Saladin is the western name of Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, the Muslim sultan of Egypt and Syria who defeated a massive army of Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin and captured the city of Jerusalem in 1187. On top of in his power he ruled a unified Muslim region stretching from Egypt to Arabia. Saladin was celebrated by Muslims and many Westerners in subsequent generations for his political and military skills, as well as his generosity and chivalry.
Beginning of life and rise to power in Egypt
Saladin was born Yusuf Ibn Ayyub in the central Iraqi city of Tikrit in 1137 or 1138. His family was of Kurdish descent, and his father Ayyub and his uncle Shirkuh were elite military leaders under Imad al-Din Zangi, a powerful ruler who ruled northern Syria. at the time. After growing up in Damascus and rising through the military ranks, the young Saladin joined an army commanded by his uncle Shirkuh, who served Zangi’s son and heir, Nur al-Din, on a military expedition to Egypt.
In 1169, after Shirkuh’s death, Saladin was chosen to succeed him as head of Nur al-Din’s forces in Egypt. He was also appointed vizier of the crumbling Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled Egypt at the time. On the death of the last Fatimid caliph in 1171, Saladin became governor of Egypt and set out to reduce the power and influence of Shia Islam and re-establish a Sunni regime there. Ruling on behalf of Nur al-Din, he strengthened Egypt as a Sunni power base in the Middle East.
Campaigns against other Muslims
Nur al-Din died in 1174 and Saladin launched a campaign to take control of the lands he had ruled. He also sought to establish his regime as a major military player capable of challenging the four Western-controlled Crusader states, which had been established after the First Crusade in 1098-1099.
As Sultan of Egypt, Saladin returned to Syria and succeeded in capturing Damascus, Aleppo and Mosul from the hands of other Muslim rulers. Saladin’s forces also conquered Yemen, which allowed him to consolidate control over the entire Red Sea. In addition to his military exploits, he also pursued diplomatic efforts to achieve his goals. He married Nur ad-Din’s widow Ismat, who was also the daughter of the late Damascus ruler Unur, which helped him gain legitimacy by partnering with two ruling dynasties. Finally, he won broad Muslim support by proclaiming himself the leader of a jihad, or holy war, dedicated to the defense of Islam against Christianity.
Saladin’s goal was to unite the Muslim territories of Syria, northern Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt under his rule, and in 1186 he achieved it through a mixture of diplomacy and of military force. Known for his love of poetry and gardens, he also gained a reputation as a generous and noble leader, aided by the official biographers he hired to record his exploits.
Defeat of the Crusaders and Capture of Jerusalem
After nearly a decade of lesser fighting against the Franks (as the Western European Crusaders were called), Saladin prepared to launch a full-scale attack in 1187 by assembling troops from across his kingdom south of Damascus. and an impressive Egyptian fleet in Alexandria. . His army encountered the Franks in a massive clash at Hattin, near Tiberias (now Israel) and defeated them harshly on July 4, 1187.
The victory at the Battle of Hattin was followed by a series of quick victories across the kingdom of Jerusalem, culminating on October 2, 1187, when the city of Jerusalem surrendered to Saladin’s army after 88 years under control. Christian. Although Saladin planned to kill all Christians in Jerusalem in revenge for the massacre of Muslims in 1099, he agreed to let them buy their freedom instead.
By this time, Saladin’s forces had taken control of a number of other important Crusader cities, including Acre, Tiberias, Caesarea, Nazareth, and Jaffa. Yet he failed to capture Tyr, the coastal fortress to which most of the surviving Crusaders retreated after their defeats.
The third crusade and the death of Saladin
Following the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin, Pope Gregory III called for a new crusade to retake the city. In 1189, Christian forces mobilized in Tire to launch the Third Crusade, led by three powerful kings: Frederick I “Barbarossa”, the German king and Holy Roman Emperor, King Philippe II of France and Richard I “Coeur of Lion ”from England.
The Crusaders besieged Acre, eventually capturing it in 1191 along with much of Saladin’s navy. Yet despite the military prowess of the Crusader forces, Saladin resisted their onslaught and managed to retain control of most of his empire. His truce with Richard the Lionheart at the end of 1192 put an end to the Third Crusade.
A few months later, in March 1193, Saladin died in his beloved gardens in Damascus. Although relatively young (barely 55 or 56), he was exhausted from a life spent in almost continuous military campaigns. By the time of his death, he had ceded much of his personal wealth to his subjects, not even leaving enough to pay for his own funeral. The coalition of Muslim states united by Saladin would go their separate ways after his death, but his descendants from the Ayyubid dynasty continued to rule in Egypt and Syria for several generations.
Mark Cartwright. Saladin. Encyclopedia of World History.
Paul E. Walker. Saladin. Encyclopedia Britannica.
David Nicolle. Saladin (Bloomsbury, 2011)