Hattin: The Battle


The army of Jerusalem customarily carried the True Cross into battle, and both sides saw the moment of its capture at Hattin as decisive in Guy’s defeat. Salah ad-Din capturing the True Cross at the Battle of Hattin.




Saladin drew Guy into a long march across open territory, which favoured his highly mobile tactics and enabled him to cut the Franks off from crucial water sources.



  1. 20,000 including 1,300 knights, at least 13,000 light cavalry and a large infantry force

Commanded by Guy of Lusignan, king of Jerusalem

All infantry and majority of knights killed or captured


c.30,000 including infantry occupied at Tiberias and not a major element

Commanded by Saladin, ruler of Syria and Egypt

Unknown casualties

The battle Saladin’s army advanced towards Saffuriyah on 2 July, but Guy refused to accept battle. That night there was a dramatic and angry council to decide what to do. The accounts given of this by those we think may have known what happened are coloured by the desire of the various Christian factions to distribute blame for the defeat that followed. Two courses of action were suggested: that battle should be given, or that battle should be declined and Tiberias left to its fate. It is not clear who urged what, though many sources suggest that Raymond of Tripoli was in favour of declining battle while his enemies, Reynald of Chatillon and Gerard of Ridefort, Grand Master of the Temple, took the opposite view.

There was a good case for either course of action. The kingdom was anchored by its fortified cities and castles and no attacker could undertake a serious siege as long as a field army existed. Accordingly, as in 1183 when Guy had been in command, the crusaders usually preferred to shadow their enemy so that he could achieve little before the campaigning season ended and his army dissolved, avoiding the risks of battle. Tiberias was a minor city and its fall would achieve little. If Saladin’s army did not then disperse it could be lured into challenging the crusaders on grounds of their choosing.

On the other hand, Guy had a huge army and an opportunity to defeat Saladin, and revenge the destruct ion he had wrought on the kingdom. Moreover, Guy needed the prestige of victory to unite the kingdom. He would have remembered that many who urged avoidance of battle had attacked him for doing just that in 1183 and he would have been fearful of criticism for abandoning the lady of Tiberias. Therefore he decided to lead the army out to battle on 3 July. That he intended to give battle is obvious, but we have no idea where and how he hoped to do this.

The core of Guy’s army were the knights , and they were drawn up in three divisions for the march, a vanguard under Raymond of Tripoli, a rearguard commanded by Balian of Ibelin and a centre where Guy marched. They were protected from enemy missile attack by a screen of foot soldiers marching about them. Saladin’s army had its own heavy cavalry and clouds of mounted archers. The crusader army paused on the springs of Tur’an then resumed its eastward march. Saladin’s cavalry surrounded and cut them off from Tur’an, and attacked the rearguard ferociously as they struggled uphill to Maskana. There the army halted for the night, desperately short of water and surrounded by their enemies.

The next morning the Muslims held back until the heat of day sapped the crusaders. We have no dependable account of the fighting on 4 July, but it seems that the infantry, their will sapped by the lack of water, deserted the cavalry and took refuge on the hills known as the ‘Horns of Hattin’, William of Tyre tells us:

‘They left the Springs of Saffuriya to go to the relief of Tiberias. As soon as they had left the water behind. Saladin came before them and ordered his skirmishers to harass them from morning to midday. The heat was so great that they could not go on so as to reach water. The king and all his men were too spread out and did not know what to do. He sent to the Count of Tripoli, who led the vanguard, to ask his advice. The message came back that he should pitch his tent and make camp. The king gladly accepted this bad advice, though when he gave him good advice he would never take it.’

The cavalry, exposed to attack by enemy horse-archers, tried to break the encirclement, but only Raymond of Tripoli and Balian of Ibelin and a few others escaped. After a last desperate attempt to establish a camp on Hattin, Guy surrendered. Saladin’s superior numbers had enabled him to hold off the increasingly desperate Christian charges. It seems inconceivable that Guy expected to march 26 km (16 miles) to Tiberias in one day, exposing his army to terrible thirst in an arid countryside. Whatever his plan, it evidently went wrong.

The significance of the battle

Saladin treated Guy with courtesy and most of the noble survivors were ransomed, but he personally decapitated Reynald and ordered a massacre of the Templars and Hospitallers. The remaining survivors were enslaved. Because of the effort Guy had made to raise troops, the cities of Palestine were virtually helpless before Saladin’s army. Acre surrendered on 8 July. Sidon on 29 July. Beirut on 6 August and Ascalon on 4 September. Balian of Ibelin held out in Jerusalem, but surrendered on terms on 2 October. This disaster created a wave of crusading fervour in Europe which endured until the Seventh Crusade. 1248-54. led by St Louis of France (1226-70). The kingdom never recovered from the defeat of Hattin, after which it was always dependent on external forces for its very survival.


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