Saladin was a Muslim military leader who led the Muslim armies in the Crusades during the 12th century. Although he was originally a part of the Zengid dynasty, he reached high ranks in the Fatimid caliphate.
In 1171, he took over the Fatimid government and replaced a Shia-dominant government with a Sunni regime. It was by cementing his position in Egypt that he became able to lead vast Muslim armies against the Crusaders.
Saladin is known both in the Islamic world and in the West for being the formidable crusading leader from the Muslim side who decisively defeated the Crusaders in 1187 – bringing Palestinian territories back into Muslim control.
He died while being the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, overlooking a vast empire that later came under the reign of his Ayyubid dynasty.
Saladin was a close military aid of the Zengid lord Nur-ud-Din. In 1163, he was sent by Nur-ud-Din to assist the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt in quelling unrest. He rapidly scored military successes in Egypt, gaining influence in the Fatimid court and becoming a leading adviser by 1169.
In 1171, as the Fatimid emperor al-Adid died, he took over the Egyptian throne. During the next few years, he cemented his hold on the throne by scoring victories on every side. In 1182 Saladin completed the Syrian conquest, wresting away the province from the Zengid rule.
He defeated the crusaders in many decisive battles, most eminently in the 1187 Battle of Hattin, and brought back Palestinian territories into Muslim control. By the end of his life, he was effectively the ruler of the whole of Egypt and Syria.
Saladin accompanied his uncle Shirkuh to Egypt on the orders of Nur-ud-Din. They were to provide military aid to the Shia caliph in Fatimid Egypt, al-Adid. Although Shirkuh and Saladin scored military victories, Shirkuh died in 1169. Upon his death, al-Adid appointed Saladin as a vizier in his court, giving him a lot of power and authority.
At the time of his instatement, he was supported by the Zengid rulers back in Syria. The same year, he suppressed a major revolt in Cairo successfully. Soon after becoming vizier, Saladin aligned himself with Nur-ud-Din and the Zengid dynasty, effectively undermining the Fatimid rule in Egypt.
At the same time, he began what would later become a long series of battles against the Crusaders.
Until the death of al-Adid in 1171, Saladin was officially a part of the Fatimid rule, although essentially serving Nur-ud-Din’s subordinate. However, during his stay in Egypt, he had undermined the might of the Fatimid dynasty on one hand and also wrested him free of the influence of Nur-ud-Din on the other.
Until the death of al-Adid, Nur-ud-Din had frequently asked Saladin to depose the Shia caliph and restore Egypt to the rule of the Abbasid caliphate. Saladin, however, waited until al-Adid’s natural death and then in 1171, proclaimed the Abbasid caliph as the actual caliph in the Friday sermons in Egypt.
At the same time, with the end of the formal Fatimid rule, Saladin effectively became the ruler of Egypt, bearing the title of the Sultan.
Saladin’s father Ayyoub was raised to high ranks by the Zengid ruler, Nur-ud-Din, who in turn was subordinate to the Abbasid Caliph. When Saladin began expanding his power base in Egypt, far from Nur-ud-Din’s Syrian domains, the Zengid lord became suspicious of his intents.
He tried to reign in Saladin numerous times, but Saladin avoided this by refusing to directly meet Nur-ud-Din or leave his power base in Egypt. Later when Nur-ud-Din died in 1174, Syria remained insecure in the hands of his 11-year-old son.
In 1174, the emir of Damascus appealed to Saladin to protect his realm against the decrees of the Zengid ruler from Aleppo, who had commissioned another emir to wrest control of Damascus. Saladin moved across the desert with 700 mounted men and reached Damascus in November, effectively taking control of the citadel and the city.
Saladin proceeded to conquer Homs and Hama, and in 1175 defeated a huge army of the Zengid dynasty in a decisive battle. Following this victory, Saladin effectively became the Sultan of both Egypt and Syria, his name replacing the name of the Abbasid caliph in Friday sermons.
The Abbasid caliph in Baghdad soon accepted Saladin’s position as Sultan.
Assassins were an Ismaili sect with strongholds in al-Nusayriyah Mountains in Syria. In 1175, a group of 13 assassins had made an attempt on Saladin’s life within his camp but were intercepted and killed.
Saladin led a campaign against them in 1176 to take over their strongholds. However, the campaign was soon concluded without any notable victory. It is believed that Saladin to an agreement with the leader of the sect who formed an alliance with him, breaking their ties with the Crusaders.
Soon after cementing his position in both Egypt and Syria, Saladin began his long series of battles with the Crusaders, culminating in his control of Jerusalem. The first major battle was fought between Saladin’s forces and the army of King Baldwin, in which Saladin’s army won and captured many renowned knights.
In 1187, Saladin’s army was pitted against the combined forces of Guy of Lusignan and Raymond III of Tripoli at the Battle of Hattin. In the ensuing battle, Saladin’s army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Crusader forces.
Raynald of Chatillon, a menace to the trading caravans near the Holy Land, was executed at Saladin’s orders, although other high-ranking captives were spared.
The final battles that Saladin fought in Holy Land were against the army of King Richard. Richard initially defeated Saladin’s army at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191 but later had his army demolished by Saladin’s forces.
Despite his attempts against Saladin, Richard couldn’t gain control of Jerusalem and ultimately the two foes signed a treaty which kept Jerusalem in Muslim control but allowed Christian pilgrimages to enter the city unharmed.
Following his victory in the Battle of Hattin, Saladin laid siege to Jerusalem. In 1187, the city capitulated and Saladin offered generous terms of peace to the Frankish citizens, allowing most of them to escape unharmed by paying a small amount of ransom.
He then allowed a large Jewish settlement near the city to resettle inside the city’s boundaries. The great Muslim leader died of natural causes in 1193 in Damascus, bequeathing most of his wealth to his subjects and his vast realm to his family.