Prior to the Crusades
Prior to the Crusades in the Middle East many people lived and believed in Islam. What many in the west do not realize is how many different types of Muslims were in existence during the Crusades. The Islamic world was split into many political, geographical, and religious groups.
The most popular groups of Muslims are the Sunni and the Shiite. The difference between the 2 groups mostly deals with leadership. The Shiite believe that the leader of Islam should be a person that can trace their lineage to Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammad. The Sunni believe any person in good standing can lead Islam.
Other types of Muslims are the Abbasid, Seljuk, and Fatimid. The Abbasids claim their rule through Abbas, the uncle of Mohammad. The Seljuks came from Central Asia. They were aggressive and wished to conquer land. The Fatimid’s believe their rule comes through Fatima, the daughter of Mohammad.
When dealing with the Christians, the first contact and conflict came through the Byzantines. The Byzantines were mostly involved in small skirmishes which typically ended in some kind of treaty or trade agreement. The Byzantines were never an aggressive or imperialistic group. Jerusalem had been an open city for all religions. Between the 8th and 10th centuries many Christians converted to Islam. Tensions arose within the region when the Seljuk Turks pushed through. Between the years of 1063 and 1071 the Seljuk’s fought the Byzantines for territory very aggressively.
Prior to the 1st Crusade, a minor force came from Europe. Peter the Hermit led an ill equipped army into the Holy Land to fight the Muslims. They were quickly defeated. When the main body of the Western Christian forces arrived, the Muslims did not believe that they would cause a major problem to defeat. They were wrong.
This was not the only thing that they were wrong about. They did not anticipate the violence and cruelty of the Crusaders. When Antioch was lost to the Christians, the Crusaders looted and murdered people within the city. Besides war, the Europeans brought disease with them. The worst case was the outbreak of Typhoid to the Middle East. The reputation of the Crusaders grew. Cities like Tripoli, Beirut, and Acre paid off the Crusaders to avoid their cities.
Once the Crusaders arrived at Jerusalem and defeated the Muslims, open slaughter and looting was the theme of the day. The Crusaders attempted to liberate other holy places like Bethlehem. This was the only loss the Muslims experienced during the 7 Crusades. They mostly lost because of disorganization and unpreparedness. The Muslims believed that the western Christians were like the Byzantines. The leaders of Islam were fractured with power and they were in Baghdad when the 1st Crusade occurred.
A new force entered the Muslim world, the assassins. They were headed by a man named Hassan-I-Sabah. The assassins were fanatical about their religion and they would destroy anybody that opposed them. This included fellow Muslims.
The years between the 1st and 2nd Crusade mostly dealt with new trade and power within the Middle East. Both sides learned to live with each other and also profit off each other. Not everybody was happy with the loss of the Holy Land. In 1137 a renegade general named Imad al-Din Zengi attacked the city of Tripoli. Both sides did not want to go to war over this and Zengi was put in place to save the peace. However in 1144 he attacked the city of Edessa and slaughtered many Christians out of revenge from Jerusalem at the end of the 1st Crusade. As mentioned in an early lecture, and web link, the 2nd Crusade was won by the Muslims very easily.
Much of the action of the 3rd Crusade occurred prior to the 3rd Crusade. The Muslim world had two very influential men, Imad al-Din Zengi and Nur al-Din. Through these 2 men the most important Muslim came to power Saladin. Zengi was Saladin’s uncle and Nur al-Din was in the same army with him. Saladin was introduced by his uncle and he rose through the ranks. After the death of both men, Saladin was able to control the areas of Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Palestine.
Saladin (1137-1193) ends up in a power struggle with the assassins who are trying to kill him in 1174-1175. Saladin is able to obtain total victory and defeats the crusader fortress in 1177 along with the agitation of Reynald. Saladin defeats the Christians at the Horns of Hattin in July 1187 and didn’t stop until he controls Jerusalem in October 1187.
After the Horns of Hattin, Saladin sells the Christians into slavery, sparing their lives. He does have Reynald executed. Saladin becomes the hero of the 3rd Crusade because he was able to keep the Holy City of Jerusalem.