The Horns of Hattin

The Defeat of the Crusader army at the Horns of Hattin

Fought on the 4th of July 1187, the Battle at the Horns of Hattin was a resounding victory for the Muslim forces of Saladin over the Christian army of the Crusader States.

The Christian and Muslim armies

The Christian forces, led by King Guy of Jerusalem, numbered 1200 knights, 4000 lighter cavalry and 15000 – 18000 infantry. Saladin’s host contained 12000 professional cavalry, or faris, with other horsemen and infantry bringing the muslim army to a strength of around 45,000.

The Christian army resumed their march toward Tiberius – which was under siege by muslim forces – at dawn on the 4th of July, 1187. They had been constantly harassed by Saladin’s army since leaving Sephorie the day before and morale was low due to thirst and exhaustion.

Saladin had placed bundles of dried brushwood on the surrounding hills the night before and dug cisterns which had been filled with water brought up from Lake Tiberius by camel train. He now ordered his troops to light these bundles, and pour water on the ground in full view of the thirsty crusaders. The choking smoke and taunting muslims further demoralized the Christians.

Saladin then attacked with his centre and right flank. The Templars counter-charged and the Christian vanguard attacked the Muslim right wing. The Crusader cavalry succeeded in driving off the initial Muslim assaults but lost many horses.

Morale began to disintegrate and many of the Christian infantry began heading eastwards. King Guy ordered the army to halt and pitch tents in the hope of providing a barrier to further Muslim cavalry attacks.

It was at this point that Raymond of Tripoli attempted to break through the encircling Muslims and led his men in a wild charge northwards. The Muslim cavalry merely swung aside to let him pass and closed the ring again. Raymond was unable to charge back up the hill and led his men away from the battle.

The Horns of Hattin

There was a hill nearby with two pronounced crests known as the Horns of Hattin. The Christian infantry sought refuge on the nearby northern Horn of Hattin, and, despite entreaties from the cavalry below, refused to budge. The Knights, realizing how exposed they were, occupied the flat-topped southern Horn, pitching the Royal tent as a rallying standard.

Saladin now ordered his foot-soldiers to attack the Christian infantry. After a fierce and desperate slaughter, those Christian soldiers who had not been killed either surrendered or were captured. Saladin then directed his attentions to the Christian nobility on the southern Horn.

Muslim cavalry attacked the Crusader Knights, who made 2 counter-charges, coming close enough to endanger Saladin himself. After 2 attempts, Muslim faris managed to battle their way onto the summit of the southern Horn and cut the guy ropes of the Royal tent. The tent fell, and with it any further resolve the crusaders may have had to continue fighting.

Saladin had captured almost all of the nobility of the Crusader states, including King Guy, the Master of the Hospitallers, the Master of the Templars and the notorious Reynald of Chatillon. The Templars and Hospitallers were given the choice of converting to Islam or execution. In total, 230 were put to death.

Many of the knights and Barons were ransomed but the majority of the Crusader infantry were sold into slavery. Possibly as many as 3000 Christians managed to escape the battle, including Balian d’Ibelin, whom had commanded the rearguard and would win lasting fame for his defence of Jerusalem in September 1187.

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