Siege of Jerusalem (1187)

Siege of Jerusalem

Saladin and Christians of Jerusalem
Date20 September to 2 October 1187

Decisive Ayyubid victory

Kingdom of Jerusalem Ayyubids
Commanders and leaders
Balian of Ibelin 
Heraclius of Jerusalem 

Unknown, 60 impromptu Ibelin knights, plus the city watch of men-at-arms, archers and people recruited into the city`s defence

  • likely strength around 4,000-6,000 men

Unknown, the army primarily made up of the surviving army from the Battle of Hattin and reinforcements gathered from Syria and Egypt.

  • likely strength around 20,000 men
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The Siege of Jerusalem was a siege on the city of Jerusalem that lasted from September 20 to October 2, 1187, when Balian of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin. Citizens wishing to leave paid a ransom.[1] The defeat of Jerusalem signaled the end of the first Kingdom of Jerusalem. Europe responded in 1189 by launching the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart, Philip Augustus, and Frederick Barbarossa separately.[2]


The Kingdom of Jerusalem, weakened by internal disputes, was defeated at the Battle of Hattin on 4 July 1187. Most of the nobility were taken prisoner, including King Guy. Thousands of Muslim slaves were freed.[3][4][5] By mid-September, Saladin had taken Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut, and Ascalon. The survivors of the battle and other refugees fled to Tyre, the only city able to hold out against Saladin, due to the fortuitous arrival of Conrad of Montferrat.

Situation in Jerusalem

In Tyre, Balian of Ibelin had asked Saladin for safe passage to Jerusalem in order to retrieve his wife Maria Comnena, Queen consort of Jerusalem and their family. Saladin granted his request, provided that Balian not take up arms against him and not remain in Jerusalem for more than one day; however, upon arrival in the holy city, Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem, Queen Sibylla, and the rest of the inhabitants begged him to take charge of the defense of the city. Heraclius, who argued that he must stay for the sake of Christianity, offered to absolve him of the oath, and Balian agreed.

He sent word of his decision to Saladin at Ascalon via a deputation of burgesses, who rejected the sultan's proposals for a negotiated surrender of Jerusalem; however, Saladin arranged for an escort to accompany Maria, their children, and all their household to Tripoli, Lebanon. As the highest ranking lord remaining in Jerusalem, according to the chronicler Ibn al-Athir, Balian was seen by the Muslims as holding a rank "more or less equal to that of a king."

Balian found the situation in Jerusalem dire. The city was filled with refugees fleeing Saladin's conquests, with more arriving daily. There were fewer than fourteen knights in the whole city, so he created sixty new knights from the ranks of the squires (knights in training) and burgesses. He prepared for the inevitable siege by storing food and money. The armies of Syria and Egypt assembled under Saladin, and after a brief and unsuccessful siege of Tyre, the sultan arrived outside Jerusalem on September 20.

The siege

Negotiations were carried out between Saladin and Balian, through the mediation of Yusuf Batit, one of the Eastern Orthodox clergy, who had been largely suppressed under Latin Christian rule and knew that they would have more freedoms if the city were returned to the Muslims. Saladin preferred to take the city without bloodshed and offered generous terms, but those inside refused to leave their holy city, vowing to destroy it in a fight to the death rather than see it handed over peacefully. Thus the siege began.

Saladin's army was facing the Tower of David and the Damascus Gate. His archers continually pelted the ramparts with arrows. Siege towers/belfries were rolled up to the walls, but were pushed back each time. For six days, skirmishes were fought with little result. Saladin's forces suffered heavy casualties after each assault, while the Crusaders lost only a few men. On September 26, Saladin moved his camp to a different part of the city, on the Mount of Olives where there was no major gate from which the crusaders could counter-attack. The walls were constantly pounded by the siege engines, catapults, mangonels, petraries, Greek fire, crossbows, and arrows. A portion of the wall was mined, and it collapsed on September 29. The crusaders were unable to push Saladin's troops back from the breach, but at the same time the Muslims could not gain entrance to the city. Soon there were only a few dozen knights and a handful of remaining men-at-arms capable of bearing arms and defending the wall; no more men could be found even for the promise of an enormous fee.

The civilians were in great despair. According to a passage possibly written by Ernoul, a squire of Balian, in the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, the clergy organized a barefoot procession around the walls, much as the clergy on the First Crusade had done outside the walls in 1099. At Mount Calvary, women cropped their children's hair, after immersing them chin-deep in basins of cold water. These penances were aimed at turning away God's wrath from the city, but "…Our Lord did not deign to hear the prayers or noise that was made in the city. For the stench of adultery, of disgusting extravagance and of sin against nature would not let their prayers rise to God."

At the end of September, Balian rode out with an envoy to meet with the sultan, offering the surrender that he initially refused. Saladin told Balian that he had sworn to take the city by force, and would only accept an unconditional surrender. Saladin told Balian that Saladin's banner had been raised on the city wall, but his army was driven back. Balian threatened that the defenders would destroy the city along with the holy places, slaughter their own families and the 5000 Muslim slaves, and burn all the wealth and treasures of the Crusaders. Saladin, who wanted to take the city with as little bloodshed as possible, insisted that the Crusaders were to unconditionally surrender but could leave by paying a ransom of ten dinars for men, five for women and two for children; those who couldn't pay would be enslaved. Balian told him that there were 20,000 in the city who could never pay that amount. Saladin proposed a total of 100,000 dinars to free all the 20,000 Crusaders who were unable to pay. Balian complained that the Christian authorities could never raise such a sum. He proposed that 7,000 of them would be freed for a sum of 30,000 dinars, and Saladin agreed.[6]


On Balian's orders the Crusaders surrendered the city to Saladin's army on October 2. The take-over of the city was relatively peaceful especially in contrast to the Crusader siege of the city in 1099. Balian paid 30,000 dinars for freeing 7000 of those unable to pay from the treasury of the city. The large golden Christian cross that had been placed over the Dome of the Rock by the Crusaders was pulled down and all Muslim prisoners of war taken by the Crusaders were released by Saladin who according to the Kurdish scholar and historian Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad, numbered close to 3000. Saladin allowed many of the noble women of the city to leave without paying any ransom. For example, a Byzantine queen living a monastic life in the city was allowed to leave the city with her retinue and associates as also Sibylla, the queen of Jerusalem and wife of the captured King Guy. Saladin also granted her safe passage to visit her captive husband in Nablus. The Native Christians were allowed to remain in the city while those of Crusader origin were allowed to leave Jerusalem for other lands along with their goods through a safe passage via Akko by paying a ransom of 10 dinars. The wealthy including the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius left with treasure-laden wagons and relics from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Crusaders took the ornaments and treasures of their churches with them. The wealthy and the Crusaders didn't bother to ransom the poor who were unable to pay leaving them to be ransomed into slavery. Saladin's brother, Al-Adil was moved by the sight and asked Saladin for 1000 of them as reward of his services. Saladin granted his wish and Al-Adil immediately released them all. Heraclius upon seeing asked Saladin for some slaves to liberate. He was granted 700 while Balian was granted 500 and all of them were freed by them. All the aged people who could not pay the ransom were freed by orders of Saladin and allowed to leave the city. He then proceeded to free 1000 more captives upon request of Muzaffar al-Din Ibn Ali Kuchuk who claimed they were from his hometown of Urfa. In order to control the departing population he ordered the gates of the city to be closed. At each gate of the city a commander was placed who checked the movement of the Crusaders and made sure only those who paid the ransom left the city. The grand masters of the Templars and Hospitallers were approached to donate money for the release of the poor Crusaders. However they refused and a riot almost erupted after which they were forced to donate the money. Saladin then assigned some of his officers the job to ensure safe arrival of the Crusaders in Christian lands. 15000 of those who could not pay the ransom were ransomed into slavery. According to Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani, 7000 of them were men and 8000 were women and children. Amazed by the amount of treasure carried away by the Crusaders, he reported to Saladin that the value of the whole treasure could not be less than 200,000 dinars.[7][8][9]

On Saladin's orders, the ransomed inhabitants marched away in three columns accompanied by 50 cavalrymen of Saladin's army. The Templars and Hospitallers led the first two, with Balian and the Patriarch leading the third. Balian joined his wife and family in County of Tripoli. The refugees first reached Tyre where only men who could fight were allowed to enter the city by Conrad of Montferrat. The remaining refugees went to the County of Tripoli, which was under Crusader control. They were denied entrance and robbed of their possessions by raiding parties from within the city. Most of the less affluent refugees went to Armenian and Antiochian territories and were later successful in gaining an entrance into Antioch. The remaining refugees fled from Ascalon to Alexandria where they were housed in makeshift stockades and received hospitable treatment from the city officials and elders. They then boarded Italian ships which arrived from Pisa, Genoa and Venice in March 1188. The captains of the ships at first refused to take the refugees since they were not being paid for them and didn't have supplies for them. The governor of Alexandria who had earlier taken the oars of the ships for payment of taxes refused to grant sailing permits to the captains until they agreed. The latter then agreed to take the refugees along with them and were made to swear decent treatment and safe arrival of the refugees before they left.[10][11]

After surrendering of the city, the Church of the Holy Sephulcre was ordered to be closed for 3 days by Saladin for figuring out what would be done with it. Some of his advisers told him to destroy the Church in order to end all Christian interest in Jerusalem. Most of his advisers however told him to let the Church remain there saying that Christian pilgrimages would continue anyway because of the sanctity of the place and also reminded him of the Caliph Umar who allowed the Church to remain in Christian hands after conquering the city. Saladin rejected the destruction of the church saying that he had no intention to discourage the Christian pilgrimages to the site and it was reopened after three days on his orders. The Frankish pilgrims were allowed to enter the church upon paying a fee. To solidify Muslim claims to Jerusalem, many holy sites, including the shrine later known as Al-Aqsa Mosque, were ritually purified with rose water. Christian furnishing were removed from the mosque and it was fitted with oriental carpets. Its walls were illuminated with text from Quran and candelabras. The Orthodox Christians and Jacobites were allowed to remain and to worship as they chose. The Copts who were barred from entering Jerusalem by the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem as they were considered heretics and atheists, were allowed to enter the city without paying any fees by Saladin as he considered them his subjects. The Coptic places of worship that were earlier taken over by the Crusaders were returned to the Coptic priests. The Copts were also allowed to visit The Church of the Holy Sephulcre and other Christian sites. The Abyssinian Christians were allowed to visit the holy places of Jerusalem without paying any fees.[8][9][10]

The Byzantine emperor, Isaac Angelus sent a message to Saladin congratulating him on taking the city, requesting him to convert all the churches in the city back to the Orthodox church and all Christian ceremonies to be performed according to the Greek Orthodox liturgy. His request was granted however the rights of other sects were preserved. The local Christians were allowed to pray freely in their churches and the control of Christian affairs was handed over to the Byzantine patriarchate.[8][9]

Saladin went on to capture a number of other castles that were still holding out against him, including Belvoir, Kerak, and Montreal, and returned to Tyre to besiege it for a second time.

Meanwhile, news of the disastrous defeat at Hattin was brought to Europe by Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre, as well as other pilgrims and travelers, while Saladin was conquering the rest of the kingdom throughout the summer of 1187. Plans were immediately made for a new crusade; on October 29, Pope Gregory VIII issued the bull Audita tremendi, even before hearing of the fall of Jerusalem. In England and France, the Saladin tithe was enacted in order to finance expenses. The Third Crusade did not get underway until 1189, in three separate contingents led by Richard the Lionheart, King of England, Philip Augustus, King of France, and Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor of Rome.


  1. "Crusades" 2011
  2. "Kingdom of Jerusalem" 2009
  3. Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem By Geoffrey Regan Page 135
  4. God's War: A New History of the Crusades By Christopher Tyerman Page 230
  5. Knights of Jerusalem: The Crusading Order of Hospitallers 1100-1565 By David Nicolle Page 73
  7. Robert Ullian (2010). Frommer's Israel. John Wiley & Sons. p. 103. ISBN 9780470934388.
  8. 1 2 3 Maher Abu-Munshar (2007). Islamic Jerusalem and its Christianity: A History of Tolerance and Tensions. I.B. Tauris. pp. 152–158. ISBN 9780857713827.
  9. 1 2 3 Steven Runciman (1987). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press. pp. 465–468. ISBN 9780521347716.
  10. 1 2 Robert Lawrence Nicholson (1973). Joscelyn III and the Fall of the Crusader States: 1134-1199. Brill Publishers. pp. 174–175. ISBN 9789004036765.
  11. W.B. Bartlett (2011). Downfall of the Crusader Kingdom. The History Press. p. 196. ISBN 9780752468075.


Coordinates: 31°47′00″N 35°13′00″E / 31.7833°N 35.2167°E / 31.7833; 35.2167

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/31/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.