Historical Background Around the middle of the sixth/twelfth century, for the rst time since the fall of the Umayyads in 132/750, Damascus became once again the capital of a vast Muslim state, and retrieved its long-lost military importance and religious prestige. This new era in Syrian history followed the anarchy and chaos of the tenth and eleventh centuries, when Syria became a battleground for Få†imids, Seljuks, Byzantines, petty local urban forces and tribal groups.4 Towards the end of 490/1097 the armies of the rst Crusade arrived in the Middle East, and by 524/1130 a vast Christian kingdom had formed, stretching from Diyarbakr in the northeast, to the borders of Egypt in the south. The Syrian cities of the interior—Aleppo, Óamåh, Óim‚, Balabakk and Damascus—remained under Muslim rule. There, the Islamic counter-crusade, or jihåd movement arose, accompanied by a series of campaigns for the unication of Syria into a single political entity. N¨r al-Dn, the second son of the former Seljuk atåbeg of Mosul Åq Sunq¨r Zang (r. 521/1127–541/1146), was its rst major leader. Medieval Muslim historians eulogize N¨r al-Dn not only for his devotion to his military mission and struggle against the indels from without, but also for his exceptionally just rule, personal piety, and support for Islam within.5 Saladin, a freeborn Kurdish general in the army of N¨r al-Dn Zang acquired control over Få†imid Egypt in 565/1171 (when still in the service of his master) and subsequently consolidated his rule over most of Muslim Syria and the Jazra. The Latin domains became the target of his ensuing military campaigns. During the 1180’s he regained
4 Hitti, History, 580; Ashtor, Social and Economic, 214–217; Lammens – ˜C.E. Bosworth·, “Al-Shåm,” 265–267. 5 Ibn Wå‚il’s “best story about N¨r al-Dn (aªsan må yutaththar anhu)” goes as follows: urged to divert funds set aside for Í¨fs and other men of religion in favor of war expenditures, N¨r al-Dn declared angrily “I can’t hope for victory save by means of them . . . How can I cut off the pensions of a folk who, while I am asleep in my bed, ght for me with arrows that never miss, and then turn around and spend their money on someone whose arrows are hit or miss?” (Ibn Wå‚il, Mufarrij, 1:136; trans. in Homerin, “Saving Muslim Souls,” 62). The modern debate over the sincerity of his motivations as a ghter of jihåd (duplicating a similarly unimportant, to my mind, debate over the sincerity of Saladin) has little to draw upon in contemporaneous literature. For a summary of his career, see Hillenbrand, The Crusades, 117–141.