Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
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I shall give the barest outlines of [A] the historical personages in the drama of the life and times of Saladin and the Third Crusade, and [B] the Arabic sources of our knowledge of the times, without which it would be impossible to understand the discussions which will follow in this essay.
A. DRAMATIS PERSONNAE.
1. Zangi [born in Aleppo, 1087-8, died 1146, also known as Zengi, or Zanki], founder of the Zangid dynasty, was a Turkmen commander, governor of Iraq, later ruler of al-Mawsil [Mosul] and Aleppo (1127-1146). He was the last surviving son of the Seljuk commander Aksunkur. On his father’s death in 1094, Zangi was brought up at the court of the governors of al-Mawsil and “distinguished himself in the internal warfare of rival [Seljuk] princes and the wars against the Crusaders.” He was the first Muslim ruler to fight the Crusader states effectively, though “he never fought them with the same vigour as he did in the case of the strategically much more important Damascus”.  He was “primarily concerned with affairs further east and the politics of the Seljuk Baghdad sultanate”. Nonetheless he did increase “his hold on the eastern frontiers of northern Outremer. In 1137 he captured the Frankish castle of Montferrand (B a”˜rin), the important Muslim city of Homs in 1138 and the strategically significant town of Baalbek in the Biqa valley in 1140, where he installed as a garrison commander a Kurdish mercenary, Naim al-Din Ayyub, Saladin’s father”. Zangi captured Edessa in 1144. 
Murdered at the siege of Kalat Jabar in 1146. Father of Nur al-Din.
2. Nur al-Din [died 1174] was successor to his father Zangi. Quickly established himself as ruler of Aleppo. Fought against Raymond of Antioch, who laid siege to Damascus unsuccessfully. Within a few years, Nur al-Din with a series of victories was able to transfer the frontier of Dar al-Islam from the Euphrates to the Orontes, which rises in Lebanon and flows north through Syria into Turkey, before turning west to the Mediterranean. He emerged “as Latin Christendom’s most feared and respected Muslim adversary in the Near East- a ruler who nurtured and re-energised the cause of Islamic holy war”.  Nur al-Din thwarted Joscelin II”s attempt to recapture his capital, and regained Edessa, whose entire male Christian population was put to the sword for having aided Joscelin II, leaving a city “deserted of life: an appalling vision enveloped in a black cloud, drunk with blood, infected by the cadavers of its sons and daughters”. 
In 1150, Nur al-Din captured the Frankish leader Joscelin II, who was imprisoned for the rest of his life in Aleppo, where he suffered regular torture. “Nur al-Din emerged as the Near East’s foremost Muslim leader in the aftermath of the Second Crusade. Over the course of his career, Nur al-Din would unite Syria, extend Zangid power into Egypt and score a series of victories against the Christian Franks. He became one of the great luminaries of medieval Islam, celebrated as a stalwart of Sunni orthodoxy and a champion of jihad against Latin Outremer.”  His conquest of Damascus in 1154 allowed Nur al-Din “to claim dominion over almost all Muslim Syria; for the first time since the crusades began, Aleppo and Damascus were united.” 
 Encyclopaedia of Islam 2nd Edn, s.v. Zangi.
 Christopher Tyerman. God’s War, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006, p.188-89.
 Thomas Asbridge. The Crusades. New York: Harper Collins, 2010, p. 229.
 Michael the Syrian. Chronique syriaque. Edited and translated by J.B.Chabot. 4 Vols. Paris, 1899-1914, Vol. 3., p. 270, quoted by Asbridge, op.cit., p. 231.
 Asbridge, p. 238.
 Ibid., p. 249.
To be continued.