The Battle of Hattin Revisited

The Battle of Hattin Revisited

By Benjamin Z. Kedar

The Horns of Hattin: Proceedings of the Second Conference of the Society of the Crusades and the Latin East, ed. B.Z. Kedar (Jerusalem, 1992)

Introduction: Just fifteen words of his multi-volume Geschichte der Kriegskunst did Hans Delbruck, the eminent military historian, devote to the Battle of Hattin, giving the opinion that it yields nothing of importance for the history of warfare. This may well be the case. But a battle’s contribution to the art of war is not necessarily commensurate with its political significance and, still less so, with the fascination it holds for posterity. Hattin, a climax in the history of crusade and jihad, is replete with high drama: Saladin’s calculated thrust at Tiberias, eliciting King Guy’s seesaw reactions at Saforie; the weary Franks encircled on the arid plateau during the night that preceded the final battle; the flight of the thirst stricken Frankish foot soldiers to the Horns of Hattin overlooking, the inaccessible waters of Lake Tiberias; the last Frankish cavalry charges almost reaching Saladin, tugging at his beard in agitation; the encounter between the triumphant Saladin and the captured Frankish leaders, with the victor killing his archenemy with his own hand. Small wonder that historians turn their attention to this battle time and again. During the last twenty-five years no less than three major reconstructions have been put forward. In 1964, Joshua Prawer published his “La bataille de Hattin,” which contributed inter alia to the understanding of the Lower Galilee road system at the time of the battle. In 1966, Peter Herde came out with his “Die Kampfe bei den Hornern von Hittin and der Untergang des Kreuzritterheeres (3. and 4. Juli 1187). Eine historisch-topographische Studie,” the most detailed account of the events offered to date, based on painstaking scrutiny of the sources and the battlefield. In 1982, Malcolm C. Lyons and D.E.P. Jackson dedicated a chapter of their book on Saladin to Hattin, utilizing for the first time an account of the battle written after the capture of Acre on 10 July 1187.

The present attempt is a by-product of the Second SSCLE Conference. Seeking an appropriate site for the session scheduled to take place at the Horns of Hattin, I went over the terrain with Eliot Braun, the archaeologist, who made me aware of Zvi Gal’s survey of the ancient walls along the circumference of the horns and Gal’s excavations of an isolated medieval structure on the summit of the southern horn; this led to the identification (or rather reidentification) of that structure with the Dome of Victory that Saladin had erected on the horns following the battle. Later, the Lower Galilee Regional Council asked me to provide a brief description of the battle, which was to be placed on a signpost at the horns on the occasion of the SSCLE conference. Attempting to condense the story into a signpost text of some 200 words I became acutely aware of the limits of scholarly consensus on the issue; but I also came upon some new, or hitherto unutilized, facts. First, I gained knowledge of the considerable progress archaeologists have made in recent years with regard to the ancient road network in Lower Galilee, and especially of the discovery in 1983 – just south of Khirbat Maskana and about 1.8 kilometers northwest of Lubiya /Lubie – of the intersection of two Roman roads. Israel Roll of Tel Aviv University, who was the first to realize the importance of this discovery, was kind enough to put at my disposal the evidence (much of which remains unpublished) that he has gathered about the roads of the region; the roads marked on Figure 1 are largely based on his information. Second, I learned that discharge measurements of the springs in the region, some of which go back to the 1920s, may shed some light on the events of 3 July 1187. Visits to the ruins of Kafr Sabt and Kh. Maskana – under the guidance of Yossi Buchman and Naphtali Madar of the Allon Tabor Field School – also proved helpful. Finally, I came to realize that a description of the battle which `Abd Allah b. Ahmad al-Muqaddasi wrote on 13 Djumada II 583/20 August 1187, and sent to Baghdad, and which Abu Shama later included in his Kitab al-rawdatayn, should be ascribed to the prolific and influential Hanbali jurisconsult Muwaffaq al-Din `Abd Allah b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Qudama al-Hanbali al-Muqaddasi [hereafter al-Muqaddasi]. His father was the Hanbali preacher Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Qudama who lived under Frankish rule in Djamma’il, a village southwest of Nablus, fled in 1156 to Damascus and initiated the exodus of his relatives and disciples to that city. Al-Muqaddasi, born in 1146 in Djamma`il, was ten years old at the time of that exodus; he studied in Damascus and Baghdad, and took part-together with his much older brother Abu `Umar and his cousin `Abd al-Ghani – in Saladin’s expeditions against the Franks, including that of 1187.5 The battle account by this learned refugeee from the Frankish Kingdom stands out for its sobriety and factual detail when compared with the florid effusions of the other Muslim eyewitness, `Imad al-Din, and should be ranked high among the sources on the battle.

Click here to read this article from De Re Militari

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine