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The Third Crusade (1189 – 1192 A.D.) was just one of a series of religious wars fought
between Muslims in the Middle East and European Christians to take control of the Holy City of
Jerusalem. This Third Crusade is unique because of the two iconic leaders that led each side of
the conflict. These two leaders were King Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt led the Islamic forces to
defend Jerusalem from King Richard I of England, who was trying to retake the Holy City in the
name of Christianity. Throughout history, chroniclers and historians portray these two leaders as
charismatic, honorable, virtuous, chivalrous, among other magnanimous adjectives. Along with
this very flattering portrayal, the history and chronicles portray these men in such ways, they
almost seem mythical in nature; that they can do things beyond the capabilities of most “normal”
men. Truly, these exaggerated representations in the historiography and chronicling of these two
figures and it is this exaggerated representation which has shaped how people saw and indeed
still see these two men. Additionally, there is ample evidence in both primary and secondary
sources which point out that these qualities that historians and chroniclers attribute to these two
iconic figures are accurate reflections of the ideals and values of the two respective cultures to
which they belonged.
Even in the earliest histories and chronicles, the authors of said histories made Saladin
and Richard out to be more than just ordinary men. Baha' al-Din Ibn Shaddad wrote The Rare
and Excellent History of Saladin (translated by scholar D.S. Richards) within a decade of the end
of the Third Crusade. Shaddad was a scholar who met Saladin on multiple occasions and wrote
many treatises on the Third Crusade. Shaddad's works were well known at the time by his
contemporaries and his works were serious, scholarly works. This is the reason that his
biographical account of Saladin seems a bit uncharacteristic (such has his clinical accounts of
physicians in the Third Crusade, a piece which reads more like a medical textbook than a
historical epic). This work is filled with flowery praise for the Egyptian Sultan and Shaddad
paints him in a highly flattering light. The accounts of Saladin before the Third Crusade in which
he united the various Muslim lands under one king are of particular interest. These accounts say
that Saladin rolled through Egypt, Syria, and Arabia with the greatest of ease with little or no
resistance on the part of the various local tribes and warlords, some even “prostrating themselves
outright at the very sight of the Magnificent Sultan...”1 Shaddad praises more than just Saladin's
military prowess in this valuable primary source. When meeting with the the various Frankish
princes, the Frankish envoys were apparently awestruck by the very presence of Saladin.
Shaddad wrote, “It became widely known that the Frankish princes were not only highly
impressed by the magnanimous nature of the Sultan but his worldly knowledge and familiarity
with European customs...”2 Clearly, there is a heavy exaggerated representations in favor of
Saladin in this work. Literate Muslims all over the Middle East read Shaddad's work and there
can be no doubt that the exaggerated representations present in this primary source would have
clearly affected how Muslims saw their great leader. While not the only primary source on
Saladin, this work by Shaddad is arguably the most well-known and widely read and it must
have influenced how people saw Saladin. According to Shaddad, Saladin is not only a great
warrior who conquers his enemies (but shows them great mercy3) but also a shrewd and
impressive diplomat who would dazzle the European nobility and their envoys. This work started
1
. Baha' al Din Ibn Shaddad, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, trans. D.S. Richards (London,
Ashgate, 2002), 80-95.
2 . Ibid., 155.
3 . Ibid., 193-95.
a trend that continues throughout history, portraying Saladin as more than just a regular king and
warrior but someone much more than that: a legendary figure who is a cut above his rivals,
peers, and contemporaries. Indeed, as referenced throughout the Koran (the Holy Book of Islam),
a leader (even in war) “must remain merciful show restraint, even unto his most bitter of
enemies.”4 Clearly, Saladin's actions during this time were an ideal reflection of the values
widely held by the Muslims of the time of the Third Crusade. So, it is no surprise that he was
held with such high esteem by those who knew or read of him.
Saladin is only one half of the story. King Richard receives the same sort of treatment by
those who chronicled his life and times. Geoffrey de Vinsauf wrote Richard of Holy Trinity:
Itinerary of Richard I and Others to the Holy Land a few years after the death of King Richard I.
This primary source chronicles the travels of many crusading knights to the Holy Land during
the Third Crusade and in it, the exaggerated representations favoring Richard is overt and very
obvious. This work is just one of many works that praise Richard. Whereas historians and
chroniclers portray Saladin as a merciful opponent with a very magnanimous nature, chroniclers
show Richard as a man of great chivalry and fairness who shows great respect, even to the most
bitter of his foes. Right before a minor battle 12 kilometers outside of Jerusalem, de Vinsauf
recounts how the Muslim cavaliers were in awe when they saw how respectfully Richard treated
them when the two parties met before the battle to see if they could come to terms. “So gracious
was Lord Richard, so great was His manner, the infidel cavalrymen were astounded and indeed
were [left speechless]...”5 The times of medieval Europe put a heavy emphasis on the ideals of
4 . Charles M. Brand, “The Byzantines and Saladin, 1185-1192: Opponents of the Third Crusade,”
Speculum 37, no. 6 (April 1962), http://www.jstor.org/stable/2849946 (accessed January 21, 2009).
5 . Geoffrey de Vinsauf, Richard of Holy Trinity: Itinerary of Richard the I and others to the Holy Land, trans.
chivalry. There are many aspects and definitions of the world but in the sense that chroniclers
such as de Vinsauf defines it when attributing the word to Richard, he means the ideals of mercy,
kindness, “being Christian” in all of your actions. This includes how one treats one's enemies.
Much like Saladin, Richard showed great magnanimity and even respect towards those who were
considered “infidels and heathens” among the Christians. A mirror image of Saladin, Richard
clearly reflects the social ideals of chivalry and Christian behavior which every Christian
struggled so hard to attain but so few found among those in his society in his times.
Another primary source which portrays Richard in a similar manner is the collection of
primary source documents which James Brundage collected and translated in his 1962 work The
Crusades: A Documentary History. Quite a few of the documents show how much the men
following Richard love him as a military leader and a King. An English knight in the company of
Richard I wrote of his experiences traveling with the King of England and this knight truly seems
to be in awe of his King: “[King Richard] walked among us like a warrior Archangel. It seemed
as though naught could touch him and he rode upon his steed as if not of this world.”6 This
knight portrays Richard as if he were not even of this world, as if he was an angel or
otherworldly being of some sort. Clearly, these primary sources show that with such admiration
and adulation among those around him, the chroniclers have crafted the image of Richard into
something other than human. Therefore, it is safe to assume that accounts such as these definitely
contributed to the mythos and legend of Kings Saladin and Richard as lionized figures who were
indeed larger than life. Again, Richard reflects an ideal that so many among those in his society
Anonymous (Cambridge, Ontario: In Parentheses Publications, 2001), 68-9.
6 . James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History (Milwaukee, Marquette University Press, 1962),
211.
strive towards. This time, it is not his chivalry but the “power and presence he exuded when he
fought battles.”7 The culture of Medieval Europe was a bloody one and the mentality of “only the
strong survive” was very much a part of the culture and social consciousness. So, as Richard
gave off this air of confidence and strong military prowess, he was reflecting the war-like values
and ideals of his time.
Not only does this exaggerated representations favoring the two leaders of the Third
Crusade exist in primary sources from the past but there are multiple instances of this
exaggerated representations in the current historiography of the laudatory and fawning
exaggerated representations towards these two men. In James Reston Jr.'s 2002 book Warriors of
God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, Reston fully embraces the works
of past historians in their portrayals of Saladin and Richard. This well-researched book takes part
in only the Third Crusade. The exaggerated representations favoring the two leaders is extremely
obvious, as Reston contrasts the merciless bloodletting of the Third Crusade with the relative
grace, chivalry, and magnanimity with which Richard and Saladin handle themselves. One scene
in particular stands out when Richard I comes before Saladin before the Battle of Acre8 (a town
near Jerusalem) and asks if they can come to terms. Richard I salutes Saladin and Saladin in
return offers Richard I a chest filled with ice and fruit (ice being a great luxury, even more so in
7 . James A. Brundage, “The Crusade of Richard I: Two Canonical Quaestiones.” Speculum 38, no. 3 (July
1963), http://www.jstor.org/stable/2849170 (accessed January 24, 2009).
8 . The Battle of Acre was a key battle in the Third Crusade. A long and protracted siege battle for the port city of
Acre, this battle is one of the few in which King Richard came out on top as victor. This paper references this
battle
because for the first time in many years, a Muslim and Christian leader meet before a battle to see if they could
come to terms, another reason why people must have attributed such lofty qualities to Saladin and Richard. See
Hans E. Mayer's, The Crusades (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1965).
the warm, dry climate of the Middle East).9 This example just reinforces the ideal in Muslim
societies that mercy and respect are universal and that one should always show these qualities,
even in the face of one's greatest enemies. Saladin reflected these values (which were highly
valued and admired) and doing so, the people of the time raised him to a higher standard.
Geoffrey Regan's 1999 book Lionhearts: Saladin, Richard I, and the Era of the Third
Crusade, achieves a balance that most other authors do not when examining Saladin and Richard
I. He does not overly-praise the two military and political leaders but instead attempts to explain
why these men are so lionized throughout history. Even so, this balanced approached is
underscored by the exaggerated representations which are obvious when a reader looks at
Regan's reasoning behind why these men were so idealized. He explains that King Saladin and
King Richard I are idealized so because it was justified: because of their behavior and demeanor,
both towards each other and to their enemies as a whole, they set themselves apart from the rest
of the brutal savagery of the Third Crusade in a unique way.10 Ergo, in doing so, Saladin and
Richard I reflect the highest ideals of their respective societies' cultures and values such as mercy
towards those one has conquered, grace even in the toughest of times, and showing great respect,
even unto one's most bitter of enemies.
There is, without a doubt, exaggerated representations that favors both Saladin and
Richard in all of the most well-known or significant works on the two Kings from the Third
Crusade. A thorough examination of a large cross-section of the historiography on Saladin and
Richard (both primary sources and secondary sources) shows that this exaggerated
9 . James Reston, Jr., Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade (New York:
Doubleday, 2001), 199-203.
10 . James Reston, Jr., Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade (New York,
Doubleday, 2001), 221-29.
representations is strong and recurring. Clearly, these exaggerated representations affected in the
past and continues to affect how people in the past have seen Saladin and Richard and how
modern readers and scholars see him: men who seemed to live above the butchery and bloodshed
and lived by a “higher set of standards.”11 And upon closer examination of all these examples
throughout history, this image is for the most part, justified. They are so justified because when
one examines these representations, they show that the people of Saladin and Richard's time had
certain ideals and values and that the actions of these two men definitely reflected these values
and ideals. Saladin showed great restraint and mercy to his conquered enemies and always
sought a way to avoid violence and come to terms (a quality highly praised in the Koran, the
values of which the Muslims of the time held in extremely high regard). Richard also showed
great chivalry when facing his enemies and had great prowess in battle, a the same time showing
the greatest of Christian ideals and being “Christ-like,”12 even with his most bitter of enemies.
The exaggerated representations of these men were justified only because they were able to
reflect the values and the ideals of their respective cultures.
11 . Charles M. Brand, “The Byzantines and Saladin, 1185-1192: Opponents of the Third Crusade,”
Speculum 37, no. 6 (April 1962), http://www.jstor.org/stable/2849946 (accessed January 21, 2009).
12 . More information on the ideals of Christian chivalry and how society expected these values to be reflected
in its leaders and noblemen can be found in Maurice Keen's book Chivalry
(Cambridge: Yale University Press, 1986).
Bibliography
Primary Sources
Brundage, James. The Crusades: A Documentary History. Milwaukee: Marquette
University Press, 1962.
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by Peter W. Edbury. London: Ashgate, 1998.
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Publications, 2001.
Shaddad, Baha' al Din Ibn. The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin. Translated by D.S.
Richards. London: Ashgate, 2002.
de Vinsauf, Geoffrey. Richard of Holy Trinity: Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy
Land. Translated by Anonymous. Cambridge, Ontario: In Parentheses Publications, 2001.
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Brand, Charles M. “The Byzantines and Saladin, 1185-1192: Opponents of the Third Crusade.”
Speculum 37, no. 6 (April 1962). http://www.jstor.org/stable/2849946 (accessed January
21, 2009).
Brundage, James A. “The Crusade of Richard I: Two Canonical Quaestiones.” Speculum 38,
no. 3 (July 1963). http://www.jstor.org/stable/2849170 (accessed January 24, 2009).
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