Today in Middle Eastern history: Saladin takes Jerusalem (1187)

There are plenty of things wrong with Ridley Scott’s 2005 Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven. He makes a total hash out of the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, for one thing. In Scott’s story, Princess (later Queen) Sybilla (d. 1190) is trapped in an unhappy marriage to the malicious idiot (and later King) Guy of Lusignon (d. 1194), but in reality she seems to have been at least content with their marriage, and it’s not clear that Guy was any more malicious than your average 12th century ambitious noble. He was probably an idiot, so I’ll give Scott that. Scott’s hero, Balian of Ibelin (d. 1193), was really the hero of the siege of Jerusalem from the Christian side, but he wasn’t a heroic agnostic outsider. Balian was in reality a believing Christian who was very much enmeshed in divisive court politics. Scott eliminates King Baldwin V from the story altogether, which not only is ahistorical but makes his Sybilla’s motivations almost inscrutable. To be fair, Baldwin V is in the director’s cut, which consequently is a better version of the film.

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