Sunday, March 24, 2013


Comparative Essay on Yaacov Lev, Saladin in Egypt and Malcolm Lyons, and D. Jackson, Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War
By Paul Allen

            The eleventh and twelfth centuries proved a tumultuous time for Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. In the late 1090s Christian armies from Europe marched to Jerusalem on a Holy Crusade and conquered the city and the surrounding lands. This became the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Christians ruled for almost 100 years, strengthening their influence and becoming a major kingdom of the Middle East.
When the Christians had struck at Islam, it was divided and splintered into different rulers and Caliphates. The division among the Muslims would last until one man sought to unify the Islamic Middle East. Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub started out as an officer under his uncle Shirkuh, a commander that answered to the ruler Nur al-Din whose allegiance was to the Abbasid Caliph.[1] However, he eventually rose through the ranks and unified the Middle East by conquest, becoming a major threat to the Christians in Jerusalem. He first took control of Egypt, using it as a staging point to conquer Syria and the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the name of the Abbasid Caliph.  Salah al-Din’s name has been simplified by westerners to be called Saladin.[2] Saladin in Egypt describes the political and military rise of Saladin in Egypt while Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War shows how from Egypt Saladin brought Syria and the Crusader Kingdom under his domain.
Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War   
                The book Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War discusses most of Saladin’s life and career starting from his early adulthood to his death in 1193 shortly after the end of the Third Crusade. There is little known about Saladin’s childhood and upbringing.[3] Saladin was the son of Ayyub and grew up in the city of Damascus. He grew to have a particular liking for the city and received his education there as well.[4]
            While Saladin was growing up in Damascus, the Fatimids of Egypt were in decline.[5] The former vizier of Egypt removed from his position, Shawar, had come to Damascus asking for the aid of Nur al-Din to help him retake power in Egypt. Nur al-Din was the ruler of Syria in the name of the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad.  He saw the positive aspects of taking control of Egypt and improving his situation with the Crusaders. He then decided to accept Shawar’s proposal and sent out an expedition to Egypt.[6] Nur al-Din appointed Shirkuh to lead the expedition and Saladin accompanied his uncle on the conquest as one of his officers.[7] The campaigns of Egypt helped Saladin gain his first experience in leadership and success.[8] When the Syrians had gained control over Egypt, Shawar was reinstated as vizier. However, Shirkuh and Saladin remained there with their expeditionary force and gained influence in the Egyptian government. In 1169 Shawar was murdered and Shirkuh took the office of the Fatimid vizier, unfortunately Shirkuh died shortly after he took office. [9]
            After the death of Shirkuh, there was confusion on who would take his place as vizier. The Fatimid Caliph and the people of Egypt realized that the Syrians had a great influence there and decided that Saladin should take Shirkuh’s position. The Syrians in Egypt also agreed on this appointment and Saladin became vizier.[10] Although Saladin had good support to rule Egypt, some disapproval came from within Egypt and from his fellow Syrians, including his superior, Nur al-Din.[11]  However, the disapproval did not prevent him from continuing his role as vizier. Matters changed again with the death of the Fatimid Caliph in 1171.[12] After the death of the Fatimid Caliph, their rule had ended and Saladin became the ruler of Egypt under the Abbasid Caliph.[13] Nur al-Din still had influence over Saladin and their relationship was unsteady but not hostile. Nur al-Din oversaw Saladin’s rule in Egypt and even assessed his progress and revenue.[14]
In 1174, Nur al-Din grew ill and shortly thereafter died.[15] Syria had lost a great ruler but Saladin had gained political independence. Now, Saladin could dictate his own rule in Egypt without the influence of Nur al-Din.[16] However, Syria was facing troubles with losing Nur al-Din and becoming vulnerable to the Crusader Kingdom. Saladin did not want Syria to fall into disunity and was set on bringing it under his control. He marched to Damascus and was allowed into the city.[17]
Saladin sent a letter to the Caliph in Baghdad stating the reasoning behind his motives for taking control of Syria.[18] Egypt was too far from the Crusader Kingdom to stage a Holy War against the Christians. If he could unify Syria and Egypt under his control, it would be possible to surround the Crusader Kingdom and conduct the Holy War. The Caliph was satisfied with Saladin’s reasoning but Saladin would struggle to unify Syria. Saladin now controlled Damascus but Aleppo and Mosul resisted his rule. His first successful conquest was over Aleppo. He had fought many campaigns against Aleppo, signing treaties and resuming fighting until the city fell under his control in 1183.[19] The fight against Aleppo lasted almost 10 years after his first march into Syria in 1174 and ended his Syrian campaigns.[20] A few years after taking Aleppo, Saladin marched on Mosul and signed a treaty with the city to  come under his control in 1186.[21] With the conquest of Aleppo and Mosul, Saladin had consolidated Islam all around the Crusader Kingdom.
During the campaign against Mosul, Saladin had become very sick and had vowed during his sickness to take Jerusalem from the Christians.[22] Because of his consolidation of rule over Syria and Egypt, Saladin could focus on the Holy War. Saladin had been fighting the Crusaders on and off throughout his career but he needed decisive, major action to affirm the Holy War.[23] Saladin received his action at the battle of Hattin. Saladin met the Crusader army at Hattin and his superior tactics gained him total victory over the Christians.[24] It was a major blow to the Christians and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was left vulnerable. Saladin went for Acre first and other fortresses in the kingdom caught off guard by the defeat. He  arrived at Jerusalem in 1187 and terms were met by the defending Balian of Ibelin to give up the city.[25]
After conquering Jerusalem, Saladin attempted to take the whole of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The kingdom fell one fortress after another until he was stopped at Tyre. The Crusaders had now called on aid from the kings of Europe and they answered by arriving in the Holy Land to challenge Saladin. Richard I of England and Phillip of France arrived from Europe, taking Acre back from Saladin.[26] This defeat became negative to Saladin’s reputation and now he needed to protect what land he still held.[27] Richard continued to campaign down the coast of Palestine but he and Saladin eventually came to a stalemate. They realized that both their armies were exhausted and neither could see victory in the near future. A compromise was met in 1192 and the Third Crusade ended.[28] Afterwards Saladin dispersed his army and only a year later, he died of illness in 1193.
Saladin in Egypt
Saladin devoted his life to consolidate most of the Middle East under his control in the 12th century. He fought numerous campaigns to unite Islam and saved Jerusalem from Christian rule. However, all of his accomplishments could not have been made a reality without his rise to power and rule over Egypt first. The book Saladin in Egypt focuses primarily on this subject.
Saladin’s life was dictated and recorded from a number of sources in his day and after his death.[29] The historians that recorded of Saladin in his time were mostly civilian elite, administrators, and men of religion. Most supported him like Qadi al-Fadil who at first served the Fatimids in Egypt but later served under Saladin and gained his favor.[30] Some who wrote of Saladin had a negative aspect of his rule, especially Ibn al-Athir, a Zangid.[31] With a number of other sources, Saladin is recorded throughout his rule and conquests.
As stated earlier, Nur al-Din had an interest in Egypt with the decline of Fatimid rule. Shirkuh and Saladin led the Syrian expedition force to take Egypt but the Crusaders had interests there as well. Shirkuh and the Crusaders fought for control of Egypt but the Crusaders made mistakes in their campaigns that cost them victory.[32]
With Shirkuh defeating the Crusaders and the death of the Egyptian vizier Shawar, Shirkuh took the position of vizier.[33] The Syrians had more influence with the presence of their superior force and were therefore able to gain power in Egypt. The elite and administrators of Egypt favored Syrian rule and this also bolstered their power.[34] Shortly after Shirkuh took power, he died and was succeeded by his nephew Saladin. When Saladin became vizier, he wanted to transform the politics of Egypt and transfer rule away from the Fatimids to himself.[35]
With the death of the Fatimid Caliph, the dynasty had ended. Saladin took full control and began to change government policies. He started with instituting Sunni Islam as the governmental religion.[36] Under the Fatimids, the government religion was Shi’ia Isma’ilism but the people of Egypt were mostly Sunni and they welcomed the new Sunni rule.[37] Saladin also reorganized the elite and administration and gave them new land through using iqtas. In Cairo, the Fatimids had built mosques for their legacy but Saladin started to build law colleges under his rule.[38] He stopped the sales and property taxes in Egypt known as mukus or hilali and replaced the mukus with an alms tax called zakat.[39] His changes were not only seen in the governing of Egypt but also the military.
When Saladin gained control of the Egyptian state, he dispersed the former Fatimid army and replaced Egypt’s army with the expeditionary force that came with him from Syria.[40] An important point that Saladin made for the army was the use of land through iqtas to help pay the salaries of army officials.[41] The iqta system was useful when the treasury or money was running low. Saladin also created a navy for Egypt to help protect the Egyptian coast and aid his armies in the Holy War but it was not meant to gain naval supremacy.[42] The consolidation of Saladin’s rule over Egypt was not an easy process. It took a good amount of politics and reorganization to establish an Egyptian state that fit to Saladin’s rule and with a solid footing in Egypt he could look to Syria and the Holy War.
            The rule of Saladin over Syria, Egypt, and near the end of his career the Kingdom of Jerusalem was acquired through many campaigns, politics, and war. Saladin’s entire life consisted of a man in almost constant warfare. His motives for conquest and rule can be debated. The reason for his conquest could have been solely to regain the Holy Land for Islam and expel the Christians from the Middle East. Another explanation for his conquests could have been for his own goals and political career. Saladin had to consult the Caliph in Baghdad and rationalize his motives for warring against other Muslims, especially Aleppo and Mosul. He stated it was to bring the lands around the Crusaders under one banner and then it be less difficult to defeat the Christians. With the Holy War propaganda, Saladin could conquer most of the Middle East under his rule. Through all of his conquests and campaigns, Saladin became an expert military commander and politician and through his rule he established his own dynasty of rulers, the Ayyubids.
            Saladin was truly a great man of his time. Revered by Islam in uniting Egypt and Syria and retaking Jerusalem while also being respected by his Christian rivals as a formidable enemy. The succession of Saladin as vizier of Egypt started the beginning of his career. In Egypt Saladin changed the administrative landscape to fit his rule. He used his holding in Egypt as a staging point for his conquest of Syria and then the Crusader Kingdom. Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War describes the entirety of Saladin’s consolidation of Syria, Egypt, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem while Saladin in Egypt focuses solely on his rule of Egypt.

Lyons, Malcolm, and D. Jackson. Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War. Great Britain: University of Cambridge, 1982.
Lev, Yaacov. Saladin in Egypt. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

[1] Malcolm Lyons, and D. Jackson, Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War (Great Britain: University of Cambridge, 1982), 10.  
[2] Lyons and Jackson, Saladin, 2.
[3] Ibid., 2.
[4]Ibid., 3.
[5] Ibid., 6.
[6] Ibid., 6,7.
[7] Ibid., 10.
[8] Ibid., 19.
[9] Ibid., 27
[10] Ibid., 28,29.
[11] Ibid., 33.
[12] Ibid,. 46.
[13] Ibid., 47.
[14] Ibid., 65.
[15] Ibid., 69.
[16] Ibid., 72.
[17] Ibid., 82, 83.
[18] Ibid., 98.
[19]Ibid., 198.
[20] Ibid., 201.
[21] Ibid., 238, 239.
[22] Ibid., 241.
[23] Ibid., 255.
[24] Ibid., 263, 264.
[25] Ibid., 274.
[26] Ibid., 330.
[27] Ibid., 331.
[28] Ibid., 360.
[29] Yaacov Lev, Saladin in Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 1.
[30] Lev, Saladin in Egypt, 14.
[31] Ibid., 36.
[32] Ibid., 57, 59.
[33] Ibid., 62.
[34] Ibid., 76.
[35] Ibid., 79.
[36] Ibid., 108.
[37] Ibid., 116, 117.
[38] Ibid., 112.
[39] 132, 133.
[40] Ibid., 141.
[41] Ibid., 158.
[42] Ibid., 167, 168, 175.

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