As dawn broke on September 30, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, residents and refugees alike, were facing almost certain slaughter. The city had been under assault for eight days, and on the night before the forces of Saladin had successfully undermined a stretch of the northeast wall roughly 30 meters long bringing it crashing down. Jerusalem was no longer defensible. Because the citizens had rejected an earlier offer of honorable terms, the Sultan had vowed to slaughter or enslave every man, woman and child in Jerusalem. But the expected slaughter did not take place. Was this evidence of the benevolence of Saladin? Yes and no. Saladin did allow himself to be persuaded not to carry out the promised slaughter, but this change of heart had more to do with the wiles of a Frankish baron than the benevolence of the Sultan. Below is the story of Jerusalem's surrender in 1187.
At a strategic level, the surrender of Jerusalem was the inevitable consequence of the devastating defeat of the feudal forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin three months earlier. That battle had left Jerusalem defenseless; all fighting men including the knights of the Temple and the Hospital had been called up to halt the invasion that ended in disaster at Hattin. As a result, the city itself was denuded of troops. Left behind in Jerusalem were non-combatants: women, children, the old and infirm, and the clergy. Furthermore, by the time Jerusalem surrendered, these civilian residents of Jerusalem had been joined by as many as sixty to eighty thousand refugees from other parts of the Kingdom overrun by Saladin’s troops. An estimated 100,000 Christians were in Jerusalem when it surrendered, predominantly women, children and clergy.
|The "Dome of the Rock" erected over the rock on which Mohamed allegedly ascended into Heaven; it was this monument sacred to Islam that Saladin did not want to risk damaging in a siege and assault.|
Imad ad-Din’s report is (as always) even more melodramatic. According to him, “They challenged [us] to combat and barred the pass, they came down into the lists like enemies, they slaughtered and drew blood, they blazed with fury and defended the city, they fumed and burned with wrath, they drove us back…. They fought grimly and struggled with all their energy, descending to the fray with absolute resolution… they blazed and set fire to things…they made themselves a target for arrows and called on death to stand by them.”
Turning to Christian sources, the source considered by scholars the most authentic claims that: “The Christians sallied forth and fought with the Saracens…. On two or three occasions the Christians pushed the Saracens back to their tents.” Women, children and clergy did that? For eight days?
His presence in Jerusalem, however, was solitary — the result of a safe-conduct granted him by Saladin so that he could remove his wife and children to safety. The terms of the safe-conduct were that he go to Jerusalem unarmed and remain only one night. On arrival, however, the citizens of Jerusalem and particularly the Patriarch begged him to remain and take command of the defense. This he did.
|The Seal of Balian d'Ibelin's son John|
|Although hard to see in this medieval depiction, the siege engine that fired the fatal shot against Simon de Montfort was allegedly manned by women.|
Fortunately for the Christians in the city, the Sultan’s banners were tossed down again; Ibelin could retort that Saladin did not yet possess the city. Ibelin then played his only trump. He told Saladin that if the defenders knew they would be granted no mercy, then they would fight all the harder. Not just that, he said, they would slaughter their own families, the Muslim prisoners/slaves inside Jerusalem, and then they would destroy the holy places — including the Rock sacred to Islam — before sallying forth to kill as many of the enemy as possible before dying a martyr's death.
|Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Today; the Dome of the Rock is visible between the trees.|
|The Medieval Working-Class would have had difficulty paying the ransom set by Saladin.|