Balian of Ibelin was a crusader from the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He is most famously known as the defender of Jerusalem in the 12th century.
Balian’s life is a story full of jealousies, riches, drama, and twists. Here we put together the pieces of Balian’s life and how he handed Jerusalem to Saladin.
Balian de Ibelin
Balian, a crusader from Jerusalem, was from a well-known family and reputation. His emergence into warfare and politics changed the course of crusade wars and Jerusalem.
To understand the essence of Balian de Ibelin, we need to first look at the history of the two words: Balian and Ibelin.
To put things into a better perspective, let us look at Ibelin first:
Commonly known as Yibna to the natives, Ibelin was a small Palestinian village with a population of thousands. According to a census in 1948, its population came to about 5420. Ibelin was the name given to Yibna by the crusaders. It is about 15 kilometers southwest of Ramla.
Yibna or Ibelin was referred to as Yavneh and Jabneh in the Hebrew texts. This confirms the existence of this town since the Bronze age. Many historians write about Yibna as a part of various religious activities and as the hub of different ethnicities.
Ibelin is most famously known for a castle built there in the 1100s. This castle was built by the King of Jerusalem, King Fulk, in 1141. In the 12th century, Ibelin saw the uprise and downfall of Crusaders and eventually went into the hands of a Muslim ruler, Saladin. The last crusader to hold the castle was Balian.
Balian (1143 – 1193) of Ibelin has many different names and recognitions. Most famous among them are Barisan the Younger, Baron of Ibelin, Balian the Younger, Balian II, Balian of Ramla, Balian of Nablus.
In Latin scriptures, his name appears as Balian, Barisan, Barisanus, Balianus, Balisan, Balian defender of Jerusalem, and Balisanus. Some Arabic sources call him Balian ibn Barzan, which translates as “Balian, son of Barzan (or Barisan)”. Needless to say, Balian was an important figure in the history of Jerusalem and the crusade wars.
Balian was the youngest son of Barisan of Ibelin. Barisan was the founder of the Ibelin family. It was thought that Barisan was from northern Italy. Some also speculated that Barisan was a descendent of Le Puiset viscounts of Chartres in France.
Barisan married Helvis, the heiress of Ramla, and descended Ramla into his name. Barisan and Helvis have five children: Baldwin, Hugh, Ermengarde, Stephanie, and Balian. Among them, Balian was the youngest. In the course of two generations only, the family of Ibelin became a prominent family with much power over the kingdom of Jerusalem and Cyprus.
Balian married Maria Comnena, the widow of King Amalric I. She was the heiress to Nablus, so Balian, after the marriage, ascended Nablus. Among other things, Balian also became the stepfather of Isabella, the daughter of Maria and Amalric.
History shows Balian as a loyal husband and stepfather. He went to great lengths to ensure that his stepdaughter got her rights.
Fate had other plans for him. This era of kingship and the downfall of Jerusalem is full of twists, selfishness, and jealousy. The important figures of that time believed highly in doing things for themselves and capturing as much wealth as possible. This is the main reason for the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the crusaders.
The Civil War of Jerusalem
To understand the entirety of the Balian crusades and his life in Ibelin, it is important to understand the condition and civility in his time.
King Amalric’s Reign
Jerusalem was under the kingship of Amalric after the death of King Fulk in 1143. King Amalric was married to Maria Comnena. Under the kingship of King Amalric, Jerusalem allied with the Byzantine empire. The relations of trade and talk were good.
Amalric was the father to Sibylla, Baldwin IV, and Isabella I. These three siblings will be the future kings and heiresses to Jerusalem and play an important part in the course of the kingdom.
In 1150, Barisan of Ibelin died. Leaving the estate to his eldest son Hugh. The other son, Baldwin, became the Lord of Ramla. After the death of Hugh in 1169, Balian was made the Lord of Ibelin.
Baldwin IV and His Decision
After the death of King Amalric in 1174, his son Baldwin IV ascended to the throne of Jerusalem. He was the second son of Amalric and his first wife Agnes of Courtenay.
Baldwin IV is most famously known for having leprosy after being appointed King. This greatly affected his reign. Because of his condition, Raymond III of Tripoli acted on his behalf.
The next in line was Sibylla. Balwin thought of marrying her to a nobleman, and he chose William of Montferrat in 1176. Unfortunately, William died the following year, and Sibylla married Guy of Lusignan. This knot seemed to be a problem in the later years.
Baldwin despised Guy and deemed him unworthy of the throne. Guy and Sibylla had a son named Baldwin V. Baldwin IV crowned Baldwin V as the future king of Jerusalem and appointed Raymond of Tripoli to be the guardian until Baldwin V came of age. This setup did not sit well with Guy and was the beginning of what can be called the fall of Jerusalem to the hands of Muslims.
Baldwin IV openly disowned Guy. This angered Guy to the extent that he openly unaccepted Baldwin IV as his king. This was the start of civil unrest in the area. The patriarch was divided, and the good relations with other kingdoms seemed to be deteriorating greatly.
Death of Baldwin IV
Guy went rogue and attacked a party passing by Muslims, which triggered Saladin. Saladin was a Muslim fighter and leader from the Byzantine Empire at that time. Baldwin IV was shocked to learn about the massacre at the hand of Guy. Still, he could not set a reconciling dialogue between his kingdom and Saladin because of his deteriorating health.
Baldwin IV came down with fever and became blind due to ascending leprosy. He could barely walk and keep his head held up. In his last days, he appointed Raymond of Tripoli, his only true friend, as the regent to Baldwin V.
The king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, died in march of 1185, leaving his nephew Baldwin V the throne of Jerusalem.
Guy vs Raymond
Now there are two main figures in the fight for the Kingship of Jerusalem. One is Guy, Sibylla’s husband, and the other is Baldwin V, son of Guy but in the regency of Raymond of Tripoli.
Baldwin, the brother of Balian, supported Raymond of Tripoli and was on his side. Balian, now married to Maria (the sister of Sibylla and Baldwin IV), also supported Raymond as he was the choice of their King.
Death of Baldwin V
In 1186, the young boy, Baldwin V, died. Balian and Maria, with the help of Raymond, put forward Isabella’s name as the rightful heir to the throne. But the husband of Isabella, Humphrey IV of Toron, rejected his wife’s claim to the throne and sided with Guy. Balian reluctantly had to side with Guy because of his son-in-law.
While civil unrest in Jerusalem was at its peak, the Ayubid sultan Saladin deemed it the perfect moment to siege Jerusalem. He had a strong army of knights and archers. He started responding greatly to minor conflicts between the crusaders and the Muslims. Bit by bit, he created a strong case for his uprisal and imminent attack on Jerusalem.
An alliance between Guy and Raymond
In the same year, Saladin threatened to attack Jerusalem. Balian, now an adviser to Guy, with other important dignitaries, went to Tripoli to ally with Guy and Raymond. The sole purpose of this alliance was to get rid of the external forces of Saladin and to form a fortified Jerusalem.
The Muslim army was coming forth on Jerusalem. In this case, Guy was made the king, and the rest of them will fight under him.
The Battle of Hattin
The army of Saladin was advancing for the siege of Jerusalem with some 30000 men. Balian was asked to recruit and anoint men as Knights in the crusader’s army. Balian was also appointed to lead the army in the battle against Saladin. Balian took the fortification of Jerusalem on his shoulders.
On 4th July 1187, the battle of Hattin was fought between the crusader army from Jerusalem and the Muslim army of Ayubid sultan, Saladin. It was fought near an extinct volcano, Kurun Hattin. The shape of this extinct volcano is why this battle is also known as the Battle of Horns of Hattin.
As Balian of Ibelin led the army of the crusaders, his children, and his wife, Maria, were sent off to Tripoli. They would be safe in Tripoli and wait for the outcome of the war from there.
This war proved to be fatal for the crusaders. The Saladin’s army captured most of the crusader’ army and killed the rest of them. The on-foot soldiers had the worst fate. They were sold as slaves to different slave merchants.
After Saladin took town by town, Guy feared Saladin would behead him. Guy was taken inside the tent of Saladin after he was captured. There Saladin offered him water.
Saladin gave Guyassurity that Kings do not kill Kings. Instead, Guy was taken as a prisoner in war and was later released in 1188.
The Aftermath of the War
As none of the crusaders of the previously acclaimed Jerusalem remained after the war, Balian was seen as more or less equal to the King of Jerusalem. Balian was still holding the city from some walls. Saladin invited Balian to come and talk about surrender. Balian told him that the people still inside the walls of the city refuse to give up and will destroy the city if you advance any further.
Balian showed his true skills as a diplomat here. His wit and thinking saved the lives of many citizens of Jerusalem.
After great discussion and compromise from both sides, Saladin agreed to free the prisoners of war and in exchange for a peaceful takeover of the city.
On 2nd October, Balian handed the keys of Tower of David, a great citadel in Jerusalem, to Slaldin. The citizens marched in columns and left the city. Balian accompanied the last leaving group and went to Tripoli, where he joined his family.
Balian in Tripoli
After handing over Jerusalem to Saladin and his army, Balian went to Tripoli. There he was reunited with his wife Maria and children. The question for the ascension of the throne remained, and Balian pushed for Isabella. Even though Jerusalem was not in their hands, the people needed a figure to look up to.
As Isabella’s husband did not want her to get the throne, Balian thought that it would be best if they got the marriage annulled. The Archbishop of Pisa annulled Isabella’s marriage to Humphrey.
The best option for Isabella was to marry Conrad of Montferrat. Even after the marriage, the succession was delayed because of the interference of external forces.
The arrival of Richard I of England and Philip II of France prolonged the coronation of Isabella because they initiated the third crusade. Richard supported the previous King, Guy, while Philip supported Conrad, Isabella’s husband.
On 2 April 1192, Conrad was assassinated while Isabella was expecting her first child. She married Henry II of Champagne a week later to save her status.
Balian became an advisor to Richard. He also goes on to later help settle the third crusade and bring peace between Richard and Saladin. The treaty stated that Ibelin would be under Saladin’s control, but other coastal towns would be given back to Christians. Because of this treaty, Saladin gifted Balian a castle in Caymont and other sites as a good gesture and gratitude.
The Legacy of Balian of Ibelin
Around 1194, Balian vanished from history. It is when he is presumed to have died of natural causes. But it might be true that he went out on a diplomatic trip to some country or was helping his nephews and nieces in Cyprus. Whenever Balian of Ibelin must have died, he surely left a mark on history.
His two sons, John and Philip, filled his shoes and carried the name of the family. John was appointed as the constable of Jerusalem in 1198 and later Lord of Beirut and the Regent of Jerusalem from 1205 to 1210. Philip became the regent to the King of Cyprus from 1218 to 1227.
Balian had two daughters, Helvis and Margaret, and a stepdaughter, Isabella. Both of his daughters went to marry in rich and well-known households.
Maria, the wife of Balian, is reported to have died in 1217. The history and literature do not portray Maria as a sane woman but rather describe her as godless and cruel.
The reason for such publicity is surely her determination to see her daughter, Isabella, on the throne. Nevertheless, she described her as a good wife to Balian and a good mother to Isabella, John, Philip, Margaret, and Helvis.
Because of Balian and his sons and daughters, the name of the Ibelin family spread from Jerusalem to the Latin states of the Mediterranean. The Ibelin family started from Barisan and was still one of the most famous families three hundred years later.
Balian became a common name after his demise. This name can be seen at various places in later history. His daughter, Helvis, named her first son Balian. Lian’s son John also named one of his sons, Balian.
Balian of Ibelin: Arts and Literature
Balian of Ibelin and his storyline has been widely used in historical movies in Hollywood and European cinema. A 2015 Hollywood film, Kingdom of Hearts, touches the story of Balian of Ibelin. Many writers have written award-winning books on his life. The most acclaimed book written in his name is Knight of Jerusalem by Helena P. Schrader.
Balian of Ibelin is surely an important leader and diplomatic figure of the 12th century. His decisions, alliances, and sheer will to succeed surely changed the course of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and the crusades. He stands tall to all the titles given to him, like the Defender of Jerusalem or the Knight of Jerusalem.
Here are the key points of Balian’s legacy:
- Balian of Ibelin was a crusader in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 12th century.
- He was the son of Barisan of Ibelin and Helvis of Ramla.
- He married Maria Comnena, the widow of King Amalric.
- Balian had one stepdaughter, Isabella, and four other children, two sons, John and Philip, and two daughters, Helvis and Margaret
- He played very important diplomatic roles between the Crusaders and the Muslim army under Saladin
- His loyalty towards his family is commendable
- Mayer, Hans Eberhard. “Ibelin versus Ibelin: The Struggle for the Regency of Jerusalem1253-1258.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 122, no. 1, American Philosophical Society, 1978, pp. 25–57, http://www.jstor.org/stable/986261.
- Chronicle of the Third Crusade, a Translation of Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, translated by Helen J. Nicholson. Ashgate, 1997.