Today in Middle Eastern history: the Battle of Hattin (1187)

This is of course the Fourth of July, so there won’t be any news updates tonight. Happy Independence Day to my American readers. But it’s also the anniversary of the epic Crusader defeat at Hattin, so if you’re looking for something to read before the fireworks start, here’s my account of that battle:

I’ve been, well, less than flattering in past writing about the Crusaders, and the truth is Hattin was actually one of their biggest blunders. It’s a battle that didn’t need to be fought in a place where no Crusader army should have found itself. The success of the First Crusade in capturing Jerusalem (1099) had been followed by the utter comedy of errors of the Second Crusade (1145-1149), whose only military success was in liberating Lisbon (yes, the one in Portugal). By 1187, the political situation in Egypt and the Levant, which thanks to Fatimid weakness had been so fractured a century earlier (this is a major reason why the First Crusade actually succeeded despite its own deep problems), had completely changed, as Saladin took control of Egypt and then reunited it with the former Fatimid lands in the Levant under his direct authority.

In 1177, Saladin’s army had been beaten by a smaller Crusader force under Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem, at Montgisard (near the modern Israeli city of Ramla), and Saladin doesn’t seem to have been interested in a rematch. But by 1187 the kingdom was in the hands of Guy of Lusignan, who was married (happily; don’t let Hollywood fool you) to Baldwin’s sister, Sibylla, and made up for the fact that he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack by also being personally unpleasant. Guy had been sacked as Baldwin’s top general in 1183 for two reasons. First, he habitually looked the other way while Raynald of Châtillon, Prince of Antioch, raided Muslim caravans and then captured the town of Aqaba. Then, when Saladin besieged Raynald’s castle at Kerak in response to these provocations, Guy hesitated to lead the army out from Jerusalem to relieve the siege he’d helped cause. He fell so far out of favor that, in order to get the Jerusalem nobles to agree to her accession as queen upon the deal of her son, King Baldwin V, in 1186, Sibylla had to agree to an annulment so that Guy would not be able to claim the throne by marriage. Immediately after Sibylla was crowned, though, she announced that she would remarry Guy and thereby make him king anyway.

Source: Today in Middle Eastern history: the Battle of Hattin (1187)


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