Fall of Jerusalem 1187

Jerusalem was now under the command of Balian of Ibelin, who had gone there from Tyre to fetch his wife and children. He had been pressed into command by the Christian citizens, all of whose leaders had fallen at the Horns of Hattin and who, largely as a result of the reported conduct of their grand master at Ascalon and Gaza, would not accept the leadership of the Knights Templar among them. The city was jammed with refugees from the surrounding area. They were of no value in a fight but constituted a tremendous drain on existing food supplies. Balian sent out foraging parties to bring in all the food they could find. With only two knights left in the entire city, he knighted sixty sons of knights and burgesses for no reason other than that they had reached the age of sixteen. Conferring the honor, however, did not confer the military experience.

A few days after the Muslim army arrived, they began mining operations, tunneling under the wall at approximately the point at which Godfrey de Bouillon had gone over it eighty-eight years before. By September 29 Saladin’s sappers had effected a breach in the wall. The Christians tried to fill and defend as best they could, although by now both sides knew that it was just a matter of time. The Greek Orthodox Christians in the city got word out to Saladin that they would open the gates to him, in exchange for his mercy. They had come to bitterly resent the arrogant Roman clergy who had forced them to attend church services alien to their traditions, conducted in a language they did not understand. They would welcome a return to the religious tolerance they had enjoyed under Muslim rule.

As it turned out, their help was not necessary. The day after the wall was breached, Balian went out to negotiate with Saladin for the surrender of Jerusalem. Balian conceded that Saladin could now take the city whenever he wished, but at the price of the execution of all of the Muslims in the city and the complete destruction of the sacred Islamic buildings in the Temple area, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the mosque of Omar called the Dome of the Rock. Saladin reminded him of the brutality of the Crusaders when they had taken the city from the Egyptians, but they finally came to terms. A ransom was set of ten dinars for a man, five for a woman, and one for a child. Balian pointed out that there were over twenty thousand refugees in the city who had no money, and it was finally agreed that for a lump sum payment of thirty thousand dinars, seven thousand Christians would be free to go. The deal was struck, but Saladin delayed his entry into the city for two days, for a reason that would find favor with all the Muslims in the world.

In the Muslim calendar October 2 was the twenty-seventh day of the month of Rajab, the anniversary of that glorious night when the beautiful winged animal called Buraq had flown through the night sky, carrying the Prophet Muhammad from the Kaaba in Mecca to the Haram es-Sharif, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was that journey, which had found Muhammad entertained by all of the prophets of old and had permitted him to ascend the celestial ladder to the very throne of Allah, that made Jerusalem the third holiest location in the Muslim faith.

As the army of the faithful marched into the Holy City on that sacred anniversary, no man among them could doubt that this great victory was the will of Allah, effected by his most zealous servant, Saladin.

Perhaps it was the religious timing of the occupation that held the Muslims in check, in dramatic contrast to the Christians when they had taken the city during the First Crusade. Now not a building was broken into, not a single citizen slaughtered. Balian emptied the treasury of the kingdom to raise the thirty thousand dinars of bulk ransom for seven thousand of the inhabitants, but there were still thousands who would be sold to the slave dealers if their ransoms could not be raised. Appeals to the wealth of the Church, the Templars, and Hospitallers were not welcome, although the military monks did not hesitate to violate their rules against ransom payments to purchase their own freedom. The patriarch Heraclius paid the ten-dinar ransoms for himself and a few servants, then left the city with a small caravan carrying a fortune in rare carpets and silver plate, riding without emotion past columns of the poor being marched into slavery. Saladin’s brother, by contrast, was so moved by the pitiful sight that he asked for the right to free a thousand Christian captives as compensation for his services in the campaign, a request that was promptly granted. Saladin himself decided to free all of the aged, both men and women. For the women who had been ransomed or freed, he promised to release any husband or father who was being held captive.

As an indication that Saladin’s anger against the Crusaders was perhaps more political and personal than religious, he invited the Jews and Orthodox Christians of Jerusalem to stay in the city. When news of the treatment of the Greek clergy reached the Byzantine emperor Isaac Angelus, he dispatched envoys to the sultan to congratulate him on his victory and to request that the places sacred to the Christians be returned to the care of the Orthodox Church. Saladin agreed. The Temple area was completely cleansed of all evidence of Christian occupation.

The Templar headquarters was scrubbed, scented with rose water brought from Damascus, and reconsecrated as the al-Aqsa Mosque, to which Saladin went with his officers on the Muslim Sabbath, Friday, October 9, to give thanks to God. The Christians still held the north, but Palestine belonged completely to the followers of Muhammad.

The Templar preceptor Terricus wrote an eyewitness account to King Henry II of England: “Jerusalem, alas, has fallen. Saladin ordered the cross to be cast down from the Temple of the Lord [the mosque of the Dome of the Rock], and for two days to be carried about the city and beaten with sticks. After this he ordered the Temple of the Lord to be washed with rosewater, inside and out and from top to bottom.”

The Knights Templar left the city that had been their headquarters since their founding. They acted as escorts and guards for one of the three columns of refugees. A second was protected by the Hospitallers, and the third by Balian of Ibelin with his group of newly made young knights. The protection was necessary, because the refugees had been given the right to carry their possessions with them, and refugees have always been fair game for banditry. In this case, it was not just the Arabs who robbed them but their fellow Christians as well, eager to profit from the helpless condition of thousands of dejected families hoping to find refuge somewhere.

They were only partly successful in finding refuge at Tyre. Conrad would admit only fighting men. He had no intention of wasting his valuable food supplies on useless civilians, so soon a great refugee camp grew outside the city. The Templar knights and men-at-arms from Jerusalem were welcomed and joined their brother Templars already in the city with their grand master.

In November, with Jerusalem secure, Saladin turned his energies to the unfinished business of the conquest of Tyre. His spies had reported the steady arrival of reinforcements, including the Knights Templar from Gaza and Jerusalem. Ships had arrived with more supplies, so any siege would be a long one. Saladin was certain that appeals would have been sent back to Europe, and he wanted to take this important city before fresh Crusader help could arrive.

He was right about the pleas for help. Conrad had sent back Josias, archbishop of Tyre, to make direct appeals to Pope Urban III and the Christian kings. The Templars and Hospitallers wrote frequently to their preceptors in Europe, repeatedly asking for funds and more recruits.

Tyre was in an unusually strong position, surrounded by the sea, with just a narrow neck of land connecting it to the shore. Even that had a massive wall protecting it, so Saladin ordered a complete siege train for his assault on the city. The Christian refugees who had been barred from the city fled to the protection of the hills as Saladin arrived with stone-throwing mangonels to batter down the defenses. The distance from the mainland out to the city walls was too great for his catapults to be effective, nor could he use his miners, because they would have to tunnel under the sea. In an attempt to cut off Tyre’s supply ships he ordered ten Egyptian fighting ships up from Acre, but the Christian ships captured five of them and destroyed the others.

Frustrated by the military problems at hand, Saladin welcomed the intelligence that Conrad of Montferrat was the new ruler and military commander of Tyre. That knowledge opened up the possibility that the city could be taken with no further struggle. The sultan ordered that the aging marquis of Montferrat, who had been captured at the Horns of Hattin, be taken from his prison and brought to Tyre. Conrad, who had wondered at the lull in the fighting, got his answer when his father was paraded up and down in front of the wall. Saladin got word to Conrad that he had a choice: Surrender the city or watch his father die from slow torture. Conrad replied that his duty to God was more important to him than his duty to his family. That was an answer that Saladin could understand and respect. Complementing the marquis on the conduct of his son, Saladin spared the old man’s life and ordered him taken back to his prison in Damascus.

Facing up to the fact that the siege of the city of Tyre could go on for a year or more, and angry with himself for not taking the city when it was much weaker, Saladin again made the decision to retire. His army had been in the field for many months, and his men were tired. Saladin let half of his men return to their homes, planning to finish the conquest of the remaining Christians in the spring. As the year of 1187 ended, Saladin could look back on a great string of victories, highlighted by the retaking of the Holy City of Jerusalem after almost a century of Christian occupation. His conquest thus far, while not complete, was very satisfying to his people. But inside the walls of Tyre, Conrad of Montferrat was a great hero.