Tag Archives: medieval war

The Hattin Campaign and the Triumph of Saladin in 1187

Medieval politics make modern politics look like child’s play.  If any act from medieval times highlights this it is the Hattin Campaign of 1187 in which the entire military might of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed because the Christians themselves collectively acted stupidly due to internal political factors in the face of an existential external threat.  The final campaign of the Kingdom of Jerusalem is best seen as an object lesson of what happens when you let internal politics direct external actions.

In 1186 Guy de Lusignan became king of Jerusalem through his wife Sibylla after the death of Baldwin V while in his minority.  The coronation was disputed at the time by Raymond III who had been regent under Baldwin V.  This dispute almost led to civil war and it did lead Raymond to leave the capital with his retinue and return to Tripoli.

In April, 1187 Raymond had negotiated a truce with Saladin to allow transit of Muslims below Galillee.  Balian if Ibelin violated the truce, attacked the Muslim force commanded by Al Afdal, and was defeated at the Battle fo Cresson on 1 May 1187.Hattin 1

The violation of the truce led Saladin to declare the Kingdom of Jerusalem essentially outlaw and mount an invasion.  Because the prospect of hanging concentrate a man greatly, the Christians of the kingdom put aside their differences and called out the host of the kingdom to try and defeat Saladin and save the kingdom.

The Christian army massed near the springs of Saffuriya. Meanwhile on July 2nd Saladin initiated of siege of Raymond’s castle (near modern Kinneret) at Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).  The castle garrison surrendered the same day after an offer to pay tribute was rejected.  Raymond’s wife remained holed up in the castle citadel.Hattin 2

When news arrived of the fall of the castle but that the citadel was still holding out a war council was held.  After much arguing it was agreed that the Christian army would move to lift the siege.

They approached Tiberias on July 3rd.  When they spotted Saladin’s army they moved to defensive positions on the Horns of Hattin, a two summited hill without a spring or water source about 4 kilometers from the castle.

Saladin seized the Springs of Tur’an, the only convenient water source for the Christians.  The single biggest mistake the fractious Christians made was to retreat there in the first place.  Saladin used his army, and especially hi horse archers, to pick off individual Christian soldiers who cam off the hill to find water.  Saladin aggravated the lack of water by setting grass fires that choked the Christian army with smoke and eventually the Christian army moved off of the hill and attempted to break Saladin’s line to get to the lake and water.

After the Christians came off the hill Saladin split his cavalry in two to flank the Christian army.  Saladin now had the Christians surrounded.  His archers continually harassed the Christians and they faded away when the knights charged only to start firing again when the knights returned to the Christian lines.  After the second charge Raymond of Tripoli was cut off from the main body and he retreated from the battlefield.  Eventually the remnants of the Christian army was trapped on the Horns where they surrendered to Saladin.  The captured included the Grand Masters of the knights Templar and Hospitaler as well King Guy and many of the Christian nobility.

After the Battle of Hattin the Christian nobility of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was decimated. The Kingdom would never recover although it would be another 100 years before the last vestiges of the Christian Kingdom were ejected from the Holy Land.


Hattin 3


After the disaster at the Horns of Hattin Saladin marched on Jerusalem and laid siege to it.

The city surrendered on October 2nd and unlike the orgy of rape and pillage when the First Crusade had taken the city in 1099 Saladin allowed the residents of the city to ransom themselves.  The Patriarch of Jerusalem took up a collection which paid the ransom for about 18,000 residents.  Those who could not pay and the soldiers who defended the city were sold into slavery.

The crusader kingdom of Jerusalem was rescued by the Third Crusade, which captured Acre on the coast.  This rump state of coastal cities survived for another hundred years until the final Fall of Acre in 1291 to the Mamluk Baibars.

Book Review: The Medieval Fortress by J.E. & H.W. Kaufmann

The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, And Walled Cities Of The Middle Ages is a good study of the art and methods of fortifications and castles built in Eastern and Western Europe during the Middle Ages from the fall of Rome to the early modern period.

The book is right around 300 pages long and includes many illustrations.  It also includes a glossary, which is very helpful to those that are not familiar with the technical terms for elements of castles and fortifications. It is separated into 5 chapters, the first deals with the elements of fortification, the next three are chronological about the development of castles and the final chapter covers the significant castles of Europe by country of location.

The layout and organization of this book is very good, but one of the things I like the best about it is the way in which the information is presented.  This book is written for the layman but the authors manage to maintain the scholarly feel of the writing without putting the reader off the subject.  that is a very difficult balancing act with any subject but particularly so with something as inherently technical as the design of castles and fortifications.  The authors manage to both inform and entertain in this book.

Another interesting aspect of this book is the author’s use of castles that are not famous as well as those that are to illustrate their points.  What I discovered while reading this book was that many of the less famous castles are more interesting than the ones we have all heard of.  It is interesting to read about the history of the White Tower in London but most people have heard of it.  What most people have not heard of who do not study fortification or the medieval world are Vincennes Castle in France or Doonagors Castle in Ireland, both interesting takes on tower construction.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the descriptions of significant forts and castles of the countries in Europe.  I got several travel ideas from reading this section of castles I would like to visit when I get the chance. The only drawback, if you can call it that, is that there are no color illustrations in the book, everything is black & white.  That is only a minor complaint though and the lack of color photos does not really detract from the value of the book.  This is an excellent book on medieval fortification that should be of interest to both the medievalist and those who just think castles are cool.  I highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage

Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History is a very interesting book.  I picked it up because we had a three hour bus ride to get to my son’s football game and my wife was using my Kindle.  I am certainly glad I did.

This is a well written 330 page book.  It includes an index and bibliography, both unfortunately short.  The book is organized chronologically in five chapters covering fortification and castles from the 5th to the 16th century A.D.  Each chapter is further subdivided geographically and covers both eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East. There are many illustrations, both ground plans and sketches that help to illuminate the text. This is a very good introductory volume to medieval fortification.

I found the book to be both entertaining and informative.  The author has a very readable writing style and except for using the unavoidable specialist vocabulary of fortification is easy to understand.  For someone like me who finds the military aspects of castles fascinating it was quite illuminating to read.  I already knew quite a bit about castles but I learned a few things myself.  Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the development of the Trace Italienne fortifications of the 15th and 16th centuries.  I was not aware that many of the elements of that style were not really developed in Italy, but instead were only perfected there. One of the most interesting things about this book is that the author deliberately chose to focus most of this work on less famous castles and forts.  Everyone has heard of Carcassonne, Beaumaris, and Krak des Chavaliers.  Most people have not heard or seen descriptions of such equally important castles as Helmond Castle in the Netherlands or Bellver in Spain.  Many of these lesser known castles are fascinating in their own right and the descriptions cause me to add some of them to my bucket list of places to visit.

The only complaint I have about this book is that it does not include a glossary of terms which I feel would be extremely useful, especially for people unfamiliar with the technical terms for the parts of fortification   It can become pretty confusing to keep the different elements in mind when the author continually throws around such terms as enciente, ravelin, keep, donjon, burgfried, bastille, bastion, etc. Overall this well-written and illustrated work about medieval European and Middle Eastern castles and frost is well worth reading.  I highly recommend this work to anybody interested in European castles and how they developed over time.

How to Build and Fire a Medieval Trebuchet

Who would not want to build their own Trebuchet and rain down destruction on various targets in their backyard? I know I did. Luckily, I got a Trebuchet kit from my wife for Christmas. The below video is the result of that and one I put together for a class I am currently taking on Desktop Video Production. The assignment was to make a five minute video on a topic of our choice. It had to have x-number of transitions, background music, narration and video effects. That is why there are so many crazy transitions in the video.
Believe me, shooting it is way more fun that watching me shoot it. That doesn’t bother me because I am having the fun. However, you too can have as much fun as me. The Trebuchet I have is a kit available from Oakland Ballistics on Amazon.

The background music is from an awesome Celtic band I found a while back called The Gothard SIsters.  They have several albums out already and a new one is due out this coming summer.

Book Review: Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson

Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson is perhaps the best book describing Castles aimed at the general reader that I have ever read.  The author manages to make the somewhat technical and dry language of describing castles and their construction lovely and entertaining.

It is a coffee table sized book that is jam packed with beautiful color photos of castles from all over Europe and the Middle East.  There are 200 pages with a glossary, index, and bibliography.  It is divided into 6 chronological chapters with a lengthy introduction that describes the development of the art of fortification up to the development of the first castles.  He also includes a chapter describing what living in a castle must have truly been like.  The glossary is short but helpful as it includes all the technical terms that are easily misused.

John Gibson has produced work about castles and their construction that is both informative and entertaining.  He deftly covers the castles invention and development over a period of about 1,000 years and ties the castle into both hat came before and what came after in the art of fortification.   Along the way he dispels some myths about castles, such as that they were dark dank places or the opposite that they were full of light and warmth.  He gives the lie to both notions and establishes that the truth lay somewhere in between.  He also points out that dungeons as described in popular literature did not really exist although there were some places in castles that were used as prisons including entire castle at times.  What was good for keeping people out was also pretty good at keeping them in when used for that purpose.

Aside from the quality of the photos the thing about this book that I enjoyed the most was the quality of the writing.  I never got bored while reading this book and the illustrations are well placed to illuminate the text.  There are several fold-outs of significant castles that illustrate stages in castle development.  This is a highly enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.