Battle of Hattin

As discussed in our previous post about Outremer (, Queen Sibylla pulled a fast one.  Her brother Baldwin IV was a leper, and his heir was her son by her first marriage, who became Baldwin V.  Little Baldwin V died young, leaving his mother Sibylla as the heir apparent.  Unfortunately, she had married Guy of Lusignan, who nobody liked.  He was a lousy commander, and once caused his brother-in-law, Baldwin IV, to rise from his leprous deathbed while blind and lead an army to defend against an attack Guy should have been handling.  Let’s say that again.  The dying blind guy was a better warrior.  The Haute Cour, or royal council composed of both nobility and clergy, at Jerusalem agreed to crown Sibylla queen as long as she had her marriage to Guy annulled.  Sybilla apparently had her fingers crossed behind her back when she agreed because she did no such thing.  They were stuck with Guy for a king.  Even more bad news?  The Muslim commander with his eyes on conquering Jerusalem?  Just a guy called Saladin.  If you haven’t heard of him, he was a brilliant commander who later fought Richard the Lionheart to a stalemate in the Third Crusade.

Saladin had been beaten by Baldwin IV at the Battle of Montgisard in 1177, and an uneasy truce stood between Jerusalem and Egypt, where Saladin ruled.  However, the internal conflict in Jerusalem between the two factions- one led by King Guy and Raynald of Chatillion and the other led by Raymond III of Tripoli, who had been Baldwin V’s regent- spilled over into the relations with Saladin.  Raynald of Chatillion violated the fragile truce by constantly attacking Muslim trade caravans which passed through his fief of Oultrejordain.  As can be imagined, Saladin was not on board with this behavior.  The final straw was when a caravan travelling north from Cairo was attacked and looted.  Many of the guards were killed and the merchants kidnapped.  Saladin sent envoys to seek redress under the terms of the truce.  However, Guy was increasingly dependent on Raynald for his position as King of Jerusalem.  He dare not antagonize him and sent Saladin’s envoys away without a satisfactory answer. It was going to be war.

Raymond was no fool and high tailed it north and made a separate peace with Saladin thinking to save his own lands.  However, this was a miscalculation as Saladin used this agreement to allow his son, Al-Afdal, to lead a force of 7,000 men onto Raymond’s lands.  There they defeated a Crusader force at Cresson.  Raymond knew it was only a matter of time before Saladin picked off the Crusader States one by one, and was wracked with grief at his part in the loss.  He renounced the truce with Saladin and joined with Guy and the two of them marched with around 20,000 men to the Springs of Sepphoris.  Reports say there were 1,250 mounted knights and the army’s standard was a relic of the True Cross.  How could they lose?

To lure the Crusader army into open battle, Saladin took a small force and besieged the garrison of Tiberias.  The crusaders held a war council, and everyone wanted to march to Tiberias except Raymond of Tripoli.  He argued to stay near the water as open battle was exactly what Saladin wanted.  Prevailing strategy had the crusaders protecting the water source and letting the desert heat and thirst take its toll on their enemies.  It was a strategy that had proven sound in the past.  However, court factions remained strong and Raymond’s rivals accused him of cowardice.  That was enough to influence Guy to take the bait.  The army marched out to the relief of Tiberias, and was harassed by Saladin’s cavalry the entire way.  They had left behind the guaranteed water source of the Springs of Sepphoris and were at the point of no return on the way to Tiberias when their water stores began to run out.  There is some argument as to why the Crusaders camped at this point when they were so close to Lake Tiberias.  William of Tyre puts the blame on Raymond of Tripoli, while a different version of the account shares the blame between Raymond, who gave the bad advice, and Guy, who took it.  At any rate, the Crusader army camped in the middle of the desert with no water.  Both sources agree that had they pressed on, they could have defeated Saladin’s forces.

So they camped the night of July 3, 1187 at a plateau below a volcano with twin peaks overlooking the plains of Hattin in the Lower Galilee called the Horns of Hattin.  There was a well there, but it was dry and the only stream was blocked.  To make matters worse, Saladin built fires around the camp and blinded the enemy army with smoke.  Between the heat from the sun, the heat from the fire and the lack of water, the Crusaders were in anguish from thirst.  Any of the army who tried to sneak down to Lake Tiberias were picked off immediately.  Under the cover of the smoke, William of Tyre reports “the Saracens surrounded the host and shot their darts through the smoke, thus wounding and killing men and horses.”  Muslim chronicler Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad described the situation, “They were closely beset as in a noose, while still marching on as though being driven to death that they could see before them, convinced of their doom and destruction and themselves aware that the following day they would be visiting their graves.”

Guy called another council of war, and they all agreed they had to attack.  Raymond of Tripoli took the vanguard with his four sons as Tiberias was his fortress.  Balian of Ibelin and Count Joscelin took up the rearguard.  While they were drawing up the battle lines, five knights from Tripoli deserted and went to Saladin advising him the Christians were in disarray and to advance.  Saladin didn’t have to be told twice.  Guy ordered Raymond to charge with the vanguard, and Saladin’s army opened and let them pass through then took them in a classic pincer movement.  According to William of Tyre, only ten or twelve knights survived.  One of them was Raymond of Tripoli, who retreated to Tyre with his remaining sons.  At that point is was all over but the crying.  Saladin won the day by the late afternoon.  All of the Templars who fought with the crusaders were executed.  Only the Grand Master had his life spared.  The relic of the Holy Cross which marched before the army was lost.

Saladin had a tent erected after the battle and the noble prisoners captured from the battle taken there.  This included King Guy of Jerusalem as well as Raynald of Chatillion, William the Marquis, Humphrey of Toron, Aimery the constable, Hugh of Jubail and several other knights.  He offered Guy water in a gold cup as they had not had refreshment for two days.  Guy drank, then offered the the cup to Raynald of Chatillion.  Accounts differ as to whether Raynald drank or not.  William of Tyre reports that he refused, which angered Saladin who then had him beheaded.  Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad writes Raynald drank without permission from Saladin, who struck off his head.  Either way, the man who started the war was minus a head on the floor.  His head as well as the True Cross was sent to Damascus.  King Guy was eventually ransomed.

William of Tyre reports this great loss affected the faithful very strongly.  Pope Urban III was said to have died of grief at the news.  His successor to the Holy See, Gregory VIII, died only two months later.  However, before he died, he issued the bull Audita Tremendi calling for a new crusade.  Saladin and the armies of the crusaders would meet again.

A guest article by ER from

Er specializes in the Tudors, American History and Medieval and writes for


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