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    Saladin is widely considered one of the greatest generals in history and one of the most famous leaders of the Middle Ages, but he remains a paradox, both in personal and in historical terms. A military genius, he first served other generals and was overshadowed, late in life, by his greatest rival, Richard I of England. He was far more admired by his Christian enemies, who extolled his chivalry, than some of his Muslim rivals, who fought him for control of Egypt and Syria in the 12th century. His Christian enemies continued his name long after it was forgotten in the Middle East, only to spark a revival of his reputation in Arab culture in the 20th century.

    Revered as the flower of Arab culture, he was really a Kurd who nearly destroyed it. Taught to Egyptian children as a native born Egyptian hero, he was, in fact, Egypt's conqueror, the man who destroyed its native dynasty and suppressed the local Shi'ite sect. Praised for his mild temper and mercy, he made it his mission in the last decade of his life to destroy the Frankish states created by the First Crusade in 1099. The most powerful man in the Levant for the last ten years of his life, he died a virtual pauper after giving away his personal fortune to the poor. Having united almost all of the Levant under one rule, he left it as divided as before. He founded a dynasty that was eventually destroyed by slaves.

    By 1180, Saladin had consolidated his power in both Egypt and Syria, but he still could not join his two realms because of the obstacle that had once protected his Egyptian realm as a buffer zone: The Crusader States. He now decided to root out the Christian principalities from the Levant, even the Byzantines, though this was not a new goal. He had begun harrying the Crusaders and pushing them back out of Egypt even before he had finished establishing his power there. However, he had also allied with them against other Muslim rivals from time to time. With his triumph over his Muslim rivals complete, he now turned on his erstwhile Christian foes. Attacks on Muslim caravans and other violations of truces by notorious Crusader, Raynald of Chatillon (c.1125-1187), beginning in 1181, gave Saladin the pretext for this change in tack.

    Another trend was occurring that ultimately doomed Christian Palestine, while introducing a great long-term threat to the Islamic world of which leaders like Saladin were, at best, only vaguely aware. This involved what was going on in Europe. Even as the fortunes of the Crusaders in Palestine gradually declined, other crusades and other expansions against Muslims closer to home were far more successful. By the time Saladin won the Battle of Hattin, the Muslim region of Al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula had long since fragmented and was in the process of a terminal reduction and decline, despite the best efforts of two major waves of powerful jihadists from North Africa, the Almoravids and the Almohads.

    By 1130, Norman mercenaries had wrested Sicily and southern Italy from the Muslims (who had taken it from the Byzantines) and established a kingdom there. It remained in Christian hands thereafter. Thus, while Saladin and other leaders were in the process of expelling the Latin Christians from the Middle East, the Europeans were expelling the Muslims from Europe and blocking them from eventual access to the Americas, gradually forming a geopolitical structure that exists today.

    Given the personalities involved, the Third Crusade is among the most famous of the Crusades, and the Battle of Jaffa occurred on August 8, 1192 on the site of an ancient port that is now the oldest part of the city of Tel-Aviv, Israel. It was the encounter that brought the Third Crusade to a conclusion, and though it is not one of the better-known battles of the Crusades and certainly not the most spectacular in terms of battle numbers, it helped shape how the Middle East would look going forward.

    ©2021 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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