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Saladin

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History

A formidable Crusader adversary, Saladin fought with an iron fist and held honour as his ultimate judge. He is known as one of Arabia’s greatest leaders not least because of his generosity. Let’s have a look at the most important facts of his life.

Timeline of Saladin’s life

Saladin was born in 1137 or 1138 in Tikrit, present-day Iraq.

Saladin facts

An interesting fact about this Arabian ruler is that his actual name was Yusuf. He was most often addressed by the honorific epithet Salah ad-Din (which translates to 'righteousness of the faith') because of his strong religious conviction. Saladin grew up in Damascus and spoke Kurdish and Arabic.

Saladin Portrait StudySmarterPortrait of Saladin (left) and Guy of Lusignan (right), Wikimedia Commons.

Saladin’s military career started under the direction of his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh, who was a senior military commander under the emir (ruler) Nur al-Din. Nur al-Din was the Zengid emir of Damascus and Aleppo at the time, making him one of the most influential leaders of the Arabian world. Saladin engaged in his first military battle in 1164 when Shirkuh was ordered by Nur to assist al-Adid Shawar, vizier of Egypt, who had been driven out by his rival Dirgham the previous year.

Shawar was reinstated as vizier but after an argument with Shirkuh he allied with Crusader King Amalric I of Jerusalem, allowing Amalric to attack Shirkuh at the fortress of Bilbais. At this point, Saladin received his first major military distinction: he was appointed as the highest-ranking officer under Shirkuh at the Battle of al-Babein on 18 March 1164.

The battle was fought on the desert border of the Nile, just west of Giza, with Saladin commanding the right-wing of the Zengid army. The Crusaders did enjoy some early victories against Shirkuh’s army but the terrain was too steep for their horses, which hindered their advance. As a result, crusader commander Hugh of Caesarea was captured by Saladin whilst attacking his unit. Ultimately the battle ended in Zengid victory and Saladin was credited by Arabic historian Ibn al-Athir with having aided one of the

most remarkable victories in recorded history (Ibn al-Athir, ca 1231)1.

Vizier

A high ranking official in some Muslim countries.

Vizier and Sultan of Egypt

After a protracted power struggle between Shirkuh and Shawar for control of Egypt, Saladin ordered the assassination of Shawar in 1169. Shirkuh also died later the same year. A number of candidates were considered for the viziership to Egyptian Caliph al-Adid most of whom were of Kurdish origin.

The fact Saladin was also of Kurdish origin certainly helped him become shortlisted for the position since the Ayyibid tribe was weary of Turkish influence in Egypt. Eventually, al-Adid chose Saladin despite his Sunni faith in a Shia Caliphate.

The reasoning behind al-Adid’s choice of Saladin was his military victories but also the fact he was one of the youngest generals, so he thought that he could easily control him.

Sunni and Shia relations: the Islamic Schism

The terms Sunni and Shia refer to two different Islamic groups created after the death of prophet Muhammad in 632. After his death, a group of people who came to be known as Sunni Muslims believed that Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law and close advisor, should become his successor.

However, another group, that became the Shia Muslims, believed that Ali ibn Abi Talib, his son-in-law, should succeed him. This disagreement profoundly divided the Muslim world leading to the Battle of Karbala on 10 October 680. During this battle, Ali was killed by the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I who supported Abu Bakr. His murder enraged the Shia and resulted in intense hatred between the two groups over the following years.

In light of this, it was an unexpected gesture to appoint Saladin, a Sunni, in such a high office in a Shia stronghold.

Saladin was inaugurated as vizier on 26 March 1169 and in October he faced a Crusader-byzantine force near Damietta with reinforcements from Nur al-Din. King Amalric I of Jerusalem had realised that an alliance between Nur al-Din of Syria and al-Adid of Egypt would be a disaster for the Crusader States and so he sought allies in attacking Egypt into submission.

Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos agreed to help him but when they attacked the city Saladin quickly placed an iron chain across the city’s branch of the Nile which prevented the Crusader-Byzantine fleet from blockading the city. The attackers attempted to besiege the city but the poor weather and heavy rain also made this difficult and they withdrew in December. This clash ended the main external threat to Saladin’s position in Egypt.

In 1170 Saladin’s father joined him in Egypt in his attempt to depose al-Adid and establish himself as the only authority in Egypt. Saladin acted strategically in forging expedient connections in Egypt and in appointing members of his family in positions of power.

Saladin, who was part of the Abbasid dynasty, worked to gradually dismantle the Fatimids of Egypt under al-Adid who had essentially become a puppet ruler. Saladin purged Fatimid royalists from the army and abolished Shiite Islam in favour of Sunni Islam. In September 1171 he proclaimed an official Abbasid suzerainty and al-Adid who had been placed under house arrest died a few days later.

Now Saladin was a well-established ruler in Egypt and could turn his attention to external threats from the Crusaders.

Expedient

Convenient and practical (but possibly also improper or immoral).

Suzerainty

The right of a country to partly control another country.

Saladin and the Crusades

Saladin entered into a protracted conflict with Guy of Lusignan from 1182. However, the deciding battle between the two took place in 1187 in the Battle of Hattin and established Saladin's supremacy. After Saladin twice besieged the Crusader held Kerak in 1183 and 1184 and Raynald, Prince of Antioch, attacked Muslim pilgrims on Hajj in 1185, Saladin decided to capture Jerusalem.

Saladin’s achievements

On 4 July 1187, at the battle of Hattin, Saladin faced the combined forces of Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and Raymond III of Tripoli. The Crusader armies were annihilated and Guy was taken prisoner along with Raynald of Antioch. The two men were taken to Saladin’s tent, where Saladin offered Guy a goblet of water as a sign of his generosity. The offer also signified that Saladin would spare Guy’s life commenting that

a King does not kill a King.

Nonetheless, this was not the case for Raynald, whom Saladin beheaded with his sword for attacking the pilgrims in 1185. After this, Guy was imprisoned in Damascus whilst Saladin finally conquered Jerusalem on 2 October 1187, ending 88 years of Crusader rule in the city. Guy was released in 1188 and he, along with his wife, sought refuge in Tyre, the only city remaining in Christian hands.

Saladin allowed the Jewish population to resettle in the city after their expulsion from the Christians. The residents of Ashkelon for example, responded with a lot of eagerness to the call. The Christians of the city were allowed to leave if they paid a fee.

Saladin Crusader States in 1190 StudySmarterThe Crusader States after Saladin’s conquests and before the Third Crusade, MapMaster CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

The Third Crusade

The fall of Jerusalem prompted the Third Crusade (1189–92) and was partially financed by the Saladin Tithe.

The Saladin Tithe was a type of tax introduced in England and France in 1188 to raise money for a crusade against Saladin who captured Jerusalem in 1187.

King Richard I Lionheart led Guy's siege of Acre and conquered the city. Following this, Saladin clashed with Richard at the Battle of Arsuf on 7 September 1191 but Saladin’s forces suffered heavy losses and he was forced to withdraw. After this, Richard occupied Jaffa and started restoring the city’s fortifications to prevent it from falling into the crusader's hands.

By 1191 Richard and Saladin had entered into diplomatic negotiations and Richard suggested that his sister, Joan of England, marry one of Saladin’s brothers to establish them as rulers of Jerusalem. The proposal was rejected by Saladin because Richard insisted that Saladin’s brother convert to Christianity.

Having exhausted the possibility of a union between the Kingdoms the two sides continued fighting. The last battle of the Third Crusade was fought at Jaffa in 1192 and ended on a truce. Richard agreed to demolish the fortifications of Ascalon whilst Saladin agreed to recognise crusader control of the Palestinian coast from Tyre to Jaffa. Christian pilgrims would also be allowed to enter Jerusalem unarmed.

The death of Saladin

Saladin died of fever on 4 March 1193, shortly after Richard had left Jerusalem. Saladin only had one piece of gold and around forty pieces of silver at the time of his death as he had donated all his wealth to the poor of his kingdom. There was no money to pay for his funeral and he was buried modestly in a wooden coffin in a mausoleum in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

Saladin - Key takeaways

  • Saladin was born in 1132 in Tikrit.
  • He started his military career under his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh and faced the crusaders first time in Egypt in 1164.
  • Saladin became vizier of Egypt in 1169.
  • The Battle of Hattin fought in 1187 was decisive in Saladin's capturing of Jerusalem. He annihilated the Crusader armies.
  • Saladin died in 1193 from a mysterious illness causing fever.

References

1. Ali Ibn al-Athir, The Complete History, 1231.

Saladin

Saladin was a Sunni Muslim Kurd who became the first Sultan of both Egypt and Syria.

Saladin died in 1193 due to a mysterious illness that caused extreme fever.

Saladin was born in Tikrit, in present-day Iraq.

Saladin ended Christian domination in the Middle East. Besides this, Saladin united the Muslim World and founded the Ayyubid dynasty which ruled in the Middle East for centuries.

The Sixth Crusade under Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, captured Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1129.

Final Saladin Quiz

Question

When and where was Saladin born?

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Answer

Saladin was born in 1137 or 1138 in Tikrit in present-day Iraq.

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Question

When did Saladin engage in his first military battle?

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Answer

1164

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Question

When was Saladin made Vizier?


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Answer

26 March 1169

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How did Saladin become Vizier?

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Answer

After Shawar was killed many candidates were considered. Saladin was chosen because of his impressive military victories and his young age which, the Caliph thought, would make him easy to control. 

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Question

Explain the Islamic Schism. 

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Answer

Initially the Islamic faith was united. After prophet Muhammad died a group of people thought his father-in-law Abu Bakr should succeed him. Another group thought Ali, his son-in-law should be his successor. This disagreement led to division and civil war leading to two distinct religious groups, the Sunni and Shia. 

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Question

What does Saladin mean?

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Answer

Saladin is an epithet which means the 'righteousness of the faith'. It was attributed to Saladin because of his strong religious conviction.

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Question

Why was Saladin attacked by the crusaders upon assuming the Viziership? 


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Answer

King Amalric I of Jerusalem had realised that an alliance between Nur al-Din of Syria (Saladin's mentor) and al-Adid of Egypt would be a disaster for the Crusader States and so he tried attacking Egypt into submission.

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Question


How did Saladin take full control of Egypt? 

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Answer

Saladin acted strategically in forging expedient connections in Egypt and in appointing members of his family in positions of power. He purged Fatimid royalists from the army and abolished Shiite Islam in favour of Sunni Islam. In September 1171 he proclaimed an official Abbasid suzerainty.

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Question

When did the Battle of Hattin take place?


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Answer

1187

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Why did Saladin decide to attack Jerusalem in 1185?

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Answer

The Prince of Antioch attacked muslim pilgrims in 1185 and he was enraged.

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Question

When did Saladin conquer Jerusalem?

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Answer

2 October 1187

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Question

What was the Saladin Tithe?


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Answer

The Saladin Tithe was a type of tax introduced in England and France in 1188 to raise money for a crusade against Saladin who captured Jerusalem in 1187.

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