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An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known as Saladin (1137 – 4 March 1193); was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. Saladin was a Sunni Muslim of Kurdish ethnicity; that led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. During his reign, Saladin has been described as the de facto Caliph of Islam and at the height of his power; his empire included Egypt, Syria; Upper Mesopotamia; the Hejaz; Yemen and other parts of North Africa.

Saladin Going Up the Ranks 

Saladin was originally sent to Fatimid Egypt in 1164 alongside his uncle Shirkuh; a general of the Zengid army; on the orders of their lord Nur ad-Din to help restore Shawar as vizier of the teenage Fatimid caliph al-Adid. A power struggle ensued between Shirkuh and Shawar after the latter was reinstated. Meanwhile, Saladin climbs the ranks of the Fatimid government by virtue of his military successes against Crusader assaults against its territory and his personal closeness to al-Adid.

After Shawar was assassinated and Shirkuh died in 1169; al-Adid appointed Saladin vizier; a rare nomination of a Sunni Muslim to such an important position in the Isma’ili Shia caliphate. During his tenure as vizier, Saladin begins to undermine the Fatimid establishment and following al-Adid’s death in 1171; he abolishes the Fatimid Caliphate and realigned the country’s allegiance with the Sunni, Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate.

In the following years, he leads forays against the Crusaders in Palestine; commissioned the successful conquest of Yemen, and staves off pro-Fatimid rebellions in Upper Egypt. Not long after Nur ad-Din’s death in 1174; Saladin launched his conquest of Syria; peacefully entering Damascus at the request of its governor. 

Wars Against the Crusaders

On 29 September 1182; Saladin crosses the Jordan River to attack Beisan (Beit Shean); which was found to be empty. The next day his forces sacked and burned the town and moved westwards. They intercepted Crusader reinforcements from Karak and Shaubak along the Nablus road and take a number of prisoners. Meanwhile, the main Crusader force under Guy of Lusignan moved from Sepphoris to al-Fula. 

Saladin sent out 500 skirmishers to harass their forces; and he himself marched to Ain Jalut. When the Crusaders force advance they the largest the kingdom ever produced from its own resources. But still outmatched by the Muslims; that was always able to gather large Armies. Now the Ayyubids unexpectedly moved down the stream of Ain Jalut. After a few Ayyubid raids; the Crusaders still were not tempted to attack their main force. And Saladin led his men back across the river once provisions and supplies ran low.

The Battle of Hattin

In July 1187, he captures most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On 4 July 1187, at the Battle of Hattin; he faced the combined forces of Guy of Lusignan; King Consort of Jerusalem, and Raymond III of Tripoli. In this battle alone the Crusader force was largely annihilated by Saladin’s determined army. It was a major disaster for the Crusaders and a turning point in the history of the Crusades.

He also captures Raynald and was personally responsible for his execution in retaliation for his attacks against Muslim caravans. The members of these caravans had; in vain, asking his mercy by reciting the truce between the Muslims and the Crusader. But Raynald ignored this and insulted the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, before murdering and torturing a number of them. Upon hearing this, Saladin swore an oath to personally execute Raynald.

Guy of Lusignan was also captured. Seeing the execution of Raynald, he feared he would be next. However, his life was spared by Saladin, who said of Raynald, “[i]t is not the won’t of kings, to kill kings; but that man had transgressed all bounds, and therefore did I treat him thus.” 

Saladin Captures Jerusalem 

Amazingly Saladin captures almost every Crusader city. Saladin preferred to take Jerusalem without bloodshed and offered convenient terms. But those inside refused to leave their holy city; vowing to destroy it in a fight to the death rather than see it handed over peacefully. Jerusalem capitulated to his forces on Friday, 2 October 1187, after a siege.

When the siege had started, Saladin was unwilling to promise terms of quarter to the Frankish inhabitants of Jerusalem. Balian of Ibelin threatened to kill every Muslim hostage, estimated at 5,000, and to destroy Islam’s holy shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque if such quarter were not provided. Saladin consults his council and the terms were accepted. The agreement was read out through the streets of Jerusalem so that everyone might within forty days provide for himself and pay to Saladin the agreed tribute for his freedom. 

Saladin the Merciful

An unusually low ransom for the times was to be paid for each Frank in the city; whether man; woman; or child. but Saladin, against the wishes of his treasurers; allowed many families who could not afford the ransom to leave. Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem organized and contributed to a collection that paid the ransoms for about 18,000 of the poorer citizens; leaving another 15,000 to be enslaved.

Saladin’s brother al-Adil “asked Saladin for a thousand of them for his own use and then release them on the spot.” Most of the foot soldiers were sold into slavery. Upon the capture of Jerusalem; Saladin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city. In particular, the residents of Ashkelon; a large Jewish settlement, responded to his request. The subject ordered the churches repurposed as horse stables and the church towers destroyed.

Saladin was on friendly terms with Queen Tamar of Georgia. Also Saladin’s biographer Bahā’ ad-Dīn ibn Šaddād reports that, after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem, the Georgian Queen sent envoys to the sultan to request the return of confiscated possessions of the Georgian monasteries in Jerusalem. Now although Saladin’s response is not recorded; but the queen’s efforts seem to have been successful as Jacques de Vitry; the Bishop of Acre reports the Georgians were, in contrast to the other Christian pilgrims; allowing a free passage into the city with their banners unfurled. Ibn Šaddād furthermore claims that Queen Tamar outbid the Byzantine emperor in her efforts to obtain the relics of the True Cross, offering 200,000 gold pieces to Saladin who had taken the relics as booty at the battle of Hattin, but to no avail.

The Third Crusade: Starring Richard Lion Heart 

Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem prompted the Third Crusade (1189–1192); financed in England by a special “Saladin tithe”. Richard the Lionheart King of England led Guy’s siege of Acre; conquered the city; and executed 3,000 Muslim prisoners, including women and children.

The armies of Saladin engaged in combat with the army of King Richard at the Battle of Arsuf on 7 September 1191; at which Saladin’s forces suffered heavy losses and were forced to withdraw. After the battle of Arsuf, Richard occupied Jaffa, restoring the city’s fortifications. Meanwhile, Saladin moved south, where he dismantled the fortifications of Ascalon to prevent this strategically important city, which lay at the junction between Egypt and Palestine, from falling into Crusader’s hands. 

Saladin is Negiotiaing a Truce But Keeps Jerusalem 

In October 1191, Richard began restoring the inland castles on the coastal plain beyond Jaffa in preparation for an advance on Jerusalem. During this period, Richard and Saladin passed envoys back and forth; negotiating the possibility of a truce. Richard proposed that his sister; Joan of England, Queen of Sicily, should marry Saladin’s brother and that Jerusalem could be their wedding gift. However, Saladin rejected this idea when Richard insisted that Saladin’s brother convert to Christianity. Richard suggested that his niece Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany be the bride instead, an idea that Saladin also rejected. 

In January 1192, Richard’s army occupied Beit Nuba, just twelve miles from Jerusalem; but withdrew without attacking the Holy City. Instead, Richard advanced south on Ascalon, where he restored the fortifications. In July 1192, Saladin tried to threaten Richard’s command of the coast by attacking Jaffa. The city was besieged, and Saladin very nearly captured it; however, Richard arrived a few days later and defeated Saladin’s army in a battle outside the city.

The Battle of Jaffa (1192) proved to be the last military engagement of the Third Crusade. After Richard reoccupied Jaffa and restored its fortifications, he and Saladin again discussed terms. At last, Richard agreed to demolish the fortifications of Ascalon, while Saladin agreed to recognize Crusader’s control of the Palestinian coast from Tyre to Jaffa. The Christians would be allowed to travel as unarmed pilgrims to Jerusalem, and Saladin’s kingdom would be at peace with the Crusader states for the following three years. 

Recognition and Legacy

Saladin eventually achieved a great reputation in Europe as a chivalrous knight; due to his fierce struggle against the crusaders and his generosity. In ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante, he is mentioned as one of the virtuous non-Christians in limbo, and he is also depicted favorably in Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron’. Although Saladin faded into history after the Middle Ages, he appears in a sympathetic light in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise (1779) and in Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Talisman (1825).

The modern view of Saladin originates mainly from these texts. According to Jonathan Riley-Smith, Scott’s portrayal of Saladin was that of a “modern [19th-century] liberal European gentlemen; beside whom medieval Westerners would always have made a poor showing”. Despite the Crusaders’ slaughter when they originally conquered Jerusalem in 1099, Saladin granted amnesty and free passage to all common Catholics and even to the defeated Christian army, as long as they were able to pay the aforementioned ransom (the Greek Orthodox Christians were treated even better because they often opposed the western Crusaders).

Notwithstanding the differences in beliefs, the Muslim Saladin was respected by Christian lords, Richard especially. Richard once praised Saladin as a great prince, saying that he was without doubt the greatest and most powerful leader in the Islamic world. Saladin in turn stated that there was not a more honorable Christian lord than Richard. After the treaty, Saladin and Richard sent each other many gifts as tokens of respect but never met face to face. In April 1191, a Frankish woman’s three-month-old baby had been stolen from her camp and sold on the market. The Franks urged her to approach Saladin herself with her grievance. According to Bahā’ al-Dīn, Saladin used his own money to buy the child back:

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Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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