The Rebuilding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (1192 – 1244)

By Nicholas Morton

The crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was left much diminished in the aftermath of the Battle of Hattin and the Third Crusade. Yet, within 50 years it had recovered a great deal.

On 3 September 1192 Sultan Saladin of Egypt settled the Treaty of Jaffa with the armies of the Third Crusade. This agreement ended a period of bitter conflict between these two embattled factions in which neither side had achieved a decisive victory. The crusaders had acquired some territory during their campaign, but they failed to reconquer Jerusalem; Saladin maintained control of Jerusalem, but the Franks remained a presence on the Levantine coast.


Reflecting on this agreement Saladin is reported to have commented soon afterwards:

“‘I fear to make peace, not knowing what may become of me. Our enemy will grow strong, now that they have retained these lands. They will come forth to recover the rest of their lands and you will see every one of them ensconced on his hill-top’ meaning his castle.” ~ Baha’ al-Din ibn Shaddad

Saladin was entirely accurate in this assessment. Over the next five decades the kingdom of Jerusalem, and to some extent the northern Crusader States of Antioch and Tripoli, managed to recover much of the territory they had lost following their defeat at the battle of Hattin in 1187. By 1244 the Kingdom of Jerusalem had regained control over most of its former territories to the west of the Jordan river including the city of Jerusalem. It never restored all the territories it had possessed during the previous century, but as a military and economic power it re-acquired at least some of its former prominence.


Of course we know in hindsight that the Crusader States ultimately declined steeply in the late thirteenth century, with the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s final collapse taking place with the fall of Acre in 1291, but this still leaves open the question of how the kingdom was able to recoup at least some of its losses in the earlier part of the century.

At first glance, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was not well placed in the wake of the Third Crusade. It consisted of merely three cities – Tyre, Acre and Jaffa – and while two of these cities were major trading emporiums supporting large commercial revenues, the kingdom possessed very little hinterland. By contrast, the Ayyubid Empire (the empire founded by Saladin’s dynasty) was vast, encompassing much of Egypt, Syria and the Jazira. From a balance-of-power perspective, the prognosis was not good for the kingdom, especially once the 3-year peace arranged in 1192 had run out. So how then did the Kingdom of Jerusalem bring about its partial recovery?

Part of the answer to this question lies in the continued arrival of crusading forces from Western Christendom. The Third Crusade’s failure to seize control over Jerusalem did not discourage many later rulers and armies from seeking the same objective. Consequently in 1197, 1204, 1217-1221, 1227-1229, and 1239-1241 new crusading forces arrived and conducted military operations either along the kingdom’s borders or in the Nile Delta (seeking to conquer Egypt). None of these campaigns proved especially effective on the battlefield and the largest of these expeditions, the Fifth Crusade (active militarily: 1217-1221), ended in disaster for the crusading forces. Even so, in many cases these campaigns did manage to secure incremental territorial gains, especially via diplomacy with neighbouring Ayyubid rulers. The most famous example of this is the crusade led by the German Emperor Frederick II. This campaign involved hardly any fighting at all and yet at the negotiating table in 1229 Frederick managed to secure the return of Jerusalem (excluding the Temple Mount) as well as some of the other territories which once formed part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Many of these crusading campaigns also vindicated Saladin’s abovementioned prediction that the Franks would seek to entrench their position in the Levant by constructing castles and fortifications. Consequently, the Fifth Crusaders constructed the coastal fortress at Atlit to the south of Acre; the early contingents of Frederick’s crusade fortified the port of Jaffa; and elements of the Barons’ Crusade (1239-1241) reconstructed the defences surrounding the city of Ascalon.


One of the questions posed by these militarily-unsuccessful, yet diplomatically-fairly-successful crusades is the issue of why the Ayyubid were prepared to concede territory if they had already prevailed on the battlefield. More specifically it might be asked why the Sultan al-Kamil was prepared to hand over Jerusalem without seeking to take the field against Emperor Frederick’s forces.

The answer to this lies in the ongoing infighting consuming the Ayyubid Empire. In the wake of Saladin’s death, the empire was divided between his family members and their ongoing quarrels punctuated the empire’s development throughout its history. In 1229 there were many priorities demanding Sultan al-Kamil’s attention. His main goal seems to have been to conquer his late brother al-Mu’azzam’s (d.1227) former territories which included the city of Damascus and a great deal of surrounding territory in co-operation with another brother called al-Ashraf. He may also have been worried about the possibility that the powerful ruler of the Khwarazmian Empire, Jalal al-Din, whose lands lay on the Ayyubids’ eastern borders, might seek to take advantage of this period of infighting.

There was also the further danger that his longstanding rivals, the Anatolian Seljuks (whose lands encompassed much of central and eastern Anatolia), would pick this moment to attack. These competing threats go some way to explaining the sultan’s decision to yield Jerusalem, rather than open up a new front in his many conflicts. In other cases, the Kingdom of Jerusalem deliberately took sides with one Ayyubid faction against another, requesting territory as the price for its co-operation.


Other developments likewise served to buttress the much-reduced kingdom of Jerusalem. The rise-and-rise of the military orders during this period provided both military and economic advantages for the Crusader States. During this period the military orders of the Temple, Hospital and more recently the Teutonic Knights, rapidly expanded their networks of landholdings, properties and other assets in Western Christendom. These estates existed to despatch one-third of their income to the Crusader States and the combined income they provided for these orders was formidable. These estates also served as marshalling points for crusaders and pilgrims seeking to travel to the Crusader States. Equipped with these resources the military orders could maintain substantial armed forces in the kingdom whilst embarking on the construction of many substantial fortresses.

Another important consideration was the conquest of Cyprus in 1191 by the armies of the Third Crusade. Following its conquest, the island became a kingdom, ruled initially by Guy of Lusignan (former king of Jerusalem). Cyprus offered many advantages for the mainland Crusader States in later decades: it was reasonably wealthy and possessed of several good ports; it was difficult for the Ayyubids to attack; and it was well placed to send reinforcements to support its neighbours – only a few days sail away – should they be needed. In later years several crusading armies used the island as a staging area for their campaigns while it could also provide a place of refuge in times of conflict. In this way, Cyprus provided a degree of economic and demographic depth for the otherwise territorially slender Crusader States on the Levantine coast.

Then underpinning many of these above considerations were the economic prospects of this era. This was a time of burgeoning trade, facilitated and encouraged by many powers across the Near East who invested heavily in new roads, port facilities, markets, and caravanserais. Sitting at the crossroads of many trade routes including the Silk Roads from Central Asia and China, the Spice Routes from India and South-East Asia, and the Black Sea trade routes which led southwards into the Near East, the region was well primed for rapid commercial growth. This benefitted the kingdom of Jerusalem in two ways.

Firstly, commercial income was the backbone of the kingdom’s economy and it relied very heavily on its port cities in this regard, especially Acre and Tyre.  Secondly, the kingdom’s port cities depended on trading caravans passing through Ayyubid Damascus, just as – conversely – Damascus relied on these ports to provide outlets into the Mediterranean trade. This symbiotic relationship provided a strong incentive for the Crusader States and the Ayyubids in Damascus to remain at peace for fear that any conflict would inhibit this trade. A similar situation was also true in the north between the principality of Antioch-Tripoli and the Ayyubid rulers of Aleppo. There are many examples across the medieval world of trade being a major cause of rivalry and conflict, but at this moment in history a shared sense of commercial interest argued more for peace than for war.


For these reasons, when Saladin made the prediction in 1192 that the weak and much-reduced Kingdom of Jerusalem would be able to regain much of its former territory he was absolutely right. Even so, the moment would soon pass. In the years after 1244 the rise of the Mamluk Empire, the advent of the Mongol armies, and the decline of crusading to the Eastern Mediterranean would ultimately conspire to bring about the fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291.

Nicholas Morton is an Associate Professor of History at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. He is the author or editor of several books covering different aspects of Medieval Near Eastern history. These include The Crusader States and their Neighbours: A Military History, 1099-1187 (Oxford University Press, 2020) and The Field of Blood: The Battle for Aleppo and the Remaking of the Medieval Middle East (Basic Books, 2018). You can follow Nicholas on Twitter @NicholasMorto11

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Further Reading:

Nicholas Morton, The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval Near East (Basic Books, 2022)