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The Battle of Hattin and its Impact

Updated on April 28, 2017
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JMcFarland is a current student of comparative religion and history. They are also a cat owner and cat-bathing expert.

Depiction of the armies approaching Hattin
Depiction of the armies approaching Hattin | Source


Between the years of 1095 and 1291 AD, Christian Western Europe launched a series of Crusades in order to reclaim Christian lands lost to the Turks and also to conquer Jerusalem for Christendom.[1] Although prestigious in name and purpose to the Christians of Europe, the Crusades were not relegated to constant conflict and were marked instead by periods of peace where Jews, Muslims and Christians were able to coexist in the Holy Land and respected treaties. The treaty between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin in place in 1187, however, was broken by an assault on a Muslim caravan by a Christian crusader. This event triggered the battle between Saladin’s Muslim forces and the army of Jerusalem at the Horns of Hattin, which destroyed the crusader army and allowed Saladin the ability to recapture Jerusalem and destroy much of the Christian holdings in Palestine. While the result of the battle of Hattin may seem inevitable in hindsight, the combination of fractured leadership among the crusaders, a weak and indecisive king, superior strategy by Saladin and battlefield conditions all played a role in securing a victory for the Muslims. While each of these factors were present in previous campaigns, at Hattin they all combined and were expertly exploited to Saladin’s advantage.



[1] Dr. Richard Abels, “Timeline for the Crusades and Christian Holy War c. 1350,” United States Naval Academy, Internet, available from, accessed 15 February 2017.

The State of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

The Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was fractured, divided and in disarray prior to the events that ultimately led to the battle at Hattin. Baldwin V, future King of Jerusalem died in the summer of 1186 at eight years of age.[1] Named regent until the King reached his majority, Raymond of Tripoli was supposed to be temporary governor until the leaders of Europe could decide between sisters Sibylla or Isabella to rule Jerusalem.[2] Unfortunately for Raymond, however, Sibylla acted quickly and decisively after Baldwin V’s death, seizing Jerusalem while her supporters simultaneously claimed both Acre and Beirut, centers of Crusader power, while Raymond was in Tiberius presumably gathering his own forces. [3] As Queen, Sibylla named her husband, Guy de Lusignan King of Jerusalem – a move that did not sit well with a lot of the nobility of the Holy Land who, due to previous actions, indecisiveness and hesitation was viewed by many as incompetent to lead Jerusalem and its army.[4] In the year leading up to the battle of Hattin, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was divided, on the verge of splitting into smaller, independent kingdoms who individually had no chance at standing up or defending themselves against Saladin’s united Muslim army alone.[5]

A lack of respect for the leadership of Guy de Lusignan came from the campaign season in 1183.[6] Saladin launched an invasion against the Crusader states in 1182 that continued through the 1183 campaign season. Guy, acting as regent, kept the army of Jerusalem camped at the springs of Sepphoris despite the attacks against various Crusader strongholds throughout the region.[7] Although the decision to remain camped at Sepphoris was probably the correct move against the Muslim harassment, Guy’s decision to remain and do nothing made him appear weak, indecisive and incompetent to many nobles of Jerusalem, and helped trigger the lasting feud between Guy and Raymond of Tripoli upon Baldwin V’s death in 1186.[8] In a twist of irony, however, the battle of Hattin mirrored the 1183 campaign season incredibly closely, and had Guy remained in Sepphoris as he did in 1183, the entire Jerusalem army could have potentially been spared the fate that awaited them at the hands of Saladin’s army.[9]



[1] Malcom Barber, The Crusader States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 289-323.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barber.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Michael Ehrlich, “The Battle of Hattin: A Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold?” Journal of Medieval Military History, 5 (2007): 16-32.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ehrlich.

The Battle

Given the discord between Raymond of Tripoli and Guy de Lusignan after the death of King Baldwin V, Raymond had brokered a 4 year peace agreement with Saladin in 1185. In 1186, however, Reynald de Chatillon attacked a Muslim caravan and took prisoners and goods back to his stronghold of Kerak.[1] Under the terms of the truce, Saladin demanded that Reynald free the prisoners and return the goods that were stolen.[2] Reynald refused, and although Guy de Lusignan agreed with Saladin’s claim, he would not stand against Reynald.[3] A pitched battle between Saladin’s forces and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was now inevitable.[4] Although previous campaign seasons had been a give and take between the Muslims and the Christians in the Holy Land, in 1187 Saladin desired a full-scale fight with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and he set a plan in motion to lure them out and assure himself that they would take the bait.[5]

Saladin assembled the largest army he ever commanded and prepared for a full-scale invasion of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the spring of 1187 and crossed the Jordan River, laying siege to the city of Tiberius where Raymond’s wife and sons were located.[6] Guy and the entire army of Jerusalem and were already encamped in Sepphoris. Given Guy’s history to wait Saladin out and weigh his next moves – to the detriment of his reputation – it’s possible that Saladin attacked Tiberius solely to draw Guy into battle.[7] Despite the plight of his family, Raymond advised Guy to not go to the aid of Tiberius.[8] Although Guy initially agreed, he changed his mind and decided to march to defend Tiberius, leaving the resources of Sepphoris behind.[9] This was to prove to be a fatal mistake, not for Guy himself, but for the overwhelming majority of the army of Jerusalem and the Crusader kingdom.[10] Once the army left the springs at Sepphoris and moved away from a water supply, they began to suffer exhaustion and thirst under the July sun.[11] In addition, Saladin sent his cavalry to harass the flanks and the rear of the army, exacerbating an already brutal set of circumstances, and keeping the Franks on edge until they finally – and fatefully – decide to make camp instead of pressing on towards the Sea of Galilee.[12] Reflecting the lingering feud between Raymond and Guy and indicative of the deep divisions in Frankish leadership, the primary sources diverge here, with some placing the blame solely on Raymond, while others blame the King for his poor judgement.[13][14][15] Regardless, making camp away from a water source after a long, hot and beleaguered march was a mistake of epic proportions, and from that decision onward, the fate of the Jerusalem army was set. Overnight, Saladin ordered brushfires set around the crusader camp to increase their thirst, leaving them with no relief.[16] Overnight, the crusader army was surrounded with all paths towards water and towards Tiberius cut off by Saladin’s forces, leaving no alternative but to stand and fight.[17]

Ideally, the crusader battle formation allowed the mounted knights to shield the infantry, who could then launch volleys of arrows at the opposition.[18] Unfortunately, Saladin moved too quickly for formation to be put into place and the infantry abandoned the cavalry and the king, retreating up a hill and refusing to return.[19] In either a desperate attempt to turn the tide of battle or in a treacherous hope for escape, Raymond and his knights charged the Muslim line but instead of colliding with the enemy, the line parted and allowed him to gallop through, re-forming behind the cavalry charge and preventing him from rejoining the army and continuing the fight.[20] Raymond and his few survivors left the army behind and continued on to Tyre.[21] The cavalry under Guy could not withstand the onslaught of the Muslim forces from all sides without the support of the infantry, and the remainder of the Jerusalem army retreated up the hill where the infantry had fled.[22] From this position, the army was able to muster several changes, and to the dismay of Saladin, these cavalry charges came perilously close to Saladin’s position, but were ultimately repulsed and pushed back.[23] The crusader army, exhausted, battle weary and thirsty were not able to continue the fight, and by mid-afternoon, the leaders were all in Saladin’s custody.[24] Saladin took Guy prisoner and took him to Damascus.[25] He killed Reynald de Chatillon personally for his repeated attacks, and ordered the execution of the military orders, including 230 Templars.[26]



[1] J. Richard, “Battle of Hattin, 4 July 1187,”, Internet, available from, accessed 28 December 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Erlich.

[7] Ibid.


[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ernoul, “The Batle of Hattin 1187,” Medieval History Sourcebook, Fordham University, Internet, available from, accessed 27 December 2016.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “The Capture of the Holy Land by Saladin” ed. Joseph Stevenson, rolls Series (London, Longmans, 11875).

[15] Sihab al-Din b. Fadl Allah al’Umari, “The battle of Hattin from a Muslim Source,” Medieval History Sourcebook, Fordham University, Internet, available from https://lhswildcatsorg/files/lhs/docs/n1446/primary_sources_3rd_crusade_hattin.doc, accessed 27 December 2016.

[16] Erlich.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Erlich.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Sihab al-Din.

[24] Erlich.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

Hattin's Aftermath

Within three months of the defeat at Hattin Saladin was able to regain lots of territory lost during the initial crusade, including Tiberius and Acre.[1] Not only had Hattin been a battle of enormous size, Guy had assembled the overwhelming majority of available Frankish forces and had hired many mercenaries to the cause, only to lose it all in one afternoon.[2] Upon his ascension to power and his consolidation of the Muslim states, Saladin had made a promise to return Jerusalem to Muslim control – a promise he kept a mere three months after his victory at Hattin.[3] Jerusalem’s population swelled between July and October as refugees from cities lost to Saladin’s forces fled to the main remaining stronghold.[4] Saladin’s forces approached Jerusalem at the end of September, and on October 2, Jerusalem capitulated. Unlike the Frankish forces upon the initial capture of Jerusalem, Saladin ransomed its people, with a price set at 2 dinars per child, 5 dinars per woman and 10 dinars for men, allowing all who could pay go free – and as the “noble enemy” of the crusades, many who could not afford the payment were allowed to go free through his mercy and charity.[5] When news reached Europe of the defeat at Hattin and the capture of Jerusalem, the call for a third crusade was almost immediate, initiating a new period of conflict between the Christian West and the Muslim East – a contentious struggle that continued to plague the region for centuries to come.[6] In fact, the concept and implementation of a Jihad really came to life in this period, and Saladin’s army in 1186-1187 was one of the first to believe their cause to be a Holy War – largely due to the actions of Reynald de Chatillon and others like him.[7] That trend has become a part of relations between the Western and Eastern worlds ever since, with varying degrees of intensity.[8]

While the Battle of Hattin was but one engagement in a centuries-long religious war, it devastated the Kingdom of Jerusalem and directly facilitated the loss of Jerusalem itself to Saladin’s Muslim forces. The crusades were brutal and bloody affairs, and although Saladin was the mortal enemy of the Christian West, he was still respected and regarded as noble for his conduct towards others both on and off of the battlefield.[9] The loss at Hattin cost the Franks almost all of their army, their king and ultimately their key prize – Jerusalem, but the loss cannot be blamed on any one factor. Rather a combination of key ingredients contributed overall to Saladin’s victory. Guy de Lusignan did not have the respect or following of a large number of his nobles due to previous conduct on campaign, and the leadership of the Franks was fractured and divided under his command. Conditions were stacked against the crusaders once they moved away from water and supplies at Sepphoris. Saladin desired a full-scale battle against the Jerusalem army, and was able to bait Guy – at the urging of his nobles – into giving it to him. And finally, Saladin was able to use every advantage masterfully from the lack of water, to the luring the Crusaders into a nearly indefensible position that allowed Saladin to decapitate the army of Jerusalem nearly entirely. All of these factors had been present in different encounters between these two great powers, but at Hattin they coalesced into a disastrous turn of events for the Kingdom of Jerusalem and costing them nearly everything in the process.



[1] Erlich

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] James Lacey, “Crushed on the Horns of Hattin,” Military History 25, no. 1(2008): 48-57.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Philip A. Mackowiak, “The Last Days of Saladin ‘Noble Enemy’ of the Third Crusade,” Military Medicine 175, no. 10 (2010):784-787.


Abels, Richard. “Timeline for the Crusades and Christian Holy War to c. 1350.” United States Naval Academy. Internet. Available from, accessed 15 February 2017.

Barber, Malcolm. The Crusader States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

De Expugatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum, (The Capture of the Holy Land by Saladin), ed. Joseph Stevenson, Rolls Series, (London: Longmans, 1875), translated by James Brundage, the Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 159-63.

Ehrlich, Michael. “The Battle of Hattin: A Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold?” In Journal of Medieval Military History, Volume 5, ed. Clifford J Rogers, Kelly DeVries, John France, 16-32. Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, Boydell Press, 2007.

Ernoul: The Battle of Hattin, 1187. Medieval History Sourcebook, Fordham University. Internet. Available from, accessed 27 December 2016.

Lacey, James. “Crushed on the Horns of Hattin.” Military History 25, no. 1 (2008): 48-57.

Mackowiak, Phillip A. “The Last Days of Saladin – “Noble Enemy” of the Third Crusade.” Medieval Medicine 175, no. 10 (2010): 784-787.

Richard, J. “Battle of Hattin, 4 July 1187.” History of Internet. Available from, accessed 28 December 2016.

Sihab al-Din b. Fadl Allah al’Umari. “The Battle of Hattin from a Muslim Source.” Medieval History Sourcebook, Fordham University. Internet. Available from, accessed 27 December 2016.

© 2017 Elizabeth


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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Thanks Julie and Brian. I've a feeling my brain did a short-circuit or else I lost track doing the washing-up. I don't remember Baldwin. A little earlier, during the time Alexios Komnenos was emperor of Byzantium Robert 'Guiscard' ('Foxy') de Hauteville's nephew Bohemond took Antioch from the Saracens and defied Alexios to take it from him.

      He styled himself 'Prince of Antioch' in a bid not to be outshone by his kinsman Roger I, King of Sicily.

      Around that time also King Harold's daughter Gytha is said to have gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem after the first Crusade, in which William I's son Robert 'Curthose' and his new-found friend Eadgar 'the Aetheling' took part, her son Mstislav by Valdemar 'Monomakh' having grown up . Harold's youngest son Ulf/Wulf (by Eadgytha 'Swan-neck') is thought to have gone with them. Wonder if they met up?

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Very interesting. One thing that also had a direct effect on the third crusade was Guy De Luisignion was also a minor knight who held land in Anjou in France.

      The 'Count' of Anjou at the time was Richard the Lionheart, as such, he was 'duty bound' to help Guy get his land back.

      Also one of those proposed to take over as 'King' in Jerusalem (by the pope) was his brother John.

      By the way, the movie Alan might be thinking of is 'Kingdom of Heaven'

      By the way Alan, the king who had leprosy was the predecessor Baldwin IV (known as 'the leper' he was friends with Salahadin)

    • JMcFarland profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      I think the movie you're referring to is Kingdom of Heaven, and it wasn't Guy who had leprosy, it was King Baldwin. Good film, not particularly accurate historically, but fun to watch. I will add captions and see about removing the footnotes, this was a term paper so the format was a little strange to carry over.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting account Julie, although the brackets and references between body copy and images was a bit distracting.

      I remember a feature film that covered this episode of the Crusades - themselves a contentious and unnecessary issue on a cause trumped up by various Pontiffs - that showed de Lusignan as suffering from leprosy.

      Now I know the issue behind the film's story line, it makes 'sense' (inasmuch as the Crusades might have made sense to Christians of the time, ignorant of the realities). Salah ad Din was if anything over-generous toward his enemies, even advising the headstrong and profligate King Richard I to wear a silk over-shirt under his chain mail. Richard ignored the advice, and although he survived his time in Palestine he fell to a French arrow. He died soon after of blood poisoning, and Salah ad Din took the Holy Land. Crusading was abandoned not long after that and warring between European states resumed.

      Now we call it politics.

      PS: Do you think you could put captions on the images? It might help to know what they depicted, although the bust of Salah ad Din speaks for itself.


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