This is the fifth part of Deadliest Blogger’s politically incorrect look at the Crusades. Considering the sheer volume of material and scope of history involved, this can only be a cursory examination of the Crusades*; with the politically correct blinders removed. In this part we will look at the Battle of Hattin and the Third Crusade.
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. With the death of the last Fatimid Caliph, al-Adid, in 1171 he abolished the Fatimid Caliphate and realigned Egypt’s allegiance with the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate.
After Nur ed-Din’s death in 1174 Saladin warred against other Muslim leaders, conquering Damascus and northern Mesopotamia. By 1176 he had received the submission of the Zengid amirs, marrying Nur ed-Din’s forty-five-year-old widow in the process to consolidate his gains. For the next twelve years he warred intermittently against the Crusader kingdom and his Muslim rivals in Mesopotamia. (See Greatest Commanders of the Middle Ages)
While successful against his Muslim opponents, annexing much of Mesopotamia to the Ayyubid realm, Saladin was frustrated in his early efforts against the Crusader state. He suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Franks under King Baldwin IV (the “Leper”) at the Battle of Montgisard in 1177.
While Saladin was uniting the Muslim lands surrounding the Crusader Kingdom, another player in the game of Syrian power-politics was removed.
Since its inception the Byzantines had interfered with and attempted to gain control of the Crusader Principality of Antioch on the northern border of the Crusader states. Alexios Komnenos had initially aided the First Crusaders in return for oaths that Antioch, when captured, would be returned to Byzantine control. However, during the long and arduous siege of that great fortress city, the emperor had repeatedly failed to provide much-needed supplies to the starving Frankish Crusaders. Considering this little less than treachery on the part of the “Perfidious Greeks”, the city was given over to Bohemond of Taranto to rule as prince when it was captured in 1098 (see Part 3). But the Byzantines never forgot that Antioch had once been the second city of their empire, and were ever conspiring to regain control.
In 1137 the Emperor John II Komnenos brought an army south and, after subduing the Armenians of Cilicia, marched into northern Syria. Here he reasserted Byzantine suzerainty over Antioch, forcing Prince Raymond to accept vassalage. Even the Count of Tripoli, Raymond II, payed homage to the imperial throne. After successfully capturing a number of fortresses from the Muslim emirs of Mesopotamia, he withdrew back into Anatolia.
John’s son and successor, Manuel I, had for a time continued to maintain nominal Byzantine over-lordship. Faced with attack by the redoubtable Imad ad-Din Zengi, Prince Raymond came to Constantinople in 1144 to “bend the knee” to Manuel as he has his father. Manuel gave little material aid to the Second Crusade as it passed through his lands, and in fact the German Crusaders under the Emperor Conrad III believed that Byzantine guides provided by the emperor deliberately led them into an ambush by the Byzantine’s Seljuk allies at Dorylaeum in 1147 in route to the Holy Land. Manuel was spurred to move directly against Antioch in in 1156 when Raynald of Châtillon, destined to be one of the great villains of the subsequent history of the Crusader states, then the new Prince of Antioch, attacked Byzantine Cyprus. Raynald captured the island’s governor, who was an imperial nephew; and after taking rich booty, returned to Antioch.
Manuel arrived so quickly that Raynald, who had acted without the sanction of King Baldwin in Jerusalem, found himself without allies and unable to resist Manuel’s army. His only hope was abject submission. Reynald appeared before the Emperor, dressed in sack-cloth, a rope tied around his neck, as a humble supplicant; and begged for the emperor’s forgiveness. After allowing the prince to stew a bit, Manuel forgave Raynald on condition that Antioch again become a vassal of the Empire.
However, the Byzantine resurgence under the first three Komnenoi emperors came to a halt in 1176 when Manuel led his army into a disastrous ambush at the pass of Myriokephalon. Much of his army was destroyed, including all of his siege train. Though in no way as severe a defeat as Manzikert a century earlier, it spelled the end of Byzantine power in southern Anatolia and beyond; and ended forever any thought of fully expelling the Turks from the region that had once been the heart of the empire.
For the Crusader states it removed a poor friend and potential enemy, ever ready to meddle and seldom prepared to help.
THE HORNS OF HATTIN
After his defeat at Montgisard a ten years truce was arranged between Saladin and the Crusader Kingdom. However, after repeated violations of the peace by the Franks (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, once Prince of Antioch and now Lord of Kerak in Moab), Saladin refused to renew the truce and war commenced. In 1187 the sultan invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem with an army of some 30,000 men (12,000 of which were mixed light and heavy cavalry), an impressive force for its day.
Unfortunately for Crusader fortunes, the Kingdom was at that moment rife with internal strife. Only two years earlier its valiant and wise ruler Baldwin 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).
The Poleins had a keen appreciation that they were very badly outnumbered by the Islamic forces Saladin could bring to bear. The balance of power had shifted against the Kingdom, and a direct confrontation was one they knew they would be hard-pressed to win. Therefore the Poliens were for conciliating the Sultan, and avoiding unnecessary friction. Their faction was led by Raymond III of Tripoli and Balian of Ibelin, Lord of Nablus, whose stepdaughter Isabella was a candidate for the throne.
The “Crusader” faction was championed by the Knights Templars and their bellicose Grand Master, Gerard de Ridefort. They were bolstered by the constant stream of Franks coming to the Holy Land to do their duty to God by killing “the infidel” before returning to Europe. These cared little for the balance of power or truces between Muslim and Frank. This faction supported the claim to the throne of Sybilla, the late king Baldwin’s eldest sister, and her husband Guy of Lusignan. Guy was a new-comer to the kingdom, a charming ne’er-do-well whose chief virtue was good looks and a mild manner. The “Crusader” faction eventually won the day, and Guy was crowned king; much to the disgust of many of the great landed nobles of the kingdom. As a monarch he proved to be irresolute and unwise, and very much under the pernicious influence of both Raynald of Châtillon and Gerard de Ridefort.
In response to Saladin’s invasion of 1187 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  to raise mercenary foot as well. This was a larger force than most armies the Kingdom had fielded previously, capable of meeting Saladin in the field and confident of a qualitative advantage in heavy cavalry, the battle winners of the day. But to raise this force every town and castle in the Kingdom had to be stripped to a mere skeleton garrison.
Saladin struck in the center of the Kingdom, invading the Principality of Galilee (the Kingdom’s and laying siege to the fortified town of Tiberius. The town fell after only six days, though the brave Princess Eschiva and a garrison held the citadel. King Guy was advised by Raynald (seconded by the Grand Master of the Templars, de Ridefort) to march to the town’s relief. But with it being the beginning of July in Palestine, and the route taking them across an arid stretch with few watering points, Raymond III of Tripoli warned Guy against this action.
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 Sepphoris, with Raynald commanding the vanguard. Their advance was soon met with harassment by bands of Turkish horse archers. These 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 the army had reached a safe water source, village of Tur’an some six miles (10 km) from Sepporia. 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 travel during 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 Sepphoris and cutting the Frank’s line of retreat.
Now they were beset 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.
The Franks spent a thirsty night in camp. Saladin, for his part, had water brought to his forces 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 Guy’s army; and the smoke blew into the faces of the already parched Frankish warriors, increasing their misery.
View of the battle pain, looking toward the “Horns of Hattin”.
Despite these difficulties the Franks fought their way to the hills, towards the wells. But panic was beginning to set in. Raymond of Antioch and a handful of other lords cut their way through the surrounding enemies, and with their mounted forces rode to safety. King Guy and the rest attained the hills. But they found themselves swarmed on all sides by Muslim cavalry and foot, and could make no further progress toward the wells and the water they so desperately needed. They took up a defensive position on the hills, and even set up the kings tent.
Three times King Guy led counter-attacks against the surrounding Muslim forces, 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 were taken prisoner. Only Raymond, Joscelin, Balian of the great lords of the Kingdom escaped.
Following the battle, the captive leaders were brought to the Sultan’s tent. While Saladin treated King Guy chivalrously, giving him a goblet of iced water, he executed Raynald of Châtillon, who had raided Muslim pilgrim ships on the Red Sea, with his own sword.
Saladin is often praised by historians for his chivalry, and by the standards of his day he certainly was. But his is hardly the paragon the PC version the Crusades would paint him to be. What followed was akin to what has been seen in Syria and Iraq in the last few years, as he committed an atrocity similar to those being committed by ISIS: 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 (the Christian prisoners), 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 the civilized and reasonable 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 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 of Jerusalem itself.
Nearly a century of Christian control of the Holy Land was over. Saladin might well have conquered it all but for the timely arrival of Crusader forces from Europe, led by Conrad of Montferrat, at the coastal city of Tyre. This harsh but capable commander repelled every attempt by Saladin to capture the city, defeating the Muslim forces at its gates and their ships at its harbor. But for Conrad the remnants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem may have been overrun completely in the year following the Battle of Hattin.
THE THIRD CRUSADE
The disaster shocked the West. According to the chronicler Ernoul, news of the defeat caused Pope Urban III to die of shock. Within two years, a new Crusade was launched to recover the situation. This, the Third Crusade, was grander in the number of Kings and rulers that participated in it than any before or after. It came to be called “The King’s Crusade”.
Leading the Third Crusade were, first-and-foremost, the three most powerful rulers in Europe: The Holy Roman Emperor, the King of France, and perhaps the richest and most powerful monarch in Europe, the Plantagenet King of England.
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 who had led a long and celebrated life. He was the first to set out for the Holy Land in 1189, leading a very large 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. Twenty-five years old at the time of his departure on the Crusade, Philip 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 this 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 by far was 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.)
Seal of Richard I of England
Richard Plantagenet enjoyed the greatest reputation in Christendom as a warrior, and was called “Cœur de Lion“, or Lionheart. As a fighting man he gave pride-of-place only to his own 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.
Entering the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire, the German Crusaders found themselves harrassed by Byzantine light cavalry irregulars. Frederick had sought and obtained passage from the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos. But while the German envoys were still in his court, Angelos entered into a mutual defense treaty with Saladin, committing himself against the Franks and any attempt to attack Saladin in the Holy Land. The German envoys, who included the Bishop of Münster, were imprisoned and Angelos gave their horses and equipment to Saladin’s representative.
This was Greek perfidy at its worst!
Frederick and the German host pressed on, brushing aside the Byzantine forces attempting to stop them; and defeated Isaac’s army at Philippopolis, and took that city. Moving south to Adrianople, the Germans were planning on laying siege to the Byzantine Capital and freeing their envoys when Isaac capitulated, signing an agreement to give safe passage across the Bosporus and supplies for the journey through Anatolia.
Frederick’s host crossed Anatolia, making for the 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.
The Germans had achieved what the Byzantine Komnenoi emperors had never been able to: the capture of the Seljuke capital of Iconium, and the utter defeat of their forces in the open. 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.
This put an end to the very promising German portion of the Crusade. 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 Norman-Sicilian King, William II. The new king, William’s bastard cousin Tancred, had the temerity to throw Joan Plantagenet in prison and seize her considerable dowry and the lands given her by her late husband. By this Tancred earned the wrath of her powerful brother. Richard demanded Joan’s release and the return of every penny of her dowry. When Tancred balked, Richard stormed and captured Messina, after which Tancred released both Joan and her dowry.
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 unity of 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, a member of the former, now deposed imperial dynasty. He had taken control of Cyprus a few years earlier, declaring his independence from Constantinople and the “usurping” Angeloi. An opportunist and adventurer, he had an unsavory reputation as a rapist and “debaucher of innocent women”. This dodgy character now seized both Richard’s treasure and the royal women.
The formidable Kantara Castle, in north Cyprus. It was here that Isaac of Cyprus fled from Richard.
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 fiancee 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, and then set sail for Acre. He arrived ashore on June 8, 1191. He found the siege in disarray, the Crusader army much reduced by sickness and fractured by conflicting political rivalries. Camp-disease had reduced the Frankish numbers, and taken the lives of key figures. The Germans had lost their leader, Frederick of Swabia, Barbarossa’s son. Newly-arrived Leopold Duke of Austria had taken over the Imperial forces, but 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, the hero and lord of Tyre, had first abducted and then married the legitimate heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Isabella. The vacant throne of Jerusalem was now disputed, and the overall leadership of the Frankish forces in doubt.
Meanwhile, 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, the Frankish forces had made little progress in reducing the city.
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.
Though he too took ill, Richard refused to take to his bed, but instead continued to take an active part in directing the siege. 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 the Lionheart 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 center-most and higher than any others. However, as leader of the German forces 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 and 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 coast, 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, Richard kept the army in tight formation. The infantry marched on the landward flank, covering the horsemen and affording them (and their vital destriers) some protection from harassment by the arrows of mounted Turkish raiders. Among the ranks of the footmen were crossbowmen whose shot outdistanced that of the Turkish composite bow; and they were able to keep the horse archers at bay. Within the center of the column were the twelve mounted companies of knights, each 100 men. 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, safe from any attack.
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. Baha ad-Din, a Muslim chronicler of Saladin and eyewitness described the march thus:
“The Muslims were shooting arrows on their (the Crusader’s) 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); as these were both his most disciplined contingents and the most experienced with Turkish tactics. 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”.
Ghulam heavy cavalry
Inevitably, the Hospitaller 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.
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.
Artist Jason Juta captures the moment Richard’s knights charged the over-bold Saracens at Arsuf!
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 achieved, the Crusaders reformed and continued their 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 coastal strip was again 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, as 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 Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known to posterity as Saladin!
Postscript: Site of Arsuf Identified –
- Lane-Pool, Stanley, Saladin: All-Powerful Sultan and Uniter of Islam; New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002, p.372
- Manuel had concluded a 12 year treaty and alliance with the Seljuk sultan of Iconium (“Rum”) just before the arrival of the Second Crusade; causing greater distrust than ever amongst the Franks towards the “perfidious Greeks”.
- The Templars were the only Christian bankers in all of Christendom, and as such became immensely wealthy. This wealth, in time, drew the covetous attention of the King of France, Philip IV; leading to their ultimate demise.
- Brand, Charles M., The Byzantines and Saladin, 1185 – 1192: Opponents of the Third Crusade, 1962; p. 173
- It is notable that throughout the Crusader period the Franks and their allies maintained a nearly undisputed control of the sea.
* For an in-depth history of the Crusades, I recommend the following works:
- God’s War: A New History of the Crusades, by Professor Christopher Tyerman.
- A History of the Crusades (3 Volumes), by Steven Runciman
(For more of Jason Juta’s artwork, visit his site here: http://www.jasonjuta.com/)
Some of the artwork in this article has been reproduced with the permission of Osprey Publishing, and is © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.