Hattin: Trapping a Victory

Sean M Scanlon

On June 26, 1187, the Muslim Sultan Saladin crossed the river Jordan with 20,000 of his followers ? an army consisting of roughly 12,000 light horsemen and a number of footmen to a location south of the Sea of Galilee where he and his men encamped. They had been ravaging the nearby countryside in hopes of provoking a Christian attack, but had been unsuccessful.

The Frankish Christians led by King Guy in Jerusalem had also mobilized their own army and camped at the spring at Saffuriyah . Marshall W. Baldwin says that the Franks too had an army 20,000 strong, but it was different in composition. The ?Latins?, as they are called, were a cavalry of 1,200 heavily armored knights, 3,500 lightly armored, mounted sergeants, several thousand foot soldiers, as well as a large number of native auxiliaries as mounted bowmen .

Between the two great forces (the largest memorable, Christian gathering in years) lay an arid terrain; the hot summer sun made travel extremely difficult, especially for large numbers. One could easily expect fatigue, dehydration, and low morale when venturing to the east of Saffuriyah until reaching the Sea of Galilee. Strategists of each side knew the consequences of traveling across the region and so, ?the waiting game? was played to see who would be the one to be provoked into a trap through the valleys. Although Saladin had unified large sections of the Muslim world, his army was still not a standing one. The crusaders counted on the fact that Saladin would have trouble holding his army together for a long period of time because his soldiers were not full-time warriors. Many were also tradesmen or farmers that easily disbanded when there was no action to get back home .

Saladin knew his situation and continually harassed the area of Tiberias in failed attempts to provoke the Christians into leaving Saffuriyah, until he decided on July, 2 to besiege the city itself. He moved the majority of his troops to the high ground west of Tiberias. From this location, the Muslims could block entrance to the city while still accessing water supplies from the Sea of Galilee through the eastern side of the ridge. Tiberias was poorly fortified and Saladin?s well ? supplied forces had no trouble entering its walls. Residents of the city took refuge in the citadel, including the wife of Count Raymond of Tripoli who urgently sent west for help.

Upon receipt of Eschive?s distress call, there was great commotion among the Christian camp and a leadership council was called. James A. Brundage argues that many of the council were in favor of a counter-attack on Saladin?s troops, claiming that ?they all advised that at dawn they should march out, accompanied by the Lord?s Cross, ready to fight the enemy, with all the men armed and arrayed in battle formation . However, the best strategists of the Frankish army were not ?proud-bouncing?, battle hungry fools. They realized that they could not move easily over the terrain to Tiberias and many of them immediately agreed with Count Raymond of Tripoli . Despite that it was his wife under attack, Raymond urged King Guy of Jerusalem to stay at Saffuriyah where there was plenty of water and provisions were accessible. He persuaded the King to hold the favorable position and wait for the Muslim Saracens to come to him. It was thought that perhaps if the Muslims took Tiberias, they would be proud and cross the arid lands to Saffuriyah where they could be crushed easily . Raymond?s words were sensible, advising that ?Saladin might destroy the walls of the town, but these could be rebuilt; he might take captive [my] wife and men, but these could be recovered?do not endanger the Kingdom by endangering the field army; let Tiberias go; remain here at Saffuriyah? .

Despite Brundage?s ideas, other less biased sources speak of only one knight at the war council who was anti-Raymond ? Gerard de Ridefort, leader of the Templars. Various historians argue over what exactly caused King Guy to stray from his initial inclination to stay at Saffuriyah. A most probable theory comes from Baldwin, who claims that late that night after the council, Gerard spoke with the King in private. According to Baldwin, Gerard said that Raymond was a traitor, and also implied that should the King ?relinquish the city