Roman empire

Syria and Palestine: from the 6th century BC

The Roman rulers are not the first to link Syria administratively with Palestine. In the late 6th century Darius makes Syria and Palestine, together with Cyprus, the fifth satrapy of his empire. During the Seleucid dynasty Syria and Palestine are under joint control in the 2nd century. Then, for some 700 years from the 1st century BC, the Roman and Byzantine empires unite the region.

The three main cities are the very ancient Damascus and the more recent Antioch in Syria, and Jerusalem in Palestine. Of these it is Jerusalem which has a turbulent history in Roman times. The Jews of Palestine prove exceptionally hard to govern.

Herod the Great: 37-4 BC

In Palestine one rich local family increasingly enjoys Roman favour - that of Herod. The family are practising Jews, though not descended from one of the tribes of Israel, and they seem able to deliver the stability which the Roman empire requires in the region.

Herod is in Rome in 40 BC, when the senate appoints him king of Judaea (the Roman name for the area round Jerusalem). He returns to the east with a Roman army, and by 37 BC is firmly in control of his new kingdom. He will rule it till his death in 4 BC, becoming known to history as Herod the Great.

Herod and his successors: 37 BC - AD 66

Herod proves a great builder. He founds new Roman cities, in particular Caesarea (now Qesari, on the coast south of Haifa), which later becomes the capital of Roman Palestine. And he creates a spectacular new Temple on the holy mount in Jerusalem (see the Temple in Jerusalem).

But many of his actions are violent. In an outburst of jealousy he kills not only a favourite wife, Mariamne, but also her grandfather, mother, brother and two sons. He could well have been capable of the Massacre of the infants of Bethlehem (if so in about 4 BC, the last year of his life), but the gospel account of this incident is inherently improbable as history - and no mention is made of the atrocity until Christian documents of a century later.

In his will Herod divides his large kingdom between three of his sons. Their inability to control an increasingly turbulent Palestine prompts Rome to give more power to its provincial governors, or procurators. But they have no greater success in pacifying the Jewish people, resentful of Roman rule and horrified by any encroachment of Roman religious symbolism (which by now includes the idolatrous theme of a divine emperor).

This is the period when the Zealots emerge - a radical political group committed to the ending of Roman rule in Palestine, using terrorism as one of its main forms of argument.

The impossibility of a working relationship between the Jewish and Roman authorities is well suggested in the New Testament account of the last days of Jesus Christ. The Jews of the Sanhedrin are determined that he shall die for blasphemy, but they want the Roman governor of Judaea (Pontius Pilate) to condemn him. Jerusalem is in Pilate's province, but he tries to shift the responsibility on to Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great who is ruling Galilee - on the grounds that Galilee is where Jesus comes from.

The lack of effective government implicit in this story is now typical of Palestine, apart from a brief period starting in AD 41. In that year Herod Agrippa is appointed king of Judaea.

Herod Agrippa is a grandson of Herod the great and of the Hasmonaean princess Mariamne. He therefore has a direct link with a great Jewish dynasty. He also, like Herod the great, has valuable contacts in Rome. He has been friendly since childhood with the family of Claudius, and Claudius - in his first year as emperor - appoints Agrippa to the kingdom of Judaea.

For a while, under the rule of this devout Jew who has the confidence of Rome, Palestine seems set to enjoy again the stability associated with the long reign of Herod the great. But Agrippa dies after only three years, in AD 44. The region returns to Roman governors and revolutionary ferment.

Civil unrest: AD 44-66

The violent creed of the Zealots now acquires growing support, reinforced by their assassination of Jews who collaborate with the Romans. The Zealots have an alarming habit of wandering among the crowd on public occasions, with short daggers under their garments, and stabbing opponents before melting away unseen among a populace increasingly supportive of their aims (or else plain terrified).

Zealots are prominent in a popular uprising which in AD 66 expels the Romans from Jerusalem, and in the revolutionary government which then briefly rules Palestine. Their violent behaviour in power outrages many of their previous supporters. But they remain at the heart of resistance to the Romans.

Vespasian and Titus: AD 67-70

Nero sends a veteran general, Vespasian, to put down the rebellion in Judaea; and Vespasian involves his own son, Titus, in the campaign. Together father and son make steady progress in recovering Palestine, until the suicide of Nero in Rome prompts the crisis which has caused AD 69 to become known as the 'Year of the four emperors'.

The last of the four candidates, and the only survivor of that year, is Vespasian. Marching back to Rome, he leaves Titus in command of the campaign in Judaea.

By the year 70 Titus is besieging Jerusalem. With an impressive array of Battering rams and catapults, he succeeds in demolishing parts of the city wall against strong resistance from the Jews. The siege lasts six months. Josephus, a Jewish historian who is with the Roman forces, provides vivid details of famine and cannibalism within the beleaguered city.

Those who attempt to escape, as refugees, fare little better. Appalling horrors follow the discovery that one such fugitive has swallowed his wealth in the form of gold coins.

Josephus claims that Titus, no doubt aware of the Temple's contents, attempts to save it from harm. He says that Jewish partisans first set fire to the Temple colonnade after enticing Roman soldiers into a trap. Whatever the truth, the great building with its golden trimmings is soon destroyed by fire and by looting Romans. The best loot, taken by Titus himself, later features prominently on Titus's triumphal arch in Rome.

So ends the central shrine of Judaism. In the words of Josephus, 'neither its long history, nor its vast wealth, nor its people dispersed through the whole world, nor the unparalleled renown of its worship could avert its ruin'. The destruction of the Temple is another turning point in Jewish history (see the Temple in Jerusalem).

Masada: AD 73

For three years groups of Zealots hold out against Roman domination in a few rocky fortresses in Palestine. The last to fall, Masada, is the most dramatic site of all.

Standing high and sheer on the western shore of the Dead Sea, Masada is a natural stronghold. Its top forms a large flat area of some 20 acres. Herod the great has recently added to the defences of the summit, providing powerful walls, an administrative building, storehouses for grain and massive reservoirs for natural water. A Roman garrison here is massacred in the Jewish rebellion of AD 66. The Zealots, occupying the fortress, build a synagogue, ritual baths and family houses.

After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Jews of Masada - under an inspirational leader, Eleazar ben Jair - prepare for a siege by the Romans. In 72 the tenth legion arrives in the plain below, armed with elaborate Siege engines. For several months they make little impact on the stone defences. But eventually flaming torches, catapulted against a temporary wall, succeed in starting a fire.

Eleazar decides that the time has come to make a dramatic end. In the words of Josephus, 'he had a clear picture of what the Romans would do to men, women and children if they won the day; and death seemed to him the right choice for them all'.

Without any sense of irony, Josephus - who has himself escaped deceitfully from a suicide pact urged upon his followers - describes with admiration the oratory by which Eleazar persuades the Jews of Masada to die, and the courageous discipline with which the deed is carried out.

Each man, after final caresses and tears, kills his wife and children. He then lies down beside them, for his own throat to be cut by one of the ten men selected by lot for this task. Then the ten draw lots as to who among them shall die first. The final survivor kills himself - the only case of suicide in the death of 960 men, women and children. Two women, who escape by hiding, live to tell the tale.

It is a matter of controversy, particularly in Israel, how much reliance can be placed on Josephus' account of these events. Archaeological excavations in 1963-5 were at first assumed to provide evidence of his heroic version, though the findings of human remains or artefacts were relatively scanty. Thirty years later doubt is cast by some on the reliability of the first archaeological assumptions.

Underlying the controversy is the debate about Israel today. Was Eleazar ben Jair a heroic nationalist or a bigoted extremist preferring death to compromise? The question of whether peace was possible with Rome becomes transferred to opposing ideas of the peace process in Israel in the 1990s.

The last Jewish rebellion: AD 132-135

For two generations an uneasy truce prevails between the Jews and their Roman conquerors. Although there is no Temple in Jerusalem and the city has been largely destroyed, the Jews continue to worship freely in their synagogues.

But any suggestion of calm is shattered after the emperor Hadrian, visiting Jerusalem in AD 130, decides to rebuild it as a Roman city. It is to be called Aelia Capitolina, echoing the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Most offensive of all is the emperor's plan for Jerusalem's most prominent hill, the Temple mount.

On the ruined Temple mount there is to be a shrine to Jupiter, in which Hadrian himself will be honoured. Jewish opposition to this sacrilege is led by Simon Bar-Cochba, calling himself the prince of Israel. Simon's prestige increases dramatically when a leading rabbi recognizes him as the Messiah. In 132 his Jewish forces defeat a Roman legion and capture Jerusalem.

Not till 135, after a large army has been sent to regain control, is Jerusalem recovered by the Romans. In a bitter campaign, fought village by village throughout the region, half a million lives are lost. The whole area of Palestine is devastated. Aelia Capitolina becomes, for the moment, an unimportant provincial town.

In the reprisals after Simon Bar-Cochba's revolt, the Jews are forbidden to set foot in Jerusalem. They even seem to have been expelled from the surrounding region of Judaea. Only further north, in Galilee, do they retain a presence within their ancient kingdom of Israel.

There is by now another significant community in Jerusalem - the Christians, who have played no part in the recent rebellion. They survive within the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina. Two centuries later these Christians in jerusalem, and the city, benefit from a change of religious policy in the Roman empire.

Byzantine empire

Christian Palestine: 4th - 7th century AD

The adoption of Christianity as the state religion, by the emperor Constantine, gives Jerusalem a new status. Pilgrims begin to arrive, among them even the mother of the emperor, Helena, whose significant achievement - so the story goes - is to discover the actual or True cross on which Christ died.

Pilgrims bring wealth, and the interest of the imperial family results in important new buildings. Constantine establishes the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, commemorating the departure of Christ from this earth; Helena builds a church in Bethlehem to do the same for his arrival. This region has a significance in the world again. The bishop of Jerusalem becomes a great dignitary, as the Patriarch of Palestine.

During these Christian centuries the might of neighbouring Persia remains a threat to the security of Palestine and Syria, though local unrest is more often the result of passionate disagreement over Christian doctrine.

However, the capture of Antioch by the Persian emperor Khosrau i in 540 is an unpleasant shock. It is also a foretaste of disastrous experiences at the hands of the Persians a few decades later. The Christian cities of the Middle East are caught up in the last great Persian onslaught against Byzantium, launched in the early 7th century by Khosrau ii.

The first Christian city to fall to Khosrau's armies is Antioch, in 611. Damascus follows in 613. In the spring of 614 a Persian army enters Palestine and moves through the countryside, burning churches. Only the church built by St helena in Bethlehem is spared; the Persians recognize themselves in the costumes of the Magi, seen bringing their gifts to the infant Jesus in a mosaic above the entrance.

The army reaches Jerusalem in April. The Patriarch urges the inhabitants to surrender, so as to avoid bloodshed, but they resist for a month. When the city falls, it is said that some 60,000 Christians are massacred and another 35,000 sold into slavery.

From the point of view of the Christian hierarchy, far away in Constantinople, the Persians commit one even greater affront. After sacking Jerusalem, they carry off to Ctesiphon the most holy relic of Christendom, the True cross of Christ.

Its restoration to Jerusalem becomes an urgent matter of state.

Recovering the relic: AD 622-629

Under the emperor Heraclius, Byzantium has been quietly regaining its strength. In622 Heraclius feels ready to take the field against the Persians. His successes are as rapid and spectacular as the reverses of the previous decade. By 624 he has swept through Asia Minor and Armenia to reach Azerbaijan, to the north of Persia between the Black Sea and the Caspian.

Here, as if avenging the violation of the True Cross, he destroys one of the most sacred fire temples of Zoroastrianism.

In the next few years the swings of fortune become even more extreme. In 626 a Persian army reaches the Bosphorus, but fails to cross the water to support a siege of Constantinople's massive walls by a barbarian horde of Slavs and Avars. In 627 a Byzantine army under Heraclius penetrates Mesopotamia far enough to defeat the Persians at Nineveh and destroy Khosrau's palace at Ctesiphon.

From a position of strength Heraclius negotiates the return of the True Cross. He takes it back to be displayed in Constantinople, and then personally returns it, in 629, to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. But the relic proves powerless against the next threat to Jerusalem in 638.


The Arab conquests: 7th century AD

One of the most dramatic and sudden movements of any people in history is the expansion, by conquest, of the Arabs in the 7th century (only the example of the Mongols in the 13th century can match it). The desert tribesmen of Arabia form the bulk of the Muslim armies. Their natural ferocity and love of warfare, together with the sense of moral rectitude provided by their new religion, form an irresistible combination.

When Muhammad dies in 632, the western half of Arabia is Muslim. Two years later the entire peninsula has been brought to the faith, and the Arab nomads are Muslim in the desert to the east of Palestine and Syria.

The great Christian cities of Syria and Palestine fall to the Arabs in rapid succession from635. Damascus, in that year, is the first to be captured. Antioch follows in 636. And 638 brings the greatest prize of all, in Muslim terms, when Jerusalem is taken after a year's siege.

It is a moment of profound significance for the young religion, for Islam sees itself as the successor of Judaism and Christianity. The city of the people of Moses, in which Jesus also preaches and dies, is a holy place for Muslims too. Moses and Jesus are Muhammad's predecessors as prophets. A link with Muhammad himself will also soon emerge in Jerusalem.

Muslim JerusaleCREATE TABLE HEADINGS(HN_HEADINGS VARCHAR(255),Column_2 VARCHAR(255),heading TEXT,Column_4 VARCHAR(255),Column_5 VARCHAR(255) -- ,Column_6 VAm: from the 7th century AD

The courtesy of the Arab captor of Jerusalem, in his treatment of the Christian defenders, has become legendary. He is Omar, the second caliph (his young daughter, Hafsa, is one of Muhammad's widows). Entering the city on a white camel, he is invited by the Christian patriarch to pray in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. He declines - on the grounds that if he does so, his followers will wish to turn the building into a mosque.

Instead he turns his attention to the Temple Mount, site of both Solomon's and Herod's temples, which has remained in ruins since the Destruction of the temple by the Romans six centuries earlier. Here Omar builds a mosque. And from here, it is later believed, his father-in-law Muhammad ascends one night to heaven.

The mosque built by Omar no longer exists (its name, al-Aqsa, is reused for a subsequent building). Soon, under another caliph, the Temple Mount acquires the magnificent monument which is the third holiest shrine in Islam after Mecca and Medina. This is the Dome of the rock (Al-Qubbat as-Sakhrah), covering the bare rock at the highest point of the Temple Mount - later also believed by the faithful to be the place from which Muhammad ascends. Jerusalem is launched on its long career as a largely Muslim city.

The caliph has two good reasons to build a superb shrine here. He wants to attract pilgrims (Mecca is in the hands of a rival), and he wants to outdo in splendour the domed Christian church of the Holy sepulchre.

The Dome of the Rock: AD 691

The Dome of the Rock, completed in 691 and the earliest surviving example of Muslim architecture, borrows in spectacular fashion the themes of Byzantine mosaic and Domed roof. This city of Jerusalem, taken from the Christians only half a century previously, still has the skills and crafts first developed for use in imperial churches.

The dome itself is a great wooden structure. The caliph has both interior and exterior of the shrine lavishly decorated in a combination of polished marble and glittering glass mosaic against a gold background. Much of the material is acquired in Constantinople, and it is possible that some of the craftsmen are imported with it.

It is appropriate that The dome of the Rock is the world's only historic building with 'dome' in its title. For this shrine has a profound influence in making The dome a feature of Islamic architecture.

The originality of The dome of the Rock is the flamboyance of The dome itself, equal in height to the rest of the building and brightly gilded. Seen from a distance, The dome virtually is the building. Situated on the highest point of a hill, this is a dramatic architectural statement - and one which will be widely copied.

The caliphate in Damascus: AD 661-750

When the first Umayyad caliph becomes firmly established, after 661, he makes Damascus his capital. Syria begin a century at the centre of affairs, a position reflected in the superb Umayyad mosque in Damascus. It is built in 705 on the site of a Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist (whose supposed tomb the mosque still contains).

Unrest between rival Arab factions leads to a revolt in Persia in 747. It is headed by descendants of al-Abbas, an uncle of the prophet Muhammad. Abbasid forces reach and capture Damascus in 750. The Umayyads are hunted down and destroyed. Under the new Abbasid caliphate, the centre of the Muslim world shifts to Mesopotamia and the new city of Baghdad.

Egyptian masters: 9th - 11th century AD

In 877 a Mameluke sultan of Egypt sweeps up through Palestine and Syria. His invasion begins more than two centuries of Egyptian dominance - a familiar situation in this part of the world at many periods of history. Separated from Mesopotamia by a broad swathe of desert, this half of the Fertile Crescent is more easily controlled by Mamelukes in Cairo than from Baghdad.

Three successive Egyptian dynasties (Tulunid, Ikhshidid and Fatimid) retain power in the region until the late 11th century. By then there are new contenders on the scene - the Seljuk turks, and the Christian Crusaders.


The Christian recovery of Jerusalem: AD 1099

Although Palestine and Syria have been in Muslim hands since the 7th century, many of the inhabitants are still Christian. Moreover the region has in recent years been fought over by two rival Muslim powers, the Seljuk turks and the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt. In these circumstances there is an element of welcome for the crusaders.

On June 7 they reach their destination, arriving outside the mighty walls of Jerusalem. The city is at present held by the Fatimids. In the heat of the summer the crusaders toil for five weeks building two huge siege towers. Finally, in mid-July, they push them into place. On July 15 they breach the walls.

The resulting massacre of the Muslims and the Jews of Jerusalem shocks even medieval public opionion. The only Muslims to escape are the garrison of the main keep of the city, the tower of David. For a large quantity of treasure they are allowed to leave unharmed.

All other Muslims are slaughtered wherever they may be, in streets or houses or holy places. Many lock themselves in one of their holiest shrines, the Al-aqsa mosque. Crusaders force the door and slay them. The Jews suffer a similar fate when they take refuge in their chief synagogue. It is burnt with them all inside. One of the crusaders describes these scenes in Jerusalem as a 'just and wonderful judgement of God'.

The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem: 12th century AD

With the official purpose of the crusade achieved, in the recovery of Jerusalem and the Holy sepulchre, attention turns to a problem of at least equal concern to many of the crusaders - how to establish feudal kingdoms in the captured territories, with fiefs of land distributed to nobles and their followers in due degree.

The administration of Palestine and Syria evolves over the next ten years, as more areas are annexed. By 1109 the region consists of four feudal states. Jerusalem is a kingdom, whose king is owed allegiance by the other three rulers. Antioch is a principality. Tripoli and Edessa are counties, the fiefs of hereditary counts.

These regions form a continuous strip along the east Mediterranean. The coastal towns benefit from increased trade as ships from Venice, Genoa and Barcelona arrive with supplies, reinforcements and pilgrims. They return home with the pilgrims and a cargo of eastern goods for the markets of the west.

Enabling pilgrims to reach the holy places of Palestine has been one of the main purposes of the crusade. Protecting pilgrims from illness or attack is seen as an important task for the crusaders once they are in Palestine (where they become known as the Franks, since the majority are French or Norman and their language is French). These duties prompt the founding of two famous orders of knighthood, the Knights of st john and the Templars.

The years before the fall of Edessa: AD 1099-1144

In the early years of the Latin kingdom the crusaders establish themselves in Palestine more securely than might have been expected. The Fatimids of Egypt attack Jerusalem in 1105 but are repelled. Thereafter the Latin kingdom seems to settle down as one power among many in an unsettled region, taking part in the endemic local warfare but not in any fanatically sectarian mood. Nor are the neighbouring states particularly inflamed against the Christians, in spite of the crusaders' appalling treatment of Muslim Jerusalem.

One exception to this surprising mood of tolerance is the Turkish governor of Mosul.

Zangi, the governor of Mosul, is a Mameluke appointed to his position in 1127 by the Seljuk Turks. He immediately begins to extend his power westwards, taking Aleppo in 1128. Recognizing that the presence of the crusaders can be used to unify the Muslims of this fragmented region under his own leadership, he urges a jihad against the intruders. The Arabic word means any struggle on behalf of Islam, the extreme form of which is a holy war.

From Aleppo, Zangi is well placed to threaten the elongated line of Crusader states at a vulnerable point between Antioch and Edessa. But first he tries to make a more direct advance on Jerusalem, through Damascus.

Zangi fails to take Damascus, which is held by an independent Muslim dynasty, but eventually he strikes, in 1144, against Edessa. After a four-week siege the city falls to him, soon followed by the rest of this northern crusader territory. Zangi's campaign breaks the Christian barrier which for half a century has separated the Turks of Iran from the Turks of Anatolia.

The Muslims of the Middle East discover a new sense of purpose, while the loss of Edessa causes consternation in western Christendom. The pope preaches a second crusade, urging the kings and princes of Europe to go to the defence of their colleagues in the east.

A new crusade: AD 1147-1148

The second crusade, departing in 1147, has much more distinguished leadership than the first. One army is taken east by the king of France, Louis VII, and another by the German king, Conrad III.

The expedition is on all fronts a disaster. Nine tenths of the German army and half the French are destroyed by Turkish forces while trying to make their way across Anatolia. The two kings eventually arrive in Palestine by sea to join the remnants of their forces. Together, in July 1148, they make an ill-conceived and ill-prepared attack on the rich city of Damascus. After a pathetic effort lasting only four days, the crusaders' siege of the city is abandoned.

After this fiasco Conrad hurries home to Germany. Louis lingers in Jerusalem until the following summer. The loss of face is considerable. But more significant damage has also been done to the crusaders' cause.

The Muslim rulers of Damascus have not been hostile to the crusaders, and for a good reason. They share an enemy in the aggressive Zangi, ruler of a broad sweep of territory from Mosul to Aleppo and Edessa. When Damascus is besieged by the crusaders in 1148, Zangi himself is dead, murdered in his sleep by a eunuch in 1146. But his ambition for a jihad is inherited with equal force by his son, Nur ed-Din. And the people of Damascus (though not their rulers) have now lost patience with the Franks.

Ayub and Saladin

Nur ed-Din Ayub and Saladin: AD 1154-1186

When Nur ed-Din arrives in 1154 to besiege Damascus, the inhabitants open the gates to his army. The ruling dynasty is evicted. Nur ed-Din places Ayub, a Kurdish chieftain, in charge of the city.

With Damascus secured to the north of Jerusalem, Nur ed-Din's strategy is to surround the Crusader kingdom by gaining control of Egypt to the south. He sends Syrian armies to support the Fatimid rulers of Egypt against crusader attacks.

Saladin, the son of Ayub (the governor of Damascus), plays a prominent role in these Egyptian campaigns. In 1169 Nur ed-Din appoints him commander of the Syrian forces in Egypt. In 1171 Saladin deposes the Fatimid caliph. Though officially acting on behalf of Nur ed-Din, the young campaigner, aged thirty-three, is now in effect the ruler of Egypt. When Nur ed-Din dies, three years later, he is well placed to assert himself in a wider context.

From his base in Egypt, where he establishes the Ayubid dynasty (named after his father, Ayub, who has died in 1172), Saladin extends his power through Nur ed-Din's extensive territory.

Damascus easily falls to him, thanks to his father's links with the city. Northern Syria and Iraq remain for a while loyal to the family of Nur ed-Din, but by a combination of force and diplomacy (making much of the theme of jihad) Saladin secures control of Aleppo in 1183 and Mosul in 1186.

The entire Muslim world surrounding the Crusader territories, from Egypt to Syria, is now united in a holy cause. Disunity among the Franks soon provides both the opportunity and the pretext for action.

The fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem: AD 1187

In 1185 an 8-year old, Baldwin V, inherits the Kingdom of jerusalem. Rivalries during the regency erupt into virtual civil war when the child dies, only a year later, in 1186. In that same year a Frankish nobleman breaks the terms of a truce with Saladin and plunders a rich caravan making its way from Egypt to Damascus. Travelling with the caravan, as if to aggravate the offence, is Saladin's sister.

In May 1187 Saladin crosses the Jordan into the Kingdom of jerusalem with an army of some 20,000 men. In July he meets a Christian army of about the same size beneath two projecting hills, the Horns of Hattin, west of the sea of Galilee.

The Franks make the mistake of camping overnight on a plateau where the wells are dry. By the morning of the battle, in the July heat, they are desperate with thirst. They are destroyed by Saladin's army. The Kingdom of jerusalem lies open to him. Hattin, in 1187, is the turning point in the story of the crusades.

Saladin spends the next two months securing crusader fortresses in Galilee and on the coast. Acre and Gaza capitulate. Jaffa and Ascalon are besieged and taken. Only Tyre holds out against him. By September he is ready for the final challenge. He besieges Jerusalem. On the last day of the month the city surrenders.

Saladin's lasting reputation among Christians, as a man of chivalry and honour, derives above all from his treatment of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The contrast, eighty-eight years earlier, with the behaviour of the Crusaders in jerusalem could not be greater. Instead of pillage and massacre, there is an orderly handing over of the city. Holy places are respected. A ransom is to be paid for each Christian to depart in freedom, but it is not high. Among those who cannot afford it, many are released by Saladin instead of being sold into slavery.

To the very end, the Christian authorities set an appalling example. The patriarch, after buying his freedom with ten dinars, departs with wagonloads of valuable treasure which could have been used to free fellow Christians.

Egypt and Israel: AD 1956-1973

Saladin's control of Egypt, Damascus and Aleppo, together with his campaign of 1187-8 against the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, brings almost the entire eastern Mediterranean once again under unified rule. The region will remain united during the rest of Saladin's Ayubid dynasty (until 1250), then under the next dynasty in Egypt (that of the Mameluke sultans) and finally under Ottoman rule from Turkey.

The only exceptions, in the short term, are the few strongholds which the Franks retain after 1188 - Tyre, Tripoli and a coastal strip up to Antioch. This region is briefly enlarged by the efforts, in the Third crusade, of Richard I in 1191-2, but a more significant change comes with the fall of the Ayubid dynasty in 1250.

The kings of England and France, Richard I and Philip II, arrive by sea at Acre during the early summer of 1191. On July 12 they accept the surrender of the Muslim garrison, agreeing to spare their lives on stipulated terms (payment of large sums and the release of 1500 Christian prisoners). At the end of the month the king of France, with this symbolic task achieved, sets off home to France. In August Richard, impatient that Saladin has not yet been able to keep the Muslim side of the bargain, orders the massacre of the 2700 members of the captured garrison.

He then sets off on a campaign of conquest - the purpose, after all, of his crusade.

For the next twelve months Richard and Saladin test each other's strength by military and diplomatic means. Richard wins most of the military encounters, often showing outstanding personal courage. But his forces are too few to hold much of Palestine or, the real prize, to take Jerusalem. Time and diplomatic advantage are on Saladin's side.

Eventually a truce is made, in 1192. The Franks are to retain a strip along the coast from Acre down to Jaffa, and Christian pilgrims may freely visit all the holy places of Palestine. With this much accomplished, Richard sets off on a long and disastrous journey (see Richard's journey home).

Mamelukes and Turks

Mamelukes and Mongols: AD 1250-1260

The decade beginning in 1250 provides a succession of dramatic events in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia. In 1250 the last sultan of Saladin's dynasty is murdered in Egypt by the slaves of the palace guard. This enables a Mameluke general, Aybak, to take power. He rules until 1257, when his wife has him killed in a palace intrigue. His place is immediately taken by another Mameluke general, Qutuz.

In the following year, 1258, Baghdad and the caliphate suffer a devastating blow. Mongols, led by Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan, descend upon the city and destroy it. The Middle East appears to be open to conquest and destruction.

In 1259 Hulagu and the Mongols take Aleppo and Damascus. The coastal plain and the route south to Egypt seem open to them. But in 1260 at Ayn Jalut, near Nazareth, they meet the army of the Mameluke sultan of Egypt. It is led into the field by Baybars, a Mameluke general.

In one of the decisive battles of history Baybars defeats the Mongols. It is the first setback suffered by the family of Genghis Khan in their remorseless half century of expansion. This battle defines for the first time a limit to their power. It preserves Palestine and Syria for the Mameluke dynasty in Egypt. Mesopotamia and Persia remain within the Mongol empire.

Baybars and his successors: AD 1260-1517

Baybars is ruthless - in the best Mameluke tradition. Seized as a boy from the Kipchak Turks, north of the Caspian, he has been brought to Egypt as a slave. His talents have enabled him to rise to high command in the Mameluke army. In 1260, the year of his great victory at Ayn Jalut, he defeats and kills his own Mameluke sultan. He is proclaimed in his place by the army.

During his reign of seventeen years Baybars crushes the Assassins in their last strongholds in Syria, drives the Crusaders from Antioch, and extends the rule of Egypt across the Red Sea to control the valuable pilgrim cities of Mecca and medina.

In exercising this extensive rule, Baybars takes the precaution of pretending that he does so on behalf of an Abbasid refugee from the ruins of Baghdad - whom he acclaims as the caliph. His many successors maintain the same fiction. These Mameluke sultans are not a family line, like a traditional dynasty. They are warlords from a military oligarchy who fight and scheme against each other to be acclaimed sultan, somewhat in the manner of the later Roman emperors.

But they manage to keep power in their own joint hands until the rise of a more organized state sharing their own Turkish origins - the Ottoman empire.

The Ottomans, cautious about Mameluke military prowess, tackle other neighbouring powers such as the Persians before approaching Egypt. But in 1517 the Ottoman sultan, Selim i, reaches the Nile delta. He takes Cairo, with some difficulty, and captures and hangs the last Mameluke sultan.

Mameluke rule, spanning nearly three centuries, has been violent and chaotic but not uncivilized. Several of Cairo's finest mosques are built by Mameluke sultans, and for a while these rulers maintain Cairo and Damascus (500 miles apart) as twin capitals. A Pigeon post is maintained between them, and Baybars prides himself on being able to play polo within the same week in the two cities.

The Ottoman centuries: AD 1516-1917

Ottoman rule over the region of Palestine and Syria lasts for four centuries from the arrival of the sultan and his army in 1516. The region is ruled for most of that period by a provincial administration in Damascus. From time to time there is unrest, turmoil and violence - but as if in a vacuum. Firm Ottoman control seals the area from outside influence or intrusion (apart from a few dramatic months in 1799, when Napoleon arrives in the district).

A longer and more significant interlude is the period from 1831 to 1840, when Mohammed ali - the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt - seizes Palestine and Syria from his own master, the sultan.

The military campaign is conducted by Mohammed ali's son, Ibrahim Pasha, who becomes governor general of the area. He rules rather better than the Ottoman administration, allowing a degree of modernisation. But Britain, Austria and Russia come to the aid of the sultan in 1840, forcing Mohammed ali to withdraw his armies to Egypt.

During the following decades the most significant development is the beginning of European Jewish settlement in Palestine, from 1882. But it is World War I which changes the region out of recognition, ending the Ottoman centuries and bringing into existence the modern territories of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine (the now region including Israel), Jordan and Iraq..


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