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Salahuddin Ayyubi (Saladin)
Salahuddin Ayyubi, popularly known in the West as Saladin, was a courageous and brilliant Muslim leader during the 12th century. His firm foundation in the religion and its prime values, leading to his commitment to the Islamic cause, enabled him to accomplish great things.
His Ayyubid Empire united Egypt and Syria. Above all, he played an instrumental role in turning the tide against the Crusaders by successfully reclaiming Jerusalem and earned a name for himself in the annals of both Muslim and Western history.
Saladin was born in 1137 AD in Tikrit, Iraq, and studied the Quran and theology along with astronomy, mathematics, and law. He joined the military as a young man and was ably trained by his uncle Asad-al-Din Shirkoh, a commander of the Zengid Dynasty. Saladin’s impressive performance in his early battles enabled him to take on leading responsibilities during military campaigns.
His rise from a soldier to the King of Egypt and Syria was the result of both cleverly executed tactics and advantageous circumstances. He held key posts in Egypt, enabling him to consolidate power and overthrow the Fatimids. Syria, at the time, was ruled by the Zengids; when the Zengid ruler unexpectedly died, leaving an underage successor, the road was eventually cleared for Saladin to capture Syria. During his reign, Saladin built many schools, hospitals, and institutions in his quest for intellectual and civic achievements. He was also determined to bring justice, peace, and prosperity to those within his domain.
Salahuddin is best known for repelling the Crusaders and reconquering Jerusalem. He defeated and decimated large numbers of the Crusaders in the decisive Battle of Hattin in July, 1187. On his way to Jerusalem, Saladin conquered almost every Crusader city. After a siege, Jerusalem was handed over to him in October of the same year. Subsequent efforts by the Crusaders to win back Jerusalem were resisted until they finally gave up and retreated homewards.
Although one would expect Saladin to be hated among the Crusader nations, he became one of the most esteemed Muslim figures of the medieval Islamic world because of the generosity he displayed towards the Christians despite the brutality Muslims had endured at the hands of the Crusaders. When the Christians had overtaken Jerusalem during the very first Crusade, they carried out mass atrocities and killings, creating a bloodbath in which the Muslim residents were the most prominent targets, as graphically documented in the PBS series Islam: Empire of Faith. In the words of the chronicler of Crusades, Raymond of Agiles, the massacre was so extensive that the Crusaders “rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.”
When Saladin retook Jerusalem, the Christians waited for a similar onslaught. However, Salahuddin not only spared the Christians but treated them honorably, allowing those who wished to leave to do so in peace, and for those who wished to stay to do so in harmony. Truly, he was a living example of the tolerant, progressive, and inclusive faith which was so dear to his heart. By showing restraint and peaceful treatment, Salahuddin was upholding the central tenets of Islam such as freedom of religion and protection of non-Muslims.
Moreover, his chivalrous conduct toward King Richard I, and the mutual respect which ensued despite their warring roles, won him further accolades in quarters that could not bring themselves to despise him. “When Richard falls sick at the siege of Acre in 1192, Saladin not only sends his personal physician Maimonides over to treat him, he sends ice to help him fight the fevers and certain healing fruits. When Richard’s horse is killed during battle, and the English king finds himself on foot facing the entire Muslim army, the Muslims let him walk by their entire phalanx without attacking. Later, Saladin sends him two fresh mounts so he will not be at a disadvantage,” wrote Michael Hamilton Morgan in Lost History.
According to the French historian, Rene Grousset, “It is equally true that [Saladin’s] generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy, which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam.”
Salahuddin Ayyubi died in 1193 AD at the age of 56. Although he was at the helm of a vast empire stretching from Egypt to Syria, he himself owned very little. At the time of his death, his property and assets included a horse and money which was not sufficient even to bury him. He had devoted his entire life to the service of Islam and his subjects, avoiding the pomp and splendor which often distract rulers. Indeed, he was the epitome of a true hero and a devoted Muslim.
|Sultan of Egypt and Sham|
Saladin as depicted on a Dirham coin, ca. 1190
|Full name||Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb|
|Born||Muslim year 532 1138|
|Died||4 March 1193 (aged 55)|
|Place of death||Damascus, Syria|
|Buried||Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria|
|Predecessor||Nur ad-Din Zangi|
Al-Aziz Uthman (Egypt)
|Consort||Ismat ad-Din Khatun|
|Father||Najm ad-Dīn Ayyūb|
Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (Arabic: صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب; Kurdish: سهلاحهدین ئهیوبی , Selahedînê Eyûbî; Persian: صلاح الدين أيوبی; Turkish: Selahattin Eyyubi) (1137/1138 – March 4, 1193), better known in the Western world as Saladin, was the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Muslim of Kurdish origin, Saladin led the Muslim opposition against the European Crusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Hejaz, Yemen, and other parts of North Africa.
Originally sent to Fatimid Egypt by his Zengid lord Nur ad-Din in 1163, Saladin climbed the ranks of the Fatimid government by virtue of his military successes against Crusader assaults on its territory and his personal closeness to the caliph al-Adid. When Saladin’s uncle Shirkuh died in 1169, al-Adid appointed Saladin vizier, a rare nomination of a Sunni Muslim to such an important position in the Shia Muslim-led caliphate. During his term as vizier, Saladin began to undermine the Fatimid establishment and following al-Adid’s death in 1171, he took over government and realigned the country’s allegiance with the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate. In the following years, he led forays against the Crusaders in Palestine, ordered the successful conquest of Yemen and staved off pro-Fatimid rebellions in Upper Egypt.
Not long after the death of Nur ad-Din in 1174, Saladin personally led the conquest of Syria, peacefully entering Damascus at the request of its ruler. By mid-1175, Saladin had conquered Hama and Homs, inviting the animosity of his former Zengid lords, who had been the official rulers of Syria. Soon after, he defeated the Zengid army in battle and was thereafter proclaimed the “Sultan of Egypt and Syria” by the Abbasid caliph al-Mustadi. He made further conquests in northern Syria and Jazira and escaped two attempts on his life by the Assassins, before returning to Egypt in 1177 to address issues in Egypt. By 1182, Saladin completed the conquest of Syria after capturing Aleppo, but ultimately failed in taking over the Zengid stronghold of Mosul.
Under Saladin’s personal leadership, the Ayyubid army defeated the Crusaders at the decisive Battle of Hattin in 1187, leading the way to the Muslims’ re-capture of Palestine from the Crusaders who had conquered it 88 years earlier. Though the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem would continue to exist for an extended period, its defeat at Hattin marked a turning point in its conflict with the Muslim powers of the region. Saladin has become a prominent figure in Muslim, Arab, and Kurdish culture. His reportedly noble and chivalrous behavior was noted, even by Christian chroniclers, and despite being the nemesis of the Crusaders, he purportedly won the respect of many of them, including Richard the Lionheart who led the Third Crusade. In 1193 he died in Damascus, having given much of his wealth to his subjects. Saladin is buried in a mausoleum adjacent to the Umayyad Mosque.
- 1 Sources
- 2 Early life
- 3 Early expeditions
- 4 In Egypt
- 4.1 Emir of Egypt
- 4.2 Sultan of Egypt
- 5 Acquisition of Syria
- 5.1 Capture of Damascus
- 5.2 Further conquests
- 5.3 Dispute with the Assassins
- 6 Return to Cairo and forays in Palestine
- 6.1 Battles and truce with Baldwin
- 7 Domestic affairs
- 8 Imperial expansions
- 8.1 Conquest of Mesopotamian hinterland
- 8.2 Possession of Aleppo
- 8.3 Fight for Mosul
- 9 Wars against Crusaders
- 9.1 Capture of Jerusalem
- 9.2 Third Crusade
- 10 Death
- 11 Family
- 12 Recognition and legacy
- 12.1 Muslim world
- 12.2 Western world
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 Bibliography
- 15.1 Primary sources
- 15.2 Secondary sources
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
Among Saladin’s admirers who produced personal biographies are the historians: Qadi al-Fadil from Ascalon, Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, and Bahā’ al-Dīn, a jurist from Mosul. Ibn al-Athir (d. 1233), on the other hand, produced a more hostile picture. Certainly “Imad al-Din al-Isfahani shows a deep admiration for Saladin, but his greatness appears wholly as a corollary from the facts themselves.” Throughout the Barq he is presented in human and realistic terms, even more than in Bahā’ al-Dīn’s biography.
Saladin was born in Tikrit, Mesopotamia. His personal name was “Yusuf”; “Salah ad-Din” is a laqab, a descriptive epithet, meaning “Righteousness of the Faith.” His family was of Kurdish ancestry, and had originated from the city of Dvin in medieval Armenia. The Rawadid tribe he hailed from had been partially assimilated into the Arabic-speaking world by this time. In 1132 the defeated army of the Imad ad-Din Zengi, the Lord of Mosul, found their retreat blocked by the Tigris River opposite the Tikrit fortress where Saladin’s father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub served as the warden. Ayyub provided ferries for the army and gave them refuge in Tikrit. Mujahed al-Din Bihruz, a former Greek slave who had been appointed the military governor of northern Mesopotamia for his service to the Seljuks had reprimanded Ayyub for giving Zengi refuge and in 1137, banished Ayyub from Tikrit after his brother Asad al-Din Shirkuh killed a friend of Bihruz in an honour killing. According to Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad, Saladin was born the same night his family left Tikrit. In 1139, Ayyub and his family moved to Mosul where Imad ad-Din Zengi acknowledged his debt and appointed Ayyub commander of his fortress in Baalbek. After the death of Zengi in 1146, his son, Nur ad-Din, became the regent of Aleppo and the leader of the Zengids.
Saladin, who now lived in Damascus, was reported to have a particular fondness of the city, but information on his early childhood is scarce. About education, Saladin wrote “children are brought up in the way in which their elders were brought up.” According to one of his biographers, al-Wahrani, Saladin was able to answer questions on Euclid, the Almagest, arithmetic, and law, but this was an academic ideal and it was study of the Qur’an and the “sciences of religion” that linked him to his contemporaries. Several sources claim that during his studies he was more interested in religion than joining the military. Another factor which may have affected his interest in religion was that during the First Crusade, Jerusalem was taken in a surprise attack by the Christians. In addition to Islam, Saladin had a knowledge of the genealogies, biographies, and histories of the Arabs, as well as the bloodlines of Arabian horses. More significantly, he knew the Hamasah of Abu Tammam by heart. He also spoke Kurdish, and likely Turkish as well.
Saladin’s military career began under the tutelage of his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh, an important military commander under Nur ad-Din, Emir of Damascus and Aleppo, member of the Turkic Zengid dynasty and the most influential teacher of Saladin. In 1163, the vizier to the Fatimid caliph al-Adid, Shawar, had been driven out of Egypt by rival Dirgham, a member of the powerful Banu Ruzzaik tribe. He asked for military backing from Nur ad-Din, who complied and in 1164, sent Shirkuh to aid Shawar in his expedition against Dirgham. Saladin, at age 26, went along with them. After Shawar was successfully reinstated as vizier, he demanded that Shirkuh withdraw his army from Egypt for a sum of 30,000 dinars, but he refused insisting it was Nur ad-Din’s will that he remain. Saladin’s role in this expedition was minor, and it is known that he was ordered by Shirkuh to collect stores from Bilbais prior to its siege by a combined force of Crusaders and Shawar’s troops.
After the sacking of Bilbais, the Crusader-Egyptian force and Shirkuh’s army were to engage in a battle on the desert border of the Nile River, just west of Giza. Saladin played a major role, commanding the right wing of the Zengid army (Muslim Dynasty of Oghuz Turk origin), while a force of Kurds commanded the left, and Shirkuh stationed in the center. Muslim sources at the time, however, put Saladin in the “baggage of the center” with orders to lure the enemy into a trap by staging a false retreat. The Crusader force enjoyed early success against Shirkuh’s troops, but the terrain was too steep and sandy for their horses, and commander Hugh of Caesarea was captured while attacking Saladin’s unit. After scattered fighting in little valleys to the south of the main position, the Zengid central force returned to the offensive; Saladin joined in from the rear.
The battle ended in a Zengid victory, and Saladin is credited to have helped Shirkuh in one of the “most remarkable victories in recorded history”, according to Ibn al-Athir, although more of Shirkuh’s men were killed and the battle is considered by most sources as not a total victory. Saladin and Shirkuh moved towards Alexandria where they were welcomed, given money, arms, and provided a base. Faced by a superior Crusader-Egyptian force who attempted to besiege the city, Shirkuh split his army. He and the bulk of his force withdrew from Alexandria, while Saladin was left with the task of guarding the city.
Emir of Egypt
Saladin’s battles in Egypt
Shirkuh engaged in a power struggle over Egypt with Shawar and Amalric I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in which Shawar requested Amalric’s assistance. In 1169, Shawar was reportedly assassinated by Saladin, and Shirkuh died later that year. Nur ad-Din chose a successor for Shirkuh, but al-Adid appointed Saladin to replace Shawar as vizier.
The reasoning behind the Shia caliph al-Adid’s selection of Saladin, a Sunni, varies. Ibn al-Athir claims that the caliph chose him after being told by his advisers that “there is no one weaker or younger” than Saladin, and “not one of the emirs obeyed him or served him.” However, according to this version, after some bargaining, he was eventually accepted by the majority of emirs. Al-Adid’s advisers were also suspected of attempting to split the Syria-based Zengid ranks. Al-Wahrani wrote that Saladin was selected because of the reputation of his family in their “generosity and military prowess.” Imad ad-Din wrote that after the brief mourning period of Shirkuh, during which “opinions differed”, the Zengid emirs decided upon Saladin and forced the caliph to “invest him as vizier.” Although positions were complicated by rival Muslim leaders, the bulk of the Syrian rulers supported Saladin because of his role in the Egyptian expedition, in which he gained a record of military qualifications.
Inaugurated as Emir on March 26, Saladin repented “wine-drinking and turned from frivolity to assume the dress of religion.” Having gained more power and independence than ever before in his career, he still faced the issue of ultimate loyalty between al-Adid and Nur ad-Din. The latter was rumored to be clandestinely hostile towards Saladin’s appointment and was quoted as saying, “how dare he [Saladin] do anything without my orders?” He wrote several letters to Saladin, who dismissed them without abandoning his allegiance to Nur ad-Din.
Later in the year, a group of Egyptian soldiers and emirs attempted to assassinate Saladin, but having already known of their intentions, thanks to his intelligence chief Ali bin Safyan, he had the chief conspirator, Naji, Mu’tamin al-Khilafa—the civilian controller of the Fatimid Palace—arrested, and killed. The day after, 50,000 black African soldiers from the regiments of the Fatimid army opposed to Saladin’s rule along with a number of Egyptian emirs and commoners staged a revolt. By August 23, Saladin had decisively quelled the uprising, and never again had to face a military challenge from Cairo.
Towards the end of 1169, Saladin, with reinforcements from Nur ad-Din defeated a massive Crusader-Byzantine force near Damietta. Afterward, in the spring of 1170, Nur ad-Din sent Saladin’s father to Egypt in compliance with Saladin’s request, as well as encouragement from the Baghdad-based Abbasid caliph, al-Mustanjid, who aimed to pressure Saladin in deposing his rival caliph, al-Adid. Saladin himself had been strengthening his hold on Egypt and widening his support base there. He began granting his family members high-ranking positions in the region and increased Sunni influence in Cairo; he ordered the construction of a college for the Maliki branch of Sunni Islam in the city, as well as one for the Shafi’i denomination to which he belonged in al-Fustat.
After establishing himself in Egypt, Saladin launched a campaign against the Crusaders, besieging Darum in 1170. Amalric withdrew his Templar garrison from Gaza to assist him in defending Darum, but Saladin evaded their force and fell on Gaza instead. He destroyed the town built outside the city’s castle and killed most of its inhabitants after they were refused entry into the castle. It is unclear exactly when, but during that same year, he attacked and captured the Crusader castle of Eilat, built on an island off the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. It did not pose a threat to the passage of the Muslim navy, but could harass smaller parties of Muslim ships and Saladin decided to clear it from his path.
Sultan of Egypt
Artistic representation of Saladin.
According to Imad ad-Din, Nur ad-Din wrote to Saladin in June 1171, telling him to reestablish the Abbasid caliphate in Egypt, which Saladin coordinated two months later after additional encouragement by Najm ad-Din al-Khabushani, the Shafi’i faqih, who vehemently opposed Shia rule in the country. Several Egyptian emirs were thus killed, but al-Adid was told that they were killed for rebelling against him. He then fell ill, or was poisoned according to one account. While ill, he asked Saladin to pay him a visit to request that he take care of his young children, but Saladin refused, fearing treachery against the Abbasids, and is said to have regretted his action after realizing what al-Adid had wanted. He died on September 13 and five days later, the Abbasid khutba was pronounced in Cairo and al-Fustat, proclaiming al-Mustadi as caliph.
On September 25, Saladin left Cairo to take part in a joint attack on Kerak and Montreal, the desert castles of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with Nur ad-Din who would attack from Syria. Prior to arriving at Montreal, Saladin withdrew, realizing that if he met Nur ad-Din at Shaubak, he would be refused return to Egypt because of Nur ad-Din’s reluctance to consolidate such massive territorial control to Saladin. Also, there was a chance that the Crusader kingdom—which acted as a buffer state between Syria and Egypt—could have collapsed had the two leaders attacked it from the east and the coast. This would have given Nur ad-Din the opportunity to annex Egypt. Saladin claimed he withdrew amid Fatimid plots against him, but Nur ad-Din did not accept the excuse.
During the summer of 1172, a Nubian army along with a contingent of Armenian refugees were reported on the Egyptian border, preparing for a siege against Aswan. The emir of the city had requested Saladin’s assistance and was given reinforcements under Turan-Shah—Saladin’s brother. Consequently, the Nubians departed, but returned in 1173 and were again driven off. This time Egyptian forces advanced from Aswan and captured the Nubian town of Ibrim. Seventeen months after al-Adid’s death, Nur ad-Din had not taken any action regarding Egypt, but expected some return for the 200,000 dinars he had allocated to Shirkuh’s army which seized the country. Saladin paid this debt with 60,000 dinars, “wonderful manufactured goods”, some jewels, an ass of the finest breed, and an elephant. While transporting these goods to Damascus, Saladin took the opportunity to ravage the Crusader countryside. He did not press an attack against the desert castles, but attempted to drive out the Muslim Bedouins who lived in Crusader territory with the aim of depriving the Franks of guides.
On July 31, 1173, Saladin’s father Ayyub was wounded in a horse-riding accident, ultimately causing his death on August 9. In 1174, Saladin sent Turan-Shah to conquer Yemen to allocate it and its port Aden to the territories of the Ayyubid Dynasty. Yemen also served as an emergency territory, to which Saladin could flee in the event of an invasion by Nur ad-Din.
Acquisition of Syria
Capture of Damascus
In the early summer of 1174, Nur ad-Din was mustering an army, sending summons to Mosul, Diyarbakir, and al-Jazira in an apparent preparation of attack against Saladin’s Egypt. The Ayyubid dynasty held a council upon the revelation of his preparations to discuss the possible threat and Saladin collected his own troops outside Cairo. On May 15, Nur ad-Din died after being poisoned the previous week and his power was handed to his eleven-year-old son as-Salih Ismail al-Malik. His death left Saladin with political independence and in a letter to as-Salih, he promised to “act as a sword” against his enemies and referred to the death of his father as an “earthquake shock.”
In the wake of Nur ad-Din’s death, Saladin faced a difficult decision; he could move his army against the Crusaders from Egypt or wait until invited by as-Salih in Syria to come to his aid and launch a war from there. He could also take it upon himself to annex Syria before it could possibly fall into the hands of a rival, but feared that attacking a land that formerly belonged to his master—which is forbidden in the Islamic principles he followed—could portray him as hypocritical and thus, unsuitable for leading the war against the Crusaders. Saladin saw that in order to acquire Syria, he either needed an invitation from as-Salih or warn him that potential anarchy and danger from the Crusaders could rise.
When as-Salih was removed to Aleppo in August, Gumushtigin, the emir of the city and a captain of Nur ad-Din’s veterans assumed guardianship over him. The emir prepared to unseat all of his rivals in Syria and al-Jazira, beginning with Damascus. In this emergency, the emir of Damascus appealed to Saif al-Din (a cousin of Gumushtigin) of Mosul for assistance against Aleppo, but he refused, forcing the Syrians to request the aid of Saladin who complied. Saladin rode across the desert with 700 picked horsemen, passing through al-Kerak then reaching Bosra and according to him, was joined by “emirs, soldiers, and Bedouins—the emotions of their hearts to be seen on their faces.” On November 23, he arrived in Damascus amid general acclamations and rested at his father’s old home there, until the gates of the Citadel of Damascus were opened to him four days later. He installed himself in the castle and received the homage and salutations of the citizens.
19th-century depiction of a victorious Saladin, by Gustave Doré.
Leaving his brother Tughtigin as Governor of Damascus, Saladin proceeded to reduce other cities that had belonged to Nur al-Din, but were now practically independent. His army conquered Hamah with relative ease, but avoided attacking Homs because of the strength of its citadel. Saladin moved north towards Aleppo, besieging it on December 30 after Gumushtigin refused to abdicate his throne. As-Salih, fearing capture by Saladin, came out of his palace and appealed to the inhabitants not to surrender him and the city to the invading force. One of Saladin’s chroniclers claimed “the people came under his spell.”
Gumushtigin requested from Rashid ad-Din Sinan, grand-master of the Assassins of Syria, who were already at odds with Saladin since he replaced the Fatimids of Egypt, to assassinate Saladin in his camp. On 11 May 1175 a group of thirteen Assassins easily gained admission into Saladin’s camp, but were detected immediately before they carried out their attack by Nasih al-Din Khumartekin of Abu Qubays. One was killed by a general of Saladin and the others were slain while trying to escape. To deter Saladin’s progress, Raymond of Tripoli gathered his forces by Nahr al-Kabir where they were well-placed for an attack on Muslim territory. Saladin later moved toward Homs instead, but retreated after being told a relief force was being sent to the city by Saif al-Din.
Meanwhile, Saladin’s rivals in Syria and Jazira waged a propaganda war against him, claiming he had “forgotten his own condition [servant of Nur ad-Din]” and showed no gratitude for his old master by besieging his son, rising “in rebellion against his Lord.” Saladin aimed to counter this propaganda by ending the siege, claiming he was defending Islam from the Crusaders; his army returned to Hama to engage a Crusader force there. The Crusaders withdrew beforehand and Saladin proclaimed it “a victory opening the gates of men’s hearts.” Soon after, Saladin entered Homs and captured its citadel in March 1175, after stubborn resistance from its defenders.
Saladin’s successes alarmed Saif al-Din. As head of the Zengids, including Gumushtigin, he regarded Syria and Mesopotamia as his family estate and was angered when Saladin attempted to usurp his dynasty’s holdings. Saif al-Din mustered a large army and dispatched it to Aleppo whose defenders anxiously had awaited them. The combined forces of Mosul and Aleppo marched against Saladin in Hama. Heavily outnumbered, Saladin initially attempted to make terms with the Zengids by abandoning all conquests north of the Damascus province, but they refused, insisting he return to Egypt. Seeing that confrontation was unavoidable, Saladin prepared for battle, taking up a superior position on the hills by the gorge of the Orontes River. On April 13, 1175, the Zengid troops marched to attack his forces, but soon found themselves surrounded by Saladin’s Ayyubid veterans who crushed them. The battle ended in a decisive victory for Saladin who pursued the Zengid fugitives to the gates of Aleppo, forcing as-Salih’s advisers to recognize Saladin’s control of the provinces of Damascus, Homs and Hama, as well as a number of towns outside Aleppo such as Ma’arat al-Numan.
After his victory against the Zengids, Saladin proclaimed himself king and suppressed the name of as-Salih in Friday prayers and Islamic coinage. From then on, he ordered prayers in all the mosques of Syria and Egypt as the sovereign king and he issued at the Cairo mint gold coins bearing his official title—al-Malik an-Nasir Yusuf Ayyub, ala ghaya “the King Strong to Aid, Joseph son of Job; exalted be the standard.” The Abbasid caliph in Baghdad graciously welcomed Saladin’s assumption of power and declared him “Sultan of Egypt and Syria.” The Battle of Hama did not end the contest for power between the Ayyubids and the Zengids, with the final confrontation occurring in the spring of 1176. Saladin had gathered massive reinforcements from Egypt while Saif al-Din was levying troops among the minor states of Diyarbakir and al-Jazira. When Saladin crossed the Orontes, leaving Hama, the sun was eclipsed. He viewed this as an omen, but he continued his march north. He reached the Sultan’s Mound, c. 25 km from Aleppo, where his forces encountered Saif al-Din’s army. A hand-to-hand fight ensued and the Zengids managed to plow Saladin’s left wing, driving it before him, when Saladin himself charged at the head of the Zengid guard. The Zengid forces panicked and most of Saif al-Din’s officers ended up being killed or captured—Saif al-Din narrowly escaped. The Zengid army’s camp, horses, baggage, tents, and stores were seized by the Ayyubids. The Zengid prisoners of war, however, were given gifts and freed. All of the booty from the Ayyubid victory was accorded to the army, Saladin not keeping anything himself.
He continued towards Aleppo which still closed its gates to him, halting before the city. On the way, his army took Buza’a, then captured Manbij. From there they headed west to besiege the fortress of A’zaz on 15 May. Several days later, while Saladin was resting in one of his captain’s tents, an assassin rushed forward at him and struck at his head with a knife. The cap of his head armor was not penetrated and he managed to grip the assassin’s hand—the dagger only slashing his gambeson—and the assailant was soon killed. Saladin was unnerved at the attempt on his life, which he accused Gumushtugin and the Assassins of plotting, and so increased his efforts in the siege.
A’zaz capitulated on June 21, and Saladin then hurried his forces to Aleppo to punish Gumushtigin. His assaults were again resisted, but he managed to secure not only a truce, but a mutual alliance with Aleppo, in which Gumushtigin and as-Salih were allowed to continue their hold on the city and in return, they recognized Saladin as the sovereign over all of the dominions he conquered. The emirs of Mardin and Keyfa, the Muslim allies of Aleppo, also recognized Saladin as the King of Syria. When the treaty was concluded, the younger sister of as-Salih came to Saladin and requested the return of the Fortress of A’zaz; he complied and escorted her back to the gates of Aleppo with numerous presents.
Dispute with the Assassins
Saladin ended his siege of the Ismaili (“Assassins”) fortress of Masyaf, which was commanded by Rashid ad-Din Sinan, under uncertain circumstances in August 1176
Saladin had by now agreed truces with his Zengid rivals and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (latter occurred in the summer of 1175), but faced a threat from the Ismaili sect known then as the “Assassins” led by Rashid ad-Din Sinan. Based in the an-Nusayriyah Mountains, they commanded nine fortresses, all built on high elevations. As soon as he dispatched the bulk of his troops to Egypt, Saladin led his army into the an-Nusayriyah range in August 1176. He retreated the same month, after laying waste to the countryside, but failing to conquer any of the forts. Most Muslim historians claim that Saladin’s uncle, the governor of Hama, mediated a peace agreement between him and Sinan.
Assassins feared him when he attacked on their hideout.He had his guards supplied with link lights and had chalk and cinders strewed around his tent outside Masyaf—which he was besieging—to detect any footsteps by the Assassins. According to this version, one night, Saladin’s guards noticed a spark glowing down the hill of Masyaf and then vanishing among the Ayyubid tents. Presently, Saladin awoke from his sleep to find a figure leaving the tent. He then saw that the lamps were displaced and beside his bed laid hot scones of the shape peculiar to the Assassins with a note at the top pinned by a poisoned dagger. The note threatened that he would be killed if he didn’t withdraw from his assault. Saladin gave a loud cry, exclaiming that Sinan himself was the figure that left the tent.
Another version claims that Saladin hastily withdrew his troops from Masyaf because they were urgently needed to fend off a Crusader force in the vicinity of Mount Lebanon. Assassins were the one who sought to form an alliance with him, consequently depriving the Crusaders of a potent ally against him. Viewing the expulsion of the Crusaders as a mutual benefit and priority, Saladin and Sinan maintained cooperative relations afterwards, the latter dispatching contingents of his forces to bolster Saladin’s army in a number of decisive subsequent battlefronts.
Return to Cairo and forays in Palestine
Saladin assured the protection of caravan routes that allowed travel to distant lands.
After leaving the an-Nusayriyah Mountains, Saladin returned to Damascus and had his Syrian soldiers return home. He left Turan Shah in command of Syria, and left for Egypt with only his personal followers, reaching Cairo on September 22. Having been absent roughly two years, he had much to organize and supervise in Egypt, namely fortifying and reconstructing Cairo. The city walls were repaired and their extensions laid out, while the construction of the Cairo Citadel was commenced. The 280 feet (85 m) deep Bir Yusuf (“Joseph’s Well”) was built on Saladin’s orders. The chief public work he commissioned outside of Cairo was the large bridge at Giza, which intended to form an outwork of defense against a potential Moorish invasion.
Saladin remained in Cairo supervising its improvements, building colleges such as the Madrasa of the Sword Makers and ordering the internal administration of the country. In November 1177, he set out upon a raid into Palestine; the Crusaders had recently forayed into the territory of Damascus and so Saladin saw the truce was no longer worth preserving. The Christians sent a large portion of their army to besiege the fortress of Harim north of Aleppo and so southern Palestine bore few defenders. Saladin found the situation ripe, and so marched to Ascalon, which he referred to as the “Bride of Syria.” William of Tyre recorded that the Ayyubid army consisted of 26,000 soldiers, of which 8,000 were elite forces and 18,000 were black slave soldiers from the Sudan. This army proceeded to raid the countryside, sack Ramla and Lod, and dispersed themselves as far as the Gates of Jerusalem.
Battles and truce with Baldwin
The Ayyubids allowed King Baldwin to enter Ascalon with his Gaza-based Templars without taking any precautions against a sudden attack. Although the Crusader force consisted only of 375 knights, Saladin hesitated to ambush them because of the presence of highly skilled generals. On November 25, while the greater part of the Ayyubid army was absent, Saladin and his men were surprised near Ramla in the battle of Montgisard. Before they could form up, the Templar force hacked the Ayyubid army down. Initially, Saladin attempted to organize his men into battle order, but as his bodyguards were being killed, he saw that defeat was inevitable and so with a small remnant of his troops mounted a swift camel, riding all the way to the territories of Egypt.
Undiscouraged by his defeat at Tell Jezer, Saladin was prepared to fight the Crusaders once again. In the spring of 1178, he was encamped under the walls of Homs and a few skirmishes occurred between his generals and the Crusader army. His forces in Hama won a victory over their enemy and brought the spoils, together with many prisoners of war to Saladin who ordered the captives to be beheaded for “plundering and laying waste the lands of the Faithful.” He spent the rest of the year in Syria without a confrontation with his enemies.
The battlefield at Jacob’s Ford, looking from the west bank to the east bank of the Jordan River
Saladin’s intelligence services reported to him that the Crusaders were planning a raid into Syria. As such, he ordered one of his generals, Farrukh-Shah, to guard the Damascus frontier with a thousand of his men to watch for an attack, then to retire avoiding battle and lighting warning beacons on the hills on which Saladin would march out. In April 1179, the Crusaders led by King Baldwin expected no resistance and waited to launch a surprise attack on Muslim herders grazing their herds and flocks east of the Golan Heights. Baldwin advanced too rashly in pursuit of Farrukh-Shah’s force which was concentrated southeast of Quneitra and was subsequently defeated by the Ayyubids. With this victory, Saladin decided to call in more troops from Egypt; he requested al-Adil to dispatch 1,500 horsemen.
In the summer of 1179, King Baldwin had set up an outpost on the road to Damascus and aimed to fortify a passage over the Jordan River, known as Jacob’s Ford, that commanded the approach to the Banias plain (the plain was divided by the Muslims and the Christians). Saladin had offered 100,000 gold pieces for Baldwin to abandon the project which was peculiarly offensive to the Muslims, but to no avail. He then resolved to destroy the fortress, called Chastellet and manned by the Templars, moving his headquarters to Banias. As the Crusaders hurried down to attack the Muslim forces, they fell into disorder, with the infantry falling behind. Despite early success, they pursued the Muslims far enough to become scattered and Saladin took advantage by rallying his troops and charged at the Crusaders. The engagement ended in a decisive Ayyubid victory and many high-ranking knights were captured. Saladin then moved to besiege the fortress which fell on August 30, 1179.
In the spring of 1180, while Saladin was in the area of Safad, anxious to commence a vigorous campaign against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, King Baldwin sent messengers to him with proposals of peace. Because droughts and bad harvests hampered his commissariat, Saladin agreed to a truce. Raymond of Tripoli denounced the truce, but was compelled to accept after an Ayyubid raid in his territory in May and upon the appearance of Saladin’s naval fleet off the port of Tartus.
Ibn Jubayr a famous traveler from Al-Andalus is known to have met Saladin in Cairo after the abdication of the Fatimids.
In June 1180, Saladin hosted a reception for Nur al-Din Muhammad, the Artuqid emir of Keyfa, at Geuk Su, in which he presented him and his brother Abu Bakr presents, valued at over 100,000 dinars according to Imad al-Din. This was intended to cement an alliance with the Artuqids and to impress other emirs in Mesopotamia and Anatolia. Previously, Saladin offered to mediate relations between Nur al-Din and Kilij Arslan II—the Seljuk Sultan of Rum—after the two came into conflict. The latter demanded Nur al-Din return the lands given to him as a dowry for marrying his daughter when he received reports that she was being abused and used by him to gain Seljuk territory. Nur al-Din requested Saladin mediate the issue but Arslan refused.
After Nur al-Din and Saladin met at Geuk Su, the top Seljuk emir, Ikhtiyar al-Din al-Hasan, confirmed Arslan’s submission, after which an agreement was drawn up. Saladin was later enraged when he received a message from Arslan accusing Nur al-Din of more abuses against his daughter. He threatened to attack the city of Malatya, saying, “it is two days march for me and I shall not dismount [my horse] until I am in the city.” Alarmed at the threat, the Seljuks pushed for negotiations. Saladin felt that Arslan was correct to care for his daughter, but Nur al-Din had taken refuge with him, and therefore he could not betray his trust. It was finally agreed that Arslan’s daughter would be sent away for a year and if Nur al-Din failed to comply, Saladin would move to abandon his support for him.
Leaving Farrukh-Shah in charge of Syria, Saladin returned to Cairo at the beginning of 1181. According to Abu Shama, he intended to spend the fast of Ramadan in Egypt and then make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the summer. For an unknown reason he apparently changed his plans regarding the pilgrimage and was seen inspecting the Nile River banks in June. He was again embroiled with the Bedouin; he removed two-thirds of their fiefs to use as compensation for the fief-holders at Fayyum. The Bedouin were also accused of trading with the Crusaders and consequently, their grain was confiscated and they were forced to migrate westward. Later, Ayyubid warships were waged against Bedouin river pirates who were plundering the shores of Lake Tanis.
In the summer of 1181, Saladin’s former palace administrator Qara-Qush led a force to arrest Majd al-Din—a former deputy of Turan-Shah in the Yemeni town of Zabid—while he was entertaining Imad ad-Din at his estate in Cairo. Saladin’s intimates accused Majd al-Din of misappropriating the revenues of Zabid, but Saladin himself believed there was no evidence to back the allegations. He had Majd al-Din released in return for a payment of 80,000 dinars. In addition, other sums were to be paid to Saladin’s brothers al-Adil and Taj al-Muluk Buri. The controversial detainment of Majd al-Din was a part of the larger discontent associated with the aftermath of Turan-Shah’s departure from Yemen. Although his deputies continued to send him revenues from the province, centralized authority was lacking and internal quarrel arose between Izz al-Din Uthman of Aden and Hittan of Zabid. Saladin wrote in a letter to al-Adil: “this Yemen is a treasure house … We conquered it, but up to this day we have had no return and no advantage from it. There have been only innumerable expenses, the sending out of troops … and expectations which did not produce what was hoped for in the end.”
Isometric laser scan data image of the Bab al-Barqiyya Gate in the 12th century Ayyubid Wall. This fortified gate was constructed with interlocking volumes that surrounded the entrant in such a way as to provide greater security and control than typical city wall gates.
Conquest of Mesopotamian hinterland
Saif al-Din had died earlier in June 1181 and his brother Izz al-Din inherited leadership of Mosul. On December 4, the crown-prince of the Zengids, as-Salih, died in Aleppo. Prior to his death, he had his chief officers swear an oath of loyalty to Izz al-Din, as he was the only Zengid ruler strong enough to oppose Saladin. Izz al-Din was welcomed in Aleppo, but possessing it and Mosul put too great of a strain on his abilities. He thus, handed Aleppo to his brother Imad al-Din Zangi, in exchange for Sinjar. Saladin offered no opposition to these transactions in order to respect the treaty he previously made with the Zengids.
On May 11, 1182, Saladin along with half of the Egyptian Ayyubid army and numerous non-combatants left Cairo for Syria. On the evening before he departed, he sat with his companions and the tutor of one of his sons quoted a line of poetry: “enjoy the scent of the ox-eye plant of Najd, for after this evening it will come no more.” Saladin took this as an evil omen and he never saw Egypt again. Knowing that Crusader forces were massed upon the frontier to intercept him, he took the desert route across the Sinai Peninsula to Ailah at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Meeting no opposition, Saladin ravaged the countryside of Montreal, whilst Baldwin’s forces watched on, refusing to intervene. He arrived in Damascus in June to learn that Farrukh-Shah had attacked the Galilee, sacking Daburiyya and capturing Habis Jaldek, a fortress of great importance to the Crusaders. In July, Saladin dispatched Farrukh-Shah to attack Kawkab al-Hawa. Later, in August, the Ayyubids launched a naval and ground assault to capture Beirut; Saladin led his army in the Bekaa Valley. The assault was leaning towards failure and Saladin abandoned the operation to focus on issues in Mesopotamia.
Kukbary, the emir of Harran, invited Saladin to occupy the Jazira region, making up northern Mesopotamia. He complied and the truce between him and the Zengids officially ended in September 1182. Prior to his march to Jazira, tensions had grown between the Zengid rulers of the region, primarily concerning their unwillingness to pay deference to Mosul. Before he crossed the Euphrates, Saladin besieged Aleppo for three days, signaling that the truce was over.
Once he reached Bira, near the river, he was joined by Kukbary and Nur al-Din of Hisn Kayfa and the combined forces captured the cities of Jazira, one after the other. First, Edessa fell, followed by Saruj, then ar-Raqqah, Karkesiya and Nusaybin. Ar-Raqqah was an important crossing point and held by Qutb al-Din Inal, who had lost Manbij to Saladin in 1176. Upon seeing the large size of Saladin’s army, he made little effort to resist and surrendered on the condition that he would retain his property. Saladin promptly impressed the inhabitants of the town by publishing a decree that ordered a number of taxes to be canceled and erased all mention of them from treasury records, stating “the most miserable rulers are those whose purses are fat and their people thin.” From ar-Raqqah, he moved to conquer al-Fudain, al-Husain, Maksim, Durain, ‘Araban, and Khabur—all of which swore allegiance to him.
Saladin proceeded to take Nusaybin which offered no resistance. A medium-sized town, Nusaybin was not of great importance, but it was located in a strategic position between Mardin and Mosul and within easy reach of Diyarbakir. In the midst of these victories, Saladin received word that the Crusaders were raiding the villages of Damascus. He replied “Let them… whilst they knock down villages, we are taking cities; when we come back, we shall have all the more strength to fight them.” Meanwhile, in Aleppo, the emir of the city Zangi raided Saladin’s cities to the north and east, such as Balis, Manbij, Saruj, Buza’a, al-Karzain. He also destroyed his own citadel at A’zaz to prevent it from being used by the Ayyubids if they were to conquer it.
Possession of Aleppo
Saladin turned his attention from Mosul to Aleppo, sending his brother Taj al-Muluk Buri to capture Tell Khalid, 130 km northeast of the city. A siege was set, but the governor of Tell Khalid surrendered upon the arrival of Saladin himself on May 17 before a siege could take place. According to Imad ad-Din, after Tell Khalid, Saladin took a detour northwards to Ain Tab, but he gained possession of it when his army turned towards it, allowing to quickly move backward another c. 100 km towards Aleppo. On May 21, he camped outside the city, positioning himself east of the Citadel of Aleppo, while his forces encircles the suburb of Banaqusa to the northeast and Bab Janan to the west. He stationed his men dangerously close to the city, hoping for an early success.
Zangi did not offer long resistance. He was unpopular with his subjects and wished to return to his Sinjar, the city he governed previously. An exchange was negotiated where Zangi would hand over Aleppo to Saladin in return for the restoration of his control of Sinjar, Nusaybin, and ar-Raqqa. Zangi would hold these territories as Saladin’s vassals on terms of military service. On June 12, Aleppo was formally placed in Ayyubid hands. The people of Aleppo had not known about these negotiations and were taken by surprise when Saladin’s standard was hoisted over the citadel. Two emirs, including an old friend of Saladin, Izz al-Din Jurduk, welcomed and pledged their service to him. Saladin replaced the Hanafi courts with Shafi’i administration, despite a promise he would not interfere in the religious leadership of the city. Although he was short of money, Saladin also allowed the departing Zangi to take all the stores of the citadel that he could travel with and to sell the remainder—which Saladin purchased himself. In spite of his earlier hesitation to go through with the exchange, he had no doubts about his success, stating that Aleppo was “the key to the lands” and “this city is the eye of Syria and the citadel is its pupil.” For Saladin, the capture of the city marked the end of over eight years of waiting since he told Farrukh-Shah that “we have only to do the milking and Aleppo will be ours”.
After spending one night in Aleppo’s citadel, Saladin marched to Harim, near the Crusader-held Antioch. The city was held by Surhak, a “minor mamluk.” Saladin offered him the city of Busra and property in Damascus in exchange for Harim, but when Surhak asked for more, his own garrison in Harim forced him out. He was arrested by Saladin’s deputy Taqi al-Din on allegations that he was planning to cede Harim to Bohemond III of Antioch. When Saladin received its surrender, he proceeded to arrange the defense of Harim from the Crusaders. He reported to the caliph and his own subordinates in Yemen and Baalbek that was going to attack the Armenians. Before he could move, however, there were a number of administrative details to be settled. Saladin agreed to a truce with Bohemond in return for Muslim prisoners being held by him and then he gave A’zaz to Alam ad-Din Suleiman and Aleppo to Saif al-Din al-Yazkuj—the former was an emir of Aleppo who joined Saladin and the latter was a former mamluk of Shirkuh who helped rescue him from the assassination attempt at A’zaz.
Fight for Mosul
Sculpture of Saladin in the Egyptian Military museum in Cairo
As Saladin approached Mosul, he faced the issue of taking over a large city and justifying the action. The Zengids of Mosul appealed to an-Nasir, the Abbasid caliph at Baghdad whose vizier favored them. An-Nasir sent Badr al-Badr (a high-ranking religious figure) to mediate between the two sides. Saladin arrived at the city on 10 November 1182. Izz al-Din would not accept his terms because he considered them disingenuous and extensive, and Saladin immediately laid siege to the heavily fortified city.
After several minor skirmishes and a stalemate in the siege that was initiated by the caliph, Saladin intended to find a way to withdraw from the siege without damage to his reputation while still keeping up some military pressure. He decided to attack Sinjar which was now held by Izz al-Din’s brother Sharaf al-Din. It fell after a 15-day siege on December 30. Saladin’s commanders and soldiers broke their discipline, plundering the city; Saladin only managed to protect the governor and his officers by sending them to Mosul. After establishing a garrison at Sinjar, he awaited a coalition assembled by Izz al-Din consisting of his forces, those from Aleppo, Mardin, and Armenia. Saladin and his army met the coalition at Harran in February 1183, but on hearing of his approach, the latter sent messengers to Saladin asking for peace. Each force returned to their cities and al-Fadil wrote: “They [Izz al-Din’s coalition] advanced like men, like women they vanished.”
On 2 March, al-Adil from Egypt wrote to Saladin that the Crusaders had struck the “heart of Islam.” Raynald de Châtillon had sent ships to the Gulf of Aqaba to raid towns and villages off the coast of the Red Sea. It was not an attempt to extend the Crusader influence into that sea or to capture its trade routes, but merely a piratical move. Nonetheless, Imad al-Din writes the raid was alarming to the Muslims because they were not accustomed to attacks on that sea and Ibn al-Athir adds that the inhabitants had no experience with the Crusaders either as fighters or traders.
Ibn Jubair was told that sixteen Muslim ships were burnt by the Crusaders who then captured a pilgrim ship and caravan at Aidab. He also reported they intended to attack Medina and remove Muhammad’s body. Al-Maqrizi added to the rumor by claiming Muhammad’s tomb was going to be relocated to Crusader territory so Muslims would make pilgrimages there. Fortunately for Saladin, al-Adil had his warships moved from Fustat and Alexandria to the Red Sea under the command of an Armenian mercenary Lu’lu. They broke the Crusader blockade, destroyed most of their ships, and pursued and captured those who anchored and fled into the desert. The surviving Crusaders, numbered at 170, were ordered to be killed by Saladin in various Muslim cities.
From Saladin’s own point of view, in terms of territory, the war against Mosul was going well, but he still failed to achieve his objectives and his army was shrinking; Taqi al-Din took his men back to Hama, while Nasir al-Din Muhammad and his forces had left. This encouraged Izz al-Din and his allies to take the offensive. The previous coalition regrouped at Harzam some 140 km from Harran. In early April, without waiting for Nasir al-Din, Saladin and Taqi al-Din commenced their advance against the coalition, marching eastward to Ras al-Ein unhindered. By late April, after three days of “actual fighting” according to Saladin, the Ayyubids had captured Amid. He handed the city Nur al-Din Muhammad together with its stores—which consisted of 80,000 candles, a tower full of arrowheads, and 1,040,000 books. In return for a diploma granting him the city, Nur al-Din swore allegiance to Saladin, promising to follow him in every expedition in the war against the Crusaders and repairing damage done to the city. The fall of Amid, in addition to territory, convinced Il-Ghazi of Mardin to enter the service of Saladin, weakening Izz al-Din’s coalition.
Saladin attempted to gain the Caliph an-Nasir’s support against Izz al-Din by sending him a letter requesting a document that would give him legal justification for taking over Mosul and its territories. Saladin aimed to persuade the caliph claiming that while he conquered Egypt and Yemen under the flag of the Abbasids, the Zengids of Mosul openly supported the Seljuks (rivals of the caliphate) and only came to the caliph when in need. He also accused Izz al-Din’s forces of disrupting the Muslim “Holy War” against the Crusaders, stating “they are not content not to fight, but they prevent those who can.” Saladin defended his own conduct claiming that he had come to Syria to fight the Crusaders, end the heresy of the Assassins, and to end the wrong-doing of the Muslims. He also promised that if Mosul was given to him, it would lead to the capture of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Georgia, and the lands of the Almohads in the Maghreb, “until the word of God is supreme and the Abbasid caliphate has wiped the world clean, turning the churches into mosques.” Saladin stressed that all this would happen by the will of God and instead of asking for financial or military support from the caliph, he would capture and give the caliph the territories of Tikrit, Daquq, Khuzestan, Kish Island, and Oman.
Wars against Crusaders
Saladin and Guy of Lusignan after Battle of Hattin
On 29 September 1182, Saladin crossed the Jordan River to attack Beisan which was found to be empty. The next day his forces sacked and burned the town and moved westwards. They intercepted Crusader reinforcements from Karak and Shaubak along the Nablus road and took a number of prisoners. Meanwhile, the main Crusader force under Guy of Lusignan moved from Sepphoris to al-Fula. Saladin sent out 500 skirmishers to harass their forces and he himself marched to Ain Jalut. When the Crusader force—reckoned to be the largest the kingdom ever produced from its own resources, but still outmatched by the Muslims—advanced, the Ayyubids unexpectedly moved down the stream of Ain Jalut. After a few Ayyubid raids—including attacks on Zir’in, Forbelet, and Mount Tabor—the Crusaders still were not tempted to attack their main force, and Saladin led his men back across the river once provisions and supplies ran low.
However, Crusader attacks provoked further responses by Saladin. Raynald of Châtillon, in particular, harassed Muslim trading and pilgrimage routes with a fleet on the Red Sea, a water route that Saladin needed to keep open. In response, Saladin built a fleet of 30 galleys to attack Beirut in 1182. Raynald threatened to attack the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In retaliation, Saladin twice besieged Kerak, Raynald’s fortress in Oultrejordain, in 1183 and 1184. Raynald responded by looting a caravan of pilgrims on the Hajj in 1185. According to the later thirteenth century Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, Raynald captured Saladin’s sister in a raid on a caravan, although this claim is not attested in contemporary sources, Muslim or Frankish, instead stating that Raynald had attacked a preceding caravan, and Saladin set guards to ensure the safety of his sister and her son, who came to no harm.
Following the failure of his Kerak sieges, Saladin temporarily turned his attention back to another long-term project and resumed attacks on the territory of ʻIzz ad-Dīn (Masʻūd ibn Mawdūd ibn Zangi), around Mosul, which he had begun with some success in 1182. However, since then, Masʻūd had allied himself with the powerful governor of Azerbaijan and Jibal, who in 1185 began moving his troops across the Zagros Mountains, causing Saladin to hesitate in his attacks. The defenders of Mosul, when they became aware that help was on the way, increased their efforts, and Saladin subsequently fell ill, so in March 1186 a peace treaty was signed.
In July 1187 Saladin captured most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On July 4, 1187, at the Battle of Hattin, he faced the combined forces of Guy of Lusignan, King Consort of Jerusalem and Raymond III of Tripoli. In this battle alone the Crusader force was largely annihilated by Saladin’s determined army. It was a major disaster for the Crusaders and a turning point in the history of the Crusades. Saladin captured Raynald de Châtillon and was personally responsible for his execution in retaliation for his attacks against Muslim caravans. The members of these caravans had, in vain, besought his mercy by reciting the truce between the Muslims and the Crusaders, but he ignored this and insulted their prophet Muhammad before murdering and torturing a number of them. Upon hearing this, Saladin swore an oath to personally execute Raynald. Guy of Lusignan was also captured. Seeing the execution of Raynald, he feared he would be next. However, his life was spared by Saladin, who said of Raynald:
“It is not the want of kings, to kill kings; but that man had transgressed all bounds, and therefore did I treat him thus.” 
Capture of Jerusalem
Saladin had captured almost every Crusader city. Jerusalem capitulated to his forces on Friday, 2 October 1187, after a siege. When the siege had started, Saladin was unwilling to promise terms of quarter to the Frankish inhabitants of Jerusalem until Balian of Ibelin threatened to kill every Muslim hostage, estimated at 5000, and to destroy Islam’s holy shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque if such quarter were not provided. Saladin consulted his council and these terms were accepted. This agreement was read out through the streets of Jerusalem, so that everyone might within forty days provide for himself and pay to Saladin the tribute as aforesaid for his freedom. An unusually low ransom for the times (around $50 in modern times) was to be paid for each Frank in the city whether man, woman or child but Saladin, against the wishes of his treasurers, allowed many families who could not afford the ransom to leave. Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem organised, and contributed to a collection which paid the ransoms for about 18,000 of the poorer citizens, leaving another 15,000 to be enslaved, Saladin’s brother al-Adil, “asked Saladin for a thousand of them for his own use and then released them on the spot.” Most of the foot soldiers were sold into slavery. Upon the capture of Jerusalem, Saladin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city. In particular, the residents of Ashkelon, a large Jewish settlement, responded to his request.
Tyre, on the coast of modern-day Lebanon, was the last major Crusader city that was not captured by Muslim forces (strategically, it would have made more sense for Saladin to capture Tyre before Jerusalem—however, Saladin chose to pursue Jerusalem first because of the importance of the city to Islam). The city was now commanded by Conrad of Montferrat, who strengthened Tyre’s defences and withstood two sieges by Saladin. In 1188, at Tortosa, Saladin released Guy of Lusignan and returned him to his wife, Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem. They went first to Tripoli, then to Antioch. In 1189, they sought to reclaim Tyre for their kingdom, but were refused admission by Conrad, who did not recognize Guy as king. Guy then set about besieging Acre.
Saladin was on friendly terms with Queen Tamar of Georgia. Saladin’s biographer Bahā’ ad-Dīn ibn Šaddād reports that, after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem, the Georgian Queen sent envoys to the sultan to request the confiscated possessions of the Georgian monasteries in Jerusalem be returned. Saladin’s response is not recorded, but the queen’s efforts seem to have been successful as Jacques de Vitry, the Bishop of Acre reports the Georgians were in contrast to the other Christian pilgrims allowed a free passage into the city with their banners unfurled. Ibn Šaddād furthermore claims that Queen Tamar outbid the Byzantine emperor in her efforts to obtain the relics of the True Cross, offering 200,000 gold pieces to Saladin who had taken the relics as booty at the battle of Hattin to no avail, however.
British Museum Tiles depicting Richard I of England and Saladin. About 1250–60, Chertsey, England, Earthenware, lead-glazed.
It is equally true that his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam.
Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem prompted the Third Crusade (1189–1192), financed in England by a special “Saladin tithe”. Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart) led Guy’s siege of Acre, conquered the city and executed 3,000 Muslim prisoners, including women and children. Bahā’ ad-Dīn wrote:
The motives of this massacre are differently told; according to some, the captives were slain by way of reprisal for the death of those Christians whom the Musulmans had slain. Others again say that the king of England, on deciding to attempt the conquest of Ascalon, thought it unwise to leave so many prisoners in the town after his departure. God alone knows what the real reason was.
Saladin retaliated by killing all Franks captured from 28 August–10 September. Bahā’ ad-Dīn wrote: “Whilst we were there they brought two Franks to the Sultan (Saladin) who had been made prisoners by the advance guard. He had them beheaded on the spot.” The armies of Saladin engaged in combat with the army of King Richard at the Battle of Arsuf on 7 September 1191, at which Saladin’s forces were defeated. After the battle of Arsuf, Richard moved his forces towards Ascalon. Anticipating Richard’s next move, Saladin emptied the city and camped a few miles away. When Richard arrived at the city, he was stunned to see it abandoned and the towers demolished. The next day when Richard was preparing to retreat to Jaffa, Saladin attacked his Army. After a furious battle, Richard managed to save some of his troops and retreated to Ascalon. This was the last major battle between the two forces. All military attempts and battles made by Richard the Lionheart to re-take Jerusalem were defeated and failed. Richard only had 2,000 fit soldiers and 50 fit knights to use in battle. With such a small force, he could not expect or hope to take Jerusalem although he got near enough to see the Holy City. Saladin’s relationship with Richard was complicated despite their military rivalry. At Arsuf, when Richard lost his horse, Saladin sent him two replacements. Richard proposed that his sister, Joan of England, Queen of Sicily, should marry Saladin’s brother and that Jerusalem could be their wedding gift. However, the two men never met face to face and communication was either written or by messenger. As leaders of their respective factions, the two men came to an agreement in the Treaty of Ramla in 1192, whereby Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands but would be open to Christian pilgrimages. The treaty reduced the Latin Kingdom to a strip along the coast from Tyre to Jaffa.
A Knight without fear or blame who often had to teach his opponents the right way to practice chivalry.
Saladin died of a fever on 4 March 1193, at Damascus, not long after Richard’s departure. In Saladin’s possession at the time of his death were 1 piece of gold and 40 pieces of silver. He had given away his great wealth to his poor subjects leaving nothing to pay for his funeral. He was buried in a mausoleum in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Seven centuries later, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany donated a new marble sarcophagus to the mausoleum. The sarcophagus was not replaced, however. Instead, the mausoleum, which is open to visitors, now has two sarcophagi: the marble one placed on the side and the original wooden one, which covers Saladin’s tomb. (Muslims are buried in a simple shroud, so if there are any sarcophagi present, they are usually used for covering the top of the Islamic burials.)
According to Imad al-Din, Saladin had fathered five sons before he left Egypt in 1174. Saladin’s oldest son, al-Afdal was born in 1170 and Uthman was born in 1172 to Shamsa who accompanied Saladin to Syria. Saladin had a third son named, Az-Zahir Ghazi, who later became Lord of Aleppo. Al-Afdal’s mother bore Saladin another child in 1177. A letter preserved by Qalqashandi records that a twelfth son was born in May 1178, while on Imad al-Din’s list, he appears as Saladin’s seventh son. Mas’ud was born in 1175 and Yaq’ub in 1176, the latter to Shamsa. 
Recognition and legacy
The Eagle of Saladin in the Egyptian coat of arms.
The Eagle of Saladin in the coat of arms of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
In 1898 German Emperor Wilhelm II visited Saladin’s tomb to pay his respects. The visit, coupled with anti-imperialist sentiments, led nationalist Arabs to reinvent the image of Saladin and portray him as a hero of the struggle against the West. The image of Saladin they used was the romantic one created by Walter Scott and other Europeans in the West at the time. It replaced Saladin’s reputation as a figure who had been largely forgotten in the Muslim world, eclipsed by more successful figures such as Baybars of Egypt.
Modern Arab states have sought to commemorate Saladin through various measures, often based on the image created of him in the 19th century west. A governorate centered around Tikrit and Samarra in modern-day Iraq, Salah ad Din Governorate, is named after him, as is Salahaddin University in Arbil, the largest city of Iraqi Kurdistan. A suburb community of Arbil, Masif Salahaddin, is also named after him.
Few structures associated with Saladin survive within modern cities. Saladin first fortified the Citadel of Cairo (1175–1183), which had been a domed pleasure pavilion with a fine view in more peaceful times. In Syria, even the smallest city is centred on a defensible citadel, and Saladin introduced this essential feature to Egypt.
Although the Ayyubid dynasty that he founded would only outlive him by 57 years, the legacy of Saladin within the Arab World continues to this day. With the rise of Arab nationalism in the 20th Century, particularly with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Saladin’s heroism and leadership gained a new significance. Saladin’s recapture of Palestine from the European Crusaders is considered an inspiration for modern-day Arabs’ opposition to Zionism. Moreover, the glory and comparative unity of the Arab World under Saladin was seen as the perfect symbol for the new unity sought by Arab nationalists, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser. For this reason, the Eagle of Saladin became the symbol of revolutionary Egypt, and was subsequently adopted by several other Arab states (the United Arab Republic, Iraq, Libya, the partially recognised State of Palestine, and Yemen).
Saladin’s tomb, Damascus, Syria.
Saladin’s tomb, near Umayyad Mosque’s NW corner.
His fierce struggle against the crusaders and his prodigality were where Saladin achieved a great reputation in Europe as a chivalrous knight, so much so that there existed by the fourteenth century an epic poem about his exploits. Though Saladin faded into history after the Middle Ages, he appears in a sympathetic light in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise (1779), and in Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Talisman (1825). It is mainly from these texts that the contemporary view of Saladin originates. According to Jonathan Riley-Smith, Scott’s portrayal of Saladin was that of a “modern [19th Century] liberal European gentlemen, beside whom medieval Westerners would always have made a poor showing.” Despite the Crusaders’ slaughter when they originally conquered Jerusalem in 1099, Saladin granted amnesty and free passage to all common Catholics and even to the defeated Christian army, as long as they were able to pay the aforementioned ransom (the Greek Orthodox Christians were treated even better, because they often opposed the western Crusaders). An interesting view of Saladin and the world in which he lived is provided by Tariq Ali’s novel The Book of Saladin.
Notwithstanding the differences in beliefs, the Muslim Saladin was respected by Christian lords, Richard especially. Richard once praised Saladin as a great prince, saying that he was without doubt the greatest and most powerful leader in the Islamic world. Saladin in turn stated that there was not a more honorable Christian lord than Richard. After the treaty, Saladin and Richard sent each other many gifts as tokens of respect, but never met face to face. In April 1191, a Frankish woman’s three month old baby had been stolen from her camp and had been sold on the market. The Franks urged her to approach Saladin herself with her grievance. According to Bahā’ al-Dīn, Saladin used his own money to buy the child back:
He gave it to the mother and she took it; with tears streaming down her face, and hugged the baby to her chest. The people were watching her and weeping and I (Ibn Shaddad) was standing amongst them. She suckled it for some time and then Saladin ordered a horse to be fetched for her and she went back to camp.
At the end of World War I British Commander General Edmund Allenby had succeeded in capturing Damascus from Turkish troops . According to some sources, after his triumphal entry into the city, Allenby raised his sword in salute to the famous statue of Saladin and proudly declared “Today the wars of the Crusaders are completed.” This quotation was incorrectly attributed to Allenby, and throughout his life he vehemently protested against his conquest of Palestine in 1917 having been called a “Crusade.” In 1933 Allenby reiterated this stance by saying: “The importance of Jerusalem lay in its strategic importance, there was no religious impulse in this campaign.” The British press continued to celebrate his victory over the Ottoman Empire by printing cartoons of Richard the Lionheart looking down on Jerusalem from the heavens with the caption reading “At last my dream has come true.”