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Asad ad-Din Shirkuh bin Shadhi (Arabic: أسد الدين شيركوه بن شاذي, Shêr-kuh literally means lion of the mountains in Kurdish), also known as Shêrko or "Shêrgo" (died 1169) was an important Kurdish military commander, and uncle of Saladin.
He was originally from a Kurdish village in Armenia near the town of Dvin. He was the son of Shadhi ibn Marwan, a Kurdish ruler, and was the brother of Najm ad-Din Ayyub, the ancestor of the Ayyubid dynasty. The family was closely connected to the Shaddadid dynasty, and when the last Shaddadid was deposed in Dvin in 1130, Shahdi moved the family first to Baghdad and then to Tikrit, where he was appointed governor by the regional administrator Bihruz. Ayyub succeeded his father as governor of Tikrit when Shahdi died soon after. When Shirkuh killed a Christian with whom he was quarrelling in Tikrit in 1138, the brothers were exiled (Shirkuh's nephew Yusuf, later known as Saladin, was supposedly born the night they left). They joined Zengi's army, and Shirkuh served under Nur ad-Din who succeeded Zengi in Mosul. Shirkuh was later given Homs as a vassal state of Mosul. Ayyub served as governor of Baalbek and later Damascus, and the two brothers negotiated the surrender of Damascus to Nur ad-Din in 1154.
In 1163 he convinced Nur ad-Din to send him to Egypt in to settle a dispute between Shawar and Dirgham over the Fatimid vizierate. Saladin accompanied him as an advisor. Shawar was restored and Dirgham was killed, but after quarrelling with Shirkuh, Shawar allied with Amalric I of Jerusalem, who marched into Egypt in 1164 and besieged Shirkuh at Bilbeis (see Crusader invasion of Egypt). In response Nur ad-Din attacked the Crusader states and almost captured the Principality of Antioch.
Shirkuh was sent back into Egypt in 1167, with Shawar once again allying with Amalric, who besieged Shirkuh in Alexandria until he agreed to leave; however, a Crusader garrison remained in Egypt and Amalric allied with the Byzantine Empire, planning to conquer it entirely. To destroy the garrison, Shawar switched alliances, from Amalric to Shirkuh. The Muslims fought a pitched battle with the Crusaders, who did not have the resources to conquer Egypt and were forced to retreat.
In January 1169 Shirkuh entered Cairo and had the untrustworthy Shawar executed. He set himself up as vizier, but died two months later on March 22; as Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad describes, "it was the case that Asad ad-Din was a great eater, excessively given to partaking of rich meats. He suffered many bouts of indigestion and from quinsy, from which he would recover after putting up with great discomfort. He was taken severely ill, afflicted with a serious quinsy, which killed him on 22 Jumada II 564."
He was succeeded as vizier by his nephew Saladin, who had served with him on his campaigns in Egypt. Saladin eventually succeeded Nur ad-Din as well, uniting Egypt and Syria, which enabled him to almost completely drive out the crusaders from Syria and Palestine.
Shirkuh is a Kurdish-Persian name which literally means "the lion (of the) mountain". His Arabic honorific Asad ad-Din similarly means "the lion of faith". In Latin, his name was rendered as "Siraconus"; William of Tyre, referring to the expedition of 1163, describes him as:
- "an able and energetic warrior, eager for glory and of wide experience in military affairs. Generous far beyond the resources of his patrimony, Shirkuh was beloved by his followers because of this munificence. He was small of stature, very stout and fat and already advanced in years. Though of lowly origin, he had become rich and risen by merit from his humble estate to the rank of prince. He was afflicted with cataract in one eye. He was a man of great endurance under hardships, one who bore hunger and thirst with an equanimity quite unusual for that time of life."
- Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, ed. D. S. Richards, Ashgate, 2002.
- William of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, trans. E.A. Babcock and A.C. Krey. Columbia University Press, 1943.
- Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, vol. II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press, 1952.
- Vladimir Minorsky, "The Prehistory of Saladin", in Studies in Caucasian History, Cambridge University Press, 1957, pp. 124–132. (available online)
- M. C. Lyons and D. E. P. Jackson, Saladin: the Politics of the Holy War, Cambridge University Press, 1982.