The Horns of Hattin
Posted on 17th July 2021
The Christian presence in the Holy Land had been a significant one ever since the fall of Jerusalem on 15 July 1099 and despite its many rivalries had both prospered and seen its borders extended in the years since largely because of similar divisions within the Muslim world. It was thrown into crisis however when on 16 March 1185, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem who had been struck down by leprosy in childhood died, aged just 24.
The fact that he had proven a strong and effective leader despite his illness and young age had surprised many, that he had also died childless did not and ambitious noblemen had been scheming to replace him for some time.
Prior to his death he had nominated his 5 year old nephew, also Baldwin, to succeed him which played directly into the hands of the many factions now vying for power in Jerusalem. When the young Baldwin died within a year of his succession the heir apparent became the deceased Baldwin IV’s elder sister, Sibylla.
Although she was a formidable woman in her own right and no novice to the intrigues and factional disputes of Court politics she was not expected to rule in person but through her husband the unpopular and ill-considered Guy de Lusignan.
Guy de Lusignan had been born in Poitou, France, in 1150, and despite being of noble birth was not of particularly high rank and like many Christian knights at the time he lived well beyond his means. He had earlier been exiled from the Dukedom of Aquitaine by King Richard I for the robbery and murder of an English nobleman returning from pilgrimage.
Fortunate to escape with his life he wandered around Europe for a time before by the mid-1170’s finding himself in the Holy Land and Jerusalem.
Even at a time when such characteristics were considered almost a virtue, Guy was so haughty and arrogant that he was heartily disliked. His noble birth however, provided him with access to the Royal Court even if efforts were made to ensure he wielded little influence. The rivalry of the various Court factions were to guarantee the opposite however, and it was because he was ostensibly an outsider who was allied to no one that saw him betrothed to the King’s sister.
Such was the opposition to Guy that though there was no question that Sibylla was the rightful heir some now cast doubt on a woman’s fitness to rule. To placate her enemies at Court she agreed to annul her marriage to Guy but only if she could take a husband of her own choice. In a ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in August 1086, Sibylla accepted the title Queen of Jerusalem before to the astonishment of all present she remarried Guy and presented to him the crown.
Guy’s predecessor Baldwin IV had followed a peace policy with his Muslim neighbours, though it was always a tenuous peace and he had never been shy in using force to protect Christian interests where he believed they were being threatened. Nonetheless, he recognised that the Christian Kingdom’s were isolated and vulnerable surrounded by much larger Muslim lands as they were.
Thus, if a dispute could be settled by negotiation then so much the better but it was not a policy that pleased everyone especially those seeking to enrich themselves and the Religious Orders who saw the waging of holy war against the heretical Saracen as the reason for their presence in the Holy Land in the first place.
The threat posed to the Christian Outremer by the Muslim lands surrounding them only increased when they became effectively unified in 1174 under the rule of one man, Salah- ad Din or Saladin.
He had been born in Tikrit in modern-day Iraq in 1137, he was of noble birth, a scion of the notoriously ambitious Ayyubid family but he was not an Arab as is often thought but of Kurdish descent.
His family had been forced to flee Tikrit on the night of his birth following a violent dispute that had resulted in an honour killing and he was raised in Damascus largely under the tutelage of his uncle Asad ad-Din Shirkuh, the right-hand-man to Nur-ad-Din the powerful Vizier of Aleppo.
Saladin’s uncle Shirkuh was an experienced and formidable military commander and it was whilst serving in his uncle’s army that he honed his own leadership skills and learned the arts of warfare
In 1163, Nur ad-Din had intervened in the politics of the crumbling Fatimid Empire in Egypt at the request of its recently deposed leader Sharwar. His army was commanded by Shirkuh and Saladin accompanied him as one of his lieutenants.
Sharwar’s opponent, Dirgham, was supported by the King of Jerusalem Amalric I and it was in Egypt that Saladin first gained experience of fighting against a Crusader army.
After many campaigns and a constantly shifting balance of power in January 1169, Amalric was finally bought off and abandoned Egypt to its fate allowing Sharwar to enter Alexandria unopposed but his moment of triumph was to be short-lived for having proven himself treacherous and unreliable he was arrested and executed on the personal orders of Saladin.
Nur ad-Din now appointed Shirkuh as the Vizier of Egypt but when he died later that year from dysentery caused by over-eating Saladin appointed himself his successor. An outraged Nur ad-Din was not impressed and cursed Saladin for his impertinence but there was little he could do. Saladin on his part understood the art of diplomacy and despite seizing power he never disavowed his oath of loyalty to Nur ad-Din.
Saladin’s hold on Egypt was an uncertain one but through charisma, force of personality and know little military prowess he was able to secure his hold on the country and gradually over time unify the rest of the Muslim world under his personal rule. This had been no easy task but Saladin had changed both as a ruler and as a man and he was no longer simply the earnest young warrior and ruthless man of violence.
Always studious he now surrounded himself with Islamic scholars and personally undertook a deeper understanding of the Quran presenting himself as the upholder of the Muslim faith and in doing so he vowed to rid the Muslim lands of the Infidel and to recapture the Holy City of Jerusalem for Islam.
The unification of the Muslim world under one man was the realisation of all Baldwin’s greatest fears. The forces at Saladin’s disposal should he choose to bring them to bear far out-weighed his own. He would continue to defend to Christian possessions in the Holy Land but he wanted to avoid outright conflict with Saladin at all costs.
Despite Baldwin’s best efforts including a victory over Saladin at the Battle of Montgisard in November 1177, the power of the Muslims continued to grow as they more and more encroached upon Christian held lands and threatened their possessions.
In early 1185, with Baldwin so ill he was confined to his bed, many who had long viewed his peace policy as being weak and ineffective began to openly voice their opposition to it. One of the most vocal in wanting to adopt a more aggressive approach was Guy de Lusignan but with his eyes firmly set upon the succession he did not push too hard. No such considerations restrained his close associate and ally Raynald de Chatillon, however.
Raynald, who had been born in the Loire region of France in 1125joined the Second Crusade as a knight in 1147 and following its defeat decided to remain in the East. It seems likely, as was the case with many, that he had joined the Crusade not out of any religious conviction but because he saw it as an opportunity to make a fortune for himself and his future behaviour would appear to confirm this view.
In 1156, he became entangled in a dispute with the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus I, whom he insisted owed him money and as a result vowed to take revenge by attacking the Byzantine owned Island of Cyprus and taking by force what was owed to him. But not having the means to do so he attacked the city of Antioch instead where capturing the elderly Patriarch he had him stripped naked, smeared in honey, and lowered over the city walls in a cage to be burnt by the sun and stung by bees until the old man agreed to fund his expedition to Cyprus.
Once he arrived on the Island he proceeded to pillage and burn just as he had promised he would. An outraged Byzantine Emperor now marched an army against him, Raynald. Realising with his few knights he was in no position to wage a war and that his actions had been foolhardy in the extreme he walked barefoot to the Emperor's camp, fell to his knees and begged his forgiveness. So utter was his act of contrition that not only was his life spared but he avoided punishment altogether.
Raynald had been fortunate to avoid execution but his close shave with death did little to modify his behaviour and journeying on to Syria he continued to rob and plunder. Finally, on one of his many raids he was captured by the Saracens who imprisoned him deep in the dungeons at Aleppo where he was to remain for the next seventeen years until the ransom for his release was finally paid.
Free to behave once more as he always had he was to prove useful to Guy becoming in effect his right hand man and such was the isolation of the Crusader Kingdoms and the paucity of knights that even noblemen of such disreputable character as Raynald de Chatillon were given positions of great responsibility. Having helped Baldwin defeat Saladin at the Battle of Montgisard he was rewarded with the Dukedom of Oultrejordan and through marriage received the formidable fortress of Kerak de Chevaliers.
Kerak was not only the most impregnable of the many Crusader fortresses it also overlooked the main route for the many caravans travelling from Egypt to Damascus and for a man with the piratical tendencies of Raynald de Chatillon they were a target he could not resist. He attacked and robbed them with impunity to the fury of Baldwin but with the tacit support of Guy.
In one of these raids Raynald captured Saladin’s sister who later died in captivity in mysterious circumstances. It was rumoured that she had been raped by Raynald and had later taken her own life in shame. Given Raynald’s reputation it was a rumour easily believed.
Saladin demanded of Baldwin that his sister be released immediately and the perpetrator punished. The dying Baldwin was not only willing to comply but was eager to do so aware of the danger Raynald posed to his policy of peace with the Muslims but he passed away before anything could be done. His successor Guy de Lusignan saw things very differently.
Learning of his sister's death in captivity Saladin requested the return of her body for burial and again demanded that Raynald be punished. Guy replied that his sister's body was not in his possession and that as Raynald was safely behind the walls of his formidable castle at Kerak there was little he could do. He did denounce Raynald at Court for his errant behaviour, but few took this seriously.
The uneasy peace between the two Kingdoms began to break down.
As far as Guy was concerned this was no bad thing for he saw in the possibility of renewed conflict with the Saracens an opportunity to consolidate his own power in Jerusalem where he still had many enemies. The foremost of these was Raymond of Tripoli who had been Regent during the short reign of Baldwin V and was furious that Queen Sibylla had overlooked his own claim to the throne in favour of her husband.
Raymond was prepared to fight for what he believed was rightfully his but Guy’s more aggressive stance towards the Muslims had gained him the approval and support of the Religious Orders - the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller, and the Order of St Lazarus.
Unable to muster the forces to oppose Guy, a frustrated Raymond had little choice but to withdraw his claim subject himself to his rule.
Having barely avoided conflict with Raymond, Guy now was eager to unify Jerusalem behind him and nothing provokes obedience in the otherwise recalcitrant than war.
Made aware by his agents in Jerusalem that the Crusaders were looking to confront him Saladin assembled his army, 30,000 strong, and crossed the River Jordan in late May 1187.
In response to this threat Guy mustered 20,000 men, the largest Crusader army seen in a hundred years. At its head would be carried the relic of the One True Cross accompanied by the Bishop of Acre, in the absence of Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who as the army was being assembled for departure came down with a sudden and undefined illness.
Marching through the desert in full armour in temperatures that could reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit made progress painfully slow, often less than six miles a day. The route taken was also an arduous one dictated as it was by the availability of fresh water.
In a move designed to lure the Crusader army away from the sanctuary of the Suffuriya Springs at Sephoria where they were encamped, Saladin laid siege to Raymond of Tripoli’s castle at Tiberias vowing to do to his wife Eschiva, what had been perpetrated on his sister at Kerak.
At a Council of War on the night of 2 July, despite the possibility that he might lose both his fortress and his wife, Raymond advised against leaving the safety of Suffuriya Springs. In a heated exchange that saw both Raynald and the leader of the Knights Templar Gerard de Ridefort accuse him of cowardice, Raymond was overruled.
With his position as ruler of Jerusalem at stake if Saladin was offering battle he could not be seen to refuse it. They had the One True Cross,, they had God on their side. What could possibly go wrong?
Saladin’s strategy had worked like a dream.
The following morning the Crusader army left Sephoria to travel the 11 miles to Tiberias.
In the baking hot conditions there was not the slightest possibility that they would complete the journey in a single day, and their progress was further impeded by constant attacks from Saladin’s cavalry. The rearguard made up of the Religious Orders and commanded by de Ridefort and Balian of Ibeln with orders to keep the road back to Jerusalem open came under particularly intense pressure.
By around midday the Crusaders reached another small spring and desperate for water they halted and common sense should have dictated that they camp there for the night but after only a brief stay Guy ordered the march to resume. Saladin was later to say that: “Satan incited Guy to do what ran counter to his purpose.”
In the meantime, the fortress at Tiberias had effectively fallen to the besieging Muslims with only the small citadel still holding out.
By this time Saladin had arrived to take personal command of his army and he ordered that the forces besieging Tiberias depart to outflank the Crusade Army and cut off their line of retreat.
As night fell, short of water, virtually surrounded and still some miles from their destination the Crusaders made camp.
The Muslim chronicler Baha ad-Din Shaddad described their predicament:
“They were closely beset as in a noose, while still marching on as though driven to the death that they could see before them, convinced of their doom and destruction and themselves aware that the following day they would be visiting their graves.”
Saladin had the Crusader’s where he wanted them on an open plain between two steep hills known as the Horns of Hattin. It was ground where he could easily manoeuvre his cavalry, keep his enemy under a constant hail of arrows and avoid as much as possible hand-to-hand combat where he knew the Christian knights were at their most formidable. He had also ensured that any wells or other sources of water in the vicinity had been poisoned.
As the sun rose on the morning of 4 July, the Crusader’s woke to find their camp engulfed in a choking smoke from fires that Saladin had ordered lit. Blinded by the smoke and barely able to breathe they stumbled about unable to avoid the barrage of arrows and other missiles or see the Muslim cavalry emerge from the darkness to ride them down or slash at them with their scimitars.
Unable to remain where they were and expecting an imminent attack they broke camp in a hurry. In the intense heat and desperate for water Count Raymond led two desperate assaults on the supply at the nearby Sea of Galiliee but was repulsed on both occasions. It was to be his last action as soon after both he and his men deserted the scene.
In their efforts to get away from the smoke and constant rain of arrows the Crusader infantry had fled to the apparent safety of the higher ground on the Horns of Hattin.
Only Guy and his knights now remained on the plain and he had them re-pitch their tents in a vain attempt to block the on-rushing Muslim cavalry but with no infantry left to form a defensive line his knights began to fall in their hundreds until they too were forced to flee to the surrounding hills.
From the high ground the Crusaders charged again and again in increasingly frantic attempts to break through the encirclement but despite at times being hard-pressed the Muslim Army held firm.
By now few in number, dehydrated, and exhausted the Crusader Army was finished but Saladin ordered the attack pressed home until Guy’s tent was either destroyed or his flag seen to be lowered. Only when the Christian King was either dead or in captivity would the battle be over. Saladin’s son who witnessed the scene wrote: "As the Muslim’s turned upon the Franks and drove them back to the hill I shouted “We have beaten them” but my father rounded on me and said “Be quiet!” We have not beaten them until that tent falls. As he was speaking to me, the tent fell. The Sultan dismounted, prostrated himself in thanks to God Almighty and wept for joy.”
Saladin had utterly routed the Crusader army with fewer than 3,000 men escaping the carnage and these were mostly the troops of Raymond of Tripoli and Balian of Ibeln who had fled before the denouement.
Among the captives were the cream of Crusader nobility - Gerard de Ridefort, William of Montferrat, Humphrey IV and both King Guy and Raynald de Chatillon. The Bishop of Acre had also been killed and the One True Cross captured. It was later turned upside down and carried off to Damascus in triumph.
Saladin now ordered those members of the Religious Orders, the so-called Warriors of Christ to be beheaded but offered other prisoners the choice of death or converting to Islam and being sold into slavery. Many chose the latter but fewer were spared than might have been expected amid the clamour to kill an Infidel.
Guy and Raynald he would deal with personally.
According to the chronicler Imad al-Din al Isfahani who was present: "Saladin invited King Guy to sit beside him, and when Raynald entered in his turn, he seated him next to his King and reminded him of his misdeeds, How many times have you violated an oath, how many times have you signed agreements that you have never respected? Raynald replied, King’s have always acted thus, I did nothing more.
Seeing that Guy was gasping from thirst he ordered a goblet of water be brought. Guy downed what he required before handing what remained to Raynald. Saladin chastised him for not having permission to do so. He then left for a while, upon his return he drew a knife and slit Raynald’s throat. As he lay upon the ground gasping, he hacked off his head. He then had the body dragged before Guy. Seeing the terrified look on the King’s face, he reassured him: it is not the wont of Kings, to kill Kings.”
But he would not be spared the humiliation of being paraded before the walls of Jerusalem riding backwards on a donkey naked except for a fake crown.
The Battle of Hattin was a disaster for the Crusaders in the Holy Land, Jerusalem was now virtually undefended and over the next few weeks the towns of Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Torin, Sivon, Beirut and Ascalon all fell to Saladin’s forces. Only the port city of Tyre held out and it was to continue to do so with long-term consequences for the future not just of Saladin but the entire Middle East.
By the end of September, Saladin’s forces stood before the gates of Jerusalem itself.
There was little need to order an all-out assault on the city and by 2 October he had negotiated its surrender with Balian of Ibeln. Those captives who could purchase their release it was agreed would be permitted to do so. The price of freedom was kept far from extortionate so as many could be freed as possible and Saladin along with some of his leading nobles even purchased the freedom of some of the poorest with their own money. Nonetheless, many thousands were sent into slavery.
Having defeated the Crusader Army, destroyed their capacity to wage war and liberated the Holy City of Jerusalem Saladin's reputation as a great military commander and leader of his people was sealed at the Horns of Hattin but it would begin to unravel just three years later in confrontation with his most formidable opponent Richard the Lionheart, King of England.
Though he was to retain control of Jerusalem and much of the Holy Land his failure to defeat Richard in combat undermined his power and influence within a fractious Islam and even as his reputation as a generous and dignified opponent who personified the finer aspects of Islamic society soared amongst his enemies he was being seen as increasingly weak and ineffective at home.
Forced into a negotiated settlement with Richard that permitted the Crusaders to retain much of the coastal strip of Palestine he had failed in his promise to rid Holy Land of the Christian presence and many of his followers now began to desert his cause and look for leadership elsewhere.
Saladin his power much diminished died of a fever on 4 March 1193, aged 55 a disappointed if not broken man.
Buried outside the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus his family barely had the money to pay for his funeral as he had given away much of his fortune in charitable works and alms for the poor. Seven hundred years later Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany would donate a marble sarcophagus in his honour.
Share this post: