Post-classical history



Originally from Persia, ‘Imad al-Din Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Isfahani (1125–1201) studied jurisprudence in Baghdad, then held a variety of positions before eventually passing into the service of Nur al-Din. Soon after the latter died he became the personal secretary of Saladin, a position that he occupied until the death of his master. The following selections are drawn from al-Fath al-Qussi fi’l-Fath al-Qudsi (Qussian Eloquence on the Conquest of Jerusalem), a chronicle covering the period from 1187 to 1193.

On 2 July 1187 Saladin attacked Tiberias. The following day the Franks marched out from Sepphoris, aiming to rescue the town. Saladin surrounded the Frankish army at the Horns of Hattin, cutting them off from sources of water. The following day, 4 July, battle was joined.

When morning broke and daylight shone, when dawn cast streaks of daylight and the sound of trumpets startled the crow from the dust, when sharp swords awoke in their sheaths and slender horses became enflamed with fiery eagerness, when bowstrings were alert and fire wrathful, when weapons were drawn and stillness snatched away, the vanguard went out to burn with their arrows the people of Hellfire, bows twanged and bowstrings hummed, foot-soldiers’ supple lances danced to unveil the executioner’s brides [swords], whose whiteness appeared from their sheaths, naked before the crowd, while the brown [spears] feasted on their flourishing pasture of [the enemies’] kidneys.

The Franks hoped for a respite, and their troops sought a way out of their predicament, but whenever they set out they were injured, and the heat of war set out with them, so that they did not get away. They attacked, afflicted with thirst, for the only water that they had was the water of the swords in their hands. The fire of the arrows roasted them and injured their limbs, and the hard hearts of the bows seized on them and deafened them. They were paralysed and alarmed, hard-pressed and driven off. Whenever they attacked they were turned back and destroyed, and whenever they struck out and launched an assault, they were captured and bound. Not even an ant got away, and none of their attacks protected them. They were burned and agitated, lamenting and afire with thirst. Arrows struck them so that their lions returned as hedgehogs, and harassed them so that great holes appeared in their ranks. They sought refuge on the mountain of Hattin to defend them from the deluge of ruin, and shining destruction surrounded Hattin. Blades sucked away [their lives] and scattered them on the heights. Bows shot them, fates flayed them, misfortunes ground them up and calamities afflicted them. They became known to ruin and targeted by fate. […] Satan and his armies were captured, and the king [Guy of Lusignan] and his counts were taken.

The sultan sat to review the most important prisoners […] and when [Reynald of Châtillon] came before him, he made him sit beside the king, with the king next to him. He upbraided him for his treachery and reminded him of his sins, saying, ‘How many times have you sworn oaths and violated them, agreed to treaties and infringed on them, made agreements and broken them, accepted covenants and rejected them?’ He answered through the translator, saying ‘I have followed the custom of kings in that, and I have only acted according to the usual practices.’

Meanwhile the king was dying of thirst, bent over by the greatness of his intoxicating terror. So the sultan treated him pleasantly and spoke to him, soothing the intensity of the dread that was besetting him, calming his fear and reassuring his heart. He gave him iced water to quench his thirst and drive away the lack of water that was distressing him. [The king] passed it to the prince so that he might also quench his thirst, and he took it from his hand and drank it, but the sultan said to the king, ‘You did not take it from me with my permission to give him a drink, so that does not oblige me to give him a guarantee of safety.’ Then he got on his horse and left them alone. […] When he went into his tent, he had the prince brought there. He went up to him, took up his sword and cut through his shoulder. When [Reynald] fell down, he ordered him to be beheaded, and it was done. When [Reynald] was taken out he was dragged by the feet before the king, who became frightened and alarmed. The sultan realized that terror had overcome him, dismay had beset him, and anxiety had afflicted him, so he summoned him and made him come close, reassuring and soothing him, strengthening him with his presence and calming him by saying, ‘This one’s wickedness destroyed him, and his treachery betrayed him, as you see. He has perished from his sins and injustice.’

In the wake of the battle, Saladin and his generals conquered a number of important Frankish towns and cities, including Acre, Jaffa, Beirut and Ascalon. Then in September he besieged Jerusalem, which was commanded by Balian of Ibelin. After some days of fighting the Muslims broke through the city wall, and Balian asked for terms.

Ibn Barzan [Balian of Ibelin] came out, seeking safety through an agreement from the sultan, and asking for a guarantee of security for his people, but the sultan refused and asserted a higher obligation, saying, ‘No safety for you, and no guarantee of security! Our only desire is that degradation will be your constant companion. Tomorrow we will master you by force and spread death and imprisonment among you. We will spill the blood of your men and take your women and children prisoner.’ […] They replied, ‘If we despair of your guarantee of safety, fear your power, are disappointed in our hopes for your favour […] we shall seek death, fighting to the last drop of blood. We shall face existence with annihilation, and we shall demonstrate the boldness of those who persist in evil. We shall hurl ourselves forward like those who rush to get away from harm, and we shall commit ourselves to the fire, but we shall not give ourselves up to ruin and dishonour. None of us shall be wounded until he has wounded ten [of your men], and the hand of death shall not encompass us until our hands are seen spreading death [among you]. We shall burn the houses, demolish the Dome [of the Rock], and leave to you the shame of taking us prisoner. We shall uproot the Rock and make you grieve for it. We shall kill all the Muslim prisoners that we hold, and there are thousands of them, for it has become known that each of us is averse to ignominy and devoted to honour. As for the riches [that we hold], we shall destroy them and not hand them over, and as for the children, we shall hasten to kill them and not be found slow to do so. What do you gain from this niggardliness, when this gain will mean the loss of everything for you?’ […] The sultan summoned a council meeting […] and said, ‘In truth, the opportunity has presented itself, and we should aim to take advantage of it. Our share has fallen to us, and we should seek God’s right guidance in taking it. If it passes, it will not return, and if it slips away, we will not be able to seize it.’ They said, ‘God has destined you for success, and dedicated you for this act of devotion. Your view is rightly guided.’ […] After goings back and forth, negotiations and delegations, entreaties from the people and intercessions, they settled on a fee that would satisfy [the Muslim conquerors] and act as a precautionary payment. With it they ransomed themselves and their possessions from us, liberating their men, women and children.

The ransoms were collected, and ‘Imad al-Din notes that Saladin excused a large number of people from making the payments. ‘Imad al-Din gives this portrait of his master in victory.

The date of the conquest of Jerusalem coincided with that of the night of the mi‘raj [the Prophet’s ascension to heaven], and the road to victory that had become apparent ended in rejoicing. Tongues multiplied their prayers, humble supplications and praises. The sultan sat to receive congratulations, meeting with the senior officers and amirs, Sufis and ‘ulama’. He sat with a bearing of humility and an appearance of dignity, among the jurisprudents and the savants, his devoted courtiers. His face shone with obvious joy, and his hope for the glory of success was abundant and victorious. His gate was open, his support given, his curtain raised, his speech heard, his power accepted, and his carpet kissed. His face was glowing and his perfume pleasant. His affection delighted and his dignity awakened admiration. His territory shone and his character exhaled a sweet fragrance. His hand overflowed with the waters of liberality and unsealed the lips of generosity; its back was the qibla [direction of prayer] of acceptance and its palm was theKa‘baof hope.

‘Ulama’ (Ulema): The class of Muslim scholars educated in religion, theology and law. Muslim rulers would often patronize the ‘ulama’ as a means to prove their devotion to Islam.

Source: ‘Imad al-Din al-Isfahani. (1965) Al-Fath al-Qussi fi’l-Fath al-Qudsi. Ed. Muhammad M. Subh. Cairo: al-Dar al-Qawmiyya li-l-Tiba‘a wa-l-Nashr, pp. 78–81, 126–7 and 130.

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