An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub

An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب‎ / ALA-LC: Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb; Kurdish: سەلاحەدینی ئەییووبی‎ / ALA-LC: Selahedînê Eyûbî), known as Salah ad-Din or Saladin (1137 – 4 March 1193), was the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Sunni Muslim of Kurdish ethnicity, Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Upper Mesopotamia, the Hejaz, Yemen and other parts of North Africa.

He 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. Saladin, meanwhile, climbed 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 began to undermine the Fatimid establishment and, following al-Adid’s death in 1171, he abolished the Fatimid Caliphate and realigned the country’s allegiance with the Sunni, Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate.

In the following years, he led forays against the Crusaders in Palestine, commissioned the successful conquest of Yemen, and staved 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. By mid-1175, Saladin had conquered Hama and Homs, inviting the animosity of other Zengid lords, the official rulers of Syria’s various regions. Soon after, he defeated the Zengid army at the Battle of the Horns of Hama and was thereafter proclaimed the “Sultan of Egypt and Syria” by the Abbasid caliph al-Mustadi. Saladin made further conquests in northern Syria and Jazira, escaping two attempts on his life by the “Assassins”, before returning to Egypt in 1177 to address issues there. By 1182, Saladin had completed the conquest of Muslim Syria after capturing Aleppo, but ultimately failed to take over the Zengid stronghold of Mosul.

Under Saladin’s command, the Ayyubid army defeated the Crusaders at the decisive Battle of Hattin in 1187, and thereafter wrested control of Palestine—including the city of Jerusalem—from the Crusaders, who had conquered the area 88 years earlier. Although the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem continued to exist until the late 13th century, its defeat at Hattin marked a turning point in its conflict with the Muslim powers of the region. Saladin died in Damascus in 1193, having given away much of his personal wealth to his subjects. He is buried in a mausoleum adjacent to the Umayyad Mosque. Saladin has become a prominent figure in Muslim, Arab, Turkish and Kurdish culture, and he has often been described as being the most famous Kurd in history.

Saladin was born in Tikrit in modern-day Iraq. His personal name was “Yusuf”; “Salah ad-Din” is a laqab, an honorific epithet, meaning “Righteousness of the Faith.” His family was most likely of Kurdish ancestry, and had originated from the village of Ajdanakan near the city of Dvin in central Armenia. The Rawadiya tribe he hailed from had been partially assimilated into the Arabic-speaking world by this time. In 1132, the defeated army of Imad ad-Din Zengi, the ruler of Mosul, found their retreat blocked by the Tigris River opposite the fortress of Tikrit, where Saladin’s father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub served as the warden. Ayyub provided ferries for the army and gave them refuge in Tikrit. Mujahed al-Din Bihruz, a former Greek slave who had been appointed as the military governor of northern Mesopotamia for his service to the Seljuks, reprimanded Ayyub for giving Zengi refuge and in 1137 banished Ayyub from Tikrit after his brother Asad al-Din Shirkuh killed a friend of Bihruz. According to Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad, Saladin was born on the same night that his family left Tikrit. In 1139, Ayyub and his family moved to Mosul, where Imad ad-Din Zengi acknowledged his debt and appointed Ayyub commander of his fortress in Baalbek. After the death of Zengi in 1146, his son, Nur ad-Din, became the regent of Aleppo and the leader of the Zengids.

Saladin, who now lived in Damascus, was reported to have a particular fondness for the city, but information on his early childhood is scarce. About education, Saladin wrote “children are brought up in the way in which their elders were brought up.” According to his biographers, Anne-Marie Eddé and al-Wahrani, Saladin was able to answer questions on Euclid, the Almagest, arithmetic, and law, but this was an academic ideal and it was study of the Qur’an and the “sciences of religion” that linked him to his contemporaries. Several sources claim that during his studies he was more interested in religion than joining the military. Another factor which may have affected his interest in religion was that, during the First Crusade, Jerusalem was taken by the Christians. In addition to Islam, Saladin had a knowledge of the genealogies, biographies, and histories of the Arabs, as well as the bloodlines of Arabian horses. More significantly, he knew the Hamasah of Abu Tammam by heart. He spoke Kurdish and Arabic.

Saladin’s military career began under the tutelage of his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh, a prominent military commander under Nur ad-Din, the Zengid emir of Damascus and Aleppo and the most influential teacher of Saladin. In 1163, the vizier to the Fatimid caliph al-Adid, Shawar, had been driven out of Egypt by his rival Dirgham, a member of the powerful Banu Ruzzaik tribe. He asked for military backing from Nur ad-Din, who complied and, in 1164, sent Shirkuh to aid Shawar in his expedition against Dirgham. Saladin, at age 26, went along with them. After Shawar was successfully reinstated as vizier, he demanded that Shirkuh withdraw his army from Egypt for a sum of 30,000 gold dinars, but he refused, insisting it was Nur ad-Din’s will that he remain. Saladin’s role in this expedition was minor, and it is known that he was ordered by Shirkuh to collect stores from Bilbais prior to its siege by a combined force of Crusaders and Shawar’s troops.

After the sacking of Bilbais, the Crusader-Egyptian force and Shirkuh’s army were to engage in a battle on the desert border of the River Nile, just west of Giza. Saladin played a major role, commanding the right wing of the Zengid army, while a force of Kurds commanded the left, and Shirkuh was stationed in the center. Muslim sources at the time, however, put Saladin in the “baggage of the centre” with orders to lure the enemy into a trap by staging a feigned retreat. The Crusader force enjoyed early success against Shirkuh’s troops, but the terrain was too steep and sandy for their horses, and commander Hugh of Caesarea was captured while attacking Saladin’s unit. After scattered fighting in little valleys to the south of the main position, the Zengid central force returned to the offensive; Saladin joined in from the rear.

The battle ended in a Zengid victory, and Saladin is credited with having helped Shirkuh in one of the “most remarkable victories in recorded history”, according to Ibn al-Athir, although more of Shirkuh’s men were killed and the battle is considered by most sources as not a total victory. Saladin and Shirkuh moved towards Alexandria where they were welcomed, given money, arms and provided a base. Faced by a superior Crusader-Egyptian force attempting to besiege the city, Shirkuh split his army. He and the bulk of his force withdrew from Alexandria, while Saladin was left with the task of guarding the city.

Vizier of Egypt

Shirkuh was in a power struggle over Egypt with Shawar and Amalric I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in which Shawar requested Amalric’s assistance. In 1169, Shawar was reportedly assassinated by Saladin, and Shirkuh died later that year. Nur ad-Din chose a successor for Shirkuh, but al-Adid appointed Saladin to replace Shawar as vizier.

The reasoning behind the Shia caliph al-Adid’s selection of Saladin, a Sunni, varies. Ibn al-Athir claims that the caliph chose him after being told by his advisers that “there is no one weaker or younger” than Saladin, and “not one of the emirs [commanders] obeyed him or served him”. However, according to this version, after some bargaining, he was eventually accepted by the majority of the emirs. Al-Adid’s advisers were also suspected of promoting Saladin in an attempt to split the Syria-based Zengids. Al-Wahrani wrote that Saladin was selected because of the reputation of his family in their “generosity and military prowess”. Imad ad-Din wrote that after the brief mourning period for Shirkuh, during which “opinions differed”, the Zengid emirs decided upon Saladin and forced the caliph to “invest him as vizier”. Although positions were complicated by rival Muslim leaders, the bulk of the Syrian commanders supported Saladin because of his role in the Egyptian expedition, in which he gained a record of military qualifications.

Inaugurated as vizier on 26 March, Saladin repented “wine-drinking and turned from frivolity to assume the dress of religion”, according to Arabic sources of the time. Having gained more power and independence than ever before in his career, he still faced the issue of ultimate loyalty between al-Adid and Nur ad-Din. Later in the year, a group of Egyptian soldiers and emirs attempted to assassinate Saladin, but having already known of their intentions thanks to his intelligence chief Ali ibn Safyan, he had the chief conspirator, Naji, Mu’tamin al-Khilafa—the civilian controller of the Fatimid Palace—arrested and killed. The day after, 50,000 Black African soldiers from the regiments of the Fatimid army opposed to Saladin’s rule, along with a number of Egyptian emirs and commoners, staged a revolt. By 23 August, Saladin had decisively quelled the uprising, and never again had to face a military challenge from Cairo.

Towards the end of 1169, Saladin, with reinforcements from Nur ad-Din, defeated a massive Crusader-Byzantine force near Damietta. Afterward, in the spring of 1170, Nur ad-Din sent Saladin’s father to Egypt in compliance with Saladin’s request, as well as encouragement from the Baghdad-based Abbasid caliph, al-Mustanjid, who aimed to pressure Saladin in deposing his rival caliph, al-Adid. Saladin himself had been strengthening his hold on Egypt and widening his support base there. He began granting his family members high-ranking positions in the region; he ordered the construction of a college for the Maliki branch of Sunni Islam in the city, as well as one for the Shafi’i denomination to which he belonged in al-Fustat.

After establishing himself in Egypt, Saladin launched a campaign against the Crusaders, besieging Darum in 1170. Amalric withdrew his Templar garrison from Gaza to assist him in defending Darum, but Saladin evaded their force and captured Gaza in 1187. In 1191 Saladin destroyed the fortifications in Gaza build by King Baldwin III for the Knights Templar. It is unclear exactly when, but during that same year, he attacked and captured the Crusader castle of Eilat, built on an island off the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. It did not pose a threat to the passage of the Muslim navy, but could harass smaller parties of Muslim ships and Saladin decided to clear it from his path.

According to Imad ad-Din, Nur ad-Din wrote to Saladin in June 1171, telling him to reestablish the Abbasid caliphate in Egypt, which Saladin coordinated two months later after additional encouragement by Najm ad-Din al-Khabushani, the Shafi’i faqih, who vehemently opposed Shia rule in the country. Several Egyptian emirs were thus killed, but al-Adid was told that they were killed for rebelling against him. He then fell ill, or was poisoned according to one account. While ill, he asked Saladin to pay him a visit to request that he take care of his young children, but Saladin refused, fearing treachery against the Abbasids, and is said to have regretted his action after realizing what al-Adid had wanted. He died on 13 September, and five days later, the Abbasid khutba was pronounced in Cairo and al-Fustat, proclaiming al-Mustadi as caliph.

On 25 September, Saladin left Cairo to take part in a joint attack on Kerak and Montreal, the desert castles of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with Nur ad-Din who would attack from Syria. Prior to arriving at Montreal, Saladin however withdrew back to Cairo as he received the reports that in his absence the Crusader leaders had increased their support to the traitors inside Egypt to attack Saladin from within and lessen his power especially the Fatimid who started plotting to restore their past glory. Because of this, Nur ad-Din went on alone.

During the summer of 1173, a Nubian army along with a contingent of Armenian refugees were reported on the Egyptian border, preparing for a siege against Aswan. The emir of the city had requested Saladin’s assistance and was given reinforcements under Turan-Shah, Saladin’s brother. Consequently, the Nubians departed; but returned in 1173 and were again driven off. This time, Egyptian forces advanced from Aswan and captured the Nubian town of Ibrim. Saladin sent a gift to Nur ad-Din, who had been his friend and teacher, 60,000 dinars, “wonderful manufactured goods”, some jewels, and an elephant. While transporting these goods to Damascus, Saladin took the opportunity to ravage the Crusader countryside. He did not press an attack against the desert castles, but attempted to drive out the Muslim Bedouins who lived in Crusader territory with the aim of depriving the Franks of guides.

On 31 July 1173, Saladin’s father Ayyub was wounded in a horse-riding accident, ultimately causing his death on 9 August. In 1174, Saladin sent Turan-Shah to conquer Yemen to allocate it and its port Aden to the territories of the Ayyubid Dynasty.

Conquest of Damascus

In the early summer of 1174, Nur ad-Din was mustering an army, sending summons to Mosul, Diyar Bakr, and the Jazira in an apparent preparation of attack against Saladin’s Egypt. The Ayyubids held a council upon the revelation of these preparations to discuss the possible threat and Saladin collected his own troops outside Cairo. On 15 May, Nur ad-Din died after falling ill the previous week and his power was handed to his eleven-year-old son as-Salih Ismail al-Malik. His death left Saladin with political independence and in a letter to as-Salih, he promised to “act as a sword” against his enemies and referred to the death of his father as an “earthquake shock”.

In the wake of Nur ad-Din’s death, Saladin faced a difficult decision; he could move his army against the Crusaders from Egypt or wait until invited by as-Salih in Syria to come to his aid and launch a war from there. He could also take it upon himself to annex Syria before it could possibly fall into the hands of a rival, but he feared that attacking a land that formerly belonged to his master—forbidden in the Islamic principles in which he believed—could portray him as hypocritical, thus making him unsuitable for leading the war against the Crusaders. Saladin saw that in order to acquire Syria, he either needed an invitation from as-Salih, or to warn him that potential anarchy could give rise to danger from the Crusaders.

When as-Salih was removed to Aleppo in August, Gumushtigin, the emir of the city and a captain of Nur ad-Din’s veterans, assumed the guardianship over him. The emir prepared to unseat all his rivals in Syria and the Jazira, beginning with Damascus. In this emergency, the emir of Damascus appealed to Saif al-Din of Mosul (a cousin of Gumushtigin) for assistance against Aleppo, but he refused, forcing the Syrians to request the aid of Saladin, who complied. Saladin rode across the desert with 700 picked horsemen, passing through al-Kerak then reaching Bosra. According to his own account, was joined by “emirs, soldiers, and Bedouins—the emotions of their hearts to be seen on their faces.” On 23 November, he arrived in Damascus amid general acclamation and rested at his father’s old home there, until the gates of the Citadel of Damascus, whose commander Raihan initially refused to surrender, were opened to Saladin four days later, after a brief siege by his brother Tughtakin ibn Ayyub. He installed himself in the castle and received the homage and salutations of the inhabitants.

Leaving his brother Tughtigin as Governor of Damascus, Saladin proceeded to reduce other cities that had belonged to Nur al-Din, but were now practically independent. His army conquered Hamah with relative ease, but avoided attacking Homs because of the strength of its citadel. Saladin moved north towards Aleppo, besieging it on 30 December after Gumushtigin refused to abdicate his throne. As-Salih, fearing capture by Saladin, came out of his palace and appealed to the inhabitants not to surrender him and the city to the invading force. One of Saladin’s chroniclers claimed “the people came under his spell”.

Gumushtigin requested Rashid ad-Din Sinan, grand-master of the Assassins of Syria, who were already at odds with Saladin since he replaced the Fatimids of Egypt, to assassinate Saladin in his camp. On 11 May 1175, a group of thirteen Assassins easily gained admission into Saladin’s camp, but were detected immediately before they carried out their attack by Nasih al-Din Khumartekin of Abu Qubays. One was killed by one of Saladin’s generals and the others were slain while trying to escape. To deter Saladin’s progress, Raymond of Tripoli gathered his forces by Nahr al-Kabir, where they were well placed for an attack on Muslim territory. Saladin later moved toward Homs instead, but retreated after being told a relief force was being sent to the city by Saif al-Din.

Meanwhile, Saladin’s rivals in Syria and Jazira waged a propaganda war against him, claiming he had “forgotten his own condition [servant of Nur ad-Din]” and showed no gratitude for his old master by besieging his son, rising “in rebellion against his Lord”. Saladin aimed to counter this propaganda by ending the siege, claiming that he was defending Islam from the Crusaders; his army returned to Hama to engage a Crusader force there. The Crusaders withdrew beforehand and Saladin proclaimed it “a victory opening the gates of men’s hearts”. Soon after, Saladin entered Homs and captured its citadel in March 1175, after stubborn resistance from its defenders.

Saladin’s successes alarmed Saif al-Din. As head of the Zengids, including Gumushtigin, he regarded Syria and Mesopotamia as his family estate and was angered when Saladin attempted to usurp his dynasty’s holdings. Saif al-Din mustered a large army and dispatched it to Aleppo, whose defenders anxiously had awaited them. The combined forces of Mosul and Aleppo marched against Saladin in Hama. Heavily outnumbered, Saladin initially attempted to make terms with the Zengids by abandoning all conquests north of the Damascus province, but they refused, insisting he return to Egypt. Seeing that confrontation was unavoidable, Saladin prepared for battle, taking up a superior position at the Horns of Hama, hills by the gorge of the Orontes River. On 13 April 1175, the Zengid troops marched to attack his forces, but soon found themselves surrounded by Saladin’s Ayyubid veterans, who crushed them. The battle ended in a decisive victory for Saladin, who pursued the Zengid fugitives to the gates of Aleppo, forcing as-Salih’s advisers to recognize Saladin’s control of the provinces of Damascus, Homs and Hama, as well as a number of towns outside Aleppo such as Ma’arat al-Numan.

After his victory against the Zengids, Saladin proclaimed himself king and suppressed the name of as-Salih in Friday prayers and Islamic coinage. From then on, he ordered prayers in all the mosques of Syria and Egypt as the sovereign king and he issued at the Cairo mint gold coins bearing his official title—al-Malik an-Nasir Yusuf Ayyub, ala ghaya “the King Strong to Aid, Joseph son of Job; exalted be the standard.” The Abbasid caliph in Baghdad graciously welcomed Saladin’s assumption of power and declared him “Sultan of Egypt and Syria”. The Battle of Hama did not end the contest for power between the Ayyubids and the Zengids, with the final confrontation occurring in the spring of 1176. Saladin had gathered massive reinforcements from Egypt while Saif al-Din was levying troops among the minor states of Diyarbakir and al-Jazira. When Saladin crossed the Orontes, leaving Hama, the sun was eclipsed. He viewed this as an omen, but he continued his march north. He reached the Sultan’s Mound, roughly 25 km (16 mi) from Aleppo, where his forces encountered Saif al-Din’s army. A hand-to-hand fight ensued and the Zengids managed to plow Saladin’s left wing, driving it before him, when Saladin himself charged at the head of the Zengid guard. The Zengid forces panicked and most of Saif al-Din’s officers ended up being killed or captured—Saif al-Din narrowly escaped. The Zengid army’s camp, horses, baggage, tents and stores were seized by the Ayyubids. The Zengid prisoners of war, however, were given gifts and freed. All of the booty from the Ayyubid victory was accorded to the army, Saladin not keeping anything himself.

He continued towards Aleppo, which still closed its gates to him, halting before the city. On the way, his army took Buza’a, then captured Manbij. From there, they headed west to besiege the fortress of A’zaz on 15 May. Several days later, while Saladin was resting in one of his captain’s tents, an assassin rushed forward at him and struck at his head with a knife. The cap of his head armour was not penetrated and he managed to grip the assassin’s hand—the dagger only slashing his gambeson—and the assailant was soon killed. Saladin was unnerved at the attempt on his life, which he accused Gumushtugin and the Assassins of plotting, and so increased his efforts in the siege.

A’zaz capitulated on 21 June, and Saladin then hurried his forces to Aleppo to punish Gumushtigin. His assaults were again resisted, but he managed to secure not only a truce, but a mutual alliance with Aleppo, in which Gumushtigin and as-Salih were allowed to continue their hold on the city and in return, they recognized Saladin as the sovereign over all of the dominions he conquered. The emirs of Mardin and Keyfa, the Muslim allies of Aleppo, also recognised Saladin as the King of Syria. When the treaty was concluded, the younger sister of as-Salih came to Saladin and requested the return of the Fortress of A’zaz; he complied and escorted her back to the gates of Aleppo with numerous presents.

Saladin had by now agreed truces with his Zengid rivals and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (the latter occurred in the summer of 1175), but faced a threat from the Ismaili sect known as the “Assassins”, led by Rashid ad-Din Sinan. Based in the an-Nusayriyah Mountains, they commanded nine fortresses, all built on high elevations. As soon as he dispatched the bulk of his troops to Egypt, Saladin led his army into the an-Nusayriyah range in August 1176. He retreated the same month, after laying waste to the countryside, but failing to conquer any of the forts. Most Muslim historians claim that Saladin’s uncle, the governor of Hama, mediated a peace agreement between him and Sinan.

Saladin had his guards supplied with link lights and had chalk and cinders strewed around his tent outside Masyaf—which he was besieging—to detect any footsteps by the Assassins. According to this version, one night Saladin’s guards noticed a spark glowing down the hill of Masyaf and then vanishing among the Ayyubid tents. Presently, Saladin awoke to find a figure leaving the tent. He saw that the lamps were displaced and beside his bed laid hot scones of the shape peculiar to the Assassins with a note at the top pinned by a poisoned dagger. The note threatened that he would be killed if he didn’t withdraw from his assault. Saladin gave a loud cry, exclaiming that Sinan himself was the figure that had left the tent.

Another version claims that Saladin hastily withdrew his troops from Masyaf because they were urgently needed to fend off a Crusader force in the vicinity of Mount Lebanon. In reality, Saladin sought to form an alliance with Sinan and his Assassins, consequently depriving the Crusaders of a potent ally against him. Viewing the expulsion of the Crusaders as a mutual benefit and priority, Saladin and Sinan maintained cooperative relations afterwards, the latter dispatching contingents of his forces to bolster Saladin’s army in a number of decisive subsequent battlefronts.

After leaving the an-Nusayriyah Mountains, Saladin returned to Damascus and had his Syrian soldiers return home. He left Turan Shah in command of Syria and left for Egypt with only his personal followers, reaching Cairo on 22 September. Having been absent roughly two years, he had much to organize and supervise in Egypt, namely fortifying and reconstructing Cairo. The city walls were repaired and their extensions laid out, while the construction of the Cairo Citadel was commenced. The 280 feet (85 m) deep Bir Yusuf (“Joseph’s Well”) was built on Saladin’s orders. The chief public work he commissioned outside of Cairo was the large bridge at Giza, which was intended to form an outwork of defense against a potential Moorish invasion.

Saladin remained in Cairo supervising its improvements, building colleges such as the Madrasa of the Sword Makers and ordering the internal administration of the country. In November 1177, he set out upon a raid into Palestine; the Crusaders had recently forayed into the territory of Damascus, so Saladin saw the truce as no longer worth preserving. The Christians sent a large portion of their army to besiege the fortress of Harim north of Aleppo, so southern Palestine bore few defenders. Saladin found the situation ripe and marched to Ascalon, which he referred to as the “Bride of Syria.” William of Tyre recorded that the Ayyubid army consisted of 26,000 soldiers, of which 8,000 were elite forces and 18,000 were black soldiers from Sudan. This army proceeded to raid the countryside, sack Ramla and Lod, and dispersed themselves as far as the Gates of Jerusalem.

The Ayyubids allowed King Baldwin to enter Ascalon with his Gaza-based Templars without taking any precautions against a sudden attack. Although the Crusader force consisted of only 375 knights, Saladin hesitated to ambush them because of the presence of highly skilled generals. On 25 November, while the greater part of the Ayyubid army was absent, Saladin and his men were surprised near Ramla in the battle of Montgisard. Before they could form up, the Templar force hacked the Ayyubid army down. Initially, Saladin attempted to organize his men into battle order, but as his bodyguards were being killed, he saw that defeat was inevitable and so with a small remnant of his troops mounted a swift camel, riding all the way to the territories of Egypt.

Not discouraged by his defeat at Tell Jezer, Saladin was prepared to fight the Crusaders once again. In the spring of 1178, he was encamped under the walls of Homs, and a few skirmishes occurred between his generals and the Crusader army. His forces in Hama won a victory over their enemy and brought the spoils, together with many prisoners of war, to Saladin who ordered the captives to be beheaded for “plundering and laying waste the lands of the Faithful”. He spent the rest of the year in Syria without a confrontation with his enemies.

Saladin’s intelligence services reported to him that the Crusaders were planning a raid into Syria. He ordered one of his generals, Farrukh-Shah, to guard the Damascus frontier with a thousand of his men to watch for an attack, then to retire, avoiding battle, and to light warning beacons on the hills, after which Saladin would march out. In April 1179, the Crusaders led by King Baldwin expected no resistance and waited to launch a surprise attack on Muslim herders grazing their herds and flocks east of the Golan Heights. Baldwin advanced too rashly in pursuit of Farrukh-Shah’s force, which was concentrated southeast of Quneitra and was subsequently defeated by the Ayyubids. With this victory, Saladin decided to call in more troops from Egypt; he requested al-Adil to dispatch 1,500 horsemen.

In the summer of 1179, King Baldwin had set up an outpost on the road to Damascus and aimed to fortify a passage over the Jordan River, known as Jacob’s Ford, that commanded the approach to the Banias plain (the plain was divided by the Muslims and the Christians). Saladin had offered 100,000 gold pieces to Baldwin to abandon the project, which was particularly offensive to the Muslims, but to no avail. He then resolved to destroy the fortress, called Chastellet and manned by the Templars, moving his headquarters to Banias. As the Crusaders hurried down to attack the Muslim forces, they fell into disorder, with the infantry falling behind. Despite early success, they pursued the Muslims far enough to become scattered, and Saladin took advantage by rallying his troops and charged at the Crusaders. The engagement ended in a decisive Ayyubid victory, and many high-ranking knights were captured. Saladin then moved to besiege the fortress, which fell on 30 August 1179.

In the spring of 1180, while Saladin was in the area of Safad, anxious to commence a vigorous campaign against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, King Baldwin sent messengers to him with proposals of peace. Because droughts and bad harvests hampered his commissariat, Saladin agreed to a truce. Raymond of Tripoli denounced the truce but was compelled to accept after an Ayyubid raid on his territory in May and upon the appearance of Saladin’s naval fleet off the port of Tartus.

In June 1180, Saladin hosted a reception for Nur al-Din Muhammad, the Artuqid emir of Keyfa, at Geuk Su, in which he presented him and his brother Abu Bakr with gifts, valued at over 100,000 dinars according to Imad al-Din. This was intended to cement an alliance with the Artuqids and to impress other emirs in Mesopotamia and Anatolia. Previously, Saladin offered to mediate relations between Nur al-Din and Kilij Arslan II—the Seljuk Sultan of Rum—after the two came into conflict. The latter demanded that Nur al-Din return the lands given to him as a dowry for marrying his daughter when he received reports that she was being abused and used to gain Seljuk territory. Nur al-Din asked Saladin to mediate the issue, but Arslan refused.

After Nur al-Din and Saladin met at Geuk Su, the top Seljuk emir, Ikhtiyar al-Din al-Hasan, confirmed Arslan’s submission, after which an agreement was drawn up. Saladin was later enraged when he received a message from Arslan accusing Nur al-Din of more abuses against his daughter. He threatened to attack the city of Malatya, saying, “it is two days march for me and I shall not dismount [my horse] until I am in the city.” Alarmed at the threat, the Seljuks pushed for negotiations. Saladin felt that Arslan was correct to care for his daughter, but Nur al-Din had taken refuge with him, and therefore he could not betray his trust. It was finally agreed that Arslan’s daughter would be sent away for a year and if Nur al-Din failed to comply, Saladin would move to abandon his support for him.

Leaving Farrukh-Shah in charge of Syria, Saladin returned to Cairo at the beginning of 1181. According to Abu Shama, he intended to spend the fast of Ramadan in Egypt and then make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the summer. For an unknown reason he apparently changed his plans regarding the pilgrimage and was seen inspecting the Nile River banks in June. He was again embroiled with the Bedouin; he removed two-thirds of their fiefs to use as compensation for the fief-holders at Fayyum. The Bedouin were also accused of trading with the Crusaders and, consequently, their grain was confiscated and they were forced to migrate westward. Later, Ayyubid warships were waged against Bedouin river pirates, who were plundering the shores of Lake Tanis.

In the summer of 1181, Saladin’s former palace administrator Qara-Qush led a force to arrest Majd al-Din—a former deputy of Turan-Shah in the Yemeni town of Zabid—while he was entertaining Imad ad-Din at his estate in Cairo. Saladin’s intimates accused Majd al-Din of misappropriating the revenues of Zabid, but Saladin himself believed there was no evidence to back the allegations. He had Majd al-Din released in return for a payment of 80,000 dinars. In addition, other sums were to be paid to Saladin’s brothers al-Adil and Taj al-Muluk Buri. The controversial detainment of Majd al-Din was a part of the larger discontent associated with the aftermath of Turan-Shah’s departure from Yemen. Although his deputies continued to send him revenues from the province, centralized authority was lacking and internal quarrel arose between Izz al-Din Uthman of Aden and Hittan of Zabid. Saladin wrote in a letter to al-Adil: “this Yemen is a treasure house … We conquered it, but up to this day we have had no return and no advantage from it. There have been only innumerable expenses, the sending out of troops … and expectations which did not produce what was hoped for in the end.”

On 29 September 1182, Saladin crossed the Jordan River to attack Beisan, 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 took 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 Crusader force—reckoned to be the largest the kingdom ever produced from its own resources, but still outmatched by the Muslims—advanced, the Ayyubids unexpectedly moved down the stream of Ain Jalut. After a few Ayyubid raids—including attacks on Zir’in, Forbelet, and Mount Tabor—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.

Crusader attacks provoked further responses by Saladin. Raynald of Châtillon, in particular, harassed Muslim trading and pilgrimage routes with a fleet on the Red Sea, a water route that Saladin needed to keep open. In response, Saladin built a fleet of 30 galleys to attack Beirut in 1182. Raynald threatened to attack the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In retaliation, Saladin twice besieged Kerak, Raynald’s fortress in Oultrejordain, in 1183 and 1184. Raynald responded by looting a caravan of pilgrims on the Hajj in 1185. According to the later 13th-century Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, Raynald captured Saladin’s sister in a raid on a caravan; this claim is not attested in contemporary sources, Muslim or Frankish, however, instead stating that Raynald had attacked a preceding caravan, and Saladin set guards to ensure the safety of his sister and her son, who came to no harm.

Following the failure of his Kerak sieges, Saladin temporarily turned his attention back to another long-term project and resumed attacks on the territory of ʻIzz ad-Dīn (Masʻūd ibn Mawdūd ibn Zangi), around Mosul, which he had begun with some success in 1182. However, since then, Masʻūd had allied himself with the powerful governor of Azerbaijan and Jibal, who in 1185 began moving his troops across the Zagros Mountains, causing Saladin to hesitate in his attacks. The defenders of Mosul, when they became aware that help was on the way, increased their efforts, and Saladin subsequently fell ill, so in March 1186 a peace treaty was signed.

In July 1187, Saladin captured 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. Saladin captured Raynald and was personally responsible for his execution in retaliation for his attacks against Muslim caravans. The members of these caravans had, in vain, besought his mercy by reciting the truce between the Muslims and the Crusaders, 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 wont of kings, to kill kings; but that man had transgressed all bounds, and therefore did I treat him thus.”

Capture of Jerusalem

Saladin had captured almost every Crusader city. Saladin preferred to take Jerusalem without bloodshed and offered generous 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 consulted 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. An unusually low ransom for the times (around US$50 today) 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 organised 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 released 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.

Tyre, on the coast of modern-day Lebanon, was the last major Crusader city that was not captured by Muslim forces. Strategically, it would have made more sense for Saladin to capture Tyre before Jerusalem; Saladin, however, chose to pursue Jerusalem first because of the importance of the city to Islam. Tyre was commanded by Conrad of Montferrat, who strengthened its defences and withstood two sieges by Saladin. In 1188, at Tortosa, Saladin released Guy of Lusignan and returned him to his wife, Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem. They went first to Tripoli, then to Antioch. In 1189, they sought to reclaim Tyre for their kingdom but were refused admission by Conrad, who did not recognize Guy as king. Guy then set about besieging Acre.

Saladin was on friendly terms with Queen Tamar of Georgia. 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. 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, allowed 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.

Third Crusade

It is equally true that his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam.

René Grousset (writer)

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. Bahā’ ad-Dīn wrote:

The motives of this massacre are differently told; according to some, the captives were slain by way of reprisal for the death of those Christians whom the Musulmans had slain. Others again say that the king of England, on deciding to attempt the conquest of Ascalon, thought it unwise to leave so many prisoners in the town after his departure. God alone knows what the real reason was.

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 hands.

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.

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 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.

Saladin died of a fever on 4 March 1193, at Damascus, not long after King Richard’s departure. In Saladin’s possession at the time of his death were one piece of gold and forty pieces of silver. He had given away his great wealth to his poor subjects, leaving nothing to pay for his funeral. He was buried in a mausoleum in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Originally the tomb was part of a complex which also included a school, Madrassah al-Aziziah, of which little remains except a few columns and an internal arch. 

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