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The Ayyubid Reconquest

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Crusades.

By 1170, the Crusader states were firmly established in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. The Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and the Kingdom of Jerusalem were ruled by Latin dynasties. To the north, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was expanding.

Yet the Crusader states now faced a formidable opponent: Nur ad-Din, Zengi’s son. This Turkish ruler, having recovered his father’s territory around Mosul and Aleppo, was then able to gain control of Damascus.

The Latin kings of Jerusalem and Nur ad-Din were rivals for control over Egypt. The once powerful Fatimid caliphate was sorely weakened and Egypt was a rich and populous kingdom: its capture would ensure dominance over the whole region.

For a time, Egypt came under the protectorate of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

But in 1169, Nur ad-Din managed to impose one of his young officers as vizier in Cairo. This was a Kurdish soldier called Saladin.

In 1171, Saladin took advantage of the Fatimid caliph’s death to abolish the Shia caliphate. Egypt returned to the Sunni fold. Despite his declarations of loyalty to Nur ad-Din, Saladin set about establishing his own power.

In 1174, following the death of Nur ad-Din, Saladin took control of Damascus then patiently conquered the Zengid empire. In 1183, he finally captured Aleppo and imposed his authority on the other towns in the region while continuing to struggle against the Armenians, the Franks and the Seljuk princes.

For the first time in several centuries, almost the entire Middle East was unified under one leader. The Latins, surrounded by Saladin’s domains, found themselves in a very vulnerable situation.

In the spring of 1187, Saladin attacked the kingdom of Jerusalem once again. Guy de Lusignan, the new king, led all the troops he could muster to confront Saladin, but suffered a heavy defeat on 4 July on the plain of Hattin, near Lake Tiberias.

In a single battle, Saladin destroyed virtually the entire Latin armed forces. He then easily conquered the ports on the coast, except for the heavily fortified Tyre, and captured Jerusalem on 2 October. In exchange for large ransoms, he allowed the Latin population to flee the city.

In the months that followed, Saladin captured almost all the Latin strongholds, so that by 1188 the Crusader states had all but disappeared and the Ayyubid Empire had become the dominant power of the day.

It took the arrival of Western crusaders, starting in the spring of 1190, to put an end to the Ayyubid conquests and give the Crusader states a second lease of life.