Reynald De Chatillon and Gerard de Ridefort hovered over a map on a large table, in a tent fifteen miles to the west of Tiberius. It is an incredibly hot day in the desert, July 3rd, 1187 AD. Only a year before had Guy de Lusignan become the King of Jerusalem in a political intrigue that involved the death of his wife’s son, Baldwin V. The King was advised by newcomers to power, Chatillon and Ridefort, a senior member of the Knights Templars. Both of them were testaments to the notion that position does not infer upon one military knowledge and maneuver warfare capability. History is often kind to those who by the grace of God appear where they do in and when they do. That said, the Battle of Hattin was the blind leading the stupid, or as another euphorism paints it, The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions.
Ridefort and Chatillon argued for bold attacks at the split forces of Salahudin, the charismatic Vizier of Egypt who united troops and surrounded the Crusader strongholds on the west coats of what is now Israel. Salahudin attacked the fortress castle of Tiberius to draw the Crusader Army out and then placed another huge contingent of his massive cavalry in between two kills known as the Horns of Hattin.
Salahudin was able to raise a massive army from Syria and Egypt consisting of 12,000 Akari horsemen, 26,000 Turkomens cavalry, and 12,000 infantry from local tribes. These 50,000 mobile troops faced a Crusader force of 32,000 heavy infantry, laden with chain mail, shields, spears, woolen clothing and whatever supplies they each needed. Among the Crusadr force were 6000 Tircopole light cavalry, 1380 mercenaries, and less than 900 actual armored Knights of the Holy Orders.
Convinced to move, Guy sends his men out on the 3rd and Arab skirmishers make the trip hell for all involved, taking the occasional casualty, killing horses, exhausting the troops. In a few hours, the entire Crusader Army halted and set camp where they could see water from the Sea of Galilee and intend to head for it the next day- but Salahudin had other plans. That night, surrounded by Salahudin’s force, the Crusaders have something to think about. While the Crusaders sat parched, Salahudin’s forces were refreshed, rested, re supplied and continued an endless barrage of arrows throughout the night. Measuring the wind direction, Salahudin had his infantry burn the brush around the Crusaders to send hot smoke through the night.
The next day the infantry forces of the massive and very thirsty Crusader army split in two. The force on the East headed to the water and without cavalry support most of the force was cutoff and cut down and captured. What little cavalry they brought with them were taken down in a war of attrition. Eventually mounted cavalry had to fight on foot and they were simply no match for the Muslims. The infantry was literally herded into an enclave.
On the Western battlefield, the French heavy knights made many fruitless charges into the Turkomen cavalry, but the Arabs simply faded back and countered with showers of arrows and spears that eventually took the entire force down. A few Crusading Knights escaped into Tyre, but most were cut down and sold into slavery or held as ransom.
The loss of the Battle of Hattin was the beginning of the end of the hold the Crusaders would have in the Holy Land. By the end of 1187, Salahudin had reduced Crusaders strong holds to only a hand full. If you get a chance, see the movie Kingdom of Heaven, which features Hattin in the first ten minutes of the movie.
Sources and Citations. DeVries, Kelley; Dougherty, Martin; Jestice, Phyllis G; Jorgensen, Christian (2006) Battles of the Medieval World 1000- 1500, Barnes and Noble.