Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. History Dept.


K.F. Gillum


As the title suggests, this paper is concerned primarily with Saladin as an ideal Arab leader of the period of the Crusades, emphasizing especially the years of his career, 1169 - 1193. To do this, however, one must see Saladin in his historical context as a man of the twelfth century, whose political, religious, moral and cultural assumptions were predetermined for him by the time and place in which he lived. Certain basic problems of the Near East---the strategic geographic position of the region, which has caused it time and again to be invaded and fought over, the scarcity of land, and the large number of diverse and mutually exclusive racial and religious groups, which have given rise to acute political instability---have existed since ancient times. In the two thousand years before Saladin, the Near East had been organized politically under the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Byzantines, but it was only with the Muslim invasions of the seventh century that a religio-political system of the ruling elite was accepted by the common people. This study, then, begins with the rise of Islam, tracing, only briefly its external expansion and concentrating on its internal development---the methods of political and military organization which were developed under the Umayyad (661-750) and 'Abbasid (75O-124Q) caliphates and which were still in use at the time of Saladin. By the twelfth century, however, the Saljuq Turks had overrun the Near East and, while adapting 'Abbasid military organization, had all but destroyed the administrative bureaucracy which had guaranteed political stability for the past five hundred years. In these troublous times lived two great military organizers, the Saljuq Turk, Imad-ad-Din Zengi (1127-1146) and his son, Nur-ad-Din Mahmud (1146-1174), whose methods and ideals were in a large measure copied by Saladin. Saladin, then, far from being an innovator, was one of those men in history who bring an already-developed system to its logical conclusion. It was Saladin who used the concept of the appointed leader of the jihad ("holy war") to organize on a quasi-feudal basis the warring Arab amirs (commanders of small personal armies) against the challenge of the Latin Crusades., It was Saladin who, profiting from the experience of his predescessors, was able to bold the key points of the Near East without fatally overextending himself. In spite of all this, Saladin was limited in many ways. The situation of unremitting warfare prevented him from converting his temporary military government into a permanent bureaucracy, with the result that the empire which he had built immediately disintegrated upon his death. The fact that he was nominally only a caliphal agent put him under moral obligation to obey the 'Abbasid caliph of Baghdad; the fact that no Arab leader could carry out long-term conquests without a large, composite feudal force with many mamluks (slave-soldiers) hindered his effectiveness. Saladin inherited a tradition of personal rule, in which one man was expected to combine in himself the functions of military, administrative, judicial and religious leader---an impossible situation. He also lived in a century in which religious observance often took precedence over immediate practical advantage, and thus was on several occasions forced to relinquish his military advantage for religious considerations. Although distinguished from his contemporaries by his unusual generosity, clemency and insight into human nature, Saladin was very much a man of his century. Forced to conform to the mores of his time and place in order to succeed, and indeed, to survive, he was also prevented by this conformity from realizing full success. His heritage provided him with a framework in which to do great things, but also by its very nature limited the extent of his great deeds.


Saladin, -- Sultan of Egypt and Syria, -- 1137-1193


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