Battle of Arsuf
Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Arsuf
September 7, 1191
Richard I of England Robert de Sable
strength2=20,000 men (mostly mounted troops, both heavy and light cavalry.
casualties1=~1,000 dead| casualties2=~7,000 dead
The Battle of Arsuf was a battle of the
Third Crusadein which Richard I of Englanddefeated Saladinat Arsuf.
After capturing Acre in 1191, Richard fought many engagements with Saladin, whose main objective was to prevent the recapture of
Jerusalem. Knowing he would need to control the port of Jaffa before making an attempt on Jerusalem, Richard began to march down the coast from Acre in August 1191.
outh from Acre
Richard organized the advance with attention to detail. Mindful of the lessons of the disaster at Hattin, he knew that his army's greatest need was water and
heat exhaustionits greatest danger. Though pressed for time, he marched only in the morning before the heat of the day. He made frequent rest stops, always beside sources of water. The fleet sailed down the coast in close support, a source of supplies and a refuge for the wounded. Aware of the ever-present danger of enemy raiders and the possibility of hit-and-run attacks, he kept the column in tight formation with a core of twelve mounted regiments, each with a hundred knights. The infantry marched on the landward flank, covering the flanks of the horsemen. Tormented by Saladin's archers and by tarantulas, which came out at night, Richard's generalship ensured that order and discipline were maintained under the most difficult of circumstances. Baha ad-Din, the Muslim chronicler, describes the march thus:
As the Crusader army marched to the far side of the river at
Caesarea, Saladin was making his own dispositions. He had planned to place his army by the old Roman roads further into the interior, allowing him to attack in any direction as the occasion presented itself. But the coastal advance of the Crusaders compelled him to follow on a parallel course. As the first light, harassing attacks failed to have the intended effect; these were stepped up in intensity, becoming mini-battles in the process. When Richard's army approached Caesarea on 30 August, the rear guard, commanded by Hugh III of Burgundy, came under serious onslaught, cutting it off from the rest of the army for a time. Richard managed to rally the troops, as the whole of the army cried "Sanctum Sepulchrum adjuva" ("Help us, Holy Sepulchre!").
Saladin, assessing the enemy line of advance, decided to make a stand at Arsuf near
Jaffa, with his army facing west towards the Crusaders and the sea. His northern flank was protected by the Forest of Arsuf, with the marshy Rochetaillée river to the front. To the south, his left flank was secured by a series of wooded hills, going down to the ruins of the town of Arsuf itself. The plan was to draw the Crusaders out by a series of advances followed by feigned retreats, and destroy them by sustained attacks once their ranks were broken. Between the hills of Arsuf and the sea there was only a two-mile (3 km) gap, leaving Richard little room for manoeuvre, and restricting the possibility of a concentrated charge by the armoured knights. Saladin saw this as the perfect trap; but Richard was quick to turn it into an opportunity.
Day of battle
At dawn on
September 7, 1191, Richard's heralds travelled the camp, announcing that battle would be joined that day. The Knights Templarunder Robert de Sablé were ordered to the fore, along with the Angevins and the Bretons, followed by Guy of Lusignanand the Poitevins. Next came the Anglo-Normans, and then the Flemingsunder James of Avesnes. After the Flemings came the French, and finally the Knights Hospitaller, headed by Fra' Garnier de Nablus. Under the leadership of Henry II of Champagne, a small troop was detached to scout the hills, and a squadron of knights under Hugh of Burgundy was detached to ride up and down the ranks ensuring that they were kept in order.
The first Saracen attack came at nine o'clock in the morning. In an attempt to destroy the cohesion of the enemy and unsettle their resolve, the onslaught was accompanied by the clashing of cymbals and gongs, trumpets blowing and men screaming. The "
Itinerarium Regis Ricardi" records that "So the unspeakable Turks fell on our army from all sides, from the direction of the sea and from dry land. There was not a space for two miles (3 km) around, not even a fistful, which was not covered with the hostile Turkish race." [ Helen J. Nicholson, trans., "Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi", Ashgate, 1997, pg. 248.] When this failed to have the desired effect, the attack was switched to the left flank of the Crusader army, with the Hospitallers coming under the greatest pressure. Bit by bit the onslaught extended across the rest of Richard's line. These incursions followed the same pattern: the Bedouins and Nubians launched arrows and javelins into the enemy lines, before parting to allow the mounted archers to advance, attack and wheel off, a well-practised technique. Crusader crossbowmen responded, when this was possible, although the chief task among the Crusaders was simply to preserve their ranks in the face of sustained provocation. At several points along the line, the two armies were engaged in close hand-to-hand combat.
Hospitallers break ranks
All Saladin's best efforts could not dislocate the Crusader column, or halt its advance in the direction of Arsuf. Richard was determined to hold his army together, forcing the enemy to exhaust themselves in repeated charges, with the intention of holding his knights for a concentrated counter-attack at just the right moment. There were risks in this, because the army was not only marching under severe enemy provocation, but the troops were suffering from heat and thirst. Just as serious, the Saracens were killing so many horses that some of Richard's own knights began to wonder if a counter-strike would be possible.
Just as the vanguard entered Arsuf in the middle of the afternoon, the Hospitaller crossbowmen to the rear were having to load and fire walking backwards. Inevitably they lost cohesion, and the enemy was quick to take advantage of this opportunity, moving into the gap. For the Crusaders, the Battle of Arsuf had now entered a critical stage. Garnier de Nablus pleaded with Richard to be allowed to attack. He refused, ordering the Master to maintain position. This was more than the Hospitaller could endure. He charged into the Saracen ranks with a cry of "St. George!", followed quickly by the rest of his knights. ["Itinerarium", pp. 251-2.] Moved by this example, the French followed.
The precipitate action of the Hospitallers could have caused Richard's whole strategy to unravel. But just as
Garnier de Nablusbegan his attack, Saladin's archers had dismounted to direct their arrows more accurately, and were overwhelmed by the unexpected Hospitaller onslaught.
Richard knew that if he did not support the Hospitallers, they would soon be cut down and slaughtered. But if he decided to send more knights after them, he might throw away his whole force.
Muzaffar al-Din Gökböri, one of Saladin's commanders, managed to rally his men intending to attack the enemy bowmen. Before he was in a position to do so Richard regrouped his army and sent a second charge of Breton and Angevin knights towards Saladin's left flank. Richard himself led a third and final charge composed of Norman and English knights.
Leading by example, the King was in the heart of the fighting, as the "Itinerarium" explains:
King Richard pursued the Turks with singular ferocity, fell upon them and scattered them across the ground. No one escaped when his sword made contact with them; wherever he went his brandished sword cleared a wide path on all sides. Continuing his advance with untiring sword strokes, he cut down that unspeakable race as if he were reaping the harvest with a sickle, so that the corpses of Turks he had killed covered the ground everywhere for the space of half a mile." ["Itinerarium", pg. 254.]
In an attempt to restore the situation,
Taqi al-Din, Saladin's nephew, led 700 men of the Sultan's own bodyguard against Richard's left flank. Alert to the danger presented to his scattered ranks, Richard regrouped his forces once more for a third and final charge. It was more pressure than the enemy could withstand; Saladin's army broke, closely pursued across the hills of Arsuf by the Crusader knights. The King's banner was set on Saladin's hill, while the Saracen camp was looted. With darkness closing in, Richard allowed no further pursuit.
Losses and consequences
As always with medieval battles, losses are difficult to assess with any precision. The Christian chroniclers claim the Muslims lost 32
emirs and 7,000 men, but it is possible or likely that the true number may have been considerably less than this. Richard's own dead are said to have numbered no more than 700, which included James of Avesnes.
Arsuf was an important victory; but unlike Saladin's early triumph at the
Horns of Hattin, it was far from decisive. The enemy army was not destroyed. Saladin was able to regroup and resume skirmishing. With the Saracens still intact, Richard decided that the prudent action would be to secure his flank by taking and fortifying Jaffa, thus interrupting the advance on Jerusalem. The onset of the winter meant it could not be resumed. Arsuf had dented Saladin's reputation as an invincible warrior and proved Richard's courage as soldier and his skill as a commander; but in the long run, it was to be no more significant than that. Richard was able to take, defend and hold Jaffa. He was never to reach Jerusalem.
In terms of the impact of Arsuf on the conduct of the rest of the conflict, the victory in a sense worked against the favor of the crusaders: the loss motivated Saladin to make an important shift in strategies. Saladin realized that Richard was a very capable commander and that it would be extremely difficult to defeat him in another pitched battle. From this point onward, Saladin shifted to a strategy of avoiding direct pitched battle with Richard's main forces in favor of harassing the crusader forces to wear down their strength, a strategy that ultimately succeeded.
There are descriptions of the battle in the "Itinerarium Regis Ricardi", the Old French continuation of "
William of Tyre" called "Estoire d'Eracles" and, from the Kurdish and Arab side, in Baha ad-Din's "Rare and Excellent History of Saladin", Abu Shamaand Ibn al-Athir.
*Evans, Mark, "Battle of Arsuf: Climactic Clash of the Cross and Crescent", in Military History, August 2001.
*Gillingham, John, "Richard the Lionheart".
*Nicolle, David, "The Third Crusade 1191" (Osprey Campaign 161) Osprey, 2005.
*Nicolle, David, "Saladin and the Saracens".
*Smail, R.C., "Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193" (Cambridge University Press, 1956, 2nd ed., 1995, pp. 162-165)
*cite book |author=DeVries, Kelly |title=Battles of the Medieval World |publisher=Barnes & Noble |location=New York |year= |pages= |isbn=0-7607-7779-9 |oclc= |doi=
* [http://www.the-art-of-battle.350.com/The_Battles.htm Battle of Arsuf animated battle map] by Jonathan Webb
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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