Hattin: Trapping A Victory

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.. at the attack. Joshua Prower offers an excellent construction of the formation of the crusader army and it's problems on the march:The mounted knights were preceded and probably flanked also by archers and crossbowmen, as well as by units of Turcoples, mounted archers who fought like the Saljuq or Turkish contingents. The heavy cavalry were the weakest point of the army when faced with Muslim troops far more mobile than their own. The enemy's mounted archers could shoot from well outside the range of Crusader spears and lances and thus avoid a frontal encounter with the Frankish cavalry.

Once a Frankish horse was hit, the Crusader was at the mercy of the Muslim bowmen. Against their dense rain of arrows there were only Crusader foot-archers. Since they preceded and flanked the cavalry, they prescribed the rhythm of the march and, by slowing it down, made the Franks an easier target17.By the time the crusaders reached the mid-way point to Tiberias at Marescallia, they were exhausted. The rearguard, led by the Templars, had been badgered since the morning by Muslim horse archers and was trailing behind. Realizing this, Raymond stopped and King Guy tried to rally his troops

He discussed the situation with other leaders of the army and decided that there was no way that they would be able to make it the seventeen kilometers to the Sea of Galilee by nightfall18. Instead, a new route for water was planned to a spring located just outside the town of Hattin. In order to reach it, the crusaders would have to risk journeying through a narrow pass between two hills called "The Horns of Hattin". The movement would be a gamble, but it was a chance that they had to take; the spring, although through the Horns, was only five kilometers19 from their camp. They pressed on, attacked every step by the same tactic used by the Muslims from the start.

Saladin saw the direction of the crusaders, he quickly moved his troops to intercept them at Marescallia. When the Franks began to march from the main road, a state of frenzy enveloped the army. The fast riding cavalry charged onward, leaving the footmen and bowmen to fend off their attackers at the flank20. When they approached the Muslim army awaiting them, the knights attempted to charge through the lines with their lances and onward to Hattin behind the enemy, but failed. The Muslims held and the knights found themselves surrounded by the enemy to the front, to each side and also enclosing to the rear, following the slow-moving footmen. King Guy saw that his men would not reach the spring that day and ordered his troops to set up camp in hopes of rallying them. The outcome of such a decision would cost the crusaders dearly. Guy has been continually criticized for ordering camp on July 3, but in reality he had no choice. His men were obviously tired and there was little hope that they would break the Muslim line. Just before nightfall, Saladin moved a large number of his troops to the Horns of Hattin and spread them out to await the crusader march the next day.

From this post, Saladin had control of the Christian's goal and was able to use the spring at Hattin to supply his own troops once again. That night, his Muslims pestered the tired and thirsty Christians continually with arrows. The Muslims were rejoicing their anticipated victory as they were re-supplied from the Sea of Galilee. They saw the state of their adversary and knew that the morale of the Franks was low. Adding to their attacks of arrows, they sang and shrieked to make their presence known - to strike fear into the hearts of their Christian rivals. Saturday, July 4, 1187 is a landmark date to the study of the crusades.

It was a day of victory for one, and of sorrow for the other. The Christians found that they could no longer retreat and were trapped; for them, it was the beginning of the end. Saladin used his main army and attacked the Templars at the crusader's flank. While the Templars defended bravely, they were overrun as the main body of Christians pressed on toward Hattin, leaving the rearguard behind without support. The crusaders developed a strategy for combat in which the success depended on the cooperation of both the knights and footmen to help each other for protection.

They attempted to march their units in a formation where the infantry would guard the knights from arrow attacks with their shields, and the knights would fend off an enemy charge to the infantry with their lances. While the tactic was well possible, it failed on impact. The tired footmen routed when they came under heavy attack, scattering up the hills to the right and left. Most were slaughtered, leaving the knights extremely vulnerable21. King Guy once again ordered camp in hopes of rallying his men, but to no avail. There was complete chaos among the perishing Christians and Raymond attempted one last charge at the Muslim blockade.

Instead of breaking through the line however, the Saracens quickly maneuvered and the Raymond charged straight through the center of the line without inflicting a wound22. As a result, the crusader morale diminished and many of those charging knights ran on in retreat. In hopes of tying up his victory, and making use of the favorable winds, Saladin then set fire to the grass surrounding the remaining Latin forces. From their view, the crusaders could see nothing but dense smoke as arrows rained in from overhead. The losses were great and the Christians lost their Holy Cross, which had been their spiritual inspiration, to Muslim capture.

The battle was over when Saladin ordered his final advance. Few Christians escaped as thousands were captured or killed. In general, the knights were treated honorably by their conquerors and with the exception of the Templars, who were executed for their fanatical views, many were later released. The infantry on the other hand, were treated quite differently as many were either slaughtered on the spot or sold into slavery. Baldwin proves this by pointing out that "a significant observation made by one Moslem chronicler gives further evidence that the separation of the infantry from the cavalry had been decisive. He noticed that although scarcely a horse was left alive, few of the heavily armed knights were injured"23.The Christians, who should have won a conflict against Saladin, were outwitted and defeated.

According to Baldwin, they were led into a trap because of "personal and political animosities particularly on the part of Gerard de Ridefort"24. Had King Guy not been persuaded to move from Saffuriyah, there might never have been a Hattin at all. Likewise, credit must be given to Saladin, whose military tactic and planning at the expense of crusader foolishness helped him to gain the upper hand. Saladin had been victorious the minute that the Christians left their water and supply, leaving themselves defenseless and unequipped. The Latin army, for the first half of the campaign, fought an enemy on the march - something they were not prepared to do. The Franks had fallen for the trap through the arid lands that they had hoped would be used on the Muslims.

Everything that could have gone wrong with the crusader campaign did. It was only a matter of time before Saladin's victory; it was just a question of how long the Christians would hold out and where. As Baldwin notes: "This is the tragic significance of Hattin. It was a battle that perhaps need not have been fought and certainly should not have been lost"25. It was a clear case of military strategy at its best; obviously not on the part of the crusaders, but by their adversary.

It was not long before Saladin went on to conquer the territories surrounding Jerusalem, and then the city itself. With Saladin spread the nightmare that the Christians had fought against so vigorously during the first crusade; with Saladin, the Mosque26 was returned to Jerusalem.

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