Saladin (Malek al-Nasir Salah ed-Din Abu Modhafer Yusuf), sultan of Egypt and Syria, born in the castle of Tekrit on the Tigris in 1137, died in Damascus, March 4, 1193. He was the son of Ayub, a Kurd in the service of the famous Noureddin, sovereign of Syria, and in 1163 accompanied his uncle Shir-kuh to Egypt as an officer in the army destined to reinstate the emir Shawer, and ultimately to reduce the country to the sway of Noureddin. During three campaigns he displayed great military capacity. In 1168 Shir-kuh, having reduced the country, became Nour-eddin's lieutenant, and on his death in the same year his authority devolved upon Sala-din, who paid nominal deference to Noureddin, but strengthened his own power. The death of Noureddin in 1173 or 1174 left him absolute master of Egypt, with abundant resources; and taking advantage of the disturbances which convulsed Syria, he invaded that country under pretence of delivering the youthful heir of Noureddin from the unjust tutelage of the regent Shems ed-Din. The latter was defeated in several great battles, and within four years Saladin made himself master of southern Syria and a considerable portion of Mesopotamia. After devoting several years to the affairs of Egypt, he completed in 1182-'4 the conquest of Syria; his brother subdued the richest portions of Arabia, and by 1185 his empire extended from Tripoli in Africa to the Tigris, and from Yemen on the Arabian sea to the Taurus, the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem being alone independent of him.
The violation by Reginald de Ch‚tillon of a truce concluded in 1185 between the Latins and Saladin, afforded the latter a pretext for invading the Holy Land with an army of 80,000. The Christian army was overthrown at the famous battle of Tiberias (July 4, 1187), with a loss of 30,000 men. Guy de Lusignan, king of Jerusalem, captured by Saladin, was treated with courtesy; but Reginald de Ch‚tillon, his fellow captive, was decapitated, and the captured knights templars and hospitallers were massacred. Acre, Ascalon, and other important towns were speedily subdued, and on Oct. 2, 1187, Jerusalem surrendered to him after a siege of two weeks. The inhabitants were offered their freedom at a moderate ransom, several thousand of the poorer classes being exempted from payment, and many being aided by the alms of the conqueror. Tyre, reŽnforced by Conrad of Montferrat, held out against him, and Saladin, after an unsuccessful siege, made a disgraceful retreat to Damascus. The third crusade (1189) aroused him to the defence of his new possessions, and for two years (1189-'91) he thwarted every attempt of the crusaders to retake Acre. When the city finally capitulated to Richard Coeur de Lion and Philip Augustus, the former, left by the departure of the French king sole commander of the Christian hosts, led the crusaders down the coast to Ascalon, his march of 100 miles being, as Gibbon says, "a great and perpetual battle of eleven days." At the battle of Arsuf, fought on St. George's day, in which the Moslems were routed, Saladin, seeing Richard fighting on foot, is said to have sent him his own horse as a present.
Ascalon having fallen, the crusaders in the spring of 1192 advanced within a day's march of Jerusalem, but were induced by dissensions in their own ranks to retreat when the city seemed fairly within their grasp.
Tedious negotiations followed, but on Sept. 2 a three years' truce was concluded. The incessant toils of the last few years had impaired the health of Saladin, and he died of a bilious fever after an illness of 12 days.