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Ayyubid-Crusader War
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Siege of Jerusalem

Ayyubid-Crusader War


Autumn, 1187[1]




Crusader defenders surrender Jerusalem to Saladin.[1]


Kingdom of Jerusalem[1]



Balian of Ibelin[1]

Salah al-Dīn Yusuf ibn Ayyub[1]

Exact number is disputed.
Exact number is disputed.

The Siege of Jerusalem took place from September 20 to October 2, 1187. It resulted in the recapture of Jerusalem by Saladin and the near total collapse of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. It served as the catalyst for the Third Crusade.


The Kingdom of Jerusalem, weakened by internal disputes, was completely defeated at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. Most of the nobility of the kingdom was taken prisoner, including King Guy, and throughout the summer Saladin quickly overran the kingdom. By mid-September, Saladin had taken Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut, and Ascalon. The survivors of the battle and other refugees fled to Tyre, the only city able to hold out against Saladin, due to the fortuitous arrival of Conrad of Montferrat.

Situation in Jerusalem[]

In Tyre, Balian of Ibelin, Lord of Ramla and Nablus - the highest ranking noble to escape the defeat at Hattin - had asked Saladin for safe passage to Jerusalem in order to retrieve his wife Maria Comnena and their family. Saladin granted his request, provided that Balian not take up arms against him and not remain in Jerusalem for more than one day. However, upon arrival in the holy city, Patriarch Heraclius, Queen Sibylla, and the rest of the inhabitants begged him to take charge of the defense of the city. Heraclius, who argued that he must stay for the sake of Christianity, offered to absolve him of the oath, and Balian agreed.

He sent word of his decision to Saladin at Ascalon, via a deputation of burgesses, who rejected the sultan's proposals for a negotiated surrender of Jerusalem. However, Saladin arranged for an escort to accompany Maria, their children, and all their household to Tripoli. As the highest ranking lord remaining in Jerusalem, according to the chronicler Ibn al-Athir, Balian was seen by the Muslims as holding a rank "more or less equal to that of a king."

Balian found the situation in Jerusalem dire. The city was filled with refugees fleeing Saladin's conquests, with more arriving daily. There were fewer than fourteen knights in the whole city, so he created sixty new knights from the ranks of the squires (knights in training) and burgesses. He prepared for the inevitable siege by storing food and money. The armies of Syria and Egypt assembled under Saladin, and after a brief and unsuccessful siege of Tyre, the sultan arrived outside Jerusalem on September 20.

The Siege[]

Negotiations were carried out between Saladin and Balian, through the mediation of Yusuf Batit, one of the Eastern Orthodox clergy, who had been largely suppressed under Latin Christian rule and knew that they would have more freedoms if the city were returned to the Muslims. Saladin preferred to take the city without bloodshed, but those inside refused to leave their holy city, vowing to destroy it in a fight to the death rather than see it handed over peacefully. Thus the siege began.

Saladin's army was facing the Tower of David and the Damascus Gate. His archers continually pelted the ramparts with arrows. Siege engines were rolled up to the walls, but were pushed back each time. For days, skirmishes were fought with little result. On September 26, Saladin moved his camp to a different part of the city, on the Mount of Olives where there was no major gate from which the crusaders could counter-attack. The walls were constantly pounded by the siege engines, catapults, mangonels, petraries, Greek fire, crossbows, and arrows. A portion of the wall was mined, and it collapsed on September 29. The crusaders were unable to push Saladin's troops back from the breach, but at the same time the Muslims could not gain entrance to the city. The Muslims far outnumbered the crusaders, and soon there were only a few dozen men capable of bearing arms and defending the wall; no more men could be found even for the promise of an enormous fee.

The civilians were in great despair. According to a passage possibly written by Ernoul, a squire of Balian, in the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, the clergy organized a barefoot procession around the walls, much as the clergy on the First Crusade had done outside the walls in 1099. At Mount Calvary, women cropped their children's hair, after immersing them chin-deep in basins of cold water. These penances were aimed at turning away God's wrath from the city, but "…Our Lord did not deign to hear the prayers or noise that was made in the city. For the stench of adultery, of disgusting extravagance and of sin against nature would not let their prayers rise to God."

Negotiations between Balian and Saladin[]

At the end of September, Balian rode out with an embassy to meet with the sultan, offering the surrender that he had initially refused. Saladin would not accept this, seeing that as they spoke, his men had scaled the walls and planted their banners. Soon, however, the crusaders repelled their attack. Saladin acquiesced, and the two agreed that the city would be handed over to Saladin peacefully. The sultan allowed a ransom of twenty bezants for men, ten for women, and five for children, but those who could not pay were to be sold into slavery. Balian argued in vain that there were far more people who could not pay, as there were perhaps as many as 20,000 refugees from elsewhere in the kingdom.

After returning to Jerusalem, it was decided that seven thousand of the poor inhabitants could be ransomed from money drawn from the treasury that Henry II of England had established there, which was being guarded by the Hospitallers. This money was meant to be used by Henry on a pilgrimage or a crusade, in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket, but the king never arrived, and his treasury had already been used to pay mercenaries for the Battle of Hattin.

Balian met with Saladin again and the sultan agreed to lower the ransom to ten bezants for men, five for women, and one for children. Balian argued that this would still be too great, and Saladin suggested a ransom of 100,000 bezants for all the inhabitants. Balian thought this was impossible, and Saladin said he would ransom seven thousand people for no lower than 50,000 bezants. Finally it was decided that Saladin would free the seven thousand for 30,000 bezants; two women or ten children would be permitted to take the place of one man for the same price.

Surrender of Jerusalem[]

Balian handed over the keys to the Tower of David, the citadel, on October 2. It was announced that every inhabitant had about a month to pay their ransom, if they could (the length of time was perhaps 30 to 50 days, depending on the source). Saladin was generous and freed some of those who were forced into slavery; his brother Saphadin did the same, and both Balian and Heraclius freed many others with their own money. They offered themselves as hostages for the remaining citizens (at least several thousand) whose ransoms had not been paid, but Saladin refused.

Saladin allowed for an orderly march away from Jerusalem and prevented the sort of massacre that had occurred when the crusaders captured the city in 1099. The ransomed inhabitants marched away in three columns; the Templars and Hospitallers led the first two, with Balian and the Patriarch leading the third. Balian was permitted to join his wife and family in Tripoli. Heraclius was allowed to evacuate a number of church treasures and reliquaries, which scandalised the Muslim chronicler Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani - although he had already contributed to the ransoms.hjhjghjghjhjj


Some of the refugees went first to Tripoli, where they were denied entrance and were robbed of their possessions which they had taken with them from Jerusalem. Many of them went on to Antioch, Cilicia, and Byzantium. Other refugees went to Egypt, and were permitted to board Italian ships heading for Europe.

Saladin permitted Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and allowed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to remain in Christian hands. To solidify Muslim claims to Jerusalem, many holy sites, including what would come to be known as Al-Aqsa Mosque, were ritually purified with rose water. He went on to capture a number of other castles that were still holding out against him, including Belvoir, Kerak, and Montreal, and returned to Tyre to besiege it for a second time.

Meanwhile, news of the disastrous defeat at Hattin was brought to Europe by Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre, as well as other pilgrims and travellers, while Saladin was conquering the rest of the kingdom throughout the summer of 1187. Plans were immediately made for a new crusade; on October 29, Pope Gregory VIII issued the bull Audita tremendi, even before he had heard of the fall of Jerusalem. In England and France, the Saladin tithe was enacted in order to finance expenses. The subsequent Third Crusade did not get underway until 1189, in three separate contingents led by Richard Lionheart, Philip Augustus, and Frederick Barbarossa.

In fiction[]

The Siege of Jerusalem was the climax of the plot of the 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven directed and produced by Ridley Scott. It was perhaps the most historically based part of the film, drawing from a number of primary sources, although with much imaginative material added.

Catherine Jinks's comedic story for young adults Pagan's Crusade (1993) outlines the events leading up to, and including, the Siege of Jerusalem. Though it is a work of fiction, it does describe with some degree of accuracy the damage done to the city, the weapons used, and the negotiations between Saladin and Balian of Ibelin.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Tyerman, Christopher. God's War: A New History Of The Crusades. London: Penguin Books, 2007.