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!
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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
Saladin is one of the most interesting historical characters and you can recreate his deeds
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