Among the most intriguing and legendary figures of the Crusades is Saladin, or as he is more commonly referred to in Arabic, Salah ad-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub (Righteousness of Faith, Joseph son of Job). 1 Christian and Muslim scholars alike have written volumes of work praising him as a man of virtuous qualities and heroism; in much of the literature, Salah ad-Din appears frequently as a conquering hero over his Latin enemies. However, closer examination of his life reveals him not only to be a conqueror, but also a man who struggled to create peace and unity among the dispersed Muslim forces under his command.
Historians have often argued that Salah ad-Din pursued this goal with patience and perseverance, recognizing that achieving this objective was crucial in order to wage a decisive military campaign against the Christian infidels. His call for a holy war, or jihad, resonated throughout the Muslim east, uniting Muslim forces in battle in an effort to reclaim their lost glory through reconquest of stolen lands. Much of the Muslim achievements throughout the counter-crusades were in large part attributable to Salah ad-Dins ability to overcome internal and external challenges.
His strengths were often reflected in his exuberant personality, shrewd sense of political judgement, as well as mastery of military tact and skill. In addition, he was a keenly devout Muslim who stringently followed the tenants of Islam. Collectively, these elements provided the basis for his outstanding leadership abilities. This paper examines Salah ad-Dins role in the Muslim victories throughout the crusading period. In addition, it assesses the significance of this legendary personage as a relevant figure in the history of the Crusades.
Born in 1137 or 1138 of Kurdish descent Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub spent much of his childhood in Baalbek. His father Ayyub held the position of governor, first under Zengi and subsequently under the princes of Damascus. It was not long before Salah ad-Din followed in his fathers footsteps when in 1152, at the age of fourteen, he joined his uncle Shirkuh at Aleppo in the service of Nur ad-Din, for which he was allotted a fief.
Four years later, he succeeded his eldest brother Turan-Shah as Nur ad-Dins deputy in the military governorship of Damascus, but resigned from the post shortly after in protest against the corruption of the chief accountant. Soon after, he rejoined Nur ad-Din at Aleppo and later returned to his post in the office of deputy commandant of Damascus for an unspecified period. 3 During his post in the service of Nur ad-Din Arab, chroniclers maintain that Salah ad-Din was a youth who developed excellent qualities wherein he to walk in the path of righteousness, to act virtuously and be zealous in fighting the infidels.
His interest in religious studies was in part inspired by the model behaviour of Nur ad-Din. It was not, however, his only source of influence. Historian Stanley Lane-Poole states, Salah ad-Din received the best education for a Muslim boy due to his fathers honoured position. Salah ad-Dins father was himself particularly devout in his practice of Islam. It was therefore no surprise that his son received years of education in the Quran, Arabic grammar, elements of rhetoric poetry and theology. Collectively, these studies formed the standard and foundation of higher education among the learned men of Salah ad-Dins time which included him.
Throughout his later years, his literary tastes tended to be theological. According to Lane-Poole, Salah ad-Din enjoyed hearing holy traditions traced and verified, canon law formulated, passages in the Quran explained and sound orthodoxy vindicated, inspired him with strange delight. 6 His knowledge and interest in Islamic theology continued to grow and develop, as did the prestige of his political posts. During his first campaigns in Egypt, Salah ad-Din played a subordinate, though not insignificant, role under his uncle Shirkuh.
At that time, Salah ad-Din was the acting administrator of Egypt, while Shirkuh held the vizirate. Nine weeks later, following the death of Shirkuh, Salah ad-Din succeeded him as the new vizier of Egypt, much to the resentment of Nur ad-Dins Turkish officers. On March 26, 1169 Salah ad-Din was officially crowned the Sultan of Egypt or el-malik an-nasir in Arabic. 7 From this moment on, he put aside the thought of pleasure and the love of ease, adopted a Spartan rule and set it as an example to his troops.
He devoted all his energies henceforth to one great objectiveto found a Muslim empire strong enough to drive the infidels out of the land. When God gave me the land of Egypt, he said, I was sure that he meant Palestine for me also. 9 Whether it was a natural selfish ambition that hastened his zeal or not, the result was the same: henceforward his career was one long championship of Islam. He had pledged himself to Holy War. Many preliminary conquests were necessary and many years were to intervene before he could address himself to this main task.
The next five years were spent consolidating his position as the Sultan of Egypt. One of the many internal struggles he was forced to contend with was the revolt which broke out among the Egyptian officers. The army consisted of several regiments of white cavalrymen and approximately 30 000 Sudanese infantry. 10 Salah ad-Din immediately began building up his own army at the expense of the Egyptian officers and when a revolt broke out among the Sudanese, he had already prepared himself with regular troops of his own in order to decimate them and drive them out of Cairo into upper Egypt. The white troops co-operated under the direction of their new vizier. 12 In 1169, the region of Damietta was attacked by an army of Crusaders and Greeks. 13
Using his own prudence and the aid of his father and brothers, he was successful in vanquishing the attackers. 14 By 1171, following the death of the Fatimid caliph, and under the orders of his overlord Nur ad-Din, Salah ad-Din restored the Abbasid caliphate in Egypt. Despite this gesture of committed loyalty to his uncle and many others like it, the good relations which had existed up to this point between the two grew strained. Nur ad-Din began to view his nephews rising prestige with displeasure, realizing that his subordinate was becoming a rival power. 16
According to historian Sir Hamilton Gibb, author of the article The Rise of Saladin, some suspicions on the part of Nur ad-Din may have been aroused by Saladins failure to assist his suzerain during the expedition to Krak de Montreal (ash-Shaubak) in October 1171, despite his reasons for his withdrawl. 17 More notably, Gibb maintains that more than likely the greatest cause of the strain lay in the divergence of their political views with regard to the strategic importance of Egypt.
Any worries Salah ad-Din may have had concerning this troubled relationship quickly disappeared upon the death of his suzerain on May 15, 1173. 19 It was not long however, before his old worries were replaced with new concerns, primarily of a military nature. Not only did Salah ad-Din make it his duty to build a new army strong enough to hold Egypt in all contingencies, but he made it his mission as the true heir of Nur ad-Din to re-establish his empire, starting with the occupation of Damascus. 20 He attained this with virtually no opposition on October 28, 1174.
The occupation of subsequent strategic regions did not prove to be as easy a task despite his appeals to the local amirs for the unification of Muslim power, In the interests of Islam and its people we put first and foremost whatever will combine their forces and unite them in one purpose; in the interests of the house of atabeg we put first and foremost whatever will safeguard its root and its branch. Loyalty can only be the consequence of loyalty. We are in one valley and those who think ill of us are in another. 21
Many of them did not always view Salah ad-Dins professed aim with similar intentions. Yet, as Gibb astutely noted, the extent to which Salah ad-Dins personal motives were mingled with his genuine devotion to the cause and ideals of Islam is a question which may never be answered. 22 During this time, however selfless his motives may have been, the only effective means by which his objective could be realized was by concentrating power into his own hands, and only delegating, to persons whose loyalty was unquestionable.
In December of 1174, he appointed his brother Tughtigin as governor of Damascus, while he himself pressed northwards with a small force to occupy Homs and Hamah. 24 In addition, he demanded that Aleppo should also concede its borders to him as the rightful guardian of Nur ad-Dins son as-Salih. 25 As a result, many amirs concluded that Salah ad-Din sought nothing but the aggrandizement of his own house at the expense of the house of Zengi. 26 On two separate occasions, there were assassination attempts local adversaries, both of which proved unsuccessful.
These occurrences do, however, illustrate the extent to which he was forced to contend with political rivalries and internal strife. Salah ad-Din proved to be a shrewd politician by creating various forms of alliances with his amirs, many of whom were of similar Kurdish descent. 27 Undoubtably, his relations with them were strengthened by a common bond of race and the broad role in affairs which he gave them. In other areas, he availed himself of marriage alliances, thereby creating both familial bonds and constituting an open recognition of the amirs high status.
Historian Stephen Humphrey wrote extensively about the structure of politics during the reign of Salah ad-Din and argued that it was not merely a one sided relationship. He contends that Salah ad-Dins amirs were linked to him by very clear bonds of political dependence. This political dependence proceeded in the first instance from his personal qualities and political skill. Salah ad-Dins extravagant generosity to those around him, though undoubtably irresponsible, was also a widely used and much esteemed political device for ensuring the loyalty of questionable supporters.
This practice even received Quranic sanction under the name talif al-qulub–the winning-over of hearts. 29 His oftenoted reluctance to examine the activities of his provincial governors and administrators too closely was likewise more the product of calculation than of carelessness. 30 When he did learn of some malfeasance, he punished the guilty official only in certain circumstances. 31 An account retold by Imad ad-Din illustrates this point : at the beginning of my journey with him [Saladin] to Egypt in 572 , an accounting was demanded of his term in office.
The audit of his books indicated a deficit of 70 000 dinars. [The Sultan] neither sought nor mentioned [this sum], and caused him to think that he knew nothing of it, although the sahib al-diwan did not deny itNor was [the sultan] pleased to dismiss him, but put him in charge of diwan al-jaysh. 32 Corruption and misadministration were prevalent throughout the political system, but by down-playing these weaknesses, Salah ad-Din could retain the servicesand reinforce the sense of gratitudeof a presumably valued official. His generosity and forbearance were attractive qualities; they were also of great political utility.
Salah ad-Din s qualities were important not only in dealing with individual cases, but also in handling his amirs as a body. According to Humphrey, each group was granted reasonable shares of the iqtas and governorships and each of their chiefs were equally heard by the sultan, with no one group gaining greater favour over another. Humphrey adds that for the political benefits of such a policy were immense: his treatment of individuals meant that he had to face only a few cases of personal discontent and even if some disgruntled amir had tried to mount a conspiracy against him, he would have found no faction at hand to support him. 35 It was, of course, much to Salah ad-Dins advantage that he was the only political leader in the region who had both the personality and political insight to establish such a relationship with his amirs.
Sad al-Din Gumushtigin began his brief career as dictator of Aleppo by imprisoning a number of amirs and alienating several others who should have been among the most loyal supporters of the Zengid house. 36 Similarly, when Izz al-Din Masud of Mosul and his chief advisor Mujahid al-Din Kiymaz occupied the region in 577/1182, they favoured their own Mosul amirs over the Aleppan Nuriyya, with subsequent discontent and at least one important defection to Salah ad-Din.
In the face of such treatment, Salah ad-Dins generosity and equitableness were bound to seem more attractive than the duty of loyalty to the house of Zengi. 38 The political bond which Salah ad-Dins created was a strong and effective one, but by itself did not suffice. Salah ad-Dins amirs were ambitious men, after all, and like professional soliders in a position to choose their ruler, they would serve the man who assured them the richest rewards. 39 Had he been the ruler of a small passive stateit is doubtful that he could have sustained the services of most of his amirs.
The kingdom, however, was quite different. From the outset, it was clearly the most vigorous and dynamic power in the Nile Valley and Fertile Crescent. 40 For a man of ambition by far the greatest prospects lay with Salah ad-Din. Participation in Salah ad-Dins success entailed the development of opportunities and newly secured interests in land and political power enjoyed by the amirs. To a large extent argues Humphrey, Salah ad-Dins success was the surest guarantee of the amirs loyalty.
The system of loyalties created by Salah ad-Din thus rested equally on successful expansion and on his perceptiveness in dealing both with individuals and the disparate groups among his amirs. Expansion bound the amirs to his cause because it promised material rewards, and this bond grew all the more effective as Salah ad-Din became the only ruler in the region able to offer such inducements on a grand scale. 42 But with the inevitable rivalries and disappointed hopes which accompany rapid imperial expansion, or in the face of frustration and defect, a material tie of this kind was subject to quick dissolution.
It was the cement of personal trust and mutual obligation which could (at least in part) sustain the commitment of his amirs under such circumstances. 44 Salah ad-Dins military efforts proved just as challenging, if not more so against these political obstacles. As noted previously, Salah ad-Dins demands for Aleppo proved unrelenting. After a second attempt, he posted his forces around the region, leaving Gumushtigin no alternative but to accept his terms. This left Aleppo in the hands of as-Salih with the condition that the two armies combine operations against the Franks.
A series of skirmishes against the Christian forces followed with only modest successe and no decisive victory could be achieved with only the forces of Damascus and those which could be spared from the defense of Egypt. 46 The forces of Aleppo, Mosul and Mespotamia were required to assist him in his reconquest of Palestine. 47 With the opposition of Aleppo tactically resolved, Salah ad-Din directed his attention on the potential hostility of the Zengids of Mosul and the very likely possibility that their troops could still effectively neutralize his ultimate objective.
For him, the conclusion was inescapable: since he could not concentrate the forces of Syria and Egypt against the crusaders so long as he was endangered by potential rear attacks from Mosul, their forces, too, had to be brought under his control and turned into auxillaries in the jihad. 49 If the Holy War was to be successful, it had be waged with all Muslim forces united. In his dispatches to the caliphate in Baghdad following the capture of Amida, Salah ad-Din made a moral appeal for the rights to Mosul arguing that, This alone stood in the way of the union of Islam and the recovery of Jerusalem.
Let the commander of the faithful compare the conduct of his clients and judge which of them most faithfully served the cause of Islam. 50 Salah ad-Dins insistence on the inclusion of Mesopotamia and Mosul in his dominions was because, this little Jazira [i. e. Mesopotamia] is the lever which will set in motion the great Jazira [i. e. the whole Arab east]; it is the point of division and center of resistance, and once it is set in its place in the chain of alliances, the whole armed might of Islam will be coordinated to engage the forces of unbelief. After a period of tension and conflict, a peaceful settlement was reached and a grand coalition was at last formed with the goal of reconquering Palestine.
Salah ad-Dins armies, though organized along the same lines as those of Nur ad-Din, differed in one important respect. The proportion of Kurds in his regiments was much greater and the mamluk element less prominent. 52 Their common loyalty to him kept in check the rivalries that might otherwise have resulted in conflicts between them, and in his selection of fiefholders and lesser governors, he seems to have kept the balance fairly evenly. Saladin also had to contend with his amirs discontent, especially after longer, discouraging campaigns.
Although this never degenerated into open mutiny, he could not ignore its possibility. But by and large, his authority among his amirs was such that he could manage campaigns of many months duration for years on end without provoking serious dissension. To all of Muslim forces, argues Gibb, he gave his complete confidence and expected of them equal loyalty in return. 54 Finally reuniting his forces, Salah ad-Din marched his goal, the recapture of Jerusalem.
After a seige of less than a fortnight, the city surrendered on October 2, 1187. This, along with his other impressive victories which reduced the holdings of the crusaders in Syria to three cities ( Tyre, Tripoli and Antioch with a few outlying fortresses) in such a short span of time, has led Muslim and Christian scholars alike to view him as a great and successful general. Salah ad-Din possessed military virtues of high order; but his victories were due to his moral qualities which have little to do with strategic gifts.
He was a man inspired by an intense and unwavering ideal, the achievement of which necessarily involved him in a long series of military activities. Until 1186, these activities were directed toward imposing his will upon the prevailing feudal military system and shaping it into the instrument which his purpose required. 56 These, however, were not Salah ad-Dins only strengths; his ability to ignite the mass fervour of jihad was crucial in itselfsince no leader, not even Nur ad-Din, had been capable of organizing such a powerful effort.
It has often been argued that it was Nur ad-Din who laid the political and physical groundwork for Salah ad-Din who went on to command more defensive and emotional support for the holy war than any previous ruler. 57 Under Salah ad-Din, the growth of Muslim strength, unity and vigor for jihad developed and found its fullest expression. Ibn Shaddad, one of Salah ad-Dins greatest eulogizers, concluded that for Salah ad-Din it was not an issue of building up his own power for selfish reasons, but to command sufficient strength to fight the accursed Franks.
Salah ad-Din himself is said to have argued that, a man does not serve Allah unless he is occupied with the maintenance of the jihad with extraordinary effort and application. 59 Historian Gibb further adds that for Salah ad-Din, if the war to which he had vowed himself against the crusaders was to be a real jihad, a true Holy War, it was imperative to conduct it with scrupulous observance of the revealed law of Islam. A government which sought to serve the cause of God in battle must not only be a lawful government, duly authorized by supreme represention of the divine law, but must serve God with equal zeal in its administration and in its treatment of its subjects. 61
Salah ad-Din possessed all the religious virtues of orthodoxy: piety, obedience to the law, hadith and the Quran; and respect for learned men; as well as knowledge of the tradition and law of jihad and activation of that knowledge. He could and often did call upon military strength (once consolidated) when he wished, in comparison with the number of amirs and governors whom Nur ad-Din had employed in similar roles. 63 Ibn Shaddad recalls several cases of many volunteers and martyrs who responded willingly to the calls of jihad by their suzerain.
In 1189, the troops were full of fervour at Acrethis was a day on which one could sell ones life for the great reward of paradise and Gibb recounts many references to men who donated their services to Salah ad-Din and others who died as martyrs for Allah in battle. Other instances are cited, whereby Salah ad-Din himself exhorted his men before a battle, or during a critical point in the fight, encouraging them to exert themselves in Allahs service (fi sabil Allah or in the way of Allah). 65
As a powerful leader of his time,using the element of holy war to instigate military activity, Salah ad-Din was able to command the loyalty and ideals of a group of men bound by a similar principle of faithIslam. Salah ad-Din achieved what no Muslim commander, for centuries before him ever attempted: he ruled for three years without any relatively major disruptions and still fulfilled his ultimate goals.
Had he been no more than a military leader, he could not have attained it; his feudal troops would have fallen apart and been overun by the Franks. It was, however, the collaboration of his true greatness and inner strength which helped produce such a victorious outcome. He was faced with no easy task–waging a double conflict: the external struggle with the crusaders and the internal struggle with fissiparous tendencies and instability of the feudal armies.
Military genius was but one element in the combination of qualities he possessed which enabled him to fight crusaders successfully. The military campaign was a long and difficult one, consisting of military reversals and disaster; his generals were openly critical, his troops at times mutinous. It was through his sheer strength of character, the undying passion of faith within him and his example of steadfast endurance that he inspired the obstinate resistance which ultimately defeated the Christian infidels.