Saladin: The Legendary Sultan's Life and Impact on the Crusades

Dec 3


Yusha Sayyid

Yusha Sayyid

  • Share this article on Facebook
  • Share this article on Twitter
  • Share this article on Linkedin

Saladin, the legendary Kurdish sultan, cast a long shadow over the Crusades as a fearless warrior and wise ruler who united the Islamic world. His story is one of triumph and tragedy, religious devotion, and military prowess. From humble beginnings, he rose to become the first sultan of both Egypt and Syria, and his rule brought a measure of stability and unity to the Muslim world.

In this blog post,Saladin: The Legendary Sultan's Life and Impact on the Crusades Articles we will unravel the extraordinary life and enduring legacy of Saladin, the legendary sultan who forever changed the course of history.

Key Takeaways

  • Saladin was a Kurdish leader renowned for his military tactics, statecraft abilities and tolerant attitude towards different religions.
  • He established the Ayyubid Empire through successful campaigns against rival Muslim leaders as well as reclaiming Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.
  • His legacy has had a lasting impact on cultural and religious understanding in the Middle East due to his skillful leadership, chivalric behavior and innovative use of siege warfare techniques.

The Formative Years of Salah al-Din

Illustration of Kurdish family life

Saladin’s character and military acumen were significantly molded by his early years. Born in 1137 in Tikrit, Iraq, to a Kurdish Sunni family, he was exposed to the realities of the Crusades from an early age. As a young man, he studied under Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani and became a prominent leader until his death in 1193.

During Saladin’s initial rule in Egypt, he successfully taxed the rich, generously gave alms to the poor, and promoted trade among all nationalities and religions. He later expanded his rule to northern Syria, where his strategic vision and ability to unite Muslim territories under the banner of holy war would eventually bring him to prominence.

Birth and Kurdish Heritage

Saladin was born in 1137 in Tikrit, Iraq, to a family of Kurdish Sunni origin. His Kurdish heritage played a significant role in his upbringing, shaping his identity, and providing him with a strong sense of cultural pride. Saladin’s father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub, and his uncle, Asad al-Din Shirkuh, were both influential figures in his early life, providing him with guidance and the foundation for his military career.

The Kurdish connection would also serve as a source of political legitimacy for Saladin, as it connected him to the broader context of the Islamic world and the ongoing struggle against the Crusaders.

Education and Early Military Involvement

The education Saladin received served as the foundation for his future achievements as a military commander and ruler. He was well-versed in classical literature, arithmetic, and law, and was proficient in both Kurdish and Arabic. Saladin’s early military involvement began under the guidance of his uncle, Shirkuh, a distinguished commander under Nur ad-Din.

Although Saladin played a minor role in the expedition against Dirgham, it served as a significant learning experience, exposing him to the realities of warfare in the region. He would later assume the governorship of Egypt from his relative Shirkuh on behalf of Nur ad-Din, setting the stage for his rise to power.

Ascension to Power: The Path to Sultan

Illustration of Saladin's rise to power

Saladin’s ascent to power entailed:

  • Conquering rival Muslim leaders
  • Establishing the Ayyubid Empire
  • Employing a combination of warfare and diplomacy
  • Launching a holy war against the Christian settlers in the Middle East

His efforts led to the formation of the Ayyubid Empire United Egypt, which brought together Egypt and Syria under one rule.

Saladin harbored an ambitious vision to reunify Egypt and Syria, reclaim Jerusalem, and drive out the Crusaders from the region.

Overcoming Rival Muslim Leaders

Saladin’s ascension to power was marked by strategic alliances and military campaigns that allowed him to seize control of Egypt and Syria. As Vizier of Egypt, Saladin faced the challenge of administering two discordant armies, one Sunni Muslim and the other Shi’a Muslim, while maintaining authority over the forces recently placed under his command. Saladin demonstrated his military qualifications during the Egyptian expedition and used his increasing influence to navigate the complex political landscape of the region.

Securing alliances and defeating rival Muslim leaders became a defining feature of his rule, ultimately leading to the creation of the Ayyubid Empire.

Founding the Ayyubid Empire

In 1174, Saladin’s declaration of independence from the Seljuks and his proclamation as the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria signaled the birth of the Ayyubid dynasty. Under his rule, the empire grew to encompass:

  • Egypt
  • Syria
  • Yemen
  • Diyar Bakr
  • Portions of Upper Mesopotamia
  • Palestine
  • Transjordan

Saladin’s political and military strategies allowed him to consolidate his authority over the Ayyubid Empire, expanding its territories through a series of successful campaigns.

The establishment of the Ayyubid Empire under Saladin’s rule had a profound impact on the power balance during the Crusades, providing a strong Muslim force to oppose the Latin Crusades initiated by Pope Urban II.

Holy War and the Crusader Conflict

Illustration of Saladin's capture of Jerusalem

Saladin’s part in the Crusades was characterized by:

  • His seizure of Jerusalem
  • His interactions with the Third Crusade, under the leadership of King Richard the Lionheart
  • His role as the primary leader of the Muslim military forces in their opposition to the Crusader states in the Levant
  • His determination to reclaim the Holy Land
  • His military prowess and innovative tactics, which made him a formidable foe for the Crusaders.

The Capture of Jerusalem

Seizing Jerusalem from the Crusaders on October 2, 1187 stands as one of Saladin’s most remarkable achievements. The fall of the holy city was a turning point in the Crusades, significantly altering the balance of power in the region and earning Saladin widespread admiration.

The Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187, was a crucial victory for Saladin’s forces, leading to the collapse of the Crusader Kingdom and paving the way for the capture of Jerusalem. Saladin’s forces also secured control of other significant cities, such as:

  • Acre
  • Tiberias
  • Caesarea
  • Nazareth
  • Jaffa

The Third Crusade and King Richard

Saladin confronted the forces of the Third Crusade, which were led by King Richard the Lionheart, Philip of France, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. Although they never met in person, Richard and Saladin communicated through messengers from 1191 to 1192, engaging in diplomacy and negotiations.

The Third Crusade culminated in the Treaty of Ramla, which granted Muslim control over Jerusalem but allowed unarmed Christian pilgrims and merchants to visit the city. Saladin’s engagements with the Third Crusade demonstrated his ability to balance warfare and diplomacy, ultimately maintaining control over most of his empire despite facing formidable opposition.

Diplomacy and Statecraft Under Saladin

Illustration of Saladin's diplomatic efforts

Diplomacy and statecraft were integral components of Saladin’s rule. He was adept at:

  • maintaining relations with fellow Muslims
  • engaging with Western powers, such as King Richard during the Third Crusade
  • navigating the complex political landscape of the region
  • solidifying alliances
  • mediating conflicts among Muslim leaders

Saladin’s diplomatic skills enabled him to effectively govern and maintain stability in the region.

Relations with Fellow Muslims

During his reign, Saladin:

  • Fostered alliances and mediated disputes between Muslim leaders such as Nur al-Din, Al-Adil, and Taqi al-Din
  • Strengthened his position and influence in the region
  • Ensured a unified front against the Crusaders
  • Bolstered the stability of the Ayyubid Empire

Saladin’s ability to negotiate and forge alliances among various Muslim factions, regardless of their sectarian distinctions, was central to his success as a ruler and military commander. In some instances, Saladin refused to let these differences hinder his efforts to unite the Muslim world.

Engagements with the West

Interactions with Western powers had a substantial impact on Saladin’s reign and the outcome of the Crusades. He maintained a diplomatic relationship with King Richard during the Third Crusade, resulting in negotiations and the eventual signing of the Treaty of Ramla.

Saladin’s diplomatic approach to the West, coupled with his military expertise, enabled him to resist the Crusader advances and secure the Ayyubid Empire’s territorial gains.

The Lasting Influence of Saladin's Reign

The influence of Saladin’s reign persisted long after his death in 1193. As a figure who unified various Islamic sects and accomplished significant military feats, his legacy has made a lasting impact on both the region and the world.

Saladin’s influence on the Crusades, his cultural and historical legacy, and his death and succession all contribute to his enduring significance in history.

Saladin's Death and Succession

Saladin died in 1193, leaving behind a power vacuum that ultimately led to the disintegration of the Ayyubid Empire. He was succeeded by his son Al-Aziz Uthman, who inherited the title of Muslim Sultan of the Ayyubid Empire. The lack of a clear succession plan and subsequent internal conflicts among Saladin’s family members contributed to the empire’s downfall and eventual collapse under the Mamluks.

Cultural and Historical Legacy

Saladin’s legacy persists in both the Muslim world and Western worlds, where he is revered for his military skill, chivalry, and tolerance towards different religions. The legacy Saladin left is celebrated as a hero in the Islamic world for uniting the Arabs and protecting Islam against the Crusaders.

In Western literature, Saladin is portrayed as a paragon of chivalry and a just ruler, despite his opposition to the Crusaders. His legacy continues to inspire and influence interfaith relations in the Middle East, fostering a spirit of coexistence and understanding among different religious communities.

Saladin's Military Tactics and Innovations

Illustration of Saladin's siege warfare tactics

The success Saladin achieved in the Crusades can be attributed to his military tactics and innovations. Some of these include:

  • Mastery of siege warfare
  • Development of a strong navy
  • Control of key strategic locations
  • Maintaining a strong presence in the Mediterranean

These factors played a crucial role in Saladin’s success during the Crusades.

Saladin’s military expertise and innovative tactics greatly influenced the outcome of the Crusades and the expansion of the Ayyubid Empire, with Saladin’s army playing a crucial role in these achievements.

Siege Warfare Mastery

Renowned for his proficiency in siege warfare, Saladin captured strategically vital castles and ports to undermine his adversaries. His most significant sieges, such as the Siege of Acre and Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem, played a crucial role in his campaigns, securing key Crusader strongholds and solidifying his control over the region.

Saladin’s mastery of siege tactics and engineering skills allowed him to overcome heavily fortified Crusader strongholds and expand the territories under Ayyubid control.

Saladin's Navy

Saladin’s navy played a pivotal role in his campaigns against the Crusaders, enabling him to control critical trade routes and uphold a robust presence in the Mediterranean. His navy, comprised of 70 vessels, was structured to defend and bolster his forces in Egypt.

The navy played a significant role in engagements during the Crusades, such as the Battle of Hattin, and was vital in disrupting the crusader forces’ supply lines and reinforcements.


Saladin’s life and legacy serve as a testament to his military genius, diplomatic prowess, and unwavering devotion to his faith. From his humble beginnings to his rise as the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, his story provides a fascinating insight into the complex interplay of politics, religion, and warfare during the Crusades. Saladin remains an enduring symbol of chivalry, justice, and religious tolerance, inspiring generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Saladin and why is he famous?

Saladin was a Muslim sultan of Egypt and Syria in the 12th century, known in the west as Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub. He is famous for his victory over the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin and for capturing Jerusalem in 1187.

How did Saladin lose Jerusalem?

In 1187, Saladin declared war after the Crusader prince Reginald of Châtillon broke a truce. Saladin's army managed to take the city of Jerusalem by storm, although many refugees were granted safe passage due to bargaining between Saladin and the city's defenders. Ultimately, the city peacefully surrendered with limited bloodshed.

What was Saladin's religion?

Saladin was a Kurdish Sunni Muslim who abolished the Cairo-based Isma'ili Shia Muslim Fatimid Caliphate in 1171, realigning Egypt with the Baghdad-based Sunni Abbasid Caliphate. He was devoted to the struggle of promoting what is right and preventing what is wrong through jihad.

What was Saladin's army called?

Saladin's army was composed of his own elite bodyguards (the Mamluks, who were mostly of Turkish-Kurdish origin), mercenaries, conscripts from Ayyubid lands, volunteers, and even members of militant monastic orders like the Templars and Hospitallers. These forces together comprised Saladin's Ayyubid army and allowed him to dominate the Levantine region.

What was Saladin's primary goal during the Crusades?

Saladin's primary goal during the Crusades was to reclaim Jerusalem and expel the Crusaders from the region.