The Crusades: Battle of Hattin

Crusaders at Hattin
Battle of Hattin. Public Domain

Battle of Hattin - Date & Conflict:

The Battle of Hattin was fought July 4, 1187, during the Crusades.

Forces & Commanders

Crusaders

  • Guy of Lusignan
  • Raymond III of Tripoli
  • Gerard de Rideford
  • Balian of Ibelin
  • Raynald of Chatillon
  • approx. 20,000 men

Ayyubids

  • Saladin
  • approx. 20,000-30,000 men

Background:

During the 1170s, Saladin began expanding his power from Egypt and worked to unite the Muslim states surrounding the Holy Land.

This resulted in the Kingdom of Jerusalem being encircled by a unified enemy for the first time in its history. Attacking the Crusader state in 1177, Saladin was engaged by Baldwin IV at the Battle of Montgisard. The resulting fight saw Baldwin, who was suffering from leprosy, lead a charge that shattered Saladin's center and put the Ayyubids to rout. In the wake of the battle, an uneasy truce existed between the two sides. Following Baldwin's death in 1185, his nephew Baldwin V assumed the throne.  Only a child, his reign proved brief as he died a year later. As the Muslim states in the region were uniting, there was increasing dissension in Jerusalem with the elevation of Guy of Lusignan to the throne.

Claiming the throne through his marriage to Sibylla, mother of the late child-king Baldwin V, Guy's ascension was supported by Raynald of Chatillon and the military orders such as the Knights Templar.

  Known as the "court faction", they were opposed by the "nobles faction." This group was led by Raymond III of Tripoli, who had been Baldwin V's regent,  and who were angered by the move. Tensions quickly escalated between the two parties and civil war loomed as Raymond left the city and rode to Tiberias.

  Civil war loomed as Guy considered besieging Tiberias and  was only avoided through mediation by Balian of Ibelin. Despite this, Guy's situation remained tenuous as Raynald repeatedly violated the truce with Saladin by attacking Muslim trade caravan in Oultrejordain and threatening to march on Mecca.

This came to a head when his men assaulted a large caravan traveling north from Cairo. In the fighting, his troops killed many of the guards, captured the merchants, and stole the goods. Operating within in the terms of the truce, Saladin sent envoys to Guy seeking compensation and redress. Reliant on Raynald to maintain his power, Guy, who conceded that they were in the right, was forced to send them away unsatisfied, despite knowing that it would mean war. To the north, Raymond elected to conclude a separate peace with Saladin to protect his lands.

Saladin on the Move:

This deal backfired when Saladin requested permission for his son, Al-Afdal, to lead a force through Raymond's lands. Compelled to allow this, Raymond saw Al-Afdal's men enter Galilee and meet a Crusader force at Cresson on May 1. In the battle that ensured, the outnumbered Crusader force, led by Gerard de Ridefort, was effectively destroyed with only three men surviving.

  In the wake of the defeat, Raymond left Tiberias and rode to Jerusalem. Calling his allies to assemble, Guy hoped to strike before Saladin could invade in force. Renouncing his treaty with Saladin, Raymond fully reconciled with Guy and a Crusader army of around 20,000 men formed near Acre. This included a mix a of knights and light cavalry as well as around 10,000 infantry along with mercenaries and crossbowmen from the Italian merchant fleet. Advancing, they occupied a strong position near the springs at Sephoria.

Possessing a force nearly the size of Saladin's, the Crusaders had defeated earlier invasions by holding strong positions with reliable water sources while allowing the heat to cripple the enemy. Aware of past failings, Saladin sought to lure Guy's army away from Sephoria so that it could be defeated in open battle.

To accomplish this, he personally led an attack against Raymond's fortress at Tiberias on July 2 while his main army remained at Kafr Sabt. This saw his men quickly penetrate the fortress and trap Raymond's wife, Eschiva, in the citadel. That night, the Crusader leaders held a war council to determine their course of action.

While the majority was for pressing on to Tiberias, Raymond argued for remaining in the position at Sephoria, even if it meant losing his fortress. Though the precise details of this meeting are not known, it is believed that Gerard and Raynald argued strenuously for an advance and indicated that Raymond's suggestion that they hold their position was cowardly. Guy elected to push on in the morning. Marching out on July 3, the vanguard was led by Raymond, the main army by Guy, and the rearguard by Balian, Raynald, and the military orders. Moving slowly and under constant harassment by Saladin's cavalry, they reached the springs at Turan (six miles away) around noon. Concentrating around the spring, the Crusaders eagerly took water.

The Armies Meet:

Though Tiberias was still nine miles away, with no reliable water en route, Guy insisted on pressing on that afternoon. Under increasing attacks from Saladin's men, the Crusaders reached a plain by the twin hills of the Horns of Hattin by mid-afternoon. Advancing with his main body, Saladin began attacking in force and ordered the wings of his army to sweep around the Crusaders. Attacking, they surrounded Guy's thirsty men and cut off their line of retreat back to the springs at Turan. Realizing that it would be difficult to reach Tiberias, the Crusaders shifted their line of advance in an attempt to reach the springs at Hattin which were around six miles away. Under increasing pressure, the Crusader rearguard was forced to halt and give battle near the village of Meskana, stopping the entire army's advance.

Though advised to fight on to reach water, Guy elected to halt the advance for the night. Surrounded by the enemy, the Crusader camp possessed a well but it was dry.

Throughout the night, Saladin's men taunted the Crusaders and set fire to the dry grass on the plain. The next morning, Guy's army awoke to blinding smoke. This came from fires set by Saladin's men to screen their actions and increase the Crusaders' misery. With his men weakened and thirsty, Guy broke camp and ordered an advance towards the springs of Hattin. Despite having sufficient numbers to break through the Muslim lines, fatigue and thirst badly weakened the cohesion of the Crusader army.

Advancing, the Crusaders were effectively counterattacked by Saladin. Two charges by Raymond saw him break through the enemy lines, but once outside the Muslim perimeter, he lacked enough men to influence the battle. As a result, he retreated from the field. Desperate for water, much of Guy's infantry attempted a similar breakout, but failed. Forced onto the Horns of Hattin, the majority of this force was destroyed. Without infantry support, Guy's trapped knights were unhorsed by Muslim archers and forced to fight on foot. Though fighting with determination, they were driven onto the Horns. After three charges against the Muslim lines failed, the survivors were forced to surrender.

Aftermath:

Precise casualties for the battle are not known, but it resulted in the destruction of the majority of the Crusader army. Among those captured were Guy and Raynald. While the former was treated well, the latter was personally executed by Saladin for his past transgressions. Also lost in the fighting was a relic of the True Cross which was sent to Damascus. Quickly advancing in the wake of his victory, Saladin captured Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut, and Ascalon in rapid succession. Moving against Jerusalem that September, it was surrendered by Balian on October 2. The defeat at Hattin and subsequent loss of Jerusalem led to the Third Crusade. Beginning in 1189, it saw troops under Richard the Lionheart, Frederick I Barbarossa, and Philip Augustus advance on the Holy Land.

Selected Sources