Episode Detail

Script


  • Hello and Welcome to the History of the Copts. Episode 89. Salah ad-Din.
  • So last time – we looked at the ecclestical developments during the transition between the Fatimids and the Ayybuids – really taking us all the way to 1189. Deep into Salah el Din reign
  • Mark – before he died – saw the reconquering of Jerusalem by Salah el din – so, yea – we have a lot to catch up to
  • Also – since its in the title – If you are wondering why I say and write Salah el Din and not the familiar Saladin – its because that was actually his right title. It means the goodness of religion. Saladin while popular – is a westernized version that to me – just sounds awful. So, yea – we are sticking with Salah el Din
  • In that story – we last stopped when Shawar died in 1169 AD
  • We know – that eventually Salah el Din followed him. But how and why is intrusive to understand what is to come
  • You see, In the last two decades before his arrival – there have been 10 different viziers. None of them lasting more than a few years and all but Shawar were murdered
  • Any vizier at this point - would be in the unenviable position of having to answer to both Nur el Din in Syria – who sponsored Shawar’s expedition and troops as well as to answer to the palace in Egypt
  • Not to mention, in the same time – Keep Egypt’s old fatimid army in check – while fighting the Crusaders and possibly the Byzantines
  • With a devastated country and an economic base.
  • The prospects for success – or more accurately survival was bleak at best
  • It was a job where quote “embittered factionalism, treachery, betrayal and murder were all pervasive and ingrained features” – as Thomas Asbridge puts it in his history of the Crusades
  • So yea – the line for the job wasn’t exactly stretching for miles
  • Nonetheless, given the allure of power, there was still a line – basically a couple of Shawar’s lieutants plus a few folks of the entrenched Egyptians amirs – that were there before Shawar showed up
  • Nur El Din in Syria – appointed a successor who wasn’t Salah El Din – but he was far away for now, and so was basically ignored
  • The real action was in Egypt where it ended up being a discussion between the palace and Shawar’s inner circle
  • A discussion that nominated Salah el Din – where, the palace liked him, because he was considered too young and inexperienced to threatened the caliph
  • And Shawar’s inner circle – accepted him – more or less out of Kurdish solidatary and – because he was also too young and inexperienced to threatened any of their personal interest
  • The only faction that was unhappy with his nomination was the old entrenched amirs as well as the old remnants of the Egyptian army
  • But they had a lot to complain about anyway in the new regime, so they weren’t going to be happy no matter what plus divided and leaderless they were – at best a nuisance rather than a serious threat
  • The real threat was Nur el Din – who – naturally, considered Egypt to be part of his empire now
  • Nonetheless – he happened to like Salah El Din personally and was a patient man– so, he wasn’t going to rush into anything
  • Basically – taking the approach, let’s wait and see
  • And so – the 31 years old prince was appointed Vizier in March 26, 1169 with the odds – not particularly in his favors
  • Now – like Badr al Jamali before him, the first thing that Salah el din did was to invite his extended family and Kurdish connections to settle in Egypt
  • To become his trusted inner circle – rather than trust anyone who was already there
  • In addition – since that family wasn’t particularly large, not big enough to be an army anyway – he also started recruiting and eventually buying slave soldiers in bulks
  • Something that his uncle Shirku did before – and really many others before him since the days of the Abbasids, so not a new innovation per say
  • But – by now with all the wars, the business of buying, breeding and training slave soldiers was big. And Salah El Din – and especially his dynasty after him – relied extensively on them
  • These slave soldiers were known as Mamluks – literally, an owned entity or a person
  • Early on – Salah el Din relied on the military might of a couple of these mamluks – a certain Abuil Haija nicknamed the fat – because – you guessed- he was fat
  • And a very smart but dry eunuch – named Qaragush whose name survives in colloquial Egyptian to this day to describe cheap, hard bread – perhaps metaphorically describing the man
  • With them – came Salah el din’s elder brother – Turan-shah, and nephew, Taqi al Din
  • As well as, a younger brother whose name you should keep handy – al – ‘Adil
  • Forming a talented inner circle that can be relied on to be loyal
  • With these people in place – Salah el din quickly started shaping the government in his image – forming Sunni schools, sending gifts and promises of loyalty to Nur el Din, and perhaps most importantly - pulling an impressive but risky economic move that really solidified his position
  • He cancelled everyone taxes, and debts, even rents– basically everything. Not just to the government, as this would have mainly benefited the rich. But – anyone who owed anything was now free
  • The ultimate debt forgiveness plan. Where – literally everyone gets a new slate
  • This – when combined with the fact that now people at least know who was in charge, had the effect of greatly boosting the economy and Salah el din’s popularity
  • So good news, right? Not really if you are in the palace and is now realizing that Salah el din is slowly laying the groundwork to get rid of you
  • And by the palace here – I don’t necessarily mean the Caliph – a teenager/young man with little knowledge of the outside world
  • Rather – the beauracracy of the palace. The eunuchs, the guards, the Shi’a judges, basically everyone who benefited financially from having a caliph around – led by a certain palace eunuch named Mutamin – The de facto chief of staff of the caliph
  • Realizing that picking Salah el Din was a mistake – within three months, Mutamin tried to engineer an invasion to get rid of him by asking the Franks to come again
  • Sending a spy disguised as a beggar with a letter asking the king of Jerusalem to come with promises of assistance
  • Now – you must be thinking. Here we go again. The whole Shirku-Franks-Shawar drama is about to play again – only with different names
  • But – Salah el Din got lucky
  • Apparently the spy decided to get new sandals and sow the letter in them which would have been smart, if let’s say, he was disguised as a merchant
  • But, he was disguised as a beggar – and a beggar with new sandals travelling to Palestine is awfully suspicious
  • And so – he was caught in Bilbais by the garrison stationed there – and the letter never made it to Jerusalem – making it to Salah el Din instead
  • Realizing what was on his hand. He acted decisively executing Mutamin and appointing Qaragush in his place
  • But remember – the palace beaucracy is big. Mutamin was just one person. It is unlikely that he acted alone.
  • So, at his execution – the palace intrigue was ratchet up a notch – and the plan went from inviting the Franks to come – to inciting an internal rebellion
  • Stationed in Cairo was close to 50,000 black Sudanese troops. The remnant of the old Egyptian army – who were mostly leaderless, and ineffective, but when paid regularly could be relied on to be loyal to the palace
  • And so, they rebelled – rioting in Cairo and essentially besieging Salah el Din in his palace – not necessarily a very secure building
  • This could have been it. The rebellion that ended the career of Salah El din – similar to the so many ones before it.
  • But – instead – it was here, that the genius and brutality of Salah el Din are on full display
  • He knew that he couldn’t fight them head on. He didn’t have enough troops to do that – even knowing that they were ineffective and disorganized
  • So – he sent Abu’l Haija the Fat – not to fight them per say – but rather to delay and distract them
  • In the same time – he sent agents to the quarter of Cairo where the Sudanese troops wives and children lived ordering them – to burn the place down
  • This act of calculated atrocity – shattered the morale of rebellious troops.
  • Salah el Din had effectively proven he was capable and willing to burn the place down before he goes down
  • And without effective leadership, the rebellious troops capitulated
  • Presumably, Salah el Din offered them mercy and continued pay if they leave Cairo
  • Most took up the offer – but once out of the city and travelling south in smaller, disorganised groups – Salah El Din’s older brother Turan-Shan set up hunting parties – where those groups were hunted down and killed – eliminating them as a faction in the complicated politics of Egypt
  • Basically – in six months – Salah el Din has set down the tone for his entire career
  • Subtle, generous diplomacy coupled with pious Sunni Orthodoxy, with sprinkling of cold-blooded terror when the situation calls for it
  • Now – that the palace is checked – and the old army of Egypt is mostly gone. Left to deal with – is Nur El Din – who is happy with pressuring Salah El Din to remove the Caliph and patiently waiting for the situation in Egypt to call for his direct intervention
  • And – the Crusaders, who had rushed a failed invasion to Egypt only a year ago – despite a tentative agreement with the byzantine for a combined invasion and a garrison inside Cairo
  • Well – it was time for that combined invasion – coming right on the heels of the failed rebellion
  • In late summer 1169 – a huge Byzantine fleet showed up in the horizon of Damietta – with a Crusader army approaching on land
  • Rather than be the end of Salah el Din though – it was a great gift
  • All the regional Muslim powers took a hard look at the situation and quickly realized that – Its going to be either Salah El din in Egypt or the Crusaders. So, better fall in line behind him.
  • Both the Fatimid and the Abbasid Caliph supported him, with presumably the Fatimid caliph giving him a million denars to organize a resistance and the Abbasid Caliph pressuring Nur El Din to join him in Egypt –
  • And to be clear – Nur El Din himself, obviously preferring Salah El Din to the Crusaders in Egypt was happy to supply and send a huge army to defend Damietta
  • And as the city was well-fortified. The Crusaders and the Byzantines ended up in a prolonged 3 month siege – where more and more men and money were flocking to the Salah El Din – while they made little progress
  • So – they called it off. Going home achieving nothing, but swelling the treasury and the army of Salah el Din
  • Who – used the momentum of his success and quickly followed up by capturing Gaza as well as the red seaport of Aqaba
  • Small, depopulated, and very strategic acquisitions – mainly to open up the land trading routes between Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world – rather than a grand conquest and holy war per say
  • He still on shaky grounds for such a thing– and even as the Crusaders were besieging Damietta – he didn’t feel comfortable enough to leave Cairo, feeling a betrayal from the inside
  • His main concerns at this point was to survive – and to continue the economic boost as he slowly reinstates taxation
  • For the first part – he feared another Byzantine invasion, so he ordered Alexandria and other coastal cities fortified
  • As for the economic boost and taxation. He left trade untaxed – which had all kind of good and bad effects. Sufficient to know for now – Egypt was a good place to do business in under Salah El Din
  • But that was it. Everything else returned back to normal, with even slightly higher rates to make up for the lost revenue
  • Now – putting down an internal rebellion, presiding over an economic boom, rebelling the crusaders and the byzantine invasion–
  • Salah el Din position as both the vizier to the Shia’ Caliph and an agent to Nur El din was becoming unsustainable.
  • As it became clear that he wasn’t going to go away quickly, everyone was asking – which side is he on?
  • And so – one of the great mysteries of his reign took place. The death of the last Shi’a Caliph العاضد 
  • There are basically three versions of what happened – depending on the primary source.
  • The first, one of the brothers of Salah El Din – went to the palace with troops with the intentions to seize and imprison the Caliph – and the Caliph, committed suicide rather than be subject to imprisoning and torture
  • You know – naked power grab, but no intentions to kill the Caliph
  • The second – is similar – only there was no troops involved. Rather a party of sorts with Salah el Din, his older brother, and the Caliph – the kind where there was lots of wine and a concubine or two
  • After which, Salah el Din sought a legal opinion from Islamic judges on whether it is– quote “lawful for the Caliph to drink wine and to indulge in debauchery?” -
  • The answer to which, was obviously no – and that the caliph should be removed if it was proven against him
  • And with the legal opinion in hand. The same brother in the first version – kills the Caliph
  • Again – power grab, but only killing the Caliph following quote unquote the “law”
  • The third – is that Caliph just died from natural causes at the ripe age of 20. Just as Salah el Din was consolidating his rule
  • Possible I guess, but real good timing.
  • Salah el Din is a mythological figure in Islamic history – so, he gets the aura of “could no wrong great man” of so many other mythological figures
  • But –the point is – In September 10th, 1171. Around the Coptic new year eve when the Nile reaches its highest point- where many Egyptians – Muslims and Christians celebrated the event
  • Salah el Din orders that the Friday prayers in Fustat be done in the name of the Abbasid Caliph not the Fatimids
  • The following day – New Year- he presided over an imposing military parade in the capital, as virtually the entire might of his armies marched through the streets
  • The Caliph – who considered Salah El din a friend. Alarmed at this developments, asked him to come to the palace –
  • where he intended to extract a promise from him to not harm his family
  • In essence, accepting the fact on the ground that Salah el Din is in charge, but wishing to perhaps extend the life of the dynasty –
  • He was ignored though.
  • Then – two days later. The Caliph died. Like said – in an awfully suspicious timing.
  • When he died – Salah El din gave him a great burial with a lot of pomp and respect.
  • While ordering in the same breath that his family be locked away in a comfortable prison, making sure that none of them is allowed to have offspring – to ensure that the dynasty dies out.
  • And finally, proclaimed himself as the Sultan of Egypt
  • New year, new me kinda of vibe
  • Staring with amusement and annoyance at this development was Nur El Din over in Syria
  • Amused – as he could rightly boast that on paper, his empire now includes Egypt
  • Annoyed – as it only belonged on paper. Salah el Din – like his mentor, Nur El Din himself was a master of niceties and symbolic gifts to create an image of a humble simple servant to his benefactors
  • But – naturally – saw himself as a sovereign ruler who only answered to God
  • And when it came to taxation and money. Well – that was up to him on what to do with the cash, not to Nur El Din
  • Getting lucky again though, rather than get locked into a conflict with the Syrian Sultan right away
  • Egypt’s and Salah El din ended up on the bottom of Nur El Din to do list for a couple of years as several events in the west took his attention
  • First, Nur El din’s brother over in Iraq died – and so did the Abbasid Caliph. So, he had to get involved there
  • Then –trade was becoming an issue with the Crusaders and tensions between Nur El din and the Franks were increasing quickly
  • Basically – there was lots of money to be made by both Nur El Din and Salah El Din if they can only truly secure a land-route between Damascus and Cairo – that will continue all the way to the silk road and china
  • The only problem was – a depopulated piece of land in modern Jordan that the Crusaders controlled through two imposing Castles.
  • To make a long story short – Nur El Din essentially asked Salah El Din to help capture them – and not worry about taxation – assuming of course that it would be Nur El din that keeps the area
  • Now – for Salah El Din. This was a tough decision. If he didn’t help Nur El Din, well, what kinda of pious ruler would he be? Abandoning jihad against the infidels
  • And if he did – well, he would had just opened a high way from Damascus to Cairo, that Nur El din can take anytime
  • So – he did the only thing that could be done. He pretended to help.
  • Showing up at the castles for a siege, staying for a few days, then leaving for one reason or another – essentially leaving Nur El Din to fight the Crusaders by himself
  • He did that in 1171 – Fresh off his coronation as the Sultan
  • And a second time in 1173 – where it was clear to Nur El Din what was happening
  • So – he finally decided to force a confrontation sending a financial official in 1174 to audit all of Egypt’s finances
  • Salah El Din – let the official in – but also started mobilizing troops. And so did Nur El Din.
  • It seemed that war was happening – or at least a show of force to be followed by tense diplomacy
  • Salah El Din got lucky again though – Fate intervened to prevent what could have been a disastrous Sunni civil war
  • While playing polo outside Damascus – Nur El din suffered what may have been a heart attack and died 10 days later – at the relatively young age of 56 on May 1174
  • Leaving on an 11 year old child as an heir but a whole lot of ambitions warlords and family members who fancied themselves as the next sultan of Syria.
  • And lest you forget – given the tensions just prior to his death. Salah El din army was already mobilized and ready to go – when Nur el Din died
  • So, almost immediately at his death, Nur El Din’s realm was fractured into a million little pieces with every warlord with a garrison deciding he is going to do things his way.
  • The largest of those pieces was obviously Salah el Din in Egypt – who in a perfect would have proceeded to swallow all the other pieces linearly and I could just end the episode right now and then
  • But – it never works out this way. In the very same time – A Sicilian fleet attacked Alexandria – a nothingburger at the end. But, initially it looked like a serious threat.
  • Also – in the same time old Armenian units from the Egyptian army, plus Fatimid loyalists with the help of a Nubian army – staged a rebellion in Upper Egypt
  • Salah El Din – to his credit. Completely ignored Syria for now. Putting an end to the rebellion and pushing forward all the way into Nubia. Conquering a large chunk of northern modern Sudan
  • Also – sending his brother to secure an import port in Yemen – essentially controlling the red sea trade
  • Then when that work was done, he finally turned his attention to Syrians who were still trying to figure out who was in charge
  • His message to the elites there was simple and powerful
  • If you want peace and order – invite me quote “your servant” to come and I will fight on your behalf
  • If not, just know that Syria is surrounded by enemies on all sides, and chaos will reign
  • A message that was made clear when the Army of Jerusalem moved against Damascus – and the city ruler had to capitulate and pay them tribute to go away
  • A humiliating, but smart move given the circumstances – that Salah El Din used with great effectiveness to undermine the legitimacy of that ruler as a weak governor who prefers to avoid jihad
  • To which – the ruler responded too quite eloquently in a letter to Salah el Din saying quote “let it not be said that you have designs upon the house of the one who established you [as] this does not befit your good character”
  • To which Salah El Din responded by appealing to the common unity of Islam – saying quote
  • “We choose for Islam and its people only what will unite them”
  • And his efforts worked, by the end of the summer of 1174 – Salah El Din was invited to come to Damascus. To aid it’s populace or to be exact, to unite the Muslims and pursue jihad against the Franks
  • He went there not as a conqueror – remember, it was only 6 years ago that he was the head of its market police. But as a favorite son saving the city from chaos
  •  Going with two powerful weapons – a large army of loyal Mamluks and a lot of gold dinars to spread around
  • And so piece by piece – Syria fell. Mostly peacefully – until he arrived at Aleppo – in the north.
  • A large city with an imposing fortress – where the 11 year old child lived and refused to be quote unquote be “protected” by Salah El Din
  • What followed then is a bitter two year civil war – where Salah el Din always could claim victory in individual battles, but Aleppo – still resisted
  • Fearing the reputational damage of shedding the blood of fellow Muslims – Salah El Din asked for peace – involving the Abbasid Caliph
  • After a period of intense negotiation – peace was reached, although it stood on a shaky ground
  • Salah el Din got all of Syria – up to Aleppo and recognized as the Sultan of Egypt and Syria by the Caliph
  • While Aleppo got the 11 year old child and heir, keeping their independence
  • Now – during that civil war, our old friends the order of assassins got involved
  • Apparently, the ruler of Aleppo has paid them handsomely to assassinate Saleh el din
  • And he – a heretic sunni who deposed a Shi’a dynasty – made a good ideological target as well
  • So they targeted him, coming extremely close a couple of times. Literally drawing blood at one of these attempts
  • Basically – traumatizing him for life. As he no longer socialized freely anywhere out of fear of assassination.
  • So, wrapping up the peace with Aleppo, he decided to wipe off the order of assassins from his domains
  • And you gotta give it him, he really tried – but failed miserably
  • The order of assassins has mastered both guerilla warfare and the terrain – building large castles in the mountains where they couldn’t be reached
  • And knowing how and when to strike – targeting the leaders, rather than the common soldiers
  • So, after another two years of failed attempts – he essentially called it a day
  • Giving Syria to his older brother to govern – while he returned to Egypt after a long four year absence where his younger brother Al A’adil ran Egypt independently and did pretty well
  • His Syrian campaigns – while difficult and mixed in terms of success. Were still fruitful. Now, that his domains stretch from Sudan to Northern Syria. He could, if he wanted to – sustain large multi-year campaign to drive the Crusaders off altogether.
  • Not just yet though. He had just come out of a miserable 4 years of failures.
  • It was time, to go back to Cairo and rest for a bit. Maybe, build a castle or two/
  • Thank you for listening, farewell and until next time.

References


  • The History of the Patriarchs by" multiple
  • The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by" Thomas Asbridge
All episodes

Comments



Must be logged in to comment. Log in or Sign up.