AIRDATE: Thursday 6 March 2003
Narrated by John Shrapnel
A charismatic Arab leader threatens to arm and unite the Moslem world. The West sends a massive task force to the Middle East to eliminate him. The world watches. It’s 1189 AD, and this is the Third Crusade. It will become the most dramatic of all the epic mediaeval military campaigns. Leading the Arab world is Saladin, a wily empire builder who has brilliantly out-manoeuvred the Christian forces already in the Middle East. Against him comes the Crusader army, led by Richard the Lionheart of England, a fearless warrior and dazzling strategist, with a brutality towards Moslems that knows no restraint. In a series of dramatic sieges and set-piece battles at Acre and Arsouf, the crusaders fight their way onwards towards the holy city of Jerusalem. As the Crusade reaches its climax, the battle between Richard and Saladin becomes ever more personal. This dramatic, feature-length documentary uses expert analysis and stunning reconstructions to tell the story of these two remarkable men, and how their personalities shaped the largest military campaign of the Middle Ages.
The Crusades, which started with the Turkish occupation of Jerusalem in 1076, were already more than 100 years old when Richard set sail for the Holy Land in 1190. His mission was to offer aid to the Christian army of King Guy, which ahd suffered heavy casualties by Saladin in 1187, and was holding out in the besieged city of Tyre. The 33-year-old Richard was a devout Christian and a great warrior, who saw it as his religious duty to overthrow the Moslem infidels and recapture Jerusalem for the Christians. Along with his sometime-friend and rival, King Philip of France, he built a fleet and assembled an army to travel to the Holy Land. They landed at Acre on 8th June 1191, and immediately besieged the city.
Ricahrd sent his opponent, Saladin, a Negro slave, along with a message that they should meet. Saladin responded courteously that their meeting would be more timely when peace was a prospect, and sent Richard a bowl of fruit upon hearing that he was feverish. But here such niceties ended. Saladin’s cavalry raided the Crusading forces repeatedly, but Richard’s eyes were fixed on Acre. After 11 months, with the fortifications breached and destroyed by sappers, the Arab forces were forced to surrender, and pay the crusaders 200,000 gold pieces. Richard’s army also took 3,000 prisoners, many of them women and children, to ransom to Saladin. But when no ransom was forthcoming, in a shocking display of barbarism, the Crusaders killed every one of the hostages outside the town fortifications, in full view of Saladin’s army.
Richard now advanced on Jerusalem, but was engaged by Saladin’s army at Arsouf. In what was perhaps the key battle of the campaign, the discipline and patience of the Crusaders’ cavalry was crucial. While wave after wave of Saladin’s horsemen attacked, Richard’s cavalry waited until their opponents were tired, before charging in turn, and routing the Moslem army.
This left the way free for Richard to march upon Jerusalem. But as his ultimate reward lay glittering before him just a few miles away, he had a revelation. He realised that, while he was capable of taking the city, he did not have sufficient forces to hold it in his absence. Instead, he made the decision to reinforce the coastal positions in preparation for a Fourth Crusade. Facing increasing pressure to return home to face down a coup by his brother John, he decided to broker a peace deal with Saladin.
However, the Sultan had one more surprise for the Crusaders. He attacked Jaffa, a largely ruined town held by some of Richard’s men. When they sent for assistance, Richard arrived with nothing but a small army in support. Yet, outnumbered as they were, the Crusaders held out against attack after attack. In one of the most famous incidents in mediaeval history, the watching Saladin saw Richard’s horse fall under him. Such was the mutual respect between these two warriors that, rather than push home this advantage, Saladin had a fresh horse sent down to the battle for Richard.
Eventually, on September 2nd 1192, a peace treaty was signed. The Christians were allotted a strip of coastline 100 miles long, while the rest of the territory remained under Moslem control. Although Christendom now had a foothold to the Holy Land, Richard was never to return on his Fourth Crusade. He was killed in battle in France seven years later. Saladin died even sooner. En route to Mecca, he was taken ill, and died of a fever in Damascus. At the time of his death, his empire stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea.
In one of the great ironies of history, these two great leaders, who spent much of their lives obsessed with the other, and who shared enormous mutual admiration, had never even met.
Producer and Director: Patrick Fleming
Exec prods: Nicolas Kent/ Vanessa Phillips
Prod Co: Oxford Film and Television