Siege of Jerusalem (1187)

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Siege of Jerusalem
Part of Third Crusade
Saladin and Christians of Jerusalem
Date 20 September to 2 October 1187
Location Jerusalem
Result Decisive Ayyubid victory
Vexillum Regni Hierosolymae.svg Kingdom of Jerusalem Flag of Ayyubid Dynasty.svg Ayyubids
Commanders and leaders
Vexillum Regni Hierosolymae.svg Balian of Ibelin Surrendered
Vexillum Regni Hierosolymae.svg Heraclius of Jerusalem Surrendered
Flag of Ayyubid Dynasty.svg Saladin

60 impromptu Ibelin knights, plus the city watch of men-at-arms, archers and people recruited into the city`s defence

  • likely strength around 4,000-6,000 men

the army primarily made up of the surviving army from the Battle of Hattin and reinforcements gathered from Syria and Egypt.

  • likely strength around 20,000 men
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The Siege of Jerusalem was a siege on the city of Jerusalem that lasted from September 20 to October 2, 1187, when Balian of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin. Citizens wishing to leave paid a ransom.[1] The defeat of Jerusalem signaled the end of the first Kingdom of Jerusalem. Europe responded in 1189 by launching the Third Crusade led by Richard Lionheart, Philip Augustus, and Frederick Barbarossa separately.[2]


The Kingdom of Jerusalem, weakened by internal disputes, was defeated at the Battle of Hattin on 4 July 1187. Most of the nobility were taken prisoner, including King Guy. Thousands of Muslim slaves were freed. [3][4][5] By mid-September, Saladin had taken Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut, and Ascalon. The survivors of the battle and other refugees fled to Tyre, the only city able to hold out against Saladin, due to the fortuitous arrival of Conrad of Montferrat.

Situation in Jerusalem[edit]

In Tyre, Balian of Ibelin had asked Saladin for safe passage to Jerusalem in order to retrieve his wife Maria Comnena, Queen consort of Jerusalem and their family. Saladin granted his request, provided that Balian not take up arms against him and not remain in Jerusalem for more than one day; however, upon arrival in the holy city, Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem, Queen Sibylla, and the rest of the inhabitants begged him to take charge of the defense of the city. Heraclius, who argued that he must stay for the sake of Christianity, offered to absolve him of the oath, and Balian agreed.

He sent word of his decision to Saladin at Ascalon via a deputation of burgesses, who rejected the sultan's proposals for a negotiated surrender of Jerusalem; however, Saladin arranged for an escort to accompany Maria, their children, and all their household to Tripoli, Lebanon. As the highest ranking lord remaining in Jerusalem, according to the chronicler Ibn al-Athir, Balian was seen by the Muslims as holding a rank "more or less equal to that of a king."

Balian found the situation in Jerusalem dire. The city was filled with refugees fleeing Saladin's conquests, with more arriving daily. There were fewer than fourteen knights in the whole city, so he created sixty new knights from the ranks of the squires (knights in training) and burgesses. He prepared for the inevitable siege by storing food and money. The armies of Syria and Egypt assembled under Saladin, and after a brief and unsuccessful siege of Tyre, the sultan arrived outside Jerusalem on September 20.

The siege[edit]

Negotiations were carried out between Saladin and Balian, through the mediation of Yusuf Batit, one of the Eastern Orthodox clergy, who had been largely suppressed under Latin Christian rule and knew that they would have more freedoms if the city were returned to the Muslims. Saladin preferred to take the city without bloodshed and offered generous terms,[6] but those inside refused to leave their holy city, vowing to destroy it in a fight to the death rather than see it handed over peacefully. Thus the siege began.

Saladin's army was facing the Tower of David and the Damascus Gate. His archers continually pelted the ramparts with arrows. Siege towers/belfries were rolled up to the walls, but were pushed back each time. For six days, skirmishes were fought with little result. Saladin's forces suffered heavy casualties after each assault, while the Crusaders lost only a few men. On September 26, Saladin moved his camp to a different part of the city, on the Mount of Olives where there was no major gate from which the crusaders could counter-attack. The walls were constantly pounded by the siege engines, catapults, mangonels, petraries, Greek fire, crossbows, and arrows. A portion of the wall was mined, and it collapsed on September 29. The crusaders were unable to push Saladin's troops back from the breach, but at the same time the Muslims could not gain entrance to the city. Soon there were only a few dozen knights and a handful of remaining men-at-arms capable of bearing arms and defending the wall; no more men could be found even for the promise of an enormous fee.

The civilians were in great despair. According to a passage possibly written by Ernoul, a squire of Balian, in the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, the clergy organized a barefoot procession around the walls, much as the clergy on the First Crusade had done outside the walls in 1099. At Mount Calvary, women cropped their children's hair, after immersing them chin-deep in basins of cold water. These penances were aimed at turning away God's wrath from the city, but "…Our Lord did not deign to hear the prayers or noise that was made in the city. For the stench of adultery, of disgusting extravagance and of sin against nature would not let their prayers rise to God."[citation needed]

At the end of September, Balian rode out with an envoy to meet with the sultan, offering the surrender that he had initially refused. Saladin acquiesced, and the two agreed that the city would be handed over to Saladin peacefully, preventing the sort of massacre that had occurred when the crusaders captured the city in 1099. For the Franks of Crusader origin the sultan allowed a ransom of twenty bezants for men, ten for women, and five for children, but those who could not pay were to be sold into slavery. Native Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians were allowed to remain in the city.[7] Balian argued in vain that there were far more people who could not pay, as there were perhaps as many as 20,000 refugees from elsewhere in the kingdom.

After returning to Jerusalem, it was decided that seven thousand of the poor inhabitants could be ransomed from money drawn from the treasury that Henry II of England had established there, which was being guarded by the Hospitallers. This money was meant to be used by Henry on a pilgrimage or a crusade, in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket, but the king never arrived, and his treasury had already been used to pay mercenaries for the Battle of Hattin.

Balian met with Saladin again and the sultan agreed to lower the ransom to ten bezants for men, five for women, and one for children. Balian argued that this would still be too great, and Saladin suggested a ransom of 100,000 bezants for all the inhabitants. Balian thought this was impossible, and Saladin said he would ransom seven thousand people for no lower than 50,000 bezants. Finally, it was decided that Saladin would free the seven thousand for 30,000 bezants; two women or ten children would be permitted to take the place of one man for the same price. Saladin's brother then released another 1,000 people unable to pay and 2,000 more people unable to pay were then released. Saladin then freed all of the elderly unable to pay.[8]

Surrender of Jerusalem[edit]

Balian of Ibelin surrendering the city of Jerusalem to Saladin, from Les Passages faits Outremer par les Français contre les Turcs et autres Sarrasins et Maures outremarins, c. 1490.

Balian handed over the Tower of David on October 2. It was announced that every inhabitant had a month to pay their ransom, if they could (the length of time was perhaps 30 to 50 days, depending on the source). Saladin freed a number of slaves, as did his brother Saphadin. Balian and Heraclius freed many others with their own money. The ransomed inhabitants marched away in three columns; the Templars and Hospitallers led the first two, with Balian and the Patriarch leading the third. Balian joined his wife and family in Tripoli. According to the Muslim chronicler Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani, Heraclius took with him church treasures and reliquaries.

Some of the refugees went first to the County of Tripoli, which was under Crusader control. They were denied entrance and robbed of their possessions. Others went on to Antioch, Cilicia, Byzantium and Egypt. Some boarded Italian ships heading for Europe.

Saladin permitted Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem and allowed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to remain in Christian hands. To solidify Muslim claims to Jerusalem, many holy sites, including the shrine later known as Al-Aqsa Mosque, were ritually purified with rose water. He went on to capture a number of other castles that were still holding out against him, including Belvoir, Kerak, and Montreal, and returned to Tyre to besiege it for a second time.

Meanwhile, news of the disastrous defeat at Hattin was brought to Europe by Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre, as well as other pilgrims and travelers, while Saladin was conquering the rest of the kingdom throughout the summer of 1187. Plans were immediately made for a new crusade; on October 29, Pope Gregory VIII issued the bull Audita tremendi, even before hearing of the fall of Jerusalem. In England and France, the Saladin tithe was enacted in order to finance expenses. The Third Crusade did not get underway until 1189, in three separate contingents led by Richard Lionheart, Philip Augustus, and Frederick Barbarossa.


  1. ^ "Crusades" 2011
  2. ^ "Kingdom of Jerusalem" 2009
  3. ^ Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem By Geoffrey Regan Page 135
  4. ^ God's War: A New History of the Crusades By Christopher Tyerman Page 230 [1]
  5. ^ Knights of Jerusalem: The Crusading Order of Hospitallers 1100-1565 By David Nicolle Page 73 [2]
  6. ^ Lust for Power By Dick W. Zylstra Page 67 [3]
  7. ^ Frommer's Israel By Robert Ullian Page 102
  8. ^ Lust for Power By Dick W. Zylstra Page 97


  • Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. London, 1984.
  • "Crusades." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <>.
  • James A. Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary Survey. Marquette University Press, 1962.
  • Kenneth Setton, ed. A History of the Crusades, vol. I. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958 (available online).
  • Peter W. Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade: Sources in Translation. Ashgate, 1996.
  • P. M. Holt, The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517. Longman, 1986.
  • R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097–1193. Cambridge University Press, 1956.
  • Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, vol. II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East, 1100–1187. Cambridge University Press, 1952.

Coordinates: 31°47′00″N 35°13′00″E / 31.7833°N 35.2167°E / 31.7833; 35.2167