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Saladin The Great


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Saladin The Great

   Saladin The Great

WHEN Noureddin expired, the vast empire of which lie had been master, was in no small danger of dismemberment. The only son of the departed Sultan was a child incapable of defending his hereditary dominions; the emirs, each eager to turn the crisis to his own advantage, began to quarrel about a division of power; and a relapse to chaos appeared inevitable. Terrified at the prospect of discord, disorder, and civil war, the Moslem nations recognized with joy the claims of a warrior, who possessed courage and intellect to deal with the circumstances, and to pursue those projects on which the heart of Noureddin had been set.

Saladin was descended from the races inhabiting the mountains beyond the Tigris, and was the son of that Ayoub, who defended Damascus against the Christian army led by the Emperor of Germany and the Kings of France and Jerusalem. But though brought up under the eye of his father, and taught from his cradle to appreciate achievements of valor and genius, Saladin, in youth, devoted so little attention to war or politics, and gave so much time to pleasure and dissipation, that no one regarded him as capable of attaining to greatness. It would indeed have been difficult to imagine the son of Ayoub destined to inflict a mortal blow on the Christian kingdom in the East, and to maintain the Moslem power against the bravest emperors and kings of Christendom.

The first warlike expedition in which Saladin figured, was one of those undertaken by Syracon to the banks of the Nile. The young warrior did not return to Damascus without having proved his courage; but the hardships of a camp life were understood to be little to his liking. When ordered by Noureddin to go back to Egypt, he did not obey without hesitation and murmurs. "I go," said he, yielding to necessity; " but with the despair of a man led to execution."

Fortune, however, seemed resolved on making Saladin great in spite of himself. The death of Syracon rendered the post of vizier vacant; and the Caliph, imagining Saladin, incapable of usurpation, nominated him to the post. No sooner did this happen than a marvellous change, came over his life. Hitherto he had been a young warrior given to indolence and dissipation. Now he appeared in a new character. Neglecting no means of increasing his influence, he won the esteem of the imans by his austerity, and the favor of the soldiers by his munificence. Ere long, he ventured upon an important step. By killing the Caliph of Cairo with his horse-mace he extinguished the Fatimites and made the Caliph of Bagdad head of all Moslems. For this service, Saladin was congratulated by the chief of the Abassides and presented with a vest of honor.

Saladin now had his name mentioned in the public prayers; and daily extended his power in the East. His position, however, was not quite secure. Indeed, Noureddin became jealous of the young Viceroy; and Saladin would probably have fallen a victim. But at that crisis Noureddin died; and Saladin, setting aside the Sultan's heir, ascended the throne of Egypt and prepared for war with the kingdom of Jerusalem.

The kingdom thus menaced by the armies of Saladin, was in no condition to resist. Decay was visible on every side; discord reigned on all hands; discipline was almost at an end; law was openly set at defiance; and authority could not make itself felt. Every count or baron, secure in his strong castle on the summit of a mountain or in the cavern of a rock, held the royal power in contempt. The merchants of Venice and Genoa, who frequented the maritime cities, were at daggers-drawn. The knights of the Temple and the Hospital were at deadly feud; and both orders were at variance with the ecclesiastics, whom they frequently chased into the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Religion had lost influence over the lives of men; and the clergy neither strove to restore concord nor to set an example of virtue.

But it was in the capital of the Christian kingdom that matters had reached the worst stage. In the Holy City decorum was utterly disregarded; and the lives of some of the clergy were more scandalous than those of their neighbors. Chiefs and churchmen were equally abandoned; and dames and damsels of all ranks kept them in countenance. "Sin," says Fuller, reigned in every corner, and there was scarce one honest woman in the whole of Jerusalem." Neither royal rank, nor ecclesiastical dignity, restrained their possessors from the prevailing immorality. The widow of the third Baldwin indulged in a criminal intrigue with Andronicus, who afterwards, on the throne of Constantinople, became notorious for his cruelties; and Heraclius, the Patriarch, was on such terms with Pascha de Rivera, wife of a vintner, that, at church and market, she wore ornaments purchased with the alms of the faithful, and enjoyed, far and wide, the title of "the Patriarchess."

It is true, that in the midst of profligacy and irreligion, the warriors of the cross preserved that courage, which had so often rendered them formidable to foes. But they were at variance with each other, incapable alike of commanding or obeying, and disinclined to brave hardships or bear fatigues. Baldwin the Fourth, son of Almeric, was a youth of feeble health, totally incapable of dealing with the difficulties with which his throne was encompassed; and a fierce dispute about the regency divided the kingdom of Jerusalem against itself. At length, Raymond, Count of Tripoli, became master of the situation, and undertook an expedition to Egypt. The enterprise proved unsuccessful, and would have ended in utter disaster. Luckily, however, for the Christians, Saladin was then in perplexity, and consented to a truce. So far they escaped the consequences of their imprudence, and had reason to congratulate themselves on their good fortune. But, untaught by experience, the Christians had the indiscretion to violate the truce; and Saladin, assembling an army, advanced upon Palestine, and ravaged the country.

The fate of the kingdom of Jerusalem now appeared to be sealed; Baldwin, apprehending the worst, shut himself upinAscalon, and Saladin, already anticipating victory, was distributing the cities among his emirs, when despair gave to the endangered Christians a dauntless degree of courage. Availing himself of the prevalent enthusiasm, Baldwin led his army from the city, and attacked the Moslem warriors with such impetuosity, that resistance was impossible. In vain did Saladin fight valiantly in the midst of his Mamelukes; the whole Moslem army was swept away, and the Sultan had the utmost difficulty in escaping across the desert.

Baldwin and his barons were now elate with success; but their joy was of brief duration. Saladin disdained the idea of acknowledging himself vanquished. Ere long, he again made his appearance at the head of a new army, and rendered cautious by experience, carried on the war to such advantage, that Baldwin was fain to solicit a truce. Saladin, imagining, perhaps, that he had taught his foes a lesson, consented; and peace was restored. But in the kingdom of Jerusalem, such was the absence of order, that no man could answer for the truce being maintained; and, as events proved, one man by breaking it, could involve the Christian states in fearful calamities.

It appears that among the warriors who followed the banner of Louis of France to the East, was a young man, with a comely face and a handsome person, known as Reginald do Chatillon. Romantic, adven-' turous, and with no particular temptation to return to Europe, Reginald remained in Asia, and taking service with Raymond of Poictiers, Prince of Antioch, became celebrated for his chivalric bravery. Meanwhile, Raymond of Poictiers died in a batttle with the Saracens; and his widow, Constance, was eagerly pressed to bestow her hand on some prince or noble, worthy of being associated with her in the government during her son's minority. But the granddaughter of Boemund of Tarentum, who naturally had a will of her own, passed over the claims of a host of princely suitors to unite her fate with that of Reginald.

Elevated by the love of a woman to the throne of Antioch, Reginald adopted the policy of the princes whose heiress she was, declared war against the Sultan of Damascus and the Empire of Constantinople, and proved himself formidable alike to Greek and Saracen. Taken prisoner, however, he was carried to Aleppo, and there lay in chains for years. Ob recovering liberty, he found that Constance of Antioch slept with her fathers, and that Boemund, her eldest son, having come to years, occupied the throne.

Finding his principality gone, Reginald resolved on restoring his fortunes by a second dash at matrimony, and espoused the widow of the Lord of Carac. With this lady he obtained some castles, situated between Palestine and Arabia, and had begun to prey upon the Moslem territories, when the Christians concluded the truce with Saladin.

Reginald, disinclined to abandon a system which he expected would prove profitable, paid no attention to the truce. While continuing his depredations, he happened to capture a caravan, with which was the mother of Saladin, on her way from Egypt to Damascus. The consequences were most unfortunate. Saladin, after complaining to Baldwin, and finding that the King could afford him no redress, seized fifteen hundred pilgrims on the Egyptian coast, and announced his intention of renewing hostilities.

At this eventful period, Baldwin was succeeded by the son of his sister Sybil. But the young King, who was a mere infant, soon died so suddenly that he was thought to have had foul play, and Guy dc Lusignan, Count of Joppa, and husband of Sybil, ascended tho throne, to which his wife was heiress. But the talents of the Count of Joppa, who was of the great family of Lusignan, in Poictou, were not considered of the highest order; and his elevation did not give general satisfaction. Even Geoffrey de Lusignan, the brother of Guy, whom the chroniclers describe as "a man of the most approved valor," heard of the proceeding with surprise. "What!" exclaimed Geoffrey, "Guy King of Jerusalem! Why, the men who think him worthy to be obeyed, did they but know me, would deem me worthy to be worshipped. They would make a god of me."

Nevertheless Guy assumed the functions of royalty, and determined to encounter the army of Saladin. Preparations were accordingly made; and, after some skirmishing, the King and the Sultan met in the neighborhood of Tiberias, which Saladin had carried by assault. The Saracens were infinitely superior in number; but the Christian warriors were animated by a degree of fiery valor, which rendered them formidable antagonists, and at the break of a July day, the battle commenced. The Christians, headed by their King, displayed great bravery; and, inspired by the sight of the true cross, which was borne by the Bishop of Acre, they performed prodigies of valor.

Night parted the combatants; but next day the struggle was renewed, and the Christians again fought with signal valor. Saladin, however, set fire to the grass that covered the plain, and the warriors of the cross, surrounded and scorched by the flames, fell into disorder. Nevertheless they fought furiously, and, with lance in rest, charged through clouds of smoke. But their onset proved vain; the true cross was taken; and the knights uttering cries of horror, rushed with desperation on the weapons of their foes. The battle became a rout. Raymond of Tripoli, who had done his duty valiantly, with the Prince of Antioch, and a small number of warriors, cut a way through the Saracens and galloped from the field. But for the others there was no escape. King Guy, Geoffrey de Lusignan, Reginald de Chatillon, the Grand Master of the Temple, and the most renowned knights in Palestine, were made prisoners, and conducted to the tent of the victor. Guy was treated with kindness, but Reginald de Chatillon was immediately stabbed; and the Templars and Hospitallers were next day publicly executed.

Saladin now proceeded on his victorious career. Acre, after a siege of two days, yielded to his summons; and Ceserea, Jaffa, and Arsuf, with many other cities, shared Acre's fate. Ascalon alone offered a brave resistance; and the inhabitants positively refused to yield, come what might, unless Saladin would consent to set Guy de Lusignan at liberty. The Sultan, not without admiration of their loyalty, consented to liberate the captive King ere the close of the year. But there was every probability, that, ere the year expired, Guy would be a king without a kingdom and without a capital; for as the autumn of 1187 advanced, Saladin, having taken Gaza, led his victorious army over the heights of Emmaus, and displayed his standards before the gates of Jerusalem.

Within the walls of Jerusalem, a hundred thousand human beings, most of them fugitives from the conquered provinces, were congregated. But the Holy City was almost without defenders. The inhabitants were in despair; and an eclipse of the sun, which suddenly produced utter darkness, appeared in their eyes a fearful presage. Nevertheless they prepared for defence; and under the command of Baleau d' Ibelin, an aged warrior, repaired their fortifications, and even ventured on a sortie. But, repulsed, they returned within the walls, carrying with them dismay and consternation.

One hope yet remained. The Sultan might not be indisposed to show clemency to those who were defenceless; and the discovery of a plot for surrendering, tended much to increase the desire to capitulate. Under these circumstances, Baleau d'lbelin, accompanied by the principal citizens, proceeded to the Sultan's tent, and proposed to surrender on certain conditions. Saladin, however, was inexorable. "How," said he, " can you ask me to grant conditions to a city which is already taken."

These words restored to the Christians the energy of enthusiasm. "If," said Baleau, " you can give us no hope of mercy, you will taste the fruits of our despair. Jerusalem contains five thousand Moslem captives who shall all perish. We will slay our wives and children to prevent them becoming your slaves; and when wo have reduced the Holy City to a heap of ruins, we will march out, armed with fire and sword, and no Christian will ascend to paradise without having consigned ten Moslems to hell."

The speech of the old warrior had its effect on the Sultan, and the citizens were requested to come back on the following day. Saladin then intimated his readiness to accept their terms, and agreed to a capitulation. All the warriors in Jerusalem were allowed to withdraw to Tripoli or Tyre. The inhabitants were granted their lives, and allowed to purchase their liberty. Those who could not, remained in slavery; and it appears that this was the fate of sixteen thousand.

When the day on which the Christians were to leave Jerusalem arrived, all the gates of the city, save that of St. David, were shut; and the Sultan, seated on a throne, saw them pass before him. The Patriarch, accompanied by the clergy, bearing the treasures of the church, headed the procession. Next appeared the Queen, attended by knights and warriors; and following her a multitude of men and women, carrying their children and supporting their aged relatives, and all uttering cries of distress. Saladin touched with the spectacle, addressed words of consolation to the Queen, and promised to soften the lot of such of her subjects as were left behind.

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From John G. Edgar
The Crusades and the Crusaders, 1860

   Saladin The Great
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