Siege of Acre (1189 - 1191)


By Legion of Hell

The siege of Acre was one of the most important events of the Third Crusade and one of the deadliest battles from all the crusades. It was also one of the longest sieges, lasting just under two years (August 1189 - July 1191).

Background Information

After Saladin's crushing victory at the Horns of Hattin in July 1187, he was able to take a large portion of territory from the Kingdom Of Jerusalem with relative ease. The Kingdom of Jerusalem and other Christian kingdoms were now in control of Tyre, Antioch and Tripoli and in 1188 Saladin tried to take Antioch, but failed. Saladin also managed to take the port city of Acre along with the Palestine region.

But Saladin took the main prize: Jerusalem. The loss of Jerusalem sent shock waves throughout Europe and the Christian world. After the news there was mass demand for a crusade to be called and to retake the lost holy lands. In October 1187 Pope Gregory VIII called the third crusade and was upheld by his successor Pope Clement III.

Tyre

Tyre had been attacked by Saladin in 1187 but Conrad of Montferret had managed to resist the attack and managed to broker a treaty with Saladin in mid-1188 to release King Guy Lusignan who was captured after the battle of Hattin. Guy was considered to be the person responsible for the disaster at Hattin and so when Guy arrived at Tyre Conrad refused to let him enter, claiming he was administrating it until the Christian kings arrive who would settle the succession. This was valid as it was put in Baldwin IV's will, as Conrad was the nearest kinsman of Baldwin IV, co-leading with Guy, before succumbing to leprosy in 1186.

Guy left and returned later with his wife Queen Sibylla, who held the legal title to the kingdom, but Conrad still refused, so Guy set up camp outside the gates. In the late spring of 1188 William II of Sicily sent a fleet of two hundred knights and on the 6th April Ubaldo Lanfranchi the Archbishop of Pisa arrived with fifty two ships. Guy easily brought both of them on to his side. In August Conrad again refused entry so Guy and his troops decided to move south with the Sicilians and Pisans using the coast. The target was Acre.

Battle of Acre

Acre was situated 50km (31 miles) south of Tyre, which lay on a peninsula in the gulf of Haifa. It was strategically important, as it was a port city and could allow supplies to land there instead of Antioch. But more of important for Guy it could be used as a major base of operations to launch counter-attacks against Saladin, and since Tyre could not be used due to Conrad's refusal Acre was the best option.

Acre was guarded very well. To the east was the open sea, while to the west and south the coast was well protected by a dyke wall. The peninsula was guarded on the mainland heavily, with double barrier walls, along with towers.

The garrison of Acre nearly outnumbered Guy's men two to one, when Guy arrived on the 28th August 1189. Guy tried to make a quick surprise attack on the walls, but this failed, thus forcing Guy to set up camp, waiting for reinforcements. This arrived a few days later in the shape of a Danish and Frisian fleet, which replaced the Sicilians, when hearing of the death of William II of Sicily. French and Flemish soldiers also arrived under James of Avesnes, Henry I of Bar, Andrew of Brienne, Robert II of Dreux, and his brother Philip of Dreux, the Bishop of Beauvais.

More reinforcements came with the Germans under Margrave Louis III of Thuringia and Otto I of Guelders, and Italians under Archbishop Gerhard of Ravenna and the Bishop of Verona, also arrived. Louis of Thuringia was able to convince Conrad, his mother's cousin, to send troops from Tyre as well and also Conrad came to Acre himself, agreeing that he and Guy were united against Saladin and Muslim tyranny.

When Saladin heard of the news that Acre had been lay under siege and of the Christians bolstering their troops he gathered his troops and marched to Acre. On September 15th he launched an unsuccessful attack on Guy's camp.

First Contact

Guy's crusader army was made up of feudal lords of Guy's kingdom, smaller contingents of European crusaders and members of military orders. Meanwhile Saladin's army was made up of troops from Syria, Egypt and Mesopotamia (Modern day Iraq).

On October 4th Saladin moved his army to the east of the city to confront Guy's camp. Guy's crusader army, which due to reinforcements now numbered seven thousand infantry and a mere four hundred cavalry stood its ground in front of Saladin's forces.

The Saracen army lay in a semi-circle east of the city, facing inwards towards Acre. The crusader army lay in between, with lightly armed crossbowmen in the first line and heavy cavalry in the second. In the later battle of Arsuf the Christians fought coherently, but the battle of Acre began with a disjointed combat between the Templars and Saladin's right flank.

But the crusaders were so successful that Saladin had to send reinforcements from other parts of the battlefield to stabilize his right flank. Due to some Saracen troops moving to the right flank this allowed the Christian centre to advance at Saladin's opposite centre, which the crossbowmen paved the way for the men-at-arms to charge, meeting little resistance. Saladin's right flank and centre routed, with Guy's men seeming to be victorious.

Saladin's Counter-attack

But the victors started to plunder and while they did this Saladin rallied his men and while the crusaders retired with their booty Saladin released his light cavalry upon the crusaders. The crusaders were hideously exposed and were cut down where they lay, and were only saved when fresh troops arrived from the right flank.

Due to Saladin's quick thinking Guy had to commit his reserves, which were tasked with holding the besieged Saracen army in Acre. Due to the reserves being committed against Saladin's relief army the five thousand strong garrison of Acre sallied out northward, thus linking up with Saladin's right flank.

This caused problems for Guy and it was the Templars who were to receive the brunt of Saladin's attack. As the Templars retreated they were scythed down by the cavalry and suffered heavy losses while retreating. The Templars suffered so badly that the Grand Master of the Templars Gerard de Ridefort was killed along with Andrew of Brienne and Conrad has to be rescued by Guy.

In the end the crusaders managed to repulse Saladin's relief army, but at the cost of seven thousand men. Saladin suffered losses as well and knew that he couldn't push back the crusaders without another pitched battle, but he didn't have enough men, so his victory was incomplete. Both Guy and Saladin had squandered chances to win the battle, but more Guy due to the plundering of Acre by the crusaders.

Double Siege

During the autumn more crusaders from Europe arrived, allowing Guy to blockade Acre by land. Then news of the imminent arrival of Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick I reached the crusaders and raised morale high. But when Saladin heard the news this made him to bring in so many troops that he could surround the city of Acre and the camp in two sieges.

Stalemate

Throughout the next fifteen months stalemate ensured, as the Christians and Saracens battled it out to get a favourable position.

On October 31st fifty Saracen galleys broke through the sea blockade, supplying the city with food and weapons. On December 26th an Egyptian fleet arrived with the aim of taking control of the port and the road leading up to it. In March 1190 when the weather was better Conrad sailed to Tyre on his own ship and returned with suppliers, helping the resistance against the Egyptian fleet at the port. However the building materials brought by Conrad were constructed into siege machinery, but were lost when the crusaders tried to attack the city again on May 5th and failed.

On May 19th Saladin after bolstering his army over the previous months, launched a large attack on the Christian camp. The attack was so large and fierce that it took the crusaders eight days before they repelled the attack. On July 25th under orders from Guy and other commanders the crusaders attacked Saladin's right flank and were defeated.

Over the summer further reinforcements from France arrived to the crusader's camp led by Henry II of Champagne. Alongside Henry II were: Theobald V of Blois, Stephen I of Sancerre, Ralph of Clermont, John of Fontigny, Alain of Saint-Valery, the Archbishop of Besancon, the Bishop of Blois, and the Bishop of Toul.

Frederick VI, Duke of Swabia arrived at the beginning of October with the rest of his father's army, after the emperor drowned in the Saleph River on June 10th, and shortly afterwards English crusaders arrived under Baldwin of Exeter, Archbishop of Canterbury. In October the Count of Bar also arrived. Also in October the Christians had a breakthrough in Haifa, which allowed more food to be brought to the camp at Acre.

Life in Besieged Acre

Life in the city and camp for the Crusaders was tough after Saladin had lay siege to both places. There was limited food and the water supply was now contaminated with human and animal corpses. This started to cause epidemics and it soon spread. Louis of Thuringia had malaria made plans to leave when the French contingent arrived in the summer and died in Cyprus on the way back on October 16th.

Bad News for King Guy

At some point between late July and October Queen Sibylla a few days after her daughters Alais and Marie died. This wasn't good news for Guy, as he lost his claim to the throne of Jerusalem, as Sibylla was the rightful heir.

The barons of the kingdom used Sibylla's death as a chance to get rid of Guy and arranged a marriage for Conrad to marry Isabella of Jerusalem. The reason why the barons arranged Conrad to marry Isabella was that Isabella was the rightful heir to the throne, but Guy has dismissed her.

However, Isabella was already married to Humphrey IV of Toron, and Conrad's marital status was uncertain as he had married a Byzantine princess in 1187, a few months before arriving at Tyre, and it was unclear whether she had annulled Conrad in his absence.

Also, Sibylla's first husband had been Conrad's older brother William Longsword, which made a marriage between Isabella and Conrad 'incestuous'. Patriarch Eraclius was sick, and his appointed representative Baldwin of Exeter died suddenly on November 19th. Therefore it was Archbishop Ubaldo Lanfranchi of Pisa and papal legate, as well as Philip, Bishop of Beauvais, who gave their consent to divorce Isabella from Humphrey on November 24th. Conrad withdrew with Isabella to Tyre, but Guy still insisted that he was king: the succession would not be settled finally until an election in 1192.

Sickness & Death

Saladin's army was now so large that it was now impossible for any more crusaders to arrive my land, and with winter coming this meant that no more supplies or reinforcements could arrive by sea. In the Christian camp the leaders began succumbing to the epidemic. Theobald of Blois and Stephen of Sancerre died, and Frederick of Swabia also died on January 20th 1191. Henry of Champagne struggled with sickness for many weeks before recovering. Patriarch Eraclius also died some time during the siege, but the date is unknown.

On December 31st the crusaders tried another attempt to breach the wall failed, but on January 6th 1191 the partial collapse of the walls led to many crusaders try to overrun the Saracen garrison, but failed. But on February 13th Saladin succeeded in breaking through the Christian lines and reached the city, so he could replace the Saracen garrison with new recruits, as the old garrison was near to breaking point and sick with disease. Conrad tried to make a sea attack on the Tower Of Flies, but strong winds and rocks prevented his ship from doing any damage. In March when the weather was better ships could unload supplies on the coast and danger of defeat was averted for the crusaders. In the spring Leopold V of Austria came over and took temporary charge of the Christian forces from Guy of Lusignan. Leopold took full control of the deceased Duke Of Swabia's troops.

Also in the spring morale rose when ships came in with the news that King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England were on their way. For Saladin this meant his chance of victory had now slipped away.

The Kings Arrive

King Philip arrived on April 20th 1191 and Richard on June 8th after Richard took the opportunity of invading Cyprus along the way. Richard arrived with English fleet of a hundred ships, carrying an army of eight thousand men. King Philip had arrived with a Genoese fleet.

Philip used the time before Richard's arrival to build siege engines, and now that strong leadership from Europe had arrived the Saracens had targeted the city not the Christian camp. When Richard arrived he arranged a meeting with Saladin and both agree three days of peace shall happen, when the meeting took place. But the meeting didn't take place as Philip and Richard fell ill.

The siege machine broke large holes into the walls of Acre, but every breach caused Saladin's army to attack, causing the garrison of Acre to repair the damage as the crusaders were distracted by Saladin's relief army.

On July 1st Philip of Alsace died in the camp, causing a major crisis for King Philip, as the lord of Alsace was an important member of the King's retinue and left no heir.

Final Attacks

On July 3rd a very large breach was again opened, but the Christian attack was repelled again. The following day the city offered its surrender, but Richard rejected the conditions. This time Saladin didn't make a large scale attack on the camp. On July 7th the besieged Saracen troops in the city sent an emissary to Saladin asking for assistance one last time or they would surrender to the crusaders.

On July 11th there was one final battle and on the 12th the city offered terms of surrender to the crusaders, who found the offer to be acceptable. Conrad of Montferret who had returned to Tyre because of Richard's support for Guy of Lusignan as King of Jerusalem was recalled to act as a negotiator, at Saladin's request.

Saladin was not personally involved in the negotiations, but accepted the surrender. The Christians entered the city and the Muslim garrison was taken into captivity. Conrad raised the banners of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and of France, England and Austria over the city of Acre.

Leopold of Austria left shortly after the capture of the city, after quarrelling with Richard: as the surviving leader of the German imperial contingent, he had demanded the same position as Philip and Richard, but had been rejected and his flag torn down from the ramparts of Acre. On July 31, Philip also returned home, to settle the row of who was to be Philip of Alsace's heir, and Richard was left solely in charge of the Christian expeditionary forces.

The Execution of the Saracen Prisoners

It was now up to Richard and Saladin to finalize the surrender of the city. The Christians began to rebuild Acre's defenses, and Saladin collected money to pay for the ransom of the imprisoned garrison. On August 11th Saladin delivered the first of the three planned payments and prisoner exchanges, but Richard rejected this because certain Christian nobles were not included.

The exchange was broken off and further negotiations were unsuccessful. Richard had also insisted on the hand-over of Philip's share of the prisoners, whom the French king had entrusted to Conrad of Montferrat. Conrad reluctantly agreed, under pressure.

On August 20th Richard thought that Saladin had delayed too much, and had 2,700 of the Muslim prisoners from the garrison of Acre killed, including women and children despite having promised that he would only sell the prisoners off. The Muslims fought back in an attempt to prevent this, but they were defeated. On August 22nd Richard and his army left the city, now fully under the control of the crusaders.

Aftermath

The recapture of Acre was of major importance for the survival of the crusader kingdoms. It reversed the trend of conquest, and marked the beginning of a new period of crusader success, as well as becoming the new capitol of the crusader kingdom. The casualty list is unknown but they were known to be heavy on both sides, due to combat and disease, although Saladin's army did suffer worse, as Saladin's poured in more reinforcements as the siege wore on.

After the bloody siege of Acre Richard and his army moved south where he clashed with Saladin again in the battle of Arsuf, where he won a crucial victory allowing him to move south. Sadly Richard never managed to take Jerusalem and left the Holy Land, with Jerusalem still under Saracen control.

Symbolically, Acre was the last crusader possession in Palestine, finally falling in 1291, one hundred years after the end of the siege.

References

Rickard, J (12 November 2001). Siege of Acre
James Jr Reston (2001). Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade
Various internet sources
With specials thanks to EnemyofJupitor & Count Mummolus for encouragement & assistance.