Capable Men of History: Saladin

Saladin was a Muslim ruler in the 12th century who reigned over the areas of both Syria and Egypt from 1174 to 1193. He is mostly known for his surprising victory over the Christian Crusaders during the Battle of Hattin. He then proceeded to capture Jerusalem in 1187. Saladin was also responsible for almost destroying all the Latin East states located within the Levant and was also an important figure in the Third Crusade. 

Saladin’s main success was in unifying all of the Near East Muslims from Arabia to Egypt. He did so by utilizing a combination of warfare, holy war, and diplomacy. He was skilled in both politics and warfare, along with being chivalrous and generous as well. His character was such that he was eulogized in both Muslim and Christian history. He has also been featured in a lot of literature since his death in 1193. Since he was a self-made man, we may compare him to some of the greatest self-made men in American history

Early Life and Career


al-Malik al-Nasir Salah al-Dunya wa’l-Din Abu’l Muzaffar Yusuf Ibn Ayyub Ibn Shadi al-Kurdi was the full name of the ruler we now know as Saladin or Salah-ud-Din. His father’s name was Ayub, who was a Kurdish mercenary. Saladin himself was born in the year 1137 within the Takrit castle located northward from Baghdad. 

Early on in his career, Saladin managed to rise rapidly through military ranks and also had a reputation for being gifted in both horse-riding and polo. He had an uncle named Shirku, who went on military campaigns and conquered Egypt with Saladin by his side in 1169. Saladin would then take over the responsibilities of the governor of Egypt under Nur-ad-Din. According to at least one historian, the young Saladin at this time was a man of short stature, a round face, alert eyes, and a neat black beard. 

After the death of Nur ad-Din in 1174, the Muslim states coalition broke up and the previous ruler’s successors started fighting over who would get the position. Saladin laid claim here and established himself as the Sultan of Egypt. 

How Saladin Unified the Muslim World

How Saladin Unified the Muslim World

As the Sultan, Saladin focused on bringing Damascus under his control as well. He was successful in this endeavor in 1174, and aimed to protect Sunni Orthodoxy. To this end, he removed the Shiite Cairo Caliph and organized the state according to strictly Sunni Islamic laws. After that, he wanted to unify the whole of the Muslim world. His aim was to at least have some effective coalition between the states. This was a huge project, as there were a lot of states, some independent rulers of cities, and several differences between the Shiite and Sunni Muslim sects. 

Saladin adopted the strategy of diplomacy at times, but was also open to using warfare when he felt the situation required it. He felt that he was meant to wage holy war against the Middle East Christian settlers. He also had no reservations about going to war against any Muslims who were his enemies. 

In 1175, an Aleppo rival’s army was defeated by Saladin’s troops at Hama. Eventually, the Caliph of Baghdad–then hailed as the leader for all those of the Sunni sect—formally accepted Saladin as the governor of Syria and Yemen as well as the ruler of Egypt. This was the point when Saladin gained a proper place among the Muslim leaders of that day. However, Aleppo was to stay against Saladin and be independent–perhaps the main reason for this was that it was ruled by Nur ad-Din’s son. There were at least two assassination attempts on Saladin as the Sultan of Egypt–the main culprits here were members of the powerful Shiite Assassins sect. Saladin did not remain quiet after these attacks, but immediately attacked the Assassin’s castle in Syria and looted the surrounding areas as well. 

Victorious Campaigns in 1179


Saladin tried to be mainly diplomatic in his dealings. One of these diplomatic actions was his marrying Ismat, who was the widow of Nur-ad-Din and the daughter of Unur, the late ruler of Damascus. With this marriage, Saladin was able to gain some association with two string ruling dynasties. 

In his diplomatic and warfare route, there were also issues such as the western settlers in various areas. These were usually called the Franks at the time. He did suffer one defeat against them in 1177 at Mont Gisard. However, there were more victories, such as the conflict at Marj Ayyun in 1179 and taking over a fortress by River Jordan. With these actions, Saladin meant to completely eliminate the Franks from the Middle East region. 

Saladin’s Reputation

Saladin’s Reputation

Saladin’s efforts were gaining a lot of praise and support from the Muslim world. His reputation for being generous and just helped him out in establishing an image as the leader and defender of Muslims and the faith against all rivals. After capturing Aleppo in 1183, he built us a naval fleet that was to prove very useful. After securing his existing borders, he then moved on to the fight in the Latin states. 

Battle of Hattin and the Capture of Jerusalem


In 1187, Saladin’s army started the Battle of Hattin. He had mounted archers who continually attacked the Franks with a shower of arrows. The leader of the Franks was the king of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan. His army was badly outnumbered and also suffered from a water shortage. The Muslims, on the other hand, had camel trains providing them plenty of supplies. The latter also started fires in the dry brush and grass so that the enemies would be forced to give up. While Raymond of Tripoli did manage to get through the Muslim lines and cause a lot of casualties, the remaining Franks army couldn’t escape the Muslims. Finally, Saladin’s army managed to gain a major victory. 

After the captured Guy, Saladin offered him an iced beverage. The Muslim ruler also free certain nobles after getting ransom, as was the norm in medieval warfare. However, Raynold of Chatillon was not spared due to his previous attack on the Muslims. The Knights Hospitallier and Knights Templar were also considered to be too dangerous and fanatical to set free, so they were executed as well. The other captives were enslaved and sold. 

For other insights into the military experience, we can also read up on some capable men in history such as Sun-Tzu, who wrote the famous treatise The Art of War. 

Even at that time, the city of Jerusalem was a priced symbol for both Christians and Muslims. Saladin was successful in capturing it–at that point, the city was almost defenseless due to the heavy loss of the Christian troops. Several other cities were now also under Saladin’s control, including Jaffa, Caesarea, Acre, Nazareth, and Tiberius. 

Personality of Saladin


After the True Cross was captured, Saladin was established as the hero of the Muslims. He even employed two biographers for recording his activities. There was also vast support for both educational and religious institutions. 

The Sultan also loved poetry, gardens, and hunting. He was generous to everyone, especially those who belonged to his own family. Overall, he wasn’t interested in collecting wealth for his personal use. His personal secretary, Baha al-Din, was the one who kept some money hidden in case of any emergencies; he knew that if Saladin knew of this extra reserve he would immediately give it away. If anyone ever advised the Sultan to keep some money for himself, he would answer ‘‘there are people for whom money is no more important than sand’.

The Third Crusade

The Third Crusade

After the capture of Jerusalem, Saladin had to continue the holy war (jihad) against the westerners. In 1187, Pope Gregory III made the call for a recapturing of Jerusalem, leading to the third Crusade. The Holy Roman Emperor, the King of Germany, and Richard I ‘Lionheart’ of England responded to the call. Guy of Lusignan was also all set to lay siege to Acre in 1189. 

Even though the Christian Crusaders were able to capture Acre in 1191 and a chunk of the Muslim navy, these losses were not huge blows to Saladin’s army. The Muslim ruler was able to keep control over most of the empire. He then entered a truce in 1192 with Richard the Lionheart, effectively ending the Third Crusade. 



Just some months after the end of the Third Crusade, Saladin passed away in his favorite Damascus gardens. He wasn’t too old–around 56 or 55 according to most records–but he had exhausted himself with military campaigns for most of his adult life. At the point of his death, he didn’t have much personal wealth of his own; most of it was given to his subjects. There wasn’t even enough left over for his own last rites and burial. Moreover, he Muslim coalition he had assembled will also disperse soon after he dies. However, his Ayyubid dynasty descendants stayed ruling over Syria and Egypt for generations.