Battle of Hattin: Crusader Forces Destroyed by Saladin

Forgetting not only the Crusaders’ past but also his own, King Guy of Jerusalem suffered a devastating loss at the Battle of Hattin.

The Battle of Hattin took place on July 4, 1187, at a location near Lake Tiberias known as the Horns of Hattin and was a decisive victory for Saladin against the forces of King Guy de Lusignan of Jerusalem and his unruly ally Raynald of Châtillon. The King of Jerusalem and his knights were able to escape by surrendering, but the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem were all killed in the conflict or shortly after. Since Saladin was successful in uniting the Muslims under the banner of jihad, this was the final phase of the reconquest of Jerusalem he started. On October 2, 1187, the Holy City fell like ripe fruit after the Crusader army was annihilated at Hattin.

Background of the Battle of Hattin

The Latin Kingdom had been in utter decay since King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, sometimes known as the leper, passed away in 1185. Following the premature death of young Baldwin V, Guy of Lusignan and his wife Sibylle’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering enabled the former to take the crown of Jerusalem. The new guardian of the Holy Sepulchre made the decision to reopen hostilities with Saladin, who had agreed to a two-year cease-fire with the leper king and the regent, with the assistance of Raynald of Châtillon and against the regent Raymond, Count of Tripoli. Baron Raynald of Châtillon broke the cease-fire by assaulting a caravan that had left Cairo at the end of 1186, remaining true to his practices that earned him the nickname “the Elephant.” Saladin chose to march on the Latin realm because this was too much.

On his side, the Ayyûbide indeed had free rein. After fighting the descendants of Nûr al-Dîn for many years, he was able to unify the Muslims. He now controlled Aleppo, Damascus, and Cairo, where he overthrew the Fatimids more than ten years ago. Saladin’s propaganda, which emphasized the fight to retake Jerusalem, served as his foundation for legitimacy. For years, he laboriously endeavored to breach the fortifications of the Latin realm, which were guarded by Baldwin IV and the military orders, including the Templars, to no avail. He learned how to remain patient while being constrained by conflicts within his camp and Frankish might. He revered the leper king, thus his passing and Raynald of Châtillon’s provocations came at the right moment.

Saladin Against the Templars

Saladin departed Damascus with an army of 15,000–20,000 troops in March 1187. He caused widespread destruction in the area, which the Crusaders eventually came to defend against. Years of raids by the sultan all over the kingdom and fighting within it had worn down the power of the kingdom. Nonetheless, the Templars under Gerard of Ridefort could always be counted on to come through in the clutch. He mounted an assault with just two hundred knights against a Muslim cavalry of seven thousand riders. To say that the Battle of Cresson (May 1, 1187) was a slaughter would be an understatement.

Raymond of Tripoli, a main figure, was in a dire predicament. The count was conflicted between his obligations to the King of Jerusalem as a Frankish prince and his agreements with Saladin. After the battle of Cresson, which occurred on his soil, the Count of Tripoli was forced to officially turn to the Latin side, no matter how much he tried to postpone the inevitable. He had no intention of letting Guy of Lusignan, Raynald of Châtillon, or Gerard of Ridefort accomplish anything.

The Forces in the Battle

The final battle was set to take place in the early days of July 1187. Where it would happen, and more importantly, who would take the lead, remained to be seen. Some 600 Frankish knights were mustered from the military orders, but the ones lost at Cresson were not included. Other than these two units, the Jerusalem army consisted of about 15,000 fighters. King Guy of Lusignan, the Count of Tripoli, Raynald of Châtillon, the Master of the Templars, Gerard of Ridefort, and William of Montferrat were there, along with the rest of the best of the nobles and the Frankish knights.

Conversely, Saladin was obviously in a better position. More than twenty thousand troops were at his disposal, half of them mounted cavalry like the legendary mounted archers who were a nightmare for the stout Frankish horsemen. The sultan swiftly added the initiative and mastery of the terrain to his overwhelming numerical advantage.

The Battle of Hattin

Battle of Hattin
Saladin ordering the execution of 200 Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller after his victory at the Battle of Hattin. 

On July 2, Saladin launched an assault on Tiberias in the hopes of luring the Latins into a trap. The city and the Count of Tripoli’s wife were under siege. The latter, however, seemed to have sought to discourage King Guy of Lusignan from launching a counterattack to retake the city and win back his bride. He was aware of Saladin and the risks involved, and it was unclear whether or not he was certain that his wife was still in the besieged city.

The Crusader army did not leave for Tiberias on the evening of July 2. And then, once again, Gerard of Ridefort made an appearance. Motivated by a genuine hatred of Islam, the Master of the Templars would have convinced Guy of Lusignan to raise the camp and lead his whole army to finally smash the Saladin danger.

The following day, the Jerusalem knights and troops received the order to depart in the direction of Tiberias, much to their astonishment (and some terror). The crusader force had traveled far from their supply lines, and the weather had turned for the worse. Taking this next step was fraught with danger. Despite the best efforts of Raymond of Tripoli, who, as a good vassal, had to enlist in the army, this did not sway the opinions of Guy and Gerard of Ridefort.

Saladin, on the other hand, clearly kept track of the Frankish army and promptly sent his light cavalry to annoy them. The Latins intended to travel to the city and, by extension, the lake in order to stock up. But in order to do so, they would have to traverse a rough plateau that separated two of the legendary Horns of Hattin hills. The army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell apart under the oppressive heat and the arrows of the Muslim archers. It then had to face Saladin’s 20,000 soldiers, who were well-equipped and in great shape. 

The curse awaited at the end of the Horns of Hattin. With his fire, Saladin blinded and suffocated the crusaders. They were hit by thousands of arrows at once and were unable to defend themselves. Raymond of Tripoli was among the few who made it to safety in the direction of Tyre. Others died on the burning plateau or were imprisoned in Tiberias. The Battle of Hattin was over.

The Frankish Army Destroyed at Hattin

The next day, Jerusalem’s King Herod and his entourage made the trip to Saladin. In retaliation for Raynald of Châtillon’s many crimes against Islam, Saladin personally had him beheaded. During the battle, Gerard of Ridefort was apparently killed, and the Sultan ordered the deaths of any surviving Templars. Similarly, the Turcopoles (the sons of Turks), judged as traitors to Islam, were beheaded. Due to his aristocratic bloodline, Saladin spared Guy of Lusignan, but he was nevertheless captured along with the other Frankish lords, from whom he planned to demand a ransom. The rest of the population was compelled to work as slaves.

The majority of the Frankish army was destroyed on July 4, 1187, in Hattin. Only a few garrisons remained in the fortresses and the main cities. It was not enough to stop Saladin, who over the following several weeks would seize every Latin office. The only two large cities remaining were Jerusalem and Tyre. The latter fell on October 2, 1187, as a result of Saladin’s jihad, despite the best efforts of a small band of knights commanded by Balian of Ibelin. Since Saladin had finally achieved his aim as Muslim monarch and had become more powerful than the Caliph of Baghdad, he had every right to celebrate his achievements.


  1. Richard, Jean (1999). The Crusades, c. 1071-c. 1291. ISBN 0-521-62566-1.
  2. Riley-Smith, Jonathan (2005), The Crusades: A History, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-8264-7269-4
  3. Lyons, M. C.; Jackson, D. E. P. (1982), Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War, New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-22358-X
  4. Hamilton, Bernard (1978). “The Elephant of Christ: Reynald of Châtillon”. Studies in Church History (15): 97–108. ISSN 0424-2084.
  5. Setton, Kenneth, ed. (1958), A History of the Crusades, vol. I, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige works at Malevus as a history writer. His areas of historical interest include the ancient world and early Europe, as well as the history of modern culture.