Nûr al-Dīn Mahmûd was the Turkish ruler of Aleppo and Damascus, best known for uniting most of the Muslim Near East against the Franks.
Nûr al-Dīn was the second son of Zangī (d. 1146), the ruler of Mosul and Aleppo, who captured the city of Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) from the Franks in 1144. After the death of Zangī, Mosul and the territories of upper Mesopotamia were inherited by his eldest son, Sayf al-Dīn Ghāzī (d. 1149), while Nûr al-Dīn received the western half of Zangī’s territories, including Edessa and Aleppo. Inheriting only part of his father’s lands reduced the resources Nûr al-Dīn could draw on for his campaigns, and relations between him and Sayf al- Dīn became temporarily strained untilNûr al-Dīn paid formal homage to his brother, who confirmed the eastern extent of his territories and charged him with the jihad (holy war) against the Franks. Thereafter, the generally cordial relations Nûr al-Dīn maintained with his brother enabled him to devote his attention entirely to his Syrian interests without having to worry about his eastern borders.
When the Armenian populace of Edessa heard of Zangī’s death, they neutralized the city’s Muslim garrison and appealed to their former Frankish ruler, Count Joscelin II. Nûr al-Dīn arrived at the city first, defeated the Franks, and crushed the Armenians.
In May 1147 Nûr al-Dīn and Mu‘īn al-Dīn of Damascus repelled the Franks from the Hauran. Then, in July 1148, Damascus was attacked by the combined armies of the Second Crusade (1147-1149) and the kingdom of Jerusalem. Responding to appeals from Mu‘īn al-Dīn, Nûr al-Dīn advanced on the city. In the face of this threat the Franks withdrew. In June 1149 Nûr al-Dīn attacked the region of Apamea in northern Syria and defeated the Franks near Inab. He then besieged Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey), where a treaty was made after he had taken Apamea (mod. Afāmiyah, Syria) and Harenc (mod. Harim, Syria). In August Mu‘īn al-Dīn died. Nûr al-Dīn attempted to intervene in Damascus, appealing to the city’s inhabitants for support against the Franks, but instead they sought Frankish aid against him. Nûr al-Dīn encamped near Damascus, but on hearing that Joscelin II of Edessa had been captured he returned to Aleppo. In the summer of 1150, in cooperation with theSaljûq sultan of Rûm, Mas‘ûd (d. 1155), Nûr al-Dīn attacked territories around Antioch, and by autumn he held the region downstream of Bira (mod. Birecik, Turkey), thus shifting the western border of Muslim lands from the Euphrates to the Orontes.
In 1151 Nûr al-Dīn advanced on Damascus again but could not prevent its inhabitants from making terms with the Franks. However, he did secure their nominal recognition of his sovereignty. In 1152 he took Tortosa (mod. Tartûs, Syria) temporarily, severing communications between the county of Tripoli and the principality of Antioch. To win Damascus to his side, Nûr al-Dīn cut off its supplies, while his agents engaged in propaganda. The city’s ruler, Mujīr al-Dīn Uvak, appealed to the Franks, but Nûr al- Dīn acted first, entering Damascus in April 1154. There was some rioting, but he restored order and distributed provisions, and the city’s leadership capitulated. Muslim Syria was now united under Nûr al-Dīn.
The following year Nûr al-Dīn subdued Baalbek, made treaties with the Franks of Jerusalem and Antioch, and intervened in the inheritance struggle that broke out after the death of Mas‘ûd of Rûm.As a result he gained territories on the right bank of the Euphrates, including Bira. In the spring of 1156 he supported an attack made by troops from Damascus on Harenc. Eventually a treaty was concluded: Harenc remained in Frankish hands, but its revenues were split between them and Nûr al-Dīn. Then, in February 1157, King Baldwin III of Jerusalem raided the Golan (Jawlan). In April Nûral-Dīn retaliated, sending troops to attack the town of Banyas. Its walls were breached, but hearing that Baldwin was marching to the rescue, Nûr al-Dīn ordered a withdrawal. Baldwin followed the Muslims to Galilee, where they ambushed him: the Frankish troops were captured, but Baldwin escaped. In July earthquakes struck the region, forcing Nûr al-Dīn to return to Damascus to repair its damaged defenses. Then, in October, he fell seriously ill. He was transferred to Aleppo, where he recovered, returning to Damascus in April 1158. There he mustered an army to take revenge for recent Frankish raids. An inconclusive engagement was fought near the Jordan in July; then, in December or January, Nûr al-Dīn fell ill a second time. Again he recovered, and learning of a proposed Frankish-Byzantine coalition, he fortified Aleppo and set out to meet the allies. Long negotiations followed, and in May 1159 Nûr al-Dīn concluded an alliance with Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, which included an agreement to cooperate against the Saljûq sultan of Rûm, Qilij-Arslān II (d. 1192). While the Byzantines attacked Eskisehir, Nûr al-Dīn occupied a number of Saljûqterritories and cities. In 1160 Qilij-Arslān negotiated a truce.
While Nûr al-Dīn was in the north, Baldwin III of Jerusalem invaded Damascene territory. Najm al-Dīn Ayyûb, Nûr al-Dīn’s lieutenant there (and the father of Saladin), negotiated a three-month truce. When it expired, the Franks invaded again. In the autumn of 1161 Nûr al-Dīn returned and made a truce with Baldwin, before performing the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Upon his return in 1162 he again fought the Franks near Harenc, but bad weather cut the battle short. In the spring of 1163 Nûr al-Dīn suffered a second setback when he was surprised by the Franks at the foot of Krak des Chevaliers and his army routed.
In early 1164 Nûr al-Dīn received an appeal for aid from Shāwar, the deposed vizier of Fātimid Egypt. In exchange for promises of a third of the revenues of Egypt and other inducements, Nûr al-Dīn sent troops under Asad al-Dīn Shîrkûh, the brother of Ayyûb, to restore Shāwar to power. The new Egyptian vizier, Dirghām, appealed to the Franks, but, harassed by Nûr al-Dīn further north, they were unable to prevent ShīrMh and his army from entering the Nile delta. Shāwar was restored but refused to fulfill his promises, although he eventually paid the costs of the expedition. Meanwhile, in August, Nûr al-Dīn had defeated the Franks near Harenc and taken the city. Banyas followed in October.
In January 1167 ShīrMh set out for Egypt again. Meanwhile Nûr al-Dīn occupied Hunin, near Banyas. ShīrMh returned in September, having fought and then come to terms with both Franks and Egyptians, and obtained a large payment from Cairo. Nûr al-Dīn then took a number of fortresses on the coastal plain. He planned to take Beirut but was unable to because of dissensions in his army.
In 1168 the Franks attacked Egypt. The Fātimid caliph, al- ‘Ādid (d. 1171), appealed to Nûr al-Dīn for aid, and in December Shīrkuh set out with an army. The Franks withdrew, and ShīrMh entered Cairo in January 1169. Shāwar was executed, with ShīrMh becoming the new vizier. He died shortly after and was succeeded by his nephew Saladin.
In April 1170 Nûr al-Dīn, apparently concerned about Saladin’s ambitions, sent Ayyûb to remind his son of his loyalties. In June another earthquake shook Syria. Nûr al-Dīn spent time overseeing repairs, and then, in September, following the death of his brother Qutb al-Dīn, who had succeeded Sayf al-Dīn at Mosul, he intervened in the succession, confirming the authority of Qutb al-Dīn’sson Sayf al-Dīn Ghāzī II (d. 1180).
In September 1171 Saladin suppressed the Fātimid caliphate of Egypt. Then he attacked Kerak in Frankish Transjordan, while Nûr al-Dīn attacked the county of Tripoli. However, when Kerak offered to surrender, Saladin with drew, citing unrest in Cairo as an excuse, although it seems more likely that he was reluctant to remove obstacles between his territory and that of Nûr al-Dīn. The angry Nûr al-Dīn announced his intention of deposing his subordinate, but he relented when Saladin reaffirmed his loyalty.
In the autumn of 1172 Nûr al-Dīn again repelled Frankish raids in the Hauran and intervened in northern Syria, where Qilij Arslān, obeying a warning from Manuel Kom- nenos, had refused Nûr al-Dīn aid. Nûr al-Dīn took several Saljûq territories on the right bank of the Euphrates, including Marash (mod. Kahramanmaraş, Turkey) in July 1173. Soon afterward Qilij Arslān sued for peace, andNûr al-Dīn instructed him to participate in the jihād. Meanwhile, Nûr al-Dīn had instructed Saladin to attack Kerak again. Saladin obeyed in May 1173, but upon hearing at the end of July that Nûral-Dīn had come south and was two days’ march away, he retired, claiming that his father was ill and that he was thus needed to keep order in Cairo. This time Nûr al-Dīn accepted his excuse, but he began to prepare an expedition to bring Saladin to heel. He set out for Egypt in early May 1174 but fell ill again. He died on 15 May 1174.
Like those of his father, Zangī, Nûr al-Dīn’s military forces consisted of a personally maintained core regiment (Arab. ‘askar), consisting of cavalry made up of Turkish mamluks (slave soldiers) and free Kurdish troops, supplemented by Turcoman and Arab tribal auxiliaries. All of these troops were usually skilled with both bows and close- combat weapons. Nûr al-Dīn’s armies were then usually augmented by the ‘askars of his subordinates and locally recruited cavalry armed for close combat. In siege operations infantry would also be employed.
It is not clear how far Nûr al-Dīn’s jihād against the Franks was motivated by genuine piety and zeal, and how far it was a political tool for him. After his first two bouts of illness and his defeat at Krak des Chevaliers in 1163, he is said to have adopted a pious, ascetic lifestyle. However, he still spent much of his time campaigning against other Muslims as well as against the Franks. Whatever the truth of this, he was viewed by many of his contemporaries as a great mujāhid (holy warrior), and his tomb in Damascus remains a site of popular veneration.