Battle of Hattin (July 4, 1187)

When battle of hattinOn July 4, 1187, Saladin defeated the army of the king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, and his turbulent ally Renaud de Châtillon at the place called the Horns of Hattin, near Lake Tiberias. This is the last step in Saladin’s recapture of Jerusalem since he succeeded in uniting Muslims under the banner of jihad. With the Crusader army exterminated in Hattin, the Holy City fell like ripe fruit on October 2, 1187.

The context of the battle (1185-1186)

Since the death of King Baudouin IV of Jerusalem, says the leper, in 1185 the Latin kingdom is in full decline. The maneuvers behind the scenes of Guy de Lusignan and his wife Sibylle allow the former to ascend the throne of Jerusalem, following the early death of young Baudouin V. With the help of Renaud de Châtillon, and against the advice of the regent Raymond, count of Tripoli, the new protector of the Holy Sepulcher decides to resume hostilities with Saladin, who had signed a two-year truce with the leper king and the regent. Faithful to his habits which earned him the name of the Elephant, Baron Renaud de Châtillon violated the truce by attacking a caravan that left Cairo at the end of 1186. It was too much for Saladin, who decided to march on the Latin kingdom.

For his part, the Ayyubid indeed has free rein. He succeeded in uniting the Muslims, after several years of struggle against the descendants of Nûr al-Dîn, and now controls both Aleppo and Damascus and Cairo, where he has deposed the Fatimids for more than ten years already. Saladin built his legitimacy on jihad-driven propaganda for the reconquest of Jerusalem. For years, he tried in vain to break through the defenses of the Latin kingdom, defended by Baudouin IV and military orders, such as the Templars. Embarrassed by the divisions within his camp and by Frankish skill, he was able to be patient. The death of the leper king, whom he respected, and the provocations of Renaud de Châtillon are therefore timely.

Saladin against the Templars

In March 1187, Saladin left Damascus with an army of between fifteen and twenty thousand men. He ravages the neighboring lands, and draws the crossed troops towards him. These are lessened by years of raids by the sultan throughout the kingdom, and by the divisions that have bled it. However, we can always count on the Templars, led by Gérard de Ridefort… The latter attacks a Muslim vanguard of seven thousand cavalry with barely two hundred knights! The battle of Cresson (1er May 1187) is obviously a massacre, and only the Master and three other Templars escape ...

One character is in a very unfortunate position: Raymond of Tripoli. The count is torn between his agreements signed with Saladin, and the allegiance he owes as Frankish prince to the king of Jerusalem. As he tried to delay the deadline, the Count of Tripoli must definitely switch to the Latin side, following the Battle of Cresson, which took place on his land. However, he does not intend to let Guy de Lusignan, Renaud de Châtillon and Gérard de Ridefort do anything ...

The forces involved

In the first days of July 1187, both sides were ready for the decisive battle. It remains to be seen where it will take place and especially who will take the initiative. On the Frankish side, the Military Orders provide around six hundred knights, but those killed at Cresson will be lacking. The remainder of Jerusalem’s army numbers just over fifteen thousand men. The best of the nobility and Frankish knights are present: King Guy de Lusignan, the Count of Tripoli, Renaud de Châtillon, the Master of the Templars Gérard de Ridefort, or even Guillaume de Montferrat. Saladin, on the other hand, clearly has the advantage. It can line up more than twenty thousand men, half of which are cavaliers, including the famous mounted archers, the nightmare of heavy Frankish cavaliers. To this numerical advantage, the Sultan soon adds initiative and control of the field.

The course of the Battle of Hattin (July 4, 1187)

Saladin decides to lure the Latins into a trap by attacking Tiberias on July 2. The city is under siege, and with it the wife of the Count of Tripoli. However, the latter seems to have tried to dissuade King Guy de Lusignan from counter-attacking to free the city and his wife. He knows Saladin and the danger, and we don't know if he was sure that his wife was in the besieged city anyway.

However, on the evening of July 2, the Crusader army did not set out for Tiberias. That’s when Gérard de Ridefort comes into the picture again. The Master of the Templars, moved by a real hatred of Islam, would have persuaded Guy de Lusignan to break camp, and to set out with all his army to definitively crush the Saladin threat.

The next day therefore, to the great surprise (and for some fear) of the knights and soldiers of Jerusalem, the order was given to leave, direction Tiberias. The weather conditions are hellish, and the Crusader army is already far from its supply sources. Going forward therefore carries great risks. This does not change their minds Guy and Gérard de Ridefort, despite the final attempts by Raymond of Tripoli who must, as a good vassal, join the army.

For his part, Saladin has obviously not lost sight of the Frankish army, and he soon sends his light cavalry to harass it. The Latins however hope to reach the city, and thus the lake, to refuel. But, for this, they must cross a rocky plateau, located between two hills, the famous Cornes de Hattin, a basalt peak. The scorching heat and arrows of Muslim archers transform the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem into a disorganized and exhausted mass, which soon finds itself facing Saladin's twenty thousand men, them well supplied and in great shape.

It is then the quarry, at the exit of the Horns of Hattin. Saladin sets fire to the brushwood, and the Crusaders are thus blinded and suffocated by the smoke and the furnace. They receive volleys of several thousand arrows and are unable to react. Only a part of them, including Raymond of Tripoli, managed to flee towards Tire. The rest are found in the evening dead on the burning plateau, or trapped in the fortress of Tiberias ... The battle of Hattin is over.

Assessment and consequences

The next day, the king of Jerusalem and his retinue go to Saladin. The latter kills Renaud de Châtillon with his own hand, to punish him for his (many) crimes against Islam. The sultan also had all the Templars still alive executed, while Gérard de Ridefort seemed to have been killed during the battle. Likewise, the Turcoples, judged to be traitors to Islam, are beheaded. Guy de Lusignan meanwhile, saved by his rank, is taken prisoner, just like the other Frankish barons, from whom Saladin can hope for a ransom. The others are reduced to slavery.

Most of the Frankish army was wiped out on July 4, 1187, in Hattin. Only a few garrisons remain in the fortresses and the main cities. This was not enough to stop Saladin who, over the following weeks, took the Latin places one by one. Soon only Tire and Jerusalem remained. The latter, the goal of Saladin's jihad, finally fell on October 2, 1187, without real resistance, defended by a handful of knights, including Balian d´Ibelin. Saladin can celebrate his triumph: he fulfilled his duty as a Muslim ruler, and above all established his personal power over the umma, even overshadowing the Caliph of Baghdad ...


- J. Phillips, A Modern History of the Crusades, Flammarion, 2010.

- A-M. Eddé, Saladin, Flammarion, 2008.

- J. Prawer, History of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, CNRS editions, 2007 (reed).

- " The Crusades. The East facing the West ", in Les Cahiers de Science & Vie, 123, June-July 2011.

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