(TURKS, CONQUESTS and the CRUSADES – continued)

home | 6th-15th centuries


previous | next

Saladin and the Second and Third Crusade

The Second Crusade

In October 1147 troops from Europe pushed southeast of Constantinople into Asia Minor. There were Seljuks Turks, their empire having broken up with their Sultanate of Rùm remaining. At the Second Battle of Dorylaeum, about 100 miles southeast of Constantinople, the Seljuks began driving Conrad and his troops back to Constantinople, harassing Conrad's army daily.

Meanwhile, troops led by Conrad's half-brother, Otto of Freising, a bishop, were marching southward along the Mediterranean coast toward Jerusalem. His force was decimated but he made it to Jerusalem and a year later returned to Bavaria.

Another force, led by the French king, Louis VII, arrived and in December 1147 won a minor battle against the Seljuks near Ephesus, on the west coast of Asia Minor. From there, marching toward Jerusalem, the king's troops were almost entirely wiped out by sickness and Seljuk forces. King Louis arrived at Antioch by boat, went on to Jerusalem and eventually back to France.

Fall of the Fatimid Caliphate and Rise of Saladin

After the failure of the Second Crusade, Nur ad-Din, who ruled Seljuk Turks in Damascus and Syria, was 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 Near East in 1190

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

Governors in North Africa had become Sunni and had declared their independence from the Shia caliphate, the Fatimid dynasty, whose rule was reduced to Egypt. The Fatimid caliphate from 1160 at age eleven was al-Adid. His caliphate allied with the Crusaders in Jerusalem in order to protect themselves from the aggressions of a 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. The Fatimid caliphate was no more.

Saladin was interested in a Sunni revival in Egypt and in driving the crusaders out of the Middle East. In Damascus, Saladin's boss, Nur ad-Din, died of fever in May 1174. Nur ad-Din's eleven-year-old son succeeded him. Saladin preferred not to honor his obligation to the eleven-year-old and was on his way to taking power in Damascus and 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. There, amid general acclamations, he rested at his father's home. Four days later he installed himself in the city's citadel castle and received the homage and salutations from the city's citizenry.

Saladin's Gains Power and Moves against Jerusalem

Saladin left his brother Tughtigin as Governor of Damascus. He established control over nearby cities in Syria that had grown in independence. He struggled against Shia led by Rashid al-Din Sinan from the al-Nusayri Mountains in Northwestern Syria.

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 4 July 1887 his force, estimated as 30,000 including 12,000 cavalry, met a Crusader force out of Jerusalem consisting of something like 15,000 infantry and 1,200 knights. This was the Battle of Hattin (in what today is northeastern Israel), won by Saladin and his troops, a victory to be celebrated by Muslims into the 21st century. Saladin ordered some of the captives to be treated humanely. Some of the captives were beheaded, including all 200 of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller military orders, with the exception of the Grand Master of the Temple. Saladin troops took away lower ranking prisoners as slaves.

The victory at Hattin was followed by the reconquest of various Crusader towns. Saladin besieged 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. They offered their own terms of surrender. Saladin consulted his council and their terms were accepted. Every Christian man, woman and child was to pay a ransom for his freedom. On 2 October 1187 Saladin 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 formed the large settlement in Ashkelon responded to his request.

Third Crusade

Disturbed by Saladin having taken back Jerusalem, western Europe organized another crusade. The German Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I, 68, was the first to lead a force into Muslim territory. On May 18, 1190, his army captured Iconium, the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rüm (see map). 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 established 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 1191, after a disastrous sea voyage that had significantly reduced his force. Acre was taken by the Crusaders in June. In July a large fleet of English ships arrived at Acre with reinforcements. 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.

In September 1191, Richard won the Battle of Arsuf (see map) and established his headquarters at Jaffa. In 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. 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 of Jerusalem and allowed him to visit Bethlehem and Nazareth and to leave behind Latin priests and deacons.

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

In 1193, at the age of 55, Saladin died of yellow fever. He had given his wealth to charity, except for one gold piece and forty-seven pieces of silver.

Tyre remained under the control of Europeans – until a century later when it would be taken by Mameluk forces. The Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli remained predominantly Christian.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.