captured Templars and Hospitallers were also executed. News of the disaster quickly spread through the Kingdom of Jerusalem, followed swiftly by Saladin's men.
First to fall was Tiberias, on the day after the battle. Three days later Saladin was at Acre, and the city surrendered on generous terms on 9 July. The commanders at Tyre were ready to surrender, but by chance Conrad of Montferrat arrived in the port in the days between the agreement and the actual surrender and he revitalised the defences. Jubail, Gaza, Nazareth, Saffuriyah, Haifa and Caesarea surrendered without a fight. Ascalon took two weeks to capture. The castle of Toron surrendered on 26 July after a two-week siege. Jaffa fell to the al-Adil and the Egyptian army.
Jerusalem was the main target. After securing most of the kingdom, Saladin began his siege of the city on 20 September. An initial attempt to attack from the west failed, and on 26 September Saladin moved his siege engines around to the north and east walls. A breach was opened in the wall of 29 September and on the following day surrender negotiations began. The city surrendered on 2 October. The citizens were given forty days to ransom themselves, and many of those who couldn't afford to pay were later freed by Saladin or his commanders. The Patriarch Heraclius escaped with a convoy containing much of the wealth of his church, much to the anger of both Muslim commanders denied their plunder and poorer Christians who couldn't afford their ransoms.
This was the high-point of Saladin's career. One of Islam's holy cities had been recovered from the Infidel, after many previous attempts had failed. Only Tyre and a handful of castles remained of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and it would surely only be a matter of time before they also fell.
In November Saladin returned to Tyre, where he expected another fairly easy victory. Instead he found that Conrad of Montferrat had strengthened the already strong defences, had improved the morale of the defenders and was hopeful of aid from Western Europe. In late December Conrad's ships destroyed an Egyptian fleet that had been Saladin's best chance of success. Saladin held a council of war, and discovered that his men weren't in favour of continuing the siege across the winter. Tyre was left in Crusader hands, and large parts of Saladin's army, after a summer and autumn of stunning successes, returned home.
Saladin's main concern in 1188 was the threat that a new crusading army would arrive from Western Europe. By March Henry II of England, Philip Augustus of France and the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa were all committed to the idea. Henry died before he could take part, but his son Richard the Lion Heart was if anything more committed to the idea.
Saladin expected the main crusading armies to travel by land. This was the route that Barbarossa took, and that Henry II had planned to take and would have brought them into the Principality of Antioch. After spending the winter of 1187-88 at Acre and the spring of 1188 at Damascus, at the start of the summer Saladin led his armies north.
The castle of Akkar in the county of Tripoli fell, as did the coastal port of Tortosa/ Tartus, although the Templars managed to retain their castle, which remained in their hands for another century.
Krak des Chevaliers was judged to be too strong to attack. The strong castle at Al-Marqab/ Margat was blockaded but also remained in Crusader hands. Tripoli also held out with help from William II of Sicily and from Tyre. The ports of Jabala/ Djabala and Latakia/ Ladhakiyya were both taken. On 29 July the strong castle at Sahyun was captured. Saladin then moved into the Principality of Antioch, where the castles of Burzey, Sarminiqa and Bakas Shoqr were captured. In August Saladin attacked Darbsaq and Baghras, at the entrance to the pass known as the Syrian Gates. Bohemond of Antioch now only held Antioch itself and the port of St Symeon. Saladin would have attacked, but his Emirs were opposed to the idea, and so when Bohemond offered an eight month long truce, Saladin accepted.
This ended the northern campaign. The army returned to Damascus, where Saladin released most of his allies. He kept the core of his own army intact, and decided to attack the last remaining Crusader castles in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. His first target was the Templar castle at Safad, north of Lake Tiberias. This fell after a siege which lasted from November-December 1188 and was fought in heavy rain. The next target was the castle of Belvoir or Kaukab, which fell in January 1189. In the south Saladin's brother al-Adil captured al-Karak, after a year-long siege. Montreal or Shoubak/ Shawbak held out longer, but surrendered in October 1189.
The Third Crusade
The first contingent of the Third Crusade to set off was Frederick Barbarossa's powerful German army. This left Ratisbon in May 1189 and headed across the Balkans to Byzantium. In May 1190 the Emperor Isaac shipped them across the Dardanelles, despite Saladin's efforts to win the Emperor as an ally. In May the Germans captured Konya, the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Konya, and by June the army had crossed the Taurus Mountains and was close to Seleucia. The army had to cross a river to reach the port, and disaster struck. The elderly Barbarossa drowned (or possible died of a chill), and with the Emperor gone the army collapsed. Some returned home, some sailed to Tyre and a remnant of the once-powerful force staggered into Antioch. Saladin and his men were elated - a major threat had been eliminated without any effort on their part.
The surviving crusaders were in apparent disarray. Saladin had released King Guy and many of the normal soldiers after taking their oaths not to fight against him. Guy reached Tripoli, where he was released from his oath on the grounds that it had been given under duress and to an Infidel. Many of the soldiers took a similar view, and Guy soon had a reasonable army under his command. In the autumn of 1188 he took this army down to Tripoli, where he expected Conrad of Montferrat to acknowledge his authority. Conrad refused to do so, claiming that he was acting for the Western kings known to be on their way to the Holy Land. In April 1189 Guy returned with his army and actually besieged Tyre, so while Saladin was attempting to capture Beaufort, the two main Christian leaders were engaged in a civil war!
In August Guy abandoned the siege of Tyre and decided to attack Acre instead. Saladin failed to intercept his army while it was potentially vulnerable on the march, and on 27 August 1189 King Guy began the two-year long siege of Acre. The Crusaders held a semi-circular line around Acre, while Saladin's army formed another outer line. The Crusaders thus had to defend themselves to the front and rear. September saw Saladin gain an early success, when he was able to break through the northern flank of the Crusader lines and get into the city, but he was unable to take full advantage of this success. In October the Crusaders launched a large-scale attack on Saladin's lines, which came close to success, then close to disaster, before ending in stalemate. In the aftermath of this battle Saladin was forced to pull his army back, and this gave the Crusaders the time they needed to properly fortify their lines. The stalemate lasted well into 1190. Reinforcements were beginning to reach the Crusaders from Europe, while Saladin still had to watch for Barbarossa. Late April saw the start of a major Crusader attack on the walls of Acre which was only repulsed after the major siege towers were destroyed. The fighting then dragged on throughout 1190 without any conclusion.
Finally, in the spring of 1191, the Kings of France and England arrived. Philip II of France was first, reaching Acre on 20 April 1191. His arrival improved the morale of the attackers and their efforts increased in intensity, but the real turning point was the arrival of King Richard on 8 June. Although he almost immediately fell sick, he was able to provide effective leadership. The final blows came at the start of July. The Crusaders attacked the walls of Acre on 2 July, and Saladin's men fought hard in an attempt to intervene. The next morning a messenger reached Saladin from Acre, announcing that if nothing was done to lift the siege on that day, then the commanders in Acre would surrender. On 3 July Saladin attempted to rally his men for another attack on the Crusader lines, but they refused to fight. The end was now inevitable. On 12 July the garrison surrendered. Part of the surrender agreement was a ransom of 200,000 dinars. The first instalment was paid, but on 20 August King Richard had his prisoners massacred outside Acre, and in sight of Saladin's army. Saladin himself had carried out similar deeds in the past, although on a smaller scale (the most recent being the execution of the Templars and Hospitallars captured at Hattin).
Richard's main target was Jerusalem. He decided to march slowly down the coast towards Jaffa, which he would use as his base for the march inland towards Jerusalem. The Crusader army was very carefully arranged, to prevent the Muslim archery from breaking up its formation, and made slow but steady progress south, moving at about five miles per day. On 7 September, as the Crusaders approached Arsuf, Saladin finally risked a full scale attack. The resulting battle of Arsuf (7 September 1191) was a disastrous defeat for Saladin. Although much of his army survived intact, its morale suffered and Saladin found it increasingly difficult to convince his men to fight. He was forced to dismantle the fortifications of Ascalon, after none of his men would agree to defend the city.
Richard also had problems. His army wasn't as good as he might have hoped, while the local Crusader nobles were beginning to plot against him. He was also concerned that many of the troops from Europe would return home as soon as Jerusalem had been taken, making it difficult to defend. That also applied to Richard, who was rightly worried about the actions of Philip of France, who had now returned home. On 17 October official negotiations began between Richard and Saladin's brother al-Adil. Richard's first demands were fairly ludicrous - he asked for all land between the Jordan and the coast, the return of Jerusalem and of the Holy Cross. After these terms were rejected a second and far more radical proposal was made. This was for Richard's sister Joanna to marry al-Adil. The royal couple would then rule Palestine from Jerusalem. Prisoners would be exchanged and the True Cross returned. Amazingly this proposal was the subject of some very serious diplomacy. Saladin approved the idea, expecting Richard to refuse, but Richard asked only for time to consult the Pope and offered his nieces if the Pope refused.
The negotiations ended in November after Saladin was forced to let the eastern contingents of his army go home for the winter. Saladin moved to Jerusalem, and Richard followed, moving to Ramleh. He spent the next six weeks there, and then to most peoples surprise he continued his advance east, ending up at Beit Nuba, twelve miles from Jerusalem. Saladin began to prepare for a siege, and he can’t have been very optimistic about the possible outcome.
Richard spent a week of January 1192 camped at Beit Nuba, before finally deciding that the dangers of any further advance outweighed the possible advantages. He withdrew to Ramlah, a move that demoralised the Crusader army. Despite this setback Richard was able to capture Ascalon, and rebuild the defences. Saladin was unable to intervene militarily, but he could hope that the dissention in the Christian ranks would help his cause. Conrad of Montferrat, now known as Conrad of Tyre, refused to join with King Richard, or to acknowledge King Guy. Conrad and his allies were now attempting to take Acre, which was held for Guy. Saladin entered into negotiations with both Richard and Conrad, and in March made his own peace offer. All of Richard's conquests were to be acknowledged, the True Cross would be returned, Latin priests would be allowed back into Jerusalem and Christian pilgrims would be allowed to visit the city. Richard considered these terms, but didn’t accept them.
Richard then had to deal with another political crisis amongst the Crusaders. He decided to hold a council of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to decide between the rival claims to the throne of King Guy and Conrad of Tyre. Guy's claim had been weakened by the death of his wife, Queen Sibylla. Richard still favoured Guy's claim, but the council voted for Conrad, whose claim came through his wife, Sibylla's half-sister Isabella. Conrad agreed to join Richard's army, but on 28 April he was killed by two Assassins. This was probably the end of a private feud between Conrad and Sinan, the Old Man of the Mountains, but many blamed Saladin or even Richard. Conrad was followed as king by the young Henry of Champagne, who was quickly married to Isabella, and who held the throne for five years (before dying after falling from a high window).
Once Henry was married Richard moved south, and on 28 May he captured the fortress and town of Darum, south of Ascalon. The crusaders then advanced back to Beit Nuba, where they spent a month. Saladin was unable to risk a general attack on the Crusader army and instead restricted himself to harassing their outposts. After a month Richard was forced to retreat from Beit Nuba for the second and final time (5 July), once again aware that even if he could take Jerusalem he would struggle to hold it. Saladin had managed to overcome a crisis in his own army, and would at least have been able to attempt to defend the city if it had been attacked.
Richard moved to Jaffa, from where he re-opened negotiations with Saladin. This time the main obstacle to a peace was Ascalon. Saladin wanted the fortifications to be dismantled and Richard was determined to keep them. Despite that problem Richard believed that peace was at hand and so he moved his army back to Acre, from where he prepared to sail for home. Saladin took advantage of this move and on 30 July his men captured the town of Jaffa. The citadel held out, but agreed to surrender if their lives would be guaranteed. Saladin decided to wait for the looting to stop before accepting these terms, and this delay gave Richard enough time to sail from Acre to Jaffa and save the situation. On 5 August Saladin launched an attack on Richard's isolated camp, but this was repulsed.
This was the final significant fighting of the Third Crusade. Richard was now ill and determined to leave for home. He agreed to surrender Ascalon completely, in return for a three year long truce, Saladin's agreement that the coastline from Acre down to Jaffa would remain in Crusader hands, and permission for Richard's men to visit Jerusalem. On 9 October 1192 Richard the Lionheart set sail from Acre, never to return. Saladin himself was soon removed from the scene. Early in 1193 he caught a chill, and on 4 March 1193 he died at Damascus. Victory in the Holy Land had been won just in time, for it was clear that no other Muslim leader of the period would have been able to equal Saladin's achievements. His sons fought between themselves, and were eventually deposed by their uncle al-Adil, and within thirty years of Saladin's death the empire went into decline. Saladin's greatest achievement was his ability to keep his vast empire together for long enough to complete his main aim, the recapture of Jerusalem.