Crusades Wiki

Help, your aid is requested immediately!

This article or section is in need of referencing per the Crusades Wiki sourcing policy.

This article needs appropriate citations. Help us improve this article by referencing valid resource material. Remove this notice when finished.

Biographical information



c. 1138

Birth place

Tikrit, Iraq


March 4, 1193

Died at

Damascus, Syria


Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

Personal information

1174 – March 4, 1193




Sultan of Egypt and Syria


Nur ad-Din



Political and chronological information
Royal House


Principal Crusade

Third Crusade

Salah al-Dīn Yusuf ibn Ayyub, more commonly known as Saladin (c. 1138March 4, 1193),[1] Sultan of Egypt and Syria, was a 12th-century Kurdish[2][3] Muslim political annbbjd military leader from Tikrit, Iraq. At the height of his power the Ayyubid dynasty, which he founded, ruled over Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Hejaz, and Yemen. He is renowned for leading Muslim resistance to the European Crusaders and eventually recapturing Palestine from the Crusade

Kingdom of Jerusalem. As such, he remains a widely admired figure in Turk, Arab, Kurdish, and Muslim culture.

Early years[]

Saladin was born c. 1138 into a Kurdish[4] family in Tikrit, Iraq and was sent to Damascus to finish his education. His father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub, was governor of Baalbek. For ten years Saladin lived in Damascus and studied Islamic Theology, at the court of Nur ad-Din (Nureddin). After an initial military education under the command of his uncle, Nur ad-Din's lieutenant Shirkuh, who was representing Nur ad-Din on campaigns against a faction of the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt in the 1160s, Saladin eventually succeeded the defeated faction and his uncle as vizier in 1169. There, he inherited a difficult role defending Egypt against the incursions of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, under Amalric I. His position was tenuous at first; no one expected him to last long in Egypt where there had been many changes of government in previous years due to a long line of child caliphs fought over by competing viziers. With a Sunni Syrian powerbase he had little control over the Egyptian army, which had been dominated by Shias since the rise of the Fatimads, and which was led in the name of the now otherwise powerless caliph Al-Adid.

When the caliph died, in September 1171, Saladin had the ulema pronounced the name of Al-Mustadi, the Sunni and, more importantly, Abbassid caliph in Baghdad, at sermon before Friday prayers; authority simply deposed the old line. Now Saladin ruled Egypt, but officially as the representative of the Turkish Seljuk ruler Nur ad-Din, who himself conventionally recognised the Abbassid caliph.

Saladin revitalized the economy of Egypt, reorganized the military forces and, following his father's advice, stayed away from any conflicts with Nur ad-Din, his formal lord, after he had become the real ruler of Egypt. He waited until Nur ad-Din's death before starting serious military actions: at first against smaller Muslim states, then directing them against the Crusaders.

With Nur ad-Din's death (1174), he assumed the title of Sultan in Egypt founding the Ayyubid dynasty and restoring Sunnism in Egypt. He extended his territory westwards in the Maghreb, and when his uncle was sent up the Nile to pacify some resistance of the former Fatimid supporters, he continued on down the Red Sea to conquer Yemen. He is also regarded as a Waliullah, a person religiously close to God in the Sunni Muslim tradition.

Struggle versus the Crusaders[]

On two occasions, in 1170 and 1172, Saladin retreated from an invasion of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. These had been launched by Nur ad-Din, and Saladin hoped that the Crusader kingdom would remain intact, as a buffer state between Egypt and Syria, until Saladin could gain control of Syria as well. Nur ad-Din and Saladin were headed towards open war on these counts when Nur ad-Din died in 1174. Nur ad-Din's heir as-Salih Ismail al-Malik was a mere boy, in the hands of court eunuchs, and died in 1181.

Immediately after Nur ad-Din's death, Saladin marched on Damascus and was welcomed into the city. He reinforced his legitimacy there in the time-honoured way -- by marrying Nur ad-Din's widow. Aleppo and Mosul, on the other hand, the two other largest cities that Nur ad-Din had ruled, were never taken, but Saladin managed to impose his influence and authority on them in 1176 and 1186 respectively. While he was occupied in besieging Aleppo, on May 22, 1176 the shadowy Ismaili assassin group, the Hashshashin, attempted to murder him. They made two attempts on his life, the second time coming close enough to inflict wounds.

While Saladin was consolidating his power in Syria, he usually left the Crusader kingdom alone, although he was generally victorious whenever he did meet the Crusaders in battle. One exception was the Battle of Montgisard on November 25, 1177. He was defeated by the combined forces of Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, Raynald of Chatillon and the Knights Templar. Only one tenth of his army made it back to Egypt.

A truce was declared between Saladin and the Crusader States in 1178. Saladin spent the subsequent year recovering from his defeat and rebuilding his army, renewing his attacks in 1179 when he defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Jacob's Ford. Crusader counter-attacks provoked further responses by Saladin. Raynald of Chatillon, in particular, harassed Muslim trading and pilgrimage routes with a fleet on the Red Sea, a water route that Saladin needed to keep open. In response, Saladin built a fleet of 30 galleys to attack Beirut in 1182. Raynald threatened to attack the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In retaliation, Saladin besieged Kerak, Raynald's fortress in Oultrejordain, in 1183 and 1184. Raynald responded by looting a caravan of pilgrims on the Hajj in 1185. According to the later thirteenth-century Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, Raynald captured Saladin's sister in a raid on a caravan, although this is not attested in contemporary sources, Muslim or Frankish. In fact, Raynald had attacked a preceding caravan, and Saladin set guards to ensure the safety of his sister and her son, who came to no harm.

In July 1187, Saladin captured most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On July 4, 1187, he faced at the Battle of Hattin the combined forces Guy of Lusignan, King Consort of Jerusalem, and Raymond III of Tripoli. In the battle alone the Crusader army was largely annihilated by the motivated army of Saladin in what was a major disaster for the Crusaders and a turning point in the history of the Crusades. Saladin captured Raynald de Chatillon and was personally responsible for his execution. Guy of Lusignan was also captured but his life was spared. Two days after the Battle of Hattin, Saladin ordered the execution of all prisoners of the military orders by beheading. The executions took place as Saladin's secretary himself, Imad ad-Din, from the Ibid, page 138, describes: “He (Saladin) ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and Sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics; each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais; the unbelievers showed black despair.” The execution of prisoners at Hattin was not the first by Saladin. On August 29 1179, he captured the castle at Bait al-Ahazon and approximately 700 prisoners were taken and executed.

According to Baha ad-Din, Saladin planned to conquer Europe after he had captured Jerusalem:

"While I (Beha ad-Din) was standing thus Saladin turned to me and said: "I think that when God grants me victory over the rest of Palestine I shall divide my territories, make a will stating my wishes, then set sail on this sea for their far-off lands and pursue the Franks there, so as to free the earth of anyone who does not believe in God, or die in the attempt."
―Baha ad-Din[src]

Soon, Saladin had captured almost every Crusader city. He captured Jerusalem on October 2, 1187 after a siege. Saladin initially was unwilling to grant terms of quarter to the European occupants of Jerusalem until Balian of Ibelin threatened to kill every Muslim in the city, estimated between 3,000 to 5,000, and to destroy Islam’s holy shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque if quarter was not given. Saladin consulted his council and these terms were accepted. Ransom was to be paid for each Frank in the city whether man, woman, or child. Saladin allowed many to leave without having the required amount for ransom for others. According to Imad al-Din, approximately 7,000 men and 8,000 women could not make their ransom and were taken into slavery.

Only Tyre held out. The city was now commanded by the formidable Conrad of Montferrat. He strengthened Tyre's defences and withstood two sieges by Saladin. In 1188, at Tortosa, Saladin released Guy of Lusignan and returned him to his wife, Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem. They went first to Tripoli, then to Antioch. In 1189, they sought to reclaim Tyre for their kingdom, but were refused admission by Conrad, who did not recognise Guy as King. Guy then set about besieging Acre (see Siege of Acre).

Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem prompted the Third Crusade, financed in England by a special "Saladin tithe". This Crusade took back Acre. After Richard I executed the Muslim prisoners at Acre, Saladin retaliated by killing all Franks captured from August 28 - September 10. Beha ad-Din describes a particular grisly scene with two captured Franks during this time period: "Whilst we were there they brought two Franks to the Sultan (Saladin) who had been made prisoners by the advance guard. He had them beheaded on the spot."[5] The armies of Saladin engaged in combat with the rivaling armies of King Richard I of England at the Battle of Arsuf on September 7, 1191 at which Saladin was defeated. Saladin's relationship with Richard was one of chivalrous mutual respect as well as military rivalry; both were celebrated in courtly romances. When Richard was wounded, Saladin offered the services of his personal physician. At Arsuf, when Richard lost his horse, Saladin sent him two replacements. Saladin also sent him fresh fruit with snow, to keep his drinks cold. Richard had suggested to Saladin that his sister could marry Saladin's brother - and Jerusalem could be their wedding gift.

The two came to an agreement over Jerusalem in the Treaty of Ramla in 1192, whereby the city would remain in Muslim hands but would be open to Christian pilgrimages; the treaty reduced the Latin Kingdom to a strip along the coast from Tyre to Jaffa.

Saladin died on March 4, 1193 at Damascus, not long after Richard's departure. When they opened Saladin's treasury they found there was not enough money to pay for his funeral; he had given most of his money away in charity [6].

His tomb is in Damascus, at the Umayyad Mosque, and is a popular attraction.


Despite his fierce struggle against the Christian incursion, Saladin achieved a great reputation in Europe as a chivalrous knight, so much so that there existed by the fourteenth century an epic poem about his exploits, and Dante included him among the virtuous pagan souls in Limbo. Saladin appears in a sympathetic light in Sir Walter Scott's The Talisman (1825). Despite the Crusaders' slaughter when they originally conquered Jerusalem in 1099, Saladin granted amnesty and free passage to all common Catholics and even to the defeated Christian army, as long as they were able to pay the aforementioned ransom (the Greek Orthodox Christians were treated even better, because they often opposed the western Crusaders). An interesting view of Saladin and the world in which he lived is provided by Tariq Ali's novel The Book of Saladin.[7]

Notwithstanding the differences in beliefs, the Muslim Saladin was respected by Christian lords, Richard especially. Richard once praised Saladin as a great prince, saying that he was without doubt the greatest and most powerful leader in the Islamic world.[8] Saladin in turn stated that there was not a more honorable Christian lord than Richard. After the treaty, Saladin and Richard sent each other many gifts as tokens of respect, but never met face to face.

In April 1191, a Frankish woman's three month old baby had been stolen from her camp and had been sold on the market. The Franks urged her to approach Saladin herself with her grievance. After Saladin used his own money to buy the child, "he gave it to the mother and she took it; with tears streaming down her face, and hugged it to her breast. The people were watching her and weeping and I (Ibn Shaddad) was standing amongst them. She suckled it for some time and then Saladin ordered a horse to be fetched for her and she went back to camp".[9] The name Salah ad-Din means "Righteousness of Faith", and through the ages Saladin has been an inspiration for Muslims in many respects. Modern Muslim rulers have sought to capitalise on the reputation of Saladin. A governorate centred around Tikrit in modern Iraq, Salah ad Din, is named after Saladin, as is Salahaddin University in Arbil.

Few structures associated with Saladin survive within modern cities. Saladin first fortified the Citadel of Cairo (1175 - 1183), which had been a domed pleasure pavilion with a fine view in more peaceful times. In Syria, even the smallest city is centred on a defensible citadel, and Saladin introduced this essential feature to Egypt.

Among the forts he built was Qalaat Al-Gindi, a mountaintop fortress and caravanserai in the Sinai. The fortress overlooks a large wadi which was the convergence of several caravan routes that linked Egypt and the Middle East. Inside the structure are a number of large vaulted rooms hewn out of rock, including the remains of shops and a water cistern. A notable archaeological site, it was investigated in 1909 by a French team under Jules Barthoux.

According to the French writer Rene Grousse: {{cquote|It is equally true that his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam.

When German Kaiser Wilhelm the Second went to Syria he laid a wreath at the tomb of Saladin in Damascus with the inscription: “A knight without fear or blame who often had to teach his opponents the right way to practise chivalry”.


Though the Ayyubid dynasty he founded would only outlive him by 57 years, the legacy of Saladin within the Arab World continues to this day. With the rise of Arab nationalism in the 20th Century, particularly with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Saladin's heroism and leadership gained a new significance. Saladin's liberation of Palestine from the European Crusaders was taken as the inspiration for the modern-day Arabs' struggle against Zionism. Moreover, the glory and comparative unity of the Arab World under Saladin was seen as the perfect symbol for the new unity sought by Arab nationalists, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser. It was for this reason that the Eagle of Saladin became the symbol of revolutionary Egypt, and was subsequently adopted by several other Arab states (Iraq, Palestine, and Yemen).

Burial site[]

Saladin is buried in a mausoleum in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany donated a new marble sarcophagus to the mausoleum. Saladin was, however, not placed in it. Instead the mausoleum, which is open to visitors, now has two sarcophagi: one empty in marble and one in wood containing the body of Saladin.

Saladin in film[]

In the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott, Saladin is portrayed by Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud.

In the 2007 Swedish film Arn – The Knight Templar (Arn – Tempelriddaren), Saladin is portrayed by Indian actor and supermodel Milind Soman.

Notes and references[]

  1. Malcolm Lyons and D.E.P. Jackson, "Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War", pg. 2.
  2. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05 Columbia University Press. [1]
  3. V. Minorsky, Studies in Caucasian history, Cambridge University Press, 1957, page 138. "The medieval historian Ibn Athir relates a passage from another commander: ...both you and Saladin are Kurds and you will not let power pass into the hands of..."
  4. Ibn Khallikan says that Saladin's father and his family originated from Dvin, and See Vladimir Minorsky, The Prehistory of Saladin, Studies in Caucasian History, Cambridge University Press, 1957, pp. 124-132.
  5. Beha ad-Din, The Life of Saladin, pages 278-281
  6. The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, Bahā'al-dīn Ibn Shaddād, trans D.S. Richards, Ashgate 2002, p. 25 and 244
  7. (London: Verso, 1998)
  8. Source: Saladin - The Politics of the Holy War by Lyons & Jackson, pg 357)
  9. (Saladin - The politics of Holy War by Lyons & Jackson, pg. 325-326)

External links[]