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The Horns of Hattin

The Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

by Ludovic Dias

The fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the result of various circumstances, in part due to the political weakness of the Kingdom coupled with the newly-made unity of the Moslem world around Saladin, but it was also partly attributable to key personalities like Reynald of Châtillon.

After the fall of Edesse, there remained only the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the duchies of Antioch and Tripoli. All these territories had problems of their own that prevented them from being united. The troubles of the Kingdom of Jerusalem came with the kings Baldwin IV (1174-84) also known as the "Leper King" and especially Baldwin V. Succeeding Amalric III, Baldwin IV was extremely weakened by disease that was eventually to cause his death. Nevertheless, he kept a strong hand on his Kingdom. It was at this time that the main opposition to Baldwin's reign appeared, in the guise of Guy de Lusignan, married to one of the daughters of Amalric III and Raymond of Tripoli, who represented the native barons. This struggle, which symbolised the very dichotomy within the nature of the Crusaders, was the main cause of weakness till the end of the Kingdom.

The "Leper King" succeeded on 25 November 1177 in defeating Saladin's army at the Mont Giscard. A truce was signed and since Saladin didn't yet control all the neighbouring Moslem states, he seemed eager to respect it. However Reynald of Châtillon, an overseas knight but experienced in the affairs of the Levant, married Stephanie of Kerak and Montreal, which gave him a fiefdom in the deep south, not too far from the route used by the caravans on their way between Syria and Egypt. This restless and greedy knight decided to attack a caravan in 1181, thereby breaking the truce.

Happily enough for Reynald, Saladin was in 1182 busy in the North of Mesopotamia (Diyarbakir), gaining control over nearly all of Syria in 1183, seizing the major town of Aleppo, in front of both Antioch and Jerusalem. Though not yet under attack, the Latin States levied a special tax for defence in 1183. At the same time, Guy de Lusignan was designated "bailli", i.e. regent, giving him a considerable power base within the Kingdom. This decision was hotly contested by William of Tyre and other local knights.

At the end of September, Saladin crossed the Jordan. A Christian army (one of the largest of that time: including 1,300 knights and around 15,000 footmen) was sent against him. Saladin who didn't yet have full control of his newly won territories, and whose emirs longed for short campaigns, suffered also from a lack of provisions. The two armies, though close, didn't get into contact and Saladin ultimately moved back across the Jordan.

In hindsight, this was the best result for the Christians for they had gathered nearly all their military strength and its destruction would have meant disaster (of the kind which was to occur just four years later).

So the move was, in the event, wise and effective, for Saladin stepped back. Nevertheless, many criticised Guy de Lusignan for his lack of courage - the code of chivalry hadn't been followed. He thus lost both prestige and the king's ear, who consequently made other arrangements for his succession in 1184.

The king's nephew, the future Baldwin V, a sickly five-year old child, was to be first. In case of misfortune, an alternative arrangement was made whereby the four great rulers of the West: the Pope, the western emperor and the kings of France and England would arbitrate between the claims of the daughters of Amalric III. In the interim, Raymond of Tripoli, a local baron, was appointed "bailli". Guy de Lusignan was however married to one of these daughters, Sybil, and had the support of the military Orders and of overseas knights like Reynald whose strongholds were powerful.

Reynald during that time continued to attack passing caravans and even launched (though without success) a flotilla on the Red Sea in 1182-1183. However, following a four year truce agreed in 1185, he reigned in his exploits and instead involved himself in the troubles occurring within the Kingdom after the sudden death of Baldwin V in 1186.

In violation of the agreement of 1183-84 and in a personal attack against Raymond of Tripoli, a court party recalled Sybil (and her husband) to Jerusalem. Reynald and other knights supported them and the Masters of the two Orders (albeit reluctantly in the case of the Master of the Hospital) gave them the keys to the royal treasure, thereby allowing the crown to be used first on Sybil then on her husband Guy.

This palace revolution happened under the eyes of the native barons gathered at Nablus. Raymond then tried to crown Sybil's sister, but this one being in Reynald's family preferred to join him at Jerusalem. Raymond, realising the military danger for the Kingdom sought an agreement for his followers but remained in his domain of Tiberias.

Guy threatened him, which lead Raymond to ask for the military assistance of Saladin, who accepted eagerly. A status quo was thereby reached, as well as a truce, but peace was not achieved, for Raymond could not regain possession of his fiefdom of Beirut. Saladin was by then perfectly aware of the Kingdom's difficulties and was already interfering with its internal politics.

It was during this era that Reynald decided once more to attack a caravan on route between Cairo and Damascus (1187) thus breaking the four-year truce of 1185. Guy tried to force him to make restitution of the booty, but without any success. Saladin then declared a jihad, some chroniclers maintaining that his sister was in the caravan. At any rate, Saladin promised he would kill Reynald himself.

A Medieval illustration showing Saladin, on the left, and King Guy Cross,   It was Taqi ad Din, one of the Moslem commanders, who actually captured the Cross,

The need for an agreement became urgent but on the first of May, al-Afdal, a son of Saladin, accompanied by Emir Kukburi and several thousand Mamelukes, crossed the Jordan and passed, with Raymond's permission, through his territory. Guy's emissaries on their way to Tiberias, unaware that Moslems had been given safe passage, encountered them near Nazareth, and with a few nearby Templars decided to attack. The Christian force was too weak, assembled too quickly and was easily defeated in what was a massacre rather than a battle. 60 Templars were killed, representing a very significant proportion the total number of knights within the Kingdom.

Raymond realised the peril and made peace for the Kingdom's sake, dismissing Saladin's troops. However Guy's emissaries didn't trust him at all after having escaped the defeat at Nazareth. So despite his experience and his skills, Raymond was not given the leadership over the military operations. The chronicler Eracles wrote: "Ceste haine cest despit firent perdre le roiaume de Jerusalem" (loosely translated as 'through this enmity was lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem').

Saladin imposed a truce between Antioch and Aleppo in order to have the help of the emir against the Kingdom and gathered around him some 20,000 men, both light and heavy troops but with a strong contingent of mounted archers (which is not surprising in a Levantine army). He then crossed the Jordan at Sennabra on the 26th June and encamped by the river bank.

The "arriere-ban" was summoned in the Kingdom, which meant nearly all of the possible soldiers were called, leaving in the castles and cities but a few men. This was a critical measure. Gathered around the relic of the Holy Cross were mercenaries paid with English money, a few troops from Antioch and Tripoli and some pilgrims lightly armed. The total rose also to nearly 20,000 men, which meant that neither side had numeric superiority. 1,200 knights, a few thousand (maximum 4,000) light mounted sergeants and 9,000 footmen were the bulk of that army. It should be noted that a somewhat large group of native mounted bowmen were also used, but as auxiliaries they didn't change the overall Christian strategy.

The Christians were in good position, around a water source and had plenty of food available. Saladin therefore needed to act quickly or be forced to retreat once again.

Muslim warriors riding to battle, as portrayed by a Western medieval illustrator, 

showing the Muslims in Western armour.

Between the opponents was a large and dry plateau. The aim was to make the enemy cross it. Saladin therefore launched a few raids unsuccessfully but succeeded in controlling the pass of the Horns of Hattin, two hills just North of the plateau, and in attacking Tiberias, where Raymond's own wife defended the keep with a few men.

Though Raymond advised that the Christian force should not move, Guy's advisor (one of the emissaries) succeeded in catching his king's ear and called Raymond a traitor, emphasising the chivalric virtues of courage and protection of women. Guy then commanded the knights to cross the plateau, who though reluctantly, followed his order. At the forefront was Raymond who tried without success to change the route taken, while at the rear were the heavy Templars. Guy ask for a halt in the middle of the day. Though needed for the safety of the footmen and the horses suffering from thirst, that position turned out to be difficult during the night for there was no more water available and the army of Saladin surrounded them, already shouting for victory. That was the night of July the third. The following day, Raymond tried once again to reach the passes but it was too late and the battle took place just south of the Horns of Hattin.

Each opponent used its own proven tactics, therefore the battle was a "classic illustration of medieval warfare in the Levant" (History of the Crusades, I, Setton and Baldwin). The Crusaders organised themselves into a compact body of mixed heavy knights and infantry. That infantry was heavily protected by leather cloaks (gambesons) and sometimes even mail, and was also protected by the knight's horses from the Moslem bowmen. The tactic was to launch waves of knights who would gather again and again within the infantry made up of pike and cross-bow men who would remain a stable and compact rallying-point.

At the same time, the Moslems were maintaining their tactics of distant charges of light cavalry/mounted archers, stinging again and again the Christian troops. The decisive factor of this battle was that the Christian infantry couldn't resist its thirst after a few charges. They rushed towards the Horns of Hattin, leaving the knights unprotected. The fact that they were later destroyed in the Horns was nothing by comparison to the consequence of their flight: the powerful knights were decimated, though charging courageously many times, their horses killed by the surrounding Moslem bowmen. Only a few knights escaped with Raymond.

The difficulties for the knights had been increased by Saladin setting fire to the dry prairie when the wind turned in their direction. The Holy Cross was captured and the Orders arrived only as a rear-guard (therefore a few could flee). Later in the day, Saladin, after repulsing a last charge, himself attacked the demoralised and exhausted Christians. Thousands were killed or captured.

The knights were held for ransom but Reynald was killed by Saladin himself (thus fulfilling his promise) and the knights of the Orders were also killed (around 200). Footmen and sergeants were sold as slaves; a glut occurring in the slave market in Syria soon thereafter! The chronicler Abu-Shamah noticed that few horses were still alive but that many knights were on the contrary alive, which is validation of the technique used by the Moslems, killing the horses and turning the knights into heavy snails!

The result was that the Kingdom was stormed by the troops of Saladin, which in turn, caused another crusade… but that is another story. The Latin chroniclers remembered that gloomy day and gave the place a Latin name: Ager sanguinis - the Field of Blood.

Gaming Hattin

As for the game (DBM): the landscape is a dry plateau with two hills to the North (the way towards water but also the direction of the Moslems).


Lots of light cavalry armed with bows, surrounding and charging all the time. The bulk of the Moslem Army remains immovable till late in the day. At turn eight, the wind changes and allows the Moslems to set fire to the prairie. Basically the Moslem technique is to avoid direct contact as long as possible

12,000 askaris and mercenaries, elite troops. 8,000 levies and footmen from Egypt, regular with low morale. Contingents from Aleppo and other places, the weakest part of the army, except for the Hama contingent on the right (which honour was given by Saladin himself).


The Templar rearguard arrives at turn 4, still in marching order. The Holy Cross, with the King nearby, is important for morale. Low morale for the infantry (could be changed if the aim is changed, for example water instead of battle for its own sake) armed with pike and crossbows, with heavy protection. High morale for the heavy cavalry. Irregular native mounted archers. If possible, there should be more than one player on the Christian side, with no talking. Importance of ideals of chivalry over war tactics should also be considered (for example a requirement that the Christian player relieves Tiberias, for the fortress is defended by a woman).

I hope that the above information is useful in allowing a more historically accurate battle, albeit at the cost of ignoring the usual set-up procedures. GOOD GAMING!

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