SaladinName in full Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (“Righteousness of the Faith, Joseph, Son of Job”), also called al-Malik al-Nāṣir Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf I
Kurdish - born 1137/38, Tikrīt, Mesopotamia [now in Iraq]—died March 4, 1193, Damascus [now in Syria].
Saladin was one of the most famous heroes of the medieval age. Muslim sultan of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, Saladin was the founder of the Ayyūbid dynasty. In wars against the Christian Crusaders, he achieved great success with the capture of Jerusalem (October 2, 1187), ending its nearly nine decades of occupation by the Franks.
Saladin was born into a prominent Kurdish family. On the night of his birth, his father, Najm al-Dīn Ayyūb, gathered his family and moved to Aleppo, there entering the service of ʿImad al-Dīn Zangī ibn Aq Sonqur, the powerful Turkish governor in northern Syria. Growing up in Baʿlbek and Damascus, Saladin was apparently an undistinguished youth, with a greater taste for religious studies than military training.
His formal career began when he joined the staff of his uncle Asad al-Dīn Shīrkūh, an important military commander under the emir Nūr al-Dīn, who was the son and successor of Zangī. During three military expeditions led by Shīrkūh into Egypt to prevent its falling to the Latin Christian (Frankish) rulers of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, a complex, three-way struggle developed between Amalric I, the king of Jerusalem; Shāwar, the powerful vizier of the Egyptian Fāṭimid caliph; and Shīrkūh. After Shīrkūh’s death and after ordering Shāwar’s assassination, Saladin, in 1169 at the age of 31, was appointed both commander of the Syrian troops in Egypt and vizier of the Fāṭimid caliph there. His relatively quick rise to power must be attributed not only to the position of his Kurdish family but also to his own emerging talents. As vizier of Egypt, he received the title “king” (malik), although he was generally known as the sultan.
Saladin’s position was enhanced when, in 1171, he abolished the weak and unpopular Shīʿite Fāṭimid caliphate, proclaiming a return to Sunni Islam in Egypt. Although he remained for a time theoretically a vassal of Nūr al-Dīn, that relationship ended with the Syrian emir’s death in 1174. Using his rich agricultural possessions in Egypt as a financial base, Saladin soon moved into Syria with a small but strictly disciplined army to claim the regency on behalf of the young son of his former suzerain. Soon, however, he abandoned this claim, and from 1174 until 1186 he zealously pursued a goal of uniting, under his own standard, all the Muslim territories of Syria, northern Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt. This he accomplished by skillful diplomacy backed when necessary by the swift and resolute use of military force. Gradually his reputation grew as a generous and virtuous but firm ruler, devoid of pretense, licentiousness, and cruelty. In contrast to the bitter dissension and intense rivalry that had up to then hampered the Muslims in their resistance to the Crusaders, Saladin’s singleness of purpose induced them to rearm both physically and spiritually.
Saladin’s every act was inspired by an intense and unwavering devotion to the idea of jihad, or holy war. It was an essential part of his policy to encourage the growth and spread of Muslim religious institutions. He courted their scholars and preachers, founded colleges and mosques for their use, and commissioned them to write edifying works, especially on the jihad itself. Through moral regeneration, which was a genuine part of his own way of life, he tried to re-create in his own realm some of the same zeal and enthusiasm that had proved so valuable to the first generations of Muslims when, five centuries before, they had conquered half the known world.
One of my favourite historical characters, Salah al-Din (Saladin) was a man of unparalleled character, military instinct and faith. Go behind the action of his most famous battles with Richard Lion Heart in 'Verita's - book two of The Condotierro trilogy, coming soon.
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