Saladin Takes Jerusalem From The Christians

Author:      Cox, Sir George W.

Saladin Takes Jerusalem From The Christians

 

 

 

1187

 

     Eight days after their conquest of the Holy City, in 1099, the first

crusaders proceeded to establish the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, with Godfrey

of Bouillon as its first king.  On the death of Godfrey, in 1100, his brother

Baldwin succeeded him, and in 1118 he was succeeded by Baldwin II, Count of

Edessa.  The fourth king was Fulc, Count of Anjou and son-in-law of Baldwin II

(1131-1144), and after him reigned his son, Baldwin III (1144-1162).  This

King came to the throne at the age of thirteen.  Early in his reign the

Christian stronghold of Edessa, in Mesopotamia, was captured by the Turks, and

its loss, which seemed to threaten the destruction of the kingdom of Jerusalem

itself, was the occasion of an appeal to Europe which called out the Second

Crusade.  The great preacher of this crusade was St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a

man who, in earnestness and eloquence, closely resembled Pope Urban and Peter

the Hermit.  Bernard's influence won to his cause not only the common people,

but also nobles and kings, and the Second Crusade was led by Louis VII, King

of France, and Conrad III, Emperor of Germany.

 

     The time of the Second Crusade was 1147-1149.  Louis and Conrad each

commanded a great army, but they made the mistake of working separately.

Conrad reached Constantinople first, and partly in consequence of the

faithless conduct of Manuel, the Byzantine emperor - who, like his predecessor

Alexius, in the time of the First Crusade, threw obstacles in the way of the

western hosts - the whole German army was cut to pieces in Asia Minor, only

the Emperor himself, with a few followers, escaping.  Louis, soon arriving

with his army, received the same treatment from Manuel, and after taking a few

towns he saw his forces likewise destroyed by the Turks.  Louis himself

escaped and returned to France.

 

     So ended in utter failure and shame the Second Crusade.  The event seemed

to give the lie to the glowing promises of St. Bernard, who was charged by

anguished women with sending their fathers, husbands, and sons forth on a

fruitless errand to disgrace and death.  The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem

profited nothing from this ignominious enterprise.  The power of that kingdom

was already waning, and, but for the knights of the military orders now in

Jerusalem, the city must have yielded to the Turcoman hordes that continually

menaced it.  Baldwin III died in 1162, at the age of thirty-three, loved and

lamented by his people and respected by his foes.  He died childless, and his

brother Almeric was elected to succeed him.  What experience and what fate

awaited the kingdom after this will be seen in the remarkable narration which

follows.

 

     Almost at the beginning of Almeric's reign the affairs of the Latin

kingdom became complicated with those of Egypt; and the Christians are seen

fighting by the side of one Mahometan race, tribe, or faction against another.

The divisions of Islam may have turned less on points of theology, but they

were scarcely less bitter than those of Christendom; and Noureddin, the sultan

of Aleppo, eagerly embraced the opportunity which gave him a hold on the

Fatimite Caliph of Egypt, when Shawer, the grand wazir of that Caliph, came

into his presence as a fugitive.  A soldier named Dargham had risen up and

deposed him, and the deposition of the wazir was the deposition of the real

ruler, for the Fatimite caliphs themselves were now merely the puppets which

the Merovingian kings had been in the days of Charles Martel and Pepin.

 

     Among the generals of Noureddin were Shiracouh and his nephew Saladin

(Salah-ud-deen) of the shepherd tribe of the Kurds.  These Noureddin

despatched into Egypt to effect the restoration of Shawer.  His enemy Dargham

had sought by lavish offers to buy the aid of the Latins; but the terms were

still unsettled when he was worsted in a battle by Shiracouh and slain. Shawer

again sat in his old seat; but with success came the fear that his supporters

might prove not less dangerous than his enemies.  He refused to fulfil his

compact with Noureddin and ordered his generals to quit the country.

Shiracouh replied by the capture of Pelusium, and Shawer, more successful than

Dargham in obtaining aid from Jerusalem, besieged Shiracouh in his newly

conquered city with the help of the army of Almeric.  The Latin King after a

fruitless blockade of some months found himself called away to meet dangers

nearer home; and the besieged general, not knowing the cause, accepted an

offer of capitulation binding him to leave Egypt after the surrender of his

prisoners.  But the Latin armies were transferred from Egypt only to undergo a

desperate defeat at the hands of Noureddin in the territory of Antioch, and

thus to leave Antioch itself at the mercy of the enemy.

 

     Noureddin may have hesitated to attack Antioch, from the fear that such

an enterprise might bring upon him the arms of the Greek Emperor.  He was more

anxious to extinguish the Fatimite power in Egypt; in other words, to become

lord of countries hemming in the Latin kingdom to the south as well as to the

north; and it was precisely this danger which King Almeric knew that he had

most reason to fear.  To put the best color on his design, Noureddin obtained

from Mostadhi, the caliph of Bagdad, the sanction which converted his

enterprise into a war as holy as that which the Norman conqueror waged against

Harold of England.  The story of the war attests the valor of both sides,

under the alternations of disaster and success.  The Latin King had already

entered Cairo, when a large part of the force of Shiracouh was overwhelmed by

a terrific sandstorm.  But the retreat of Shiracouh across the Nile failed to

reassure the Egyptians.  Almeric received two hundred thousand gold pieces for

the continuance of his help, with the promise that two hundred thousand more

should be paid to him on the complete destruction of their enemies; and the

treaty was ratified in the presence of the powerless sovereign, whose consent

was never asked for the alliances or treaties of the minister who was his

master.  The remaining events of the campaign were a battle, in which a part

of the army of Almeric was defeated by Shiracouh and his nephew Saladin; the

surrender of Alexandria on the summons of Shiracouh; and the blockade of that

city by Almeric, who at length obtained from the Turk the pledge that after an

exchange of prisoners he would lead his forces away from Egypt, on the

condition that the road to Syria should be left open to him.

 

     The banners of Almeric and the Fatimite Caliph waved together on the

walls of Alexandria; but on either side the peace or truce was a mere

makeshift for the purpose of gaining time.  Neither the Latin King nor the

Sultan of Aleppo had given up the thought of the conquest of Egypt; and

Almeric found a ready cause of quarrel in the plea that since his own return

to Palestine the Egyptians had entered into communication with their enemy and

his.  The King of Jerusalem had lately married the niece of the Greek Emperor,

and the latter promised to aid the expedition with his fleet.  The help of the

Knights Hospitalers was easily obtained, while (some said, on this account)

that of the Knights Templars was refused.  At length with a large and powerful

army Almeric left Jerusalem, pretending that his destination was the Syrian

town of Hems; but after a while his march was suddenly turned.  In ten days he

reached Pelusium; and the storm and capture of that city were followed by a

wanton carnage which served to increase, if anything could increase, the

reputation of the Christians for merciless cruelty.  The prayers of the wazir

Shawer for help were now directed as earnestly to the Turkish Sultan as they

had once been to the Latin King of Jerusalem; but his envoys were also sent to

Almeric offering him a million pieces of gold, of which a tenth part was

produced on the spot.

 

     Almeric took the bribe; and when his army looked for nothing less than

the immediate sack of Cairo, they were told that they must remain idle while

the rest of the money was being collected.  The wazir took care that the

gathering should not be ended before the soldiers of Noureddin had reached the

frontier, and Almeric found too late that he was caught in the trap which his

own greed had laid for him.  He could himself do nothing but retreat, and his

retreat was as disastrous as it was ignominious.  The Greek fleet had shown

itself off the mouths of the Nile, and had sailed away again.  The Greek

Emperor could not be punished; but a scapegoat for the failure of the

enterprise was found in the grand master of the Hospitalers, who was deprived

of his dignity by his knights.

 

     The triumph of Shiracouh brought with it the fall of the wazir Shawer,

who was seized and put to death, while the man whose aid he had invoked was

chosen to fill his place.  But Shiracouh himself lived only two months; and

then by way of choosing one whose love of pleasure and lack of influence

seemed to promise a career of useful insignificance, the Fatimite Caliph made

the young Saladin his minister.  The Caliph was mistaken.  Saladin brought

back his Kurds, and so used the treasures which his office placed at his

command that the new yoke became stronger than the old one.

 

     To the Latins the exaltation of Saladin signified the formation of a

really formidable power on their southern frontier.  Their alarm prompted

embassies to the court of the Eastern Emperor and the princes of Western

Christendom.  But the time was not yet come for a third crusade; and only from

Manuel was any help obtained.  His fleet aided the Latins in a fruitless siege

of Damietta; and a terrible earthquake which laid Aleppo in ruins and

shattered the walls of Antioch saved them from attack by the army of Noureddin

which was approaching from the north.  Still, in spite of conspiracies or

revolutions of the old nobility, the power of Saladin was growing, and at

length he dealt with the mock sovereignty of the Fatimites as Pepin dealt with

that of the Merovingians.  The last Fatimite Sultan, then prostrate in his

last illness, never knew that the public prayer had been offered in the name

of the Caliph of Bagdad; but Saladin had the glory of ending a schism which

had lasted two hundred years, and from Mostadhi, the vicar of the Prophet, he

received the gift of a linen robe and two swords.

 

     But the healing of one schism led only to the opening of another. Saladin

was the servant of the Sultan of Aleppo, and he had been recognized and

confirmed in office by Mostadhi strictly on the score of this lieutenancy.

But the new wazir of Egypt had no mind to obey any longer the summons of his

old master, and to his threat of chastisement Saladin in his council of emirs

retorted by a threat of war.  His vehemence was cooled when his own father

declared before the assembly that, were he so commissioned by Noureddin, he

would strike his son's head off from his shoulders.  In private, he let

Saladin know that his mistake lay not in thinking of resistance, but in

speaking of it; and a letter sent by his advice sufficed for the present to

smooth matters over.  But the time of quietness could not last long.  The

designs of Saladin became continually more manifest, and Noureddin was on his

way to Egypt when he was struck down by illness and died at Damascus.

 

     The widow of Noureddin held the fortress of Paneas; and her husband's

death encouraged Almeric to undertake the siege.  A bribe to abandon it was at

first refused.  A fortnight later it was accepted; but Almeric returned to

Jerusalem only to die.  His life had lasted only five years longer than that

of his predecessor Baldwin; but it had been long enough to win for him a

reputation for consummate avarice and meanness.  His son and successor,

Baldwin IV, was a leper, and his disease made such rapid strides as to make it

necessary to delegate his authority to another.  His first choice fell on Guy

of Lusignan, the husband of his sister Sibylla, but either the weakness of Guy

or the quarrels of the barons brought everything into confusion, and Baldwin,

foiled in his wish to annul his marriage, devised his crown to Baldwin, the

infant son of Sibylla by her first marriage, Raymond II, Count of Tripoli,

being nominated regent and Joceline of Courtenay the guardian of the child.

But within three years the leper King died, followed soon after by the infant

Baldwin V, and in the renewed strife consequent on these events Guy of

Lusignan managed to establish himself, by right of his wife, King of

Jerusalem.  He was still quite a young man, but he had earned for himself an

evil name.  The murderer of Patric, Earl of Salisbury, he had been banished by

Henry II from his dominions in France; and the opinion of those who knew him

found expression in the words of his brother Geoffrey, "Had they known me, the

men who made my brother king would have made me a god."

 

     Guy was king; but Raymond of Tripoli refused him his allegiance.  Guy

besieged him in Tiberias, and Raymond made a treaty with Saladin.  But Saladin

was now minded to seize a higher prey.  He was master of Syria and Egypt: he

was resolved that the Crescent should once more displace the Cross on the

mosque of Omar.  Pretexts for the war were almost superfluous; but he had an

abundance of them in the ravages committed by barons of the Latin kingdom on

the lands and the property of Moslems.  Fifty thousand horsemen and a vast

army on foot gathered under his standard, when he declared his intention of

attacking Jerusalem; but their first assault was on the castle of Tiberias.

On hearing these ominous tidings Raymond of Tripoli at once laid aside all

thought of private quarrels.  Hastening to Jerusalem he said that the safety

of his own city was a very secondary matter, and earnestly besought Guy to

confine himself to a strictly defensive war, which would soon reduce the

invader to the extremity of distress.  The advice was wise and good; but the

grand master of the Templars fastened on the very nobleness of his

self-sacrifice and the disinterestedness of his counsel as proof of some

sinister design which they were intended to hide.

 

     Had it been Baldwin III to whom he was speaking, the insinuation would

have been thrust aside with scorn and disgust.  To the mean mind of Guy it

carried with it its own evidence; and it was resolved to meet the Saracen on

ground of his own choosing.  The troops of Saladin were already distressed by

heat and thirst when they encountered the Latin army from Jerusalem.  The

issue of the first day's fighting was undecided; but the heat of a Syrian

summer night was for the Christians rendered more terrible by the stifling

smoke of woods set on fire by the orders of Saladin.  Parched with thirst, and

well knowing that on the event of that day depended the preservation of the

Holy Sepulchre, the crusaders at sunrise rushed with their fierce war-cries on

the enemy.  Before them the golden glory of morning lit up the radiant shores

of the tranquil sea where the Galilean fisherman had heard from the lips of

Jesus of Nazareth the word of life.

 

     But nearer still was a memorial yet more holy, a pledge of divine favor

yet more assuring.  On a hillock hard by was raised the relic of the true

cross, and this hillock was many times a rallying point during this bloody

day.  There was little of generalship perhaps on either side; and where men

are left to mere hard fighting, numbers must determine the issue.  The hosts

of Saladin far outnumbered those of the Latin chiefs; and for these retreat

ended in massacre.  The King and the grand master of the Templars were taken

prisoners; the holy relic which had spurred them on to desperate exertion fell

into the hands of the infidels.

 

     The victory of Saladin was rich in its fruits.  Tiberias was taken.

Berytos, Acre, Caesarea, Jaffa opened their gates; Tyre alone was saved by the

heroism of Conrad of Montferrat, brother of the first husband of Queen

Sibylla.  Not caring to undertake a regular siege, Saladin marched to Ascalon,

and offered its defenders an honorable peace, which after some hesitation was

accepted.

 

     The rejection of Raymond's advice had left Jerusalem practically at the

mercy of Saladin.  It was crowded with people, but the garrison was scanty,

and the armies which should have defended it were gone.  Their presence would

not, probably, have availed to give a different issue to the siege; but it

must have added fearfully to its horrors.  Saladin had made up his mind that

the Latin kingdom must fall, and he would have fought on until either he or

his enemies could fight no longer.  Numbers, wealth, resources, military

skill, instruments of war, all combined to give him advantages before which

mere bravery must sooner or later go down; and protracted resistance meant

nothing more than the infliction of useless misery.

 

     Saladin may have been neither a saint nor a hero; but it cannot be denied

that his temper was less fierce and his language more generous than that of

the Christians who under Godfrey had deluged the city with blood.  He had no

wish, he said, so to defile a place hallowed by its associations for Moslems

as well as Christians, and if the city were surrendered, he pledged himself

not merely to furnish the inhabitants with the money which they might need,

but even to provide them with new homes in Syria.  But superstition and

obstinacy are to all intents and purposes words of the same meaning.  The

offer, honorable to him who made and carrying no ignominy to those who might

accept it, was rejected, and Saladin made a vow that entering the city as an

armed conqueror he would offer up within it a sacrifice as awful as that by

which the crusaders had celebrated their loathsome triumph.  Most happily for

others, most nobly for himself, he failed to keep this vow to the letter.

 

     Fourteen days sufficed to bring the siege to an end.  The Christians had

done what they could to destroy the military engines of their enemies; the

golden ornaments of the churches had been melted down and turned into money;

but no solid advantage was gained by all their efforts.  The conviction of the

Christian that death brought salvation to the champions of the cross, the

assurance of the Moslem that to those who fell fighting for the creed of Islam

the gates of paradise were at once opened, only added to the desperation of

the combatants and to the fearfulness of the carnage.  At length the besieged

discovered that the walls near the gate of St. Stephen had been undermined,

and at once they abandoned all hope of safety except from miraculous

intervention.  Clergy and laity crowded into the churches, their fears

quickened by the knowledge that the Greeks within the city were treating with

the enemy.

 

     The remembrance of Saladin's offer now come back with more persuasive

power; but to the envoys whom they sent the stern answer was returned that he

was under a vow to deal with the Christians as Godfrey and his fellows had

dealt with the Saracens.  Yet, conscious or unconscious of the inconsistency

of his words with the oath which he professed to have sworn, he promised them

his mercy if they would at once surrender the city.  The besieged resolved to

trust the word of the conqueror, as they could not resist his power.  The

agreement was made that the nobles and fighting men should be taken to Tyre,

which still held out under Conrad; that the Latin inhabitants should be

redeemed at the rate of ten crowns of gold for each man, five for each woman,

one for each child; and that failing this ransom, they should remain slaves.

On the sick and the helpless he waged no war; and although the Knights of the

Hospital were among the most determined of his enemies, he would allow their

brethren to remain for a year in their attendance on the sufferers who could

not be moved away.

 

     In the exasperation of a religious warfare now extended over nearly a

century these terms were very merciful.  It may be said that this mercy was

the right of a people who submitted to the invader, and that in the days of

Godfrey and Peter the Hermit the defenders had resisted to the last.  It is

enough to answer that the capitulation of the Latins was a superfluous

ceremony and that Saladin knew it to be so, while, if the same submission had

been offered to the first crusaders, it would have been sternly and fiercely

refused.

 

     Four days were allowed to the people to prepare for their departure.  On

the fifth they passed through the camp of the enemy, the women carrying or

leading their children, the men bearing such of their household goods as they

were able to move.  On the approach of the Queen and her ladies in the garb

and with the gestures of suppliants Saladin himself came forward, and with

genuine courtesy addressed to them words of encouragement and consolation.

Cheered by his generous language, they told him that for their lands, their

houses, and their goods they cared nothing.  Their prayer was that he would

restore to them their fathers, their husbands, and their brothers.  Saladin

granted their request, added his alms for those who had been left orphans or

destitute by the war, and remitted a portion of the ransom appointed for the

poor.  In this way the number of those who remained unredeemed was reduced to

eleven or twelve thousand; and Saracenic slavery, although degrading, was

seldom as cruel as the slavery which had but as yesterday been extinguished by

the most fearful of recent wars.

 

     The entry of Saladin into Jerusalem was accompanied by the usual signs of

triumph.  Amid the waving of banners and the clash of martial music be

advanced to the Mosque of Omar, on the summit of which the Christian cross

still flashed in the clear air.  A wail of agony burst from the Christians who

were present as this emblem was hurled down to the earth and dragged through

the mire.  For two days it underwent this indignity, while the mosque was

purified from its defilements by streams of rosewater, and dedicated afresh to

the worship of the one God adored by Islam.  The crosses, the relics, the

sacred vessels of the Christian sanctuaries, which had been carefully stowed

away in four chests, had fallen into the hands of the conquerors, and it was

the wish of Saladin to send them to the Caliph of the Prophet as the proudest

trophies of his victory.  Even this wish he generously consented to forego.

The chests were left in the keeping of the patriarch, and the price put upon

them, fifty-two thousand golden bezants, was paid by Richard of England.

 

     Conrad still held out in Tyre, nor was he induced to surrender even when

Saladin himself assailed its walls.  The siege was raised; and the next

personage to appear before its gates was Guy of Lusignan, who, having regained

his freedom, insisted on being admitted as lord of the city.  The grand master

of the Templars seconded his demand.  The reply was short and decisive.  The

people would own no other master than the gallant knight who had so nobly

defended them.  But the escape of Tyre had no effect on the general issue of

the war.  Town after town submitted to Saladin; and the long series of his

triumphs closed when he entered the gates of Antioch.

 

     Eighty-eight years had passed away since the crusaders of Godfrey and

Tancred had stood triumphant on the walls of the Holy City; and during all

those years the Latin kingdom had seldom rested from wars and forays, from

feuds and dissensions of every kind.  From the first it displayed no

characteristics which could give it any stability; from the first it exhibited

signs which foreboded its certain downfall.

 

     It sanctified treachery, for it rested on the principle that no faith was

to be kept with the unbeliever; and the sowing of wind by the constant breach

of solemn compact made them reap the whirlwind.  A right of pasturage round

Paneas had been granted to the Mahometans by Baldwin III.  When the ground was

covered with their sheep the Christian troops burst in, murdered the

shepherds, and drove away their flocks - not with the sanction, we may hope,

of the most high-minded of the Latin kings of Jerusalem.

 

     It recognized no title to property except in those who professed the

faith of Christ, and the power to commit injustice with practical impunity

tended still further to demoralize the people.

 

     It gave full play to the passions of men in random wars and petty forays,

while it did nothing to keep up or to promote either military science or the

discipline without which that science becomes useless.

 

     It was marked by an almost total lack of statesmanship.  In a country so

circumstanced a wise ruler would strain every nerve to conciliate the

conquered people, to strengthen himself by alliances which should be firmly

maintained and by treaties which should be scrupulously kept, to weaken such

states as he might fail to win over to his friendship by anticipating

combinations which might bring with them fatal dangers for his power.  That

the history of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem presents a mournful and even

ludicrous contrast to this picture it must surely be unnecessary to say.  In

the case of Egypt alone did the Latin kings show some sense of the course

which prudence called upon them to take; and even here this course was

followed with miserable indecision, and at last disgracefully abandoned

through mere lust of gold.

 

     It had to deal with an immorality not of its own creating, but which in

mere regard to its own safety it should have striven to keep well in check. No

such efforts were made, and the words of William of Tyre - even if taken with

a qualification - when he speaks of the Latin women, point to a state of

things which must involve grave and imminent peril.

 

     It was the misfortune of this kingdom that it was called into being by

troops of adventurers banded together - it cannot be said confederated - for a

religious rather than a political purpose; in other words, for personal rather

than for public ends.  It started therefore without any principle of cohesion.

The warriors who engaged in the enterprise might abandon it when they thought

that they had fulfilled the conditions of their vow, and although the

continuance of their efforts was indispensably needed for the military and

political success of the undertaking.

 

     The private and personal character of these enterprises led to the

perpetuation and multiplication of private and personal interests, and thus to

the endless divisions and feuds between the barons of the kingdom, which were

a constant scandal and menace and which led frequently to deliberate

treachery.  It encouraged, or permitted, or was compelled to tolerate the

growth of societies which arrogated to themselves an independent jurisdiction,

and thus rendered impossible a central authority of sufficient coercive power.

The origin of the military orders may have been in the highest degree

edifying.  The Knights Templars might begin as the humble guardians of the

holy places: the Knights Hospitalers may have been the poor brothers of St.

John bound to the service of the sick and helpless among the pilgrims of the

cross.  But in the land where they might at any time encounter a merciless or

at the least a detested enemy, they were justified in bearing arms; the

necessity of bearing arms involved the need of discipline; and the discipline

of an enthusiastic fraternity cut off from the world and centred upon itself

cannot fail to become formidable.

 

     The natural strength of these orders was increased by immunities and

privileges granted partly by the Latin kings of Jerusalem, but in greater part

by the popes.  The Hospitalers, as bestowing their goods to feed the poor and

to entertain pilgrims, were freed from the obligation of paying tithe, or of

giving heed to interdicts even if these were laid upon the whole country,

while it was expressly asserted that no patriarch or prelate should dare to

pass any sentence of excommunication against them.  In other words, a society

was called into existence directly antagonistic to the clergy, and an

irreconcilable conflict of claims was the inevitable consequence.  Nor can we

be surprised to find the clergy complaining that the knights, not content with

the immunities secured to themselves, gave shelter to persons who, not

belonging to their order but lying under sentence of excommunication, sought

to place themselves under their protection.

 

     But if the Knights of the Hospital had thus their feuds with the clergy,

they had feuds still more bitter with the rival order of the Templars.  With

different interests and different aims, the one sought to promote enterprises

against which the other protested, or stickled about points of precedence when

common decency called for harmonious action, or withheld its aid when that aid

was indispensable for the very safety of the State.  Thus we have the triple

discord of the King and his barons struggling against the claims of the

clergy, and the military orders in conflict with the barons and the clergy

alike.  Of a state so circumstanced the words are emphatically true that a

house divided against itself shall not stand.

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