This history week saw a small group of Christian knights terrify and brutally defeat a massive horde of Muslims.
On July 27, 1192, Saladin, the great sultan-hero of Islam, surrounded and besieged the small town of Jaffa, held by Christians. According to contemporary chronicles, Muslims numbered 20,000 and “covered the face of the earth like locusts.”
Messengers were immediately sent to King Richard I, who was then in Acre, preparing to return to England. Before the beaten and bruised men finished relaying their message, “With God as a guide,” Richard declared, “I will do what I can”, and immediately landed on his fleet with just over 2 000 fighters.
Jaffa, meanwhile, was fighting for his life. According to Saladin’s court historian Baha ‘al-Din, who was present, after one of its walls collapsed, all Muslims rushed into the city, “and there was not a enemy heart which did not tremble and tremble “. Even so, Christians “were more fierce and determined in battle and more greedy and devoted to death.”
When the main gate was finally knocked down and an adjacent wall collapsed under the bombardment, a “cloud of dust and smoke rose and darkened the sky.” Once cleared, the Muslims saw that “spear points had replaced the walls and that spears had blocked the breach.” Only death would free the Crusaders from their charge of defending Jaffa.
Due to the large masses of Muslims rushing in, the garrison was eventually driven and holed up in the citadel, even as the rampages turned their attention to the civilian population of Jaffa: “Alas for the pitiful slaughter of the sick! Remembers a columnist. “They lay weakly on sofas all over the houses in town; the Turks tortured them to death in a horrible way.
Richard’s fleets finally arrive on the evening of July 31, but do not disembark. As Baha ‘al-Din explains, the Crusaders “saw the city crowded with banners and Muslim men and they feared that the citadel had already been taken. The sea prevented them from hearing the cries which came from everywhere and the great commotion and the cries of “There is no god but Allah” and “Allahu Akbar. “
To make matters worse, “When the Turks saw the king’s galleys and ships approaching, masses of them rushed to shore,” writes one chronicler, “raining spears, javelins, darts and arrows so that they have nowhere free for earth. The shore was seething, so covered in crowds of enemies that there was no longer any empty space. “
Then, on the morning of August 1, a combatant priest tried his luck: he jumped out of the citadel window, into the sea, and swam to the fleets. Upon hearing that although the “Saracens took the castle and gathered the Christians as prisoners” a remnant of the garrison still stood, Richard exclaimed: “Please God… we should die here with our brothers. . . “
Without putting on his full armor, and in the words of the chroniclers, the king “armed himself with his hauberk, hung his shield around his neck and took a Danish ax in his hand.” With his crossbow in the other hand – and shouting “Death only to those who do not advance!” the shore and sweeping the incoming arrows with his ax.
Instantly, the rest of the Crusaders followed their king; they threw themselves into the water and “boldly attacked the Turks who stubbornly opposed them on the shore”. Soon, and “in the sight of the king”, which Muslims feared from previous encounters, none of them “dared[d] approach him. On the contrary, they fled the shore. A chronicle has the rest:
Brandishing his drawn sword, the king followed him in such a pursuit that neither of them had time to defend themselves. They were fleeing from his heavy blows. Likewise, the king’s comrades were constantly attacking the fugitives, pushing them, crushing them, tearing them, beheading them and shaking them until all the Turks were violently expelled from the shore and left it empty…. The king fell on them with the drawn sword, pursued them, beheaded them and killed them. They fled in front of him, falling back in dense crowds to his right and left.
Once Richard, drenched in Muslim blood, became visible to those around Saladin, “a horrible howl arose,” even as Turkish arrows rained down on Christians. Undeterred, their berserker king continued to “tear to pieces whatever he encountered without distinction” in his mad rush towards Saladin, prompting the sultan to rush “like a frightened hare … [H]We put the spur on horseback and we ran away from King Richard, not wanting to be seen by him…. The king and his fellow knights chased him relentlessly, killing and unseating him continuously… for more than two miles.
It was a disorderly retreat and a most despicable rout; and it was the most humiliating defeat the great Saladin had ever suffered.
Indeed, due to his exploits in Jaffa and elsewhere, it is the name of Richard the Lionheart that in popular Muslim consciousness most personifies the archetypal crusader enemy to this day – a testament to the havoc that ‘he caused to himself.
This article is taken from the author Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen centuries of war between Islam and the West.
Raymond Ibrahim is Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.