Saladin, Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب. One of the most famous figures of the 12th century. Born in 1140~ as Yusuf, son of Ayyub; the name that the Western world knows him by actually translates to “Righteousness of the Faith”. (Basically, the only name most people know Saladin by is more like a description of him.) Saladin’s was a Kurdish family, and devoutly Muslim; but his denomination was Sunni, during the Fatamid dynastic period (Fatamid rulers were Shia, as were most of the government officials). Saladin climbed the ranks as a military commander of great ability; leading attacks on enemies of his Fatamid lords.
After several years of successes, Saladin became the Emir of Egypt in 1169, (some accounts say the Caliph appointed him to that post because he was the weakest and youngest, so he held the least influence and stood the least threat to the throne) where he began to consolidate his power and begin passing off government positions and official jobs to family members. After destroying a few uprisings angry about his appointment, Saladin gained a permanent foothold in North Africa. Within 2 years of his appointment, the Caliph of the Fatamids died (or was poisoned) and Saladin took the opportunity to become the Sultan of Egypt, marking the beginning of the Ayyubid dynasty’s true rise to power.
Over the next 18 years, Saladin battled Muslims and Crusaders alike while growing his power base. One story tells about Saladin and his political griefs with a small sect of Syrians known as the “Assassins”, led by “the wise man of the Mountain” and famous for killing Crusader leaders and officials who were deemed unfit for service. The Assassins were servants of the Egyptian Fatamids who Saladin replaced, forcing Saladin to attack their mountain strongholds. In the account, Saladin had guards with lights patrolling his camp and spread cinders and chalks around his tent with hopes to catch or deter assassins. A guard noticed the cinders moving and called the other to arms. Saladin wakes up to see a figure leaving his tent and sees that there is a warm pile of scones arranged in a pattern particular to the Assassins, stabbed through the middle with a poisoned dagger and a note telling him to shove off and stop attacking. The story is that Saladin retreated and never really ended his dispute with them in anything more than a shaky peace.
Shortly thereafter, Crusaders began to harry Muslim pilgrims along the way to Mecca, leading Saladin to declare Jihad against the violence on the innocent. Crushing the forces decisively, Saladin began a short march through the Crusader territory and retook nearly every city the Europeans had conquered in the First and Second Crusade. Effectively starting the Third Crusade by himself, Saladin took back Jerusalem from the Christians after almost 90 years of their occupation. At this point Saladin and his family began to become a well known figures in the West, known for their ability militarily, but also for vast magnanimity and honor. When he sieged Jerusalem, his terms for the ransoms of the citizens within the city were abnormally low, requesting a small sum of money from citizens to allow their safe passage out of the city (about $50 today), but he allowed many to leave without even paying that fee. When the city was captured 15,000 Christians were enslaved, and Saladin’s brother requested 1,000 for his own personal use. When granted his wish, Al-Adil freed them on the spot.
After his capture of Jerusalem, Saladin began his conflict with the Third Crusade. Most notably, Richard the Lionheart. Richard was one of the few leaders who scored decisive victory against Saladin. Richard and Saladin had one of history’s strangest relationships, because the two men fought each other tooth and nail; yet retained a grand deal of respect for one another. When Richard had a horse killed underneath him in a conflict, Saladin sent him two Arabian horses with a note saying, “it is not right that a man so brave should fight on foot.” When Richard fell ill, Saladin offered his personal physician to treat him, and Richard even talked about having Saladin marry his sister, with ownership of Jerusalem as the wedding gift. The Treaty of Ramla in 1192 gave ownership of Jerusalem to the Muslims, while still allowing Christians to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Saladin died shortly after the treaty, with only a small handful of silver left to his name. In the later part of his illness, he gave nearly all of his massive fortune to the poor. He was buried in a simple wooden tomb, but his memory lived on. Western tales about him began to spread (Dante made him one of a small number of Virtuous pagans in Purgatory) while Arabic accounts of him were written to focus on his magnanimity. Stories about his magical ability to inspire trust, his simplicity in clothes and diet, his passion for theology, and his surprising ability to forgive all painted an image of the leader as the great leader and honorable enemy of Christiandom.