How Saladin Conquered Jerusalem

History Hit

3 mins

02 Oct 2016

On this day in 1187 Saladin, the inspirational Muslim leader, who would later face up to Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade, entered the holy city of Jerusalem after a successful siege.

Raised in a world of war

Salah-ad-Din was born in modern day Iraq in 1137, thirty-eight years after the holy city of Jerusalem had been lost to the Christians during the First Crusade. The Crusaders succeeded in their aim of taking Jerusalem and massacred many of the inhabitants once inside. Thereafter a Christian kingdom was set up in Jerusalem, a constant affront to its former Muslim inhabitants.

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After a youth spent at war the young Saladin became the Sultan of Egypt and then proceeded to make conquests in Syria in the name of his Ayyubid dynasty. His early campaigns were for the most part against other Muslims, which helped create unity as well as cementing his own personal power. After fighting in Egypt, Syria and against the mysterious order of the Assassins Saladin was able to turn his attention to the Christian invaders.

As the Crusaders were raiding Syria Saladin saw now need to preserve a fragile truce that had been struck with them and a long series of wars began. Early on Saladin met with mixed success against the experienced Crusaders but 1187 proved to be the decisive year in arguably the whole of the crusades.

Saladin raised a huge force and invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem, facing the largest army it had ever assembled, commanded by Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and King Raymond of Tripoli.

Decisive victory at Hattin

The Crusaders foolishly left their only sure water source near the horns of Hattin, and were tormented by lighter mounted troops and their burning heat and thirst throughout the battle. Eventually the Christians surrendered, and Saladin captured a piece of the true cross, one of Christendom’s holiest relics, as well as Guy.

A Christian illustration of Saladin’s decisive victory over Guy de Lusignan at Hattin.

After the annihilation of its army the path to Jerusalem now lay open for Saladin. The city was not in a good state for a siege, crammed with thousands of refugees fleeing from his conquests. However, initial attempts to assault the walls were costly for Muslim army, with very few Christian casualties suffered.

It took days for miners to open a breach in the walls, and even then the they were unable to make a decisive breakthrough. Despite this, the mood in the city was growing desperate, and there were few defending soldiers left capable of swinging a sword by the end of September.

Tough negotiations

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As a result, the city’s commander Balian of Ibelin left the city to offer a conditional surrender to Saladin. At first Saladin refused, but Balian threatened to destroy the city unless the Christians in the city could be ransomed.

On October 2nd the city officially surrendered, with Balian paying 30,000 dinars for 7000 citizens to go free. Compared to the Christian conquest of the city his takeover was peaceful, with women, the old and the poor allowed to leave without paying a ransom.

Though many Christian holy sites were re-converted Saladin, against the wishes of many of his Generals, refused to destroy the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and allowed Christians to pay homage to their holy city for a fee.

Predictably, however, the fall of Jerusalem caused a shock-wave across the Christian world and just two years later the Third, and most famous, Crusade was launched. To raise money for it in England and France people had to pay a “Saladin tithe.” Here Saladin and Richard the Lionheart, King of England, would develop a grudging mutual respect as adversaries.

Saladin’s conquests were to prove decisive however, with Jerusalem remaining in Muslim hands until its capture by British forces in 1917.

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