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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

The Third Crusade and Byzantium 


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After the fruitless Second Crusade the condition of the Christian dominions in the East continued to cause serious apprehensions: the internal dissensions among the princes, the court intrigues, the quarrels of the military orders, and the pursuit of private interests all these weakened the Christians more and more and facilitated the advance of the Muslims. The most important centers of the Christian dominions, Antioch and Jerusalem, were not strong enough to protect themselves successfully. The energetic ruler of Syria, Nurad-Din Mahmud, who in the middle of the twelfth century had taken possession of Damascus, began to threaten Antioch. Moreover, a real danger came from Egypt, where the Kurd Saladin, a talented leader and clever politician with ambitious plans, had overthrown the ruler of the Fatimid dynasty, which was ruling there, had taken possession of Egypt at the end of the seventh decade of the twelfth century, and had founded the dynasty of the Ayyoubids. Profiting by Nur-ad-Din's death, Saladin conquered Syria and then most of Mesopotamia, and thereby surrounded the Kingdom of Jerusalem on the south, east, and north. At that time there were serious troubles in Jerusalem, of which Saladin was aware. Learning that one of the Muslim caravans, in which his sister was traveling, had been pillaged by the Christians, Saladin entered the territory of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and in 1187, in the battle of Hittin (Hattin), close to the sea of Tiberias, defeated the Christian army. The king of Jerusalem and many other Christian princes fell into the hands of Saladin. Then he took a number of maritime places, such as Beirut, Sidon, Jaffa and so on, and thus cut off the Christians from the possibility of getting reinforcements by sea. After that Saladin marched upon Jerusalem and in the autumn of the same year (1187), without much difficulty, captured the Holy City. All the sacrifices offered by Europe and all her religious enthusiasm were of no avail. Jerusalem passed again into the hands of the infidel. A new crusade was necessary.

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