Saladin Research Paper

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Saladin, who ruled over Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in the late twelfth century, was revered in the Muslim Middle East for his military prowess, bravery, piety, largesse, and integrity, and he was romanticized for the same qualities in medieval literature of the Western. He remains today for Arabs a historical figure of near-mythic proportion.

Al-Malik al-Nasir Yusuf ibn Ayyub Salah al-Din (“righteousness of the faith”), or Saladin, was responsible for the near-total destruction of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem; he founded the short-lived Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt and Syria, northern Iraq, and Yemen. He was widely regarded as the epitome of noble, pious, and martial virtues.

Yusuf ibn Ayyub was born in Tikrit (in presentday Iraq) to a Kurdish family in the service of the Seljuk sultanate that at that time ruled much of the region. His father entered the service of the ruler of northern Syria, ‘Imad al-Din Zangi, and was rewarded with the lordship of Baalbek in Lebanon. In the aftermath of European Christians’ failed Second Crusade (1145–1147), Zangi’s heir Nur al-Din took Damascus, fulfilling his father’s ambition to unite the three great Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Mosul, and Damascus. In the 1160s Saladin accompanied an uncle on a series of missions against Fatimid Egypt, which was regarded as a key territory for the containment of the Crusader Kingdom and which Zangi feared was becoming a Frankish protectorate. Yusuf distinguished himself in these campaigns, and on the death of his uncle in the course of the last of these missions, he managed to take control of the Syrian forces and have himself appointed as vizier to the Fatimid caliph. Taking the honorific title al-Malik al-Nasir (“the king victorious by God”), he became de facto ruler of Egypt. Having consolidated his position in a series of military campaigns, he dissolved the Fatimid caliphate in 1171.

These successes troubled Nur al-Din, who planned to reassert his authority over Yusuf, but died in 1174, before a mission could be launched. Over the course of the following twelve years, in a series of military and diplomatic campaigns, Saladin managed to gain control over Damascus and Aleppo and forced Mosul to submit to his authority. Thus secure and with sufficient manpower to draw on, he was able to launch a decisive campaign against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was suffering a period of divisiveness and disarray. After smashing the Crusader forces in a single battle at the Horns of Hattin (near Lake Tiberias) on 4 July 1187, Saladin was able to sweep the Franks from Palestine and western Syria, although his failure to take Tyre (on the coast of southern Lebanon) provided the protagonists of the Third Crusade (1189), Richard I of England and Philip II Augustus of France, with an embarkation point. The Franks captured Acre (on the coast of present-day northern Israel, about 60 kilometers south of Tyre) after a bitter two-year siege, and a new treaty granted Christian pilgrims access to Jerusalem. Saladin died six months later in March 1193.

Saladin’s success in uniting the Syrian military classes was due to a number of factors, not the least the force of his own personality: he famously exhibited Arab and Islamic virtues of military prowess, bravery, piety, largesse, and integrity. His skillful use of diplomacy with Franks, Byzantines, and Muslims allowed him to focus his energies, and his ideological program of jihad helped to galvanize popular political support in Syria and beyond. He was fortunate to be assisted by capable and trustworthy subordinates, including his prime minister and ideologue al-Qadi al- Fadil and his brother al-‘Adil, who acted as governor of Egypt and who carried out the famous negotiations with Richard I. Saladin preferred to give positions of political responsibility to family members.

The same personal virtues that made Saladin attractive to the Muslim world prompted his adoption by medieval romance writers as a leading character and a paragon of infidel virtue, a paradox that literary license rationalized variably as the result of a Christian mother, secret conversion, or other factors. In the Muslim world contemporary biographers, such as Baha’ al-Din, painted a more realistic but also undoubtedly idealized portrait of Saladin as a pious yet pragmatic king and an advocate of holy war, an image that continues to resonate in the popular consciousness.

The Ayyubid dynasty that Saladin established was essentially a constellation of independent principalities governed by his kinsmen and their descendents. The most important principality was Egypt, which was ruled in turn by al-‘Adil and his son al-Kamil, and which survived the thirteenth-century crusades before being supplanted by the Mamluks in 1250. The longest surviving branch of the dynasty ruled Aleppo until that city’s capture by the Mongols in 1261.


  1. Baha’ al-Din, & Richards, D. S. (2001). The rare and excellent history of Saladin; being the al-Nawadir al-Sultaniyya as’l- Mahasin al-Yusufiyya of Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing.
  2. Ehrenkreutz, A. S. (1972). Saladin. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  3. Humphreys, R. S. (1977). From Saladin to the Mongols: The Ayyubids of Damascus. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  4. ‘Imad al- Din, Baha al-Din, & Gibb, H. A. R. (1973). The life of Saladin: From the works of ‘Imad Ad-Din and Baha’ Ad-Din. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press.
  5. Jubb, M. A. (2000). The legend of Saladin in Western literature and historiography. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.
  6. Lev, Y. (1999). Saladin in Egypt. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
  7. Lundquist, E. R. (1996). Saladin and Richard the Lionhearted: Selected annals from Masalik Al-absar Fi Mamalik Al-amsar by Al-Umari. Bromley, U.K.: Chartwell-Bratt.
  8. Lyons, M. C., & Jackson, D. (1982). Saladin: The politics of holy war. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

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