Post-classical history

Third Crusade (1189-1192)

Initiated in response to Saladin’s defeat of the forces of the kingdom of Jerusalem at the battle of Hattin (4 July 1187) and his subsequent capture of the city of Jerusalem (2 October 1187), this campaign did not recapture the Holy City, but did reestablish the kingdom of Jerusalem in much reduced form and laid the basis for its continued existence for another century. It is arguably the best-known crusade to modern readers after the First Crusade, because of the involvement of Saladin and of King Richard I of England. Nevertheless the Third Crusade has received less modern critical analysis than others, perhaps because of the complexity of the campaigns and of the extensive primary sources that have survived.


At Hattin the Muslims captured Guy of Lusignan, king of Jerusalem, and many leading nobles, along with the True Cross, the sacred symbol of the kingdom. This defeat left very few able-bodied warriors for the defense of Christian Palestine. Saladin went on to capture the important port of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), as well as Beirut, Sidon (mod. Saïda, Lebanon), Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel), and Jerusalem itself. He failed to take the coastal city of Tyre (mod. Soûr,Lebanon), which was defended by Conrad, marquis of Montferrat, who had recently arrived by ship on pilgrimage; his naval attacks were repelled by ships from the powerful Italian maritime cities of Genoa and Pisa. With fortresses such as Kerak and Montréal in Transjordan and Saphet and Belvoir in Galilee also resisting, Saladin went on to make other conquests in Palestine, and in late spring 1188 moved north, campaigning against the Frankish states of Tripoli and Antioch.

The Third Crusade: routes of the main armies

The Third Crusade: routes of the main armies

Saladin released King Guy from prison in May 1188, on condition that he should return to the West. Instead Guy went to the island of Ruad (mod. Arwâd, Syria) opposite Tortosa to meet Queen Sibyl, and they proceeded to Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey), where they assembled an army. Crusaders were already beginning to arrive in the East.

The Third Crusade in Palestine

The Third Crusade in Palestine

The Beginnings of the Crusade

The news of the disaster at Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem was transmitted to the West in letters written by various individuals and groups, such as Patriarch Eraclius of Jerusalem, the Genoese consuls, and the grand commander of the Order of the Temple. Pope Urban III died shortly after hearing the news of the disaster at Hattin. His successor, Gregory VIII, issued a crusading bull entitled Audita tremendi, describing the terrible events in the East and urging all Christians to take up arms and go to help their fellow religionists. They would receive certain benefits, such as release from penance imposed for all sins for which they had made proper confession. Archbishop Joscius of Tyre traveled to the West to seek aid and was given papal permission to preach the crusade north of the Alps. In January 1188, he succeeded in negotiating a peace settlement between Philip II of France and Henry II of England, in which both kings agreed to take the cross and lead a joint expedition to the East. They planned to set out at Easter 1189, but a renewed outbreak of war delayed their departure.

Other individuals and groups set out in the meantime. Geoffrey of Lusignan, elder brother of King Guy of Jerusalem, reached the East in the second half of 1188 or early 1189; King William II of Sicily sent a fleet of 50 ships under his admiral Margarit. By August 1189 Guy had (according to one contemporary writer) a force of around 9,000, including 700 knights, and the support of the Pisans, whose ships gave him valuable sea power. With this army he began to besiege the port of Acre. If the city could be recaptured, it could act as the base for a counterattack on Saladin in Palestine. But the Marquis Conrad, who still held Tyre, refused aid.

The First Stage of the Crusade: The Siege of Acre

Other crusaders flocked to join the siege of Acre during the autumn of 1189, including 50 ships from Denmark, Frisia, Flanders, and England, carrying 12,000 warriors (according to contemporary writers). Landgrave Ludwig III of Thuringia was appointed leader of the crusading army, and in September 1189 he persuaded Conrad to come from Tyre to Acre to assist the siege. In March 1190 the barons of the kingdom and the crusaders succeeded in working out a peace settlement between the marquis and King Guy: Conrad would hold Tyre, Beirut, and Sidon (when the latter two cities were recaptured from Saladin) and assist Guy as king.

Saladin had moved his army to Acre soon after the siege had begun, and he effectively surrounded the besieging Christian army. He was not able to prevent the crusaders from receiving reinforcements by sea, but neither were they able to prevent Muslim vessels from entering the port of Acre. Saladin’s naval forces held the advantage until the end of March 1190, when the marquis’s ships, based at Tyre, returned to the crusader camp at Acre with supplies. The Muslims in Acre sent out their ships to challenge the crusaders, but were defeated. Christian control of the sea made it difficult for Saladin to supply Acre by ship, but sufficient ships slipped through the crusader blockade to enable the defense to continue. Sometimes these vessels were disguised as Christian ships, flying banners with crosses and carrying pigs on the decks. Swimmers were also used to carry supplies and information between Saladin’s army and the defenders of Acre.

Neither the crusaders nor Saladin could gain the advantage. The crusaders lacked the forces to make a decisive assault and to drive back Saladin’s surrounding army, while Saladin experienced problems in keeping his army together for the duration of the long campaign. In the late summer of 1190, many small groups of crusaders arrived at Acre from France, Italy, and England, including Count Henry of Champagne and Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury. Count Henry was elected leader of the crusade in place of Landgrave Ludwig, who had had to leave the crusade because of ill health.

The political situation was complicated by the death of Queen Sibyl and her two daughters, Alice and Maria, in early autumn 1190. Guy of Lusignan, who had ruled as Sibyl’s consort, now had no right to the title of king. The heir to the throne was Sibyl’s sister Isabella, but her husband, Humphrey IV of Toron, did not want to be king. Conrad approached the leaders of the crusade with the proposal that Isabella’s marriage be nullified, and she be married to him instead; he would then provide effective military leadership for the crusade, with supplies brought in through Tyre, and strong naval support. Despite vehement opposition from Archbishop Baldwin, acting in place of Patriarch Eraclius (who was ill), and Isabella’s own reluctance, and although the marquis already had two wives (in Montferrat and Constantinople), the nobles of the kingdom and the leaders of the crusade agreed to Conrad’s scheme. Isabella was married to the marquis, who then retired to Tyre rather than remaining at Acre to lead the siege.

Taking of Acre and return of Philip II, king of France. Illustration from Le Miroir Historial (The Mirror of History), by Vincent de Beauvais (1190-1264). (The Art Archive/Museé CondéChantilly/dagli Orti)

Taking of Acre and return of Philip II, king of France. Illustration from Le Miroir Historial (The Mirror of History), by Vincent de Beauvais (1190-1264). (The Art Archive/Museé CondéChantilly/dagli Orti)

The Crusades of the Kings

The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, held an assembly at Metz in March 1188 to make preparations for the crusade, and set out in May 1189. He traveled overland, down the river Danube, crossing the Hellespont and marching across Asia Minor. This was a shorter route from Germany than the sea route via the North Sea, and Frederick lacked the ships to transport his whole force by sea. The emperor was accompanied by his son Frederick V, duke of Swabia, and left his son Henry (later Emperor Henry VI) as regent in Germany. Frederick Barbarossa’s arrival was eagerly awaited by the crusaders, for the forces he was bringing, for his military experience, and for his authority as emperor of the West. He defeated the forces of the sultan of Rūm, but on 10 June 1190 he was drowned in the river Selef in Cilicia. The remnants of his army reached Antioch late in June, where many abandoned the crusade. A small force, led by Frederick of Swabia, continued to Tripoli (mod. Trâblous, Lebanon), where Marquis Conrad, the duke’s kinsman, met them and escorted them to Acre. The duke began renewed assaults on the city, but the city was still holding out when he died in January 1191 from plague.

The kings of England and France were still expected at the siege. Henry II of England had died on 6 July 1189. His son and successor, Richard (the Lionheart), count of Poitou, had been one of the first to take the cross in the West, and was anxious to set out on his crusade. While Richard’s speed in setting out on crusade soon after he was crowned king of England indicates that he was genuinely devoted to the crusading cause, he was also bound by family and feudal obligations. Queen Sibyl of Jerusalem and her sister Isabella were related to Richard: the royal family of Jerusalem was descended from Count Fulk V of Anjou (d. 1143), who was Richard’s great-grandfather. The family of King Guy were Richard’s vassals, as Lusignan was in Richard’s county of Poitou. As his cousin and his vassal were in need of his aid, it was Richard’s duty to go to their assistance.

King Philip II of France also crusaded partly from family obligations. His father, Louis VII, had taken part in the Second Crusade (1147-1149) with his then queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who later became Richard’s mother. Many of the nobles of the kingdom of Jerusalem were members of French families, vassals of Philip.

Richard and Philip agreed to travel together and to share any booty they won. They set out in July 1190 and traveled overland across France, taking ship from Marseilles (Richard) and Genoa (Philip) to Sicily. The island was an obvious meeting point, as it was centrally located in the Mediterranean, it could supply the fleets with food for the voyage, and King William II of Sicily was dedicated to the crusade and was also married to Richard’s younger sister Joanna. William’s death in November 1189 changed the situation, as his successor, Tancred, was not well disposed toward the king of England and refused to surrender Joanna’s dowry, which Richard wanted to help finance his crusade.

Philip had engaged Genoese ships to carry his force; Richard had assembled a fleet of English ships, which sailed via the Strait of Gibraltar to meet the king at Sicily in September. Some crusaders, such as the archbishop of Canterbury, continued directly to the Holy Land; the rest waited for Richard. After the arrival of the two kings, skirmishing broke out between crusaders and Sicilians, culminating in open warfare. On 4 October 1190, Richard captured the city of Messina. Eventually he agreed on peace terms with King Tancred, who surrendered Joanna’s dowry. As it was now too late in the year to continue to the East, the crusaders wintered in Sicily and proceeded in early April.

While Philip sailed directly to the Holy Land, Richard and his fleet landed on Cyprus, whose self-professed emperor, Isaac Doukas Komnenos, took some of the crusaders prisoner. Richard counterattacked and conquered the island, which came to prove a valuable source of supply for the crusade and a useful haven for crusaders on their way to and from the Holy Land. It is possible that Richard had deliberately set out to conquer it for this reason.

Richard finally reached Acre early in June 1191. The Muslim defenders of the city were suing for peace; although King Philip agreed to the terms, Richard refused, as the defenders wished to take all their possessions with them, which would leave no booty for the crusaders. After further assaults, part of the wall of Acre was undermined and collapsed. On 12 July 1191 the defenders surrendered, in exchange for life and limb only. The peace terms included the return of the True Cross lost at the battle of Hattin, the payment of a sum of money, and the return of Christian captives; the Muslims gave hostages as a guarantee. They evacuated the city, and the crusaders entered, but many were furious when Philip and Richard took all the property within the city as their own booty and divided it between themselves, rather than allowing it to be divided between all the crusaders who had taken part in the siege.

The conflicting claims of King Guy and Marquis Conrad were settled: Guy would hold the kingdom of Jerusalem until his death, and Conrad would succeed him. Philip of France then departed for the West, although the crusade was far from over. Various explanations were given for his sudden departure, including claims that he was worried by news that his young son Louis was sick, or that he was afraid that Richard of England was trying to poison him. Other French crusaders remained under the overall command of Hugh III, duke of Burgundy. Richard, claiming that Saladin had not fulfilled the terms of the treaty of surrender, had most of the Muslim hostages executed and then set out on the next stage of the crusade: the recapture of Jerusalem.

The Second Stage of the Crusade:

The Campaign for Jerusalem

King Richard advanced cautiously, having decided that the army should march down the coast to Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv- Yafo, Israel) and then move inland toward Jerusalem by the most direct route. This would enable him to keep his army supplied by sea for most of the journey, making use of the ships that he had brought from England, as well as those of Pisa and Genoa. The army set out late in August and marched along the coast road, harassed by Saladin’s army, which marched on its left, until 7 September 1191, when a skirmish at Arsuf became a major engagement. The Muslims withdrew, and the Christians remained in control of the field. Saladin then destroyed most of the fortresses in Palestine, so that they could not be repossessed and defended by the crusaders. At Jaffa, Richard set about repairing the city’s fortifications and other neighboring fortresses on the road to Jerusalem.

Negotiations between the crusaders and Saladin had been in train for many months. Marquis Conrad was in negotiation with Saladin, while Richard himself had contacted Sal- adin almost as soon as he entered the kingdom. During the period at Jaffa, negotiations between Richard and Saladin reached an advanced stage, but broke down because neither side trusted the other.

In late November the crusaders moved toward Jerusalem, reaching the town of Ramla. The army spent Christmas 1191 in this area, divided between various fortresses on the Jerusalem road. But early in January 1192, on the advice of the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the barons of Outremer, the leaders of the crusade decided to withdraw to Ascalon and refortify that city. As Ascalon controlled the road from Egypt, this move would prevent Saladin bringing up reinforcements and supplies from there. Yet this decision was a serious blow to the crusaders’ morale, and during the long march back through the cold, wet winter weather the French contingent left the main army and split up. At Ascalon, King Richard supervised the refortification of the city, and the crusaders ravaged the Muslim-held countryside. The various factions among the crusaders now broke into open dispute: supporters of the marquis against supporters of King Guy, the “French” against the “Normans” or “English,” and the Genoese against the Pisans. In addition, Richard received news from England that the government he had left in his absence was in disarray. Realizing that he would have to return home, Richard sought a settlement as a matter of urgency. The leaders of the army chose the Marquis Conrad as king of Jerusalem, but late in April 1192 he was murdered by two members of the Isma‘īlī Assassin sect. The French then chose Count Henry of Champagne, nephew of both Philip of France and Richard of England, as king. Richard agreed to this settlement, and Henry married Conrad’s widow Isabella, the heiress of the kingdom. Although they were acknowledged as rulers of the kingdom, the pair were not actually crowned. Guy, the former king, purchased the island of Cyprus from the Templars, who had bought it from Richard.

The crusaders continued to ravage the land in order to undermine Saladin’s hold on it, but their ultimate aim was the reconquest of Jerusalem. The leaders were aware that as soon as the city was captured the crusade would break up and most of the warriors would return to the West, and so they preferred to delay an attack until they had recovered as much territory as possible and thus laid the basis for retaining the kingdom. Yet the crusaders were running out of funds and could not stay much longer in the East. In June 1192 it was decided to make another advance on Jerusalem. The army advanced as far as Beit Nūbā, around 20 kilometers (13 mi.) from the Holy City. Debate continued within the army: the Franks and the military orders argued that the city could not be held if it were captured at this juncture, while King Richard argued that their supply lines were too long and that in summer there would be too little water in the countryside around Jerusalem to support the besiegers. He preferred to make an attack on Egypt, using ships to support his land army. The eventual decision was to withdraw to Ascalon.

After this second withdrawal, the crusade effectively broke up. Many crusaders went home. Richard withdrew to Acre, from where he launched an attack on Beirut. His plans to return to the West were interrupted by the news that Saladin had attacked Jaffa. The town fell, but the citadel was saved by Richard’s arrival with his ships from Acre. Richard’s forces drove back Saladin’s army, which was none too willing to fight (5 August). Clearly neither side was in a position to fight any longer.

The Treaty of Jaffa (1192)

The two sides negotiated a three-year truce, the Treaty of Jaffa (2 September 1192), which effectively ended the crusade. The important strongholds of Ascalon, Gaza, and Darum were returned to Saladin, but their fortifications were to be demolished. The Franks retained Jaffa; both Christians and Muslims would have free passage through each other’s lands; Christian pilgrims could visit the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem without paying tolls; and trade could be exercised freely. The treaty effectively acknowledged the continuing existence of the kingdom of Jerusalem, albeit in a much reduced state. After this treaty was made, many of the pilgrims visited Jerusalem to see the holy sites. Richard sent Hubert Walter, bishop of Salisbury, as his representative, but did not visit the city himself. The crusaders left the Holy Land in autumn 1192.


The crusade was undermined from the beginning by disputes between the leaders. The rivalry between King Guy of Jerusalem and Conrad of Montferrat developed early in the undertaking. Conrad had taken the initiative in trying to encourage powerful lords in the West to assist the Holy Land: without his efforts in 1187-1188, the whole of the kingdom would have been lost to Saladin. As a renowned warrior who was related to the king of France and Emperor Frederick I, Conrad may have intended to use Tyre as a base from which to reconquer the kingdom of Jerusalem and make himself king. Philip II of France and the Genoese supported Conrad’s claim to the throne of Jerusalem, while Richard of England and the Pisans supported Guy’s claim. The dispute was only resolved by Conrad’s death and Guy’s replacement by Henry of Champagne.

The Italian city republics also brought their rivalries to the Holy Land. Genoa and Pisa had lost their trading rights in the Byzantine Empire and were anxious to ensure their rights in Outremerby winning concessions from the rival claimants to the kingdom of Jerusalem in return for their support. Philip of France and Richard of England also brought their rivalry to the Holy Land. Although Richard was Philip’s vassal for his lands in France (Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine), he seems to have taken the lead in military affairs, to Philip’s annoyance. The French accused Richard of arranging the assassination of Marquis Conrad, and by June 1192, according to the contemporary writer Ambroise, King Richard and Hugh III of Burgundy, the chosen leader of the French contingent, were singing insulting songs about each other.

The crusading army was also divided over strategy. Richard preferred to advance cautiously, establishing a base and securing his rear and supply lines before proceeding. By summer 1192, he had decided that the best strategy was to attack Egypt rather than Jerusalem, which could not be held securely against a well-organized, well-supplied enemy. This strategy was supported by many of the Franks, but many in the crusading army wanted to attack Jerusalem and regarded the diversion to Ascalon and the policy of raiding into Muslim territory as a distraction from the crusade’s true purpose. The argument over strategy eventually led to the disintegration of the army in the summer of 1192. In effect, the crusade ended in stalemate, with neither side able to inflict final defeat on the other, and both sides divided, demoralized, and short of resources.

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