The tale of how Saladin change the Middle East is an interesting one. Saladin ousted the crusaders from the Middle East, hoisting the flag of his religion, Islam in the Middle East.
Before his advent, the crusaders were enjoying their control over the majority of the Middle East, including the holy land of Jerusalem. Read ahead about the life of Saladin and how he conquered the Middle East and changed its story forever.
How Did Saladin Change the Middle East?
To understand how Saladin changed the fate of the Middle East, how he ousted the crusaders from their castles and took control of the holy land of Jerusalem, we must first look at the origins of Saladin.
From there, we will move on to learn about his conquests and the condition of the Middle East before and after him, and finally, the defeat of the crusaders.
Origin of Saladin
Saladin’s real name was Al-Nasir Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayub. He was born in the town of Tikrit, Baghdad, in 1137. Saladin’s family was of Kurdish descent, with most family members in the army. His father Ayu and uncle Shirkuh were important military personnel under Imad al-din Zangi in Syria.
Saladin grew up in Damascus, where he learned all skills important for an exceptional warrior. It was here that he learned horse riding and swordsmanship. He was brought up on the principles of Islam, which made him a strong Muslim. He did not drink, nor did he indulge himself in sinful acts.
Saladin joined his uncle, Shirkuh, on his expedition to Egypt in his teen years. Shirkuh worked under Zangi’s son and the next heir to the Egyptian throne, Nur al-Din of the Fatimid caliphate. He quickly made a name for himself in the army. He rose to higher ranks within a small time frame.
History defines his character as a strong-willed man with a sheer will for gaining success. His fellow military men were in awe of his personality and blindly followed his commands. Saladin achievements that he would gain in his life would not have been possible without his troops and his sheer will.
The Condition of the Middle East Before Saladin
When Saladin came of age, the Middle East was predominantly under Muslim rule, except some states ran under the crusaders. The Fatimid rule in Egypt was not doing so well. The other states, seemingly Muslim, also faced external and internal threats.
The Muslims were also divided into the Shias and the Sunnis. They also had regular fights and did not agree on a single ideology. This was one of the reasons why the hold of Muslims was getting weaker day by day.
The holy land of Jerusalem was under the rule of Franks, French-speaking Catholics. They were also pushing their boundaries and wanted the bigger chunk of the Middle East for themselves. The Franks and the Muslim rulers signed peace treaties many times, but they would be broken as both parties greatly disliked each other.
Saladin: The Governor of Egypt
Shirkuh, Saladin’s uncle and a commander in the Fatimid army, died in 1169. As Saladin was a competent warrior himself, he was chosen as the commander in Shirkuh’s place. Saladin accepted the new post wholeheartedly. He governed the troops and showed great initiative from his side.
Following his appointment as the commander in the Egyptian army, he was appointed as the vizier of the Fatimid caliphate. The caliphate was in utmost turmoil and was facing problems from all sides. In such conditions, Saladin took control of the vizier position and started working. Unfortunately, in 1174, Nur al-din, the ruler of the Fatimid caliphate, died.
He left behind his riches and a crumbling kingdom. The court was now looking for a new leader. They saw that Saladin was close to Nur al-din and was also the appointed Vizier. They thought that it would be best that he was given hold of Egypt. This decision changed the course of Egypt and consequently the Middle East.
After the death of Nur al-Din, the lands that were in his name were being attacked and confiscated by foreigners. Saladin set out to retrieve the lands back. He secured the borders of Egypt and became the ruler of those territories.
Sieges to the Nearby Muslim States in the Middle East
Saladin married Nur al-Din’s widow, Ismat. She was the daughter of the ruler of Damascus. This marriage was seen to be very fruitful for Saladin as before he was given Egypt, and now he was given Damascus as dowry. But the rule of two kingdoms was not enough for Saladin. He wanted to expand his control, and so he did.
The neighboring states were all ruled by Muslims. One by one, Saladin started conquering them all. He captured Aleppo, Mosul, Yemen, basically the entire strip of the Red sea. He portrayed himself as the only true Muslim fighter against the crusaders. His master plan was to gather all Muslim states under his rule.
The Muslim-ruled territories that he had his eyes on were Syria, northern Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt. He was gradually fulfilling his aim, one territory at a time. By 1186, Saladin had conquered every Muslim territory that did not willingly join him. Now he was openly offending the crusaders and their army while starting the Saladin crusade of Islam.
Saladin wanted to rid the Middle East of all Franks, their orders, and their rules. He did not hide any offense and came at them full charge. Saladin’s army was loyal to him and did not hold back either.
As the Muslim states had their troubles, the states ruled by the Franks were also under great stress and turmoil. The holy city of Jerusalem was one of Saladin’s biggest targets, and the time had come that he rode for it.
Saladin and Jerusalem
The holy city of Jerusalem was under the rule of Baldwin IV. Baldwin was a crusader king and was prominently known as the Leper King. He was diagnosed with leprosy in his teenage years. His condition worsened when his father, King Amalric, died. As he had leprosy, he could not produce an heir for the throne.
The early death of Baldwin was imminent, and with no heir to the throne, Jerusalem was feared to succumb to a civil war. For this reason, Balwin IV chose his nephew, Baldwin V, the son of Sibylla, and Guy of Lusignan, as the rightful heir to the throne. Baldwin IV had a stepsister, Isabella, who laid claim to the throne.
The state of Jerusalem was in constant chaos. First, Baldwin IV died due to worsened leprosy, and Baldwin V became king. The young boy died early after his coronation, and the throne was left without an heir. At the same time, Saladin’s forces were advancing towards Jerusalem.
Saladin thought this time to be best as the kingship of Jerusalem was already under internal problems, so it would be easier to get control of the land. At this time, Balian of Ibelin, a crusader and stepfather of Isabella, was given hold of the crusader army. While Guy of Lusignan was made King of Jerusalem.
Battle of Hattin
Jerusalem was under a civil war. After the death of the child, King Baldwin V, the old debate of who the real heir to the throne is rose again. The individuals involved in the chaos had very little idea that Saladin was waiting for an optimum chance when he could attack Franks in Jerusalem and gain control. The tipping point was when Guy’s allies offended a Muslim caravan passing by Jerusalem.
The Battle of Hattin, also known as the Battle of Horns of Hattin, was between the armies of Saladin and King Guy. The Saladin’s army had about 30000 warriors, whereas the opposition had around 20000 men.
The battle had a clear result: Saladin won. The only thing standing between him and the throne of Jerusalem were some impregnable walls.
These walls were being guarded by Balian. Saladin asked Balian to give up as their king Guy was already captured by Saladin and his army. Balian used his diplomatic powers and negotiated with Saladin.
As a result, Saladin agreed to spare the lives of war prisoners. Saladin took Jerusalem in 1187, and the Balian of Ibelin went to Tripoli.
With this victory, Saladin gained control and power over most of the Middle East, making it predominantly a Sunni Muslim-governed continent. In addition to this, Franks were forced to leave and retire to their homeland.
The orders and knighthoods created by the Franks were also asked to relocate or diminish. But this was not the end of Franks as most of them regrouped and started the Third Crusade.
The Third Crusade
When the crusader leaders of other lands got to know what had happened in Jerusalem, they were furious. The leaders of important Christian states got together and laid the foundation of the Third Crusade. The important figures in this foundation were Frederick I “Barbarossa,” the German king and Holy Roman Emperor, King Philip II of France, and Richard I “the Lionheart” of England.
The main aim of the Third crusade was to demolish the Muslim rule first in Jerusalem and then in the Middle East. The crusaders started their journey from Tyre. They were capturing small towns one by one. In 1911, they reached Acre and captured it successfully. With Acre in their control, they also confiscated a large part of Saladin’s naval force and equipment.
This was a big blow to Saladin and his rule. He marched on for Acre. The crusader leaders of the Third crusade and Saladin could see the damage a war would do to both parties. It was in favor of both sides that they came to a truce. And this is exactly what happened.
In 1192, Saladin and Richard the Lionheart of England signed a truce. This truce ended the Third Crusade. Historians often regard the relationship between Saladin and Richard as peculiar. They were the leaders of two great armies then why did they agree to a truce. The answer might lie in the fact that they both had high regard for each other and mutual respect, nothing more.
Death of Saladin
From the outside, Saladin was a strong man with exceptional experience and expertise in warfare and leadership, but from the inside, he was greatly fond of fauna and botanical gardens. He was very much impressed by artists and calligraphy. In Damascus, there was a botanical garden that he used to visit often.
In March of 1193, Saladin died in the same gardens. The actual reason for his death could not be clearly known, but he died peacefully in the place he loved. He was buried in a mausoleum in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. The area was a part of a school but later emptied and made into a tomb for Saladin’s final resting place.
By the time of his death, most of his wealth and riches were distributed between his subjects. It is rumored that there wasn’t enough money left to pay for his burial. After his death, the stronghold of the middle east fell apart. But his descendants took the name of the Ayubid Dynasty forward and would remain to rule Egypt and Damascus for many coming years.
Some historians argue that Saladin died because he was tired of the constant battles and wars in the name of religion. He was fed up and done with the throne and the power that came with it; that is why he gave all of his wealth away and lay in the gardens to die. Only Saladin can confirm or deny his true intentions of giving his wealth away.
Saladin and the Middle East
Before Saladin came into power and descended two states in his name, he was a boy in training. At the same time, the Middle East was going through its ups and downs. The Christians and Muslims hold the Middle East in a very dear position in their lives. So since medieval times, they have fought over who should control the majority of it.
In the time of Saladin, the Franks, french-speaking Catholics of Levants, were in majority in the Middle East. They controlled the major cities and trade routes also the holy city of Jerusalem. In opposition, the Muslims were confined to some states. Saladin saw that his army and state were struggling to control Jerusalem. So he made it his life’s purpose.
Saladin was a religious man, but he was also a military man. He spared no expense at advancing towards his goal of capturing Jerusalem, and finally, he did. After the Muslims took Jerusalem back, a wave of religious patriotism swept the Middle East. Muslims everywhere rose and took control of their lands back. Unfortunately for the Franks, they were banished to their former countries.
Literary and Cinematic Pieces
Saladin of Jerusalem and his conquests in the Middle East are famous subjects in modern-day cinema and literature. Many artists, directors, and novelists have published their version of his story and ordeals. Some of these versions truly portray the essence of Saladin and his life in the Middle East.
The Book of Saladin and The Crusade Trilogy are well received among the literary works released.
The series, Saladin: The Animated Series and another, The Kingdom of Hearts, portray reality in a very subtle manner. In Damascus, A statue of Saladin in all his glory was erected as a way to pay homage to their late King.
The tale of the Saladin empire and the Middle East is undoubtedly an interesting one. We now know how Saladin rose to become the ruler of two important states: Egypt and Damascus, in a very short period. He gathered, forcefully or otherwise, the Muslim states in the Middle East under the name of Islam. He promised him control and power over all the Middle East.
King Saladin did exactly what he claimed he would do. He banished all the Franks and the crusaders from the Middle East and took back the holy land of Jerusalem.
He won the Battle of Hattin and diminished the Third Crusade primarily against him and his Muslim control. In short, he changed the course of the Middle East and steered it in favor of the Muslims.
- Lane-Poole, Stanley (1906). Saladin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Heroes of the Nations. London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
- Lyons, M. C.; Jackson, D. E. P. (1982). Saladin: the Politics of the Holy War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-31739-9. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
- Riley-Smith, Jonathan (2005). The Crusades: A History (Second ed.). Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300101287.
- Riley-Smith, Jonathan (2008). The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Columbia. ISBN 9780231517942.