Saladin, 1137/8-1193

The Egyptian Wars
Ruler of Egypt
The Conquest of Syria
Early Clashes with the Crusaders
Saladin's Holy War
The Third Crusade


Saladin (1137/8-1193) was one of the greatest leaders of the Muslim world. He created an empire that included Egypt, Syria, the Hejaz and Mesopotamia, and used his power to inflict a crushing defeat on the Crusader states, capturing Jerusalem and holding it against the forces of the Third Crusade. Despite his successes against the Crusaders Saladin gained an impressive reputation in Western Europe, where he became known as one of the most chivalrous enemies of Christendom.

During his life Saladin gained an increasing number of titles. He was born as Yusuf ibn Aiyub ibn Shadi (Yusuf son of Aiyub son of Shadi).

Al-Malik al-Nasir means king, defender of or victorious in the faith, and was Saladin's title after he was appointed as Vizier in Egypt (it was the title used by earlier Fatimid viziers). It began to appear on coins after his first successes in Syria.

Abu'l Muzaffer was a nickname meaning father of the victorious.

Salah ad-Din, the full version of the name by which he is best known, means 'the honour or religion' or 'righteousness of the faith'.

Saladin was born into a Kurdish family in the service of the Seljuk Turks. Both his father Ayyub and uncle Shirkuh held important posts under the competing successors to the strong Seljuk sultans. The family then entered the service of Zengi Imad-ad-Din, and then his son Nur ad-Din. Zengi had been a servant of the Sultans and the Caliph at Baghdad, but during his career he had carved out his own semi-independent state in Syria. Nur ad-Din eventually ruled all of Zengi's domains, and Ayyub and Shirkuh played a part in his seizure of Damascus. Saladin was thus born into a powerful family that had successfully survived a rather chaotic period.

Saladin's early life is fairly obscure. He moved from Damascus to Aleppo in 1152 to enter service under his uncle. In around 1156 he was given a post in the administration of Damascus and at about the same period he became a member of Nur-ad-Din's entourage.

The Egyptian Wars

By Saladin's time Islam had been split between two caliphates for two hundred years.  The Sunni Abbasid caliphate was based in Baghdad and had held power since 750. The Shi'a Fatimid caliphate had once held power over an area that included North Africa, Egypt, Syria and western Arabia, but by the 12th century the Fatimid realm had shrunk to just Egypt. Neither caliph held much power by this period, with Egypt ruled by the viziers and the Abbasids struggling to maintain their power against the Seljuk Turks.

Nur ad-Din, as a representative of the Seljuks and a support of the Abbasids, was naturally interesting in ending this schism by deposing the fading Fatimids. The last Fatimid caliph, Al-Adid, inherited his title in 1160, aged only 11. His reign would be dominated by a three-way battle for power in Egypt, between the supports of the vizier Shawar, the armies of Nur ad-Din and the Christian armies of Amalric, king of Jerusalem.

Nur ad-Din sent three expeditions to Egypt, each commanded by Saladin's uncle Shirkuh. The first came after Shawar was deposed. He fled to Nur ad-Din, and offered him one third of Egypt's annual revenues in return for military assistance. Nur ad-Din was undecided until Amalric invaded Egypt. Shirkuh was sent at the head of a small army and Shawar was quickly restored. However he then decided not to pay the promised tribute and instead called on Amalric for assistance. Shirkuh was besieged in Bilbais, but after Nur ad-Din won a series of victories in Syria Amalric was willing to negotiate a peace. Shawar remained in power in Egypt and both Amalric and Shirkuh returned home.

The second campaign came in 1167. This time the objective was to overthrow the Fatimid caliphate. Once again Shawar called for Frankish assistance, and Amalric responded. Shirkuh managed to reach Egypt safely, despite running into a sandstorm that cost him a number of his men. He then crossed to the western bank of the Nile, and a month-long stand-off followed. After about a month Shirkuh began to move south. Amalric and the Egyptians followed, and the two sides clashed at Babain (18 March 1167). This is one of the first occasions on which Saladin comes to the fore. He was given command of Shirkuh's centre, and was ordered to carry out a feigned retreat to pull Amalric and his knights away from the main battlefield. The plan worked, and Shirkuh was able to claim a victory, but both armies survived largely intact.

Shirkuh moved north to Alexandria, where he already had allies. Amalric followed, and the city was soon besieged. Saladin was left in command of the defence of Alexandria, and managed to drag out the siege until both sides were exhausted. Once again both the Crusader and Syrian armies agreed to leave Egypt, and Shawar was left in power once again.

The third expedition came in 1168-69 under very different circumstances. Shawar had delayed payment of the tribute to Amalric in an attempt to regain some popularity at home, where the Frankish alliance was unpopular. Amalric came under pressure from his own barons and in October 1168 launched an invasion of Egypt. Bilbais fell to the Crusaders on 4 November and the city was sacked. This shocked and united opinion across Egypt, and forced the Caliph to send a message to Nur ad-Din asking for help. While Amalric loosely blockaded Cairo, Shirkuh led yet another army into Egypt. This time he came as an ally of the Egyptians. Amalric realised he was badly outnumbered, and at the start of 1169 the Franks retreated back to Jerusalem, with their position in Egypt entirely destroyed.

Shawar's time was also nearly over. On 9 January 1169 the Syrian army entered Cairo in triumph and its leaders were greeted by the Caliph. On 18 January Shawar was killed, and Shirkuh became vizier and command of the army.

Ruler of Egypt

Within two months Saladin's position would be transformed. On 23 March 1169 Skirkuh died, possibly as a result of an over-indulgent lifestyle. Saladin succeeded him as vizier and commander of the Egyptian army. Some of the officers in the Syrian army refused to accept this and returned to Nur ad-Din, claiming that Saladin was disloyal. This began a tense period for Saladin, who had to secure his position in Egypt, while at the same time avoiding triggering a direct clash with Nur ad-Din. Nur ad-Din demonstrated his mistrust by confiscating Saladin's estates in Syria, and refusing to acknowledge Saladin's title of vizier.

As Saladin gained power a court party, led by the black eunuch Moutamen, attempted to invite the Crusaders back in to Egypt. One of Saladin's men discovered the plot and Moutamen was executed. This triggered a revolt amongst the Nubian palace guard, which was put down brutally. When news of the crisis in Egypt reached Byzantium and Jerusalem the Christian powers decided to intervene. A Byzantine fleet sailed in July and the Crusader army moved in October. Saladin was aware of the army's movements, but was caught out when they decided to besiege Damietta. The chance of a victory soon passed, and in mid-December the Christian armies lifted the siege and withdrew. Saladin had defeated his internal enemies in Egypt and had seen off a major Christian attack. All he had to do now was avoid falling foul of Nur ad-Din.

In 1170 Saladin continued to secure his power. His father was appointed treasurer of Egypt and was given control of Alexandria and Damietta, while his brother was given control of Upper Egypt, part of Cairo and Giza. The year also saw the birth of Saladin's first son Ali al-Afdal.

Towards the end of the year Saladin went onto the offensive against the Crusaders for the first time. He besieged the Templar fortress of Darum, but the main Crusader army came up before the castle could be taken. Saladin abandoned the siege and sacked the city of Gaza. At the same time he had moved a fleet into the Gulf of Suez, and at the end of the year a combined attack took al-Aqaba (Ayla), restoring Egyptian control of the land route to Mecca. This success helped to raise the prestige of the Egyptian army, and with it that of Saladin.

A key moment came in 1171 with the death of the caliph al-Adid (of natural causes). On 17 September 1171 the orthodox caliph al-Mustadi was named in the prayers in the chief mosque of Cairo, a sign that his religious authority was now accepted in Egypt. Two centuries of Fatimid rule in Egypt came quietly to an end.

A few days later Saladin marched out of Cairo in response to an order from Nur ad-Din to attack the Christian fortress of Montreal (ash-Shaubak). Nur ad-Din led a second army from Damascus towards the Crusader fortress, which appeared to be doomed. Amalric managed to negotiate a ten-day truce. Just before the truce came to an end, and with Nur ad-Din getting close, Saladin used a revolt in Upper Egypt as an excuse to withdraw. His real motive was probably a fear that Nur ad-Din would remove him from power in Egypt if their two armies united. Montreal was saved (at least for the moment). Nur ad-Din chose not to conduct the siege himself, and instead was said to be planning a campaign in Egypt. Saladin's father Aiyub advised him not to risk a clash with Nur ad-Din, and for the next few years Saladin took great care to placate his overlord.

Nur ad-Din remained suspicious, and Saladin was aware of this. In 1173 Nur ad-Din ordered another joint siege, this time of Karak in Moab. Once again Saladin arrived first, and once again he left as Nur ad-Din's army approached the area. This time his reason was rather more convincing - his father had been thrown from his horse and never recovered, dying before Saladin could reach him.

1173 also saw Saladin send an army west along the North Africa coast, recapturing Tripoli and threatened Tunis. These had been areas once held by the Fatimids but long lost, so by reclaiming them Saladin increased his popularity in Egypt. In 1174 he expanded into Arabia, when an army commanded by his brother Turan-Shah conquered western Arab as far south as Aden, making Saladin the protector of the pilgrim routes to Mecca.

In 1174 Saladin faced the last crisis of his time in Egypt. An alliance of disgruntled supporters of the former regime contacted Amalric of Jerusalem and King William II of Sicily and attempted to organise a four-pronged assault on Saladin. William would attack by sea, Amalric would attack from the east, the governor of Aswan would revolt in the far south and a revolt would begin in Cairo. The plot badly misfired. Saladin's agents discovered the plot in Cairo and the chief plotters were arrested. In April the plotters were crucified in Cairo. In July King Amalric died, leaving the kingdom of Jerusalem without a strong leader. In the same month the Sicilian fleet arrived at Alexandria, but the city was prepared and Saladin was close by. The attack on Alexandria had to be abandoned after a few days and the Sicilians retreated north. The revolt in Aswan broke out too late to aid the attackers in the north, allowing Saladin to send his brother al-Adil to put down the last part of the revolt. By September the revolt was over.

While Saladin was putting down this revolt news reached him that would change the course of his career. On 15 May 1174 Nur ad-Din died of a fever, giving Saladin the chance to seize his empire. In October 1174 Saladin left Cairo and headed for Damascus. He wouldn't return for seven years, by which time he would control a far more powerful empire.

The Conquest of Syria

The death of Nur ad-Din came at a fortunate moment for Saladin. It appears that Nur ad-Din had finally decided to invade Egypt and had begun to gather his armies. At the time of his death Nur ad-Din ruled Damascus and Aleppo himself, while his nephew was his vassal and ruler of Mosul. Saladin's conquest of Egypt had been in his name, although that relationship had been an uneasy one.

Unfortunately for Nur ad-Din's dynastic hopes, his son as-Salih was only a child. It was no surprise when a struggle for control of the young king broke out. Nur ad-Din's nephew Saif-ad-Din decided to break with his heir and invaded the northern domains of Aleppo. The young as-Salih was originally at Damascus, but he soon moved to Aleppo, where Saif-ad-Din's former general Gümüshtigin had seized power. The authorities at Damascus now felt threatened and invited Saladin to take power. He arrived at Damascus on 28 October 1174 and firmly established his control. This began Saladin's gradual conquest of Syria.

After ten days Saladin moved against Aleppo. He captured the city of Homs but not the citadel, before beginning a siege of Aleppo on 30 December 1174. Gümüshtigin made an alliance with Sinan, the head of the Assassin sect, but an attempt to kill Saladin failed. The Franks were more successful allies. They moved to Homs and combined with the garrison to threaten Saladin's men in the city. In March 1175 Saladin was forced to lift his siege of Aleppo and moved to rescue his men at Homs. The Franks withdrew and in mid-March Saladin captured the citadel of Homs. Baalbek also fell, giving him control of Syria south of Hamah.

These successes finally convinced Saif-ad-Din to work with Gümüshtigin. Saif-ad-Din moved to Sinjar, where one of his brothers had joined Saladin, while he sent another brother to join the army from Aleppo. The combined armies met Saladin at Hamah. Negotiations failed and the resulting battle of the horns of Hamah (13 April 1175) ended as a major victory for Saladin.

In the aftermath of this victory Saladin imposed a fairly moderate peace. Aleppo retained its independence with as-Salih as king. Saladin was recognised as ruler in his own right in Egypt and Damascus. This was confirmed by the caliph in Baghdad, and Saladin began to mint coins using the title 'al-Malik, al-Nasir, Yusuf ibn-Aiyub' - 'the king, the bringer of victory, Yusuf son of Aiyub'. 

Saif ad-Din, who had not been present at the battle, refused to accept the peace agreement. He formed a new alliance with Aleppo, but the plot was discovered by Saladin. Reinforcements were ordered to move from Egypt to Syria, and Saladin's combined army moved north to intercept Saif-ad-Din and his allies from Aleppo. On 21 April 1176 Saif ad-Din was presented with a chance to win a major victory, when his forces ran into Saladin's men as they were scattered. Saif ad-Din decided not to attack, and Saladin was able to move onto the hill of Tall as-Sultan, where on 22 April he won a significant victory. Saif ad-Din retreated back to Mosul, having effectively been knocked out of the war.

After his victory Saladin moved against Aleppo. He briefly besieged the city, then moved north to capture Manbij and besiege Azaz (15 May-21 June 1176). After the success at Azaz, Saladin moved back to Aleppo, where the authorities were ready to negotiate. On 29 July they signed a treaty in which Saladin was recognised as king in Damascus and Egypt. Azaz was returned to them after the negotiations. After these successes Saladin was finally free to return to Egypt, where he spent the next three years.

The situation remained stable during those years, but in 1180-81 both the rulers of Mosul and Aleppo died. Saif ad-Din was first to go, in June 1180. He was succeeded by he brother 'Izz ad-Din, although Saladin refused to recognise his authority. In December 1181 al-Salih died. There were two candidates to succeed him - 'Izz ad-Din and his brother 'Imad-ad-Din, ruler of Sinjar (now in the north-west of Iraq, close to the Syrian border). Opinion in Aleppo was split between a Turkish faction that supported 'Izz ad-Din, seeing him as the stronger of the two and thus most able to repel Saladin, and an Arabian faction that supported 'Imad-ad-Din and didn’t want Aleppo to become subsidiary to Mosul. Al-Salih supported the claims of 'Izz ad-Din, and after some political plotting after al-Salih's death 'Izz ad-Din was invited to take over. His supports were quickly disappointed. 'Izz ad-Din wasn't really interested in Aleppo and after a brief period in charge he forced his brother 'Imad to swap Sinjar for Aleppo. 

This roused Saladin to action. In May 1182 he left Cairo for the last time, at the head of a 5,000 strong army. Although his main aim was to strength his position in Syria, he did take the chance to attack the Crusader kingdoms as well. This resulted in an inconclusive battle in June and a failed assault on Beirut in July 1182, before Saladin turned his attention back to Aleppo.

In September 1182 Saladin arrived outside Aleppo. His intention was to negotiate a new settlement, but before this could happen a new temptation arose. The lords of Harran, Hisn Kaifa and al-Birah allied against 'Izz ad-Din and invited Saladin to intervene. In October 1182 he crossed the Euphrates, and was acknowledged as the ruler of Edessa, Saruj and Nisibin. In November he began a brief siege of Mosul, although his main aim wasn't conquest - what he wanted was for 'Izz ad-Din to acknowledge Saladin as his overlord and promise to provide troops for the Holy War. The negotiations broke down after Saladin insisted that 'Izz ad-Din abandoned all claims to Aleppo.

Saladin hoped to convince the Caliph to support him at Mosul, but instead the Caliph's representative convinced Saladin to lift the siege. Instead he moved to Sinjar, while fell after a two week long siege. The city was granted to Nur ad-Din Muhammad of Hisn Kaifa, an ally of Saladin.

In the middle of this campaign Raynald of Chatillon launched a daring raid into the Red Sea. This was repulsed by Saladin's brother al-Adil, and was became a great propaganda tool for Saladin, who could claim to be defending the holy places of Islam.

Early in 1183 'Izz ad-Din gathered an army and advanced towards Saladin at Sinjar, but once again negotiations failed over the issue of Aleppo, and 'Izz ad-Din retreated without risking a battle.

Although the Caliph hadn't given Saladin his way at Mosul, he did grant him the northern Mesopotamia province of Diyar Bakr, and early in 1183 Saladin moved north and besieged Amid, the main city in the area. Amid fell after a three-week long siege and was granted to Nur-ad-Din, the ruler of Hisn Kaifa and one of Saladin's allies against 'Izz ad-Din. Soon afterwards Mayyafarqin in the north of Diyar Bakr and Mardin, to the south of Amid, both surrendered to Saladin.

After securing his control of Diyar Bakr, Saladin moved against Aleppo. The siege began on 21 May 1183. 'Imad ad-Din quickly found himself in a difficult position - his brother had taken most of the money and armaments in the city when he left, and the garrison was soon short of money. 'Imad ad-Din decided to negotiation with Saladin, who offered to grant him Sinjar in return for Aleppo. On 11 June 1183 Saladin's flags were flying over the citadel, and the city surrendered. 'Imad al-Din also promised to provide troops for Saladin's Holy Wars.

The final blow at Mosul fell in 1185-86. 'Izz ad-Din had allied with Pahlavan, the Seljuq Atabeg of Persia, to attack the lord of Irbil, one of Saladin's allies. At this point Saladin had just signed a four year truce with the Crusaders, and so he was free to move east. In July he began a siege of Mosul. 'Izz ad-Din found himself almost without allies, but he gained a brief respite when Saladin decided to move most of his army north in an attempt to take control of Akhlat, a fortress on the western shores of Lake Van. Pahlavan was threatening Baktimore, the new ruler of Akhlat, who asked for Saladin's assistance. By the time Saladin reached the area the crisis was over. Baktimore came to terms with Pahlavan and married one of his daughters. Saladin returned to Mosul in September, but he fell ill, and on 25 December he was forced to lift the siege.

During his illness Saladin realised how fragile his empire was and how many of his ambitious underlings might rebel if the circumstances were right (or after Saladin's death). When 'Izz ad-Din sent envoys early in 1186 Saladin was thus in a more receptive mode than earlier in the siege, and on 3 March 1186 a treaty was signed. 'Izz ad-Din kept Mosul, but he acknowledged Saladin as his overlord, surrendered territory to the south of Mosul and agreed to provide troops for the Holy War.

By the spring of 1186 Saladin had thus reunited Nur ad-Din's empire, and also ruled Egypt and a sizable area of North Africa and Arabia. The truce with the Crusader kingdoms still had three years to run, but the crusaders soon broke the truce, giving Saladin the justification for a major invasion of the Crusader states. On 4 July 1187 he won the great battle at the Horns of Hattin, and by the end of the year Jerusalem had fallen.

Early Clashes with the Crusaders

Saladin's first major attack on the Crusaders came in 1177, after he had established himself in Damascus and returned to Egypt. In November Saladin led his army north past Gaza and Ascalon, where King Baldwin was trapped, and on towards Jerusalem. On this occasion Baldwin was able to escape from the trap, raise a small army and defeat Saladin at Mons Gisardi or Ramlah. Saladin managed to escape, but his army suffered heavy losses.

In 1179 Saladin was more successful. Baldwin had built a new castle, Jacob's Castle, overlooking a key ford on the upper Jordan, breaching an agreement not to do so. Saladin was forced to intervene. In June 1179 he defeated King Baldwin at Mardj 'Uyin, and in August he was able to destroy Jacob's Castle.

In May 1182 Saladin left Cairo for the last time, at the head of army that he intended to take to Syria to attempt to take control of Aleppo. The Crusaders reacted by moving their army to Petra, but Saladin was able to evade them and reach Damascus safely. His combined army then invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem. An inconclusive running battle was fought near Belvoir in July and in August Saladin attacked Beirut, but the port held out until help could arrive.

One of the main thorns in Saladin's side was Raynald de Chatillon, lord of al-Karak. Late in 1182 Raynald launched a dramatic if unsuccessful raid into the Red Sea, and he had a habit of attacking merchant convoys as they passed his fortress.

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.

Saladin's Holy War

In the summer of 1186 the Kingdom of Jerusalem was suffering from a political crisis. The boy king Baldwin V died in August and was succeeded by Guy of Lusignan, who seized the throne. Raymond of Tripoli, the regent for Baldwin V, retreated to Tiberius and contested Guy's position. Just at this moment, when the kingdom needed peace, Raynald of Chatillon, lord of al-Karak, raided a caravan moving between Egypt and Syria. Saladin demanded that Raynald make reparations for this breach of the truce, but Raynald refused. He also refused to obey a royal demand to make reparations, effectively ending the truce.

Saladin responded by issued a call for a holy war across his vast empire. By the spring of 1187 troops had arrived from across Syria and from his possessions in Mesopotamia. Another army was moving up from Egypt. Saladin split his army in two. He led the main part south to ensure that Raynald couldn't block the road from Egypt. His son al-Afdal was left to wait for late arrivals, and to send raiding forces into the Kingdom. Al-Afdal achieved the first solid success of the campaign. He asked Raymond for permission to send 7,000 cavalry across Galilee. Raymond, who had entered into an alliance with Saladin, reluctantly gave permission, as long as al-Afdal agreed not to attack any towns or peasants during the expedition. Al-Afdal's main aim was probably to scout out the area that Saladin expected to operate in, but he was handed a bonus. King Guy had sent an embassy to Raymond, which included the grand masters of the Templers and the Hospitallers. When he learnt that there was a Muslim force in Galilee, Gerard de Ridefort, grand master of the Templars, insisted on attacking it, even though he could only must 150 knights. The Crusader force was wiped out near Saffuriyah, with only three survivors, amongst them Gerard.

By late June Saladin was ready for the main invasion. He knew that if the Crusader army kept its discipline then it could probably resist any attack. Saladin thus needed to force the Crusaders into a mistake. His plan was to besiege Tiberias in the hope that the Crusader army would attempt to lift the siege. This would force them to into a twenty mile long march across waterless country, a march that might see the Crusader army lose its cohesion, making it vulnerable to attack. On 1 July 1187 Saladin's army crossed the River Jordan, and attacked Tiberias. The town fell, but Raymond's wife, the Countess Eschiva, held out in the citadel. She then sent a message to the main army asking for help.

The key moment in the entire campaign was probably the council of war held in the Crusader army on 2 July. There were two options. The first was to risk a long march across waterless country to reach Tiberias. Although this was a risky course of action, if everything went well it might have given the Crusaders a chance to defeat Saladin's army while it was trapped against Like Tiberias and inflict a truly significant defeat on him. However if things went wrong then the entire Crusader army would be put at risk. The alternative option was to stay where they were, with a secure water supply, and force Saladin to make a move. If he captured Tiberias the town could be retaken after the main Muslim army had left. If he abandoned the campaign and withdrew to Damascus then his prestige would have taken a massive blow. If he decided to attack the Crusaders then he would have to move across the waterless area and risk a defeat.

At the end of the official council of war King Guy decided to follow the more prudent course and stay at Saffuriyah, but after most of the leaders had left Raynald and Gerard de Ridefort stayed behind and managed to convince him to march. On the morning of 3 July the Crusader army began its 20-mile march towards Tiberias. Saladin was ready for them, and the Crusader army came under attack all day. This slowed down the rearguard, and eventually, after ten miles, the Crusaders were forced to camp for the night. This sealed their fate. By the next morning the Crusaders were surrounded, out of water and demoralised. The resulting battle of the Horns of Hattin (4 July 1187) was Saladin's most decisive victory. The Crusader army split up. Raymond led a charge in an attempt to create a gap in the enemy lines, but Saladin's men opened up and let Raymond charge through. The infantry was already gone. King Guy and the surviving knights were forced back onto the Horns of Hattin, a nearby hill. Last-ditch attempts to reach Saladin's position failed. The surviving Crusader leaders were captured, amongst them King Guy and Raynald. Raynald was executed on the evening of the battle, but the other leaders were well treated and eventually released. Any Templars or Hospitallers who were captured were also executed.

Saladin moved quickly after the battle. Tiberias surrendered on the day after the battle. He was at Acre four days after the battle, and the city surrendered on terms on 9 July. Jubail, Gaza, Ascalon, Nazareth, Saffuriyah, Haifa, Caesarea, Nablus, Toron, Beirut and Sidon all fell, some without any resistance, some after a short siege. Soon only Jerusalem, Tyre and a few scattered castles remained in Crusader hands.

The glittering prize of Jerusalem fell on 2 October after a two-week long siege. Most of the population were able to ransom themselves, or were released by Saladin and his generals in the aftermath of the fall. Only Tyre and a handful of castles remained of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Saladin now suffered his first serious setback since Hattin. In November he returned to Tyre, expecting another short siege. He was to be disappointed. Conrad of Montferrat, who had saved the city in July, had spent the intervening months improving the defences. Now Conrad was able to hold out until Saladin could no longer count on the support of many of his commanders. The siege was lifted and Tyre remained in Crusader hands. Conrad was soon known as Conrad of Tyre.

At the start of 1188 Saladin knew that a fresh crusading army was almost certainly on its way from Western Europe. By March Henry II of England, Philip Augustus of France and the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa had all committed to the crusade. Henry died before the start of what became the Third Crusade but his son Richard the Lion Heart was equally committed to the cause.

Saladin spent part of the winter of 1187-88 at Acre, where he began work on improving the fortifications. He then moved to Damascus, before in the summer of 1188 beginning a campaign in the north of the Crusader kingdoms, aimed in particular at Antioch. A series of castles fell, including Sahyun, Burzey, Sarminiqa and Baka Shoqr and in late August Darbsaq and Baghras fell. Bohemond of Antioch offered an eight month truce, and with many of his Emirs wishing to return home Saladin agreed.

Saladin released most of his allies, but kept the core of his own army intact. His aim was to capture the key castles remaining in Crusader hands to eliminate the threat they posed to the surrounding areas. Safad was taken in December 1188, and in January 1189 he took Belvoir/ Kaukab. At about the same time al-Karak was taken by Saladin's brother al-Adil, after a year-long siege. The castle of Montreal/ Shawbak held out until October.

The Third Crusade

In May 1189 Frederick Barbarossa left Ratisbon at the head of one of the most powerful western armies yet to set out on crusade. His approach deeply worried Saladin and many of his leaders, but this first wave of the Third Crusade would end in unexpected disaster. Barbarossa's army was ferried across the Dardanelles in March 1190, and in May it entered the capital of the Sultan of Konya. In early June the Germans reached the Cilician coast, but Frederick drowned while crossing a river. After his death his impressive army fell apart. The survivors of the army finally reached Antioch, but they were no longer seen as a threat.

At the same time the surviving Crusaders had fallen into disarray. King Guy and many of the captured garrisons had been released after giving their oath not to fight against Saladin, but once back in Christian areas most of them had disowned their oaths (with the support of the clergy, who refused to acknowledge any promise made to the Infidel as binding). The King expected Conrad to hand over Tyre, but Conrad refused. Early in 1189 Guy actually besieged Tyre! By August it was clear that this was a hopeless effort, and Guy decided to attack Acre. He marched down the coast, eluding an attempt to intercept him, and began the epic two-year long siege of Acre.

The scale of the fighting around Acre grew slowly. Saladin needed time to bring his full army together, but by the autumn the pattern was set. In the middle was the garrison of Acre. The Crusader army formed a semi-circle around the city, and finally Saladin's army formed another line around the outside of the Crusader lines. The Crusaders slowly strengthened their lines, and despite several attempts Saladin was unable to break them. The situation got worse in April 1191 when King Philip II of France reached Acre, followed a few weeks later by King Richard. Acre finally fell in July 1191. The surrender was followed in mid-August by a massacre of the prisoners, ordered by King Richard, on a greater scale than Saladin's own mass executions of earlier years.

Saladin was now faced with the very real threat of an attack on Jerusalem. Richard marched south from Acre on 22 August, heading for Jaffa. Saladin followed the Crusader army, and launched a series of attacks on its flanks and rear. These failed to provide the sort of mistake that might have led to a Muslim victory, and when Saladin did attack the result was a major Crusader victory (battle of Arsuf, 7 September 1191). This badly damaged the morale of Saladin's army, already fragile after Acre. Saladin was forced to destroy the defences of Ascalon after his men refused to defend it.

Richard was also unsure of his position, with an army he didn’t entirely trust, Crusader nobles who were beginning to plot against him, and perhaps most significantly a fear that many of his men would leave the Holy Land immediately after the possible capture of Jerusalem, making it difficult to hold the place. Accordingly, on 17 October Richard and Saladin's brother al-Adil entered into negotiations. Richard's first demand was for the return of all of the lands between the River Jordan and the coast, Jerusalem and the Holy Cross. Saladin refused. Next came a suggestion that Richard's sister Joanna would marry al-Adil and the couple would rule Palestine from Jerusalem.

In November Saladin had to let his eastern contingents go home for the winter. He withdrew to Jerusalem, and was followed by Richard, who moved to Ramleh, then at the end of 1191-92 to Beit Nuba, only twelve miles away from Jerusalem. Saladin prepared to defend the city, but Richard realised that he couldn't risk a further advance, and after a week he ordered a retreat. This nearly split his army, but he was able to restore the situation and capture Ascalon.

Once again 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.

He then had to deal with the problem of the kingship of Jerusalem. The two claimants, King Guy and Conrad of Tyre (Montferrat), held their claims because of their marriages to the daughters of King Amalric, Sibylla and Isabella respectively. Sibylla had died in 1190, weakening Guy's already weak position. Now Richard held a council of the kingdom and Conrad was selected as king. Just a few days later he was killed by two Assassins, and the throne passed to Henry of Champagne, a young crusader who had only recently arrived in the kingdom. He was quickly marred to Isabella, and for the moment some form of unity was restored to the Christian army.

With the diplomacy over Richard moved south and on 28 May captured Darum, on the road to Egypt. He then returned to Beit Nuba, but once again faced the same problems as in January. His main concern was that large parts of his army would leave for home once they had been to Jerusalem, making it almost impossible to hold the city (Richard himself was also desperate to return home to deal with problems in England and France). On 5 July the Crusader army retreated from Beit Nuba for the second time, much to Saladin's relief. He had struggled to convince his Emirs to defend the Holy City, and it had required a stage managed council to get their commitment.

After this retreat Richard moved to Jaffa, where negotiations were resumed. The fate of Ascalon was the main sticking point, but Richard was confident that this would be overcome and moved to Acre, where he prepared to leave. Saladin took advantage of this and on 30 July he attacked Jaffa. The town fell, and the defenders of the Citadel agreed to surrender in return for their lives. Saladin decided to wait for the looting to die down, and in this gap Richard arrived by sea and restored the situation. On 5 August Saladin attacked Richard's camp in an attempt to catch him out, but this attack failed.

This was the last significant action of the Third Crusade. Richard now agreed to surrender Ascalon in return for a three year truce, recognition of Crusader control of the coast from Jaffa to Acre and permission for his men to visit Jerusalem. On 9 October Richard sailed from Acre.

Saladin returned to Damascus on 4 November, where he received a deserved hero's welcome. He didn't have long to enjoy the peace. Early in 1193 he caught a chill, and on 4 March 1193 Saladin died. His successful defence of Jerusalem against Richard and the forces of the Third Crusade ensured that his earlier conquests would be maintained, and make him one of the most successful military leaders of the Middle Ages.


Saladin was one of the most important leaders of the Crusading period. He was able to create a vast empire that stretched from the North Africa coast, through Egypt, into Arabia and on to Syria and parts of Mesopotamia, and then use the forces of that empire to inflict a crushing defeat on the Crusader states, one from which they never recovered. Earlier leaders, especially Zengi and Nur ad-Din, had managed to win major victories against Crusading armies, but had never really taken full advantage of their successes, but in the days after Hattin Saladin made sure that the remaining defenders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem were unable to regain their balance. The capture of Jerusalem was the high-point of his career, but the determined way in which he defended the city against Richard I and the forces of the Third Crusade are also impressive.

Saladin was also a rare example of a leader whose reputation was high on both sides of the religious divide. William of Tyre, a contemporary historian, considered him to be generous, energetic, ambitious and a threat to the Crusader states. Saladin's reputation in Europe was as a chivalrous generous leader - indeed he became an almost mythical figure of chivalry. This reputation was largely deserved, and was born during his lifetime.

On the Muslim side Saladin's religious zeal was sometimes doubted because of the time he spent campaigning in Syria and against Mosul, but without these campaigns the conquest of Jerusalem would hardly have been possible. Even relatively hostile historians had to admit that he had great qualities, with the pro-Zengid historian Ibn al-Athir calling him 'a man of rare qualities in his time, much given to generosity and fine deeds, a mighty warrior of the jihad against the infidels'.

One thing Saladin wasn't able to do was secure a peaceful succession for his children. His sons fought amongst themselves, and eventually it would be his brother al-Adid who took control of the Empire. Within thirty years the areas Saladin had united at such cost would begin to split apart yet again.

Saladin - Hero of Islam, Geoffrey Hindley. An invaluable, evenly-paced, full length biography of Saladin that spends as much time looking at his activities within the Islamic world as at his better known campaigns against the Crusader Kingdoms and the conquest of Jerusalem. A valuable look at the life of a leader who was respected on both sides of the religious divide in the Holy Land [read full review]
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Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem, Stanley Lane-Poole. Originally published in 1898, but relying mainly on Arabic sources written by Saladin’s contemporaries, supported by accounts of the Third Crusade for the later part of the book. Provides a very readable account of Saladin’s career, from his unexpected promotion to ruler of Egypt, through his conquest of Syria and on to the defeat of the Crusaders at Hattin, the conquest of Jerusalem and the successful defence of the city against the forces of the Third Crusade. Generally favourable towards Saladin, although without becoming overly biased, and largely accurate due to the reliance on the main contemporary sources(Read Full Review)
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Crusades Subject Index - Books on the Middle Ages

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 October 2013), Saladin, 1137/8-1193 ,

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