Saladin c. 1138-1193
Kurdish Muslim leader, Sultan of Egypt and Syria.
Born in Tikrīt, Iraq, Saladin (also written as Salâh ed Dîn or Salah ed-Din Yusuf) rose to power during the time of the Second and Third Crusades. He gained a reputation as a superior general, and contemporary accounts by Frankish and Arabic sources credit Saladin with being merciful and fair. His name is most widely recognized among Westerners for his military engagement with King Richard I during the Third Crusade. Among Muslims, he has often been viewed as a hero of Islam for his efforts to unite the Islamic states culminating in the capture of Jerusalem in 1187. Others, Muslims and Westerners alike, believe that despite Saladin's devout claims, his actions were aimed at consolidating and increasing his personal power.
At age fourteen, Saladin entered into the service of Syrian ruler Nur ad-Din. In 1164, Nur ad-Din sent Saladin on a series of military expeditions aimed at assisting the Egyptian Fatmid rulers in defending themselves against the attacks of the Crusaders. Saladin's efforts in these campaigns were highly successful. By 1169, Saladin had become the commander in chief of the Syrian army, as well as the vizier of Egypt. Having defended Egypt against the Crusaders, Saladin now went on the attack against them. Following Nur ad-Din's death in 1174, Saladin expanded his power in both Syria and Mesopotamia. In 1187 Saladin's armies captured Jerusalem. Two years later, the Third Crusade was launched, forcing Saladin to defend his territory. King Richard I of England was successful in overtaking some of Saladin's strongholds, including Acre in 1191. In 1192, Saladin and Richard reached an armistice agreement that allowed the Crusaders control over cities along the Palestinian-Syrian coast. Saladin and the Muslims, however, retained control over the city the Crusaders most longed for—Jerusalem. Saladin died in 1193.
Saladin scholarship focuses largely on evaluations of the contemporary source material about Saladin's life, and assessments of Saladin's military efficacy, motivation, reputation, and legacy. Hamilton A. R. Gibb offers a ranking and analysis of contemporary Arabic sources that focus on the life of Saladin. Gibb maintains that the two best sources are the extant texts composed by ‘Imâdeddîn of Isfahân, and the Life of Saladin by Bahâeddin Ibn Shaddad. Gibb also concludes that one of the most respected sources, the history el-Kâmil by ‘Izzeddîn Ibn el-Athîr, should no longer be regarded as the views “of a well-informed contemporary chronicler.” Yaacov Lev examines how contemporary politics influenced Saladin's historian-admirers—Qadi al Fadil, ‘Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, Ibn Shaddad, and Ibn el-Athîr—and affected their assessment of Saladin. Additionally, Lev discusses the cultural and religious biases that perhaps affected the biographers' views of Saladin. While Gibb and Lev study contemporary Arabic sources, C. R. Conder analyzes one such source—the account of Saladin's activities written by Saladin's friend Boha ed-Dîn—and Geoffrey de Vinsauf’s account of the same events from the Frankish point of view. Both accounts, Conder observes, are in complete accordance on the main facts pertaining to the Third Crusade. Other critics have centered their studies on the way in which contemporary sources have been utilized or ignored by modern writers. An anonymous critic for the Quarterly Review argues that nineteenth-century English readers suffered from a lack of an accurate account of “Mohammedan history” written by a western author. The critic goes on to discuss the wealth of information about Saladin available from Arabic sources. Stanley Lane-Poole examines how Saladin legends, which appear in early French romances, influenced nineteenth-century romances such as Sir Walter Scott's The Talisman (1825). Lane-Poole demonstrates how Scott's and other literary treatments of Saladin include factual inaccuracies as well as insights into Saladin's character.
In evaluating and discussing Saladin's rise to power and his military and political achievements, some critics offer a favorable assessment of Saladin's character and motivations. Dana Carleton Munro offers a detailed account of Saladin's military conquests, and notes that Saladin treated Christian prisoners mercifully, and that he allowed Christian pilgrims access to Jerusalem. Steve Runciman characterizes Saladin as a devout Muslim, and comments that Saladin is as much admired in modern times as he was by his contemporaries. Like Munro, Runciman observes that Saladin showed “mercy and charity” to his defeated enemies. Similarly, Hamilton A. R. Gibb analyzes Saladin's activities and possible motivations. Gibb argues that Saladin's goals were to drive the Franks from Palestine and Syria, and to unite the Islamic states. Gibb praises Saladin as a man who stood for a “moral ideal”; Saladin expressed “this moral ideal in his own life and action,” thereby creating “an impulse to unity.” While these critics emphasize Saladin's religious motivation, his mercy, and his morality, others question—rather than praise—these qualities and impulses. Hilaire Belloc states that Saladin condemned enemies to torture and death, and remained “indifferent” to the suffering of these individuals. Belloc also describes Saladin as “fanatically anti-Christian.” Malcolm Cameron Lyons and D. E. P. Jackson point out that Saladin was both admired and reviled by his Muslim contemporaries; some Muslims accused him of using the unification of Islam as a ruse for his quest for personal power. Still other critics have attempted analyses that avoid discussion of personal characteristics and motivation altogether. R. Stephen Humphreys offers a detailed examination of the political structure under which Saladin operated. Humphreys demonstrates how the territories brought together by Saladin functioned as a political system which was shaped by a network of loyalties Saladin had cultivated. Andrew S. Ehrenkreutz criticizes Gibb's and other “romantic” assessments of Saladin's achievements, and his own analysis of Saladin's early career does not focus on Saladin's devotion to Islam or to the holy war against the Crusaders. Ehrenkreutz goes on to discuss Saladin's military and diplomatic accomplishments, as well as his shortcomings as a leader. D. S. Richards in his study of Saladin's career, finds much to criticize in Ehrenkreutz's work. Richards claims that Ehrenkreutz's analysis is full of inaccuracies, as well as “slanted or unsupportable interpretations of texts.” Richards concludes that while Gibb's portrait of Saladin may seem at first “too good to be true,” it is preferable to Ehrenkreutz's faulty account.
Bahâeddîn Ibn Shaddad
Life of Saladin (history) date unknown
‘Imâddedîn of Isfahân
el-Barq el-Shâmî (history) date unknown
‘Imâddedîn of Isfahân
el-Fath el-Qussî (history) date unknown
‘Izzeddîn Ibn el-Athîr
el-Kâmil (history) unknown
Sir Walter Scott
The Talisman (novel) 1825
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The Quarterly Review (essay date 1896)
SOURCE: “The Age of Saladin,” The Quarterly Review, Vol. CLXXXIII, No. CCCLXV, 1896, pp. 163–87.
[In the following essay, the anonymous critic briefly reviews several nineteenth-century Western histories of the Crusades. The critic observes a lack of a thorough, accurate “Mohammedan history” by a Western writer and demonstrates that such information is available through Arabic sources.]
… 1. Ousama ibn Mounkidh, un Emir Syrien au premier siècle des Croisades (1095-1188). Par Hartwig Derenbourg. Avec le texte arabe de l’Autobiographie d’Ousama, publié d’après le manuscrit de l’Escurial. Three Vols. Paris, 1886-1893.
2. Siasset Nameh: Traité de Gouvernement. Composé pour le Sultan Melik Shah par le Vizir Nizam oul-Moulk. Traduit par Charles Schefer, Membre de l’Institut. Paris, 1893.
3. Recueil des Historiens des Croisades. Publié par les soins de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Historiens Orientaux, Tomes I.—III. Paris, 1872-1884.
4. The Crusades: the Story of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. By T. A. Archer and C. L. Kingsford. London, 1894.
In reading any history of the Crusades, such as the sober and scholarly epitome which has recently appeared under the joint names of Mr. Archer and Mr....
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SOURCE: “Saladin and King Richard: The Eastern Question in the Twelfth Century,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. DCCCCLXXVII, No. CLXI, March, 1897, pp. 389–97.
[In the following essay, Conder reviews the pre-history and military details of the Third Crusade, emphasizing the achievements of King Richard I. Conder notes that in accounts of the Crusade by Frankish and Muslim authors, both Saladin and Richard are praised and respected.]
It is not often that so complete a double account of a great struggle can be found in medieval history as that which exists regarding the third crusade, of which the opposing heroes were Saladin and Richard Lion Heart. On the Frankish side Geoffrey de Vinsauf gives us a vivid description of the expedition in which he took part; and on the Moslem side Boha ed Dîn, Kâdy of Jerusalem, relates the life of his friend and patron, Salâh ed Dîn, the “honour of the Faith.” Though tinged by admiration of their respective masters, these two works are so completely in accord as to the main facts that we are able to form an impartial estimate of events, while the details are in either case so full, and so easily understood by the light of recent exploration, that we can trace every movement on the ground, and are able to recognise the battle-fields of the hard-fought campaigns in which Palestine was lost to Christendom, and again recovered, in part, by English arms....
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SOURCE: “Saladin and the Loss of the Kingdom” in The Kingdom of the Crusaders, Kennikat Press, 1935, pp. 147–73.
[In the following essay, Munro offers an account of Saladin's rise to power and discusses his capture of Jerusalem and truce with the Christians.]
From all those engaged in the crusading wars romance has singled out Saladin as its own particular hero, with Richard the Lion-Hearted as a poor second. The choice was a natural one, for Saladin had the qualities which commended him to both Christian and Muslim. He did not have the broad tolerance in religion with which Lessing endowed him in Nathan der Weise: no Muslim leader could have had this tolerance; some of the Christian leaders in the Crusades came nearer to it through their acquaintance with the many religions they found in the Holy Land, and through their disillusionment with their own narrow inherited faith. Saladin did have the virtues of generosity and courtesy, with which Scott, following the example of medieval Christian writers, depicted him in The Talisman. He won the admiration of followers and enemies by his bravery. He never broke his word, a virtue which his opponents made use of, but did not imitate. Although he could be stern in his vengeance on occasion, he was usually merciful, and in this respect his character shines brilliantly against the barbaric background of the age. Many examples are recorded of...
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SOURCE: “The Encirclement” in The Crusade: The World’s Debate, Cassell and Company Ltd., 1937, pp. 255–85.
[In the following essay, Belloc analyzes Saladin's role in deciding the fate of the Christians in the Holy Land between the Second and Third Crusades. Belloc stresses that other scholars have made too much of Saladin's alleged respect for and fair treatment of his enemies.]
The attack of Europe upon the Asiatic is over and has failed. The rest of the story is but one thing. It is the mortal sickness and death of the Crusading State.
The breakdown of the expedition against Damascus, “The Defeat of the Second Crusade,” marks the outward visible manifestation of that inward ruin of the Christian Kingdom—the potential, impending ruin of it—which could be instinctively felt throughout the Holy Land ever since the fall of Edessa and even earlier: from the moment when the personality of Zengi had been thrown into the scales and when the unification of Moslem power against the now fated Christian effort had begun.
The retreat of the German Emperor and the French King to the coast, their departure just before the middle of the century, was a symbol that our high Western civilisation, pulsing higher year after year, was concentrated more and more upon its own life and would not nourish much...
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SOURCE: “The Arabic Sources for the Life of Saladin,” Speculum, Vol. XXV, No. 1, January, 1950, pp. 58–72.
[In the following essay, Gibb examines the style, content, and historical accuracy and value of several contemporary Arabic sources of the life of Saladin.]
All historians who have studied the life of Saladin have given the first place to two Arabic sources: the Life of Saladin by Bahâeddîn Ibn Shaddâd (translated in Volume III of the Recueil des Historiens des Croisades: Historiens Orientaux), and the universal history, el-Kâmil, of ‘Izzeddîn Ibn el-Athîr (partially translated in Volumes I and II, 1, in the same series). As to the authority and reliability of the former, little can now be added to the testimony of Stanley Lane-Poole in his preface (p. vi) to Saladin, in the ‘Heroes of the Nations' series (London and New York, 1898). Bahâeddîn (1145-1234) writes with the most sober good sense and honesty, and I can find in his work little even of that ‘personal bias and oriental hyperbolism’ which Lane-Poole thought it necessary to excuse. He first came into direct relation with Saladin, however, only in 1184, as one of the ambassadors from Mosul, and did not finally join him as Judge of the Army until 1188. From then onwards, i.e., during the whole period of the Third Crusade, he not only presents a faithful record of events as he saw them, but...
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SOURCE: “Saladin, a Great Leader of Islam,” The Listener, Vol. LI, No. 1311, April 15, 1954, pp. 648–49.
[In the essay that follows, Runciman offers a general assessment of Saladin's achievement and reputation, commenting that Saladin is as admired in modern times as he was by his contemporaries for his eminence as a general and for his virtuous nature. The author cites examples of Saladin's acts of mercy, charity, compassion, and humility.]
There are many characters in history who were thought to be great and good by their contemporaries but who seem to us today rather unattractive. Fashions in behaviour and even moral standards have changed. But there are a few whose reputation has outlived the vicissitudes of time, so that we can still understand why they were admired and loved. Such a one was Saladin, the Moslem prince who was the most illustrious enemy of the Christians in the religious wars that we call the Crusades.
Saladin was born in 1138, at a time when the Moslem world was at a low ebb. When he died, in 1193, the Moslems were in the ascendant again. The Crusaders, who had held most of Syria and all the Holy Land, were reduced to a strip of territory along the coast. Saladin's great triumph was to restore to Islam the city of Jerusalem—a city almost as holy to the Moslems as it is to the Christians—which the soldiers of the First Crusade had recovered for...
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SOURCE: “The Byzantines and Saladin, 1185–1192: Opponents of the Third Crusade,” Speculum, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, April, 1962, pp. 167–81.
[In the following essay, Brand outlines the details of the alliance between the Byzantine Empire and Saladin from 1185 to 1192. Brand concludes that neither side gained much from the alliance.]
On the eve of the Third Crusade the chief Christian state in the East joined with Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria, to further their common interests, which involved opposition to the Latins in the Holy Land. To the West this conjunction appeared to be a violation of the tie of religion and a break with tradition, because from the moment of the irruption of Mohammed's followers from the Arabian peninsula warfare between Byzantines and Muslims had been almost continuous. In the eleventh century the Muslim Seljuks deprived the Eastern Empire of much of Anatolia. After the First Crusade Byzantium co-operated with the Westerners in the hope of establishing a protectorate over the crusader states in Syria and securing aid against the persistent Muslim encroachment upon its eastern frontiers. Yet Andronicus, last of the Comneni, and Isaac Angelus, his successor, reversed this policy, allied themselves with the crusaders' mightiest opponent, and even strove to eliminate Latin power from the Orient.
This rapprochement of ancient enemies was facilitated by some...
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SOURCE: “The Achievement of Saladin” in Studies in the Civilization of Islam, edited by Stanford J. Shaw and William R. Polk, Princeton University Press, 1962, pp. 91–107.
[In the following essay, Gibb assesses the motivation behind Saladin's achievements and addresses the theory that his successes were the result of his personal ambition and his exploitation of religious sentiments. Gibb maintains that Saladin's successes were the result of his “unselfishness, his humility and generosity, [and] his moral vindication of Islam.”]
In the effort to penetrate behind the external history of a person whose reputation rests upon some military achievement, the modern tendency is to analyse the complex of circumstances within which he acted, with the sometimes explicit suggestion that the individual is rather the creature than the creator of his circumstances, or, more justly, that his achievement is to be explained by a harmonious adjustment of his genius to the conditions within which it operated. That this is generally true calls for no argument. But history, especially the history of the Near East, is full of conquering kings, who seem to owe nothing to their circumstances except the possession of a powerful army and the weakness of their antagonists. The question posed by the career of Saladin is whether he was just another such conqueror, or whether his career involved distinctive moral elements...
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SOURCE: “The Showdown with the Crusader” in Saladin, State University of New York Press, 1972, pp. 195–261.
[In the following essay, Ehrenkreutz offers an assessment of Saladin's career that focuses on his accomplishments as well as his shortcomings. Ehrenkreutz stresses that he does not, unlike many critics, conjecture about or romanticize Saladin's intentions.]
“As for the claim of the Caliph that I’ve conquered Jerusalem with his army and under his banners—where were his banners and his army at the time? By God! I conquered Jerusalem with my own troops and under my own banners!”—Saladin to Caliph al-Nasir
TRADITIONAL TREATMENT OF SALADIN'S CAREER IS OPEN TO QUESTION
To modern western readers Saladin is best known for his military battles with the Crusaders between 1187 and 1192. This is understandable in view of the dramatic character of that struggle and the fact that it involved formidable naval and land forces and prominent leaders from Europe. The interest aroused by that brief climactic phase in Saladin's career is reflected in the arrangement of Lane-Poole's biography. The initial section of his book, entitled “Egypt” and covering the period from Saladin's birth to Nur al-Din's death (1138-74), is surveyed in sixty-three pages of rather diluted narrative. The second part, called...
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SOURCE: “The Structure of Politics in the Reign of Saladin” in From Saladin to the Mongols: Ayyubids of Damascus, 1193–1260, State University of New Yirk Press Albany, 1977, pp. 15–39, 414–21.
[In the following essay, Humphreys analyzes the political structure under which Saladin operated and discusses the ways in which he adapted this structure and established his authority. Humphreys emphasizes the system of loyalties cultivated by Saladin, and observes that such a system could not be sustained after his death. But overall, the political system that was prevalent during Saladin's reign “gave his immediate successors a framework of attitudes and behavior within which to define their own policies and goods.”]
Saladin's legacy to his heirs was not merely a mass of territories brought together by force and diplomacy. It was a functioning political system—a structure of expectations, rights, and duties within which men sought power and influence. This political system had been shaped by Saladin's goals and imbued with his personality, but it did not evaporate upon his death. Indeed it gave his immediate successors a framework of attitudes and behavior within which to define their own policies and goals. It was also the initial point for the entire subsequent political evolution of the Ayyubid empire. From both points of view, then, the structure of politics under Saladin requires careful...
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SOURCE: “Conclusion” in Saladin: Politics of the Holy War, Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 365–85, 432–37.
[In the following essay, Lyons and Jackson offer a brief assessment of Saladin's reputation, commenting that Saladin's Muslim contemporaries alternately viewed him as a hero of Islam or as a manipulator who used Islam to achieve personal power. Lyons and Jackson provide evidence of Saladin's strengths and weaknesses.]
To his admirers, Saladin on his death-bed at Damascus can be seen as the hero of Islam, the destroyer of the Latin Kingdom and the restorer of the shrines in Jerusalem. Eulogy, however, must accommodate itself to the fact that such a view was not accepted by numbers of his Muslim contemporaries. He can be pictured by his detractors as manipulating Islam to win power for himself and his family and only then launching on an adventure which still left a Frankish state poised to strike, if Europe were willing to support it, at an overburdened and impoverished Muslim empire. The praise and blame implicit in such assessments may be irrelevant to a historical study, but the assessments themselves serve to underline the problem of Saladin's relationship to his background. In turn, this must be related to his own qualities, in so far as they can be seen to determine how far he controlled events, rather than merely reacted to them.
As a war leader, Saladin has to...
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SOURCE: “Saladin’s Hattin Letter” in The Horns of Hattin, edited by B. Z. Kedar, Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1992, pp. 208–13.
[In the following excerpt, Melville and Lyons note that Saladin's Hattin letter functions as a triumph song, rather than a factual account. Like most medieval Arabic diplomatic correspondence, the letter is “colored by metaphor and rhetorical exaggeration.” The critics then offer an English translation of the letter.]
The repetitive patterns of medieval Arabic diplomatic correspondence are colored by metaphor and rhetorical exaggeration. Here, facts are the one half-pennyworth of bread in an intolerable deal of sack, and to this general rule the Hattīn letter is no exception. Not surprisingly, it is a triumph song rather than a battlefield communiqué, but in spite of this it supplies a clue that is essential to an understanding of the battle. The letter tells us that the crusaders occupied “one of the waters” during their advance on Tiberias. If this is accepted as referring to the spring by the site of the village of Tur‘ān, the detail transforms what is otherwise inexplicably foolish generalship into a militarily acceptable, if unfortunate, tactical plan.
What is given here is a transcription of MS. arabe 6024 in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris. A full critical study has yet to be made of the manuscript tradition of Saladin's letters and,...
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SOURCE: “Saladin the Upstart” in Crusades, Facts on File, 1995, pp. 135–47.
[In the essay that follows, Jones and Ereira provide a brief overview of Saladin's gradual achievement of military power and comment on the reasons why some contemporary Muslims viewed Saladin as an “upstart.” The critics' evaluation focuses on the apparent discrepancy between Saladin's expansionism (which involved fighting against fellow Muslims) and his claim that his activities were geared toward the conquest of Jerusalem and the goal of expelling Christians from the land.]
‘Upon the death of Shirkuh, the advisers of the Caliph al-Adid suggested that he name Yusuf the new Vizier, because he was the youngest, and seemingly the most inexperienced and weakest, of the emirs of the army.’ This is how Ibn al-Athir interpreted Saladin's rise to power. In fact, at the risk of spoiling a good story, the idea that Saladin was a shy, retiring nobody who had suddenly been forced into the limelight is not really tenable. He had killed Shawar and put his uncle Shirkuh into power. He had demonstrated ability in the invasions of Egypt and proved himself in battle.
Even before the Egyptian campaign, the young Saladin must have shown promise for his uncle to have chosen him as his aide-de-camp in preference to Shirkuh's own sons. Before that, Nur ed-Din had himself appointed Saladin as chief of police in...
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SOURCE: “The Sources” in Saladin in Egypt, Constable London, 1976, pp. xii-xv.
[In the following essay, Lev reviews the main contemporary sources for Saladin's biography and examines the influence of the contemporary politics (as well as the biographers' attitudes and perceptions) on the biographers' assessments of Saladin.]
1. SETTING THE STAGE: THE TWELFTH CENTURY
A. CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS TRENDS
I. The abundance of sources for Saladin's rise to power in Egypt should not mislead us as to our ability to fathom the deeper motives and aspirations of the main players on the political scene. We must be always aware that most of our information is derived from the writings of a small and well-defined group of Saladin's associates and admirers notably Qadi al-Fadil, ‘Imad al-Din al-Isfahani and Ibn Shaddad. On the other hand stands Ibn al-Athir, who is mostly hostile to Saladin. To make things worse, only part of the original writings of Saladin's admirers has reached us directly. Therefore, we are dependent on later historians, who were familiar with those works and incorporated them in their own writings. Furthermore, Saladin's historian-admirers wrote their works after the death of Saladin. Their outlook must have been influenced by Saladin's later achievements; the victory at Hittin and the conquest of Jerusalem. In retrospect, they tended to...
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Gabrieli, Francesco, ed. and trans. “Part Two: Saladin and the Third Crusade.” In Arab Historians of the Crusades, selected and translated from Arabic by Francesco Gabrieli, translated from Italian by E. J. Costello, pp. 87-254. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957.
Translations of Arabic sources discussing Saladin's character—his generosity, courage, fairness, and “unfailing goodness”—as well as his military exploits, peace negotiations, and death.
———.“The Arabic Historiography of the Crusades.” In Historians of the Middle East, edited by Bernard Lewis and P. M. Holt, pp. 98-107. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Discusses the reasons why the Crusades were not treated as a specific historical phenomenon by Arabic historiographers, and analyzes the piecemeal manner in which the Crusades were treated among Muslim historians.
Gibb, Hamilton A. R. “Al-Barq al-Shāmī: The History of Saladin by the Kātib ‘Imād ad-Dīn al Isfahānī.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 52. Band, Wien 1953, pp. 93-115.
Offers a summary of the contents of Al-Barq al-Shāmī, the history of Saladin composed by Saladin's secretary. Gibb also analyzes the literary style of the work.
———.“The Rise of Saladin, 1169-1189.”...
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