The Evolution of the Saladin Legend in the West
Mélanges Louis Pouzet (Beirut, 2006)
The evolution of the Saladin legend in Europe is a rare and extraordinary example of the adoption of a medieval Muslim warrior as a European hero. This instance of cultural transfer is all the more noteworthy since Saladin was perhaps the major opponent of western Christendom at the time of the Crusades.
Three major themes will be analysed here: first, Saladin in the mirror of the Western sources contemporary with him; secondly, the evolution of the Saladin legend in Europe; and lastly, the question of why it was Saladin rather than some other Muslim leader of the Crusading period who attracted such remarkable posthumous fame in western Europe.
Our knowledge of the Crusadersʼ views of Saladin during his own lifetime is based principally on the detailed history written by Archbishop William of Tyre who was Chancellor of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem from 1170-84. Williamʼs testimony is invaluable for a true assessment of the achievements of Saladin. Williamʼs intellectual calibre was very impressive. He was high in the councils of the Franks and could therefore speak with authority and insight of the attitudes and beliefs of the nobility of Outremer. Born in the Near East, he had taken the trouble to learn Arabic as well as Latin, Greek and French. He was an active participant in political events and especially for the period of Saladinʼs career, until 1184, his great history Historia Rerum in Partibus Transmarinis Gestarum, written in Latin, remains a remarkable source for these crucial years.