Third Crusade

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The Third Crusade (1189 - 1192) was an attempt by European leaders to reconquer the Holy Land from Saladin.



After the failure of the Second Crusade, Nur ad-Din had control of Damascus and a unified Syria.

Muslim unification

Eager to expand his power, Nur ad-Din set his sights on the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt. In 1163, Nur ad-Din's most trusted general, Shirkuh set out on a military expedition to the Nile. Accompanying the general was his young nephew, Saladin.

With Shirkuh's troops camped outside of Cairo, Egypt's sultan, Shawar called on King Amalric I of Jerusalem for assistance. In response, Amalric sent an army into Egypt and attacked Shirkuh's troops at Bilbeis in 1164.

In an attempt to divert Crusader attention from Egypt, Nur ad-Din attacked Antioch, resulting in a massacre of Christian soldiers and the capture of several Crusader leaders, including Raynald of Chtillon, Prince of Antioch. Nur ad-Din sent the scalps of the Christian defenders to Egypt for Shirkuh to proudly display at Bilbeis for Amalric's soldiers to see. This action prompted both Amalric and Shirkuh to lead their armies out of Egypt.

In 1167, Nur ad-Din once again sent Shirkuh to conquer the Fatimids in Egypt. Shawar also opted to once again call upon Amalric for the defense of his territory. The combined Egyptian-Christian forces pursued Shirkuh until he retreated to Alexandria.

Amalric then breached his alliance with Shawar by turning his forces on Egypt and besieging the city of Bilbeis. Shawar pleaded with his former enemy, Nur ad-Din to save him from Amalric's treachery. Lacking the resources to maintain a prolonged siege of Cairo against the combined forces of Nur ad-Din and Shawar, Amalric retreated. This new alliance gave Nur ad-Din rule over virtually the entire Muslim world, from Syria to Egypt.

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Saladin, from a 12th-century Arab codex

Saladin's conquests

Shawar was executed for his treacherous alliances with the Christian forces, and Shirkuh succeeded him as vizier of Egypt. In 1169, Shirkuh died unexpectedly after only weeks of rule. Shirkuh's successor was his nephew, Saladin. Nur ad-Din died in 1174, leaving the new empire to his 11-year old son, As-Salih. It was decided that the only man competent enough to uphold the jihad against the Crusaders was Saladin, who became sultan of both Egypt and Syria, and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

Amalric also died in 1174, leaving Jerusalem to his 13-year old son, Baldwin IV, who forged an agreement with Saladin to allow free trade between Muslim and Christian territories.

In 1176, Raynald of Chtillon was released from prison, and began raiding caravans throughout the region. He expanded his piracy to the Dead Sea by sending galleys not only to raid ships, but to assault the city of Mecca itself. These acts enraged the Muslim world, giving Raynald a reputation as the most hated man in the Middle East.

Baldwin IV died in 1185 and the kingdom was left to the five-year old Baldwin V, with Raymond III of Tripoli serving as regent. The following year, Baldwin V died suddenly, and Princess Sybilla - sister of Baldwin IV and mother of Baldwin V - crowned herself queen and her husband, Guy of Lusignan, king.

It was at this time that Raynald, once again, raided a rich caravan and had its travellers thrown in his prison. Saladin demanded that the prisoners and their cargo be released. The newly crowned King Guy appealed to Raynald to give in to Saladin's demands, but Raynald refused to follow the king's orders.

Fall of the Latin Kingdom

Full article: Battle of Hattin

It was this final act of outrage by Raynald that prompted Saladin to attack the city of Tiberias in 1187. Raymond advised patience, but King Guy, acting on advice from Raynald, marched his army to the Horns of Hattin outside of Tiberias.

The Crusader army, thirsty and demoralized, was slaughtered in the ensuing battle. King Guy and Raynald were brought to Saladin's tent, where Guy was offered a goblet of water. Guy took a drink and passed the goblet to Raynald, unknowingly violating the Muslim rule of hospitality stating that one who receives food or drink is under the protection of the host. Saladin seized the moment and beheaded Raynald.

By the end of the year, Saladin had taken Acre and Jerusalem. Pope Urban III is said to have collapsed and later died upon hearing the news.


The new pope, Gregory VIII proclaimed that the capture of Jerusalem was punishment for the sins of Christians across Europe. The cry went up for a new crusade to the Holy Land. Henry II of England and Philip II of France ended their war with each other, and both imposed a "Saladin tithe" on their citizens to finance the venture.

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"Death of Frederick of Germany" by Gustav Dore

Barbarossa's crusade

The elderly Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa responded to the call immediately. He took up the Cross at Mainz Cathedral on March 27, 1188 and was the first to set out for the Holy Land in May of 1189. Frederick had raised an army so massive that it could not be transported across the Mediterranean Sea, but instead had to cross Asia Minor on foot.

The Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus made a secret alliance with Saladin to impede Frederick's progress in exchange for his empire's safety. On May 18, 1190, the German army defeated the Turks at Konya. Upon reaching the Saleph River, Frederick decided to take a swim, but ended up drowning. His son, Frederick VI lead the army to Antioch where his flesh was interred in the Church of St. Peter. In Antioch, most of what remained of the German army was killed off by a bout of Black Plague.

Richard's departure

Henry II died on July 6, 1189 following a defeat by his son Richard I and Philip II of France. Richard inherited the crown and immediately began raising funds for the crusade. In July of 1190, Richard set out from Marseilles, France for the island of Sicily.

William II of Sicily had died the previous year, and was replaced by Tancred, who placed Joan - William's wife and Richard's sister - in prison. Richard captured the capital city of Messina on October 4, 1190 and Joan was released.

Shortly after setting sail from Sicily, Richard's armada was struck by a violent storm. Several ships are lost, including one holding Joan, his new fiance Berengaria, and a large amount of treasure that had been amassed for the crusade. It was soon discovered that Emperor Isaac Dukas Comnenus of Cyprus had seized the treasure. Richard entered Limassol on May 6, 1191 and met with Isaac, who agreed to return Richard's belongings and send 500 of his soldiers to the Holy Land. Once back at his fortress of Famagusta, Isaac broke his oath of hospitality and began issuing orders for Richard to leave the island. Isaac's arrogance prompted Richard to conquer the island within days.

Battle of Acre

Full article: Battle of Acre

King Guy was released from prison by Saladin in 1189. He attempted to take command of the Christian forces at Tyre, but Conrad of Montferrat holds power there after his successful defense of the city from Muslim attacks. Guy turned his attention to the wealthy port of Acre. He amassed an army to besiege the city and received aid from Philip's newly-arrived French army, however it was still not enough to counter Saladin's force.

Richard arrived at Acre on June 8, 1191 and immediately began supervising the construction of siege weapons to assault the city. The city was captured on July 12.

Richard, Philip, and Leopold V (commanding the remnants of Barbarossa's army) began squabbling over the spoils of their victory. Leopold felt that he deserved equal recognition for his efforts in the battle, but Richard cast down the German standard from the city. Meanwhile, Richard and Philip argued over the rightful heir to the throne of Jerusalem. Richard held that the king was Guy, while Philip argued that Conrad deserved the crown. It was decided that Guy would continue to rule, but that Conrad would receive the crown upon his death.

Frustrated with Richard, Philip and Leopold took their armies and left the Holy Land in August.

When it became apparent that Saladin was not willing to pay the terms of the treaty at Acre, Richard had more than 3,000 Muslim prisoners executed on August 20 outside of Acre in full view of Saladin's camp.

Battle of Arsuf

Full article: Battle of Arsuf

After the capture of Acre, Richard decided to march to the city of Jaffa, where he could launch an attack on Jerusalem. On September 7, 1191, at Arsuf, 30 miles north of Jaffa, Saladin attacked Richard's army.

Saladin attempted to lure Richard's forces out to be easily picked off, but Richard maintained his formation until the Hospitallers rushed in to take Saladin's right flank, while the Templars took the left. Richard won the battle and crushed the myth of Saladin's invincibility.

Crusade's end

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Richard overlooking Jerusalem, from Punch magazine, 1917.

Following his victory, Richard took Jaffa and established his new headquarters there. He offered to begin negotiations with Saladin, who sent his brother, Saphadin to meet with Richard. Negotiations failed, and Richard marched to Ascalon.

Richard called on Conrad refused, citing Richard's alliance with King Guy. Conrad was later assassinated in the streets of Tyre, reportedly on instructions from Richard. King Guy was given rule of Cyprus, and Henry II of Champagne became king of Jerusalem.

In July of 1192, Saladin suddenly attacked and captured Jaffa, but the city was re-captured by Richard and a much smaller force on July 31. A final battle was fought on August 5 in which Richard once again emerged triumphant.

On September 2, 1192, Richard and Saladin finalized a treaty by which Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control, but which also allowed unarmed Christian pilgrims to visit the city. Richard departed the Holy Land on October 9.


Richard was captured by Duke Leopold, whose pride had been wounded when Richard tore his standard from the walls of Acre. It took a ransom of 150,000 marks for Richard to be released. Richard returned to England in 1194 and died of an arrow wound in 1199 at the age of 42.

Shortly after Richard's departure, Saladin died, leaving behind only one piece of gold and 47 pieces of silver; he had given the rest away to his poor subjects.

The failure of the Third Crusade would lead to the call for a Fourth Crusade six years later.

Accounts of events surrounding the Third Crusade were written by Ambrose the poet and Giraldus Cambrensis.


  • Reston, James Jr. Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade. Anchor, 2001.
  • Williams, Paul L. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Crusades. Alpha, 2002.

External Links

de:Dritter Kreuzzug fr:Troisime croisade he:מסע הצלב השלישי nl:Derde kruistocht ja:第3回十字軍 pl:III wyprawa krzyżowa zh:第三次十字军东征


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