The Life & History of Saladin

Some history books speak of the crusades as “an invasion of Muslim territories by marauding Europeans whose primary motive is to plunder new lands.”(Closson) By definition in today’s society, the crusades were part of early European imperialism.(Lewis) Yet, a mere 400 years had passed since Islam had conquered North Africa and forcibly taken the large Christian populations into their fold. The crusaders actually emphasized the importance of Christ’s’ birthplace and the measures in which both Islam and Christianity needed to take in order to keep it sacred for themselves. The followers of Muhammad conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century putting the Holy Lands under Muslim rule. Christianity, eventually outraged by the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher in 1095, decided to take back the Holy Lands in the form of a crusade. Christians claimed that the crusades were also fought to counter the rise of Islam, which was spreading rapidly. Saladin, whose name mean “righteousness of the faith” was a leader of Islam who greatly detested the crusades and opposed crusaders openly.(Yahoo)


Some Muslims who took over the Holy Lands made Christians and people of the Jewish faith second class citizens by placing economic and religious discriminations upon them. After the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher, Pope Urban II called Christians to retake the Holy Land of Jerusalem. He wanted to liberate the Christians left in the hands of the Muslims. Muslims, at the time, were threatening to conquer the Byzantine Empire for the cause of Allah (Closson, Don.). Both parties of the crusades were both merciful and merciless during the 400 years of battles. History books like to emphasize the atrocities that Christians committed towards Jewish and Muslim peoples and emphasize the tolerance of the Muslim people towards the ahl al-kitab, or people of the book.(Paine) It is true that Christians slaughtered people during the siege of Jerusalem, but in truth, both Muslims and Christians committed horrific atrocities on mankind during the crusades.

In 1099, Christianity took back the Holy City of Jerusalem. This spawned a feeling of disgust throughout Islam towards the west. One man would reclaim Jerusalem as a part of Islam in 1187, his name was Saladin. As a child, Saladin was a scholar who studied the Koran but had a love of poetry. Throughout his life, he continued his studies always believing that there was more to learn. He grew up in the town of Baalbek where his father, Ayyub, was governor.(Maalouf)


Saladin came to power through Nur ed-din, a popular general from Damascus, part of the Fatimid clan. During the second crusade, Nur ed-din tightened his grip on the area surrounding the Christians. Nur ed-din, the successor of Zangi, was one of the first adversaries of the crusaders who had any skill or true military genius. Nur ed-din’s military genius lay in that he never persecuted anyone who was simply suspicious, he never kept booty for himself but donated it to “pious foundations,” and strived to always make the brotherhood of Islam a reality.(Saunders)

In the year 1152, Saladin joined the military under his uncle Shirkuh. Shirkuh was under the command of Nur ed-din. Saladin learned military strategy from the two men and quickly moved up rank. In 1154 Nur ed-din with the help of Shirkuh and Saladin was able to take Damascus which created a unified Muslim state in Syria.(Lewis) At 18, Saladin became a deputy in Damascus but resigned shortly after his appointment.(Setton)

In 1168, the sultan of Syria sent his Kurdish commander, Shirkuh, to Egypt to help fight the next wave of crusaders. Shirkuh brought his nephew with him, Saladin. While there, Saladin captured a wazir, Shawar. Shawar had called in the Franks to help him and because of this was executed at Saladin’s request. Saladin and Shirkuh ended Shawar rule of Egypt thus allowing Shirkuh the ability to weasel his way into the kingship due to his loyalty to Nur ed-din (Paine, 80). Saladin’s uncle died shortly after taking control leaving Saladin as a natural successor.

Now that Nur ed-din had Egypt in his realm of control, he knew that he would have to make a move against the Franks being as they had been aligned with Shawar. But at the same time, Nur ed-din had become wary of Saladin and his intentions. Saladin did not wish to fight against the Franks. What saved Saladin from a confrontation with Nur ed-din and the Franks was Nur ed-dins sudden death in 1174 (Paine 81.) What Nur ed-din had accomplished was making the Arab world a contendable force against the Franks, but it was Saladin who would eventually reap the benefits (Maalouf 145).

Saladin faced a great many challenges when he became Sultan of Egypt. On of his greatest challenges was making Egypt part of the Abbasid allegiance being as it was part of the Fatimid dynasty. He had also inherited a mismatched army comprised of 30,000 Sudanese infantry and several regiments of white cavalry which he was unsure of how to deal with. Saladin believed that he should and could build an army of his own, but with this notion come rebellion from Egyptian officers. Those who rebelled were eventually put down by Saladin’s brothers and driven into Upper Egypt.

In April of 1175, Saladin was determined to fight a true jihad, holy war, against the crusaders.(Saladin) In order to achieve this he knew he had to follow strict Muslim rule. A jihad was, “a government which sought to serve the cause of God in battle must not only be a lawful government, duly authorized by the supreme representative of the divine law, but must serve God with equal zeal in it’s administration and its treatment of its subjects.”(Setton 569). Saladin wanted to show his military that all wealth should go to the holy war and not for his personal gain. The Christian response to this jihad was a crusade in order to “recover by war what had been lost by war-to free the holy places of Christendom and open them once again, without impediment, to Christian pilgrimage.”(Lewis)

After Nur ed-dins death, Saladin began to tighten his control on the Franks by utilizing the natural resources of Egypt. There were many battles between Saladin’s forces and the Christians. Constantinople struggled with dynastic difficulties encouraging strife between the Byzantines and the some Italian republics. Because of this Saladin was able to profit because provinces such as Genoa and Venice began seeking markets in Egypt thus allowing Saladin and his Muslim forces the advantage they needed to.(Saunders) After a battle in 1177 at Montgisard, the Christians prevailed but only with the aid of every man they could find. The Christian forces were losing ground and support and the Muslims under the rule of Saladin were growing rapidly (Paine 83).

During a famine in 1180, Saladin called for a truce which allowed him to strengthen his control and bring Muslim forces together. Saladin’s empire increased outside of Egypt and by 1183 he brought his capital to Damascus (Paine 84). But Saladin’s mission was to retake Jerusalem. The opportunity began to present itself in Jerusalem when the Kings leprosy began to advance. Because of the Christian king’s deterioration, two rival clans emerged among the Christians; one who favored an alliance with Saladin led by Reynold, the count of Tripoli, and one who did not want anything to do with Saladin. Reynold was resentful of the King because he had been deposed of the kingship and believed that if he aligned himself with Saladin he would be able to recover it (Maalouf 184).

After Nur ed-dins death, Saladin had absorbed part of his Syrian empire and created a “Syro-Egyptian Muslim Empire”.(Lewis) With this merger of Egypt and Syria, the men of war were pursuing war, yet the people of the lands were remaining peaceful (Maalouf 185). When the King finally died in 1185, he left his throne to a six year old, thus leaving Reynold to act as regent. This gave Saladin the opportunity to consolidate more power. Unfortunately, the child died after a year, ousting Reynold from his regency and instead placing a man in power who wanted nothing to do with an allegiance with Saladin (Maalouf 188).

The Holy City of Jerusalem came under attack by Saladin’s army in 1187. During Saladin’s time, arrows were the main weapons of choice. It is said that on the first day of battle, arrows filled the air on both sides. The battle waged on fiercely for two weeks until the Christians inside the walls of Jerusalem became weary. It was at this time that Saladin’s forces camped outside the Tower of David.(Richard)

Saladin saw that he was making little progress and was doing virtually no damage to the walls of impenetrable city. He and his aides decided to find the weak points in the city so that they had better measure when the next attack began. On September 26, Saladin ordered his camp to secretly be moved to the Vale of Jehosephat, on the Mount of Olives, and on Mount Joy, as well as throughout other hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Richard 209). Saladin believed that this tactical maneuver would give the Muslims an upper hand because the Christians would have believed that the Muslim armies had abandoned the battlefield. Saladin’s ploy was an artful military strategy that he had learned under the leadership of his uncle Shirkuh.

Upon seeing the emptiness around the city that had recently been surrounded by Muslim forces, the inhabitants of Jerusalem rejoiced. The people cried out, “The King of Syria has fled because he could not destroy the city as he planned!”(Richard 211). Saladin, seeing this as an opportunity to attack, ordered his men to surround the city. He also ordered olive branches and branches of other trees to be collected and placed between his army and the walls of the city. He planned for his attack to begin at nightfall, therefore sneaking up on the people inside the walls of Jerusalem. Saladin believed that by the time the Christians would be come aware of what was going on, his army would already be nuzzling the walls of Jerusalem (Setton 643).

Saladin also armed his cavalry with bows and arrows so that if the crusaders in the city attempted to escape or come over the walls to fight, they would not stand a chance. In a strategic military moves, Saladin ordered 10,000 men to go straight into the city. Anyone that was left was there solely to protect Saladin himself.

When everything was in order, Saladin attacked by way of the Tower of David. Because of the strategic military effort on Saladin’s part to keep his maneuvers secret, the people of Jerusalem expected nothing. They had left the walls unguarded and within minutes, Saladin’s forces had penetrate the walls of Jerusalem and taken back the Holy City into the fold of Muslim protection (Richard 267).

The Muslims were attacking continuously and effectively meeting no resistance and the Christians inside grew desperate. The Christian leaders assembled and decided to ask for safe-conduct out of the city, essentially handing Jerusalem over to Saladin. They sent a deputation of their lords and nobles to ask for terms, but when they spoke of it to Saladin he refused to grant their request. Saladin then took council with his advisors, all of whom were in favor of granting the assurances requested by the Christians, without forcing them to take extreme measures whose outcome could not be foreseen. “Let us consider them as being already our prisoners, and allow them to ransom themselves on terms agreed between us.” Saladin agreed to give the crusaders assurances of safety on the understanding that each man would pay ten dinar, children of both sexes two dinar and women five dinar. All who paid this sum within forty days could go free, and those who had not paid at the end of the time would be enslaved.(Brundage)

Once the city was taken and the infidels had left, Saladin ordered that the shrines should be restored to their original state. The Templars had built their living quarters against al-Aqsa, with storerooms and latrines and other necessary offices, taking up part of the area of al-Aqsa. This was all restored to its former state. Saladin ordered that the Dome of the Rock be cleansed of all pollution, and this was done.(Costello)

While Saladin’s legacy is the retaking of Jerusalem, he is also well known for his generosity and compassion. While he was a military genius and a warrior with a cause, he believed that all people were inherently good, simply misguided. The Christian crusaders who fought against him in the battle to retake Jerusalem were treated with kindness and Saladin made sure to keep every promise made to the inhabitants of the city. He agreed to a treaty allowing Europeans to hold ports on the Palestinian coast and also allowed Christians the right o make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. This taking back of Jerusalem was final in the eyes of the Muslims, and while the crusades lasted another hundred years, the Christian fervor towards the holy city waned as the renaissance and economic growth began to spread through Europe (Setton 621).

Jerusalem was a priority for Saladin but he also had other hopes during his reign. Saladin wanted to capture all of Palestine, but his goals were pushed aside as the next wave of crusaders came from Europe to attempt to steal Jerusalem back. With Richard the Lion heart and Philip Augustus laying siege and capturing Acre, Saladin knew that his dream to control Palestine would never happen.

Saladin’s personal strength made him the legendary figure that he is in the world of Islam today. His stories are legendary, and he is believed to have killed four hundred men in a single battle. Today, with the eyes of the world fixated on the Middle East, it is people like Saladin who should be remembered. His attempt to unify Syria and Egypt were noble and though his Syro-Egyptian empire tore apart during the Ayyubids reign, he was able to unite Egypt as a strong monarchy that is still present in today’s world (Lewis 167). It is people like Saladin who should be remembered for their love of Islam and love of Jerusalem. Saladin waged a true jihad to keep holy a city that is valued by multiple religions.

Works Cited

Brundage, James. The Crusades: A Documentary History. Marquette University Press, Milwaukee.1962. pps 159-63 .

Closson, Don. “The Crusades.” http://www.probe.org/content/view/115/91/

Costello, E. J. Arab Historians of the Crusades. Routledge and Kegan Paul. London. 1984

Lewis, Bernard. The Arabs in History. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 1993. pg240.

Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Schocken Books. New York. 1984. pg292.

Paine, Michael. The Crusades. Trafalgar Square Publishing. Vermont. 2005. pg144.

Richard, J. The Crusades 1071-1291. Cambridge University Press. 1999.

Saunders, J.J. A History of Medieval Islam. Routledge Press. London. 2003. pg217.

Setton, K. A History of the Crusades. Volume 1. Milwaukee. University of Wisonson Press. 1969.

Yahoo. Education. “Saladin.” http://education.yahoo.com/reference/encyclopedia/entry/Saladin


5 thoughts on “The Life & History of Saladin

  1. Saladin was only generous when it suited him. Contrary to the author’s arguments he behaved with extreme cruelty when it suited him; for example the slaughter of captured Templar knights by Sufi clerics after the battle of Hattin, who literally butchered them because they had little experience with weapons.

  2. Saladin I was nice man, I have a good relationship with the first king, when the king past problems stert, be twin infor lowers, power can never bring pice, pice bring joy.

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