Post-classical history

Jaffa, Battle of (1192)

The name given to clashes between the forces of King Richard I of England and Saladin at the port of Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel) that enabled the crusaders to keep most of the gains they had made during the Third Crusade (1189-1192) just when it seemed that they were about to lose them.

After a second unsuccessful advance on Jerusalem, the crusade began to break up when many crusaders left Palestine to return to the West during the early summer of 1192. On 28 June Saladin then made an unexpected attack on the coastal town of Jaffa. The extraordinary courage of the garrison won just enough time for news to reach Richard, who was then at Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel). He sailed to Jaffa, taking Saladin by surprise on 1 August and forcing him to withdraw when on the brink of victory.

Richard had too few men to defend Jaffa’s broken walls, so he set up camp outside them. Saladin saw the opportunity and, after a night march, ordered his men to attack at dawn on 5 August. But Richard managed to get his spearmen and crossbowmen into battle array, and Saladin’s troops, despite their great numerical superiority, were so demoralized that they retreated again after allowing Richard to put on a display of the kind of knightly heroism that impressed both Muslims and Christians. To the chronicler Ambroise, it all seemed a miracle, and to others an incredible victory.

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