For Want of Horses and Ships: Social and Economic Constraints of Christian and Muslim Forces During the Third Crusade

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 Acre Given to Phillip Augustus 1191

In Warriors of God (Doubleday, 2001), James Reston Jr. describes an event that took place outside of Nazareth, in the Holy Land, only two months before the devastating route of Christian forces at Hattin in 1187. 130 mounted Templars, Hospitalers, and other knights intercepted7,000 Muslim soldiers under the command of Saladin. Sure that victory would be supplied by God, the knights charged into the vastly superior army. God did not provide victory, however, and only a handful escaped with their lives. The cost of the ill-considered attack in trained knights, responsible for defending the Christian kingdom against an increasingly powerful and numerous enemy, was of course significant. But there were other casualties that were felt nearly as keenly: that of the horses. The loss of over 100 mounts was considered so serious that the need for replacements was specifically called out to Pope Urban III. In a plea for resources to replace the combat losses, the Master of the Temple (Gerard de Ridgefort, who actually led the ill-fated attack, and who somehow survived) emphasized the “serious losses of horses and arms, quite apart from the loss of men…”[1]

This brief comment highlights a specific problem for the Christian kingdom in particular, and suggests a broader question that can be applied to any of the Crusades, but will be considered here for the battles that were to occur following Hattin: how did economic constraints and resource limitations help to shape the events of the Third Crusade? Both King Richard of England and Saladin, the Sultan who ruled Palestine, Egypt, and Syria, were burdened with very different limitations on their resources and logistics. It is interesting that these limitations were proportionately crippling to the military might of each side which, in the end, resulted in a stalemate that shaped the landscape of the Holy Land for a century after the conflict.

Following the victory by Saladin over the Christians in 1187, the cities of the Crusader States fell rapidly. It was in response to this defeat of most of the Christian Kingdom in Palestine that King Richard, German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and Philip Augustus, King of France answered the call to crusade by Pope Gregory VIII, who replaced Urban III after his death toward the close of 1187.[2] The logistical and resource obstacles could scarcely have been more challenging. Of all that once comprised the Outremer, only Tyre remained. It was decided that Emperor Barbarossa would move his massive army overland and enter Palestine through Byzantium in the North, while Richard and Phillip Augustus would sail with their armies to Tyre.[3]

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Richard the Lionheart

As King Richard marshaled his forces, he faced the same daunting challenges as his predecessors in waging war in Palestine. The expedition had to be funded, forces raised, and then transported from Europe to the Levant. Neither in regards to manpower nor in equipment could the Outremer supply itself. The Christian kingdom had ruled over a primarily Muslim population who (except for local bands of mercenaries called the turcopoles) were not likely to rise up in her defense.[4]


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