Saladin and the Horns of Hattin

Bajro Smajic, Dickson College 2006

Salah al-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub was without doubt the greatest Muslim leader of the Twelfth Century. He was destined to win a great victory that would weaken Christendom’s stronghold in the Middle East. It was called the Battle of Hattin. Saladin induced the Crusaders to come and fight where he wanted them. His tactics would prove to be triumphant and the aftermath of the battle would show the extent of Saladin’s mercy.

Salah ad-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub called for jihad against the Crusaders who invaded their land. The call was answered and warriors came from all over the Muslim world at that time. Warriors came from Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Armenia by the thousands. Saladin is said to have possessed some twenty four thousand warriors. His opponent, Guy of Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem, could only manage about twenty thousand foot soldiers and thirteen hundred mounted knights. These numbers could only be gathered if Guy left his castles defenceless.

In the year of the Lord's incarnation 1187, the King of Syria [Saladin] gathered together an army as numerous as the sands of the seashore in order to wage war on the land of Judea. He came up to the Jaulan, across the [Jordan] River, and there made cam”. (Medieval Sourcebook: De Expugatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum: The Battle of Hattin, 1187)

According to Sihab al-Din b. Fadl Allah al-'Umari, in his book Masalik Al-Absar Fi Mammali written in the fourteenth century, Saladin got the crusaders to march against him by besieging the town of Tiberius. The countess Eschiva, who was present in the town, withdrew to the citadel where she got a message out to Raymond of Tripoli. This was just what Saladin wanted, and he allowed the messenger to pass through without being harmed. When King Guy of Lusignan heard of this he called a council and was going to ride to the aid of the Countess Eschiva but Raymond told the king that if they did this they would suffer unbearable heat. King Guy was persuaded to let Saladin have the castle, vowing to regain it another day.

However, King Guy then asked for the opinion of Reynald of Chatillon, who had many sieges and skirmishes with Saladin. Reynald called Raymond a coward for not riding to save his own home. Reynald and the Master of the Templars met with King Guy in private during nightfall and convinced him that Raymond was not to be trusted. Persuaded by them, King Guy ordered the march across the desert to Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee). This would prove to be a big mistake for the King.

The King of Jerusalem [Guy de Lusignan] also gathered his army from all of Judea and Samaria. They assembled and pitched camp near the springs at Saffuriyah. The Templars and Hospitallers also assembled many people from all their castles and came to the camp. The Count of Tripoli [Raymond III of Tripoli] likewise rose up with all his people, whom he collected from Tripoli and Galilee and came into the encampment. Prince Reginald of Montreal [Reynald de Chatillon] also came with his people, as did Balian of Naples [Balian d'Ibelin] with his, Reginald of Sidon [Reginald Garnier] with his, and the lord of Caesarea in Palestine [Walter Garnier] with his. Not a man fit for war remained in the cities, towns, or castles without being urged to leave by the King's order. Nor was this host sufficient. (Medieval Sourcebook: De Expugatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum: The Battle of Hattin, 1187)

The Crusaders set off for Tiberius. Little did they know that this was just what Saladin wanted. The march went well at the start but soon everyone began to suffer from the intense heat. Men collapsed, metal became too hot to hold and the water began to run out. Saladin ordered his armies to harass the crusaders. Ernoul, a local Frank, writes this:

As soon as they were encamped, Saladin ordered all his men to collect brushwood, dry grass, stubble and anything else with which they could light fires and make barriers, which he had made all round the Christians. They soon did this, and the fires burned vigorously and the smoke from the fires was great; and this, together with the heat of the sun above them, caused them discomfort and great harm. (Medieval Sourcebook: Ernoul: The Battle of Hattin, 1187)

From early morning until midday, Saladin’s troops lit fires near them and this provided light for their archers to aim at the Crusaders. The Crusaders had reached what was called the “Horns of Hattin” which consisted of two mountains. Guy decided not to go and fight for the Sea of Galilee because his soldiers were already exhausted. On the dawn of Saturday, the 4th of July 1187, the crusader army found itself surrounded on the hill top where they had spent the night. The Crusaders were weak and had no water so morale was low. Some of the soldiers made a desperate attempt to reach water at Lake Tiberius, but failed, and were hunted down and killed.

Our men formed their battle lines and hurried to pass through this region in the hope that when they had regained a watering place and had refreshed themselves, they could attack and fight the foe more vigorously.(Medieval Sourcebook: De Expugatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum: The Battle of Hattin, 1187)

Raymond of Tripoli, seeing all hope gone, made an attempt to break through Taki al-Din’s sector but al-Din ordered his men to open up a gap and let them through. Raymond and a few other knights got through the Saracen line and then realised they could not break back through the reformed gap of Taki al-Din’s sector. They therefore lost all hope and rode off to Tripoli. King Guy and his knights made a series of charges against the Saracen front line but were steadily driven back. They made their way up to the hill to the Horns of Hattin. The Saracens had formed a circle around the Crusaders and were attacking them from every side.

The Templars, Hospitallers, and Turcopoles, meanwhile, were engaged in a fierce rear guard action. They could not win, however, because enemies sprang up on every side, shooting arrows and wounding Christians. (Medieval Sourcebook: De Expugatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum: The Battle of Hattin, 1187)

King Guy of Lusignan and his men set up tents on the hill so as to block the Saracen charge and hold out more easily. Then Guy and his knights attacked the Saracens and there proved the fighting qualities that made Saladin respect them. Saladin’s son, who was present at the battle, gives this description of the battle’s last moments.

I was at my father Saladin’s side during the battle, the first that I saw with my own eye. The Frankish king had retreated to the hill with his band and from there he led a furious charge against the Muslims facing him, forcing them back upon my father. I saw that my father was alarmed and distraught, and tugged at his beard as he went forward, crying: ‘Give the Devil the lie!’ The Muslims turned to the counter-attack and drove the Franks back up the hill. When I saw the Franks retreating before the Muslims I cried out for joy: ‘We have captured them!’ But they returned to the charge with undiminished ardour and drove our army back towards my father. His response was the same as before, and the Franks retired back to the hill. Again I cried: ‘We have beaten them!’ but my father turned to me and said: ‘Hold your peace; we shall not beat them until that tent falls!’ As he spoke the tent fell, and the Sultan dismounted and prostrated himself in thanks to God, weeping for joy. (Hindley, 1976)

The battle which had began in Saladin’s favour was starting to end. Saladin had captured King Guy, along with Reynald of Chatillon and most of the great barons of the Kingdom, as well as capturing the Holy Cross which the Christians had brought with them to the battle.

Salah ad-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub was merciful to the people he had captured, except for Reynald of Chatillon. He allowed Countess Eschiva and her companions to leave the citadel without harm. The rank and file captives were sold into slavery, but the Templars and the Hospitallers were executed. Saladin then ordered that Guy of Lusignan and Reynald of Chatillon be brought to him. Saladin gave the King some cool water to drink because Guy had requested it. Guy than passed it on to Reynald. Saladin intervened, as Ernoul recounts.

When Saladin saw that he had handed the cup to Prince Reynald, he was irritated and told him: "Drink, for you will never drink again!” The prince replied that if it pleased God, he would never drink or eat anything of his (Saladin's). Saladin asked him: "Prince Reynald, if you held me in your prison as I now hold you in mine, what, by your law, would you do to me?” "So help me God", he replied, "I would cut off your head". Saladin was greatly enraged at this most insolent reply, and said: "Pig! You are my prisoner, yet you answer me so arrogantly?” He took a sword in his hand and thrust it right through his body. (Ernoul: The Battle of Hattin, 1187)

Reynald, now upset at Saladin's behaviour, defamed the prophet Muhammad. Saladin thereby drew a sword and cut of his arm. One of Saladin’s soldiers then decapitated him. Saladin had sought revenge on Reynald because on one occasion Reynald tried to attack Mecca and Medina.The battle was a triumphant moment for the Muslims because they had weakened the Crusaders and destroyed the Christian army. Saladin was able to take Jerusalem which would have been a devastating loss for Christendom. He achieved this by carefully organising his plan to draw the crusaders into battle where he would have the advantage and the tactics he used to win the battle.


Hindley, G., 1976, Saladin, Anchor Press Ltd., Great Britain

Paine, L., 1974, Saladin a Man for All Ages, Robert Hale & Co., Great Britain