Saladin’s greatest victory by David Niccole
SALADIN’S GREATEST VICTORY
By the 1180s the realms carved out following the First Crusade were no longer real ‘Crusader States’, because the descendants of the First Crusaders were no longer striving to expand.
Instead, they were struggling to survive and to protect the Holy Places of Christianity from Muslim reconquest. Leadership was also passing to men who were working towards coexistence with the surrounding Muslim peoples.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem remained the most important of the Latin States in Syria and Palestine. Of the others the County of Edessa (Urfa) had already been reconquered by the Muslims, the Principality of Antioch had fallen under Byzantine influence and even the small County of Tripoli now resisted Jerusalem’s suzerainty.
In the early 1180s, the Kingdom of Jerusalem had 400,000 to 500,0000 inhabitants, no more than 120,000 of whom were Latins (Christians of western European origin). The rest consisted of indigenous “Oriental Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Samaritans.
The balance of power between feudal lords and rulers in late 12th- century Jerusalem is not entirely clear, but in general, it seems that the king and lesser aristocracy were losing out while the leading barons grabbed ever more control.
Meanwhile, the Military Orders (Templars and Hospitallers) were growing in power, being given more castles which only they seemed able to garrison effectively.
The defense of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was theoretically the responsibility of all western European Christians, yet in reality, the Latin States had to rely on themselves after the fiasco of the Second Crusade in 1148.
What its leaders now wanted were professional soldiers and financial support – not hordes of belligerent Crusaders who stirred up trouble then went home. Meanwhile, the catastrophic Byzantine defeat by the Seljuq Turks at Myriokephalon in 1176, and a massacre of Latins in Constantinople eight years later, meant that help from the Byzantine Empire was an illusion.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem also faced problems within its borders. Few Armenians settled in Palestine and the warlike Maronite Christians of the mountains lived away from the main centers of power while the majority of Syriac-Jacobite Christians remained deeply suspicious of the Latins.
The Latins’ adoption of some eastern habits of dress and cleanliness was superficial and the cultural gulf between Latins and locals remained unbridged until the end. Relations between the Latin States and neighboring Muslim states remained rooted in war, lasting peace probably being impossible as each side clung to ideologies that could not accept the other’s existence.
Attitudes based on the easy victories of the First Crusade meant that the military élite of the Latin States was still hugely overconfident.
This did wonder for their morale but would soon lead to military disaster. Yet elements of doubt were already creeping in, and the second half of the 12th century saw the building of many defensive castles.
The eastern frontier of the Kingdom of Jerusalem actually consisted of distinct sectors. In the north (the Litani valley) were some impressive castles. The central sector from Mount Hermon (Jabal al-Shaykh) along the Golan Heights to the Yarmuk valley was supposedly shared with the rulers of Damascus.
The Muslims thought this zone should extend as far as the Balqa hills around Amman but in fact, the Latins dominated a fertile plateau between the River Yarmuk and the Ajlun hills.
Southward again lay the Latin territory of Oultrejordain, lying between the River Jordan, Dead Sea, and Wadi Araba in the west, and the strategic road from Amman to Aqabah. From Oultrejordain the Latins had levied tolls on Muslim traffic between Syria and Egypt, even on