The Third Crusade had it all: brilliant commanders,
courtly intrigue, religious struggle, desperate sieges, unexpected maneuvers, bold tactics
and iconic battles that changed the course of history. In this video we will cover the
battles of Hattin, Acre, Iconium, Jaffa and Arsuf. Welcome to our documentary on the Third
Crusade! Shoutout to Rise of Kingdoms for sponsoring
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seyfpw6fxu and get 200 gems, 2 silver keys, 2x 50000 Food and 2x 50000 Wood! In late June 1187, under the scorching sun
of Galilee, two armies were mustering their strength for the decisive campaign of the
age. The first, stationed at le Sephorie, was a united force of the Christian Crusader
Kingdoms, under the overall leadership of Guy de Lusignan – recently elected King of
Jerusalem. The shimmering jewel of Christendom’s Levantine army were 1,200 mounted knights,
drawn from all of the crusader kingdoms and military orders – such as the Hospitallers
and Templars – who operated in the Outremer. Despite their undeniable talent in combat,
an army of knights had been humbled by the Muslims at Cresson almost two months earlier,
revealing their potential weakness. Around 4,000 other mounted troops supplemented
the flower of Christian chivalry, many of whom were men-at-arms, converted Muslim prisoners
of war, locally recruited auxiliaries, or mercenaries known as turcopoles. They served
as the crusading army’s lighter cavalry in the absence of European light cavalry,
wielding bows and light lances, among other weapons. The army’s infantry contingent
was made up of 15,000 men of varying quality, ranging from professional crossbowmen hired
in Italy, all the way to the inexperienced local troops. Its composition was also quite
haphazard, displaying an array of weapons, including ‘Danish’ bearded axes, maces,
falchions, pikes and many others. About 20 kilometres to the east, Guy’s opponent,
Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub – better known as the legendary Saladin – moved up from Tal’Ashtarah
with 35,000 men to encamp at the small village of Cafarsset. From its heights, the Ayyubid
leader could threaten any Crusader march to the Sea of Galilee, or the cities of Tiberias
and Sephorie. Saladin’s army – made up of about 23,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry – was
better organised than its Christian counterpart. In addition to its subdivision into relatively
standard units, regular troops were also paid. Most of the army was made up of Turkomans,
Kurds and Arabs, while a unit of mamluks served as the Sultan’s personal guard.
The Muslim commander made the first move on July 1st. Aiming to reconnoiter the Christian
army himself and perhaps draw the enemy out in the process, Saladin personally rode close
to Sephorie with a unit of cavalry. Although any attempted lure failed, the Muslims managed
to scout both the Christian position and a potential northern road to the inland sea.
Realising he would have to force King Guy’s hand in a different way, Saladin sent a substantial
part of his infantry and the army’s siege engines to attack Tiberias , a fortified town
where Count Raymond of Tripoli’s wife, Eschiva of Bures was staying at the time. Unfortunately
for its people, the strength of Tiberias’ garrison had been denuded and left at an absolute
minimum. After a brief attempt at resistance, a tower in the defensive wall was destroyed
with a mine and Tiberias fell. Eschiva retreated with the remaining soldiers into the citadel,
while a messenger, probably permitted to leave by Saladin, went to inform the main Christian
army. Back over to the west, the arrival of grave
news from Tiberias led all prominent Christian leaders to assemble for a council of war.
Perhaps surprisingly, Count Raymond looked past the potential fate of his wife and fervently
argued against any attempt at relieving the city. Saladin’s attack on Tiberias was,
as he saw it, intended to draw them into an unfavourable situation and a battle on his
terms. Despite accusations of cowardice and treachery driven by Raymond’s prior friendly
relations with Saladin, King Guy was convinced; the army remained where it was and the council
dissolved for the night. However, one of Raymond’s accusers – the
grandmaster of the templars, Gerard de Ridefort – whose army had been recently smashed at
Cresson, continued to pressure the king throughout the night. We don’t know what argument eventually
convinced him to change his mind, but just before dawn on July 3rd 1187, the crusaders
were alerted that they were about to march. Breaking camp at sunrise, Guy’s army began
its ponderous eastward march over Galilee’s dusty plains in the blistering summer heat.
It was formed up in three divisions, one behind the other, with cavalry protected in the middle
by masses of infantry on the outside. The vanguard was led by Raymond, the center – where
the True Cross was stationed – by King Guy, and the rear by Balian d’Ibelin. Shortly
after their departure, word reached Saladin that the enemy was on the move. He immediately
recalled most of his troops from Tiberias, leaving only a token force to continue the
siege. While the returning infantry began organising themselves, Saladin sent detachments
of mobile mounted archers in Guy’s direction. At roughly 10am, the heavily-armoured Christian
forces approached an abandoned village called Touran. The settlement had a small spring
which a small portion of the army drank from, but most of the troops were denied the opportunity
and pushed on towards Tiberias. As the parched crusader army started trickling out of Touran,
Saladin’s light cavalry units needled its sluggish divisions with arrows and javelins,
slowly at first, but increasing to a withering hail as their enemy crossed in front of the
main Muslim position at Cafarsset. At midday, the Ayyubid left under Gökböri
swept around the crusader rear, cutting their path of retreat back to Touran. The Christians
themselves were now in a terrible situation, slowed to a crawl by the continual harassment
and sweltering in the midsummer heat with no water. Raymond – leading the vanguard – became
convinced that the army was too weak to fight its way along the Lubiya road – which was
close to Saladin’s position. Instead, he convinced Guy to take a northern road towards
the springs at Hattin – six kilometers away – where his men could rest, hydrate, and recuperate.
Observing the change of direction from his elevated position, the Sultan sent his lieutenant
– Taqi al-Din – to block off the road to Hattin with the Ayyubid right division. Raymond urged
a faster pace, knowing that this was a possibility, but harassment of Balian’s rearguard by
Gökböri’s horsemen brought the army almost to a complete stop. When nightfall came, the
strung out4 and demoralised Christians set up camp for what was to be a restless night
. The dehydrated, exhausted troops were again
harried throughout the h. ours of darkness by the lightning fast squadrons of horse archers
from all sides, attacks which caused dire losses in men and, more severely, the unarmoured
horses. In comparison to the dire supply situation which Guy and the other crusaders faced, Saladin
and his army were more than adequately supplied. Camels were a key factor in his logistical
preparations. To keep up the arrow bombardment, seventy of the beasts loaded with bundles
of ammunition were brought in as a reserve. At the same time, a continual train of camels
ferried goatskins filled with water from Lake Tiberias to the Muslim camp.
King Guy’s army formed up in its three marching divisions before dawn and began the final
march towards Hattin’s vibrant springs. They would never make it. Having been ordered
not to disrupt the enemy in their preparations during the pre-dawn hours, Saladin now ordered
prepared piles of parched brushwood to be set alight, blowing arid smoke from the northwestern
hills straight into the Christian ranks. The dire situation provoked the defection of some
knights to Saladin, informing the Sultan that their comrades were finished. At this moment
of maximum opportunity, Saladin ordered the bulk of his men in the center to charge down
the hill and into the foe. As they did, Templar units at the Christian
rear and Raymond’s division upfront responded with a mounted countercharge that crashed
into the units led by Gökböri and Taqi al-Din. This repelled the initial Muslim assault on
the flanks and even drove a small wedge between Saladin and his right wing, at the cost of
many crusader mounts. Guy’s exhausted infantry however, thoroughly
sleep-deprived, intensely thirsty, and choked by the smoke, had reached the end of their
tether. Upon seeing the small gap which had materialised between the divisions of Saladin
and Taqi al-Din, they took advantage of the opportunity and broke ranks, streaming in
the direction of Lake Tiberias. However, the presence of the Sultan’s army instead shepherded
them onto an extinct twin-peaked volcano known as the Horns of Hattin.
King Guy’s division, under constant attack by Saladin’s mounted troops, was called
to a halt slightly southwest of the Horns in a useless attempt to fortify the area with
tents. Slightly to the east, Raymond took the remainder of his vanguard division and
threw them at Taqi al-Din’s troops opposite him in a headlong charge. To the count’s
surprise, his enemy’s agile units swung aside like an opening door and let the Christians
march deeper into the gorge behind them, before closing ranks. With his vanguard effectively
shut out of the battlefield by Taqi’s clever maneuver, Raymond continued north and withdrew
from Hattin entirely, first to Lake Tiberias, and then all the way back to Tyre. It was
an act of perceived treachery and cowardice which, despite his previously prudent advice,
many contemporaries would never let him forget. As more and more Christian soldiers flocked
onto the Horns in hope of safety, morale completely collapsed. When King Guy, who was still trying
to fortify his camp, sent orders for the infantry to come back down they refused, stating “We
are not coming down because we are dying of thirst, and we will not fight!” With no
alternative, the king also joined his men atop the southern horn and erected his royal
tent. At this point, Saladin’s troops assaulted the extinct twin-peaked volcano from all sides
and, despite ferocious resistance, eventually managed to split the Christian forces on each
horn from each other. When the Sultan’s young son al-Afdal saw
the success, he cried to his father that “We have conquered them!” and was immediately
chastised harshly by Saladin, who replied “Be quiet! We shall not have beaten them
until that tent falls!” It is said that the moment after he spoke, a Muslim cavalryman
cut the tent’s ropes and its fabric collapsed. The battle was won.
Only a few of the knightly flower of Guy’s army had even been wounded, but vast numbers
of infantry and horses lay dead on the field. Putting aside the escape of Balian d’Ibelin
and a few Christian rear units, Saladin’s victory was total. Almost every warrior of
the Christian army was either killed or became a prisoner, while King Guy was simply taken
prisoner and was treated relatively well. After this crushing victory, Saladin started
marching toward Jerusalem, and besieged it on the 20th of September. While the city’s
defences had been strengthened, Jerusalem was a city in crisis. It was swollen by refugees
from the countryside, fleeing the war, and was deprived of fighting men by the annihilation
at Hattin. Although the defenders commanded by Balian
of Ibelin resisted with valor, the city was bombarded by catapults and mangonels, and
after days of siege the sides started to discuss peace. As was typical of Saladin, lax and
even generous terms were finally reached on the 2nd of October. The surrender was agreed
days later and, on the 9th of October 1187, Saladin peacefully marched into the Holy City.
After that siege, Saladin had captured most of the Crusader cities on the Levantine coast,
including the economic centre of Acre. Meanwhile, the ancient city of Tyre resisted the Muslims
when an Italian noble, Conrad of Montferrat, arrived from Constantinople and seized command.
Conrad of Montferrat, now in total control of Tyre, sent the Archbishop of Tyre – Joscius
– to the west. He bore tales of Christendom’s catastrophic defeats to the Pope, Urban III,
who died on the 20th of October 1187, supposedly from the shock of the revelation that Jerusalem
had been lost. Shortly after his death, Gregory VIII succeeded him and, by the end of the
month, the proclamation for the Third Crusade was made.
It is at this point we must take a moment to look at the situation in western Europe
and the reaction to the fall of Jerusalem. Deepening rivalries between and within the
western powers exacerbated the problem that the previous Second Crusade, which had been
utterly defeated, had discredited the notion of holy war. In 1152, Frederick I Barbarossa
had assumed power in the Holy Roman Empire, and in 1155 he formally ascended to the Imperial
throne. His realm was powerful on paper, but its regions were also notoriously reluctant
to conform to central authority, and he had to spend decades subduing warring factions
in the Empire. To the west, the Counts of Anjou – who were
formally vassals of the French Capetian kings – began to grow in power. Henry of Anjou,
the current ruler, then proceeded to add the Duchy of Normandy to his holdings. After marrying
Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was previously married to the French king Louis VII, in 1152, he
ascended to the throne of England in 1154, ruling over a realm encompassing parts of
the modern British Isles and France, and known to historians as the Angevin Empire. The Angevins
were the vassals of the French kings from the Capetian dynasty via their holdings on
the continent, but they were often more powerful than the Capetians, and this friction would
leave a mark on the upcoming Crusade. However, the stunning victories of Saladin
in 1187 were enough to break the deadlock. As the Pope’s declaration of Crusade was
spread through Europe’s royal courts, tens of thousands of Latin Christians pledged themselves
to the cause, which created a massive upheaval in European society, especially in France,
where many aristocrats began to rally their own contingents. However the participation
of kings was crucial to Crusader success. This is where we must introduce one of our
main Christian protagonists – Richard, the prince who would become known as the Lionheart.
This young prince, who was warring against his father supported by the new French king
Philip II Augustus, was the first to take up the cross in November of 1187. It should
be noted that the prince was rash and eager to enhance his own glory and prestige. Richard’s
decision sent shockwaves throughout western Europe, forcing the Angevins and Capetians
to act. Philip Augustus and Henry II met at Gisors
during January of 1188 in order to discuss a settlement in the presence of leading nobles.
Among the attendees of this assembly was Archbishop Joscius, who preached a sermon on the dire
state of Christianity in the Holy Land. This address prompted many French lords to pledge
their support. Amid the zealous fervor of the meeting, the two monarchs made public
declarations of their determination to fight in the Third Crusade. In order to raise funds
for the venture, the so-called ‘Saladin Tithe’ was imposed, but was more successful
in the more centralised English territories than the decentralised French holdings.
Though they were among the first to commit, both England and France were still embroiled
in conflict, and neither would displace their military forces unless the other did the same,
which caused delays in the crusade. Richard, worried that his father was about to disinherit
him as heir to the throne, allied with the French king in autumn of 1188. The two launched
a swift assault into Normandy during June of 1189. Unable to resist this invasion, the
English king sought a peace settlement. At a conference on July 4th, Henry accepted all
terms: Richard was confirmed as the successor, 20,000 marks were paid in tribute to Philip
and the three would crusade together the following year. However, by this point Henry was physically
shattered and ill, and died three days later. His son ascended to the English throne as
Richard I. Upon taking the throne, Richard immediately
began intensifying the realm’s efforts to raise funds and organised his professional
army. After he and the French king had done this, they met in late 1189 and early 1190
for final preparations. Then, in two identical ceremonies one after the other, the kings
took up their symbolic pilgrim satchels and staffs, before setting off for the Levant
on the 4th of July 1190. They would march to the coast and then make their way across
the Mediterranean by ship. At this point, Richard had around 17,000 troops, while Philip’s
contingent was smaller. Further east Emperor Frederick Barbarossa,
through decades of tireless campaigning and shrewd politicking, had imposed a never before
seen amount of central authority onto the feudal realms of the empire, and also reached
advantageous agreements with Northern Italian states and the Papacy. In terms of wealth,
martial resources and international prestige, Barbarossa’s power easily outstripped both
the Angevins and the Capetians. After biding his time for a few months after the crusade’s
proclamation in order to see which way the popular wind was blowing, the Holy Roman Emperor
took the cross on March 27th 1188. He made swift preparations, exiling his political
enemy, Henry the Lion, and leaving his eldest son Henry in Germany as heir. Most of the
crusaders under Barbarossa marched along the route used by earlier crusades. In order to
ease his passage, diplomatic contacts were made with Hungary, the Byzantine Empire and
even the Seljuk ruler of Anatolia, Kilij Arslan II.
All went well until the Germans reached Byzantium’s borders, as Emperor Isaac II Angelos had already
formed a pact with Saladin to deny any crusader access. Barbarossa progressed with force anyway,
capturing Philippopolis before advancing on Adrianople. With Frederick quickly bearing
down on the capital, a compromise was reached in February 1190. The Byzantines allowed the
crusader army to move to Gallipoli and cross into Anatolia with the aid of Pisan and Greek
ships. Back in the Levant, events were progressing
rapidly. All attempts by Saladin to take the principal Christian enclave of Tyre had failed,
including a lengthy blockade and an assault with Mangonels. Instead, Saladin turned to
politics to help foster inter-Christian conflict. Believing he was a spent force, Saladin released
the monarch of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, who had been a Muslim prisoner
since the destruction of his army at Hattin, in an exchange for a promise that he would
never take up arms against Muslims again. Upon his release, Guy rejoined his queen in
Tripoli and then marched upon Tyre, which was a city in his own realm. When he arrived,
Guy demanded to be admitted to the city as its king, but Conrad refused, stating that
he would keep the city until the crusaders came, and so Guy returned to Tripoli. When
the first Pisan and Sicilian ships arrived to assist in early 1189, Guy took a high risk
decision to besiege the coastal trading centre of Acre. On August 22nd he set off down the
coastal Scandelion Pass, but was discovered by the Muslims a few days later. Messengers
relayed Guy’s position to the Sultan, but he hesitated and did not meet them in the
pass. The relatively small Christian army arrived outside Acre on August 28th 1189.
Not thinking this meagre force a threat, the defending Muslim garrison jeered at it mockingly.
However, since his defeat at Hattin, Guy had apparently developed a sense of strategy;
he encamped in a strong position on the nearby 120-foot-high Mount Toron, where he had a
natural defence and a commanding view over Acre.
The first proper action took place on August 31st, when the Christian forces unexpectedly
attacked with ladders, almost succeeding in taking the battlements by shock and awe before
Saladin’s advance scouts arrived. Afraid of being caught out in the open, Guy’s attacking
forces retreated back to the camp. Over the next few days Saladin himself arrived
with the main army, destroying any hopes the Latins had of a quick victory, and forcing
them to fight on two fronts. It is likely that if at this point Saladin had coordinated
with Acre’s garrison, he could have crushed the Christians. But again he wavered, instead
holding a cautious position on the hillside of el-Kharruba, about six miles to the southeast.
Under the veil of darkness, the Sultan managed to sneak a detachment of reinforcements into
the city, while during the day, mounted Muslim skirmishers would be dispatched to constantly
harry Guy’s camp. In any other situation, this would have been a good strategy, but
Saladin’s caution at Acre was a fatal misreading of the situation. One crucial factor made
this way of warfare fail – the sea. Slowly at first, but growing as the weeks wore on,
a constant stream of Frankish ships began to arrive in the region. On September 10th,
a massive group of 50 ships arrived carrying 12,000 Frisian and Danish crusaders. In addition
to the ground reinforcements, the ships also helped to tighten the Christian blockade of
the city by sea. By the end of the month, even Conrad of Montferrat had come south from
Tyre to assist Guy, supposedly bringing 1,000 knights and many thousands of infantry with
him. With their increased numerical strength, the
Christian leaders decided to attack the Sultan’s main force, which was behind them, head on.
Unless they did this, full attention could not be focused on the siege of the city. So
on October 4th, Guy arrayed his forces on the Acre Plain into three ranks. Archers and
crossbowmen were in the first, melee infantry formed up behind them with heavy cavalry in
the rear. The army was also split into three divisions on the left, right and in the centre.
Notably, Templar cavalry was in the centre and Hospitaler cavalry was on the far right.
Rather than charging, the crusaders advanced at a walking pace towards Saladin’s Muslim
army, aiming to cohesively engage the enemy all at once. At mid-morning, the Christian
left finally made contact with the enemy, where Taqi al-Din was the commander. Hoping
to lure the Franks into a trap, he sent in mounted skirmishers and then feigned a retreat.
This maneuver was so convincing that Saladin really believed his nephew had been defeated
and dispatched troops from the centre to aid him, weakening that part of his line.
Observing the shift, the crusaders sent in reserves and routed the weakened Muslim centre,
opening the way to the Muslim camp. For a moment, it appeared Saladin would be defeated.
Flooding through the gap in his line, some crusaders even reached the Sultan’s personal
tent, where one of Saladin’s attendants was killed.
However, the lure of victory and its spoils were too much to resist. The Latin formation,
coherent until this point, disintegrated when the undisciplined footmen turned to looting
and plunder, halting their momentum completely. Greed was certainly a motivation, but intense
hunger also played a part. Meanwhile, the veteran Templar knights doggedly pursued the
fleeing Muslims, but were now unsupported by their infantry. They had charged too far.
Saladin turned and expertly managed to rally his fleeing army, speeding across the line
on his horse to motivate his soldiers and leading an attack on the isolated Templar
contingent, which attempted to retreat. In the ensuing conflict, many brothers of the
proud order were killed, along with its veteran commander – Gerard of Ridefort.
At this point, the situation for the Christians became even more dire when the 5,000 strong
Acre garrison sallied forth from the city, threatening the camp and the rear of the army.
Sensing they were about to be surrounded, and witnessing the defeat of the templars,
the crusader force fled back to their camp. Those in the Christian centre who were still
looting the Muslim tents were caught and killed, while others were cut down while attempting
to run. Though he attempted to do so, Saladin was unable to press this advantage, as Latin
reinforcements sent to the crusader camp, under command of Geoffrey of Lusignan, fiercely
resisted Muslim attempts to overrun their positions.
The Christians had come seeking battle that day, and had been defeated with some 3,000-4,000
dead or dying, which the Muslims threw into the River Belus. However, Saladin had also
suffered during the battle. In terms of dead and injured losses had been relatively small,
but those who had fled during the rout to the camp did not return and proved hard to
replace. After the large battle on October 4th Saladin,
who had been taken ill and was bound to his tent, discussed what action to take next with
his council. Some of the Sultan’s advisors advocated an aggressive approach, arguing
that they should strike while the crusaders were depleted and before fresh Latin reinforcements
arrived. The Muslim army was also becoming more and more exhausted as time went on. Other
members of Saladin’s council professed that a cautious and patient strategy was best,
because the Crusaders were essentially pinned in place between the field army and the garrison
in Acre. The sickly sultan chose the latter option
and the army remained in its defensive position, prolonging the siege by not seeking a decisive
victory. Though the Ayyubid army had the luxury of choice in action, dire news was beginning
to reach Saladin from the north. The powerful Emperor Frederick Barbarossa had begun his
great march towards Syria, supposedly accompanied by over 200,000 troops. Of course, these were
greatly inflated numbers, but the overestimation shows the fear that the Muslims had of this
additional western army. Taking action in response to this news, the sultan sent one
of his subordinates – Ibn Shaddad, on a recruiting mission across his realm to raise more soldiers.
The last we saw of Barbarossa and his German crusaders, they had crossed from Hellespont
at Gallipoli, having reached an accommodation with the Byzantine Emperor. Moving quickly
east, the German army then forged a route southeast through Greek territories, before
crossing into Turkish lands in late April, where they encountered the first sparks of
Muslim resistance. As supplying an army was incredibly difficult
in this hostile land, Barbarossa had to divide his forces and march them in various columns.
On April 30th, the Seljuks attacked the emperor’s camp, employing hit and run tactics with their
light cavalry, but a counterattack managed to drive them back, killing a few hundred.
Two days later the Turks tried their luck with an attack on the Crusader vanguard, led
by Barbarossa’s son Frederick of Swabia. Initially, this attack stopped the Germans
in their tracks, but their heavier armour allowed them to withstand the arrows of the
Seljuk horse archers. Frederick’s soldiers had to dig in and had almost no way to respond.
Luckily for them, Barbarossa was keeping iron discipline in his army and messengers were
riding back and forth between the divisions; when he heard his son was in trouble, he sent
the force of Hungarian light cavalry he had. The Seljuks were attacked from the flank,
suffering casualties and retreating. It seems that the Seljuks just didn’t have
enough troops to stop Barbarossa’s march, and their attacks only provoked him into changing
his course and to go for Iconium, or as the Seljuks called their capital, Konya, hoping
that this would end Seljuk resistance. A few undefended Seljuk villages were massacred
along the way. The Seljuks continued using hit and run tactics, slowing down the Crusader
march and killing many. The main Turkish attack came on May 7th. The
forces of the sultanate, led by prince Kaykhusraw, attacked the enemy at multiple locations and
times, which forced Barbarossa’s divisions to defend themselves. The vanguard wasn’t
attacked at first, and the distance between it and the rest of the divisions was ever-increasing.
As soon as Kaykhusraw decided that there was enough distance between the Christian columns,
his entire army moved to the east in order to attack the Crusader vanguard at Philomelion.
Frederick of Swabia was not only overwhelmed and surrounded, but his troops also were tired
from their march, and that attack surprised them, but they created a circle to defend
themselves. The Seljuk horse archers were shooting arrows from all sides, and although
their armour protected the defenders, many horses were killed, and the arrows managed
to inflict wounds. Despite the fact that Barbarossa’s troops
elsewhere were equally tired, the discipline he instilled helped him to gather the fastest
warriors and move towards Philomelion. This new group outnumbered the Seljuks and attacked
them from both sides. German sources claim that Kaykhusraw had a 10,000 strong-army in
this battle and that he lost half of it. Apparently, some of the Seljuks’ supplies were captured
by Barbarossa, improving his logistical situation. After resting for a few days, the Crusaders
restarted their march towards Iconium, where Barbarossa hoped to replenish his rations
and replace the horses lost in the Seljuk attacks. On the 17th the German army was in
the vicinity of the city, and the plan was to attack the next day. The Seljuks, led by
their sultan Kilij Arslan, and his son Qutb al-Din, were showing all signs that they were
planning to defend the city, as they now had a comparable number of troops.
However, when Barbarossa sent his son to assault the city, Frederick of Swabia discovered that
it was actually defended by a small garrison, which promptly initiated a retreat towards
the citadel after the first contact. The attackers either chased the garrison to the citadel
to besiege it, or began looting the city, massacring its denizens. At that point, the
rest of the Seljuk army was finishing its flanking maneuver, ending it behind the troops
held back by Barbarossa. Kilij Arslan was able to gain a numerical advantage here, and
his troops surrounded the enemy, pushing the Germans to the walls.
Barbarossa’s situation was extremely dangerous, and his troops were taking heavy casualties
on the wings. Unfortunately, we lack the details of what happened next. Apparently, Barbarossa
moved forward with his own contingent and led his center in a charge which broke the
Seljuk center. With that, the wings of the sultanate’s army started to retreat and
the battle was over. Afterward, Barbarossa entered the city.
Afterwards the German force marched south towards the coast advancing into the Christian
lands of Cilician Armenia. Casualties had been significant, but it appeared as though
the worst tribulations were over. However, an unforeseen catastrophe would occur on the
10th of June 1190. Becoming impatient at the army’s slow marching
progress, Barbarossa attempted to ford the River Saleph ahead of his large force. This
proved to be a bad idea, as his horse lost its footing mid-stream and threw Frederick
into the river. The shock of the freezing water and the fact that the armoured Emperor
was unable to swim contributed to the Emperor’s famous drowning. The mightiest ruler to ever
take the cross was dead. His son – Frederick of Swabia, attempted to hold the German crusade
together, but desertions, illness and constant Ayyubid harassment reduced the Imperial army
dramatically as it carried on towards Acre. Back at the city itself, the double-siege
continued with 100 of the inhabitants of Muslim-controlled Acre dying every day. Their tormentors – the
besieging crusader army – used the pause in major action, caused by the bad weather making
nearby terrain unusable, to properly fortify their position. Protective ditches were dug
on each side of the camp and filled with sharp pieces of wood and metal. In front of these
trenches were placed earthen ramparts and even wooden palisades, the former of which
slowed down and hindered Muslim cavalry, while the latter allowed Latin missile units to
retaliate. The ditch between the crusader camp and Acre also had the effect of encircling
the coastal city, meaning that the garrison had no way of supplying the city when the
naval blockade was also tight. In a further effort to impact the siege, the
crusaders diverted the River Belus’ course away from Acre, depriving the city of a reliable
water source. As the camp’s defences were now strengthened, the besiegers of Acre could
safely bring artillery to bear behind the perimeter, where it could lob projectiles
towards Acre whenever the crusaders wanted. Saladin had dithered too long, and there was
now no easy way of dislodging the Christians from their position.
The onset of winter in Acre and the consequent adverse conditions at sea meant that the crusader
ships blockading the city could not remain in position, leading them and Conrad of Montferrat
to disperse – the latter wintered to the north in Tyre. However, the problems with winter
travel across the Mediterranean also harmed Muslim prospects as well, since resupply vessels
could not reliably arrive. The fact that the Acre garrison was now critically
short of food gave the crusaders an opportunity. Starving to death and desperate, the defenders
actually began negotiation with the crusaders to surrender the city in exchange for their
own lives. Remarkably, this was rejected by the crusader leaders, who wished to gloriously
take the city. The Christians would not get another chance like this, because Ayyubid
reinforcements arrived by the end of 1189. An Egyptian land army commanded by Saladin’s
brother came, bringing supplies, weapons and food. Soon after, a 50-galley strong fleet
from Alexandria approached the harbour and swept away the remaining Christian ships.
For the first time in months, the city was supplied.
As 1190 dawned, fighting on land continued only as light skirmishes. However, the naval
front was about to present a massive problem for Saladin’s garrison in the city. On the
25th of March 1190, when the weather had improved, Conrad of Montferrat once again sailed south
with a crack fleet of 50 vessels from Tyre, where he had wintered. Guy of Lusignan and
Conrad had previously been rivals, but in exchange for sovereignty over Tyre, Beirut
and Sidon, he became Guy’s right-hand man and came to the aid of the crusaders that
Easter. As Conrad’s fleet approached the Acre harbour,
the roughly equally sized Muslim fleet sortied out to meet it in open battle. Both sides
at first maneuvered into horizontal lines, but the crusader navy then bent its own formation
into a V shaped wedge with the flanks in front. The battle began with the sounding of trumpets
from the decks of the ships and, as the navies closed into missile range, the Muslim forces
shot arrows and bolts as their enemy. The Christian forces responded in kind, and both
sides suffered losses. As the opposing forces sailed into close quarters,
the crusader galleys turned inwards, exploiting their V formation and the iron spurs of their
ships. They charged against the sides of the Muslim vessels and a fierce conflict began.
Men from both sides threw grappling hooks and boarded their enemy, while the Muslim
vessels catapulted jars of Greek Fire at the Christians, incinerating many. The sea battle
was a tight affair which lasted for almost a day, but at its conclusion, more Muslims
had perished and the Ayyubid fleet was blockaded in the port. Acre was once again cut off from
supply and, by late spring, the strangled city’s supplies were exhausted and they
had to resort to eating their own beasts. On land, the campaigning season began in late
April, when the weather improved enough for the terrain to be usable. Despite the continuous
stream of crusader reinforcements arriving by sea, Saladin still at this point had the
manpower to overwhelm his enemy. However, his anxiety about the approach of the German
army under Barbarossa prevented him from concentrating his full force onto the siege at Acre. He
was unaware that the Emperor, and the majority of his crusading effort with him, had perished
in Asia Minor. Nevertheless, even in its non-presence, the looming threat of the Holy Roman Empire’s
large army contributed to the Christian cause. When Saladin’s reinforcements began to arrive
early in the campaigning season, he immediately sent them north to bolster defences in Syria
in an ultimately useless venture. Restarting the regular engagements on land,
the crusader army slowly and arduously attempted to fill in the dry moat which surrounded Acre’s
land walls with rubble, whilst under the cover of artillery fire. The garrison did its best
to hamper these efforts with missile and artillery fire of its own, but the crusaders were determined.
It it said that one Frankish woman was mortally wounded whilst carrying stones to the moat,
and requested that her body be thrown into the moat to fill it even more.
Gradually, the moat filled and allowed the Christian attackers a route to the walls – a
path which siege weapons could use. In the final days of the winter-induced halt in operations,
the crusaders manufactured vast amounts of siege weapons. In addition to catapults, mangonels,
covered huts and battering rams, the largest engines of war were three massives siege towers.
They were 30 meters and five stories tall, mounted on wheels and covered in fireproofing
material, while a rope net designed to protect the structure from Acre’s artillery stretched
in front of each tower. Seeing these formidable engines of destruction, the garrison was disheartened
and again entered into negotiations to surrender the city. However, the crusaders ONCE AGAIN
refused, believing their new weapons would allow them to win a complete victory.
On May 3rd, Guy and the other crusader leaders packed the towers with soldiers. Crossbowmen
and archers took position on the tops, while spearmen and pikemen piled in below. The towers
slowly began inching toward the city, terrifying the Muslim defenders and breaking their spirit
to resist. From the city, a messenger snuck through the crusader blockade and informed
the sultan that collapse was imminent. Responding swiftly to this revelation, Saladin formed
up his army into left, center and right contingents, before attacking the enemy defences from the
outside, trying to draw their attention from their siege.
The towers slowly moved towards the walls, but as they entered artillery range they were
pelted by jars of Greek Fire. This proved ineffective and did not halt their advance,
on account of the fireproof material with which they were made. It seemed as though
the city was lost, but a young metalworker and specialist in combustibles from Damascus
named Ali approached Saladin, claiming that he had concocted a variant of Greek Fire which
would succeed. He was smuggled into the city, and his recipe proved successful. After his
naphtha was repeatedly pelted at the three towers, they all burned to the ground – only
a few souls escaped the inferno. Shortly after the destruction of the crusader’s
siege towers, likely around the 13th of May, Saladin attacked to put more pressure on the
crusaders. The garrison also occasionally sallied forth, but lack of coordination between
the forces inside and outside Acre made any successful assault impossible. Despite these
Muslim failures, the Christians had suffered a devastating defeat and, due to the blockade
of their own forces by Saladin, were increasingly frustrated and desperate themselves.
Fortunately for the Acre garrison, an Ayyubid fleet managed to run the Christian blockade
and resupply the garrison. Simmering resentment and anger in the crusader camp eventually
prompted a 10,000 strong contingent of footmen to attack Saladin on the 25th of July. Initially,
the crusader assault took the Muslims by surprise, but the lack of cavalry support was to prove
crucial. The Ayyubid cavalry on their right wing feigned a retreat after being pushed
back, which led to the crusaders again looting the Muslim camp. Once again, they were counterattacked
and routed. The Christian infantry fled, thousands were cut down and their corpses were thrown
into the river. In November 1190, Saladin disbanded his army
for the winter, remaining with a small force to watch over Acre as the sea once again became
rough and the rains became heavy. As winter progressed, the garrison in Acre, their Christian
besiegers and Saladin’s army were all short of supplies, food and weapons. They resorted
to eating anything they could, and cannibalism was even reported, in addition to outbreaks
of diseases such as scurvy and trench mouth. Thousands died during this famine, but the
crusaders doggedly and tenaciously held on. The Muslim situation also deteriorated further
when ships sent from Egypt to resupply Acre were dashed upon the rocks and sunk by the
treacherous winter seas. Food, weapons and money that could have sustained the city for
months were lost. By April of 1191, Saladin’s prospects and
those of the city he wished to relieve seemed almost hopeless. With the gateway to the Holy
land still open, Islam would soon have to face the full strength of Latin Christendom’s
crusading wrath. This was first shown when French king Philip Augustus arrived on April
20th with six ships filled with his nobles. He began the construction of seven immense
stone-throwers which, on the 30th of May, were ready, and began a blistering bombardment
campaign against the city, which devastated its walls.
Meanwhile, Richard the Lionheart had captured Byzantine Cyprus by the first of June, thus
securing money and resources. Here he received an emissary from Guy of Lusignan, who was
his vassal via his French holdings. Guy was asking for his liege lord’s assistance against
Conrad of Montferrat and the Muslims at Acre. Richard quickly sailed to the Levant, first
going to Tyre, where the garrison refused him entry, then south to Acre with his 25-ship
strong advanced guard. Upon reaching the city, he was greeted by
Philip Augustus and then set up his camp to the north of the city, but was almost immediately
struck by illness and was confined to his tent. Nevertheless, he quickly leapt into
action and secretly initiated negotiations with Saladin, having learned the benefits
of marrying warfare with diplomacy in Europe. After having been refused a personal meeting,
Richard sent a North African prisoner to the Sultan as a sign of goodwill, then requested
‘fruit and ice’ in return, testing the hospitality of his Muslim adversary.
However, Philip Augustus also engaged in separate negotiations with the Acre garrison, showing
the division which existed within the Latin crusader ranks. Guy of Lusignan was a vassal
of Richard the Lionheart and supported him, while Philip Augustus aided his relative,
Conrad of Montferrat. This culminated in the accusation of treason levelled against Conrad
by Geoffrey of Lusignan, after which Conrad fled back to Tyre – which sidelined the tensions
for now. 25,000 crusaders were now deployed around
Acre, implementing a unified strategy of assault-based siege. Teams of sappers and, increasingly,
massive use of advanced and new stone-throwing catapults brought by the French and English
kings, were used to hammer Acre’s walls continuously with giant, accurately loosed
stones. By late June, this assault was beginning to critically undermine the walls, which were
apparently tottering. Meanwhile in the city, troop shortages meant
that the defenders could not rotate their tired soldiers away from the front line. Throughout
spring and early summer, Saladin did what he could by attacking the Latin trenches,
but they were now far too heavily fortified to be displaced. By the beginning of July,
it was clear to all that Acre was finished and on the verge of collapse. At this sight,
Saladin apparently burst into tears in dejection and grief.
On July 2nd, the crusaders changed their strategy from battering the Acre fortifications to
exploiting the breaches. After only the first day of these all-out attacks to seize the
city by assault, Saladin’s governor sent a message stating he would surrender unless
he was relieved. Both French sappers and English catapults managed to make significant breaches
in the walls, which the crusaders increasingly swarmed through. First in the breach in the
French section was Aubrey Clements, Marshal of France and a prominent knight, who proclaimed
that he would either die or enter Acre triumphantly that day. After the attack was repelled, he
was killed. To the north Richard, still unable to walk due to illness, was carried on a regal
stretcher near the front lines, from where he picked off Muslim troops on the walls using
his crossbow. Finally, on July 12th 1191, after an almost
two-year long siege, a deal was reached to secure the surrender of Acre. The city and
all its contents would be surrendered, but the lives of Muslims who emerged would be
spared. The true cross would be returned, payment of 200,000 gold dinars would be made
and 1,500 prisoners would be returned. After such a long siege, a sudden peace ended the
violence, rather than a feral, blood-soaked sacking.
Eventually, a calm descended and the city gates were thrown open as the garrison marched
out to submit. At this, the crusaders were stunned at the admirable and courageous manner
of their surrendering opponents, ‘unaltered by adversity’. As the siege ended, the crusaders
too had shown enormous resilience and tenacity, facing bitter cold, blistering heat, hunger,
disease and constant battle. Tens of thousands had perished, including 6 archbishops, 12
bishops, 40 counts and 500 nobles. It had all been worth it. The crusaders now had a
beachhead in the Holy Land and, more importantly, had seized Saladin’s prized 70 strong Egyptian
Fleet, which had been moored in Acre’s inner harbour. As the crusade continued into mid-1191,
the Christians would enjoy unquestioned superiority at sea.
His crushing defeat in July of 1191 immeasurably damaged Saladin’s martial reputation. His
image as the triumphant and undefeatable champion of Islam had been utterly destroyed, and he
retreated with his army to Saffaran. Back in captured Acre, churches were reconsecrated
and the entirety of the city was swiftly re-Christianised, but there was no time for laxity after this
success. On July 22nd, within days of the victory, Richard the Lionheart sought to issue
a joint statement with his French counterpart, Philip Augustus, proclaiming that the two
sovereigns would remain in the East until Jerusalem was conquered.
However, Philip instead revealed that he intended to sail back to Europe, considering his crusading
duties complete. Some sources state that Philip was very ill, while others merely profess
his cowardice as the reason, he abandoned his Latin brothers. However, it is probable
that he wished to return to France in order to press his claim to the prosperous County
of Flanders, whose ruler had perished in the siege that summer. Whatever the case, his
departure was humiliating and he would be condemned for it the rest of his life.
This shock turnaround made Richard the uncontested leader of the Third Crusade, and he had the
financial resources to fund such an endeavor. With ultimate authority now his, the Lionheart
would waste no time in seizing the initiative. Acting swiftly to secure his control, the
Angevin monarch forced a now politically isolated Conrad of Montferrat to submit to him on July
26th. The succession of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem was also settled. Guy of Lusignan
would remain king for life, and the revenues of his realm were to be shared with Conrad.
In addition, Conrad would become the heir to the throne of Jerusalem after Guy’s death.
To solidify this promise, he would formally be awarded the city of Tyre immediately, though
in reality he had possessed it for years. To guarantee his Angevin realm’s security
in Europe, Richard coerced Philip Augustus into swearing an oath on Christian icons that
he would not attack Richard’s realm while the crusade continued. Eager to continue the
war with haste, the English king also sought to swiftly resolve the terms of Acre’s surrender
with Saladin. However, the sultan played a dangerous game of delay with Richard, knowing
that if his force could be immobilised until winter due to the prisoners he had taken at
Acre, the winter weather would give him more time to prepare. This diplomatic maneuvering
was to have grim consequences. After Saladin began to deliberately equivocate,
seeking to insert more conditions into the deal, Richard was disgusted and decided to
take a drastic step. On the 20th of August 1191, Richard and his army marched out of
the city and set up a temporary camp beyond the old trenches. The king then showed his
hand – marching some 2,700 prisoners out of the city and herding them onto the open ground
beyond the Frankish tents, their hands bound by ropes. As the Muslim advanced guard watched
in horror, the Christian forces slashed and stabbed their helpless prisoners to death.
A small group of Muslims tried to counterattack in order to stop the massacre, but they were
repelled. It was a stark political message to the sultan.
This was how the Lionheart would play Saladin’s game. In response, the sultan executed all
of the Latin prisoners he himself had taken. Despite its apparent barbaric nature, many
recent scholars argue that Richard was motivated by the military necessity of swiftly moving
onto further campaigns and saving resources which would have been needed to maintain the
prisoners. Whatever the case, the crusade was now able
to move on. After much deliberation with his fellow commanders, the Lionheart decided on
a combined approach – a fighting march to the south, during which the 15,000 strong
army would hug the coast, being closely supported and shadowed by the Latin navy, carrying most
of the supplies. Richard’s strategic objectives during this time were obscured to Saladin
just as they are unclear to us now. This misdirection appears to have worked,
as the sultan felt the need to garrison both Jerusalem and Ascalon with 20,000 men each,
rather than being able to focus on just one of these potential targets. It is likely that
Richard himself had not decided on his objective yet, as he could easily carry on to Ascalon
once he reached Jaffa, giving him the ability to cut off Saladin’s lines of communication
and supply from the wealthy Ayyubid Egyptian core. However, he could just as easily pivot
east to threaten Jerusalem itself – his ultimate objective.
Setting off on August 22nd 1191 in the direction of Jaffa, the Lionheart’s crusading army
advanced at an unexpectedly slow pace, around 6 kilometers per day. He did this both to
prevent his army from becoming strung out due to exhaustion, and to protect his armoured
warriors from the intense heat of summer. On August 25th, Saladin broke camp and began
marching parallel to the crusader army. To the left of the Christian force, Muslim troops
began to assault the strung-out crusader rearguard, manned by the French contingent. Hearing of
their peril, the Lionheart rode to his rear lines and drove the Muslims away, after which
they reached Haifa on August 26th. During their stay at Haifa, Richard reorganised
his marching column. Elite Templar and Hospitaller knights held the van and rearguard, while
the king and a central mass of knights were screened on their landward left side by dense
ranks of well-armoured infantry, whose panoply made them almost immune to missile fire.
Another consequence of Richard’s irregularly slow march was that Saladin did not have the
supplies to keep his men in the field, presuming that Richard would march as fast as possible.
Now in increasing need of a decisive clash, the Ayyubid leader began seeking a suitable
battlefield by performing reconnaissance on the coastal route in front of the crusader
column. On September 3rd, the coastal route became impassable and forced the crusaders
to turn inland for a time, where they would be separated from their supply ships. Saladin
chose this moment to seek battle. He personally led three divisions of troops
against the massed Christian infantry, bombarding them with arrows before charging their line
with cavalry. This brief but indecisive engagement saw the sultan escape unscathed, but Richard
had been struck in the side by a crossbow bolt, though his armour absorbed much of the
blow. By the end of September 3rd, the Lionheart’s
army reached the River of Reeds and pitched its tents, unaware that a mile upstream the
Muslims done the same. Now only 25 miles from Jaffa, the English king allowed his men a
day of rest on the 4th. Ahead of them at this point was the Forest of Arsuf, one of Palestine’s
rare woodlands, and a site which the crusaders feared to pass through due to fear of Muslim
ambush. Beyond the forest was ground prime for a camp called the Rochetaille, followed
by a large open plain. Seeking safe passage through the dangerous
woods, the Lionheart dispatched envoys to request faux peace talks with Saladin’s
brother – Saphadin. Instructing his brother to prolong the talks for as long as possible,
Saladin allowed his men to forage in the woods and rest. However, this was a ruse, and Richard
was in no mood for actual negotiation. The talks were neither prolonged nor cordial,
and they quickly broke off. No sooner had this happened than the king ordered his army
to march through the woods. Thanks to the king’s cunning strategy of misdirection,
the crusaders managed to reach the limits of the forest unhindered and unharmed.
As they reached the Rochetaille, the crusaders pitched their tents and rested for the night.
The next morning, preparations were different, as the king seemed to be readying his men
for a potential battle as they crossed the plains. Instead of a marching column, the
crusader army formed up as if its marching flank facing inland would be its front in
an upcoming battle, so it could turn and fight in formation with ease. Shortly before dawn
on the 7th of September 1191, the crusader army set off in its battle-ready formation,
seeing enemy scouts in all directions. The main Christian infantry contingent, melee
infantry, archers and crossbowmen, protected the ‘front’ and ‘flanks’ of the battle-formation
– screening all of the marching column not shielded by the sea. This contingent, as well
as the baggage train to the rear of the formation, was commanded by Henry of Champagne. In the
column’s vanguard – the right wing of the battle formation – four squadrons of elite
Templar knights, followed by Bretons and Angevin cavalry were led by the Order’s Grandmaster
Robert de Sablé. On the left wing, Flemish, French and Jerusalem knights, led by veteran
Hospitaliers, formed up under the leadership of their own Grandmaster, Garnier de Naples.
Finally, in the centre, another four squadrons of Poitevin, Norman and Anglo-Norman horsemen
marched under Guy of Lusignan, and were under the ultimate authority of Richard the Lionheart
himself. Overall, the crusading army probably numbered around 15,000 soldiers, of which
2,000 troops were the lethal, heavily armoured Latin knights.
As this force passed a forested area to their left, Saladin’s army emerged and arrayed
in battle formation. The sultan himself lined up immediately in front of the treeline to
the left side of the crusader marching column, accompanied by his elite personal guard. Drawn
up in front of him were the mixed infantry and cavalry contingents of Syria, Damascus
and Saladin’s elite guard, led by his son – al-Afdal. On the Ayyubid right flank, Egyptian
cavalry and Nubian infantry under the sultan’s brother Saphadin opposed the Hospitallers.
Manning the opposite side of the battlefield, to the left, cavalry and infantry units from
the Jazira region and Mesopotamia opposed the infamous Templars. Overall, Saladin’s
force probably numbered around 25 to 30,000 troops, outnumbering their enemy two to one
and possessing significantly more mounted troops.
The crusader right wing, led by the Templar knights, reached the outskirts and plantations
of Arsuf at around 9am. At this point, Saladin saw that his enemy was tired and searching
for a good place to encamp, and made his decisive move. Lightly armoured Muslim infantry, wielding
bows and javelins, charged, while horse archers galloped forward. At this point, a shattering
cacophony of cymbals, gongs and war cries broke out as the Muslims tried to intimidate
their enemy. As they came into range, a devastating missile bombardment hit the left wing of the
crusader ranks, with the Ayyubid infantry shooting arrows and throwing javelins, while
their cavalry mounted lightning hit and run horse archery attacks.
The grizzled Hospitallers and other crusader units on this wing were heavily armoured,
and so not many of them were killed – their horses were not so lucky. However, the fact
that the Muslims vastly outnumbered them was causing a loss of cohesion and speed in their
ranks, making them slow down and split from the rest of the army. If this continued, they
would be in danger of encirclement and utter destruction as the column continued to slowly
march toward Arsuf. Richard the Lionheart still did not wish for a full-scale battle,
and instead wanted to regroup at Arsuf itself. On the crusader left, Saladin’s light cavalry
and skirmishers began to get around the seaward side of the crusaders, threatening them with
attack from the rear. Still, the crusaders did not retaliate, as Richard was initially
hesitant to get involved in a mass battle on Saladin’s terms. However the Hospitallers
were eager for a fight, and their grandmaster sent a messenger requesting permission to
attack, which was refused. With his entire army almost bursting with enthusiasm for the
charge and infuriated by the Ayyubid missile attacks, it took the Lionheart’s immense
will and charisma to keep them from charging without orders. Any break in troop discipline
and any gap in the orderly marching formation would be fatal.
As the pressure on the left mounted, the grandmaster of the Hospitaller order himself came to Richard
and pleaded for permission to attack, and was again refused. The king was now close
to his goal of safety at Arsuf, however now his hand was forced. On the heavily pressured
left wing, the Marshal of the Hospitaller order had been held back enough and charged
without orders. Driven by a mixture of rage, humiliation and sheer bloodlust, thousands
of crusaders had followed his lead in a mere moment. Seeing this, Richard acted decisively.
The unordered charge was against his plans, but he instead commanded that the entirety
of his army now charge – and reinforce the left wing. The Lionheart himself and his personal
contingent swept around his army and charged along with the embattled Hospitaller cavalry.
The Muslim line on this part of the battlefield, incredibly close to that of the Christians,
were smashed by the brunt of the lethal knightly charge, and began to rout to the forest behind
them. The king himself supposedly fought with ferocity and valour, killing many Muslims
and acting like the proper medieval warrior monarch.
Much the same slaughter occurred in the other areas of the battlefield, with the Muslims
routing to the rear. However, they were not done, and as the Christian infantry slowly
caught up and again screened their cavalry, Saladin rallied his elite guard, and many
units who had retreated, into a usable battle formation. Richard the Lionheart, using the
momentum of his victory, now charged a second time with his entire army and destroyed Saladin’s
attempt at turning the battle around. Many Muslims were killed as they fled, however
Richard stopped his army before it reached the treeline, fearing a potential ambush.
With this victory won, the crusaders celebrated and encamped at a water-rich area near Arsuf.
It is not known exactly how many died in this battle, but it is widely believed that the
crusaders only lost 700 soldiers dead, while Saladin lost 7,000.
While the psychological impact of the crusader victory was once again shattering to Saladin,
his numerical losses were recoverable. Within days, he was sending messengers to his far
flung territories requesting reinforcements. The crusaders were jubilant at their victory,
as it was clear that Saladin had once again tried, and failed, to stop the Crusade in
its tracks. On the 9th of September 1191 the bruised Franks resumed their march south and,
the next day, reached the ruined city of Jaffa – which Saladin had destroyed in a scorched
earth strategy. This was not an immediate problem, as the crusader navy continued to
ferry them supplies. Now, as they turned inland, Jerusalem waited for their arrival.
After the Ayyubid sultan’s second crushing defeat against the third crusade at Arsuf,
he had to make a difficult decision. Retreating to the south much depleted, he could not afford
to defend both Ascalon and Jerusalem itself. Showing his willingness to quickly change
tactics, and not having much choice, he decided to utterly demolish Ascalon – Southern Palestine’s
main port and the gateway to Egypt – so the crusaders could not use it. Instead, he would
focus on Jerusalem with his entire force. Rumours of the destruction reached the crusaders
in Jaffa by September 12th, and Richard quickly sent representatives by sea to confirm the
act. It was true; columns of inhabitants were forcefully moved from the city and its fortifications
were entirely destroyed. Having tried and failed to defeat the crusaders in open battle,
Saladin would now adopt defensive scorched earth tactics.
This prompted action in the crusader camp. Richard himself wanted to seize and then refortify
Ascalon for use as a supply, communication and staging hub to take Jerusalem, and to
further destabilise Saladin’s hold over Palestine. However, when his council met in
mid-September, a large number of Latin nobles resisted – such as Hugh of Burgundy. They
argued instead for the further refortification of Jaffa, followed by a direct strike inland
on Jerusalem itself. Finally pressured by his crusader kin, the Lionheart was essentially
forced to accede. At this point the crusader army, tired by
the horrors of the march from Acre, now basked in the sudden break in hostility and, as many
Christian eyewitnesses observed, was ‘polluted by sin and filth’. The third crusade therefore
remained stalled in and around Jaffa for seven weeks, giving Saladin time to demolish the
key forts between that city and Jerusalem, further expanding his scorched earth strategy.
Richard spent all of October 1191 reorganising his spent army. Only in the last days of the
normal fighting season did they advance inland on the Holy city, leaving the plentiful coastal
supply line which had done so well keeping the army alive.
The recent shift in Ayyubid strategy left the path inland to Jerusalem from the coast
utterly desolate. Every major fortified site was dismantled and all resources of potential
use by crusader forces were burned. Nevertheless, on October 29th Richard marched onto the plains
east of Jaffa and began the slow, steady work of rebuilding a string of sites through which
to advance on Jerusalem itself. During this period, the war degenerated into
a series of skirmishes, during which the Saracen light troops and cavalry would harass the
Franks and their construction efforts, while avoiding a full-scale confrontation. The Lionheart
would often throw himself into the thick of these battles, apparently to the irritation
of his fellow commanders, who worried for the fate of the crusade if he were to die.
His marshal endeavours and construction were, however, just two factors in a combined strategy.
He also used diplomacy alongside military threat, probably hoping to bring Saladin to
the point of submission before he had to make the siege of Jerusalem itself. Acceding to
these requests, the sultan granted permission to his brother Saphadin to hold talks on his
own initiative, believing his army to be mutinous and war-weary, whilst also playing for time.
What followed was a series of spying episodes and sabotage between the two sides. For example,
Saladin employed 300 Bedouin thieves to perform prisoner snatches at night, while Richard
employed religious pilgrims to covertly steal crucial information. The king even offered
Saphadin the hand of his own sister in marriage, professing that the new couple could rule
over a neutral kingdom centred on Jerusalem. Despite his efforts, Saladin professed that
Islam would not relinquish the holy city, so Richard had to advance further inland.
By early November 1191, crusader engineers had successfully refortified and reconstructed
the region of Yasur for use as a base, and they subsequently moved on to the area around
Lydda and Ramla – both of which had been desolated by Saladin before he had retreated. As the
process of rebuilding Ramla commenced, the ravaging winter began and conditions became
appalling. The crusaders suffered from malnourishment and starvation, and many horses perished.
Despite these dire circumstances, the morale of the Christians was high, as they were buoyed
by a desire to see and regain the holy city for their faith.
Six miserable winter weeks were spent reconstructing Ramla, before the Lionheart’s forces began
to inch forward again, first to Latrun and then to a small destroyed fortress near Beit
Nuba. At this point, the crusaders were now just 12 miles from Jerusalem – the ultimate
goal. They were so close, however things now took an unexpected turn. Though they had come
so far, a council convened on the 10th of January 1192 came to the conclusion that,
instead of advancing and besieging the Holy City, the crusaders should retreat from Beit
Nuba back to the coast. It is said that the Templars and some Latin
nobles coerced Richard into this, but he himself probably was not willing to stake the fate
of the entire Third Crusade on such a potentially hazardous campaign; conducting a siege on
Jerusalem, with shaky supply lines while a large Saracen field army could be waiting
to strike, was incredibly risky. Many scholars have commended this decision, however some
also believe that he missed out on a golden opportunity to take the city, if only he had
pressured Saladin further. While the king’s cautious strategy was wise
in hindsight, its effect on Christian morale and the crusade in general was a catastrophe.
They had been so close, and they had fled in disgrace, so they thought. Predictably,
as the demoralised crusading army withdrew back to the coast, it began to fray and split.
Some units returned to Jaffa, while others went to Acre’s pleasure houses. Richard
himself led a severely weakened contingent to the ruined city of Ascalon, arriving on
January 20th. He would spend five months repairing the devastated coastal city.
To the north, enduring divisions among the Franks would erupt in late February, when
the Latins openly began fighting over the recently conquered Acre. Genoese sailors,
under direction from Conrad of Montferrat, attempted to take control of the city, but
were stopped by Richard’s Pisan allies. Enraged by this attempted betrayal, Richard
travelled north to a place halfway between Acre and Tyre in order to meet with Conrad
– but no agreement was reached. Richard subsequently formally deprived Conrad
of his share of Jerusalem’s revenues. However, he was now thoroughly entrenched in the levant,
with possession of an unassailable centre of power at Tyre and a growing body of support
among the Outremer’s remaining barons. His marriage to Isabella of Jerusalem also gave
him a strong claim to the throne. It seemed that Richard would have to accept the status
quo – that Conrad would have to be accommodated in any lasting settlement.
Crusader politics would continue to be affected in paradigm shifting ways as, in mid April
of 1192, envoys from Europe had sailed to Ascalon, bearing news which would overturn
all of the Lionheart’s plans. A developing political crisis was occuring in the Angevin
realm. The king’s aide and representative had been exiled by Richard’s brother, the
future king John Lackland, who sought to increase his own authority. Realising he was running
out of time, Richard judged he could embark on one last fighting season before returning
home. Now suddenly in the mood to compromise, the
king approved a decision to offer the Kingdom of Jerusalem to Conrad of Montferrat, in a
stunning turnaround. The previous king – Guy of Lusignan – would be compensated with the
island of Cyprus – sold to him at a bargain price by the Templar Order, which itself had
purchased it from Richard. This settlement would lead to over a century of Lusignan rule
on Cyprus. Ecstatic at the sudden promotion, Conrad immediately began to make military
preparations to assist Richard in his future crusading endeavors, breaking off his previous
negotiations with Saladin. In the evening of April 28th, the new King
of Jerusalem travelled to the residence of a fellow crusader in Tyre to have supper,
where the two struck up a friendship. However, while he was travelling home with two guards,
a man approached Conrad with a letter and offered it to him. As he reached out to take
it, the man stabbed him, and he perished soon after. His assassins were shortly revealed
to have been sent by Sinan, the master of the Nizari Ismaili, otherwise known as the
Order of Assassins, from Masyaf Castle. Some of the French crusaders in Tyre spread
rumours that Richard the Lionheart himself had ordered the murder, while others speculated
that Saladin had contracted the Assassins. It is not out of the question that Sinan simply
acted independently, either in response to Tyrian piracy, or fearing that Conrad would
destroy the crucial power balance in Palestine. His death sent the political situation amongst
the Latins into disarray, and several attempts were made to seize power in Tyre. The widowed
Isabella of Jerusalem fended off several of these attempts, and eventually a settlement
was reached in which Count Henry of Champagne would marry Isabella, and was elected the
titular monarch of Frankish Palestine. To the south, the Lionheart set about bolstering
his foothold in southern Palestine by completing the refortification of Ascalon, and sought
to expand it further by conquering the muslim-held fortress of Darum.
On May 29th, bad news was to come. Another messenger arrived from Europe, confirming
his worst fears that Philip Augustus – King of France – was plotting with the ambitious
Prince John. The envoy warned Richard that if nothing was done to stop the treacherous
duo, the kingdom might be lost to him. A decision now loomed over the Lionheart to remain in
the crusade or go home immediately. He chose to remain for now.
On June 6th, Saladin received an urgent warning that a crusader army was marching northeast
from Ascalon in strength, which heralded another advance on Jerusalem. The prospect of attacking
the Holy City was still almost insurmountable, however the stable summer weather, in addition
to the network of previously reconstructed fortifications, would make things much easier.
Nevertheless, Richard was not happy, and was more eager to attack Egypt, which was an easier
target and the wealthy core of Ayyubid territory. Though this likely would have been strategically
wiser, it ignored the prime motivating and unifying factor of the crusade – religious
zeal for Jerusalem. Crusader opinion was beginning to turn against Richard, and the Latin barons
decided to march on Jerusalem with or without the Angevin king. Without much choice, the
king eventually acquiesced to these demands, and decided to once again advance into Judea.
Though the crusaders advanced as one, grievous fissures were beginning to appear in the Christian
command structure, which was to have fatal consequences. The second advance was initially
rapid; they reached Beit Nuba in a blistering six days, whereas before it had taken months.
Initial success gave way to a stalling march, as Saladin consistently launched cavalry raids
to destroy Christian supply caravans. On June 24th, the Christians scored a crucial
victory. After stalking a crucial and massive Muslim supply caravan bound for Jerusalem
for 3 days, Richard seized it and its cargo of food supplies, gold, silver, silks and
its pack animals. After this disaster, the sultan began preparing Jerusalem for a siege
– reinforcing its walls, assigning battle positions and poisoning the wells. Five years
to the day after Saladin’s glorious victory at Hattin, however, a miracle came upon Islam.
The crusaders once again struck camp, turned their backs on the holy city and retreated.
Division in the Latin army and the fact that Richard never wanted to attack Jerusalem,
considering it unwise, had prompted this withdrawal. By summer of 1192, both the Ayyubids and the
crusaders had fought one another to a stalemate. With the forces of neither Christendom or
Islam able to decisively win the Levantine war, all that remained was to settle peace.
Aiming to seize a stronger negotiating position, Saladin launched a surprise attack on Jaffa
during July of 1192 while Richard was away in Acre – preparing to attack Beirut.
7,000 – 10,000 Saracens, most of whom were cavalry, besieged the coastal city and took
its garrison by surprise. They resisted heroically for three days, throwing back assault after
assault, but they then retreated back to the citadel and left the town itself to Saladin.
Crucially, the crusader defenders managed to send word of their situation to Richard.
In Acre, Richard quickly assembled a rag-tag army of 54 mounted knights, several hundred
infantry and over 2,000 Genoese and Pisan crossbowmen, and set sail to Jaffa.
Upon seeing the Muslim banners waving from the walls, the king initially believed Jaffa
to be lost, however a defender managed to swim to the flagship and inform Richard of
the citadel’s resistance. Again showing his military prowess, Richard the Lionheart
leapt into the sea and waded through the shallows in order to reach the shore at the head of
his army. Shocked by the brazen assault and afraid that this was just a spearhead of a
far larger force, the Muslims panicked and routed, spilling out of Jaffa in a disorderly
manner, where many were killed in the retreat. Saladin struggled to maintain control of his
army at this point, and could not bring them to order until they were five miles inland.
When he did, he also received reports that more Frankish crusaders were marching from
Caesarea to reinforce it. This prompted him to counterattack once again, aiming to recapture
the city before reinforcements arrived. Early in the morning of August 4th, the Muslim army
concealed itself in the crop-filled fields outside the city, planning to launch a surprise
attack the next day. This was not to be, as a Genoese soldier out
for a morning stroll found the Muslim army and alerted his comrades. At this, Richard
quickly assembled his infantry and crossbowmen for battle outside the city. The spearmen
were ordered to drive their shields and spears into the ground, forming a makeshift, bristling
wall. Meanwhile, the large tent spikes were driven into the ground to act as anti-cavalry
stakes. The small handful of cavalry Richard possessed were kept in the rear as a reserve.
Saladin’s lightly armoured Turkic, Egyptian and Bedouin cavalry charged at the makeshift
defences of the Lionheart’s line. It was then that the crusaders implemented their
intuitive tactic. The armoured crossbowmen fired their missiles in volleys, one rank
shooting while the other reloaded – resulting in a constant barrage of bolts. With the lightly
armoured Ayyubid horsemen being utterly savaged by crossbow bolts in their repeated charges,
and unable to break through the Lionheart’s innovative defences, they suffered immense
losses. Meanwhile, the crusader’s heavier armour was all but immune to Muslim arrows.
After many attempted charges, the Muslim horsemen were tired and disorganised. The Lionheart
used this moment to charge with his cavalry reserve, crushing the weakened Saracens, who
proceeded to retreat from Jaffa. This was the last major action of the crusade,
and negotiations continued afterwards. Finally, on September 2nd 1192 a deal was reached.
Three years of truce was agreed, Saladin retained control of Jerusalem but agreed to allow Christian
pilgrims access to the Holy Sepulchre. The Frankish Crusaders were to hold the narrow
coastal strip between Jaffa and Tyre, but Ascalon’s fortifications would once again
be destroyed. Key crusaders such as the sickly Richard the Lionheart, Henry of Champagne
and Balian of Ibelin swore their oaths, followed by Saladin and key members of his family.
With these rituals completed, peace was finally achieved.
In the month that followed, three delegations of crusaders made the journey to Jerusalem
unopposed. They had achieved in peace what they could not achieve through war. After
sixteen months of fighting in the holy land, the Lionheart finally departed back to Europe
on October 9th 1192. His opponent – Saladin – ruled his empire for around another half
year, before dying on March 3rd 1193. This defender of Islam was buried in the Grand
Mosque at Damascus, where he remains to this day. Saladin is one of the most interesting historical
characters and you can recreate his deeds and adventures in the world of Rise of Kingdoms
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