Childhood & Early Life
Saladin was born Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, to Najm ad-Din Ayyub and his wife, in the year 1138, at Tikrit, Iraq. The following year, the family travelled to the city of Mosul, and was given shelter by the ruler Imad ad-Din Zengi.
Saladin later grew up in Damascus, Syria, and is known to have had a vast knowledge of philosophy, religion, science and mathematics. He also knew a lot about Arabs, their history, culture, heritage, and Arabian horses. Apart from that, he was well-versed in poetry, especially ones written by Arab poet Abu Tammam.
When Imad ad-Din Zengi died, his son, Nur ad-Din took over the throne, and Saladin's uncle, Asad al-Din Shirkuh served as a commander of the ‘Zengid’ army. It was under uncle Shirkuh's supervision, that the young boy learnt military tactics and strategies.
Shawar, the vizier of the ‘Fatimid Caliphate’ approached Nur ad-Din to help him in his struggle against rival leader Dirgham. Nur ad-Din obliged, and sent an army led by Shirkuh, to assist Shawar in the fight. Shirkuh and Shawar were accompanied by Saladin, but the latter did not have much of a role to play in the minor battle.
In 1164, the ‘Zengid Dynasty’ waged a war against the Crusader-Egyptian army that had attacked and captured the city of Bilbais. The army of the ‘Zengids’ were partly led by Shirkuh, while the other two sections were led by Saladin, and the Kurds, respectively.
In this war, the young general played a significant role by defeating Hugh of Caesarea, the leader of the rival army.
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Accession & Reign
Soon, Shawar, the vizier of the ‘Fatimid Caliphate’, faced former ally Shirkuh in a war to gain control over Egypt. Shawar was assassinated in 1169, by Shirkuh's men, and the latter died soon thereafter, leaving Nur ad-Din in a dilemma about who would succeed his trusted general.
Though Nur ad-Din had chosen someone else, the Caliph, al-Adid decided that Saladin was to be his vizier. This choice was quite unusual, since the Caliphate was ruled by Shia Muslims, and the new vizier was a Sunni.
By 1170, the young vizier had consolidated his power over most of Egypt, with support from Nur ad-Din, and the Caliph of the ‘Abbasid Dynasty’, al-Mustanjid. One of his major battles during this time was the war waged against the King of Jerusalem, Amalric, in a bid to capture the cities of Darum and Gaza.
When al-Adid died in 1171, it was Saladin who took over as ruler of the ‘Fatimid Dynasty’, and the latter formed an association with the ‘Abbasid Caliphate’.
In 1173, the ruler of Aswan requested the new leader's assistance to ward off invaders from Nubia. Saladin obliged, and provided the former, troops led by Turan-Shah. The same year, his father, Ayyub succumbed to an injury resulting from a fall from his horse.
The following year, Nur ad-Din died of poisoning, and Saladin's troops seized Syria and Yemen, consolidating the hold of the leader's ‘Ayyubid Dynasty’.
By 1175, the ruler had captured the cities of Homs and Hama, which resulted in other ‘Zengid’ chiefs waging wars against him. Once the ‘Zengids’ were vanquished, al-Mustadi, the caliph of the ‘Abbasid Dynasty’ declared the former as the "Sultan of Egypt and Syria".
As the new Sultan, Saladin conquered several other areas, including the Upper Mesopotamian area known as Jazira. In 1177, he came back to Egypt, to look after royal matters there. The same year, with an army of 26,000 warriors, he launched an attack on Palestine.
King Baldwin, leader of the Crusaders struck Golan Heights in April, 1179, but was easily defeated by the Ayubbid forces.
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During 1182-84, he attacked the cities of Sinjar, Beisan, Beirut, as well as Kerak, capturing them easily with his forces, and moved on to seize Aleppo. With the conquest of Aleppo, the Sultan's hold over Syria was reinforced. His attack on ‘Zengid’-ruled Mosul was however difficult to pull off, because of the opponent's strong allies.
In 1186, Saladin had to stall his attempts of conquering Mosul when he became sick, and a peace agreement was signed between the ‘Ayyubids’ and the ‘Zengids’.
The following year, the ‘Ayyubids’ fought the 'Battle of Hattin' against the Crusaders. This historic battle waged in 1187 resulted in the victory of Saladin, eighty-eight years after the Crusaders had captured Palestine from Muslim rulers.
In 1189, King Richard the Lionheart attempted for the third time, to conquer the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where they began with an attack on the Israeli city of Acre.
On September 7, 1191, the army of King Richard and that of the ‘Ayyubid Dynasty’ faced each other at the 'Battle of Arsuf'. The latter were forced to flee, since their army was weaker than that of the Crusaders. The ‘Ayyubids’ however, retaliated the next day, thwarting every attempt made by King Richard to recapture Jerusalem.
Personal Life & Legacy
Saldin had more than one wife, though it is Ismat ad-Din Khatun, who is remembered as his bride. Ismat was earlier married to Nur ad-Din, but after the ‘Zengid’ ruler's death in 1174, she got married to the ‘Ayyubid’ leader.
The ‘Ayyubid’ ruler had several sons, of whom, the most famous are, al-Afdal, Az-Zahir Ghazi, Uthman, Mas'ud, and Yaq'ub.
On March 4, 1193, the great ruler of the ‘Ayyubids’ succumbed to a fever, in Damascus, Syria. Known for his generosity, he had distributed his wealth amongst the poor, and now lies buried outside the 'Umayyad Mosque'.
A province in Iraq is named Salah ad Din Governorate, after the great Sultan of Egypt. Kudistan's city of Arbil, houses the 'Salahaddin University', and a community called 'Masif Salahaddin', both named as a tribute to this ruler.
The coat of arms of Egypt is known as the 'Eagle of Saladin', and it represents the unity between Arab states.