The Battle Of Hattin – July 4th, 1187

Above: Battle of Hattin by Gustave Doré

After the death of King Baldwin in 1186, his brother in law, Guy of Lusignan, replaced him due to the support of the Templar Knights. The Hospitallers would have no part of this unpopular King and the Hospitaller Master removed his men from the scene of Guys ceremony in disgust.

One of the reasons for the unpopularity of King Guy of Jerusalem was that in 1184, he attacked a tribe of Bedouin shepherds who had paid a tribute to the Christians in power for allowing them the privilege of grazing their sheep. Guy and his men massacred as many of the tribe as they could and drove away the rest along with their flock.

Another man cut from the seemingly same despicable cloth was the prince of Antioch, Reynald de Chatillon, who followed King Louis from France during the Second Crusade. After the other crusaders returned home, Reynald stayed behind, striking up a lasting selfish friendship with the Templars. Reynald’s cruelty was well known in the Holy Lands. He opposed the Emperor of Constantinople, by trying to blackmail him many times. This met with the disapproval of the Patriarch of Constantinople whom Reynald had imprisoned. He placed many cuts on the man’s head which, he covered in honey. He then chained this man of the cloth to a rooftop where the hot summer’s sun caused insects to attack his wounds until near insanity set in. This cruelty was to come back to these two men in spades in the summer of 1187.

The Battle

The Fourth of July, a time for Americans to celebrate their War of Independence from the English in 1776, had an entirely different meaning to medieval Europe. For the Fourth of July, 1187 was to be one of the bloodiest battles of the crusades, the Battle of the Horns of Hattin.

The area is called the Horns of Hattin for the two rocky peaks that rise over the brush covered slopes behind Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. It was here that Saladin aligned 12,000 of his knights plus an army carrying regular provisions at Tiberius. An army as well mounted and armed as anything that could be assembled by the combined forces of the Templar and Hospitaller orders. On the other side of the battlefield were the crusading forces comprised of 20,000 foot soldiers but only about 1,000 knights. This force, small by comparison, was assembled by depleting the forces of many surrounding cities thus leaving the unarmed cities open to attack.

The Christian army had set out for Tiberius in the early morning hours of July 3rd, leaving in their wake their well-watered camp for the dust and dryness of the desert air. They carried with them that Holy relic so many would die for in coming battles, the True Cross, discovered in 326 CE by the mother of Constantine the Great.

As they made the trek in the hot desert sun they found no water to aid their thirst and in the heavy armor must have been near exhaustion. By evening of July 3rd, the crusading army arrived at a plateau below the Horns of Hattin, which jutted into the air 100 feet above them. Even at this resting spot the Templars and other crusading warriors found no water, as the well was dry and the only stream was blocked.

Fear was among the men and a foreboding sense of doom swept the crusaders. The Count of Tripoli who’s wife was held captive some miles away is said to have jumped from his horse uttering cries of woe to the heavens:

“Lord God, our war is over! We are nothing but dead men-and the Kingdom has come to an end.”

That evening many of the men could not sleep for need of water. Some, in a foolish move, went down from the plateau to quench their thirst only to be captured and beheaded by Saladin’s men. The Muslims, in an act of torment, then set the dry grasses covering the hill ablaze. As the hot flames licked up the side of the hill, soldiers already parched of thirst and hot from their heavy armor to suffer even more fear then they had already felt.

By morning, Saladin’s men had completely enclosed the crusaders. So secure had they trapped them that a chronicler of the event claimed, “not a cat could have slipped through the net.” The tired crusaders were outnumbered by ten to one and as dawn approached, the Muslim horns blew heralding the coming attack. Before the crusaders lay certain death and they fought that way, charging recklessly into the battle. Seeing the Christians charging, Saladin’s army did not meet the attack but instead opened up his forces allowing the crusaders to charge through. Once in Saladin closed the opening, in the process sealing the crusader’s fate.

The Saracen forces then began charging up the hill in endless droves. The Christians fought back silently as more and more of the crusading force met with the death of Saladin’s blades. As the day fought on, there remained but a few hundred Christian knights huddled around King Guy’s tent. Saladin’s son, seeing the small pack of crusaders rallied around Guy’s tent cried out to his father that the infidels had been routed. His father, who said as long as the tent stood the battle had not been won, chastised him. In the tent, the trembling Guy held onto the True Cross. Another Muslim charge soon brought the tent to the desert dirt.

Saladin’s Mercy

The leaders were then rounded up and taken to Saladin’s camp. The Muslim leader had erected a tent for this special purpose. The common soldiers were sold into slavery. It is said that one Saracen had so many slaves he was willing to trade one for a pair of shoes. As for the Templars, Saladin spared none except for their Grand Master, Gerard de Ridefort. Each Templar and Hospitaller was forced to his knees while Muslim soldiers beheaded them. None complained and each met his death with utter silence and humility, for such was the way of the order. Many other soldiers wishing death rather than a life of slavery in the service of infidels rushed forth claiming to be Templars.

In Saladin’s tent he spared the Barons by setting a high ransom on all of them. King Guy of Jerusalem parched of thirst and riddled with fear lied on the ground of the tent when Saladin offered him a bowl of water. Guy began drinking the water quenching his dryness. Guy offered the water to Reynald who eyed the water, also being of thirst. Saladin immediately arose knocking the bowl and its contents from the Prince of Antioch’s hands. Muslim hospitality dictated that, if a man ate or drank with you his life was safe in your hands. This seemed to be King Guys salvation and Reynald’s death sentence.

Reynald upset at Saladin’s behavior defamed the Islamic prophet Muhammed, at which point Saladin drew his sword and in one blow sliced off Reynald’s arm. Almost before the limb could touch the tent floor, a soldier entered and decapitated Reynald. At this point Saladin turned to King Guy of Jerusalem and said, “Have no fear. it is not the custom of kings to kill kings.” King Guy was released the following year from a prison in Nablus a broken man, but perhaps not as broken as the crusaders and Templars who lost the Battle of Hattin.

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