cultură şi spiritualitate

Saladin's Triumph: The Battle of Hattin, 1187

Frankish disunity and impetuosity produced a disaster that lost Christendom the holy city of Jerusalem.

The Battle of Hattin, from a 15th-century manuscript.The Battle of Hattin, from a 15th-century manuscript.In a battle fought near the western shore of the Sea of Galilee on July 4th, 1187, the Sultan Saladin inflicted a terrible defeat on the field army of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, killing or capturing the vast majority of its soldiers. Historians have questioned the long-term significance of many medieval battles, but nobody has denied that the Battle of Hattin had a decisive impact on the history of the crusader states in Palestine and Syria.

Hattin led to Saladin's conquest of nearly all the lands held by the Franks, including his occupation of Jerusalem on October 2nd. It also precipitated the Third Crusade, which succeeded, by the terms of the Treaty of Jaffa in 1192, in re-establishing the Latin Kingdom in the form of a narrow coastal strip, containing most of the important Palestinian ports. But the defensive framework of the 12th century Kingdom, a brilliant combination of fortresses and geographical features, had gone, and it can be argued that the long-term military viability of the Frankish settlement had gone with it.

In addition to being a turning point, Hattin is also a fascinating battle in its own right, for the decision to fight on what were, from the Franks' viewpoint, exceptionally unfavourable, even suicidal terms, continues to excite debate amongst historians. 

Let us start with Saladin, the victor of Hattin and, with the exception of the 13th century Mamluk Sultan Baybars, the most resourceful and dangerous adversary the rulers of the crusader states ever faced. At the time of the Hattin campaign Saladin was 49 years old, and had already enjoyed a career marked both by a remarkable string of political and military successes, and by a consistent and passionate pursuit of the twin goals of Muslim unity and the expulsion of the Franks. His father had served Zengi, the Islamic champion who had conquered Edessa from the Franks in 1144; and Saladin similarly became a valuable lieutenant to Nur al-Din, Zengi's second son. In 1168 Saladin accompanied his uncle Shirkuh to Egypt when the Fatimid Caliph al-Adid asked for Nur al-Din's help against the encroachments of the Franks under their last great king, Amalric. Shirkuh's death was followed by Saladin's investiture as vizir of Egypt in 1169.

As the Shi'ite caliph, al-Adid was taking a great risk in appointing a Muslim who adhered to Sunni orthodoxy, and Saladin immediately began to consolidate his position by building up his own household. In 1169 the most ambitious of Amalric's thrusts into Egypt was repulsed, and with the Frankish threat largely removed, Saladin was able in 1171 to carry out a bloodless suppression of the Fatimid caliphate. For the Franks, these events were disastrous, signifying the political and religious unification of Syria and Egypt, the two great centres of Muslim power which had, until now, been actual or potential enemies.

Nonetheless, the threat to the Latin Kingdom took some years to materialise. Nur al-Din's demands that Egyptian resources be placed at his disposal in Syria were countered with the argument that the Selchukid and Sunni position in Egypt had first to be strengthened. This caused conflict between Saladin and his patron, which was prevented from becoming serious only by the death of Nur al-Din in May 1174. The fragile unity which Nur al-Din had imposed upon Syria was now threatened, and Saladin acted with energy, occupying Damascus in October. From this point onwards Saladin portrayed himself as the true heir to Nur al-Din, slowly gathering in the cities and lands held by his former patron until, with the acquisition of Aleppo in 1183, and Mosul in 1186, he was effectively master of Syria and northern Iraq. In achieving this goal Saladin had overcome massive obstacles, notably the opposition of Zengi's lineal descendants and, more generally, Turkish resentment of his Kurdish origins. To overcome these difficulties he laid great stress on the benefits which political unification would bring to Islam, a claim facilitated by his investiture with political authority over Egypt and Syria by the Sunni caliph in 1175. Saladin took up certain key ideological themes which had originated with Zengi or Nur al-Din, but which he refined and developed.

Possible portrait of Saladin, found in a work by Ismail al-Jazari, circa 1185Possible portrait of Saladin, found in a work by Ismail al-Jazari, circa 1185

Two of these themes were of particular importance. One was the idea that Saladin's government sponsored orthodox Islamic practices. Taxes which were contrary to Islamic law were repealed, unorthodox religious customs and beliefs proceeded against, Islamic learning actively encouraged, and justice rigidly enforced. Above all, the Sultan him- self led a conspicuously orthodox and spartan existence. Through a primitive but effective propaganda machine, the contrast was drawn between Saladin's government and that of the lax and degenerate Zengid princes. The complementary theme was Saladin's dedication to the cause of the holy war (jihad), which meant the expulsion of the Franks from Jerusalem and Palestine, a city and territory whose sanctity to Islam was increasingly emphasised.

Of the two themes, orthodoxy took priority, so that Saladin refused to levy taxes for the jihad if they were illegal; but the pursuit of holy war against the Christians was just as vital an aspect of the Sultan's policy. Baha ad-Din, Saladin's retainer and biographer, claimed of his master's dedication to the holy war that:

He spoke of nothing else, thought only about equipment for the fight, was interested only in those who had taken up arms, had little sympathy with any­ one who spoke of anything else or encouraged any other activity.

To a large extent, the jihad justified Saladin's wars against other Muslims, through the argument that they were holding up the liberation of Palestine; it countered the inevitable claim that Saladin's-motivation was personal ambition; and it enabled him to pres­surise the caliph into supporting him, thus bringing much-needed Muslim volunteers into the ranks of his army The centrality of holy war in Saladin's ideology, together with his vulnerabil­ity to charges of ruthless ambition and his dependence on caliphal backing, were to be important factors in the immediate background to Hattin. 

In the years between 1174 and 1186 Saladin thus concentrated his atten­tion on extending his power in Syria, and on necessary reforms in Egypt (for instance, the rebuilding of the Egyptian fleet, which had decayed during the last phase of Fatimid rule). He could not, however, totally ignore the Franks, both because public opin­ion demanded some action, and because of Frankish initiatives against him. The rulers of the Latin Kingdom were fully aware of the implications of what Saladin was doing; recounting events in 1175, for instance, the great chronicler William of Tyre remarked that 'any increase of Saladin's power was cause for suspicion in our eyes ... For he was a man wise in counset valiant in war, and generous beyond measure'. Thus in 1177, when Count Philip of Flanders arrived in Palestine, the Franks attacked Hamah and Harim in northern Syria, provoking Saladin to launch an assault on AscaIon and Gaza, on the borders between the Kingdom and Egypt. At Mont Gisard, in November 1177, Saladin's troops were defeated by King Baldwin IV, but two years later, in June 1179, the Sultan more than compensated for this by inflicting a heavy defeat on the Franks at Marj 'Uyun, and level­ling to the ground the recently­constructed castle at Jacob's Ford, on the Jordan north of the Sea of Galilee.

Apart from a brief and unsuccesful attempt to take Beirut by land and sea assault in 1182, it was not until the autumn of 1183 that Saladin returned to the offensive against the Franks. With Aleppo now in his hands, and infuriated by Reynald of Chatillon's capture of a pilgrim caravan bound for Mecca in 1181, he crossed the Jordan on September 29th with a very large army. A massive Frankish force assembled at the springs of Saffuriyah in Galilee but declined to give battle. Unable to provision his army, Saladin withdrew. A few weeks later, an attempt to take the great fortress of Kerak failed, as did another attempt in the late summer of 1184. 

These were undoubted setbacks, but the formidable armies which Saladin was now deploying against the Franks, together with the activities of his navy and his diploma­tic success in sealing a treaty with Byzantium, the only nearby Christian power, in 1181, showed that the long­term situation was of exceptional gravity. The Franks were thus willing to agree to a four-year truce in the spring of 1185, which enabled Saladin to occupy Mosul. By the end of 1186 there was no longer any reason for Saladin to delay a massive onslaught against the Franks; and public opinion was starting to demand one. All that was lacking was justification for pre­maturely ending the truce.

The tragedy of Frankish Syria was that in the very period 1174-86, when an energetic and consistent policy was called for to resist and hinder Sala­din's advance, the Kingdom of Jerusalem came to be so divided internally that it reached the brink of civil war. To grasp the full significance of this for Hattin it is necessary first to stress the military and political viability of the Kingdom at the death of King Amalric in 1174. Despite the debacle which had overtaken Amalric's Egyptian policy, and the persistent failure of the West to respond to appeals for help in the form of a new crusade, the Franks probably possessed the resources and to strategic finesse to survive Sala­din's threat. They had a field army, composed mainly of feudal conting­ents and the knights provided by the Military Orders, which could usually hold its own in pitched battle; in the great castles which they had built on their borders they had defensive bul­warks which could hold down an invading army almost indefinitely; and they had evolved military tactics, and diplomatic skills, which enabled them to exploit their own advantages and their enemies' weaknesses to the full. But the successful use of these assets called for a measure of unity amongst the Christian states Oer­usalem, Tripoli and Antioch), and above all for strong and capable lead­ership by the King of Jerusalem. 

This last essential, however, could not be expected after 1174 since Amalric's successor, Baldwin IV, was a leper, whose poor health necessitated the appointment of a regent (bailli). From 1174-77 the bailli was Baldwin's closest male relative, Raymond, the Count of Tripoli. Raymond was one of a group of important barons born and raised in Syria, including the Const­able, Humphrey of Toron, Baldwin of Ramleh, Balian of Ibelin, and Reginald of Sidon, to which some contemporaries gave the name pullani (OldFrench, polains, 'colts'). They had become associated with the sort of diplomatic moves which had, until the rise of Saladin, succeeded in fos­tering rivalry between Cairo and Damascus. But as the events of Raymond's bailliageshowed, that policy was inadequate. 

Demoralisation and personal animosity were already serious within the Latin Kingdom when, in 1180, Amalric's older daughter, Sibyl, mar­ried a newcomer to Palestine, the Poitevin noble, Guy of Lusignan. Since Baldwin IV would have no off­spring, Sibyl's son by a previous mar­riage would succeed him, and Guy would exercise the regency for his step­son. The pullani were infuriated, the more so as one of their number, Baldwin of Ramleh, seems to have been passed over for Sibyl's hand. In the years following 1180 what one historian has termed a 'court party' formed around Guy and Sibyl: it comprised, most importantly, Agnes of Courtenay, Sibyl's mother; Agnes' brother Joscelin, Seneschal of the Kingdom; Aimery of Lusignan, Guy's brother; Heraclius, the controversial Patriarch of Jerusalem; and the Master of the Knights Templar. Their ascen­dancy over Bald win IV was shown in 1182 when they persuaded the King that Raymond of Tripoli was about to attempt a coup d'etat. Baldwin there­fore forbad Raymond entry into the Kingdom to visit his wife's barony of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. 

The clash between Baldwin IV and Raymond in 1182 was resolved when other prominent members of the 'baronial party' intervened and restored peace, but by this time there were clearly two rival political groups in Palestine which looked either to Raymond or to Guy for leadership. Whether or not these groups were coherent enough to deserve the title 'party', their mutual hostility and sus­picion made the adoption of any common approach towards the menace now presented by Saladin impossible, which obviously worked to the Sultan's advantage. The conse­quences of this were made evident in the following year when Saladin con­quered Aleppo and invaded the Kingdom south of the Sea of Galilee. In this supreme crisis Baldwin IV, whose illness prevented him leading the field army in person, appointed Guy as bailli.

Guy's refusal to engage Saladin's army in battle would in any case have created argument, since the army he led represented a massive effort of manpower for the Franks, but that argument was conducted in terms of the hostility which Guy's remarkable climb to power had aroused. The pullani, who knew better than any­body that Guy's decision not to risk the Latin field army in a battle was fully consistent with the defensive strategy long pursued by Frankish rulers in response to large-scale Mus­lim invasions, ignored this fact and accused the bailli of incompetence and even of cowardice. Baldwin listened to what they said. In November 1183 he stripped Guy of the regency, speci­fically barred him from succession to the throne, and had his nephew, also called Baldwin, crowned. Guy's actions in the field in 1183, and the bitter recriminations and personal humiliation which they caused, are essential background to his next con­frontation with Saladin, four years later. 

The triumph of the baronial party was sealed when, shortly after Baldwin V's coronation, Raymond of Tripoli received the regency for the second time. He was to retain it until Baldwin V came of age, and if Baldwin died in the meantime a com­mittee consisting of the Pope, the Emperor Frederick I, and the Kings of England and France was to decide between the rival claims of Sibyl and Isabella, Amalric's younger daughter. It would seem that every conceivable step had been taken to prevent Guy from recovering his former position, but the pullani had reckoned without force majeure. The death of Baldwin IV in March 1185 did not create problems for the baronial party, but in the summer of 1186 the young Baldwin V also died, and this prompted Guy's supporters to take action. 

Joscelin of Courtenay and other adherents of the 'court party' moved quickly to forestall the implementa­tion of the 1183 agreement. They seized Beirut, whose revenues were supposed to accrue to Raymond to pay the expenses of his regency, and late in the summer of 1186 Guy and Sibyl were crowned at Jerusalem. Raymond wanted to respond to this coup d'etat by crowning Isabella and her husband Humphrey, but Hum­phrey deserted to the other side. Most of the native barons then made their way to Jerusalem and swore fealty to the new king and queen. Raymond went to his barony of Tiberias, from where he sent a messenger to Saladin asking for assistance to repel the expected attack by Guy. This was not an act of treachery since the truce was still in force. Still, at the beginning of 1187, when Saladin was not only ready to launch his greatest attack yet, but was under strong pressure from the caliph and Islamic public opinion to do so, the Latin Kingdom was perilously close to civil conflict. 

It was not until Easter 1187 that matters came to a head. Although Guy was dissuaded from attacking Raymond at Tiberias, relations bet­ween the two men remained hostile. Meanwhile Reynald of Chatillon, Lord of Kerak, a prominent member of the 'court party' who had already infuriated Saladin with his attacks on Muslim pilgrims and a daring raid in the Red Sea, again seized a Muslim caravan, thereby breaking the truce; it was, by any standards, an exception­ally foolish action to take at this point, and was aggravated by Reynald's refusal, even when approached by King Guy, to make amends. Saladin now had justification for his invasion. He issued a general summons to holy war, and on May 1st a preliminary raiding party advanced from Jacob's Ford to Nazareth.

Raymond, who still did not realise the gravity of the situation, permitted the Muslims to cross his lands, but Gerard of Ridefort, the Master of the Templars, who had come north from Jerusalem to try and make peace bet­ween the King and Raymond, decided to resist the raid. At the springs of Cresson his force was heav­ily defeated, and the blow was severe enough to make Raymond come to terms with Guy. Dismissing the troops Saladin had sent him, Ray­mond therefore went to Jerusalem and performed homage to Guy and Sibyl. Unity had been restored to the Kingdom, but it was superficial, and the underlying hatreds were to re­emerge with disastrous consequences in the ensuing campaign. 

Saladin delivered his great blow at the end of June, when he led an army of about 20,000 men across the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee. This was an emergency greater even than that of 1183, and Guy accordingly issued the arriere-ban, the summons to all able-bodied men to fight in the field army. He also hired large numbers of mercenaries, and the result was an army which was probably not much smaller than that of Saladin, 1,200 knights and 15,000 to 18,000 foot­soldiers. 

Both sides were deploying their available resources to the full, but it is notable that even at the height of his power Saladin's army did not greatly outnumber the force which the Franks could raise. Moreover historians have stressed the still tenuous nature of the Sultan's authority in Syria and Mesopotamia, referring to Saladin's own reputed comment that a decisive battle was vital to his interests: 

We should confront all the enemy's forces with all the forces of Islam ... [for] it is foolish to dissipate this concentration of troops without striking a tremendous blow in the holy war. 


It followed that the Franks had little to gain by risking a pitched battle; and, since they had depleted their fortresses and towns of manpower in order to raise this field army, they had a great deal to lose. Any analysis of the Battin campaign must therefore focus sharply on Guy's decision to fight, the more so as he fought in conditions which were just about as unfavourable as possible to his troops.

To elucidate that last point, brief reference must be made to the geo­graphy of the region to the west of the Sea of Galilee. The Frankish army encamped at the springs of Saf­furiyah, the traditional Frankish assembly point in Galilee because of the abundance of water. Between Saf­furiyah and Tiberias, the town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee which acted as the capital of Ray­mond's barony, there stretched fifteen miles of high and arid plateau. If the two armies were to meet in battle, it would be here. Equally, a march across this plateau in early July would be a gruelling operation, especially if executed under enemy attack, and with the expectation of a pitched bat­tle at the end of it. To induce the Franks to cross the plateau, Saladin moved his army on July 2nd to the west of Tiberias, taking the town and besieging Raymond's wife, Eschive, in the citadel. He gambled on Guy marching in relief of Tiberias, and hoped that even the conservative Raymond would press the King to undertake such a move. This was sound thinking, not because Guy would be swayed by chivalric impulse, but, as RC. Smail pointed out, because the King might feel con­strained by his feudal obligation to relieve the capital of one of his leading vassals. 

When the siege of the citadel was reported to Guy, he held a council of war to decide what to do. Raymond, who like all the leading Franks knew the area well, advised the King not to advance. The Muslim chronicler lbn al-Athir portrayed the Count as argu­ing that: 

If [Saladin] takes Tiberias he will not be able to stay there, and when he has left it and gone away we will retake it: for if he chooses to stay there he will be unable to keep his army together, for they will not put up for long with being kept away from their homes and families.

This was a very strong argument and it was fully in accordance with traditional Frankish strategy when confronted with a major Muslim invasion. Guy therefore took Raymond's advice. But during the evening of July 2nd, Gerard of Ridefort had a private meeting with Guy at which he persuaded the King to change his mind, and to order an advance the next morning.

What made the Master of the Templars do this, and what made Guy accept his arguments? Almost certainly, the minds of both men had been so poisoned by the political conflict of the years from 1180-87 that they could only see Raymond's advice as designed to bring them personal ruin, and events in those years certainly helped to corroborate this judgement, which was probably unfair. Guy's refusal to fight Saladin, in very similar circumstances, in 1183, had led to Guy's humiliation and Raymond's greatest success. What was to stop the Count from trying to bring about Guy's downfall with precisely the same arguments in 1187?

Moreover, the financial commitment made by Guy in 1187 was even greater than four years earlier, for the King judged the crisis facing his realm to be so severe that he spent the large sums of money sent during the preceding decades by Henry II of England, and stored at Jerusalem. Henry had ordered that this treasure be kept intact pending his own arrival on crusade, and if the army, including the 4,000 mercenaries paid with English money, were to disband without a battle, Henry would claim that his money had been wasted, thus providing valuable support for Raymond's own attack on the King. Gerard had the added annoyance of being prevented from revenging his defeat in May, by the very man whose acquiescence had made that Muslim raid possible. A wide range of circumstances from recent history therefore combined to make Guy, who was by no means a stupid man, commit a blunder which lost him his Kingdom. Historians continue to debate the precise significance of each factor, but there is no doubt that at the root of Guy's change of mind lay his hatred and suspicion of Raymond of Tripoli, which made the King abandon tried and proven Frankish strategy in favour of a fantastic gamble. Contemporary chroniclers, both Frankish and Muslim, were therefore quite right to see internal disputes as the chief reason for the Kingdom's ruin.

What followed was, in a sense, anticlimactic, since a Frankish victory in these circumstances would have called for extraordinarily good discipline, leadership and luck, none of which the Franks possessed. The army set out at sunrise on Friday, July 3rd, and marched for some six or seven hours under ceaseless harassment from Muslim mounted archers. At midday Raymond of Tripoli, who led the vanguard, appears to have decided that the army had not covered enough ground to reach Tiberias before nightfall. To pitch camp on the plateau without access to water would be madness, but the army was only about five kilometres from the springs at Kafr Hattin.

The King agreed to change the course of the march, but this turned out to be a grave mistake. The Muslims blocked the way to Kafr Hattin, the change of direction caused confusion, and there were particularly heavy attacks on the Templars in the rear. Guy therefore ordered the army to pitch camp for the night at Meskenah. According to a source favourable to Raymond, the Count was appalled at this decision, which was just what he had wanted to avoid: 'Alas, alas, Lord God, the war is over, we are lost men and the Kingdom is done for'; but it is difficult to see what alternative Guy had. Saladin, his goal achieved, brought up supplies of arrows and water for his troops from Tiberias, and surrounded the Christian camp so well that, as one chronicler put it, not even a cat could have escaped. The scene in the two camps was vividly described by Ibn al-Athir: the Christians exhausted, despondent and tormented by thirst, their enemies, who 'could smell victory in the air', encouraging each other and eagerly awaiting the next day's events.

On July 4th the Frankish army made another attempt to reach the water at Kafr Hattin, but at about 9 a.m. fierce Muslim attacks began. The Franks adopted traditional and normally successful tactics, using their infantry and horsemen in conjunction to beat off the enemy attacks. But on this occasion the infantry could not hold ranks; exhausted and dying of thirst, they scattered and ran up the slopes of Qarn Hattin. Saladin ordered that a westerly wind be made use of by setting fire to the brushwood, which added to the confusion and torment of the Franks.

Raymond and the vanguard, cut off from the bulk of the army, managed to break out and escape, which confirmed the suspicion entertained by some that the Count had acted treacherously. But most of the Christian knights were surrounded. With great courage, they fought on until the King's red tent, and the Christians' greatest relic, the True Cross, were captured. After this, Saladin was able to take prisoner those who survived, including the King and Reynald of Châtillon, whom the Sultan immediately killed in punishment for his raid on the Muslim caravan. Ibn al-Athir commented that 'the number of dead and captured was so large that those who saw the slain could not believe that anyone could have been taken alive, and those who saw the prisoners could not believe that any had been killed'. By nightfall the greatest field army ever assembled in the Latin Kingdom had been wiped out and ideal conditions established for Saladin's occupation of almost all the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

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