Saladin’s Letter

Top: Death of Amalric I; Bottom: Coronation of Baldwin IV. (MS of William of Tyre's Historia and Old French Continuation, painted in Acre, 13C. Bib. Nat. Française.)

May God bestow upon the glorified king, the guardian of Jerusalem, ever-increasing fortune, joyous felicity, abundant wealth, and long-lasting success. May He bless him with inherited reign over his people. May He guide him well through whatever fate may bring or cause.

This letter was written by the Ayyubid sultan Saladin in the late summer of 1174. Some readers might be surprised to learn that the recipient was Baldwin IV, the crusader King of Jerusalem.

This letter has just been edited and translated by Elon Harvey in the the latest issue of the journal Crusades. It focuses on what the letter had to say and why Saladin might have sent it.

On July 11, 1174, King Amaury of Jerusalem died, and a few days later his thirteen-year-old son was crowned. This letter from Saladin to Baldwin was written to express condolences about the loss of his father, which was done in very sympathetic terms. The Ayyubid ruler calls the Crusader ruler “our friend” and praises him as “the just and greatest king.” He then adds, “How could you expect that a master in his abode will not feel devastated when his neighbors have experienced loss!”

Harvey notes the idea of Saladin and Amaury being friends is not far-fetched. He notes that they met at the end of Amaury’s siege of Alexandria in 1167, in which the city was defended by Saladin. After a pleasant meeting at the king’s camp, the two continued to have communications in the years afterward.

Saladin’s letter also offers pleasant words to Baldwin himself, writing that God “made us forget the disaster by maintaining things in order through his heir. He has given him two pleasant gifts: his kingdom and his youth. May he enjoy what he has achieved.”

The final section offers a more political reason for the letter: Saladin wants to maintain the good relations with Baldwin that he had with his father. He writes:

We have reached out to the king with our letter, with our desire, and with our love which he has inherited from his father who was loved by us. Let him respond to this salutation in a like manner. Let him do what is right, so that he may be considered among the righteous. Let him know that, like his father, he has from us a pure love, a true faith, an affection that is strong in life and death, and a heart which has been strengthened in this life by loyalty despite the religious differences. Let him be at ease with us trustingly and without bashfulness. Let him rely on us, as the son who carries the burden which his father had carried before him.

Historians have speculated that this letter is evidence that the Ayyubids had some type of alliance with the Crusader kingdom, or at least an understanding that two states were not enemies. Harvey speculates that Saladin wanted to signal to Baldwin and his court that he wanted peace at this time, and not to interfere with military expeditions in Syria.

You can read the article “Saladin Consoles Baldwin IV over the Death of His Father”, by Elon Harvey in Crusades, Volume 15 (2016).

You can also read more about Saladin and events in the Near East in our latest issue of Medieval Warfare, which focuses on the Battle of Hattin.

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