Ancient history

Third Crusade

Last updated:2022-07-25

The Third Crusade, which began in 1189 and ended in 1194, was led by the Kings of France, England and the Emperor of Germany, with the aim of retaking the Holy Land from Saladin.

Capture of Jerusalem by Saladin

Saladin had reigned over Egypt since 1169 and had made the expulsion of Christians from Palestine his life's goal. Controlling Egypt and Syria, Saladin surrounded the Crusader kingdom; on July 4, 1187, Saladin won the battle of Hattin, and obtained the surrender of Jerusalem on October 2. The Christian forces were limited to Antioch, Tripoli, Tire and Margat.

Pope Gregory VIII wanted to reconquer lost territories and to do so, sought the help of the kings of England and France. Henry II of England and Philippe Auguste ceased their war against each other, and imposed the "saladine tithe" on their subjects to finance a new crusade. Nevertheless, France and England soon resumed their war. Henry II's son, Richard the Lionheart rebelled against his father.

Capture of Acre by the Crusaders

Frederick Barbarossa also responded to the pope's appeal; he took the cross from Mainz Cathedral on March 27, 1188 and was the first to leave in 1189. He faced opposition from Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelo, who had made a secret treaty with Saladin. Frederick crossed the Byzantine lands as fast as he could and took the city of Iconium on May 18, 1189. Unfortunately for his crusade, Emperor Frederick drowned on June 10, 1190. Although his army outnumbered Saladin's, his troops dispersed immediately after his death, and those who remained were quickly defeated upon their arrival in Syria.

Richard and Phillip arrived by sea separately in 1191. On the way, Richard stopped in Cyprus, where he took umbrage at the treatment meted out to him by the ruler of the island, Isaac Doukas Comnenus. By the end of May, Richard had conquered the entire island, which he later sold to Guy de Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Philip had arrived in Tire and allied himself with Conrad of Montferrat, who also wished to be ruler of the holy city. With the help of the remnants of Frederick's army, they laid siege to Saint-Jean-d'Acre and Richard arrived in June to take command of the siege. Saladin's army attempted a breakthrough, but was defeated and the city was taken on July 12.

The three Christian commanders then struggled for power among themselves:the German commander Leopold V of Austria wanted to be recognized in the same way as Richard and Philip, but Richard removed Leopold's banner from the city. Philippe, also tired of Richard's attitude, left the Holy Land in August.

Peace treaty between Richard and Saladin

On August 22, Richard executed the 3,000 Muslim prisoners he had captured at Saint-Jean d'Acre, when he felt that Saladin was not honoring the terms of the city's surrender. Richard then decided to take the port of Jaffa in order to launch an attack on Jerusalem; Saladin tried to stop him by attacking him during the battle of Arsouf, which Richard won brilliantly.

In January 1192, Richard was ready to march on Jerusalem, but Saladin had obtained reinforcements and fortified the city. Richard came within sight of Jerusalem twice, but had to retreat before Saladin's larger army. Saladin then attempted to retake Jaffa in July, but was defeated by Richard's forces on July 31.

On September 2, 1192, Richard and Saladin made a treaty that Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control, but would remain open to unarmed Christian pilgrims. However, a strip along the Mediterranean Sea from Jaffa to Haifa eventually returned to the Christians. Richard left the Holy Land to return to the West at the end of September, completing the Third Crusade.

Foundation of the Teutonic Order and inter-European struggles

The crusade had more repercussions on Europe than on the Near East:the Germans who remained in the Holy Land after the crusade formed the basis of the Teutonic Knights, who embarked on the Baltic crusades. The failure of the third crusade will lead to the call for the fourth crusade six years later.

Leopold held a grudge against Richard for his behavior at Saint John of Acre and took him prisoner in 1192, when Richard crossed from Germany to England. Richard never saw the city of Jerusalem, even as a pilgrim, convinced that God had commanded him not to conquer it. If he returned hastily to the West, it was undoubtedly to limit the advances of his brother Jean Sans Terre and Philip II, who seized his lands during his absence.

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