Salah al-Din (1137–1193), known in the west as “Saladin,” was the Ayyubid ruler of Egypt and Syria. He was most famous in medieval Europe for capturing Jerusalem from the crusaders and then successfully defending the city during the Third Crusade. He was known to both Muslims and Christians as a strategic and skillful leader.
Saladin began his political career by seizing power in Egypt under the command of the ruler Nur ad-Din (1146–74) and then, after Nur ad-Din’s death, went on to unite the Islamic regions of Syria, Northern Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Palestine. Through diplomacy, warfare, and appeal to religion, Saladin and his armies destroyed the armies of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem at Hattin in 1187 and then recaptured most of the so-called “Crusader States” — polities created by Christian, European leaders of the First Crusade (1096–99). Saladin’s seizure of Jerusalem in 1187 prompted Pope Gregory VIII to launch the Third Crusade (1189–92), in which the English king Richard I the Lionheart, the French king Philip II Augustus, and the German emperor Frederick I Barbarossa participated. The armies of the Third Crusade reclaimed major cities such as Acre and Jaffa; however, they never took Jerusalem.
While Saladin and Richard the Lionheart never met in battle, they did negotiate a peace treaty. With Islamic control of the Holy Land intact and the crusaders largely driven out of the region, Saladin retired to Damascus. He died there at the age of 55, having proven himself a skilled military leader, devout Sunni Muslim, and effective ruler.