Salahudeen Al Ayyubi had set a trap… and the Crusaders had walked right into it.
The Crusaders had occupied Jerusalem for almost 90 years. But now the Muslims, under the rule of Salahudeen, were ready to take it back.
And it all began with the Battle of Hittin, one of the most decisive battles in Crusader history.
On June 30th 1187, Salahudeen’s army marched into the heart of the Crusader ‘Kingdom of Jerusalem.’ With the Crusaders holding their ground in a fortified encampment at the Springs of Saffuriyah, Salahudeen needed another way to lure the Crusader army out.
So, on July 2nd, Salahudeen and his army headed east and besieged the Crusader Fortress of Tiberias. The Muslim army breached the fortress walls and seized the city by nightfall.
When news reached the Crusaders camp, Guy de Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem, held a war council – one which, unbeknown to him, would decide the fate of the of Jerusalem. The King’s vassals persuaded him to march the army to the rescue of Tiberias, and at dawn, on July 3rd, they set out.
Salahudeen’s plan had worked, and the 20,000 strong Crusader army began the around 12-mile journey, under the scorching July heat. As the Crusaders marched on, they soon realised that there was no escape from the harsh sun and the thick dust raised by the marching troops.
When the Crusaders moved out from the village of Turan, Salahudeen’s fast-moving horse archers appeared from nearby hills, surrounding the Crusader army and cutting off their lines of retreat. Constant harassment and clashes slowed the crusaders down further. Leaving just a small garrison to block the citadel at Tiberias, Salahudeen’s and his troops headed back towards the Crusaders blocking the road ahead.
As nightfall approached, the exhausted Crusaders, slowed down by thirst and surrounded by Salahudeen’s horse archers, could not fight their way past. King Guy has no choice but to order his men to make camp where they stood, but the night ahead would bring no rest to the Crusaders. Salahudeen’s horse archers continued to harass the camp, some troops clashed with Crusaders and others set fire to perimeter tents throughout the night.
Unable to rest and with their water supplies diminishing, by the morning of July 4th, the exhausted Crusader army headed towards the springs of Hittin. But Salahudeen had already sent troops to block the valley and encircle the enemy. The Crusaders were surrounded and, despite desperate charges on Saladin’s troops, the Crusader army was broken up and King Guy eventually surrendered.
The Battle of Hittin was over and the way to reconquering Jerusalem was now open.
That night Salahudeen and his men celebrated their victory and began laying plans for their next move. Salahudeen realised he needed to secure the coastline before capturing Jerusalem, so he dispatched his troops to conquer the coastal cities. Within two months of the victory at Hittin, Salahudeen’s forces had liberated most of the Levantine coast.
Now he turned his army towards the biggest prize in Palestine – Al Quds.
After a 10 day assault on the city, Balian of Ibelin came out to meet Salahudeen to offer unconditional surrender. On the 2nd of October 1187, the Muslims entered Jerusalem after 88 years of Crusader occupation.
Masjid al Aqsa, which had been taken by the Crusaders, was restored to a Muslim place of worship.
And Salahudeen al Ayyubbi kept his promise, and the Crusaders were allowed to leave the Holy City of Jerusalem in peace.