After more than a week of laying siege to perhaps the most contested city in the world, Muslim military commander of the Crusades, Sultan Saladin Yusuf ibn Ayyub marched into Jerusalem on this day in history in 1187, resulting in Jerusalem’s recapture into Muslim hands and the near-total collapse of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Following his July 1187 victory at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin captured many Christian territories in the Holy Land. Christian crusader Balian of Ibelin escaped Hattin and later approached Saladin to ask permission to pass through battle lines to retrieve his wife and family, which Saladin granted in exchange for an oath that Balian would not take up arms and remain in the city for only one day. Balian agreed. Approaching the city, Balian faced pressure from Queen Sibylla and Patriarch Heraclius to defend the city and reneged on this oath. He conveyed his change of heart to Saladin.
On 20 September 1187, Saladin arrived outside Jerusalem with his army, and immediately opened negotiations for a peaceful surrender. The negotiations were fruitless and Saladin commenced a siege of the city. For days he and his men attacked the Tower of David and the Damascus Gate but were continually repulsed by Balian’s men. After six days of failed efforts, Saladin shifted his focus to a stretch of wall near the Mount of Olives. For three days, Saladin’s forces relentlessly pounded the wall with catapults. After mining a section of the fortification, the wall collapsed and Saladin and his forces marched into Jerusalem on 29 September 1187.
After negotiations, Balian and Saladin agreed to a peaceful transition of power in Jerusalem. According to most reports, Saladin ransomed 7,000 Christians for 30,000 bezants, the local currency at the time. After Balian presented the keys to the Tower of David on 2 October, Saladin, in an act of mercy, freed many more Christians destined for slavery. They left the city in three columns led by the Knights of Templar, the Hospitallers, Balian, and Patriarch Heraclius.
Now in control of the city, Saladin continued to allow Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem and allowed the Church of Holy Sepulchre to remain in Christian hands.
The Muslim siege and capture of Jerusalem, led by Saladin, was a turning point in the Crusades and ultimately led to a third Crusade in 1189. It also earned Saladin, a Muslim Kurd born in present-day Iraq, enormous respect for his chivalry and generosity, from his followers and enemies alike.
Caption: “Saladin the Victorious,” from Gustave Doré’s “History of the Crusades.”