(For Part One, go here)
THE HORNS OF HATTIN
Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known in the West as Saladin, was the most celebrated Islamic ruler and military leader of the Middle Ages. Though a Kurd, he was a client of the Turkish Zengid rulers of northern Mesopotamia. As a lieutenant of the premiere Muslim warrior-prince, Nur ed-Din, he was sent to Fatimid Egypt; where he made a name for himself as a commander against the Crusader state. After Nur ed-Din’s death, Saladin warred against other Muslim leaders, conquering Damascus and northern Mesopotamia. By 1176 he had received the submission of the Zengids, and for the next twelve years, he warred intermittently against the Crusader kingdom and his Muslim rivals in Mesopotamia. While successful against his Muslim opponents, annexing much of Mesopotamia to the Ayyubid realm, he was frustrated by the Crusaders; his army routed by King Baldwin IV at the Battle of Montgisard in 1177. (See Greatest Commanders of the Middle Ages)
A ten years truce was arranged between Saladin and the Crusader Kingdom. However, after violations of the peace (the most egregious being seaborne raids in the Red Sea against ships carrying Muslim pilgrims, and an aborted plan to raid Mecca by Raynald de Châtillon, Lord of Kerak in Moab), Saladin refused to renew the truce and war commenced. In 1187, Saladin invaded the Kingdom with a huge army (for the day), some 30,000 men (12,000 of which were mixed light and heavy cavalry).
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was at that moment a kingdom rife with internal strife. Only two years earlier its valiant and wise ruler, Baldwin IV (“The Leper”), had at last succumbed to his terrible affliction. The kingdom was convulsed in dynastic struggle for the next year; the fault line being the division between the more ardent new-arriving “Crusaders”, who wanted holy war against the Muslims, and the Poleins (the land-owning European lords born in the Levant, sons and grandsons of the original conquerors). These latter understood the political situation much better than the ever-changing surges of new-comers, Crusaders who came to the Holy Land to do their duty, killing “the infidel” before returning to Europe. The Poliens understood that they were very badly outnumbered by the forces Saladin commanded; and that an accord needed to be reached that avoided war. The Poliens were led by Raymond III of Tripoli, and Balian of Ibelin, Lord of Nablus; while the Crusader faction was championed by the Knights Templars and their bellicose Grand Master, Gerard of Ridefort. These latter supported the dead king’s sister, Sybilla and her husband, Guy of Lusignan as candidates for the throne; and Guy was eventually crowned king, much to the disgust of many of the great nobles of the kingdom.
Guy was a new-comer to the kingdom, a charming ne’er-do-well whose chief virtue was good looks and a mild manner. As a ruler he proved to be irresolute and unwise, and very much under the pernicious influence of both Raynald of Châtillon and Gerard of Ridefort.
In response to Saladin’s invasion, however, the feuding factions put aside their differences and answered the kings’ summons to muster. The army numbered some 20,000 men, including 1,200 knights from Jerusalem and Tripoli and 50 from Antioch. The Templars used money in their keeping (the Templars were the only Christian bankers in Christendom) to raise mercenary foot as well. This was a larger force than most armies the Kingdom had fielded previously; but even so, Guy’s army was still outnumbered by half-again as many men as Saladin had at his side.
Saladin struck in the center of the Kingdom, invading the Galilee region and laying siege to the fortified town of Tiberius. The town fell after only six days; though the brave Countess Eschiva and a garrison held the citadel. King Guy was advised by Raynald to march against the town and relieve the siege immediately. It being the beginning of July in Palestine, and the route taking them across an arid, waterless plain, the King was advised against this course of action by his vassal and ally, Raymond III of Tripoli.
Taking the ill-advice of his supporters, on July 3rd King Guy led the army of the Kingdom towards Tiberius, some 15 miles from their assembly place at Sephoria. Raynald commanding the vanguard. Their advance was met with harassment by Turkish horse archers, who were little threat to the knights in their mail; but could wound or kill their horses. Their presence also made scouting difficult, and straggling suicidal.
By noon they had reached a safe water source, village of Tur’an some six miles (10 km) from Sephoria. With still 9 miles to travel (a Frankish army in Palestine under harassment could take all day to travel a mere 8 miles, if past experience was any example) the prudent thing would have been to make camp here, at a secure water source; and set out at first light (or even traveled in the cool of the night). But for reasons unknown, the foolish Guy chose to push on toward Tiberius; the heat of the Palestine summer scorching the ever-more weary troops and horses. Saladin would later write, “Satan incited Guy to do what ran counter to his purpose.”
As the Crusader army marched east towards Tiberius, Saladin’s main force came-up from the southeast. A wing of his army cut behind Guy’s column, capturing the well at Sephoria and cutting the Frank’s line of retreat. Now they were best from all sides.
Realizing, belatedly, that they would not make Tiberius without first defeating Saladin’s army; and lack of water now becoming a greater threat than Turkish arrows, the army turned north towards the hills of Hattin, where the nearest water source could be found. Between them and their destination was a ridge, crowned by two peaks called “The Horns of Hattin” (or Satan).
But as they slogged across the arid plain, the rearguard (commanded by Balian of Ibelin and Joscelin III Count of Edessa, the Queen’s stepfather) was assailed and forced to halt. The army had to stop or abandon the rearguard to their fate. Guy decided to make camp in the plain, and attempt to continue the advance toward the springs at Hattin on the following day.
That night the weary Franks spent a thirsty night in camp. Saladin, for his part, had water brought by camel from the nearby Sea of Galilee; as well as fresh supplies of arrows for his Turkish archers.
At first light, the Franks broke camp. They found themselves subjected to an arrow storm, from all sides, by Turkish horse archers and Nubian and Syrian foot archers. To make matters even worse Saladin set fire to the tall grass on the plane, upwind of the Crusader army; and the smoke blew into the faces of the already parched Frankish warriors.
Despite the odds, the Franks fought their way to the hills, towards the wells. Raymond of Antioch and a handful of other lords cut their way through the surround enemies, and with their mounted forces rode to safety. King Guy and the rest attained the hills, and even set up the kings tent. But they found themselves swarmed on all sides by Muslim cavalry and foot.
Three times King Guy led counter-attacks; each time nearly cutting through to Saladin himself. In the end, though, the king’s tent was captured, along with the standard of the Kingdom of Jerusalem: the True Cross upon which Christ was (supposedly) crucified, mounted on a cart. King Guy and many of the top nobles of the Kingdom. Only Raymond, Joscelin, Balian of the great lords of the Kingdom escaped. The rest were killed or captured.
The captive leaders were brought to the Sultan’s tent. While Saladin treated King Guy chivalrously, giving him goblet of iced water; he executed Raynald of Châtillon with his own sword.
Though Saladin is often praised by historians for his chivalry, what followed was akin to what is seen in Iraq, as he committed an atrocity similar to those being committed by ISIS today: He ordered the execution by beheading of all 200 captured members of the Military Orders.
Saladin’s own secretary, Imad ed-Din, recorded the scene:
“Saladin ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics. Each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais, the unbelievers showed black despair”
Hardly the politically correct version of Saladin: his “face joyful” as his “scholars” butcher defenseless Christian prisoners of war.
King Guy was taken to Damascus as a prisoner and along with the other noble captives were eventually ransomed. The common soldiers were sold into slavery.
THE THIRD CRUSADE
The army defeated at Hattin represented the complete military muster of the Kingdom. All but skeletal garrisons had been stripped from the fortresses and towns. After his victory, Saladin was able to sweep through the Kingdom, capturing everything south of the Lebanon Mountains; including, ultimately, the Holy City itself: Jerusalem.
Nearly a century of Christian control of the Holy Land was over.
Only the costal city of Tyre was saved by the timely arrival of Crusader forces from Europe.
The response to the collapse of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was profound. Within two years, a grand Crusade was launched to recover the situation. This Crusade, the Third, was grander in the number of Kings and rulers that participated in it, than any before or after.
Leading the Third Crusade were, first-and-foremost, the three most powerful rulers in Europe.
Frederick Barbarossa was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In order of precedence, he was the premiere ruler in the West. He owed fealty to none, and only the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Emperor could be considered his equal. Frederick was a veteran campaigner, and had led a long and celebrated life. He was the first to set out for the Holy Land, in 1189, leading a huge muster of German warriors. It was stated by chroniclers of the day to be as high as 100,000 men, with 20,000 of these being knights; though the number given of knights is more likely to be that of the total.
Second in precedence to Barbarossa was the King of France, Philip II Augustus. 25 years old at the time of his departure on the Crusade, he was eager to erase the ignominy of his father, Louis the Pious’ failure in the Second Crusade. Philip was less a warrior and more a careful planner. His life is one long, step-by-well-laid-step effort to increase royal authority and recover lost lands.
However, the force he led on Crusade was very modest in size, though elite in make-up: a mere 650 knights and twice the number of squires. This miserly force can be explained by the fact that at this stage of French nationalism, the various territories of France were controlled by great landed magnates, Philip’s vassals. The land actually under the direct control of the King of France was only the area immediately surrounding Paris (called, appropriately enough, Île-de-France ). The force taken on Crusade by Philip likely represented his personal “Mesnie” (military household) and those who held land within the Isle de France.
The greatest of Philip’s vassals was by far Richard Plantagenet. As King of England, Richard was both Philip’s equal and his rival. But as heir of his father Henry II‘s vast French territorial empire, he was the greatest land owner in Europe. Most of these lands were in France, where Richard owed fealty to Philip. In Normandy, Gascony, and Aquitaine, Richard was Duke; in Anjou, Angers, and Maine he was Count; and in Brittany he was overlord. (Richard was also ruler of much of Ireland and Wales.)
Richard Plantagenet enjoyed the greatest reputation in Christendom as a warrior, and was called “Cœur de Lion“, or Lionheart. As a warrior, he gave pride-of-place only to his great vassal, William Marshal (perhaps the greatest knight ever to live).
Richard brought on Crusade a much larger force than Philip, some 8,000 men. It gives us a glimpse of how poorly developed were the economics of the age that Richard, though one of the greatest landowners and overlords in all Europe, had to extort the richest men in his kingdom (including but not limited to the Jews of England) and nearly mortgage his holdings to finance this fairly modest army.
Barbarossa’s army advanced overland, while both the kings and lesser magnates traveled by sea. When the Emperor’s army reached Hungary, Frederick was joined by 2,000 Hungarians led by Prince Géza. All seemed propitious.
The German host crossed Anatolia, making for the city of Iconium (modern Konya), capital of the Seljuk Turkish Sultanate of Rum. There they were met by a Seljuk army, led by Qutb al-Din. Barbarossa split his army, with half under his son, Duke Frederick of Swabia, attacking the lightly defended walls; while the 68 year old Emperor personally directed the battle on the plain against the swarming Turks.
The town fell after a short effort; but the battle was hard fought. At one point Frederick rallied his flagging troops by crying, “But why do we tarry, of what are we afraid? Christ reigns. Christ conquers. Christ commands“. The Germans redoubled their efforts, and the Turks at last broke and fled.
News of Barbarossa’s success so alarmed Saladin that he began dismantling the walls of Syrian towns along the German’s expected path; to keep the enemy from garrisoning them in their wake.
But at the River Saleph in Cilicia, disaster occurred. Impatient at the slow pace his army was making crossing the river’s single bridge, the old warrior dismounted and attempted to walk his horse across the river. However, the current proved deceptively stronger than Barbarossa expected; too much for both the horse and the heavily mailed Emperor. Both were swept away, and Frederick was dragged down by the weight of his armor.
Grieving over their dead Emperor, most of the German troops returned home. A much reduced contingent of 5,000 continued on to Antioch, under Barbarossa’s son, Frederick of Swabia.
RICHARD AND PHILIP
In July 1190, Richard Plantagenet and Philip Capet sailed together from the port of Marseille with their respective armies. The armada stopped in Sicily, where Richard’s sister, Joan, had been married to the late King, William II. The new king, Tancred, had imprisoned Joan; earning Tancred the wrath of her powerful brother. Richard stormed and captured Messina; and Joan was quickly released by her captors.
While wintering in Sicily, Richard surprised everyone by announcing his engagement to a Spanish princess, Berengaria of Navarre. In so doing, he repudiated his long-standing betrothal to Philip’s sister, Alys (who had spent much of the betrothal as his father, Henry II’s, mistress.) This caused a rift to develop between the two kings that would ultimately undermine the Third Crusade.
Philip left Richard and departed Sicily in March of 1091, arriving in May at Christian-held Tyre in the Holy Land; where the Crusader army was assembling. Philip and his army moved on to Acre, held by Saladin’s forces, now besieged by the growing Crusader army and the remnants of the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, commanded by King Guy.
Richard departed Sicily a month later, conveyed by an armada of 100 ships, carrying some 8,000 troops. However, along the way a storm caused a portion of his fleet to run aground on Cyprus. Those ships contained not only Richard’s treasury, but his wife and sister!
The island was held by a violent and hot-tempered Byzantine prince, Isaac Dukas Comnenus. He had taken control of Cyprus a few years earlier, declaring his independence from Constantinople. An opportunist and adventurer, he had an unsavory reputation as a rapist and “debaucher of innocent women”. This character now seized both Richard’s treasure and the royal women.
Landing in Cyprus with the bulk of his forces, Richard responded in typical fashion: he conquered the Island! Both his treasure, and his sister and fiancé were returned unspoiled. According to tradition, Isaac surrendered to Richard on promise he would not be clapped in irons. Richard honored this promise by imprisoning Isaac in chains made of silver!
Richard married Berengaria while in Cyprus; then set sail for Acre. He arrived ashore on June 8, 1191. He found the siege in disarray, the Crusader army much reduced by disease and fractured by conflicting political rivalries. Saladin and his army had occupied the area outside the Crusader camp, hemming them in and cutting off forage. The besieging army, which had been there since August of 1189, found itself under siege. Several attacks upon the Crusader camp by Saladin had depleted Christian forces. Subjected to constant harassment and threat of annihilation, King Guy’s forces had made little progress in reducing the city.
Camp-disease had further reduced the Crusader forces. The German forces had lost their leader, Henry of Swabia, Barbarossa’s son. Newly-arrived Leopold Duke of Austria had taken over the Imperial forces; but he was a man of little military ability. King Guy’s leadership and legitimacy had been recently undermined by the loss of his wife, Queen Sibylla, who too had died of whatever sickness was sweeping though the Crusader camp (most likely a dysentery, caused by lack of proper sanitation). His rival, Conrad of Montferrat, lord of Tyre, had first abducted and then married the legitimate heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The vacant throne of Jerusalem was now disputed, and the overall leadership of the Crusade in doubt.
Unable to get the leaders to agree upon any course of action, the fiery Richard shrugged off all objections and immediately took command of the Crusader army. He began constructing siege engines and towers to bombard and assault the city’s walls.
Richard, though ill, took an active part in attacking the city. When able to stand, he personally supervised the bombardment and helped repel counter-attacks by the garrison. When too sick to stand, he was carried about in a liter, from which he used a crossbow to pick-off defenders on the battlements! Well or ill, Richard was the consummate Medieval warrior!
Acre lay on a peninsula in the Gulf of Haifa, approachable mainly from the north. This approach was warded by a double barrier of walls supported by towers. Attacking it was no easy matter. Despite this, rapid progress was made, and the walls were breached. The garrison appealed to Saladin, hovering with his army in the surrounding hills, to attack the Crusader camp and break the siege. But Saladin realized the Frankish camp and siege lines were too well defended. On July 12th, 1191, the long siege ended and Acre surrendered.
It would remain in Christian hands for another century, becoming the new capital of the Crusader kingdom.
There now followed two ugly incidents that were to mar the Third Crusade; one of which would ultimately have dire consequences for Richard the Lionhearted.
At the city’s surrender, the Crusader leaders planted their banners atop the battlements. Richard and Philip, as kings of England and France, placed theirs centermost and higher than any others. However, as leader of the German forces (after the death of Frederick of Silesia of illness in January), Duke Leopold of Austria felt his banner should be placed on an equal footing with Richard’s and Philip’s.
Richard did not agree. Considering Leopold’s actions presumptuous of a mere Duke, he had the Austrian banner cut down and thrown into the city’s moat. This insult would not be forgotten, though Leopold had to bide his time to avenge it. In the meantime, he left the Holy Land and returned to Austria in a fury.
The other incident occurred after a month of haggling between Richard and Saladin over the exchange of prisoners. As negotiations dragged on, a frustrated Richard finally ordered the execution of the 2,700 prisoners. A furious Saladin responded in kind, executing the Christian prisoners in his keeping.
After the city fell, Philip also departed the Crusade and returned to France. Partially his motives were to settle a dynastic dispute concerning one of his most powerful magnates. But he was also deeply angry with Richard over the English king’s high-handedness. Once back in France, he would conspire with Richard’s unscrupulous younger brother, John, to undermine Richard’s throne.
Numerous skirmishes took place outside of Acre in the weeks after the city’s capture. In many of these, Richard performed deeds that left a deep impression on the minds of his Saracen foes. In one such fight, Richard was engaged by a mighty champion of Saladin’s personal guards. Wielding a 5′ long Danish battle axe (his favorite weapon), the Lionheart allegedly cleaved the Saracen champion from shoulder down through to his pelvis; burying the axe in the cantle of the victims saddle!
THE BATTLE OF ARSUF
In August 1191, Richard began his march south along the coast. Mindful of the deleterious effect the Palestinian heat had on European troops in their heavy mail armor, Richard kept close to the sea; where the breezes brought some relief from the oppressive heat, and the right flank of the column was protected by the sea. The Christian fleet sailed down the coast in close support, a source of supplies and a refuge for the sick and wounded.
Richard had given careful attention to the disposition of the marching column. Aware of the ever-present danger of Saladin’s army mirroring their march in the hills overlooking the coast, he kept the army in tight formation. The infantry marched on the landward flank, covering the horsemen and affording them (and their vital chargers) some protection from harassment by the missiles of mounted Turkish raiders. The outermost ranks of the footmen were composed of crossbowmen, whose shot outdistanced that of the Turkish composite bow. Kept within the center of the column were the twelve mounted regiments of knights, each 100 men strong. These were a powerful weapon, but whose charge could only be unleashed once. As such, Richard gave strict orders that none were to leave the safety of the column and engage enemy raiders without his direct command!
On the seaward side was the baggage train and the non-combatants.
As the Crusader army pushed south, Saladin watched from the hills and waited his opportunity to catch the column in disarray. However, despite the nagging harassment of Saladin’s Turkish light horsemen, the column proceeded steadily south in tight order. A Muslim chronicler and eyewitness described the march thus:
“The Muslims were shooting arrows on their (the Crusaders) flanks, trying to incite them to break ranks, while they controlled themselves and covered the route… traveling very steadily as their ships moved along the sea opposite them, until they completed each stage and camped.”
The same chronicler noted that in the daily exchange of archery, the lighter Turkish arrows had little effect upon the mailed Christian knights; with “one to ten arrows sticking from their armored backs, marching along with no apparent hurt”. Meanwhile, the Crusader’s crossbows struck down both horse and man amongst the Muslims.
Finally, at dawn on September 7, 1091, Saladin launched an all out attack with his entire army upon Richard’s column. The place he chose for this was the “Wood of Arsuf” (also called Arsouf), where a forest came down close to the coastal road. From the concealing woods, Saladin’s forces fell upon the marching Crusader army.
The presence of numerous Turkish scouts as the army broke camp and began its march warned Richard that an attack might be imminent. In preparation, he placed the military orders, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitallers, at the head and rear of the column (respectively). Richard and picked officers rode up and down the column, ensuring that the ranks remained firm and none left their station.
As the attack developed, the column found itself assailed from the landward side by Egyptian, Bedouin, and Turkish skirmishers. Arrows and javelins fell like rain upon the Christian soldiers. When this harassment failed to disorganize the marching column, or induce the mounted knights to charge out where they could be isolated, Saladin switched tactics and personally led an attack by his right wing upon the rear of the column.
Here the Hospitallers found themselves attacked at close quarters, in flank and rear; by mounted Ghulams (elite guards) of Saladin’s own Household. The Order infantry had to lock shields and march backward, the Hospitaller crossbowmen having to load and fire walking backwards. It was Saladin’s hope that he could thus slow and detach the rearguard from the Crusader mainbody; and to then defeat it “in detail”.
Inevitably, the rearguard began to loose cohesion. As gaps opened, Saladin’s armored Ghulams drove in with sword and mace, inflicting casualties and widening these gaps in the formation. In despair that the entire formation might collapse, the Grand Master of the Hospitallers personally led a counter charge by his mounted knights.
Dismounted Turkish Warrior
Seeing the Hospitallers thus committed, Richard ordered the trumpets to sound the charge. From the rear (where the Hospitallers were already charging) to the front of the column, the various mounted contingents charged in turn; the infantrymen opening ranks to let them pass through.
Richard’s timing proved fortuitous. The Saracen’s horses were beginning to tire, and especially on their right, where they were in close contact with the Hospitallers, the lighter Muslim horse and foot had drawn too close to the Crusader column to avoid the crushing charge of the Frankish knights. As a result, many were rode down; and the rest were quickly put to rout.
Saladin’s army was broken, and lost some 7,000 dead (as opposed to only some 700 Crusaders), including the Sultan’s own nephew, who had commanded Saladin’s picked Ghulams. It was a crushing defeat, though Saladin was able to quickly rally the survivors.
Richard kept his army in hand, not allowing the knights and mounted sergeants to pursue. Victory in hand, the Crusader army reformed and continued its march towards Jerusalem.
Despite the victory at Arsuf, Richard found the road to Jerusalem still blocked. Day-by-day, his forces grew weaker due to sickness and exhaustion. Continuing down the coast, Richard captured Ascalon. Now the whole of the costal strip was in Christian hands. However, the Crusaders lacked the strength to push inland and take Jerusalem.
Through 1192, Richard negotiated with Saladin. Both sides were eager to end the war and normalize their relationship. Richard, in particular, wanted to end his sojourn in the Holy Land; and word had reached him of his brother John’s intrigues back home. He risked loosing his throne the longer he stayed away.
Finally, in September 1192, a treaty was signed ending the Third Crusade. While Saladin would hold onto Jerusalem, the Crusader Kingdom would be left in peace with what it now held. Additionally, the Holy City would be open to Christian pilgrims to visit the shrines of their religion unmolested.
It was an imperfect end to the Crusade, and many in Europe were disappointed that the “King’s Crusade” had failed to recapture Jerusalem. The Muslims were equally unhappy with the treaty, and even Saladin had misgivings. Saladin’s servant and biographer, Baha al-Din, recounted Saladin’s distress at the successes of the Crusaders:
‘I fear to make peace, not knowing what may become of me. Our enemy will grow strong, now that they have retained these lands. They will come forth to recover the rest of their lands and you will see every one of them ensconced on his hill-top’, (meaning in his castle) ‘having announced, “I shall stay put” and the Muslims will be ruined.’ These were his words and it came about as he said.
Richard sold Cyprus to Guy of Lusignan, the former King of Jerusalem; leaving his own nephew, Henry Count of Champagne as the new king (Henry had recently married the heiress, Queen Isabella; whose husband Conrad had been assassinated by the “Hashishins“). He then left the Holy Land and sailed for home.
In league with John to steal Richard’s throne, Philip of France had closed all French ports to Richard. The king therefore sailed up the Adriatic and traveled from Venice north through Austria; intending to travel incognito through the lands of the Empire. However, near Vienna he was arrested and imprisoned by his enemy, Leopold; the slight of cutting down the Austrian Duke’s banner at Acre now coming back to haunt the English king.
Richard would languish in Austrian confinement till 1194; after which he turned his brother out and regained his throne.
Saladin died shortly after Richard, on March 4, 1193 departed the Holy Land, in Damascus, struck down by a fever. His son and successor kept the peace Saladin and Richard had made.
The Third Crusade had been a qualified success. While failing to fully restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem, it had left the Crusaders strong enclaves along the coast; from which they would, in future years, attempt to maintain an independent Christian state in the Holy land. More Crusades would be launched to aid in this endeavor, but none would be as celebrated in memory or in popular culture as this, the “King’s Crusade”; or its heroic and legendary leaders: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin!
Effigy of Richard