Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of Montgisard

25 November 1177


Salah ad-Din (Tikrit 1138 - Damascus, March 3, 1193)

Saladin is the name by which it is known in the West Salah al-Din ("integrity of religion"), founder of the ayubbid dynasty and the sultan of Egypt and Syria in the last decades of the 12th century. He was the conqueror of Jerusalem in 1187 and the most valiant and dangerous enemy of the Christian forces during the Third Crusade in the Holy Land.
Saladin was born in 1138 in Tikrit, a Kurdish village near the Tigris River in Mesopotamia. He was educated at the court of the emir of Aleppo Nur al-Din, who sent him to Egypt with his uncle at the head of the militia. In Cairo reigned a dynasty of caliphs of the Shiite faith, the Fatimids, who had not recognized the authority of the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad, declaring himself independent (caliphate).
Saladin came to the fore in the victorious campaign of Egypt, and the death of the caliph of Cairo, proclaimed himself sultan of Egypt, then brought the country to the Sunni faith also using the madrasas, religious schools which teach the precepts of the Koran. Saladin had transformed himself into a dangerous rival in the Middle East region for the Emir Nur al-Din, the death of these was able to extend his rule to Syria, thus becoming the leader of an empire that stretched from Egypt to Palestine, Syria and Yemen. On its borders was the kingdom of Jerusalem, built by Christian forces in the Holy Land during the First Crusade: the conflict seemed inevitable.
Jerusalem, the place of worship of the three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - has always been a contested city. It is a symbol, where the different places of worship were built one behind the other. It was in Jerusalem and other holy places of Palestine which were then preserved the relics of Christianity, the most important, as the wood of the Holy Cross. At the time of the Crusades (11th to 13th century) Christians and Muslims fought for decades for possession of Jerusalem in 1099 the Christian armies of the First Crusade had ripped the city, along with vast territories, the 'infidel' Muslims, but in 1187 the army of Saladin had recaptured the city, expelling Christians.
Before reaching Jerusalem, Saladin had a landslide victory at the Horns of Hattin (July 1187). For the Crusaders was a massacre: the Templar Knights and other religious orders were murdered en masse and the King of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, was taken prisoner. Entered Jerusalem, Saladin spared its inhabitants and left intact the basilica of S. Tomb, which he placed under the custody of a Muslim family, whose heirs still retain the keys.
The defeats in the Holy Land were a blow to Christianity in 1189 and was banned a third crusade to drive the Muslims from Jerusalem. On the battlefields of the main opponent of Saladin was the King of England, Richard the Lionheart, who defeated him at the Battle of Arsuf . The peace of 1192 left the sultan master of Syria and Palestine internal and marked the end of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Christians were still some major coastal cities, from which European merchants led flourishing trade, but Jerusalem was lost forever ( with the exception of a brief interlude with the Emperor Frederick II).
Saladin died in Damascus in 1193 : he ordered that his kingdom was divided among his sons and his brother. Depicted, in life, by Christians as the most dangerous and ferocious enemy of the faith, became gradually a positive hero in the novels of chivalry, who praised his generosity, liberality, tolerance and courage. It was also mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy, in the fourth canto of the Inferno, among the spirits of great value, even those without specific faults could not be saved because they lived before or outside of Christianity.
In fact Saladin, very significant figure in the history of Islam, was a great leader and a skilled and measured politician, who knew how to act now with great resolve and moderation, as finally managed to reach a compromise with the Christian forces in Palestine.

Baldwin IV (Jerusalem, 1161 - March 16, 1185)

Baldwin IV, the "Leper King" of Jerusalem, was crowned at the age of thirteen, on July 15, 1174. This character was one of the most admirable and epic of crusade for the courage, loyalty, and wisdom demonstrated, despite the great suffering because of his illness.
In an attempt to halt the advance of Saladin to Syria, the crusaders of Baldwin IV, led by Reynald of Chatillon (formerly Prince of Antioch from 1153 to 1160) along with the Templars, intercepted the army of Saladin near Ashkelon. The combined forces amounted to about 500 Christian knights of Baldwin, 80 Templar Knights, and a few thousand infantry, while Saladin could count on 26,000 men.
Saladin moved to Ramla and conquered it. Underestimating the Christian army, allowed his army to spread beam over a large area. The clash took place in Montgisard, near Ramla, in November 1177, taking Saladin completely by surprise. The Battle of Montgisard was a disaster for Saladin, who lost a great part of his army. The epic victory (remembered as the Battle of Montgisard) overlying the Muslim forces, for Baldwin, as fruit of divine help, it gave breath to the King of Jerusalem, followed by a (short) period of peace.
In the summer of 1180, Baldwin IV gave his sister Sybil as wife to Guy of Lusignan. It was the second marriage for Sibyl, widow of William of Montferrat and already the mother of Baldwin V, the future King of Jerusalem. In 1182, Baldwin IV, now blind and unable to walk, Guy appointed regent of the kingdom. Guy was openly supported by the Templars.
In 1183, during the celebrations of the Krak Moab for marriage of Baldwin's other sister, Isabella, Saladin laid siege to the castle. Baldwin managed to break the siege, but Guido refused to fight. For this reason, Baldwin IV deposed him from the regency. Baldwin subsequently tried, unsuccessfully, to annul the marriage between Sybil and Guy. In disgrace, he retired with his wife Sybil to Ascalona. In the same year, Baldwin IV named his successor, his nephew Baldwin V, son of Sybil, at the age of five years. In 1185, Baldwin IV died in Jerusalem. Baldwin V was King of Jerusalem for a single year, just eight years old, he died in 1186. Thanks to the support of the Templars and the support of the Sibyl, Guy of Lusignan was elected King Consort of Jerusalem, by marriage. Guy of Lusignan, inept and surrounded by reckless advisers, led to the defeat of the Crusader kingdom of Hattin 1187.

The situation

Just a century after the conquest of the Holy Land, and despite the arrival of Philip of Flanders, one of the most senior members of the European aristocracy (in Acre in 1177) Baldwin IV, ruler of Jerusalem, was now alone in having to deal with the Muslim threat from the south and led by one of the greatest Islamic commanders in history: Salah ad-Din, Saladin. The situations presented themselves completely at odds and gave each of the prediction for the Islamic leader.
On one side, Christians reinforcements coming directly from Europe, were blocked by their own leader, Philip of Flanders, in a useless and fruitless siege Harenc. In fact, the expedition of Philip of Flanders had left and was followed by the notables of Europe as great fanfare and hope. The forces brought to the holy land from Philip himself were not few in number, but his intentions were not only related to the success of the crusade. The count of Flanders had every incentive to come to the Holy Land as a potential suitor for the hand of the sister of Baldwin IV, Sybil, and then aspiring to the throne of Jerusalem itself. But the resistance of the Sibyl and institutional obstacles posed by another suitor as Baldwin of Ibelin and William of Tyre deeply upset Philip, who had come to the Holy Land with the serious expectation of finding one day to be able to reign over those places. The unraveling of this project distract him from his Muslim threat and they did manage to put a north Harenc useless siege, a siege, that absorbed virtually all the new chistian forces.
On the other the field, Saladin, after the death of Nur-ad-din in 1174, was able to take advantage of the endowment given to him as vassal, by Nur ad- Din, to unite under his control the whole of Egypt and organize an army with which invade the rich Kingdom of Jerusalem from the south with about 26,000 men. Saladin began his march toward the kingdom of Baldwin IV, and appearing quickly, after the sieges of Ramla and Lydda Arsuf, in front of the walls of the city of Ashkelon.
Baldwin immediately alarmed by Muslim invasion in his possessions, did not waste any time and had already gathered in the days before some forces and headed for the same coastal town near which, more precisely in Montgisard, the two armies came in contact.
In fact, the forces of Saladin were partially disrupted beam over a large area, to raid and rest, while the army of Baldwin IV, in the walls of the city, did not conceive that more Muslims to plunder the sacred places that Christian knights had promised to defend at the cost of his own life. Once received reinforcements from Gaza Templars, Baldwin battled in Montgisard, where the Muslim contingent was dipsersed for the fields, believing they were safe from any Christian threat.

The battle

On the field, were on side the motivated Christian knights, eager to avenge the sultan's forays into "their" lands, and on the other, Muslims, under the command of Saladin tried to recover as quickly as possible to a semblance of battle order. Despite the obvious numerical inferiority, 375 Christian knights threw themselves against the enemy horde which, though altered by the expeditions of plunder, could still count on thousands of knights (including at least a thousand warriors of the personal guard of Saladin, recognizable by their yellow robes over the breastplates) and a substantial but undisclosed contingent of infantry. Among the notables who took part in the attack, there were, in addition to the same Baldwin IV, Odo of St. Amand (master of the Templar Knights with 80 men of his order), Raynald of Chatillon, Baldwin of Ibelin and his brother Balian, Raynald Sidon, and Joscelin of Edessa. Along with them there was also the famous relic of the Cross of Christ, normally kept in the Resurrection Basilic in Jerusalem but exceptionally worn on the field by the Bishop of Bethlehem. Baldwin knelt in front of it to touch the ground with his face, while all his warriors sworn to fight to the death.
The tactics of the battle, is not reported in detail from the ancient sources. Seems to have been a front charge of heavy European cavalry that, given the undeployed Muslim, caught the enemy formation unable to absorb the massive impact of the armored cavalry: the few hundred Christian cavalry formed a wedge that broke the enemy formation, and the result was a general flight from which barely escaped the same sultan Saladin, while around him the soldiers of his army got rid of the weapons and sometimes even the clothes to get away faster. It should be underlined that the Islamic forces in the field of Montgisard were not a bunch of rookies at the first encounter: in particular, the warriors of the personal bodyguard of Saladin tried to put up a stiff resistance, but who would not give ground was hit and died on the spot, as well as for those who fled the hopes of salvation were very few, and only the arrival of night prevented a real massacre.

The aftermath

Baldwin returned triumphantly in Ashkelon and waited patiently for four days, the return of his knights who were given the tenacious pursuit of Neico and returned to the city loaded with prey: prisoners, camels, horses, tents, weapons and whatever enemies left on the field in chaotic retreat, carried out in climatic conditions so hostile to raise exponentially the number of losses.
The success of Baldwin was truly triumphant, yet the "Leper King" knew perfectly well that the forces of Saladin united as they were numerous and could absorb quite well a great defeat like that. The bulk of the Muslim forces had not been completely destroyed and the sultan had on his side a situation of domestic policy that favored him without question. On the other hand however, the first concern of Baldwin was precisely to stabilize his reign, in consideration of the fact that the resources of the Christian kings were not as limitless as those of his enemy and then were held together, and secure as possible. Yet already in 1179 Saladin had his revenge with the Christians that beating him at Montgisard, defeating the europeans at Marj Ajun: this was only the beginning. With the death of Baldwin IV himself, before the rise to power of Baldwin V (his nephew) and then Guy of Lusignan (third husband of his sister Sybil , the woman onto which all pointed Baldwin IV for the union of the Kingdom) the Chrisitan kingdom of Jerusalem was approaching its conclusion.