Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, captured Jerusalem today in 1187 launching the Third or “Kings” Crusade to reconquer the Holy Land from Muslim rule. Now WE know em

Artistic representation of Saladin.

Artistic representation of Saladin.

Saladin was a Muslim of Kurdish origin and the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria as well as the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

He led the Muslim opposition against the Crusaders in the Levant and Jerusalem after 88 years of European rule.

The Battle of Hattin, also known as “The Horns of Hattin” because of a nearby extinct volcano of the same name, took place on Saturday, July 4, 1187 between the Frankish Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the forces of Saladin.

The Muslim army under Saladin captured or killed the vast majority of the Crusader forces, removing their capability to wage war.

Siege of Jerusalem

Saladin had now captured almost every Crusader city except Tyre and Jerusalem.

Tyre, on the coast of modern-day Lebanon, strategically would have made more sense for Saladin to capture before Jerusalem – however Saladin chose to pursue Jerusalem first because of the importance of Tyre to Islam.

On September 20, 1187, Saladin began his siege of Jerusalem against the Frankish inhabitants of the city led by the French noble Balian of Ibelin.

When Balian and his small group of knights had arrived in Jerusalem, the inhabitants begged them to stay.

Balian was asked to lead the defense of the city, but he found that there were under fourteen, possibly as few as two, other knights there, so he created 60 new knights from the ranks of the burgesses.

Balian, along with Eraclius, prepared for an inevitable long siege by storing food and money.

Soon after the siege had begun, Saladin was able to knock down portions of the walls, but was unable to gain entrance to the city.

Balian then rode out to meet with Saladin.

Saladin was unwilling to promise terms of surrender to the Frankish inhabitants.

Balian then threatened to kill every Muslim hostage (estimated at some 5,000) and to destroy Islam’s holy shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, then kill themselves rather than see Jerusalem taken by force.

After negotiations, it was decided that the city would be handed over peacefully, and that Saladin would free seven thousand men for 30,000 bezants; two women or ten children would be permitted to take the place of one man for the same price.


Balian of Ibelin surrendering the city of Jerusalem to Saladin, from Les Passages faits Outremer par les Français contre les Turcs et autres Sarrasins et Maures outremarins, c. 1490.

Balian of Ibelin surrendering the city of Jerusalem to Saladin, from Les Passages faits Outremer par les Français contre les Turcs et autres Sarrasins et Maures outremarins, c. 1490.

Surrender of Jerusalem

Balian then handed over the keys to the Tower of David (the citadel) on October 2, 1187.

This agreement was read out through the streets of Jerusalem, so that everyone might within forty days provide for himself and pay to Saladin the tribute as aforesaid for his freedom.

Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem organised, and contributed to a collection which paid the ransoms for about 18,000 of the poorer citizens, leaving another 15,000 to be enslaved, Saladin’s brother al-Adil, “asked Saladin for a thousand of them for his own use and then released them on the spot.” Most of the foot soldiers were sold into slavery.

Balian and Patriarch Eraclius had offered themselves as hostages for the ransoming of the remaining Frankish citizens, but Saladin had refused.

The ransomed inhabitants marched away toward Tripoli in three columns. The Templars and Hospitallers led the first two while Balian and the Patriarch led the third, which was the last to leave the city, probably around November 20th.

The defeat of Jerusalem signaled the end of the first Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Saladin’s victories shocked Europe. On hearing news of the Siege of Jerusalem, Pope Urban III died of a heart attack on October 19, 1187.

On October 29, Pope Gregory VIII issued a papal bull Audita tremendi, proposing the Third Crusade.

Europe responded with Richard Lionheart of England, Philip Augustus of France, and Frederick Barbarossa of Germany separately organizing forces.

Frederick died en route and few of his men reached the Holy Land.

The other two armies arrived but were beset by political quarrels.

Philip returned to France, but left most of his forces behind.

Richard captured the island of Cyprus from the Byzantines in 1191.

After a long siege, Richard finally recaptured the city of Acre.

The Crusader army headed south along the Mediterranean coast.

They defeated the Muslims near Arsuf, recaptured the port city of Jaffa, and were in sight of Jerusalem, but supply problems prevented them from taking the city and the crusade ended without the taking back of Jerusalem.

Richard left the following year after negotiating a treaty with Saladin. The treaty allowed trade for merchants and unarmed Christian pilgrims to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, while it remained under Muslim control.

Now WE know em

The Christians of the Holy City Defiling before Saladin, François Guizot 1883

The Christians of the Holy City Defiling before Saladin, François Guizot 1883




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