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     Nur ed-Din, Ayub and Saladin
     Fall of Jerusalem
     Egypt, Palestine and Syria

Mamelukes and Turks

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Nur ed-Din, Ayub and Saladin: 1154-1186

When Nur ed-Din arrives in 1154 to besiege Damascus, the inhabitants open the gates to his army. The ruling dynasty is evicted. Nur ed-Din places Ayub, a Kurdish chieftain, in charge of the city.

With Damascus secured to the north of Jerusalem, Nur ed-Din's strategy is to surround the crusader kingdom by gaining control of Egypt to the south. He sends Syrian armies to support the Fatimid rulers of Egypt against crusader attacks.


Saladin, the son of Ayub (the governor of Damascus), plays a prominent role in these Egyptian campaigns. In 1169 Nur ed-Din appoints him commander of the Syrian forces in Egypt. In 1171 Saladin deposes the Fatimid caliph. Though officially acting on behalf of Nur ed-Din, the young campaigner, aged thirty-three, is now in effect the ruler of Egypt. When Nur ed-Din dies, three years later, he is well placed to assert himself in a wider context.

From his base in Egypt, where he establishes the Ayubid dynasty (named after his father, Ayub, who has died in 1172), Saladin extends his power through Nur ed-Din's extensive territory.


Damascus easily falls to him, thanks to his father's links with the city. Northern Syria and Iraq remain for a while loyal to the family of Nur ed-Din, but by a combination of force and diplomacy (making much of the theme of jihad) Saladin secures control of Aleppo in 1183 and Mosul in 1186.

The entire Muslim world surrounding the crusader territories, from Egypt to Syria, is now united in a holy cause. Disunity among the Franks soon provides both the opportunity and the pretext for action.


The fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem: 1187

In 1185 an 8-year old, Baldwin V, inherits the kingdom of Jerusalem. Rivalries during the regency erupt into virtual civil war when the child dies, only a year later, in 1186. In that same year a Frankish nobleman breaks the terms of a truce with Saladin and plunders a rich caravan making its way from Egypt to Damascus. Travelling with the caravan, as if to aggravate the offence, is Saladin's sister.

In May 1187 Saladin crosses the Jordan into the kingdom of Jerusalem with an army of some 20,000 men. In July he meets a Christian army of about the same size beneath two projecting hills, the Horns of Hattin, west of the sea of Galilee.


The Franks make the mistake of camping overnight on a plateau where the wells are dry. By the morning of the battle, in the July heat, they are desperate with thirst. They are destroyed by Saladin's army. The kingdom of Jerusalem lies open to him. Hattin, in 1187, is the turning point in the story of the crusades.

Saladin spends the next two months securing crusader fortresses in Galilee and on the coast. Acre and Gaza capitulate. Jaffa and Ascalon are besieged and taken. Only Tyre holds out against him. By September he is ready for the final challenge. He besieges Jerusalem. On the last day of the month the city surrenders.


Saladin's lasting reputation among Christians, as a man of chivalry and honour, derives above all from his treatment of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The contrast, eighty-eight years earlier, with the behaviour of the crusaders in Jerusalem could not be greater. Instead of pillage and massacre, there is an orderly handing over of the city. Holy places are respected. A ransom is to be paid for each Christian to depart in freedom, but it is not high. Among those who cannot afford it, many are released by Saladin instead of being sold into slavery.

To the very end, the Christian authorities set an appalling example. The patriarch, after buying his freedom with ten dinars, departs with wagonloads of valuable treasure which could have been used to free fellow Christians.


Egypt, Palestine and Syria: 1174-1250

Saladin's control of Egypt, Damascus and Aleppo, together with his campaign of 1187-8 against the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, brings almost the entire eastern Mediterranean once again under unified rule. The region will remain united during the rest of Saladin's Ayubid dynasty (until 1250), then under the next dynasty in Egypt (that of the Mameluke sultans) and finally under Ottoman rule from Turkey.

The only exceptions, in the short term, are the few strongholds which the Franks retain after 1188 - Tyre, Tripoli and a coastal strip up to Antioch. This region is briefly enlarged by the efforts, in the third crusade, of Richard I in 1191-2, but a more significant change comes with the fall of the Ayubid dynasty in 1250.


The kings of England and France, Richard I and Philip II, arrive by sea at Acre during the early summer of 1191. On July 12 they accept the surrender of the Muslim garrison, agreeing to spare their lives on stipulated terms (payment of large sums and the release of 1500 Christian prisoners). At the end of the month the king of France, with this symbolic task achieved, sets off home to France. In August Richard, impatient that Saladin has not yet been able to keep the Muslim side of the bargain, orders the massacre of the 2700 members of the captured garrison.

He then sets off on a campaign of conquest - the purpose, after all, of his crusade.


For the next twelve months Richard and Saladin test each other's strength by military and diplomatic means. Richard wins most of the military encounters, often showing outstanding personal courage. But his forces are too few to hold much of Palestine or, the real prize, to take Jerusalem. Time and diplomatic advantage are on Saladin's side.

Eventually a truce is made, in 1192. The Franks are to retain a strip along the coast from Acre down to Jaffa, and Christian pilgrims may freely visit all the holy places of Palestine. With this much accomplished, Richard sets off on a long and disastrous journey (see Richard's journey home).


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