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Crusades: Battle of Montgisard

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Crusades: Battle of Montgisard

Battle of Montgisard, 1177 by Charles Philippe Larivière

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Montgisard - Conflict:

The Battle of Montgisard took place November 25, 1177, and was part of the Ayyubid-Crusader War (1177-1187) which was fought between the Second and Third Crusades.

Armies & Commanders:

Crusaders

  • King Baldwin IV
  • Raynald of Chatillon
  • Odo de St Amand
  • 375 knights, 80 Templars, several thousand infantry

Ayyubids

Battle of Montgisard - Background:

In 1177, the Kingdom of Jerusalem faced two major crises, one from within and one from without. Internally, the issue involved who would succeed sixteen year-old King Baldwin IV, who, as a leper, would not produce any heirs. The most likely candidate was the child of his pregnant, widowed sister Sibylla. While the nobles of the kingdom sought a new husband for Sibylla, the situation was complicated by the arrival of Philip of Alsace who demanded that she be married to one of his vassals. Evading Philip's request, Baldwin sought to form an alliance with the Byzantine Empire with the goal of striking at Egypt.

While Baldwin and Philip schemed over Egypt, the leader of the Ayyubids, Saladin, began preparing to attack Jerusalem from his base in Egypt. Moving with 27,000 men, Saladin marched into Palestine. Though he lacked Saladin's numbers, Baldwin mobilized his forces with the goal of mounting a defense at Ascalon. As he was young and weakened by his disease, Baldwin gave effective command of his forces to Raynald of Chatillon. Marching with 375 knights, 80 Templars under Odo de St Amand, and several thousand infantry, Baldwin arrived at the town and was quickly blockaded by a detachment of Saladin's army.

Battle of Montgisard - Baldwin Triumphant:

Confident that Baldwin, with his smaller force, would not attempt to interfere, Saladin moved slowly and looted the villages of Ramla, Lydda and Arsuf. In doing so, he allowed his army to become dispersed over a large area. At Ascalon, Baldwin and Raynald managed to escape by moving along the coast and marched on Saladin with the goal of intercepting him before he reached Jerusalem. On November 25, they encountered Saladin at Montgisard, near Ramla. Caught by total surprise, Saladin raced to reconcentrate his army for battle.

Anchoring his line on a nearby hill, Saladin's options were limited as his cavalry was spent by the march from Egypt and subsequent looting. As his army looked upon Saladin's, Baldwin summoned the Bishop of Bethlehem to ride forward and raise aloft a piece of the True Cross. Prostrating himself before the sacred relic, Baldwin asked God for success. Forming for battle, Baldwin and Raynald's men charged the center of the Saladin's line. Breaking through, they put the Ayyubids to rout, driving them from the field. The victory was so complete that the Crusaders succeeded in capturing Saladin's entire baggage train.

Battle of Montgisard - Aftermath:

While exact casualties for the Battle of Montgisard are not known, reports indicate that only ten percent of Saladin's army returned safely to Egypt. Among the dead was the son of Saladin's nephew, Taqi ad-Din. Saladin only escaped the slaughter by riding a racing camel to safety. For the Crusaders, approximately 1,100 were killed and 750 wounded. While Montgisard proved a dramatic victory for the Crusaders, it was the last of their successes. Over the next ten years, Saladin would renew his efforts to take Jerusalem, finally succeeding in 1187.

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