The Crusades: an Arab Perspective – Liberation: Acre and the End of the Crusades (Episode 4)
‘The Crusades: An Arab Perspective’ is a four-part documentary series telling the dramatic story of the crusades seen through Arab eyes, from the seizing of Jerusalem under Pope Urban II in 1099, to its recapture by Salah Ed-Din (also known as Saladin), Richard the Lionheart’s efforts to regain the city, and the end of the holy wars in 1291. Part one looked at the First Crusade and the conquest of Jerusalem. In part two, we explored the birth of the Muslim revival in the face of the crusades. Part three examined the Battle of Hattin, Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. And the final episode tells the story of the Muslim liberation of the Holy Land and the end of the crusades.
In 1193, Salah Ed-Din Al-Ayoubi, known in the west as Saladin, fell ill and died, leaving the Ayyubid dynasty in disarray. Six years earlier, he had defeated the Christian forces in the Battle of Hattin and opened the way to the liberation of Jerusalem.
“The successors of Salah Ed-Din ruled over Egypt, the Levant and Iraq. But they failed miserably, unlike the founder of their family. Salah Ed-Din had gained his legitimacy, and that of his state, by embracing the project of defending the Islamic nation and its sanctities against crusaders. His successors relied on a policy of reaction. They never took positive action, relying instead on peace initiatives,” explains Qassem Abdu Qassem, head of history at Zaqaziq University.
The First Crusade, a century earlier, had succeeded in establishing four Christian enclaves in the Levant and, above all, in the capture of Jerusalem. The Second and Third Crusades, each led by powerful and famous European monarchs, had ended in abject failure.
By the end of the 12th century, after 100 years of Muslim fightback, the territory under crusader control was reduced to a tiny coastal strip in the Levant. The crusaders were forced to adapt and revise their targets.
“Pope Innocent III called for a crusade to atone for the failure of the Third Crusade, but the campaign could not secure a means of transport,” says Abdu Qassem.
“The main army hired the Venetians in 1202 to ship them to the east. They couldn’t afford to pay the Venetians the fee that they had agreed,” adds Christopher Tyerman, professor of the history of the crusades, of Hertford College, Oxford.
So instead of heading towards Palestine and Egypt, the crusaders landed in Constantinople in 1204 – and sacked it.
“This is a remarkable thing for a crusade to have done. To have sacked the greatest Christian city in the world. It provoked outrage across many parts of the west, of course in the Greek world, too. And interestingly, one contemporary Greek writer says ‘Look, when Saladin recovered Jerusalem what did he do? He spared the Christians and what have you done? You Christians, you have taken a Christian city and you have killed Christians. You should follow the example of Saladin. He was superior to you in the way that he behaved here,” explains Jonathan Phillips, professor of history, University of London.
“Innocent III was a pope obsessed with crusading. He inherited the failure of the Third Crusade to recover Jerusalem and the Fourth Crusade which he launched that captured Constantinople, the great Christian city. He tried to inspire yet another expedition that we know as the Fifth Crusade, and this was designed to go through Egypt and use the fertility of the Nile and the wealth of Cairo to have the resources to then recover Jerusalem,” says Phillips.
In 1218, the crusaders finally found their way to the Nile Delta. The armies of the Fifth Crusade landed in Egypt and captured the port of Damietta. For three years, the crusaders made no move to advance southwards towards Cairo. But when they finally did, their move would prove disastrous.
“This went down in history as a failed crusade due to the flooding of the Nile and the fact that the crusaders had no clue what happens to Egypt during the flood season, how hard it would be for the horses to move on such wet land. All these reasons caused the crusade to fail and achieve absolutely nothing,” says Afaf Sabra, professor of history, Al-Azhar University.
Meanwhile, the three Ayyubid brothers were engaged in deep infighting. And one of them, Al-Kamel, the ruler of Egypt, took an infamous decision. He decided to seek an alliance with the Holy Roman emperor, Fredrick II. Fredrick helped Al-Kamel and, in return, was given the keys to Jerusalem in 1229. This came to be known as the Sixth Crusade.
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