Battle of Hattin

Orfeas Katsoulis | Oct 25, 2023

Table of Content


The conquest of Jerusalem after the First Crusade in 1099 was a major blow to the Muslim world. Jerusalem was Islam's third holiest city and in the following century its recapture became the main goal of Jihad, the holy war. But after 1100, Christian settlers and pilgrims invaded the conquered territories (Syria and the Levant) and, with the support of the major Western European states, it seemed that these Christian settlements would become permanent. The Muslims refused to accept reality, but needed a leader to unite them and drive out the 'infidels'.

In 1187, the Muslims had found such a leader in the person of Sultan Saladin, ruler of Egypt and Syria, who called on everyone to join the Jihad to recapture Jerusalem. His victory at the Battle of Hattin virtually destroyed the Christian states of the Middle East and ensured the continuity of Islamic rule over the region for the next 700 years.

In order to subdue a majority Muslim population and resist threats from surrounding Muslim states, the Crusaders built powerful castles throughout the Kingdom of Jerusalem, allowing a few knights to dominate provincial areas. In the event of a siege, defenders of a castle could call for help using torchlight. In this way, large armies of crusaders could be assembled where needed. The Saracens knew they could not defeat the Crusaders if they stayed in their castles or in fortified towns like Acre, Kerak or Tyre. To destroy them, they had to draw them into a general battle. Then, once the garrisons had been liquidated, they could easily take the castles.

In 1187, Saladin invades the Kingdom of Jerusalem, hoping to exploit dissension among Christians. The Christian King Guy of Lusignan was a weakling who had acquired the throne by trickery and whose power was regarded with distaste by local nobles such as Raymond of Tripoli and Balian of Ibelin. Guy was influenced by men like the ruthless Reginald of Kerak, whom Saladin had sworn to kill by his own hand, and Gérard de Ridefort, master of the Knights Templar, both capable warriors but ruthless commanders. Saladin was to lure Guy out into the open, away from the castle defences.

The Sultan decides to besiege the city of Tiberias, knowing that it was virtually undefended because Guy had reduced the garrisons of castles across the country to gather the royal army at Saffuriya. Tiberias was owned by Raymond of Tripoli, who was in the ranks of the royal army, while his wife, Countess Eschiva, was in the town defended by a small garrison. If Eschiva had asked for the king's help, Guy would have had no choice but to comply. When the messenger left Tiberias with the request for help for Saffuriya, Saladin let him pass. Meanwhile, the Saracens had occupied the high ground on either side of the barren plateau that separated Saffuriya from Tiberias, waiting until the Crusaders were about to fall in.

At Saffuriya, Guy convenes a war council, seeking advice from experienced commanders. Raymond of Tripoli speaks first and, surprisingly, pleads adamantly against a rescue attempt. Like everyone present, he knew that Saladin had set a trap for them and that, in advancing into the desert between the two cities, the entire army could perish in a single battle. He also knew that Saladin was a man of honour who would not harm a defenceless woman. But these words angered Gérard de Ridefort, the Templar master, who accused Raymond of cowardice. For Gérard, it was a disgrace that the army did not intervene when the Saracens were sacking a Christian town. But the king and the rest of the nobles were convinced by Raymond's arguments, and so the decision was made not to go to the aid of Tiberias.

After dark, Gérard went to the king's tent. Guy was uncomfortable in front of the Templar, as he had helped him to acquire the throne. Gérard told him that if they didn't come to the aid of Tiberias, the military orders (the Templars and the Ionians) would withdraw from the army. Guy slightly gives in to the threat, changing his mind. The rest of the army learned to their astonishment that the king had changed his mind. Everyone knew that a march to Tiberias in midsummer was madness that would end in disaster. But the king's word was law.

The Christian army, probably the largest that had been assembled in the 88 years of the kingdom's existence, comprised some 2000 knights, 4000 other mounted warriors and just over 14000 foot soldiers, some dressed in long shirts of plaid, armed with swords and shields, crossbows or bows and arrows. On 3 July 1187, the entire army set out from Saffuriya before dawn on the 15-mile journey to Tiberias. They left Saffuriya's abundant water gardens for the arid plateau ahead, where they knew the Saracens were waiting for them. The vanguard was led by Raymond of Tripoli, with Balian of Ibelin and Gérard de Ridefort in the rearguard and the king and his court in the centre. At first, the Saracens confined themselves to hit and run. The knights in the centre of the Crusader column were forced to move at the speed of the foot soldiers, who formed a protective sleeve around them, defending the horses from the Saracens' arrows, thanks to their shirts made of leather or leather defenders.

The sun was merciless, there were no trees to provide shade on the limestone road they were travelling on. The knights, their heavy armour, their thick coloured coats insulating the hotness of their shirts from burning their skins, wiped the dusty sweat from their eyes and looked suspiciously ahead, waiting for the attack they knew was coming. All around them were the pedestrians, making vain gestures to reduce the tension. Some were well-equipped mercenaries from Genoa or the Netherlands, armed with large crossbows, who made their living by following those who paid them. Others were townsfolk from coastal towns who had answered the ârrière-ban (the call to arms of men in coats of mail), inspired by the thought that they were fighting not only for their faith but also for their families in Accra, Tir and Beirut. Most wore tunics of veiled mail or leather armour that could withstand the sword of a Saracen or the deadly impact of an arrow. Many European languages and dialects were heard, the Christian army was truly an international army.

The column had no water wagons (which would have slowed its progress even more), the men carrying their own water supplies. Before the sun reached noon, most had exhausted their precious supplies and could not hope to find water before they reached the Sea of Galilee. When the column was really engaged in the march, and retreat would have been as difficult as advance, Saladin launched the flanks of his army, which charged from the hilltops, encircling the Crusaders. The Christian archers held the Saracens at bay, but to fight the column had to slow, almost to a halt, as the sun burned brightly overhead.

At 10 a.m., nearly six hours after the march began, the crusaders were exhausted. Their last source of water before Lake Tiberias was a spring to the north near Mount Turan, but King Guy ordered the march to continue. In the vanguard, Raymond, convinced that the men would die of thirst before the long, agonising column reached Tiberias, suggested to the king a change of direction to the north: there were springs on the high ground near the village of Hattin. This would have meant abandoning Tiberias for the time being, but in the long run it could have saved the army. The king agreed, and near Meskenah the whole army headed north-east. In the disarray of this turn, many knights broke away from the infantry escort and tried to get to the water faster. Sensing that he might lose his prey, Saladin sent large cavalry forces under his nephew Taqi al-Din to keep the column under observation and block its path to Hattin. Realising that if he failed to get through Taqi's men, the whole column was doomed, Raymond prepared to attack the Saracens with cavalry. But before doing so, he receives a desperate message (which turns out to be fatal) from King Guy, ordering the camp to halt and retreat. The exhausted air-guard (especially the Templars) could not advance that day. Without water, Raymond knew the army was doomed to die: "Alas! Alas! Holy God, the war is over. We are betrayed and doomed to death and the land is lost,' he told Guy, but the king was unyielding and so the camp rose.

After trapping the Christians on the plateau, far from any source of water, Saladin and his troops surrounded their camp, harassing them all night with shouts of triumph and the deafening noise of drums and trumpets. By the light of the fires, the crusaders saw the Saracens mockingly offering them water, which they spilled into the sand as they stretched out their hands. Adding to the horror were scorpions and venomous spiders that slithered under armour.

At dawn, the crusaders begin their march to the springs of Hattin. Hundreds of horses had already died from thirst or Saracen arrows, many knights marching with infantry. Morale in the Christian army was very low, with some knights going over to the enemy. The difficulties slowed the column's advance until the march was halted again. The infantry had suddenly given way and, with loud shouts, hundreds of foot soldiers left the column, dashing up the rocky slopes to where they thought they would find water. Faced with the dispersal of the entire column, Guy had no choice but to pitch his tent. Most of the knights in the central column gathered around him, but few infantrymen obeyed his imperative call to return to duty. Even when the bishops called on them to defend the True Cross, few of them responded. To torment them further, the Muslims lit fires in the bushes and the smoke constantly came into their faces, increasing their burning thirst.

Realising that victory was lost, Raymond gathered his knights, his own and those of Antioch and Sidon, and attacked the Saracens defending the road to the village of Hattin. Raymond's knights managed to get through them and escape, but King Guy and the bulk of the army didn't stand a chance. With no infantry to hold off the Muslims with crossbows, Guy's knights were almost helpless. The Saracens swarmed the circle of armored warriors defending the True Cross. In the chaos surrounding the holy relic, the Bishop of Acre is killed, the relic being taken over by the Bishop of Lydda. Taqi al-Din orders his fighters to put down their bows and attack the knights defending the bishop with swords, clubs and spears. The Saracens overpowered the defenders only because of their superior numbers, Taqi taking the relic and exultantly leaving the battle. Al-Afdil, Saladin's 17-year-old son, witnessed the event and thought victory was now certain. But his father contradicted him; shortly afterwards, the Crusaders launched another desperate attack, repulsed only a few metres from where they stood. "I shouted again: I beat them. My father turned to me and said: Shut up. We'll only beat them when that tent falls. And as he spoke, the tent fell down."

After the loss of the holy relic, the symbol of God's support, Christian morale collapses. Guy was so exhausted that he simply sat down, waiting to be taken prisoner. Along with him were captured most of the kingdom's nobles, except for Raymond of Tripoli and Balian of Ibelin, who had escaped.

Saladin treated his noble prisoners well, with the exception of Reginald of Kerak, whom he killed himself; the soldiers were sold into slavery, some for the price of a pair of sandals. The defeat of the Christians was total: the cities and castles of the kingdom (except Tir) were conquered by Saladin in a single campaign. Guy had risked everything on a single battle, despite the advice of experienced soldiers, leading his army into a trap, even though he had been warned.

The defeat of the Christians at Hattin, complete and irreversible, was a catastrophe for the Crusader movement. The Crusader army (the largest the Kingdom of Jerusalem had ever assembled, fighting under the banner of the True Cross) had proved incapable of resisting the Muslims. For many believers, this was a sign that God had turned his face away from them. Crusades were organised (at least six), but they were no longer inspired by the religious fervour and values that had animated the soldiers of the first Crusade, whose reward (the conquest of the holy city) had now been lost by a faithless generation. The Crusades became pretexts for the conquest of territory and grandeur. The Fourth Crusade (1204) strayed so far from its original goal (the recapture of Jerusalem) that it embarked on the siege and capture of a Christian city: Constantinople.

According to the chronicler Ernoul, the news of the defeat caused the death of Pope Urban III from shock.

The battle, and much of the context of the conflict, is recounted in the novel The Brothers by Sir Henry Rider Haggard. Although the battle itself was not depicted, the outcome, including the execution of Reginald of Kerak, is depicted in the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven.

The Battle of Hattin can be played in Stronghold Crusader, the PC version. The level is called Battle of Hattin, Battle of the Hill.

"Horns of Hattin" is a playable battle in Medieval: Total War as Saladin.

In an unusually large production (1963), Egyptian director Youssef Chahine created the film Al-Nasser Salah ElDine. The film portrays Saladin as a person concerned with peace, but also with the safety of his own people.

The scene that begins Jack Whyte's 2007 book The Standard of Honour depicts the Battle of Hattin.

The Swedish novel Tempelriddaren (Knights Templar in English) by Jan Guillou portrays Arn Magnusson, also known as Arn of Gothia, as one of the few survivors (one of two surviving Knights Templar) of the battle.

Ronald Wech's novel The Crusader Knight contains an extensive account of the Battle of Hattin.


  1. Battle of Hattin
  2. Bătălia de la Hattin
  3. ^ Nicolle (2011). pp. 22-23, 27, 29, 52.
  4. ^ Nicolle (2011). pp. 22, 23.
  5. ^ Konstam 2004, p. 133
  6. ^ a b c d Riley-Smith 2005, p. 110
  7. ^ Nicolle (1993). p. 59.
  8. (en) Angus Konstam, Historical atlas of the Crusades, Londres, Mercury, coll. « Historical atlas », 2004 (1re éd. 2002), 191 p. (ISBN 978-1-904668-00-8), p. 119.
  9. a b Vgl. David Nicolle: Hattin 1187. Saladin's greatest victory (= Osprey Military. Campaign. 19). Osprey Publishing, London 1993, ISBN 1-85532-284-6, S. 61.
  10. a b c d e f g h Jeremy Black: Maailman suurimmat taistelut, s. 61–64. Englanninkielinen alkuteos The Seventy Great Battles of All Time. Suomentanut Jukka Nyman. Otava, 2005. ISBN 951-1-20693-1.
  11. a b c Marshall W. Baldwin: A History of the Crusades – Volume I, s. 610–615. Toinen painos. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. (englanniksi)

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