The Rise of Latin Christian Naval Power in the Third Crusade
By Paul Dingman
International Journal of Naval History , Volume 7 Number 3 (2008)
Introduction: The international conflict in the late twelfth century known as the Third Crusade usually holds a somewhat inconclusive place in medieval history, at least when one looks only at the results on land. There, both sides could claim partial victory: the Muslims managed to retain some of the territory Saladin had taken in Syria and Palestine during the previous decade (including Jerusalem and Beirut) while the Latin Christians under King Richard’s command won back the critical port city of Acre and an important strip of fortified coast in the area. One can argue pros and cons about which side emerged slightly better from the truce that ended the war. Yet, power on the seas emerged as an important factor in the struggle too, and in this frequently overlooked aspect of the conflict, power tilted significantly to the Latins. This paper will examine how naval strength in the Mediterranean shifted during the end of the twelfth century and what the immediate and lasting effects of this shift were on the region.
To organize the many instances of ships and fleet references leading up to and continuing throughout the Third Crusade, five specific naval campaigns will serve as discussion points: Saladin’s wave of expansion with fleet support (1187), the Muslim blockade/siege of Tyre (1187), the Christian blockade/siege of Acre (1189-1191), Richard’s preparation and nautical procession across the Mediterranean (1190-1191), and Richard’s advance after Acre with fleet support (1191-1192). Naval power started to shift towards the Latins with the Muslim disaster at Tyre and turned decisively to the Christians after the victory at Acre. All five of these actions, however, are important to understanding the regional naval situation as well as the larger crusade and its aftermath.
We will begin by studying the siege of Tyre, a medieval citadel perched on the Mediterranean coast. As one of the chronicles of the time describes the town:
Tyre is sited in the heart of the sea, ringed with fortifications on all sides. The small part which is not closed off by the depths of the sea is fortified by multiple walls.