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Battle of Montgisard

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Battle of Montgisard
Part of the Crusades

The Battle of Montgisard, 1177. Charles Philippe Larivière, 1842–1844
Date25 November 1177
Montgisard (possibly Gezer), near Ramla, Kingdom of Jerusalem
Result Crusader victory
link Kingdom of Jerusalem
link Knights Templar
link Ayyubid Dynasty
Commanders and leaders
link Baldwin IV of Jerusalem
link Renaud de Châtillon
link Eudes de Saint-Amand
link Saladin
link Taqi al-Din Umar

3,000–4,500 men

  • 80 Templars
  • 375 Knights
  • 2,500–4,000 infantry and archers[1]
21,000–26,000 men (greatly exaggerated)[2][a]
Casualties and losses

1,850 casualties[2][3]

  • 1,100 killed
  • 750 wounded
Most of the army killed
Late 15th century depiction of the battle from a copy of the Passages d'outremer

The Battle of Montgisard was fought between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Ayyubid Dynasty on 25 November 1177 at Montgisard, in the Levant between Ramla and Yibna.[4] The 16-year-old Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, severely afflicted by leprosy, led outnumbered Christian forces against Saladin's troops in what became one of the most notable engagements of the Crusades. The Muslim Army was quickly routed and pursued for twelve miles.[5] Saladin fled back to Cairo, reaching the city on 8 December, with only a tenth of his army.[2] Muslim historians considered Saladin's defeat to be so severe that it was only redeemed by his victory ten years later at the battles of Cresson and Hattin and the Siege of Jerusalem in 1187. Saladin did defeat Baldwin IV in the Battle of Marj Ayyun and the Siege of Jacob’s Ford in 1179, only to be defeated by Baldwin again at the Battle of Belvoir Castle in 1182 and the Siege of Kerak in 1183.[2]


In 1177, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, and Philip of Alsace who had recently arrived on pilgrimage, planned an alliance with the Byzantine Empire for a naval attack on Egypt; but none of these plans came to fruition.[6] Instead, Philip decided to join Raymond III of Tripoli’s expedition to attack the Saracen stronghold of Harim in northern Syria. A large Crusader army, the Knights Hospitaller and many Knights Templar followed him. This left the Kingdom of Jerusalem with few troops to defend its various territories. Meanwhile, Saladin was planning his own invasion of the Kingdom of Jerusalem from Egypt.[6] When he was informed of the expedition north, he wasted no time in organizing a raid and invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem with an army of some 21,000–26,000/30,000 men. Learning of Saladin's plans, Baldwin IV left Jerusalem with, according to William of Tyre, only 375 Knights to attempt a defense at Ascalon, but Baldwin was stalled there by a detachment of troops sent by Saladin. Saladin left part of his army to besiege Gaza and a smaller force at Ascalon and marched northward with the rest.[6]

Opposing forces[edit]

The true numbers are impossible to estimate, since the Christian sources refer only to knights and give no account of the number of infantry and turcopoles, except that it is evident from the number of the dead and wounded that there must have been more men than the 375 Knights. It is also uncertain whether the so-called knights included mounted sergeants or squires, or whether they were true knights. One contemporary chronicler gave a strength of 7,000 for the Crusader army, while another contemporary estimate of 20,000 was probably a textual corruption of 10,000.[2] However, modern historians generally deem the number of Frankish troops to have been lower; 80 Templars and 375 Knights for less than 500 armored heavy cavalry, as well as 2,500[7] to 4,000 infantry and archers (spearmen, swordsmen, axemen, crossbowmen and turcopoles), could explain why Saladin did not remotely believe such a tiny force of Christians should be considered a threat and marched at his leisure on Jerusalem, allowing his army to spread out across the countryside to pillage the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s farmlands.

Just as uncertain are the numbers of their opponents. An 1181 review listed Saladin's Mamluk forces at 6,976 Ghulams and 1,553 Qaraghulams.[8] However, there would have been additional soldiers available in Syria and elsewhere, while auxiliaries might have accompanied the Mamluks. William of Tyre reported Saladin's strength as 26,000, while an anonymous chronicler estimated 12,000 Turkish and 9,000 Arab troops, which Stevenson calls "greatly exaggerated".[2] Accompanying Baldwin was Raynald de Châtillon, Lord of Oultrejordain, who had just been released from captivity in Aleppo in 1176. Raynald of Châtillon was a fierce enemy of Saladin and was King Baldwin's second-in-command. Also with the army were Baldwin of Ibelin, his brother Balian, Reginald Grenier and Joscelin III of Edessa. Eudes de Saint-Amand, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, came with 80 Templar Knights. Another Templar force attempted to meet Baldwin IV at Ascalon, but they remained besieged at Gaza.


Saladin continued his march towards Jerusalem, believing that Baldwin IV wouldn't follow him. He attacked Ramla, Lydda and Arsuf, but because Baldwin was supposedly not a danger, he allowed his army to be spread out over a large area, pillaging and foraging. However, unknown to Saladin, the forces he had left to subdue the King had been insufficient and now both Baldwin and the Templars were marching to intercept him before he reached Jerusalem.[6]

The Christians, led by the King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, pursued the Muslims along the coast, finally catching their enemies at Mons Gisardi (Montgisard), near Ramla.[9] The location is disputed, as Ramla was a large region that included the town under the same name. Malcolm Barber equates Mons Gisardi with the mound of Al-Safiya.[10] Saladin's chronicler Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani refers to the battle taking place by the mound of Al-Safiya, potentially modern Tell es-Safi near the village of Menehem, not far from Ashkelon, and within the contemporary Ramla province. Al-Safiya means white and, indeed, the Es-Safi hill is white with the foundations of a Crusader Castle recently found at the top, called Blanchegarde. Ibn al-Athīr, one of the Arab chroniclers, mentions that Saladin intended to lay siege to a Crusader Castle in the area.[11] But Saladin's baggage train had been apparently mired. There is a small stream north of Tell es-Safi bordering farmland that in November might have been plowed up and muddy enough to hinder the passage of the baggage train. The Egyptian chroniclers agree that the baggage had been delayed at a river crossing.[12] Saladin was taken totally by surprise. His army was in disarray: part had been held up by the mired baggage train while another part of his force had scattered into raiding parties across the countryside. Saladin misread the danger and threat that Baldwin and his army was presenting to Saladin’s raiding forces. He mistakenly assumed that Baldwin was actually scared of Saladin’s army.[13] The horses were tired from the long march. Some men had to hurry to collect their weapons from the baggage train. Saladin purposely left his baggage train in al-Arish so that his army would quickly move through Palestine. This would force his army to live off of the supplies and food that they had pillaged and took from villagers.[14] Saladin's army, in a state of panic, scrambled to make battle lines against the enemy. King Baldwin IV ordered the relic of the True Cross to be raised in front of the troops.[15] The King, whose teenage body was already ravaged by aggressive leprosy, was helped from his horse and dropped to his knees before the cross. He prayed to God for victory and rose to his feet to cheers from his men, who were moved by what they had just witnessed. Though Baldwin was very ill and could barely ride his horse, he decided it was too late to turn back and went into attack.[16]

The Jerusalem army attacked the hurriedly arranged Muslims, inflicting heavy casualties. The King Baldwin IV, fighting with bandaged hands to cover his sores, was in the thick of the fighting. Egyptian effective command was under Saladin's nephew Taqi ad-Din. Taqi ad-Din apparently attacked while Saladin was putting his Mamluk guard together. As was hoped, Baldwin’s army caught a portion of Saladin’s army off guard. It turned out that Saladin himself led that section. Saladin called scouts to call in all the immediate sections for help. Then the sultan signaled for the start and deployment of battle.[17] Taqi's son Ahmad died in the early fighting. Saladin's men were quickly overwhelmed. Saladin himself only avoided capture by escaping, as Ralph de Diceto claims,[18] on a racing camel. By nightfall, those Egyptians that were with the Sultan had reached Caunetum Esturnellorum near the mound of Tell el-Hesi. This is about 25 miles from Ramla. It is only about 7 km from Tell es-Safi (al-Safiya).[6]

Baldwin IV of Jerusalem pursued Saladin until nightfall, and then retired to Ascalon. Only a remnant of his army made it back to Egypt with him.[19]


The cause of Saladin’s retreatment and Christian victory struck all Muslims. Some of Saladin’s parties even lied and said they had won the war.[20] Baldwin IV memorialized his victory by erecting a Benedictine monastery on the battlefield,[citation needed] dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose feast day fell on the day of the battle. However, it was a difficult victory; Roger de Moulins, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, reported that 1,100 men had been killed and 750 returned home wounded.[2]

Meanwhile, Raymond III of Tripoli and Bohemund III of Antioch joined with Philip I of Alsace in a separate expedition against Harim in Syria; the siege of Harim lasted into 1178, and Saladin's defeat at Montgisard prevented him from relieving his Syrian vassals. Saladin later captured Jerusalem after Leprosy had killed King Baldwin IV.[21]

Related campaigns[edit]


The Battle of Montgisard is alluded to in the 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven, as a battle where King Baldwin IV defeated Saladin when he was sixteen. It was also described in the novel Jerusalem, written by Cecelia Holland.

An account of the battle is also given in Swedish author Jan Guillou's novel Tempelriddaren (The Knight Templar) (ISBN 91-1-300733-5), in which the protagonist, Arn Magnusson (de Gothia) is portrayed as a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar, commanding a contingent of the army at the battle of Montgisard. The battle is shown in the movie Arn – The Knight Templar, which was based on Guillou's book.


  1. ^ The Latin estimates of Saladin's army are no doubt greatly exaggerated (26,000 in Tyre xxi. 23, 12,000 Turks and 9,000 Arabs in Anon.Rhen. v. 517)[2]


  1. ^ Jean Richard: The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Volume 1, North-Holland Pub. Co. Amsterdam 1979, ISBN 0444850929, p. 149
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Stevenson 1907, p. 218.
  3. ^ Jean Richard: The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Volume 1, North-Holland Pub. Co. Amsterdam 1979, ISBN 0444850929, p. 149
  4. ^ "Baldwin, Marshall W., and Setton, Kenneth M, A History of the Crusades: Volume One, The First Hundred Years, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1969, pp. 571, 595, 625, 650".
  5. ^ Stevenson 1907, pp. 217–218.
  6. ^ a b c d e Stevenson 1907, p. 217.
  7. ^ Jean Richard: The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Volume 1, North-Holland Pub. Co. Amsterdam 1979, ISBN 0444850929, p.149
  8. ^ God's Warriors: Knights Templar, Saracens and the Battle for Jerusalem. By Helen Nicholson, David Nicolle. 2005 Osprey Publishing
  9. ^ possibly at Tell el-Jezer (Lane-Poole 1906, pp. 154–155), or Kfar Menahem (Lyons & Jackson 1982, p. 123)
  10. ^ The Crusader States by Malcolm Barber, published by TJ International Ltd, 2012
  11. ^ The chronicle of Ibn al-Athīr by D.S. Richards, published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 1935
  12. ^ Malcolm Cameron Lyons, D. E. P. Jackson Cambridge University Press, Aug 20, 1984
  13. ^ Welsh, William E. (2016). "A day of terrible slaughter". Medieval Warfare. 6 (1): 28–35. JSTOR 48578533.
  14. ^ Welsh, William E. (2016). "A day of terrible slaughter". Medieval Warfare. 6 (1): 28–35. JSTOR 48578533.
  15. ^ Lane-Poole 1906, pp. 154–155
  16. ^ "The Battle of Montgisard: A Heroic Stand Against the Odds – StMU Research Scholars".
  17. ^ Welsh, William E. (2016). "A day of terrible slaughter". Medieval Warfare. 6 (1): 28–35. JSTOR 48578533.
  18. ^ Ralph de Diceto (Radulf de Diceto decani Lundoniensis) Ymagines historiarum
  19. ^ Lane-Poole 1906, p. 155.
  20. ^ "The Battle of Montgisard: A Heroic Stand Against the Odds – StMU Research Scholars".
  21. ^ "The Battle of Montgisard: A Heroic Stand Against the Odds – StMU Research Scholars".


Further reading[edit]

  • Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, ed. D. S. Richards, Ashgate, 2002.
  • Willemi Tyrensis Archiepiscopi Chronicon, ed. R. B. C. Huygens. Turnholt, 1986.
  • Bernard Hamilton, The Leper King and his Heirs, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Runciman, Steven (1952). A History of the Crusades, Volume II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097–1193. Cambridge University Press, 1956.