The Siege of Acre – 1189-91

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My post this month is concerning a particular event during the Third Crusade, the siege of Acre which occurred between 1189 and 1191, ending with the help of King Richard I of England and King Phillip II of France. I have been looking at this siege as part of my dissertation and I have found it to be quite fascinating, as you can see how people reacted to certain factors over the 2-3 years it took to (spoiler alert!) win the siege.

The siege was begun by King Guy of Jerusalem after he was freed of imprisonment by Saladin, the leader of the enemy during the crusade. He had sworn an oath to Saladin to give up his kingdom and to travel overseas immediately, to stop him from fighting against Saladin, however the clergy of the kingdom of Jerusalem declared this oath invalid due to the conditions it was made in. At this point Acre was held by Muslims, although the contemporary sources claims that they were pagans. Guy attempted to gain the aid of the marquis of Tyre on his way to Acre, but failed. Guy eventually travelled with an army of Pisans alongside his own army from Tripoli and Antioch. The Christians besieged the city by land and by sea, as Acre was a port-city, by cutting off both side of the city the siege should have been over relatively quickly, however Saladin quickly gathered an army to besiege the besiegers! With the Christians fighting on two fronts it became critical that they retain the port for reinforcements, which did come in serious numbers.

Before the main army of Saladin arrived the Christian army decided to attack the city, without any siege machines being finished. This attack would have quickly ended the siege and would have saved so much trouble if it weren’t for a lying messenger claiming that Saladin’s forces were upon them. The army withdrew to face this army, only to find that it was just the advance guard, scouting out the situation. With this mistake the double-siege began.Siege-Acre-Map

For some time King Guy and his army was the only Christians besieging Acre. Late in 1189 some reinforcements, including French, English and German arrived to aid the siege. The Marquis of Tyre, Conrad, also arrived with his own army. This obviously raised the moral of the army already in place, after being attacked almost daily by Saladin’s forces. After these forces arrived the Christian army was able to properly entrench themselves, building defenses and siege machines, at great expense to the army leaders.

The siege was about to end in October 1189 when the townspeople offered to surrender due to a food shortage, however Saladin quickly decided to send in reinforcements via a fleet of ships which drove out the Christian fleet. This happened several times, with Saladin sending in more ships to relieve the city.

During the siege several ‘miracles’ have been recorded by chroniclers. During one particular attack on the city several siege machines had been destroyed by the city’s stone-throwers, however one soldier was struck by a similar stone-thrower and was not injured. According to the chronicle (The Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi) the soldier was standing with his back to the city, not thinking that the stones could reach as far as him, and when the stone hit his back it bounced straight off, without damaging him at all. The unknown author of this chronicle attributes this event to the magnificence of God, who protected those who fought on his behalf. This account and others like it was probably used as propaganda to support the later crusades in their recruiting period, as more people might have thought to take the cross if they believed that they would be protected by God.

This siege lasted for several years with no clear idea of who would win, due to matching numbers for the most part. It was not until Richard I of England and Phillip II of France arrived with their armies and fleets that the Christians gained the upper hand, taking the city together.

One of the reasons that I have enjoyed analyzing the siege of Acre is because it lasted so long you can pick out smaller events to see how both the Christians and Muslim forces reacted to a prolonged battle and the problems that came with it. For example, you can see how they reacted to famines, deaths of their leaders and the anxiety of seeing a ship or fleet in the distance and not knowing if they are friend or foe.

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