(TURKS, CONQUESTS and the CRUSADES – continued)

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Saladin and the Second and Third Crusade

The Near East in 1190

Crusader states are in shades of green. The Sultanate of Rum is Seljuk rule. (Wikipedia Commons. Altered by F. Smitha)

The Second Crusade

In October 1147 the first troops arrived from Europe. The Seljuks destroyed one of the two divisions of troops on October 25 at the Second Battle of Dorylaeum. The defeated were Germans. Their leader the German king, Conrad III, retreated back to Constantinople, his army harassed daily. The other division, led by the king's half-brother, Bishop Otto of Freising, marched southward along the Mediterranean coast and was defeated early in 1148. This was after the Battle of Bosra (90.5 miles northeast of from Jerusalem as the crow flies) where a Crusader force out of Jerusalem, commanded by King Baldwin III, fought an inconclusive running battle with forces led by Nur ad-Din of Aleppo and in an alliance with the governor of Damascus, Mu'in ad-Din. It was a strategic victory for the Muslims.

Meanwhile, a force led by the French king, Louis VII, had arrived and won a battle against the Turks near Ephesus, on the west coast of Asia Minor. From there, marching toward Jerusalem, the king's troops was almost entirely destroyed either by sickness or Seljuk forces. King Louis arrived at Antioch by boat and then went on to Jerusalem and eventually back to France.

Fall of the Fatimid Caliphate and Rise of Saladin

In the 1040s, governors in North Africa had converted to Sunni Islam and declared their independence from the Shia Fatimid caliph. Fatimid territory had shrunk to only Egypt. After the failure of the Second Crusade more than a century later, Nur ad-Din was in control of Damascus and a unified Syria. Eager to expand his power, in 1163 he sent his most trusted general, Shirkuh, on a military expedition to the Nile. With General Shirkuh was his young warrior nephew, Saladin – Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub.

The Fatimid caliphate, including the last caliph, a teenager, al-Adid, had been allied with the Crusaders in Jerusalem for preservation in the face of the aggressions from the Sunni force led by General Shirkuh. Caliph al-Adid suffered a serious illness and died of natural causes in 1171. General Shirkuh had also been ill, and he died of his illness. Saladin replaced General Shirkuh, and owing to the success of his army in Egypt, he became Egypt's new sultan.

Saladin was interested in a Sunni revival in Egypt and in driving the crusaders out of the Middle East. In Damascus, Saladin's boss, lord or whatever, Nur ad-Din, died of fever due to complications from a peritonsillar abscess. Nur ad-Din's eleven-year-old son succeeded Nur ad-Din. Saladin preferred not to honor his obligation to the eleven-year-old. He was on his way to taking power in Damascus, which would put an end to an empire under the Zengid dynasty of which Nur ad-Din had been apart and which had ruled from Syria into Mesopotamia. Saladin embarked on creating an empire of his own.

From Cairo in 1174, Saladin rode across desert with 700 horsemen through what today is Jordan, picking up support along the way from Turks, Kurds, Bedouins and others. On November 23, he arrived in Damascus where he, a Kurd, had grown up. Amid general acclamations he rested at his father's old home there. Four days later he installed himself in the city's citadel castle and received the homage and salutations of Damascus citizens.

Saladin's Gains Power and Moves against Jerusalem

He left his brother Tughtigin as Governor of Damascus, and established control over nearby cities in Syria that had grown in independence. He struggled with Shia, led by Rashid al-Din Sinan, from al-Nusayri Mountains in Northwestern Syria. They wanted him dead.

In 1182, Saladin began his move against the Crusaders. His motives have been described as both his devotion to Islam and as dynastic aggrandizement. On July 4 he decisively defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin (in what today is northeastern Israel) – celebrated by Muslims into the 21st century.

The victory at Hattin was followed by the reconquest of various Crusader towns. He laid siege to Jerusalem and offered it generous terms of surrender, which were rejected. The Crusader nobleman in charge, Balian of Ibelin, threatened to kill his Muslim hostages, estimated at 5000, and to destroy Islam’s holy shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Saladin consulted his council and these terms for surrender were accepted. Every Christian man, woman and child was to pay a ransom for his freedom. On 2 October 1187 he took possession of the city – after 88 years of Christian rule. Saladin allowed many to leave without a ransom consideration, and most Christian foot soldiers were sold into slavery.

With Jerusalem secure, Saladin summoned Jews to resettle in the city, and Jews form the large settlement in Ashkelon responded to his request.

Third Crusade

Disturbed by Saladin having taken back Jerusalem, the West organized another crusade to set things right in the Middle East. King Frederick, 68, was the first to lead a force into Muslim territory. On May 18, 1190, the German army captured Iconium, the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rüm. On June 10 Frederick's horse slipped, Frederick died of a heart attack caused by the shock of the fall. Much of his army returned to Germany and the rest went on to disaster.

The Crusaders at Tyre held out against Muslim assaults, and a French knight, Guy of Lusignan, who had been considered King of Jerusalem, moved to take the city of Acre with a newly arrived French force. During the winter of 1190-91 dysentery and fever claimed the lives of the Crusader forces besieging Acre. England's King Richard I (the Lion-hearted) arrived in June, after a disastrous sea voyage that had significantly reduced his force. Acre was taken by the Crusaders in June. On August 20, after deciding that Saladin was not going to agree to the terms they wanted in a treaty, Richard had 3,000 Muslim prisoners executed. It was in full view of Saladin's camp just outside the city. Richard's move proved unproductive as Saladin retaliated by executing his Christian prisoners of war.

Richard won the Battle of Arsuf (see map) and established his headquarters at Jaffa. The following July, 1192, while Richard was away, Saladin's army attacked and captured Jaffa. Saladin lost control of his army because of their anger over Richard's massacre at Acre. Richard returned by ship and on July 31 recaptured the city. Another battle was fought on August 5, and Richard again was triumphant. On September 2, 1192, Richard and Saladin signed a treaty that left Jerusalem under Muslim control but allowed unarmed Christian pilgrims to visit the city. And Richard started back to Europe on October 9. The Third Crusade was over.

Saladin allowed Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem without official papers. He posted soldiers for their safety. He commanded that every kindness be extended to his guests, and he enjoyed conferring with the bishop and allowed him to visit Bethlehem and Nazareth and to leave behind Latin priests and deacons.

He returned to Damascus in mid-November 1192 and was greeted with jubilation. Crowds followed him through the streets. Poets praised him, calling him the great protector who had spread the wings of justice over all and spoke of his having rained gifts on his people "from the clouds of his munifecence and kindness."

In 1193, at the age of 55, Saladin died of yellow fever. He had given his wealth to charity. He left behind only one gold piece and forty-seven pieces of silver; he had given the rest away to charity.

Tyre remained the major city controlled by the Europeans – until a century later, when he would be taken by Mameluk forces. The Principality of Antioch was also predominantly Christian until the following century. Likewise regarding the County of Tripoli.


Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.