Today in Middle Eastern history: the Treaty of Jaffa ends the Third Crusade (1192)

While the First Crusade was the only one that could be called an unequivocal success for the Crusaders, the Third Crusade was nearly as impressive. It failed to achieve its ultimate objective, the recapture of Jerusalem, but not for lack of trying and certainly not for lack of military prowess. It produced one of the most celebrated Crusader figures in history, Richard I of England, whose battles with the Egyptian ruler Saladin became legendary in medieval Europe. I’ve already written some about the Third Crusade and I don’t want to be repetitive, so let’s just talk about the Treaty of Jaffa and why it represented both a sign of the Third Crusade’s success and the acknowledgement of its ultimate failure.

Map - Crusades, Early

By September 1192, Richard had helped return the city of Acre to Crusader control (in July 1191), then defeated Saladin in pitched battle at Arsuf (in September 1191), then defeated him again in coming to the relief of the Crusader garrison at Jaffa (in August 1192). Saladin’s army was virtually broken, but Richard, with the French Crusader army having returned to France and with the Crusader kingdoms embroiled in a power struggle between Guy of Lusignon (Richard’s vassal and therefore preferred candidate) and Conrad of Montferrat, knew that his army simply wasn’t big enough to march on Jerusalem and successfully besiege the city. Jerusalem was a relatively big, well-fortified city that had almost total control over its nearby water sources. Any attempt to besiege it would have to contend with the scarcity of water outside the city, and the length of time that a siege would take would allow Saladin to reconstitute his army and come after the Crusaders at full strength.

Richard suggested that the Crusader army should instead strike at Egypt, to remove Saladin from the equation while his army was at its weakest, but his army made it clear that it would mutiny if he marched it anywhere other than toward Jerusalem. Richard knew that doing so would be the end of the Crusader army. On an aborted attempt to march on Jerusalem in the summer of 1192, Richard told the other Crusader commanders that he would happily march to the city and fight and even die in the siege, but somebody else would have to command the army because he would not lead it to what he was sure would be its destruction. The army abandoned its plans and headed back toward the coast.

In this miniature from James Edmund Doyle’s A Chronicle of England (1864), Richard refuses to even look at Jerusalem because he knows he can’t capture it (Wikimedia)

Meanwhile, Richard was starting to receive troubling reports from France. After abandoning the Crusade, King Philip II had gone home and started picking off Richard’s territories in France. Even worse, the French king was also supporting Richard’s brother, John, who was trying to usurp the English throne. To make matters still worse, Richard fell gravely ill after Jaffa. He had to go home, get better, and shore things up in his own kingdom, and since there was literally nothing left for him to do in the Holy Land, he resolved to leave.

The Treaty of Jaffa was Richard’s attempt to capitalize on Saladin’s weakness to whatever extent he could. Richard was in a weak position as well, but the main cause of his weakness–trouble back in Europe–wouldn’t necessarily have been known to Saladin which put Richard in a stronger negotiating position. The treaty called for a three year cessation in hostilities, during which time Saladin would not attack any of the Crusader kingdoms along the Mediterranean coast and would allow Christian pilgrims to visit any holy sites in his territory, including Jerusalem. He agreed to surrender the city of Ascalon to Saladin (it had finally fallen to the Crusaders in 1153), but only after destroying its fortifications first so as to leave it (at least temporarily) defenseless. Richard finally left for home on October 9, and the Third Crusade was officially kaput.

The Third Crusade failed to retake Jerusalem, but it’s fair to say that without it, and specifically without Richard’s military successes, Saladin would have been able to put the remaining Crusader kingdoms in a pretty tough spot. It’s not inconceivable to argue that, absent Richard’s intervention, Saladin could have removed the Crusader presence from the eastern Mediterranean entirely.

Speaking of Saladin, he died not long after Richard left the Holy Land, in March 1193 in Damascus. It would be a slight exaggeration to say that the Ayyubid Dynasty he founded went into decline immediately upon his death, but only slight–they were overthrown by the Mamluks in Egypt in 1250 and had lost their Syrian possessions to the Mamluks by 1260.

Richard, meanwhile, sailed for home, but had to land on the northern Adriatic coast and go overland through central Europe. Along the way he was arrested by Leopold V of Austria, who suspected (probably rightly) that Richard had murdered Leopold’s cousin, the aforementioned Conrad of Montferrat. He had to be ransomed from Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI for a huge sum of money (literally a king’s ransom, I guess). He apparently always intended to go back on Crusade and finish the job by capturing Jerusalem, but he was killed in 1199 while still at war in France, trying to recover all the lands that Philip had pilfered from him.

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