Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi

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Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi


Ayyubid sultan


Reflective Youth . Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin) was of Kurdish origin, being born in 1138 in the town of Takrit in northern Iraq. He went on to found the Ayyubid Dynasty, which ruled Syria, Egypt, and Yemen from 1174 to 1258. He seemed to have been a quiet boy who was more prone to study than to war when he accompanied his father after the latter was appointed governor of Ba’albakk in the Biqa’ valley in present-day Lebanon.

Military Experience . Salah al-Din eventually became a commander in the army of Nur al-Din Muhmud Zengi, the principal initiator of the countercrusade. Salah al-Din’s fame began to rise after he had accompanied his uncle Shirkuh to Cairo when the Fatimid khalifah requested military aid to shore up his defenses against an impending Crusader attack. Shirkuh died shortly after arriving and Salah al-Din assumed command and became the Vizir of the Fatimids. Two years later he abolished the Isma’ili Fatimid khilafah and restored Egypt to the Sunni world (it had been under Shi’i control since 969) under the nominal leadership of the Abbasids in Baghdad.

Assassins . His true calling came in 1174 after the death of his mentor and suzerain Nur al-Din and the inability of the latter’s children to rule effectively and to end factionalism. Salah al-Din marched toward Damascus, which he took in his own name in the same year. He proceeded to consolidate his control over the rest of Syria and he seized Aleppo in 1183 and Mosul in 1186. One of his urgent tasks during these campaigns was to reduce the power of the Order of the Assassins, who had made two attempts on his life. The Assassins were a dangerous sect who claimed as their victims such figures as Malik Shah, one of the great Saljuk Sultans, his vizir Nizam al-Mulk, Conrad of Mont-ferrat, king of Jerusalem, and Raymond II of Tripoli.

Hattin . Having unified Syria and Egypt and having reformed the economy and administration of the realm, he was prepared to carry out his campaign against the Crusaders who controlled a few coastal strongholds. His most outstanding success came on 3-4 July 1187 at Hattin, near Tiberias in northern Palestine, where he defeated a combined Crusader force. This decisive victory opened the road to Jerusalem against whose walls he appeared a few months later; he easily captured that city in October.

Third Crusade . Salah al-Din’s success alarmed Western European rulers who called for fresh crusader reinforcements. King Richard the Lionhearted became the major adversary in the Third Crusade. Between 1189 and 1191 negotiations, exchange of presents, and other contacts were made to produce a treaty between the two sides known as the Peace Treaty of Ramlah (1192). Salah al-Din died shortly thereafter on 19 February 1192.


Beha ed-Din, The Life of Saladin.(London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1897).

Geoffrey Regan, Lionhearts: Saladin, Richard I, and the Era of the Third Crusade (New York: Walker, 1999).