Third Crusade (1189-1192)Third Crusade (1189-1192) - To most people (even casual historians who have not closely studied the time period) the Crusades are little more than a blur.  A series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims over control of the Holy Land.  Perhaps the one exception is the Third Crusade.  Whereas the other sequels pale in comparison to the original, the third one rivals it.  And the reason can be best summed up by a single phrase; Richard the Lionheart vs Saladin.  Both are major historical figures and have earned their own spots on this chart (refer to them for more information on the men themselves).  This entry will focus on the events of the Crusade only.  The roots of the Third Crusade, of course, are found in the first two.  However, the more immediate cause was Saladin himself.  In 1187 he captured Jerusalem after the Europeans had held it for 88 years.  True to form, the sitting Pope, Gregory VIII, called for yet another Crusade.  Once again, kings responded.  This time it was three of the most powerful in Europe; Henry II of England, Philip II of France and Frederick I of Germany (and Holy Roman Emperor).  However, Henry died in 1189, officially suffering from a bleeding ulcer.  But his demise was hastened in no small part due to a conflict with his son, Richard, and Philip of France.  The conflict was over Henry's succession, and from Richard's standpoint it was a success, since he succeeded his father.  Meanwhile, while the war between England and France was winding down, Frederick (known as Frederick Barbarossa) was raising a massive army in his empire (estimates of up to 100,000 soldiers).  With a force that size, Frederick might well have conquered the Holy Land all by himself.  But fate would intervene before he even got there.  While crossing the Calycadnus River (now the Göksu) in Asia Minor, he was swept by the current and drowned.  Now leaderless, the German army was thrown into chaos.  Infighting among troops became routine and the Turks constantly harassed them.  Many were killed (either by enemies or by each other), abandoned the cause or committed suicide.  Of the original army that left Europe, only 5,000 reached the Levant to join the Crusade.


The French and English armies set out about a month after Frederick died, both with much smaller forces.  However, they arrived intact, primarily because they sailed rather than marched.  They joined the siege of the coastal city of Acre, which had been in progress for almost two years.  The French reached Acre in April 1191, and the English joined them about a month later.  Richard's presence provided a tremendous boost to the Crusaders and it soon became clear that he would be the energy and morale behind the Crusader effort.  Acre fell in July 1191, less than two months after his arrival.  This was the first confrontation between Richard's men and Saladin's forces and it ended in victory for the English king.  However, Saladin himself had not been present at Acre (he was marching to relieve the siege, but arrived too late).  When he did reach the city, he tried to negotiate the release of the prisoners inside.  Richard was anxious to seize on his victory and begin marching south, and he felt Saladin was purposely delaying the negotiations to slow him down.  Although a great warrior, Richard was not known for his patience or his diplomatic skills.  Instead of letting the talks drag on, he decided to execute all the prisoners; 2700 in all, including women and children.  Saladin responded by executing all his Christian captives.  It was a gruesome display of how determined both men were for victory.


Third Crusade (1189-1192)Richard's next target was Jaffa.  If he was to take Jerusalem, he needed another coastal city further south from which to supply it.  Jaffa was undefended and Saladin attempted to stop him before he reached it.  He attacked at a place called Arsuf about 30 miles (50 km) north of the city.  The typical tactic of Saladin's men was to harass the enemy army while it marched, get it to break up, and then cut it to pieces.  Richard had either been given a scouting report or he was able to react quickly enough to avoid taking the bait.  He ordered his men to hold their positions until the majority of the enemy exposed itself.  When it did, Richard gave the order and his men burst from formation overwhelming their foe.  Saladin's horsemen were fast enough to retreat with only moderate losses, but the psychological impact was enormous.  Saladin had been nearly invincible in open battle, but now the Crusaders had a leader who had beaten him.  After that, Jaffa was taken without opposition.  Now the Crusader army's morale was sky high and they thought Jerusalem would be captured easily.  But Richard was concerned about a potentially long siege, and opened negotiations again with Saladin.  They were a failure, but a very interesting proposition was put forth.  Richard had offered to marry off his sister, Joanna of Sicily to Saladin's brother, al-Adil and make them king and queen of Jerusalem, in exchange for keeping the gains Richard had recently made.  It was an unheard of proposal for both sides.  A Christian could never agree to marry a Muslim (particularly in that environment), just as a Muslim could not marry a Christian.  The idea was so preposterous that Saladin thought it was a joke.  So he decided to call Richard's bluff and accept the offer.  But Richard was apparently serious, and meant to seal the deal.  It ultimately failed when both Joanna and al-Adil refused to take part, even after Richard tried to convince his sister that Saladin's brother would eventually convert to Christianity.


By the end of 1191, the Crusaders were ready to push on to Jerusalem.  They hoped to catch Saladin off guard as most of his troops had been dismissed for the winter (before modern times, armies rarely fought in winter, even in the Middle East).  But it was a tactic that backfired.  As it turned out, the weather was particularly harsh that year.  Violent storms pounded Richard's men.  Heavy rains, cold and hail slowed their progress.  Still, they got to within 12 miles of the city.  The Muslim residents were terrified, thinking the city would fall to the Crusaders.  But Richard assessed the situation and realized the risk was too great.  Even if he took the city, holding would likely be too difficult.  And if a relieving army arrived while he was sieging it, his would probably be destroyed.  So he turned back.  Instead, Richard and Saladin came to terms.  Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands, but Christian pilgrims would be permitted to travel there, so long as Saladin controlled it, without fear of being attacked.  Richard departed the Holy Land in October 1192, and the Third Crusade effectively ended.