THE great crisis was at hand. Saladin was at last in a position to attack the Franks[French]. The object of his campaigns on the Tigris and Euphrates had been attained. He had now allies instead of enemies on his northern flank. Before this no invasion of the Christian territory could safely be undertaken without posting an army of observation to guard against an attack from the north; but now he could advance with confidence. He had also more troops at his back, and could not only command the full strength of his Syrian and Egyptian levies, but also count upon large contingents from the Mesopotamian provinces. We shall see how at the siege of Acre the great barons of these parts came to reinforce the Moslem army, and how the princes of Zengy’s line, the lords of Mosul, Sinjar, Jezira, Irbil, and Harran, and the Kurds from beyond the Tigris, swelled the general muster with their vassals and retainers. This was indeed the most important result of his northern campaigns. He had opened up new recruiting grounds; and without this added strength he could never have met and resisted the fresh forces from Europe brought against him in the Third Crusade.
The Holy War had long been a fixed resolve with Saladin, but the immediate provocation came, as usual, from Reginald of Châtillon, Prince of Antioch. The lord of Karak had won for himself an unenviable reputation as a breaker of treaties. It was his delight to seize peaceful caravans of merchants and pilgrims on their way into Syria from Egypt or Mecca. He had done this in 1179, in a time of truce. A caravan encamped trustfully beneath his castle, and he took every man woman and beast with goods to the value of two hundred thousand gold pieces; and when King Baldwin remonstrated, and sent an embassy to make him restore the stolen spoil and captives, he flouted the royal messengers. In 1182 he repeated this performance, also in a time of truce; he had even dared to push his troops into Arabia to within a day’s march of the holy city where rest the bones of the Blessed Prophet. In 1186 there was again a time of peace. Caravans passed freely between Egypt and Syria, with no thought of danger from the Dead Sea castle. Suddenly Reginald pounced upon a party of merchants and captured a rich prize. One of the Sultan’s sisters was rumored to be travelling in the closed litter under the convoy of the traders. To their remonstrances the lord of Karak jeeringly echoed the taunts of the chief priests at Calvary: “Since they trusted in Mohammad, let Mohammad come and save them!” A year later he had bitter cause to repent his jest. On hearing of the outrage, Saladin swore a great oath that he would kill the truce-breaker with his own hand; and the vow was kept.
“The taking of that caravan was the ruin of Jerusalem”. Saladin had repeatedly sought to reduce Karak and lay hands upon its master, and he had always failed. He was now resolved to try no more half-measures, but to wage a war of extermination on the whole Christian kingdom. The winter must first pass, when field operations were almost impossible; but in March, 1187, he sounded the tocsin for the Jihad. His messengers sped to the princes of Mesopotamia, to his vassals and viceroys and governors in the cities of Jezira, Diyar-Bekr, Syria, and Egypt, to bid them assemble their forces for the Holy War. Troop after troop hurried to Damascus, and each as it arrived was posted on the frontier against the Franks. The Sultan himself marched out towards Karak, in April, to protect the caravan of pilgrims returning from Mecca. After they had safely passed, and he had laid waste the territory of his bitterest enemy, he set up his standard at Ashtara on the 28th of May, and marshalled his squadrons for the great campaign.
The Franks were in no state for combined resistance. There was strife and jealousy among their leaders. The child king, Baldwin V, had died in the preceding September, and a faction headed by Gerard de Rideford, the Master of the Templars, Joscelin of Courtenay, and Reginald of Châtillon, set on the throne Sibylla, the elder daughter of Amalric; and she in turn crowned her husband Guy de Lusignan as King. Count Raymond of Tripolis, the regent of the late King, repudiating this irregular coronation, set up a rival sovereign in the fourth Humphrey of Toron, the husband of Amalric’s younger daughter Isabella. It is true, Humphrey mistrusted the unwelcome honor, and hastened to do homage to Sibylla and Guy; but Raymond and Baldwin of Ramla nevertheless refused to recognize the new King. It was Raymond who had made the treaty with Saladin in 1184, and the relations between the two became exceedingly friendly now that the Count was almost isolated from his fellow nobles. Raymond visited Saladin, and was received with cordiality. It was even rumored that the Count would have embraced Islam but for dread of European contempt. When Guy prepared to invade the Count’s territory and conquer his submission by arms, it was on Saladin’s promised help that Raymond relied. The invasion was deferred, however, by prudent mediation, and the Count nursed his resentment at Tiberias during the winter of 1186-7. In the spring a fresh effort was made to restore harmony, and Balian of Ibelin was sent to Tiberias, with the Masters of the two Orders, to conciliate the sulking Achilles. Ernoul, who accompanied Balian as his squire, has left a graphic narrative of the expedition in his chronicle. He tells how Balian was detained at Nablus, whilst the others pressed on to Faba; how he stopped again at Sabat to visit the bishop and hear mass; and how when he reached Faba he found the castle gates wide open, and his companions’ tents deserted. He sent Ernoul into the empty fortress, and the squire went up and down the passages shouting and hallooing, but no man answered. At last he found two sick men in a chamber, but they could tell him nothing of what had happened. So he rode on towards Nazareth, and on the way a brother of the Temple hailed him. When he came up, Balian asked him “What news?” and the Templar said “Bad”. Then he told them that the Master of the Hospital had had his head cut off, that all the Templars with him had been killed, save only the Master and two others, and that forty of the King’s knights were prisoners in the Saracens’ hands. It appeared that Saladin had sent forward his eldest son, al-Afdal, to the Lake of Tiberias, where his friend Count Raymond was still in open enmity with the King of Jerusalem. Al-Afdal, as an ally, asked permission to cross the Jordan and make an excursion in Raymond’s territory. What his object was is not stated; he may have been in want of forage or food, possibly he merely wished for a day’s hunting—for every prince of the land at that time was a sportsman; but it has more the look of a reconnaissance in force. Raymond could not refuse him leave, without risking the loss of Saladin’s friendship, his best protection against King Guy. Yet to diminish the danger of the excursion, he stipulated that the Saracens should cross and return in a single day, by sunlight, and that they should molest neither town nor house on the way. To this they agreed. The Count sent messengers to announce the excursion and its conditions, and to warn every Christian to keep within walls.
All would have been well but for the inopportune arrival of the two Masters at Faba. Unluckily, as it befell, one of Raymond’s messengers brought the news to the castle at the very moment when they were resting there, and full of righteous wrath they collected as many knights as they could, to the number of 130, and 300 or 400 foot, and sallied forth to attack the roving Saracens. They, at least, would have no pact with the “infidels”. They came up with them at the Spring of Cresson, whilst they were already on their way back from Cana of Galilee to their own country. It was not the first nor yet the last time that the hot-headed zeal of the soldier-monks brought about their own destruction. The knights rashly attacked, in their haste, without waiting for the infantry,—and were utterly cut to pieces. The Saracens quietly continued their march to the Jordan, and as they passed near Tiberias, Raymond could distinguish Christian heads carried on their spears. They had strictly kept their word. They had done no injury to town or house or castle, and they went back before sunset as was agreed. This was Friday the 1st of May, the Feast of St. Philip and St. James. In the face of this disaster, for which he was held responsible, Raymond consented to waive his resentment and made outward peace with Guy. They embraced in the presence of a rejoicing multitude by Joseph’s Pit, and concerted measures of defence. It was ordered that a general muster of the Christian forces should be held at the Springs of Safifuriya, about three miles north of Nazareth, to resist the invasion of the Saracens. The Master of the Temple made over to Guy the money which King Henry of England had sent him, in expiation of the martyrdom of Becket; and the men who were paid with this treasure wore the arms of England on their shields.
The total muster may have amounted to 1200 knights, more than 18,000 foot, and a large number of light cavalry, or Turcopoles, armed in the Saracen manner. Meanwhile Saladin, as has been seen, returning from the Dead Sea district, had mustered his troops at Ashtara, in the Hauran, and, with the army of Aleppo and the contingents from Mosul and Mardin added to his main force, he found himself at the head of 12,000 horsemen, “all holders of fiefs and stipends”, besides numerous volunteers for “the Path of God”. He reviewed the troops at Tesil, and marshaled his army in the usual order of battle, with centre, right and left wings, vanguard and rearguard; Taki-al-Din and Kukbury commanded the two wings, whilst the Sultan himself led the centre. In this formation he began his march on the 26th of June. It was a Friday, at the hour of public prayer; and this was the day and the hour that he preferred above all others for warfare, that the supplications of the people and the prayers of holy men might intercede for him at the throne of God.
The Saracen army camped the first night at the southern end of the Lake of Galilee. Here Saladin waited, whilst his scouts were collecting information as to the enemy’s positions. They brought word of the great muster of the Franks at Saffuriya, and their martial spirit. A council of war was held in the Moslem camp, and it was resolved to advance and offer battle. The next step was to cross the Jordan to es-Sinnebra, whence Saladin moved his men to the hills at Kafar Sebt, some six miles to the south-west of Tiberias, and commanding the road, on Wednesday, the 1st of July. Whilst waiting for the Franks to advance, he employed his troops in sacking and burning the city of Tiberias, no longer the home of an ally. The castle itself held out under Count Raymond’s wife, Eschiva, the daughter of Hugh of St. Omer. Her appeal for help reached Guy, at Saffuriya, on Thursday evening, at vespers, and caused the immediate advance of the Franks. Saladin’s outposts brought news of their approach the next morning, and leaving a small force to mask the castle, he hurried up to the main army on the hills and prepared for battle.
The country where the memorable battle of Hittin was fought has been picturesquely described by an officer who knows every inch of the ground. “Saffuriya”, he writes, “was an enwalled town on the low hills north-west of Nazareth. The Church of St. Anne stood in the midst, and a strong tower on the hill above overlooked the brown cornfields which stretched towards the rugged mountain chain of Upper Galilee, and eastwards to the plain over Tiberias — an open and waterless plateau. The Fountain of Saffuriya lay a mile towards the south, in an open valley full of gardens, with a stream which now drives eight mills, and which, therefore, was sufficient for so large an army as that which gathered round King Guy. The surrounding lands also were full of villages, and gave ample provisions.
“Saladin’s camp was ten miles to the east, upon the plateau stretching considerably south of the village of Hittin. The place was surrounded with olives and fruit-trees, and a good spring — copious and fresh — flowed on the north-west into the gorge of Wady Hammam. There was plenty of water in the valleys beneath, and near Tiberias, where the wife of Raymond of Tripolis was shut up in her castle upon the margin of the sacred lake. Just south of Hittin rises the dark and rocky hillock famous in history as the “Horn of Hittin”, six hundred feet above the low-lying village, and overlooking the western plain a hundred feet below. The highway from Acre led over the plain, and not a single spring or stream of any size existed between the camps. It was the hottest season of the year, and a long march for infantry divided the hosts of Christendom and Islam.
“From the peak of Hittin the watchman looked towards the west over a sunburn plain, with long grey ridges dotted with bush to north and south. Behind him lay the Lake of Galilee seventeen hundred feet below, shut in with precipices mirrored in its shining waters, with Hermon on the north rising snow-streaked over the valley of the Upper Jordan. Far east the craters of the Jaulan range stood up against the plains which stretch towards Damascus. The towers of Safed rose above the northern shores of the lake, and to the south the black walls and ditches of Belvoir frowned upon the rolling plateau. Defeat in such a position meant disaster to the Moslem forces, hurled down the slopes and driven into the lake; but in order to attack, the Christian army must cross the waterless plain, and after a long march would find the enemy covering all the springs and streams that flow into the lake. When we remember that the Franks possessed two strong outposts, at Fula [Faba] and at Belvoir; that an advance down the Valley of Jezreel to Beysan could have been made without any difficulty as regards plentiful supply of water; and that Saladin’s position was also most dangerous, being at an angle to his line of retreat, it appears strange to a soldier that part, at least, of the Christian army was not dispatched to attack the Jordan bridges, and to cut off the Moslem retreat, which could then only have been accomplished by the northern bridge guarded by the fortress of the Chateau Neuf. A general like Godfrey would not have failed to take so evident a precaution, but probably the Franks were afraid of the summer heat in the Jordan valley”.
The Franks were afraid of something worse than the summer heat: they dreaded the immense host which rumour said was following the standard of Saladin, and they feared to detach any portion of their force, when every man might be needed in the great battle that was before them. Nor is there any evidence that Saladin had not left a sufficient guard to defend the Jordan bridges: it was his custom to place corps of observation at dangerous points. The detaching of any considerable Christian force to cut off his retreat might have exposed the main army to defeat, and laid the whole of Palestine open to the invaders. The vital error of the Franks was their forgetting that their duty was to defend and not to attack. Had they chosen a strong defensive position and awaited Saladin’s onslaught the issue might have been different; for the Saracens, man to man, were no match for the well-armed and high-mettled knights of the Cross, supported by steady and well-protected infantry. They threw away their advantage when, in spite of Count Raymond’s urgent warning, the King yielded to the insistence of the Master of the Temple, and gave the signal for the fatal march over the waterless plain. “Better”, said Raymond, “that my city of Tiberias fall, and my wife and all I possess be taken by the Saracens, than that the whole land be lost: for certes, if you go that way, lost it is”. It was the counsel of a soldier, but the Master gave it the colour of treachery.
On Friday, the 3rd of July, the Christian army broke up camp at Saffuriya, and began its disastrous advance upon Tiberias. Hardly had it set out, when the Saracen skirmishers were upon it. Ernoul’s master, Balian of Ibelin, was with the van ward, under the command of Count Raymond, and lost many of his knights. All that day the light horse of the Saracens harassed the troops, as they plodded along the unshaded, limestone road, the sun beat fiercely on the armour and headpieces, and not a drop of water was to be had. So hard pressed were the Templars and Turcopoles in the rear that they could not keep up with the King’s battle in the centre, and were in sore danger of being cut off. Seeing their peril, Guy called a halt, though only half the distance to Tiberias was done; and it was decided to encamp under arms for the night. In vain Count Raymond, who was far ahead with the van, urged the vital necessity of pushing on to the water. The exhausted soldiers had no heart to face the Saracens who barred the way on the hills in front. The rearward was in difficulties. The whole army was demoralised. In desperation, Guy ordered the tents to be pitched at Marescalcia. Raymond rode in from the front in despair, crying out, “Alas! alas, Lord God! The war is over; we are dead men; the Kingdom is undone!”
Through its long hours of the night the one cry was for water. A raging thirst consumed man and horse. The voices of the Saracens could be heard close by as they patrolled the circle of the devoted host, triumphantly shouting, “Allah Akbar, God is most great, there is no God but He”. The enemy set fire to the scrub, and the smoke and fire increased the torment of the Christians. “Verily God fed them with the bread of tears and gave them to drink of the cup of repentance without measure”.
The morning dawned: The feast of the Translation of the Blessed Martin, it was Saturday, 4th of July 1187.
The knights were early to horse, but the infantry was already worn out and gasping with thirst. The Saracens, who held the wells, were fresh and confident. Saladin had posted his men in the night, and carefully distributed their rounds of arrows. Every horseman’s quiver was full; seventy camels stood at hand laden with arrows to replenish them; and there were four hundred loads of spare ammunition.
All was ready, and the anxiety of the arabs, who had been conscious of the peril of their position, where, they said, “only God Most High could save Them”, was changed into jubilation when they realized the condition of the Franks. The two armies met near the village of Lubia, a couple of miles to the south-west of Hittin. Guy had been driven of the Tiberias road by the strong force of Saracens holding the hill of Kafar Sebt, and was now struggling towards the wells in the Wady Hammam to the north. The Moslems held off for a time, till the climbing sun should do its deadly work upon the weary Christians, and then they advanced, the centre a little “refused”, and the wings thrown forward. The battle began with a cloud of arrows from the Saracen archers, “thick as a flight of locusts” which unhorsed many of the enemy. Then with a shout the Moslems charged like one man, and a hand-to-hand fight ensued. Saladin was in every part of the field, exciting, encouraging, restraining his men, as the urgency required, and using the Arab’s tantalising tactics—retreat before a charge, followed by instant pursuit of the retiring cavalry. Exhausted as they were, the Crusader knights fought like heroes.
“But the grip of fear was on the throats of the crowd, who went like driven beasts to shambles evident; they reckoned on sure disaster and dismay. And knew they would be among the visitors of the tombs next day. Yet the fury of the fight never slacked, and every knight his opposite attacked; till the triumph (of the Faithful) was achieved, and ruin came on those who misbelieved”.
The Frank infantry, maddened with thirst, scorched by the burning sun, and blinded by the flame and smoke of the bush which the Moslems had fired, lost their formation, neglected the combination with the knights which was the only hope of victory, and wildly struggled to push towards the lake in a desperate longing for water: but Saladin barred the way. They found themselves crowded in a heap on the top of a hill, and to the King’s repeated entreaty that they would come down and do their duty for Cross and Throne, they sent word that they were dying of thirst and could not fight. Thenceforth the infantry took no part in the battle: the Saracens eventually fell upon them, cast some down the precipice, and killed or captured the rest. Many of them threw down their arms and surrendered, coming to the Saracens, their mouths hanging agape like thirsty dogs. Five of Raymond’s knights even went to Saladin in their despair, and said: “Sire, why do you delay? Fall on them, they cannot help themselves; they are all dead men”.
In truth, not only the infantry, but the Templars and Hospitallers in the rear battle, and the King in the centre, were so hard pressed, and in such confusion and disarray, with swarms of Saracens surging in between them, that Guy, seeing it was hopeless to withstand their attacks without infantry, had tried to form a sort of lager of the tents huddled round the Cross. There was yet one chance, a forlorn hope: the King called upon Raymond to charge; the field was in his lands, and by the laws of chivalry the post of honour was his also. The Count headed his knights in a last desperate effort, but Saladin’s nephew was too quick for him: Taki-al-Din opened his ranks, and Raymond’s division swept through; then, when the Christians were thus skillfully separated, the Saracens closed upon the King on all sides. The last stand was made on the Horn of Hittin.
The King and 150 of the bravest nobles and knights had gathered on this hillock round the royal red tent and the Holy Cross. “The Moslems revolved about them as a globe turns round its pole”, and the unfortunate Franks vainly tried to break the cordon. Saladin’s son, a lad of sixteen, himself tells the piteous story:
“It was my first set battle”, said al-Afdal, “and I was at my Father’s side. When the King of the Franks had retired to the hill, his knights made a gallant charge, and drove the Moslems back upon my Father. I watched him, and I saw his dismay; he changed color, tugged at his beard, and rushed forward, shouting: “Give the devil the lie!”. So the Moslems fell upon the enemy, who retreated up the hill. When I saw the Franks flying and the Moslems pursuing, I cried in my glee: We have routed them! But the Franks charged again and drove our men back once more to where my Father was. Again he urged them forward, and they drove the enemy up the hill. Again I shouted :We have routed them! But Father turned to me and said: Hold thy peace! We have not beaten them so long as that tent stands there. At that instant the royal tent was overturned. Then the Sultan dismounted, and bowed himself to the earth, giving thanks to God, with tears of joy”.
It was indeed the end. The Franks had spent their last strength in struggling to break through to the wells. The “Wood of the True Cross”, which had been their gonfalon through the weary march and the hopeless battle, had fallen into the hands of the unbelievers; the Bishop of Acre, who bore it aloft, was slain, despite his armour; and God himself seemed to have deserted them. Tortured with thirst, parched with the heat and toil, they got off their horses and threw themselves down on the scorched grass in sheer despair. The Saracens were upon them in an instant, and no defence was attempted. The knights were too weak to sell their lives dearly: they gave up their swords. The flower of chivalry was taken. The King and his brother, Reginald of Châtillon, Joscelin of Courtenay, Humphrey of Toron, the Masters of the Temple and Hospital, and many other nobles were among the prisoners. Count Raymond, after breaking through the Saracens, had seen the capture of the King, and never drew rein till he found himself safe at Tyre, — only to die of grief and shame. Legend did not deal gently with his memory. He became the Judas who betrayed Christendom, and for centuries minstrels told how Raymond basely plotted against King Guy, and sold the True Cross into the hands of the infidels. Balian of Ibelin who had been in the advance guard escaped, with the Prince of Sidon. The rest of the chivalry of Palestine was under Moslem warders. Of the rank and file, all who were alive were made prisoners. A single Saracen was seen dragging some thirty Christians he had himself taken, tied together with a tent-rope. The dead lay in heaps, like stones upon stones, among broken crosses, severed hands and feet, whilst mutilated heads strewed the ground like a plentiful crop of melons.
SALADIN SLAYS REGINALD OF CHÂTILLON
Saladin camped on the field of battle. When his tent was pitched, he ordered the prisoners to be brought before him. The King of Jerusalem and Reginald of Châtillon he received in his tent; he seated the King near himself, and seeing his thirst, he gave him a cup of water iced in snow. Guy drank, and passed the cup to the lord of Karak: but Saladin was visibly annoyed. “Tell the King”, he said to the interpreter, “that it was he, not I, that gave that man drink”. The protection of “bread and salt” was not to baulk his vengeance. Then he rose and confronted Reginald, who was still standing: “Twice have I sworn to kill him; once when he sought to invade the holy cities, and again when he took the caravan by treachery. — Lo! I will avenge Mohammed upon thee!” And he drew his sword and cut him down with his own hand, as he had sworn. The guard finished it and dragged the body out of the tent; “and God sped his soul to Hell”. The King, trembling at the sight, believed his own turn was now coming, but Saladin reassured him: “It is not the custom of kings to slay kings; but that man had transgressed all bounds, so what happened, happened”. The two military Orders were terribly punished for their daring and zeal for the faith. All the knights of the Hospital and the Temple that were prisoners were executed, to the number of two hundred, but the King and the chief nobles were well used and sent to Damascus. The field long bore the marks of the bloody fight where “30,000” Christians were said to have fallen. A year afterwards the heaps of bleaching bones could be seen from afar, and the hills and valleys were strewn with the relics of the horrid orgies of wild beasts.