‘The Lord put His people to the sword’: Contemporary perceptions of the Battle of Hattin (1187)

By Daniel Roach

University of Exeter

Abstract: Much scholarship has been written on the build-up, course and results of the battle of Hattin. Such studies have focussed on the tactical and topographical aspects of the battle and have sought to understand the reasons for the Frankish defeat to the Muslims using the categories of modern military historical analysis, such as generalship, strategy, tactics, weaponry and terrain. This study will seek to argue that such categories were of secondary importance to both Christian and Muslim contemporaries who either fought in the battle or lived through the summer of 1187 when compared with religious explanations. It will also seek to show that religious aspects of the defeat were the most difficult for Christian contemporaries to understand. By stressing that both Christian and Muslim contemporaries recognised that the battle was an example of divine judgement for Christian sinfulness it is hoped that Riley-Smith’s positive understanding of Hattin will be shown to be incompatible with the views expressed in the sources. By using Christian and Islamic sources it is hoped that this study will provide a more holistic and balanced understanding of contemporary understandings of the battle than has previously been provided. No other study of Hattin has examined contemporary perceptions of the battle using both perspectives and so it is hoped that this will give historians a deeper understanding of the importance of religion in Crusading warfare.

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