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    In 1138, Ayyub sadly departing from the castle of Tekrit, with his brother, on the very night of Saladin’s birth. They betook themselves to Zengy at Mosil, and were not disappointed of their welcome. The great Atabeg had not forgotten the ferry on the Tigris, and was never the man to turn away a good sword. The two brothers served in his armies in many wars, and when Baalbekk fell, in October, I139, Ayyub became the governor of the conquered city. Baalbekk, or Heliopolis, the old “ city of the Sun," was celebrated not only for its antiquity and its temples, but for its lofty situation. It stood between Lebanon and Antilibanus, overhanging the valley of the Litany, at a height of four thousand feet above the sea, and was said to be the coldest town in Syria. A legend tells how men asked the Cold,“ Where shall we nd thee?" and it answered, “ My home is Baalbekk." Though far from being the magnicent city that it was in the days when Antoninus Pius built the great temple of which a part still stands, Baalbekk in the time of Ayyub was yet an important town, surrounded by fertile elds, orchards, and gardens, and defended by a strong wall, with a citadel, or acropolis, on the west. It had not yet suffered the vandal touch of the Mongols, or the nal upheaval of earthquake, which reduced it to its present ruined state. Its “ presses overowed with grapes,” sweet water ran through the town, and mills and water wheels all around bore witness to fertility. To be placed in command of so great and prosperous a city was a convincing proof of Zengy's condence, especially when it happened to be the southernmost outpost over against the hostile city of Damascus, distant only thirty ve miles.

    Here the governor's son Saladin spent some years of his childhood ; and, according to the saying, they ought to have been happy years, because they have no history. We know absolutely nothing of the family of Ayyub between 1139 and I I46, the period of their residence at Baalbekk. No doubt Saladin received the usual education of a Moslem boy; probably as the son of the commandant he had the best teaching within reach. Ayyub was particularly devout, and even founded a convent for Sufy recluses at Baalbekk. His son was doubtless drilled for years in the Koran, in Arabic grammar, and the elements of rhetoric, poetry, and theology; for, whatever the race of the Saracen rulers of those days, their educational standard was Arabian; and to in stil the Koran and traditions, to teach a pure Arabic style and the niceties of Arabic syntax, formed the chief aim of the learned but limited men who were entrusted with the training of distinguished youth.

    Whatever schooling Saladin had at Baalbekk must have been meagre compared with his later opportunities. He was not yet nine years old when his father's patron was murdered, and the death of the great Atabeg was of course the signal for the recovery of Baalbekk by its old Damascus owner. Ayyub made no effort to defend the town. He was ever a diplomatic, prudent sort of man, keenly alive to his own interests. He saw that the two sons of Zengy, who shared their father's dominions, were occupied in watching each other, and had no time to look after Baalbekk. Mosil was distant, and Aleppo timid. On the other hand, Damascus was near, and was resolved to get back her own. When her troops entered Baalbekk, Ayyub made terms from the citadel, and before he surrendered he had arranged to receive a handsome ef, including ten villages near Damascus, a good sum down, and a house in the capital. Here his statecraft and sagacity soon procured him a high position at the court of Abak, the grandson of Tughtigin, and in a few years he rose to be commander in chief of the Damascus army.

    Ayyub held this exalted post when Zengy’s son, the King of Aleppo, Nur ed din Mahmud, marched against Damascus in April, 1154. The name of Nur ed din (Noradin) is second only to Saladin among the great defenders of Islam. After the catastrophe at Jaabar, the Atabeg’s kingdom had fallen into two been brought to a successful issue,’ says William of Tyre,‘ had it not been for the greed of the great princes, who commenced negotiations with the citizens.’ At the advice of traitors, the camp was shifted to the south west, where, so ran the rumour, the wall was too weak to with stand the feeblest onslaught. But here the Crusaders found a more deadly enemy than strong fortications; for in their new position they were cut off from the river and deprived of the orchard fruits ; and through lack of food and leadership despair fell upon the host, until men began to talk of retreat. There was jealousy, likewise, between the Syrian Franks and their Western allies, and out of this too fertile source of evil, Anar, the Vezir of Damascus, was not slow to reap prot for himself. He pointed out to the former the folly of helping their brethren to seize Damascus, the capture of which would be but the prelude to the seizing of Jerusalem also. His arguments, supported as they doubtless were by bribes, brought about the abandonment of the siege."

    In such a crisis no man who could bear a sword could have been idle in Damascus. Ayyub, though he probably did not attain the rank of commander in chief until after Anar's death in the August following the siege, must have played a prominent part in the defence.  Saladin was of course too young to be more than an absorbed spectator. It is true that Western legend tells how Eleanor of France carried on her amours with the future “ Soldan ”; but as he was then but eleven years old, King Louis’s jealousy found a more probable accomplice for the divorce, which afterwards took place, than a good little boy at school.

    Five years later, Ayyub was the chief agent in changing the dynasty and admitting the son of his old patron to the capital of Syria. It happened that whilst the elder brother had made terms with Damascus and had there risen to high power, the younger, Asad ed din Shirkuh, the“ Mountain Lion,” had taken service with Nur ed din, and such was the valour he showed in every engage ment, that his master not only gave him valuable cities in ef—such as Emesa and Rahba,—but placed him in command of the army which was destined for the conquest of Damascus.

    The great opportunity seemed at last to have come. The Franks were discredited and dismayed after the miserable collapse of the Second Crusade; Meso potamia was quiet under the magnanimous rule of Zengy’s eldest son ; the indomitable Anar, who had repeatedly withstood the great Atabeg himself, was dead, and in his stead had risen Ayyub, whose brother was Nur ed din’s trusted marshal; and already the Prince of Damascus had humbly paid hom  age to the King of Aleppo. If ever the hour had struck for the realising of Zengy’s dream of a Syrian empire, centred at Damascus, it was now.

Rise of Saladin:

    Nourredin, however, divined the genius of the young vizier and assigned to him the supreme command in Egypt. He then deposed the caliph, and with his reign brought to an end the dynasty of the Fatimites, which for two hundred years had held the land of the Nile. Thus Nourredin ruled supreme from Babylonia to the desert of Libya. Only the kingdom of Jerusalem marred the map of his dominion. To reconquer this for Islam was his incessant purpose. With his own hands he made a pulpit, from which he promised the faithful one day to preach in the mosque of Omar on the temple site.

    But the Moslem world was already attached to one destined to be greater than Nourredin. The youth of Saladin had been one of apparent indolence and dissipation, but he veiled beneath his indifference the finest genius and most unbounded ambition. As soon as he felt the possession of power he assumed a corresponding dignity, and men recognized him as one appointed of Heaven. Turbulent emirs, who had ignored him as a chance holder of position, now sat reverently before him. Even the priests were struck with the sincere austerity of his devotion. The caliph of Bagdad bestowed upon him the distinguished dignity of the vest of honor. Poets began to mingle his name with those of heroes as the rising star. The pious included it in their prayers as the hope of Islam.

    Knowing that experience is often wiser than genius, Saladin judiciously guarded himself from the errors of youth by associating his father, Ayoub, with him in the government of Egypt. Nourredin, whose successful career had allowed him no jealousy of ordinary men, showed that he was restless at the popularity and ability displayed by his young subaltern, and was preparing to take Egypt under his own immediate government when death, his first vanquisher, came upon the veteran (May, 1 1 74). Saladin immediately proclaimed himself Sultan of Egypt, and hastened to secure the succession of Nourredin's power as Sultan of Damascus.


Lane-Poole (S.), Saladin and the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, London, 1889.

James (M. L.), The age of the crusades, New York, 1914.

Murray (A. V.), The Crusades: an encyclopedia, CA : ABC-CLIO, 2006.

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