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Friday, September 30, 2016

Surrender of the Holy City - September 30, 1187

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.

What is remarkable about the surrender of Jerusalem in 1187 was not that it surrendered under the circumstances, but that it did not surrender without a fight. Saladin had offered the inhabitants very generous terms. He said he did not want to risk damage to the holy sites in Jerusalem (as was nearly inevitable in an assault) and therefore offered to let the inhabitants leave peacefully with all their portable goods if they would surrender peacefully. But the anonymous “burgesses,” who represented the city of Jerusalem in the absence of any noblemen, refused. According to the Old French continuation of the Chronicle of William Tyre (widely believed to be based on first-hand accounts) the “burgesses” replied “if it pleased God they would never surrender the city.” Saladin the offered to leave the city alone for roughly six months if they promised to surrender the city at the end of that time, if no reinforcements had arrived. They still refused, saying again “if it pleased God they would never surrender that city where God had shed His blood for them.”[1] This was a clear commitment to martyrdom rather than surrender — perhaps not such a surprising sentiment from a city that at this time must have been dominated by clergy as they would have been the only men of “authority” (read noble birth and education) left in the city.

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.
But Saladin did not enter Jerusalem over the corpses of “martyrs” and their families. He entered it peacefully after a negotiated settlement that ended a week of ferocious fighting.  Ibn al-Athir writes: “Then began the fiercest struggle imaginable; each side looked on the fight as absolute religious obligation. There was no need for a superior authority to drive them on... Every morning the Frankish cavalry made sorties to fight and provoke the enemy to battle; several of both sides fell in these encounters.”[2] 

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.”[3] 

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.”[4] Women, children and clergy did that? For eight days?

Clearly this was not merely a fanatical but a well-organized defense, and the key to that is one man: Balian d’Ibelin. Balian, Baron of Ibelin, had been one of only four barons to escape the catastrophe at Hattin. At Hattin he had commanded the third largest contingent of troops after the King and the Count of Tripoli, and he, along with the Templars, had been charged with the thankless and gruesome task of commanding the rear-guard in a situation where it was under near continuous attack while on the march. The Templars suffered enormous losses during this march and we must assume that Ibelin did too. Certainly, when he broke out of the trap at Hattin it was with at most 3,000 infantry and a couple hundred knights.  These troops, however, he had led to Tyre. 

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 inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Patriarch clearly recognized Ibelin’s value. He wasn’t just any baron, he was a man who had played a prominent role in the defeat of Saladin at Montgisard, and had fought at every major battle against Saladin since. Still, he was just one man. He brought not a single additional fighting man to the defense of Jerusalem, and -- on taking stock of what men he had in Jerusalem -- he discovered there was only one other knight in the entire city. This induced him to knight over eighty youths of “good birth,” which was undoubtedly a morale-booster to the individuals honored, but hardly a significant increase in the fighting strength of the defenders!

The Seal of Balian d'Ibelin's son John
So how did Ibelin put up such a ferocious and effective defense with women, children and clergy for 8 days?  We don’t know exactly, however, it is clear Ibelin must have had an exceptional organizational talent and also been a charismatic and inspirational leader. He would have had to organize civilians into improvised units, and then assign these units discrete tasks — whether it was defending a sector of the wall, putting out fires, or ensuring that the men and women doing the fighting were supplied with water, food and ammunition. Most astonishing, his improvised units not only repulsed assaults, they also sortied out several times, destroying some of Saladin’s siege engines, and “two or three times” chasing the Saracens all the way back to the palisades of their camp.

Ibelin must have relied heavily upon women in his defense of Jerusalem. The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre quotes the Patriarch of Jerusalem saying: “For every man that is in this city, there are fifty women and children.” [5] Furthermore, we know from sieges only a few decades later in the Languedoc (notably the siege of Toulouse in which Simon de Montfort was killed) that women could be very active in manning the walls. Unlike Victorian women, medieval women were not known for being delicate and prone to swooning. They were partners in crafts and trades, often had their own businesses, and when it came to this siege they understood perfectly what was at stake: their freedom.

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.
Notably, the Arab sources never acknowledge this simple fact. First of all, their own women were not in a position to contribute to the defense, so women manning siege engines, pouring boiling oil over the ramparts, or even exposing themselves to danger to bring men (strange men not their husbands, brothers or sons) water, food and ammunition was utterly inconceivable to them.  Secondly, it was considered dishonorable to be killed by a woman under any circumstances, so no one wanted to even contemplate this possibility; it would have disgraced the fallen. Instead, the Arab sources explained the surprisingly spirited and tenacious defense of Jerusalem to phantom survivors of Hattin. Imad ad-Din conjures up no less than “70,000 Frankish troops, both swordsmen and archers”[6] — a fantastic figure more than double the total Frankish army deployed (and destroyed) at Hattin!

After five days of futile assaults on the northwest corner of the city from the Gate of St. Stephen to David's Gates, Saladin had nothing but casualties to show for his efforts. He therefore redeployed opposite the northeast corner of the city. More important, he deployed sappers to undermine the walls.  The sappers were protected by heavy wooden roofs and platforms as well as covering fire. Within three days they managed to dig tunnels under the city walls, and on September 29 a segment of the northern wall roughly 30 meters long collapsed. Although the Christians managed to beat-back the initial assaults sent through the breach, by nightfall it was clear that the city was now no longer defensible.

That night, Ibelin led a last desperate sortie out of the Jehosaphat Gate, probably directed at Saladin’s own tent, which had been set up on the Mount of Olives. The sortie was easily repulsed. Ibelin had lost the battle and he knew it.

The next day, under a flag of truce Ibelin sought a parlay with Saladin. The Sultan met him outside the walls of the city, but flatly refused to negotiate. He reiterated his intention to take the city by storm. Indeed, while Ibelin and Saladin were speaking, the Sultan’s banners were planted on the northeast corner of the city, and Saladin pointed out that no one negotiated for a city he already possessed. 

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.
Saladin, who had already made his desire to preserve the holy places known, capitulated in face of this blackmail. After consulting with this emirs, he agreed to spare the lives of the Christians in Jerusalem, but only on the condition that they bought their freedom. After much haggling, it was agreed that each man would have to pay ten dinar, each woman five and each child two. Those that could not pay this ransom would become the property of the Sultan, slaves.

Ibelin protested that the city was full of refugees who had already lost everything. According to the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre he argued “In a city such as this there are only a few people apart from the burgesses who could manage [the ransom], and for every man who can pay the ransom there are a hundred who could not redeem themselves even for two bezants. For the city is full of ordinary people who have come from the surrounding area for protection.”[7] After considerable haggling, the Sultan agreed to a lump-sum payment of 30,000 bezants for (varying by source) between 7, 000 and 18,000 Christian paupers.

The Medieval Working-Class would have had difficulty paying the ransom set by Saladin. 
These 30,000 bezants were paid by the Hospital with the money deposited by King Henry II of England, but even so when the 40 days granted the Christians to raise their ransoms were up, some 15,000 Christians were unable to pay and condemned to slavery. Ibelin, appalled, offered to stand surety for them while the ransom was raised, but Saladin refused, although he did “give” 1,000 slaves to his brother and 500 each to Balian and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, so that 2,000 souls were freed at the last minute.

Allegedly, some Orthodox Christians also opted to pay the extra taxes imposed on Christians in Muslim states in order to remain in Jerusalem, but there is no indication that Orthodox Christians undermined the defense of Jerusalem itself. On the contrary, they appear to have contributed substantially to the defense of Jerusalem as long as the fighting was going on. Only after the city became indefensible as a result of the breach in the wall, did they seek a compromise with their assailants — a perfectly comprehensible reaction that does not imply fundamental hostility to the Latin rulers of Jerusalem.

On November 18, 1187, forty days after the surrender of Jerusalem, the Christians departed Jerusalem, leaving the city in Muslim hands. The news of the fall of Jerusalem allegedly killed Pope Urban III and so shocked the Christian kingdoms in the West that it set in motion the Third Crusade.

The siege and surrender of Jerusalem in 1187 is described in:

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[1] The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 55.

[2] Ibn al-Athir, translated and quoted in Arab Historians of the Crusades by Francesco Gabrieli, p. 140-141.

[3] Imad ad Din, translated quoted and translated in Arab Historians of the Crusades by Francesco Gabrieli, p. 154.

[4] Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 56.

[5] Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 58.

[6] Imad ad Din, translated quoted and translated in Arab Historians of the Crusades by Francesco Gabrieli, p. 154.

[7] Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 60.

1 comment:

  1. If only Balian had been King. What a difference to modern history.


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