Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate spanned Egypt, Syria, the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia), the Hejaz (western Arabia), Yemen, parts of western North Africa, and Nubia .
- Early Life and Rise to Power in Egypt
- Campaigns Against Fellow Muslims
- Defeat of Crusaders and Capture of Jerusalem
- The Third Crusade and Saladin's Death
Saladin was born Yusuf Ibn Ayyub in the central Iraqi city of Tikrit in 1137 or 1138. His family was of Kurdish descent, and his father Ayyub and uncle Shirkuh were elite military leaders under Imad al-Din Zangi, a powerful ruler who governed northern Syria at the time. After growing up in Damascus and rising through the military ranks, the young Saladin joined an army commanded by his uncle Shirkuh, who served Zangi’s son and heir, Nur al-Din, on a military expedition to Egypt. In 1169, after Shirkuh’s death, Saladin was chosen to succeed him in command of Nur al-Din’s forces in Egypt. He was also appointed vizier of the crumbling Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled Egypt at the time. With the death of the last Fatimid caliph in 1171, Saladin became governor of Egypt, and set about reducing the power and influence of Shia Islam and reestablishing a Sunni regimethere. Governing in the name of Nur al-Din, he strengthened Egypt as a base of Sunni power in the Near East.
Nur al-Din died in 1174, and Saladin launched a campaign to take control of the lands he had ruled. He also sought to establish his regime as a major military player capable of challenging the four Western-controlled Crusader states, which had been established after the First Crusade in 1098-99. As sultan of Egypt, Saladin returned to Syria and managed to capture Damascus, Aleppo, and Mosul from other Muslim rulers. Saladin’s forces also conquered Yemen, which enabled him to consolidate control over the entire Red Sea. In addition to his military exploits, he also pursued diplomatic efforts to achieve his goals. He married Nur ad-Din's widow, Ismat, who was also the daughter of the late Damascan ruler Unur, which helped him gain legitimacy through association with two ruling dynasties. Finally, he gained widespread Muslim support by proclaiming himself the leader of a jihad, or holy war, dedicated to defending Islam against Christianity. Saladin’s goal was to unite the Muslim territ...
After nearly a decade of fighting smaller battles against the Franks (as the Crusaders from Western Europe were called), Saladin prepared to launch a full-scale attack in 1187 by assembling troops from across his realm south of Damascus and an impressive Egyptian fleet at Alexandria. His army met the Franks in a massive clash at Hattin, near Tiberias (modern-day Israel) and defeated them soundly on July 4, 1187. Victory in the Battle of Hattin was followed by a string of quick victories across the Kingdom of Jerusalem, culminating on October 2, 1187, when the City of Jerusalem surrendered to Saladin’s army after 88 years under Christian control. Though Saladin had planned to kill all Christians in Jerusalem as revenge for the slaughter of Muslims in 1099, he agreed to let them purchase their freedom instead. By that time, Saladin’s forces had taken control of a number of other important cities from the Crusaders, including Acre, Tiberias, Caesarea, Nazareth and Jaffa. Yet he didn’t...
In the wake of Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem, Pope Gregory III called for a new Crusade to recapture the city. In 1189, Christian forces mobilized at Tyre to launch the Third Crusade, led by three powerful kings: Frederick I “Barbarossa,” the German king and Holy Roman Emperor, King Philip II of France and Richard I “the Lionheart” of England. The Crusaders laid siege to Acre, finally capturing it in 1191 along with a large part of Saladin’s navy. Yet despite the military prowess of the Crusader forces, Saladin withstood their onslaught and managed to retain control over most of his empire. His truce with Richard the Lionheart in late 1192 ended the Third Crusade. Just a few months later, in March 1193, Saladin died in his beloved gardens in Damascus. Though relatively young (just 55 or 56), he was exhausted from a life spent in near continuous military campaigns. By the time of his death, he had given away much of his personal wealth to his subjects, leaving behind not even enough...
Mark Cartwright. Saladin. World History Encyclopedia. Paul E. Walker. Saladin. Encyclopedia Britannica. David Nicolle. Saladin(Bloomsbury, 2011)
Saladin’s reconquest of Jerusalem in 1187 prompted Pope Gregory VIII to organize the Third Crusade. From 1189 to 1192, Saladin lost Acre and Jaffa and was defeated in the field at Arsūf . The Crusaders retreated to Europe without seizing Jerusalem, but Saladin’s military reputation had been damaged.
- History of Saladin
- Saladin in Egypt
- Saladin as The Sultan of Egypt
- Saladin and Zengid Rulers
- Saladin’s Conquest of Syria
- Saladin’s Campaign Against Assassins
- Battles Against Crusaders
- Capture of Jerusalem and Death
Saladin was a close military aid of the Zengid lord Nur-ud-Din. In 1163, he was sent by Nur-ud-Din to assist the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt in quelling unrest. He rapidly scored military successes in Egypt, gaining influence in Fatimid court and become a leading adviser by 1169. In 1171, as the Fatimid emperor al-Adid died, he took over the Egyptian throne. During the next few years, he cemented his hold on the throne by scoring victories on every side. In 1182 Saladin completed the Syrian conquest, wresting away the province from the Zengid rule. He defeated the crusadersin many decisive battles, most eminently in the 1187 Battle of Hattin, and brought back Palestinian territories into Muslim control. By the end of his life, he was effectively the ruler of whole of Egypt and Syria.
Saladin accompanied his uncle Shirkuh to Egypt on the orders of Nur-ud-Din. They were to provide military aid to the Shia caliph in Fatimid Egypt, al-Adid. Although Shirkuh and Saladin scored military victories, Shirkuh died in 1169. Upon his death, al-Adid appointed Saladin as a vizier in his court, giving him a lot of power and authority. At the time of his in-statement, he was supported by the Zengid rulers back in Syria. The same year, he suppressed a major revolt in Cairo successfully. Soon after becoming vizier, Saladin aligned himself with Nur-ud-Din and the Zengid dynasty, effectively undermining the Fatimid rule in Egypt. At the same time, he began what would later become a long series of battles against the Crusaders.
Until the death of al-Adid in 1171, Saladin was officially a part of the Fatimid rule, although essentially serving Nur-ud-Din’s subordinate. However, during his stay in Egypt, he had undermined the might of Fatimid dynastyat one hand and also wrested him free of the influence of Nur-ud-Din at the other. Until the death of al-Adid, Nur-ud-Din had frequently asked Saladin to depose the Shia caliph and restore Egypt to the rule of Abbasid caliphate. Saladin, however, waited until al-Adid’s natural death and then in 1171, proclaimed the Abbasid caliph as the actual caliph in the Friday sermons in Egypt. At the same time, with the end of formal Fatimid rule, Saladin effectively became the ruler of Egypt, bearing the title of the Sultan.
Saladin’s father Ayyoub was raised to high ranks by the Zengid ruler, Nur-ud-Din, who in turn was subordinate to the Abbasid Caliph. When Saladin began expanding his power base in Egypt, far from Nur-ud-Din’s Syrian domains, the Zengid lord became suspicious of his intents. He tried to reign in Saladin numerous times, but Saladin avoided this by refusing to directly meet Nur-ud-Din or leave his power base in Egypt. Later when Nur-ud-Din died in 1174, Syria remained insecure in the hands of his 11 year old son.
In 1174, the emir of Damascus appealed to Saladin to protect his realm against the decrees of the Zengid ruler from Aleppo, who had commissioned another emir to wrest control of Damascus. Saladin moved across the desert with 700 mounted men and reached Damascus in November, effectively taking control of the citadel and the city. Saladin proceeded to conquer Homs and Hama, and in 1175 defeated a huge army of the Zengid dynasty in a decisive battle. Following this victory, Saladin effectively became the Sultan of both Egypt and Syria, his name replacing the name of the Abbasid caliph in Friday sermons. The Abbasid caliph in Baghdad soon accepted Saladin’s position as Sultan.
Assassins were an Ismaili sect with strongholds in al-Nusayriyah Mountains in Syria. In 1175, a group of 13 assassins had made an attempt on Saladin’s life within his camp but were intercepted and killed. Saladin led a campaign against them in 1176 to take over their strongholds. However, the campaign was soon concluded without any notable victory. It is believed that Saladin to an agreement with the leader of the sect who formed an alliance with him, breaking their ties with the Crusaders.
Soon after cementing his position in both Egypt and Syria, Saladin began his long series of battles with the Crusaders, culminating in his control of Jerusalem. The first major battle was fought between Saladin’s forces and the army ofKing Baldwin, in which Saladin’s army won and captured many renowned knights. In 1187, Saladin’s army was pitted against the combined forces of Guy of Lusignan and Raymond III of Tripoli at the Battle of Hattin. In the ensuing battle, Saladin’s army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Crusader forces. Raynald of Chatillon, a menace to the trading caravans near theHoly Land, was executed at Saladin’s orders, although other high-ranking captives were spared. The final battles that Saladin fought in Holy Land were against the army of King Richard. Richard initially defeated Saladin’s army at the Battle of Arsufin 1191 but later had his army demolished by Saladin’s forces. Despite his attempts against Saladin, Richard couldn’t gain control of Jerusalem and...
Following his victory in the Battle of Hattin, Saladin laid siege to Jerusalem. In 1187, the city capitulated and Saladin offered generous terms of peace to the Frankish citizens, allowing most of them to escape unharmed by paying a small amount of ransom. He then allowed a large Jewish settlement near the city to resettle inside the city’s boundaries. The great Muslim leader died of natural causes in 1193 in Damascus, bequeathing most of his wealth to his subjects and his vast realm to his family. Saladin: The Sultan Who Vanquished the Crusaders and Built an Islamic Empire Paperback – November 28, 2017
Historians have often celebrated Saladin as a chivalrous historical figure who was fair in battle - while the pilgrims of the First Crusade carried out mass murder when they took Jerusalem in 1099, Saladin re-took the Holy City in 1187 (following the defeat of the King of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin) he allowed all of its inhabitants to leave safely.
- 4 March 1193
- Sunni Islam
- Early Career
- Unifying The Muslim World
- Battle of Hattin & Jerusalem
- The Third Crusade
- Criticism of Saladin's Strategy
- Death & Legacy
Saladin, whose full name was al-Malik al-Nasir Salah al-Dunya wa'l-Din Abu'l Muzaffar Yusuf Ibn Ayyub Ibn Shadi al-Kurdi, the son of Ayub, a displaced Kurdish mercenary, was born in 1137 in the castle of Takrit north of Baghdad. Saladin would rise through the ranks of the military where he gained a reputation as a skilled horseman and a gifted polo player. He followed his uncle Shirkuh on campaign, who conquered Egypt in 1169. Saladin then took over from his relative as the governor of Egypt for Nur ad-Din (sometimes also given as Nur al-Din), independent governor of Aleppo and Edessa(r. 1146-1174). The historian J. Phillips gives the following succinct description of the young Saladin: When Nur ad-Din died in May 1174 his coalition of Muslim states broke up as his successors battled for supremacy. Saladin claimed that he was the true heir and took Egypt for himself.
Saladin, now the Sultan of Egypt, repeated the feat of Nur ad-Din in Syria when he captured Damascus in 1174. Saladin claimed to be the protector of Sunni Orthodoxy and his removal of the Shiite caliph in Cairo and organisation of his state according to strict Islamic law gave this claim serious weight. Saladin then set about unifying the Muslim world or at least forming some form of a useful coalition - no easy task given the many states, independent cityrulers and differences in religious beliefs of the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Saladin's strategy was a potent mixture of warfare and diplomacy mixed with the idea that he and only he could wage a holy war against the Christian settlers in the Middle East who had formed such Latin states as the Kingdom of Jerusalem. First, though, the military leader had no qualms either about waging war on his Muslim enemies. In 1175, for example, an army from a rival at Aleppo was defeated by him at Hama. Saladin's supremacy amongst the Muslim lead...
The battle of Hattin began on 3 July 1187 when Saladin's mounted archers continuously attacked and retreated, providing a continuous harassment of the marching Franks. As one Muslim historian put it: 'the arrows plunged into them transforming their lions into hedgehogs' (quoted in Phillips, 162). The next day, a more substantial engagement ensued. Saladin was able to field some 20,000 troops at Hattin. The Franks were under the leadership of Guy of Lusignan, king of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (r. 1186-1192) and could field around 15,000 infantry and 1,300 knights. The Franks were outnumbered and seriously short of water, while the Muslim army, with plentiful supplies thanks to their camel trains, set fire to the dry grass and brush to peak the enemy's thirst even further. The Franks' formation broke up with the infantry in disarray and no longer providing the usual protective ring for the heavy cavalry. A cavalry force led by Raymond of Tripoli did break through the Muslim lines but f...
Saladin had long cultivated the idea of a holy war against the Christian armies of the west and he would have to wage it now that he had captured Jerusalem. Pope Gregory III (r. 1187) called for a Third Crusade to recapture Jerusalem and Europe's three most powerful kings responded: Frederick I Barbarossa, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1152-1190), Philip IIof France (r. 1180-1223) and Richard I 'the Lionhearted' of England (r. 1189-1199). Meanwhile, Guy of Lusignan was back on the campaign trail. He had left Tyre with some 7,000 infantry, 400 knights and a small Pisan fleet to begin a siege of Muslim-held Acre in August 1189. It was the beginning of a long and arduous siege and with Saladin's land army besieging the Franks' positions, only the eventual arrival of Philip and Richard's armies swung the balance in favour of the Crusaders. The city was finally captured on 12 July 1191 and with it, significantly, 70 ships, the bulk of Saladin's navy. The Crusader army then m...
Saladin was frequently criticised by rival Muslim leaders for being too cautious when direct attacks on Tyre would have denied the Crusaders a crucial beach-head, and similarly, for not engaging Guy's army before he even reached Acre or the Crusader army on its arrival at the siege. All of these moves might have proved decisive. This was, though, to criticise with the benefit of hindsight and it ignores what were the commonly established rules of warfare of the period in the whole region. Armies of any kind very rarely directly engaged the enemy in open battle. Rather, the control of strategically important castles and ports through siege warfare was the standard practice of the day. The lack of determination to take Tyre, the last Frankish stronghold, is more difficult to defend, except that Saladin may have been wary of the arrival of Frederick I's huge army (which, in the event, never arrived) and preferred to keep faith with his tried and tested method of wearing down the enemy...
Saladin was unable to profit from the Crusader's departure because he died soon after in Damascus on 4 March 1193. He was only 55 or 56 years old and most likely died from the sheer physical toll of decades spent on campaign. The fragile and often volatile Muslim coalition quickly disintegrated once their great leader had died, three of Saladin's sons each took control of Egypt, Damascus and Aleppo respectively while other relations and emirs squabbled for the remainders. Saladin did leave a lasting legacy as he founded the Ayyubid dynasty which ruled until 1250 in Egypt and 1260 in Syria, in both cases to be overthrown by the Mamluks. Saladin also left a legacy in literature, both Muslim and Christian. Indeed, it is somewhat ironic that the Muslim leader became one of the great exemplars of chivalry in 13th century European literature. Much has been written about the sultan during his own lifetime and since, but the fact that an appreciation for his diplomacy and leadership skills...
- Mark Cartwright