Post-classical history

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Document 20 ABU’L-FIDA’ ON THE FALL OF ACRE, 1291

‘Imad al-Din Isma‘il, best known by his kunya of Abu’l-Fida’ (1273–1331) was a descendant of Saladin’s nephew Taqi al-Din ‘Umar and one of the last Ayyubid rulers to be tolerated by the Mamluk sultans. In 1310 he was appointed governor of his ancestral home of Hamah by the sultan al-Nasir Muhammad; in 1320 he was granted the title of Sultan of Hamah, and he continued to rule there until his death. The following account is from his Mukhtasar fi Akhbar al-Bashar (Short Account of Human Affairs), a universal history starting with Adam and continuing to his own time. Here he describes the fall of Acre in 1291, which he witnessed himself, aged 17, as an emir of 10 in the halqa.

The descent of the Islamic armies upon [Acre] occurred in the first days of Jumada I of this year (AH 690, May 1291). The fighting became fierce; the Franks had not closed most of their gates, but rather they were open, with [the Franks] fighting in them. The location of the troops from Hamah was at the head of the right wing, according to their custom. We were beside the sea, with the sea on our right as we faced Acre. Ships bearing wooden vaulting covered with ox hides would come at us, shooting at us with arrows and [crossbow] bolts, so that there was fighting [coming] from in front of us, from the direction of the city, and from our right, from the sea. They brought up a ship upon which was a mangonel that shot at us and our tents from the direction of the sea, and we suffered hardship until one night strong galeforce winds arose, the ship was caught up and sank because of the waves, and the mangonel that was in it was broken in such a way that it was shattered and was not set up [again] after that.

During the time of the siege, the Franks came out by night and took the army by surprise. They routed the sentries and reached the tents, getting entangled in the guy-ropes. One of their knights fell into the latrine of one of the emirs and was killed there. The [Muslim] troops came to outnumber them, and the Franks fled, defeated, to the city. The troops of Hamah killed a number of them, and when morning came al-Malik al-Muzaffar, the lord of Hamah, hung a number of the Franks’ heads on the necks of the horses that the soldiers had taken from them and took them to the sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf [Khalil].

The [Muslim] troops’ attack on Acre became more aggressive until God, be He exalted, gave them its conquest by the sword on Friday, 17 Jumada II (17 June). When the Muslims stormed into [the city], some of its people fled in ships. Within the city were a number of towers that were resisting like citadels, which a large number of Franks entered and fortified themselves within. The Muslims killed [many people] and took in Acre a quantity of plunder greater than can be reckoned. Then the sultan called for the surrender of all who were resisting in the towers, and not one person hesitated. Then he issued orders regarding them, and they were beheaded, to the last man, around Acre. Then he gave orders regarding the city of Acre, and it was torn down to the ground and completely demolished.

A wondrous thing is the coincidence that the Franks took control of Acre, taking it from Salah al-Din (Saladin) at noon on Friday, 17 Jumada II 587 (12 July 1191), capturing the Muslims who were in it and then killing them, and God, be He glorified and exalted, with His advance knowledge decreed that it should be conquered in this year (690/1291) on Friday, 17 Jumada II, at the hand of the sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf Salah al-Din; its conquest was similar to the day that the Franks took possession of it, and likewise thelaqabs of the sultans.

Source: ‘Imad al-Din Isma‘il ibn ‘Ali, known as Abu’l-Fida’. (1998–9) Al-Mukhtasar fi Akhbar al-Bashar. Ed. Muhammad Z.M. ‘Azab et al. Cairo: Dar al-Ma‘arif, Vol. 4, pp. 34–5.

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