1. Education

Crusades: Siege of Acre

By

Siege of Acre - Dates & Conflict:

The Siege of Acre took place August 28, 1189 to July 12, 1191, during the Third Crusade (1189-1192).

Commanders

Crusaders

  • Guy of Lusignan
  • Robert de Sable
  • Gerard de Ridefort
  • Richard the Lionheart
  • Philip Augustus

    Ayyubids

  • Saladin

  • Siege of Acre - Background:

    In the wake of his stunning victory at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, Saladin swept through the Holy Land capturing Crusader garrisons. This culminated with the successful Siege of Jerusalem that October. One of the few Crusader cities to withstand Saladin's efforts was Tyre which was administered by Conrad of Montferrat. Unable to take Tyre by force, Saladin attempted to obtain it through negotiation and treaties. Among the items he offered was the King of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, who had been captured at Hattin. Conrad resisted these entreaties, though Guy was ultimately released.

    Approaching Tyre, Guy was refused admission by Conrad as the two had argued over the former's ascension to the throne. Returning with his wife, Queen Sibylla, who held legal title to the kingdom, Guy again was refused entry. Lacking options, Guy established a camp outside of Tyre to await reinforcements from Europe who were responding to the call for a Third Crusade. These arrived in 1188 and 1189 in the form of troops from Sicily and Pisa. Though Guy was able to sway these two groups into his camp, he was unable to come to an accord with Conrad. Requiring a base from which to attack Saladin, he moved south to Acre.

    Opening Stages:

    One of the most heavily fortified cities in the region, Acre was located on the Gulf of Haifa and was protected by large double walls and towers. Arriving on August 28, 1189, Guy immediately moved to assault the city despite the fact that the garrison was twice the size of his army while Sicilian ships began a blockade offshore. This attack was easily defeated by the Muslim troops and Guy began a siege of the city. He was soon reinforced by a variety of soldiers arriving from Europe as well as by a Danish and Frisian fleet which relieved the Sicilians.

    The Battle of Acre:

    Among the arrivals was Louis of Thuringia who convinced Conrad to provide military aid. This development concerned Saladin and he moved to strike Guy's camp on September 15. This attack was repulsed though the Muslim army remained in the area. On October 4, Saladin again approached the city and began the Battle of Acre. In a day of bloody fighting, the strategic situation changed little as he was unable to dislodge the Crusaders from in front of the city. As the autumn passed, word reached Acre that Frederick I Barbarossa was marching to the Holy Land with a large army.

    The Siege Continues:

    Seeking to end the standoff, Saladin increased the size of his army and laid siege to the Crusaders. As the double siege ensued, the two sides contested control of the waters off Acre. This saw both sides exert control for period which allowed additional supplies to reach the city and the Crusader camp. On May 5, 1190, the Crusaders attacked the city but achieved little. Responding, Saladin launched a massive eight-day attack on the Crusaders two weeks later. This was thrown back and through the summer additional reinforcements arrived to bolster the Crusader ranks.

    Though their numbers were increasing, conditions in the Crusader camp were deteriorating as food and clean water were limited. Through 1190, disease ran rampant killing both soldiers and nobles. Among those who died was Queen Sibylla. Her death reignited the succession debate between Guy and Conrad leading to increased dissention in the Crusader ranks. Sealed in on land by Saladin's army, the Crusaders suffered through the winter of 1190-1191 as the weather prevented receiving reinforcements and supplies by sea. Attacking the city on December 31 and again on January 6, the Crusaders were again turned back.

    The Tide Turns:

    On February 13, Saladin attacked and succeeded in fighting his way through to the city. Though the Crusaders ultimately sealed the breach, the Muslim leader was able to replenish the garrison. As the weather improved, supply ships began reaching the Crusaders at Acre. Along with fresh provisions, they brought additional troops under the command of Duke Leopold V of Austria. They also brought word that King Richard I the Lionheart of England and King Philip II Augustus were en route with two armies. Arriving with a Genoese fleet on April 20, Philip began constructing siege engines for assaulting Acre's walls.

    He was joined on June 8 by Richard who landed with 8,000 men. Richard initially sought a meeting with Saladin, though this was cancelled when the English leader fell ill. Effectively taking control of the siege, Richard pounded away at Acre's walls, but attempts to exploit the damage were thwarted by diversionary attacks by Saladin. These allowed the city's defenders to make needed repairs while the Crusaders were otherwise occupied. On July 3, a major breach was created in Acre's walls, but the subsequent assault was repulsed. Seeing little alternative, the garrison offered to surrender on July 4.

    This offer was refused by Richard who rejected the terms offered by the garrison. Additional efforts on Saladin's part to relieve the city failed and following a major battle on July 11, the garrison again offered to surrender. This was accepted and the Crusaders entered the city. In victory, Conrad had the banners of Jerusalem, England, France, and Austria raised over the city.

    Aftermath of the Siege of Acre

    In the wake of the city's capture, the Crusaders began quarreling amongst themselves. This saw Leopold return to Austria after Richard and Philip, both kings, refused to treat him as an equal. On July 31, Philip also departed to settle pressing issues in France. As a result, Richard was left in sole command of the Crusader army. Crushed by the city's surrender, Saladin began gathering resources to ransom the garrison and conduct a prisoner exchange.

    Displeased by the exclusion of certain Christian nobles, Richard refused Saladin's first payment on August 11. Further talks were broken off and on August 20, feeling that Saladin was delaying, Richard ordered 2,700 prisoners executed. Saladin retaliated in kind, killing those Christian prisoners in his possession. Departing Acre on August 22 with the army, Richard moved south with the intention of capturing Jaffa. Pursued by Saladin, the two fought the Battle of Arsuf on September 7 with Richard achieving a victory.

    Selected Sources

  • History of War: Siege of Acre
  • HistoryNet: Siege of Acre
  • Medieval Sourcebook: Siege and Capture of Acre

    1. About.com
    2. Education
    3. Military History
    4. Conflicts & Battles
    5. Battles & Wars: 1001-1200
    6. Siege of Acre - Crusades Siege of Acre

    ©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.