views updated May 23 2018


Tikrit, Iraq

March 4, 1193
Damascus, Syria

Muslim warrior and leader

"I have become so great as I am because I have won men's hearts by gentleness and kindliness."

—Saladin to his son, Zahir; quoted in Saladin.

The most famous of all heroes of the Islamic faith, Saladin (pronounced sa-la-DEEN) attempted to unite the Islamic world to fight the Christian Crusaders who had taken over the Holy Land of Palestine. The two centuries of conflict between East and West, Islam and Christianity, began in 1095 with the First Crusade, when the Christians tried to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. This was accomplished in 1099, leading to two centuries of intermittent (on and off) warfare between the European Christians and the mainly Arab followers of the prophet Muhammad (c. 570–632 c.e.), founder of the religion of Islam. Having been named sultan (ruler of a Muslim state) of Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Palestine, and having established the Ayyub dynasty (1174–1258), in 1187 Saladin assembled an army of Muslim fighters to recapture Jerusalem. This victory angered the Europeans and brought on the Third Crusade (1189–92), led by the English king Richard I, the Lionheart (see entry), among others. Saladin was able to bring this Crusader army to a standstill, demonstrating not only great courage but also fairness and mercy to his enemies. He is one of the few warriors of the period to be equally respected by both sides, immortalized by Islamic and European writers alike.

Nur al-Din

Nur al-Din (1118–1174), together with his father Zengi, proved to be a powerful model for Saladin in his bid to unite the Islamic world and retake lost lands from the Crusaders. Zengi, the atabeg, or Turkish Muslim governor and military leader of Syria, was one of the first Islamic rulers to fight fire with fire during the time of the Crusades. That is, the Christian knights had journeyed to Palestine and the rest of the territories of Syria to fight a holy war against Islam. Two could play at that game, Zengi thought, for the Islamic concept of jihad, or holy war, also provides for fighting against "infidels," or nonbelievers—that is, those who doubt the word of the prophet Muhammad and do not accept the Islamic faith. Interestingly, following the First Crusade (1095–99)—which resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Muslims when Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in 1099—Muslims followed a policy of "live and let live." With Zengi this policy changed. He had a dream of uniting all of Islam in a holy war. When he and his troops attacked and captured the fortified Crusader city of Edessa in 1144, it made him one of the leaders of a renewed Islamic effort to get rid of the Franks, as the Muslims called the Christian Crusaders. This action also led to the Second Crusade (1147–49).

When Zengi was murdered in 1146, his son, Nur al-Din, took power. Born in Damascus, Syria, Nur al-Din was an unusual leader for his time. Like a modern ruler, he used public relations to spread his fame, assembling at his court poets and historians who would write of his adventures. He took the idea of a holy war further than his father, hoping one day to retake Jerusalem and also to bring Egypt under his control. During the Second Crusade he captured important cities, such as Damascus and Antioch (in present-day Turkey), from other Muslim leaders and was able to defend them against the Crusaders. He also managed to bring lands in Anatolia (the peninsula of Asia Minor in Turkey) under his control and create a new power base in Egypt.

It was there that the youth Saladin, who was then serving as lieutenant to Nur al-Din's vizier (an executive officer), came into his own. Although Saladin and Nur al-Din eventually became rivals for power in the Muslim world, they both had the same goal of uniting Islam and defeating the Crusaders. Nur al-Din did not live to see the successful completion of his plan to retake Jerusalem from the Christians. That honor was Saladin's. Nur al-Din is remembered in Islamic history as a wise and just ruler whose vision was an inspiration to Saladin and others who followed.

Saladin's Kurdish Origins

Born Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (literally "Righteousness of the Faith, Joseph, son of Ayyub or Job"), he became known by the westernized name Saladin. His father and other ancestors were of Kurdish origin, coming from Armenia to the north and living in Tikrit, a city in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), at the time of his birth in 1137. Although his was an eminent, or well-respected, family, Saladin's people were not of noble blood. His father, Najm al-Din, was commander of the fortress of Tikrit when his son was born. Shortly after Saladin's birth, Najm al-Din joined the service of the powerful lord Zengi (ruled 1127–46), who governed the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Both Saladin's father and his uncle, Shirkuh, rose to powerful positions under this ruler and his son, Nur al-Din (1118–74), who were attempting to unite the Islamic world. Saladin grew up partly in Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley of Syria, and later in the ancient city of Damascus, where his father commanded Zengi's militia.

This powerful ruler was partly successful in his efforts to unite Islam. In 1144 Zengi's forces captured the Crusader province of Edessa in northern Mesopotamia, an event that brought more Europeans to fight in the Second Crusade (1147–49). Although Zengi did not live to see their arrival—he died in 1146—the Crusader armies were defeated in 1148 outside the walls of Damascus. This event must have made a powerful impression on the young Saladin. It is not known whether he and his family were still living in Damascus, but the very fact that the mighty Crusaders were defeated by well-trained Muslim forces left a lasting influence on his later career. Little is known of Saladin's early years other than the fact that he was known as a bookish boy who liked to study religion and law. He also had a wild side, playing polo and drinking wine; because of his strong religious beliefs, he later gave up wine.

By the time he was fourteen, Saladin was sent to serve under his uncle, Shirkuh, in Aleppo, a city near the Mediterranean Sea. Shirkuh was by this time a military commander for Nur al-Din, who had taken over power from his father. At just sixteen years of age, Saladin was given a grant, or parcel, of land for his service. He also married the first of several wives, a practice permitted by Muslim law. (He would eventually father a total of seventeen children by his various wives.) From his father, Saladin inherited a gift for diplomacy, or managing international relations, and administration. However, as his biographer P. H. Newby has noted in Saladin in His Time, "Since administrators had to be soldiers, too—perhaps first and foremost—he had to be proficient [skilled] in combat: swordsmanship, the management of the horse, archery and above all how to thrust with a lance when mounted." He would need all these skills in his career, for now he knew that his mission in life was to free Palestine of the Franks.

Saladin's Meteoric Rise to Power

Saladin continued to gain more and more power. Through his uncle Shirkuh's influence and his own talents, he rose to prominence under Nur al-Din and his followers. Between 1164 and 1169 he accompanied his uncle in defending Cairo, a city in Egypt, from attacks by Crusaders. During these years he gained valuable military knowledge both from his uncle and from Nur al-Din. Shirkuh became vizier, that is, administrator of the country, in the name of the Fatimids, the political and religious dynasty that had ruled Egypt and North Africa since 909. This dynasty claimed descent from Fatima, the prophet Muhammad's daughter, and was in direct opposition to the Abbasids, the other powerful Muslim dynasty, which had its base in Baghdad. With the death of Shirkuh in 1169, Saladin himself became vizier, and he proceeded to transform the land of Egypt into a powerful economic center. He fortified Cairo, built public works and houses of worship, and encouraged the arts and sciences. Meanwhile, he was also assembling a strong army under his command. In 1171 he became supreme leader of Egypt by abolishing the old Fatimid caliphate, or successor Islamic regime.

The year 1174 marked a turning point for Saladin. His former ruler Nur al-Din had died, as had a powerful Crusader king in Jerusalem. The way seemed to be open for him to continue his program to unite the Islamic world. However, he had enemies within the Muslim world who opposed him. In 1174 he defeated two of his strongest Muslim enemies, the lords of Mosul and Aleppo, at the Battle of the Horns of Hamah. He then became governor of Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Palestine, making him the most powerful man in the Islamic world.

Saladin Consolidates His Power

Saladin still had to overcome many obstacles to unite Islam. In 1174 and again in 1175 he survived attempts on his life by the Assassins (from the Arabic Hashashin), a radical sect, or branch, of Islam that murdered its enemies. He also had to put down revolts by various Arab princes. By marrying Ismat al-Din, the widow of Nur al-Din, he helped consolidate (strengthen) his position as ruler of Syria.

Beginning in 1177 Saladin determined to systematically remove the Crusaders from their fortresses along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. He launched a series of campaigns that initially were unsuccessful, but in 1179 he had his first victory against the Franks, capturing the Crusader castle at Jacob's Ford. These efforts were slowed, however, because rival Muslim leaders rebelled against his growing power. The leaders in the cities of Mosul and Aleppo again challenged his right to rule, and in 1183 Saladin's forces laid siege to, or blockaded, Mosul. Saladin realized that to maintain control of the situation, he would have to leave his base in Egypt. He established his new power center in Damascus. Saladin was also bothered by ill health; in 1185 he nearly died of one such illness, and he never fully recovered his health.

Despite these difficulties, Saladin continued in his quest for jihad, or holy war, against the "infidel" (nonbelievers) Crusaders. (Ironically, the Crusaders also used the term "infidel" when referring to Muslims.) He had established truces with the Crusader states in Palestine, but in his mind there could be no peace until the Europeans were driven out and sent home.

The Breaking Point

Saladin's plans for ridding the Near East of Christian Crusaders were speeded up by the actions of a Frank named Reynaud de Châtillon, whose fortress castle of Kerak (to the southeast of the Dead Sea) controlled the caravan and pilgrimage route between Syria and Egypt. When Châtillon attacked one of Saladin's supply trains and took his sister hostage, the Muslim leader had had enough. He gathered a force of twenty-four thousand cavalry and infantry, as well as numerous other volunteers, and moved toward Tiberias, located on the Sea of Galilee in northern Palestine. Once there, he captured the town and set a trap for the Crusader army that was being assembled by King Guy of Jerusalem, the leader of the Franks. Saladin arrayed, or spread out, his troops in a place called the Horns of Hattin, consisting of several hills near Tiberias, and waited for the Christians. Since he controlled the water supplies, he knew he had the upper hand. The Crusader knights, or professional soldiers, were dressed in armor that was both heavy and hot. Attacked by advance bands of Muslim fighters using bows and arrows, many of these knights lost their horses.

The night of July 3, 1187, the Franks were exhausted and almost out of water. The next morning, with the rising sun to his back, Saladin and his troops attacked and conquered the Crusader army, whose leaders were captured or killed. As he had sworn, Saladin beheaded Châtillon, the knight who had captured his sister. Yet he showed mercy to many others: King Guy was set free after promising that he would not fight again, and some knights were ransomed—that is, they had someone pay for their freedom.

With this victory behind him, nothing stood between Saladin and Jerusalem, the first step in his plan to recapture the Holy Land. This city was sacred (holy) to Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike, and for almost a century the Crusaders had made this the center of their foothold in the Middle East. Pushing them out of Jerusalem would send a message to all Christians that their time was up in what Saladin saw as Arab lands. He attacked the city on September 20, 1187, his troops surrounding the walls. Contemporary accounts of the siege speak of arrows falling like rain on the citizens of Jerusalem. The hospitals of the city were filled with the wounded.

After a week of direct fighting, Saladin moved his camp to the Mount of Olives to find a weaker spot in the city wall to attack. At first the citizens of Jerusalem thought he was leaving the field. However, they were quickly disappointed when he brought in giant catapults (devices for hurling heavy objects) to shower the city with rocks and "Greek fire," a flammable mixture of pitch, naphtha (known in modern times as crude petroleum), quicklime, and charcoal that ignited whatever it struck. Worn out and running low on water, on October 2, 1187, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were finally forced to give up the fight. Saladin set a modest price for the release of the citizens of the city, and orderly evacuations began after the fall of Jerusalem. This was in marked contrast to the behavior of the Christians when they had captured the city back in 1099. Thousands were slaughtered and the streets ran ankle deep in blood. Saladin showed mercy, permitting most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go free and even allowing them to take their possessions with them. Such behavior won him the respect of the defeated Christians. After the fall of Jerusalem, Saladin and his forces took back much of Palestine, leaving only Antioch, Tyre, and Tripoli (the last two in modern-day Lebanon) in Crusader hands.

The Third Crusade

Saladin had partly achieved his goal of getting rid of the Franks. However, King Guy broke his word by assembling an army and attacking the Muslim fortress of Acre on the Mediterranean. At the same time, three Christian kings in Europe reacted strongly to the Muslim victory at Jerusalem. England's king Richard I, the Lionheart; France's king Philip Augustus; and Germany's emperor Frederick Barbarossa all gathered armies and headed for the Holy Land to retake Jerusalem. The army under the command of the German emperor was weakened after its leader drowned while trying to cross a mountain stream on his way to the Crusades, but it carried on under Count Leopold V of Austria. Meanwhile, King Richard I and King Philip took their men across the Mediterranean Sea to the Holy Land. Upon arrival, they joined the other Christian forces already there and laid siege to Acre. Saladin repeatedly tried to lift the blockade but was unsuccessful. In July 1191 Acre fell to the Crusaders.

For Saladin this proved to be a terrible defeat, but soon he was encouraged by conflicts within the Crusader armies. Philip and Richard—friends and rivals since childhood—quarreled, and the French king left the field, sailing for France. Richard I had other problems as well. His brother, Prince John, was conspiring with the French king to grab the English crown in Richard's absence. For fifteen months Saladin and Richard I battled up and down Palestine and Syria. At one point it seemed there would be a peaceful solution, but then Saladin decided Richard's terms were too costly to the Arab cause, and the skirmishes and battles continued.

A mutual respect grew up between the two men. It is reported that Saladin sent his personal physician to the English king after he had suffered an injury during battle; at another time the Muslim leader gave Richard a horse after his own was killed. On September 7, 1191, Richard I and his men defeated Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf, with the Islamic forces losing seven thousand men. However, Saladin was able to keep ahead of the Crusaders on their march to Jerusalem. Although Richard I came within sight of the walls of Jerusalem, Saladin prevented the English king from laying siege to the city by controlling the precious water supplies surrounding it.

Despite another minor victory for Richard I at Jaffa, the two military leaders reached a stalemate, or deadlock, in the Third Crusade, with both finally agreeing to a truce on September 2, 1192. According to the terms of this truce, called the Treaty of Ramlah, Saladin and the Muslims were left in control of Jerusalem, but the Crusaders were allowed to keep some of their holdings along the coast and also were granted the right to visit the city and its shrines as pilgrims, or religious visitors. King Richard I sailed for England the following month. Saladin, exhausted by his labors and battles, returned to Damascus and his family. He did not have much of a chance to enjoy his life away from the battlefield, for late that winter he fell ill with a fever and died on March 4, 1193.

Upon Saladin's death, civil war broke out in his kingdom between his sons and his brother, al-Adil. Al-Adil finally won, and by 1201 he had taken over all of Saladin's former lands. But Saladin was not forgotten. This first Ayyubid sultan was one of the strongest Muslim leaders since Muhammad, uniting the feuding Islamic groups to fight the Christians and returning Jerusalem to the Islamic people. Since then he has remained an inspiration to generations of Arabs who dream of uniting Arabs and Muslims. His tomb in Damascus is a major pilgrimage site for Muslims as well as a tourist attraction. It is not just Arabs who honor his memory; as Newby has written in his biography, Saladin is "Christianity's favorite Muslim." By acting in the chivalrous (honorable and courageous) manner expected of a knight, he won the respect of his enemies and found a place in western literature. In the Divine Comedy the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) honored Saladin by assigning him a place in the afterlife reserved for virtuous pagans, or non-Christians. The Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) also recorded Saladin's adventures in his novel The Talisman. As James Reston Jr. has commented in his Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, Saladin was "a preeminent hero of the Islamic world. ... In the seemingly endless struggle of modern-day Arabs to reassert the essentially Arab nature of Palestine, Saladin lives, vibrantly [excitingly], as a symbol of hope and as the stuff of myth."

For More Information


Ehrenkreutz, Andrew S. Saladin. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1972.

Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades through Arab Eyes. Translated by Jon Rothschild. New York: Schocken Books, 1984.

Newby, P. H. Saladin in His Time. London: Phoenix Press, 2001.

Reston, James Jr. Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in theThird Crusade. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Web Sites

"Saladin (Selahedîn)." Uppsala Universitet. (accessed on July 21, 2004).


views updated Jun 08 2018


Born 1138

Died 1193

Kurdish-Egyptian sultan and warrior

A ssessing the career of Saladin more than eight centuries after his death, French historian René Grousset echoed a sentiment often expressed in Saladin's own lifetime. In Grousset's opinion, the Muslim leader's devotion to God—without the extremism that sometimes goes with such faith—expressed the virtues of generosity and kindness prized by the Europeans who fought against him in the Third Crusade (1189–92).

Thus Saladin won as many admirers among the "Franks," as the Muslims disdainfully called the European invaders, as he did from people on his own side. Indeed, Saladin came much closer to the ideals of knighthood than most crusaders—including Richard I (see entry), with whom he was often associated in later legends.

Arabs, Turks, and Kurds

The center of the Islamic world was and is the Arab lands of the Middle East. Yet when the Western Europeans launched the Crusades (1095–1291), an effort to take control of Palestine from the Muslims, leadership over the region had passed from the Arabs to the Seljuk Turks. By the time of Saladin (SAL-uh-din), however, there was a power vacuum in the Muslim world, and this in part made his rise possible.

Born Salah ud-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, Saladin—the latter is the name by which the crusaders knew him—was neither an Arab nor a Turk, but a Kurd. Ethnically related to Iranians, the Kurds had no national government of their own, but inhabited a region in the area where the borders of modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria join. Saladin himself was born in what is now Iraq, but spent much of his youth in Damascus, Syria.

Meets Nur ad-Din

Damascus was one of the principal culture centers of the Muslim world, and it was there that Saladin's father, Ayyub, served as an official. As a youth, Saladin took advantage of the educational opportunities in the great city, and at one point seemed destined to become a scholar of religion and the law. But he was brought up to be a warrior and a leader, and ultimately events would point him in that direction.

At the age of fourteen, Saladin traveled to Aleppo, a major Syrian city, to live with his uncle, Shirkuh (sheer-KOO). Shirkuh held a senior command under Nur ad-Din (noor ed-DEEN; 1118–1174), sultan or king of Syria, who had played a decisive role in defeating the Europeans in the Second Crusade (1147–49). By the age of eighteen, Saladin was working under Shirkuh, but he soon attracted the notice of Nur ad-Din, who took the young man into his trusted inner circle.

Founds Ayyubid dynasty

From 1164 to 1169, when Saladin was in his mid- to late twenties, Egypt was in a state of civil war. The country had long been ruled by a group called the Fatimids (FAT-uhmidz), but as their dynasty had declined, Muslim leaders such as Nur ad-Din sought to extend their control to Egypt. Saladin accompanied the sultan on the Egyptian campaign, gaining valuable experience there.

In 1171, Saladin led Nur ad-Din's forces to victory in Egypt, abolishing the Fatimids and establishing his own Ayyubid (uh-YÜ-bid) dynasty, named after his father. This put him at odds with Nur ad-Din, and the two might have had a serious clash, but in 1174 Saladin's whole world changed. That year marked the death of three men: Nur ad-Din, Shirkuh, and Amalric (uh-MAL-rik; ruled 1163–74), the king of European-controlled Jerusalem.

Facing Muslim foes

In his latter days, Shirkuh had served as vizier (viz-EER), or administrator, of Syria, and Saladin now took over this important post. This put him in a very powerful position: by conquering the Fatimids, he controlled not only Egypt—one of the key centers of the Islamic world—but Libya and the western and southern portions of the Arabian Peninsula.

His role in Syria was a more touchy matter, since the country remained under the official control of the caliph, or leader of the Arab Muslims, in Iraq. The once-powerful Abbasid (uh-BAHS-id) caliphate, however, was past its prime, and the caliph rightly regarded Saladin as a threat. Because he lacked real control over his declining empire, however, the caliph was forced to recognize Saladin's power in the region.

The caliph was not Saladin's only foe on the Muslim side. A mysterious group had been formed in Iran in 1090, and their name would eventually enter the languages of Europe as a term for a type of terrorist who kills political leaders: the Assassins. Due to disagreements with Saladin's interpretation of the Islamic faith, the Assassins tried on two occasions, in 1174 and 1175, to take his life.

Saladin survived the attacks, however, and went on to further establish his role as leader by marrying Nur ad-Din's widow, Ismat (ees-MAHT). She remained his favorite wife. Returning to Egypt, he enjoyed a short period of peace, in which the Egyptian economy flourished, and he established several Muslim colleges. By 1177, however, he was on the warpath, beginning a series of engagements that would occupy most of his remaining years.

Leaders of the First Crusade

Saladin was undoubtedly one of the most colorful figures of the Crusades, but many of the most significant European leaders were the knights who fought in the First Crusade (1095–99) forty years before his birth. Among these were the Normans Bohemond I (BOH-ay-maw; c. 1050–1111) and his nephew Tancred (c. 1078–1112).

Son of Robert Guiscard (gee-SKARD), who with his brother Roger controlled much of Italy in the eleventh century, Bohemond had first distinguished himself by helping his father take Rome from Emperor Henry IV (see dual entry on Gregory VII and Henry IV) in 1094. Much of what is known about him comes from Anna Comnena (see Historians entry), and it is not a pretty sight: in Anna's estimation, Bohemond was greedy and uncouth, interested in nothing but his own advancement. In 1098 he led the crusaders in the capture of Antioch in Syria, and went on to become its ruler, but in the following year he was captured by the Turks while trying to take another city. Released in 1103, he spent his latter years in an unsuccessful campaign against the Byzantines.

After fighting alongside his uncle at Antioch and other cities, Tancred became leader of a succession of cities in the Holy Land. Like many of the victorious crusaders, he amassed a fortune, and also spent his latter days fighting against his fellow Christians, the Byzantines. Historians of the medieval era often portrayed him as a gallant knight, but the facts do not match this idealized image: Tancred's July 1099 assault on Jerusalem was almost unbelievably brutal. He and his troops slaughtered thousands of Muslims, even going so far as to break into mosques and murder the worshipers there.

Another romanticized figure was Godfrey of Bouillon (boo-YAWn; c. 1060–1100), a French nobleman. In 1099, he gained the title "protector of the Holy Sepulchre" (SEP-ul-kur, the place where Christ had supposedly been laid to rest after his crucifixion), and defended the crusaders' gains against an invading force

from Egypt. It is possible that legends about him—particularly his portrayal as a sincere believer in the stated purpose of the Crusades as a "holy war"—were accurate. In any case, the fact that he was handsome and dashing and died young helped spawn stories about Godfrey as a perfect Christian knight.

Godfrey's brother Baldwin (c. 1058–1118) was certainly not an example of high character. In 1098, he established the first crusader state by double-crossing a fellow Christian, the Armenian prince Thoros, and taking control of his lands. After the death of Godfrey, he set about establishing control over as much of the Holy Land as possible, and this put him into conflict with another Christian, his fellow crusader Tancred. Having earlier married an Armenian princess to secure his control over Thoros's realm, he later left her for a Sicilian countess; but since he had not gotten a divorce from the first wife, his second marriage was annulled, or declared illegal. He died on a raiding expedition into Egypt.

By contrast to most of the knights of the First Crusade, Raymond IV (1042–1105), count of Toulouse (tuh-LOOS) in France, won the admiration of the Byzantines. Anna Comnena wrote that her father, the emperor, even treated Raymond like a son. Raymond also fought against Bohemond, and founded the crusader state of Tripoli in Lebanon.

First moves against the crusaders

A Turkish victory over the Byzantine Empire in 1176 removed a powerful potential adversary from the field, and Saladin resolved that it was time to remove the crusaders—who controlled most of the coastal areas of what is now Israel and Lebanon—for good. After a series of victories, he agreed to a truce with the crusaders in 1179.

No doubt he was hoping to buy time for an even more forceful attack; in 1183, however, Muslim forces in several key Syrian cities revolted against him, and this diverted Saladin's attention for some time. Also, in 1185 he contracted a disease (the nature of the illness is not known) that would continue to weaken him for the rest of his life. Yet in 1187, he scored one of the greatest victories of his career.

Victory at Hittin

The site of the battle was Hittin or Hattin, and the leader of the opposing force was a flamboyant knight named Reynaud de Chatillon (ray-NOH duh SHAH-tee-yawn) who had been attacking Saladin's supply caravans. Reynaud was even threatening the Muslim holy city of Mecca, and Saladin's response was to bring an army of more than twentyfive thousand men to Hittin.

Recognizing that in the dry countryside of the Middle East, control of the water supply was the key to victory, Saladin cut the crusaders off from all sources of water. The parched European force camped on the night of July 3, 1187, and all night long Saladin's troops beat war drums and chanted to frighten their enemies.

At dawn, the crusaders found themselves facing the Muslims in the east, and thus the light of the Sun made it hard to see them; furthermore, its rays beating down on their chain-mail armor only added to the Europeans' heat exhaustion. Saladin dealt the crusaders a devastating defeat, killing many—including Reynaud, who was executed—and capturing many others, who were then sold into slavery.

The Second Crusade begins

Despite his harsh treatment of the Christians at Hittin, Saladin was generally far more humane in his treatment of the enemy than the crusaders themselves were. Stories of his kindness abounded: for instance, when his troops captured a Christian baby, he saw to it that the infant was returned to its mother. He had even been kind to one of the crusaders' leaders, King Guy (GEE) of Jerusalem, who he had allowed to go free after capturing him in battle.

Saladin would live to regret this last decision, when Guy launched a siege, or attack, on a Muslim fortress at Acre (AHK-ruh) in what is now Israel. This would in turn spark the Second Crusade, which brought a whole new set of armies into battle under the command of Richard I and King Philip of France.

The greatest setback of Saladin's career was the surrender of Acre after a two-year siege in July 1191. Richard massacred the city's defenders in retaliation for Hittin, then set his eyes on Jerusalem. The result was a fifteen-month conflict between the two leaders, both legendary figures whose battles would inspire many famous tales.

Fighting Richard

Though Richard never made it to Jerusalem, he gave Saladin fierce competition. Saladin defeated the Christian forces near Arsuf (ar-SOOF) on September 7, 1191, but in the skirmishes that followed, he discovered that few Muslim forces were willing to face the formidable Richard in battle. In the end, he kept Richard away from Jerusalem using the same strategy that had won him victory at Hittin: control of the water supply.

The last battle between Saladin's and Richard's forces occurred at the city of Jaffa in July 1192. Saladin took the city, but Richard swiftly captured it from him, and in the end they signed a truce on September 2. Despite the stories and illustrations depicting the two men in direct combat, Saladin and Richard never met. All of their contact was through Saladin's brother al-Adil (ah-DEEL), who was destined to compete with Saladin's sons to succeed him.

Saladin's last days

Exhausted by war and his illness, Saladin spent his last winter in Damascus. He had not designated a successor, in part because he considered his second son a more capable leader than his eldest, who would normally have taken his place. He died on March 4, 1193, and immediately thereafter, a civil war broke out between the sons and al-Adil, who emerged victorious in 1201.

Buried in Damascus, Saladin was not immediately recognized as a hero in the Muslim world. In part this was because of the caliphs and others jealous of his position, but in time he would gain wide respect in the lands he had defended. Ironically, his greatest admirers in the time immediately following his death were his former enemies in Europe.

So great was the Europeans' respect for their Muslim foe that some of them suspected he was secretly a Christian. Later Dante (see entry), in his Inferno, would picture Saladin spending eternity in a place set aside for godly non-Christians.

For More Information


Grousset, René. The Epic of the Crusades. Translated by Noël Lindsay. New York: Orion Press, 1970.

Kernaghan, Pamela. The Crusades: Cultures in Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Kuskin, Karla. Jerusalem, Shining Still. Illustrations by David Frampton. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Martell, Hazel. The Normans. New York: New Discovery Books, 1992.

Rice, Chris and Melanie Rice. Crusades: The Battle for Jerusalem. New York: DK Publishing, 2000.

Walker, Kathrine Sorley. Saladin: Sultan of the Holy Sword. London: Dobson, 1971.

Web Sites

"The Fall of Jerusalem, 1099." [Online] Available htm (last accessed July 26, 2000).

"First Crusade." [Online] Available (last accessed July 26, 2000).

"A History and Mythos of the Knights Templar—Saladin." [Online] Available (last accessed July 26, 2000).

"ORB—Crusades." ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. [Online] Available (last accessed July 26, 2000).

"Saladin." [Online] Available (last accessed July 26, 2000).


views updated May 18 2018


The European name for alā al-Dīn ibn Ayyūb, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, Kurdish officer, who brought to an end the Fāimid anticaliphate of Cairo, reconquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders, and successfully contained Europe's counteroffensive, the Third Crusade; b. Tikrit, Mesopotamia, 1138; d. Damascus, Syria, March 4, 1193.

He was the son of Ayyūb, a Kurdish vassal of Nūr al-Dīn, the militantly anticrusading Zangid Atabeg of Damascus. alā al-Dīn was sent at the age of 27 with forces to bolster the fading power of the hīi Fatimid regime, threatened by the attacks of Amaury of Jerusalem. By 1171 he was the real master of Egypt, which he returned to orthodox Sunni allegiance under the Abbāsid caliph at Baghdad (see abbĀsids). To the consternation of the Franks, Egypt's wealth and resources were now devoted to the anti-Crusade. When Nūr al-Dīn died in 1174, the Turkish Zangids of Syria were apprehensive of his powerful vassal, and became openly hostile to the upstart Kurd, who soon felt compelled to seize control of Damascus. But since there could be no all-out war against the Crusaders as long as he had to fear the plots of the Zangids of Aleppo and Mosul, from 1179 to 1185 alā al-Dīn was occupied with the unification of Muslim Syria. In this he was careful to secure legality by caliphal investiture and to cancel all taxes not prescribed by Muslim law. He furthered the sunnites by founding religious academies, and he fortified Cairo with its great citadel. In Syria his strict observance of his word and his reckless generosity disarmed his enemies and produced devoted followers. To isolate the Syrian Franks he gave trading concessions to the fleets of the Italian merchant-cities and signed a treaty with Byzantium, hard pressed by the seljuks and increasingly fearful of Crusader greed. At the same time, to gain a free hand in North Syria, he signed and scrupulously observed a truce with the Crusaders, until it was broken in 1187 by the Seigneur of Kerak. He then invaded Palestine where the rashness of Guy of Lusignan, king of Jerusalem and Cyprus, gained alā al-Dīn a decisive victory at the Horns of Hattin, in Galilee. Jerusalem and the cities of the interior soon fell, and the Third Crusade sent from Europe found the Franks blockaded in coastal Tyre, Tripoli, Antioch, and a handful of fortresses.

alā al-Dīn's moral authority over his own people kept his tired feudal armies in the field for three years, and despite intense efforts, the combined forces of England, France, and Germany were unable to break out of the coastal plain. The only real Crusader gain was the capture in 1191 of Syria's best port, the fortified city of Acre, which for the next century was the capital-in-exile of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

While fanatical against Christian political power in Syria, alā al-Dīn behaved honorably to Christians as individuals, this in sad contrast to Crusader behavior. He died shortly after the war, leaving almost no personal possessions. He has been remembered by Muslims as a great hero of their faith and by Christians as a noble and magnanimous enemy. His family, the Ayyubids, confined their wars with Crusaders to self-defense when attacked. They partitioned Syria and Egypt among themselves and ruled there until replaced by the Mamelukes.

Bibliography: h. a. r. gibb, "The Career of Nur-ad-Din," and "The Rise of Saladin, 11691189," The First Hundred Years, ed. m. w. baldwin, v.1 of A History of the Crusades, ed. k. m. setton (Philadelphia 1955). bahĀ ed-dĪn, The Life of Saladin (London 1897). s. lane-poole, Saladin (New York 1898). p. k. hitti, History of Syria, Including Lebanon and Palestine (2d ed. New York 1957). c. cahen, Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. b. lewis et al. (2d ed. Leiden 1954), 1:796807.

[j. a. williams]


views updated May 14 2018


Saladin (1138-1193), a Kurdish ruler of Egypt and Syria, is known in the West for his opposition to the forces of the Third Crusade and for his capture of Jerusalem.

From about 1130 Zengi, the Turkish atabeg (regent) of Mosul and his son, Nur-ad-Din (Nureddin), who succeeded him in 1146, undertook a holy war to unify Syria. Saladin Arabic, Salah-ad-Din Yusuf ibn Aiyub) served with his uncle, Shirkuh, under Nur-ad-Din and was strongly impressed with the need to complete the unity of Islam under orthodox rule.

After several expeditions into Egypt, where the Fatimid dynasty remained the most important of the successor kingdoms established after the fall of the Abbasid empire, Saladin assumed full military power on the death of Shirkuh in 1168. He was successful in repulsing the combined French-Byzantine invasion of Amalric, King of Jerusalem, a victory which opened the way for him to move his armies up into the Transjordan area. The Fatimid caliphate was crushed by 1171, and on the death of Nur-ad-Din 3 years later, Saladin began the conquest of the Frankish lands and of the old Zengid empire. He shortly occupied Damascus and married the widow of Nur-ad-Din. He thus faced increased hostility from two sides: from the Zengid rulers at Mosul, who were in no way enthusiastic about his conception of the jihad, or holy war, and from the Latin forces under Baldwin IV, the Leper King. The complexities of operating on two fronts at the same time were reduced somewhat by diplomatic negotiations with Baldwin and Raymond of Tripoli as well as with the Byzantine emperor and certain of the Italian maritime cities. In the former case the result was essentially negative. A series of provisional treaties served to forestall an attack on the vulnerable western side, for Baldwin proved to be quite capable of containing Saladin, although he was unable to do him any damage. But in the latter case not only were assurances of nonintervention given, but material aid was obtained.

By the end of 1185 Saladin had imposed his authority in northern Syria and Mesopotamia, and he was ready to turn his full attention to the crusading kingdom. After the unfortunate betrayal of a peace treaty by a Western knight, the jihad was declared in the beginning of 1187. Drawing troops from Syria as well as from Egypt, Saladin brought his combined forces to face the Latin army at Hattin near Tiberias in July. The star-crossed monarchy in Jerusalem, born of the antagonisms among the leaders of the First Crusade, was never able to operate from a position of strength, and once again personal jealousies were responsible for the overwhelming defeat by the Moslem forces. Saladin set a trap for the crusaders; they marched into it and were annihilated. By any measure Hattin was a disaster for the West, and in rapid sequence most of the other important towns, Acre, Sidon, Jaffa, Caesarea, Ascalon, fell into Moslem hands. Finally, Jerusalem was occupied on October 2. Further campaigning reduced the extent of Frankish power in Syria to Tyre, Antioch, and Tripoli.

The kings of western Europe responded to the fall of Jerusalem by taking the cross and then by gathering their knights together in the expeditions known to history as the Third Crusade. Their chief victory was the successful siege and relief of Acre, which capitulated in July 1191. King Richard I of England defeated Saladin at Arsuf and then concluded an armistice in the fall of 1192 without having been able to retake Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Richard's presence in the East clearly prevented Saladin from capitalizing fully on his victory at Hattin. After 12 days of illness, Saladin died on March 4, 1193.

Saladin is described in the pages of his biographer, Baha ad-Din, as one who was entirely committed to the justice of the jihad against the unbelievers. Of medium height and gentle manners, courageous, even ruthless, but generous and humane, he was respected by his followers and by his adversaries for the steadfast manner in which he kept his promises. Strong in his faith, he was orthodox to the point of intolerance, as in the summary murder of as-Suhrawardi, a heretical preacher of Aleppo. It should be remembered that it was Saladin who carried on the work of Nur-ad-Din and completed the unity of Islam, although his success did not long survive him.

Further Reading

The fundamental full-length treatment of Saladin is S. Lane-Poole, Saladin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (1898; rev. ed. by H. W. C. Davis, 1926). Other works on him are Charles J. Rosebault, Saladin, Prince of Chivalry (1930), and G. E. T. Slaughter, Saladin, 1138-1193 (1955). An important chapter on his early career by Sir H. A. R. Gibb is in Kenneth M. Setton, A History of the Crusades, vol. 1 (1969). □


views updated Jun 08 2018

Saladin (1138–93) ( Salah ad-din) Muslim general and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. From 1152, he was a soldier and administrator in Egypt. Appointed grand vizier in 1169, he overthrew the Fatimids in 1171, and made himself Sultan of Egypt. After conquering most of Syria, he gathered widespread support for a jihad to drive the Christians from Palestine (1187). He reconquered Jerusalem, provoking the Third Crusade (1189). Saladin's rule restored Egypt as a major power and introduced a period of stability and growth.


views updated May 18 2018

Saladin (1137–93), sultan of Egypt and Syria 1174–93. Saladin invaded the Holy Land and reconquered Jerusalem from the Christians in 1187, but he was defeated by Richard I at Arsuf (1191) and withdrew to Damascus, where he died. He earned a reputation not only for military skill but also for honesty and chivalry.