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Joseph C.

Caswell
William M. Bagliani Jr.
HIS 111-4136
15 April 2015
Saladin the Reuniter: Infidels, Zangids, and Assassins

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On October 9, 1187, the Friday great prayer, which brought Muslims together in
al-Aqsa Mosque, took on special importance. Everyone was waiting impatiently for
Saladin to designate the one who would have the honor of pronouncing the first khutba in
the holy city in eighty-eight years (225 Edd). After almost a century of Crusader
control of the greatly contested Holy City of Jerusalem, it was now under the control of
al-Malik al-Ns ir Abl-Mu affar Ysuf ibn Ayyb, known today as Saladin (245
Shaddd). For the second period of time since the construction of the great Mosque,
Dome of the Rock, the adhn (Muslim call to prayer) of the mueins could be heard
across the city of Jerusalem five times a day. Very quickly, the face of Jerusalem
changed. The churches and monasteries were converted back to Muslim buildings (221
Edd). Similar to how he affected the buildings and the predominant culture in Jerusalem,
Saladins actions provoked widespread effects across his sultanate-the Islamic Empire at
the time of the Third Crusade.
Muhammed, the Great Prophet and founder of the Islamic faith, is credited with
providing a sense of unity in Arabia necessary for tribal warfare to cease and an empire to
grow. His leadership would lay the foundations for an empire that would forever change
the world. But five hundred years after his death, the empire was once again ruled by
warring factions and was threatened by a Christian army from Europe. Another Great
Arabian sultan was needed to reunite Islam to push back these invaders and rekindle
peaceful trade routes; Saladin, trained from birth to be a general and scholar, would do
just that. Saladin resurrected Muhammeds splintered empire by: reconquering Jerusalem

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from the Frankish infidel Crusaders, toppling the Zangid dynasty of Syria, and evading
attempts on his life by the Assassins.
A basic understanding of the Prophet Mohammed and how he changed the world
by bringing monotheism to Arabia is necessary to know the world in which Saladin lived
and the incredible legacy he would leave behind. The PBS documentary Islam: Empire of
Faith explains, From the way we heal the sick to the numerals we use for counting,
cultures across the globe have been shaped by Islamic civiliation. But all this began with
the life of a single ordinary man, and the profound message he proclaimed would change
the world forever. His name was Muhammed (n.p.). The film goes on to explain how
Islam came to be this driving world force. The idea of Arabic unity under the worship of
a single god created an Islamic Empire that stretched from the western edge of India
through western Spain before even a hundred years had passed after the Great Prophets
death; this began the greatest period of inter-Arabic peace that has ever been recorded
known as the Golden Age of Islam. While there was certainly infighting within this
melting pot of cultures, peaceful relations could be made in order to establish trade routes
and foster the spread of ideas. Scientific inquisitiveness began anew with a fervor rivaling
that of other great ancient empires such as the Greeks, Persians, and Romans. An increase
in trade created more wealth as well as an agglomeration of technologies from around the
world; mosques became centers of education and medicine-most showcased exquisite
architecture, and featured libraries and hospitals. This empire even saw the development
of germ theory, the first university, and a sublime textile industry. Within most regions of
the Islamic Empire, even Christians and Jews, many of whom were allowed to openly

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practice their own religion, experienced the same increase of standard of living as the
Muslims.
The film makes a note that during this time, many countries in Europe under the
influence of the Christian Church were suffering through the Dark Ages. Tensions arose
between these two monotheistic chimeras: the Islamic Empire and the domain of the
Catholic Church; some of these tensions arose from the fact that Islam now controlled
Jerusalem. After two hundred years of Christians and Jews living unharassed by Muslims
in the Holy City, the mentally unstable ruler of Jerusalem, al-Hakim, ordered the
destruction of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest church in Christendom (n.p. Islam:
Empire of Faith). The Roman Catholic Pope, Urban II, used this event to rally troops to
send on a mission to free Jerusalem from the Islamic Empire, despite the church having
been rebuilt by al-Hakims successor. Unprepared for the attack and taken completely by
surprise, Jerusalem fell and its citiens were indiscriminately slaughtered by French
troops. Thus began the Crusades: a series of wars fought in the crossroads of the world
mostly between Christian Europeans and Muslim Arabians under the guise of a holy war
for the control of Jerusalem.
Described by Anne-Marie Edd in her book Saladin as a world marked by
violence (14), by the time the Crusaders attacked, the Islamic Empire no longer enjoyed
the same sense of unity. While some of the empire had been lost to foreigners, Edd
explains that most of the fighting was between two Islamic sects that had emerged-the
Seljuk Sunnis in the east, and Fatamid Shiites in the west-both claiming rightful heirs of
the empire. She explains that there were also cultural divides, as, despite learning Arabic
to practice Islam, many regions under Islamic rule continued to speak their own

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languages. When the Franks arrived in the region in 1098, they found before them a
multitude of rival principalities and emirates, which did not hesitate to play on the rivalry
between the Fatimids and the Seljuks (16 Edd). The Fatamid rule of the west was
greatly influenced by a mix of cultures from both Persia and Turkey that resulted in total
monarchy of smaller regions by individual members of ruling families. If a man ruled a
region and had three sons, the region would be split in three with each brother controlling
a small region and being power hungry for a greater share of his fathers domain. This
increased the internal political strife within the empire further than simply the sect divide.
Such was the world at Saladins birth.
Edd states that nothing predestined Saladin to be the great leader he was. Sir
Hamilton Gibb, a renowned historian and expert on Saladin, stated that Saladin was
neither warrior nor governor by training or inclination (qtd. Ehrenkreut 25). But
Andrew S. Ehrenkreut, in his book Saladin, paints a different story of the hero of
Medieval Islam. Many scholars agree that Saladins early actions as a general of Syrian
armies quelling rebellions in Egypt put him on a trajectory to conquer the Middle East
and beyond, but how did he become a general without training? Ehrenkreut answers this
question by analying Saladins early life. When Saladin was born around the year 1137,
Saladins father and uncle were banished from their home and entered the service of
Zang in Mosul. Saladins family was Kurdish, an Armenian tribe that was once known
for being warlike and pastoral never settling down to build civiliations and therefore
thought of as unsophisticated. However, modern scholars show that due to the turbulence
of the twelfth century in the area, Kurds had to be very aware of the political strife that
surrounded them to survive. So to these scholars, it was no surprise that a few capable

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leaders left to join the leadership in the sophisticated dynasties in Iraq, Syria, and
Lebanon. Saladins destiny remained in the hands of the leaders of these dynasties.
Zang was succeeded by Nur al-Din, a leader that would prove very influential on
Saladins life. Saladin: Hero of Islam explains this influence. Nur al-Din proved himself
to be a capable leader by defeating Crusader armies and expanding his rule into Lebanon.
The males in Saladins family that had left Armenia were all involved in the military in
some form or another. The world where the young Saladin grew up was aworld and
Saladins father and uncle proved the point where a man of talent, whatever his
nationality, could hope to rise in the service of the throne (23 Hindley). All of these men,
their experiences, successes, and even failures, would have great influence on Saladin.
When he was sixteen, Saladin joined the court of, and began receiving training
from, Nur al-Din. Under the guidance of Nur al-Din, and serving as an administrator,
Saladin had access to training and an education that only a privileged few in the world
did. Saladin grew to manhood a member of the ruling family of the richest and second
most important city in Syria (48 Hindley). Edd explains that Saladins training was
three-fold. First was his training in language: Saladin could read and write in Arabic and
could speak Kurdish as well as Persian. These skills would prove useful in commanding
armies and sending letters across his domain. Second was his religious education: Saladin
showed much interest in religious teachings and welcomed the teachings of jurists and
other men of (Islamic) religion throughout his life. Bah ad-Dn ibn Shaddd, a personal
friend of Saladin writes: Saladin was a man of faith. He drew his faith from evidence
duly studied in the most authoritative scholars and greatest lawyers, acquiring sufficient
competence to take his part in a theological discussion should one arise in his presence

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(qtd. Gabrielli n.p.). Lastly was his military training, which included becoming long time
polo and hunting partners with Nur al-Din. Nur al-Din also named him chief of police in
Damascus-a move that allowed Saladin his first experience commanding troops.
Saladins final training under Nur al-Din came in the battlefield in Egypt. Edd
elaborates on how Saladin came to rule Egypt. The Fatamid viier of Cario, Shawar, had
been pushed out of power and requested Syrian help from the Seljuk leadership; this help
would come at a great cost of annual tributes of grain to Syria. Saladins uncle was to
lead the Damascene army to Cairo and Saladin was to gather supplies in Bilbeis, north of
Cairo, to defend against a possible siege. Initially, the Syrian troops were successful and
Shawar was renamed viierate. But once reestablished, Shawar did not pay the grain he
promised; in fact, he paid Crusaders to come drive away the Syrians. The combined
armies of Egypt and France drove the Damascenes back to Bilbeis were, thanks to the
precautionary efforts of Saladin, they were able to hold off a siege by the larger army for
three months. After a Crusader army was defeated elsewhere by Nur al-Din, a truce was
called, and the armies returned home. Three years later, Syria once again had armies in
Egypt and this time, Saladin had control of a wing of the army. His tactics in the battle
turned a near defeat into a decisive victory for the Syrians and the Syrian army now had
control of Cairo. While the full details of his death remain shrouded with conspiracy,
Shawar was executed likely on the charge of conspiring with the infidel Franks. This left
the leader of the Syrian army, Saladins uncle, as the viierate for Cairo. However, he
died later that same year of natural causes and Saladin was appointed heir. He was now
both the leader of the Syrian army posted in Egypt and viierate of Cairo.

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For three years Saladin ruled Egypt in a very delicate situation between the
Fatimid caliph, to whom he reported as viierate, and the Seljuk Nur al-Din, explains
Edd. Her timeline included in Saladin, shows that the year 1174 saw the crux of the
political environment that led to Saladins rise to power. In order to secure wealth for
Egypt, and possibly to better insure himself against Fatimid treachery, Saladin conquered
the rich country of Yemen and would eventually name his brother as governor. He
expanded Egyptian rule to the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa by
a combination of military and economic might. He also defended Alexandria from a
strong Crusader force from Sicily. But most crucial was the sudden death of Nur al-Din in
Syria. Hindley writes that Nur al-Din had, only a few days before his death, appointed his
eleven-year-old son as heir to his empire. Partially due to mistrust of this young,
inexperienced boy becoming king, and partially as a grab for power, many Arabian
princes sent armies to Aleppo and Damascus in attempts to claim the throne. Ehrenkreut
explains that the Syrian empire of Nur al-Din was splitting apart from the inside while
external pressures subsided: two months after Nur al-Dins death, King Amalric of
Jerusalem, the leader of many Crusader attacks on the Islamic Empire, died. This primed
Syria for capture, and many emirs, including Saladin, saw an opportunity to seie power.
The strongest resistance Saladin had to overcome in conquering Syria was from
the Zangids. He owed much to the Zangid dynasty, and they wished to install Nur alDins son, AL-Salih Ismail al-Malik, as heir to Nur al-Dins empire. Immediately upon
hearing of Nur al-Dins death, Saladin assured the Zangids that he would honor the heir:
Assuredly I will come to do [AL-Salih] homage and repay the benefits I have received
from his father by service which shall be remembered for ever (Saladin qtd. 78

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Hindley). However, his actions were contrary to his promised devotion of loyalty to his
mentors son. According to Edd, on December 28, 1174 Saladin began his conquest of
Syria starting with the city of Hama. His next attention was to Aleppo that still had strong
ties to the Zangid dynasty. In attempts to stymie Saladins siege of Aleppo the leaders of
the city requested help from Crusaders, Zangid armies as well as Assassins, but all to no
avail. After a major victory over the Zangids known as Horn of Hama on April 13,
1175, a truce was declared and the caliph recognied Saladin as ruler of both Egypt and
Syria. This proved to be the turning point in Saladins conquest, but it was not yet over.
Combinations of armies of Zangid rule from Mosul and Aleppo continued to attack
Saladin and his army until Saladin married Nur al-Dins widow. This marked a new
beginning of peace in the region as Saladin now controlled southern Syria, and AL-Salih
would remain in control of northern Syria until his death.
It is important to note the role of the Assassins in these events, especially after
their recent acclaim to fame in recent pop culture. The Assassins, or Btins, were what
the extremist sect of the Nirs came to be known after years of their covert warriors
being hired out to eliminate the opposition (17 Edd). Saladins first interaction with this
group was when the leadership of Aleppo hired them to assassinate him during his siege;
Bernard Lewis, author of Saladin and the Assassins, explains: The Assassins had
managed to smuggle themselves into the camp, but were recogniedIn the fracas that
followed many soldiers were killed, but Saladin suffered no harm (240). Afraid for the
protection of his city, the regent of Aleppo had offered the Assassin chief great rewards
but Lewis does not state whether the Assassins received anything for this failed attempt.
One year later they would try again, this time to be stymied by Saladins helmet. After

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these two near death experiences, Saladin took many more protections against covert
attackers and went on the offensive; he laid siege to Masyaf and made waste of much of
the Assassin countryside. After three years of destruction, but no progress on capturing
the city, a truce was declared and neither side would attack the other again while Saladin
still lived. Saladins troops returned to Damascus to rest, regroup, and begin to face the
enemy from the West.
Many arguments are made that Saladins fight against the Crusaders and
capturing of Jerusalem were his greatest achievements as sultan. It was fights against
Crusaders that would finally bring much of the Near and Middle East together in
common cause to fight as one. Ehrenkreut writes that after a truce being broken by
Jerusalem, Saladin was able to conjure a force from all over his domain that could have
numbered as high as 24,000 (201-02). He goes on to say that King Guy of Jerusalem was
able to match the Islamic force in number, but not in leadership. King Guy was not
popular among the Crusaders and lack of unity and strong leadership lead to a rout of
Crusader forces as well as the capturing of King Guy and the city of Hattin. This major
defeat left the Crusaders to regroup in Tyre while Saladins army easily captured much of
the lands and townships surrounding Jerusalem, as well as the Holy City itself. With this
achievement the great sultan reached the apex of his political and military career (205
Ehrenkreut).
Indeed, this was the peak as Saladins long reign of success and conquest were
near an end. Under the direction of King Richard I of England, also known as Richard the
Lionheart, the Crusader forces in the Near East would receive many reinforcements and
would regain a foothold in the Near East and go on to win possibly the most famous

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battle of the Crusaders: the siege of Acre. Saladins forces were exhausted and with little
hope for more supplies or reinforcements, they returned to their homes, prepared to go on
the defensive against the once again invading Crusaders. The Rare and Excellent History
of Saladin provides an eyewitness account from ibn Shaddd of Saladins death two years
later: when on February 20th 1193 Saladin fell ill and his son took his place at a meal
with his trusted companions, those close to him were weary that the end may be near for
the 57 year old sultan. Saladin was afflicted with a great fever and would pass away
twelve days later. This was a day such as had not befallen the Muslims and Islam since
the loss of the rightly-guided caliphs. The citadel, the city, the world was overwhelmed
by such a sense of loss as God alone could comprehend (244 Shaddd).
Though eventually defeated by Crusaders and fever, Saladin left his mark on
history by rising to power from unlikely beginnings, reuniting the mighty Islamic Empire
of the Middle Ages, and recapturing Jerusalem from the Crusaders. While he made many
enemies by conquering lands and overthrowing dynasties and had many enemies
thrust upon him by the politics of his age, Saladin earned the respect of many of the
leaders of the time as well as modern scholars of Islamic history. As many Muslims say
after many of the respected, may the mercy of God be upon him (245 Shaddd).

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Works Cited
Bah Ad-Dn Ibn Shaddd. The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin. Trans. D. S
Richards. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002. Print.
Edd, Anne-Marie. Saladin. Trans. Jane Marie Todd. Cambridge, MA: The Belnap P Of
Harvard U P, 2011. Print.
Ehrenkreut, Andrew S. Saladin. Albany: State U Of New York P, 1972. Print.
Gabrielli, Francesco. "Saladin's Character." Arab Historians of the Crusades. U Of
California P, 1984. N. pag. ProQuest. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.
Hindley, Geoffrey. Saladin: Hero of Islam. Barnsley: Pen And Sword Military, 2007.
Print.
Islam: Empire of Faith. Dir. Robert Gardner. PBS, 2001. Film.
Lewis, Bernard. "Saladin and the Assassins." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and
African Studies 15.2 (1953): 239-45. JSTOR. Cambridge University Press. Web.
14 Feb. 2015.

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Notes
1. The latin script spellings of many of the locations and names varies between sources.
The spellings offered here come from at least one of the above sources-modern
translations may differ. For precise accuracy the native script should be used.
2. The full name of Saladin varies between sources. The modern spelling comes from
shorthand for Salah al-Din, meaning Righteousness of the Faith. This was not apart of
his name in the eyewitness account, which leaves the possibility of this being added
to his name after his death.

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