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27 Jul

Siege of Jerusalem (1187)

A portrait of Saladin from medieval Arabian manuscript

Sutan Saladin

At the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was totally defeated; internal strife had weakened the kingdom’s ability to effectively defend itself.  King Guy and the majority of the other nobility of the city were taken prisoner.  This was the start of a string of crucial victories for Saladin that summer that included the conquest of Ascalon, Acre, Beirut, Nablus, Sidon, and Toron.  Survivors of the Battle of Hattin fled to Tyre with other refugees, as it was the only city that had been able to hold out against Saladin.  Tyre owed its survival to the timely arrival of Conrad of Montferrat.

While in Tyre, Balian of Ibelin contacted Saladin to request safe passage to Jerusalem so that he could rescue his wife, Maria Comnena, and their family.  Saladin agreed, with the provision that Balian swear not to take up arms against him or remain in Jerusalem for more than a day.  Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, however, Balian was greeted with a sticky dilemma.  Queen Sybilla, Patriarch Heraclius, and the citizens of the city begged him to take charge of the city’s defense; Heraclius even argued that Balian must stay for the sake of Christianity.  After Heraclius offered to absolve him of his vow to Saladin, Balian agreed to their pleas for help.

He then sent a message with a deputation of burgesses to Saladin in Ascalon, notifying him of his decision.  The burgesses rejected Saladin’s proposals for a negotiated surrender of Jerusalem, yet Saladin still arranged for an escort to travel with Maria, their children, and their household to Tripoli.  Because Balian was the highest ranking lord left in the city, the chronicler Ibn al-Athir says that he was viewed by the Muslims as holding rank “more or less equal to that of a king”.  Therefore, Saladin treated his family with respect in an effort to make a negotiated surrender of the city more attractive.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Balian was greeted with a desperate situation.  The city was packed with refugees escaping Saladin’s occupations, and more were arriving every day.  With fewer than fourteen knights in the city, Baladin had to created another sixty from the ranks of squires and burgesses who remained.  He stored food and money in preparation for the siege that everyone knew was coming.  Saladin assembled the armies of Egypt and Syria, and after a short failed siege of Tyre, he and his forces arrived outside of Jerusalem on September 20.

Yusuf Batit, a member of the Eastern Orthodox clergy, mediated negotiations between Balian and Saladin; he chose to be the go-between because the Eastern Orthodox clergy had been largely suppressed under Latin Christian rule, and he knew that the Orthodox community would have greater freedom if the city returned to Muslim control.  Saladin wanted to take the city peacefully, but the people inside refused to leave, swearing that they would rather destroy it themselves through street fighting than see it fall peacefully into Muslim hands.

Saladin’s forces were placed in front of the Tower of David and the Damascus Gate, with archers continuously firing on the ramparts.  Each time their siege towers were rolled up to the walls, the defenders managed to push them back.  Skirmishing continued for the next six days, with little results other than heavy casualties for Saladin’s forces and the loss of only a few of the Crusaders.  Saladin moved his camp to the Mount of Olives on September 26 because there was no major gate there from which the crusaders could counter-attack.  They kept a steady bombardment on the city walls from catapults; Greek fire; siege engines; petraries; mangonels; crossbows; and arrows.  After the Muslim forces mined part of the wall, it collapsed on September 29.  The Crusaders were unable to push Saladin’s troops back from the breach in the wall, the Muslims couldn’t gain entry to the city either.  Saladin’s forces vastly outnumbered the Crusaders, and before long, there were only a few dozen knights and a handful of men-at-arms remaining who could bear arms and defend the wall.  Even with the promise of an enormous reward, no more men could be found to help in the city’s defense.

The citizens turned to religion to attempt to alleviate their despair.  According to a passage from the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, the clergy organized a barefoot penitent procession around the walls, similar to that performed outside the walls on the First Crusade in 1099.  Women immersed their children in chin-deep basins of cold water, then cropped their hair in an effort to appease the wrath of God.  Unfortunately, their efforts didn’t seem to be heard.

At the end of September, Balian and his embassy rode out to meet Saladin and offer him the surrender they’d initially declined.  However, as they spoke, Saladin’s troops had scaled the walls of the city and planted their banners; consequently, Saladin refused the offer of surrender.  After the Crusaders repelled the Muslim attack, Saladin and Balian agreed that the city would be peacefully turned over to Saladin in order to prevent a massacre similar to the one that occurred when Crusaders captured the city in 1099.  Saladin allowed ransoms of twenty bezants for men, ten for women, and five for children, but added the caveat that those who couldn’t pay would be sold into slavery.  Balian pleaded in vain that there were far more people who would be unable to pay the ransom, due to the fact that there were perhaps as many as 20,000 refugees from other parts of the kingdom that had come to the city.

Upon their return to Jerusalem, Balian and his embassy decided that seven thousand of the poor inhabitants of the city could be ransomed with money drawn from the treasury established there by Henry II of England, which was being guarded by the Knights Hospitallers.  This treasury had been intended for use by Henry on a crusade or pilgrimage in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket, but since he never arrived, the treasury had been used to pay mercenaries for the Battle of Hattin.

After another meeting with Belian, Saladin agreed to reduce the ransom to ten bezants for men, five for women, and one for children.  Belian argued that this was still too high a sum, so Saladin suggested a ransom of 100,000 bezants for all the inhabitants.  Belian felt that this would be impossible, and so Saladin offered to ransom seven thousand people for no less than 50,000 bezants.  After much discussion, it was agreed that Saladin would ransom the seven thousand for 30,000 bezants, and that two women or ten children would be allowed to take the place of one man for the same price.

On October 2, Belian handed the keys of the Tower of David over to Saladin.  An announcement went out that every inhabitant had approximately a month to pay their ransom, if they could (depending on the source, the actual length of time was between 30 and 50 days).  Saladin chose to free some of those who were forced into slaver, as did his brother Saphadin; both Balian and Heraclius also freed many others with their own money.  They then offered themselves as hostages for the remaining several thousand citizens whose ransoms could not be paid, but Saladin refused.

Saladin permitted an orderly march away from Jerusalem, with the ransomed citizens marching in three columns.  The first two were led by the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller, with Balian and Patriarch Heraclius leading the third.  Balian was allowed to join his wife and family in Tripoli, while Heraclius was given permission to evacuate a number of reliquaries and other church treasures.  Some refugees first went to the County of Tripoli, which was under Crusader control at the time, but were denied entrance to the city and had many of their possessions brought with them from Jerusalem stolen.  Many chose to go to Antioch, Cilicia, and Byzantium, while others decided to go to Egypt where they were permitted to board Italian ships bound for Europe.

Saladin allowed Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and allowed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to remain under Christian control.  In order to stabilize Muslim claims to Jerusalem, many holy sites were ritually purified with rosewater.  He then went on to capture many of the other castles that were still holding out against his attacks, including Kerak, Montreal, and Belvoir, then returned to Tyre to besiege it a second time.  He continued his conquest of the kingdom throughout the summer of 1187.

News of the calamitous defeat at Hattin was brought back to Europe by Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre, as well as other pilgrims and travelers.    Plans were promptly made for another Crusade; prior to learning about the fall of Jerusalem, Pope Gregory VIII issued the bull Audita tremendi on October 29.  In both England and France, the Saladin Tithe was enacted in order to finance the new Crusade.  However, the Third Crusade didn’t get underway until 1189, when it set out in three contingents led by Philip Augustus, Frederick Barbarossa, and Richard the Lionheart.

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