Battle of Arsuf

The crusaders march along the coast heading for Jaffa, the port serving Jerusalem.

Mounted Archers
  • This page reports how Saladin's Turkish Mounted Archers Harass the Crusaders along the way.
  • When Saladin Attacks in Force Richard waits and waits till all of Saladin's forces are engaged before attacking.
  • The Crusaders Rebuild Jaffa.
  • Richard Takes Too Many Risks.
Mounted Archers Harass the Crusaders

An Arab description of the prostitues operating in Acre was very explicit: 'Tinted and painted, desirable and appetising, bold and ardent with nasal voices and fleshy thighs, these girls offered their wares for enjoyment, bringing their silver anklets up to touch their golden ear-rings.'

No such distractions bothered the crusaders now - Richard only allowed washerwomen along. Fully clad in leather or armour, the crusaders carried 10 days of food: the Saracens tracking them from behind travelled light with only a bow, spear, sword and knife.

A few miles out of Acre, Saladin's Turkish cavalry (pictured top left) swooped down on the baggage train at the rear but King Richard and his knights galloped from the vanguard and 'amongst them like a thunderbolt he flew', forcing them to flee. Thereafter, the Knights Hospitallers and Templars took turns in guarding the rear of the train.

Keeping close to the seashore, the column marched in a close-knit formation with a screen of infantry and archers protecting its landward side. In the intense heat Saladin's mounted archers constantly harassed them. Squadrons of light horsemen appeared and disappeared in a whirlwind of dust, showering the advancing column with rains of arrows and swarming round the crusaders like mosquitoes around a man's head before just as quickly disappearing again.

Unable to penetrate the knight's armour, the Saracens' arrows would stick out and make the knights appear like porcupines; the infantry, not so well armoured in their leather jackets, fell more easily to these showers of deadly arrows. Hot and dusty, suffering but determined, the men showed enormous discipline. 'Many there were who met their death, struck down by the sun's torrid breath' and it was with great relief that they pitched camp each night. Before they fell asleep a man would often cry out: 'Help, Holy Sepulchre!' and all would echo the crusader's cry.

Doggedly they marched on past Haifa, over the ridge of Mount Carmel to Caesarea where they found that Saladin's men had been before them, plundering the town and battering down its walls. When they camped by the River of Crocodiles, the fleet, which had followed their line of march along the coast, provided the marching crusaders with fresh provisions.

On 1 September, the crusaders emerged from the forest of Arsuf to find a vast Saracen army 'as thick as drops of rain' blocking their advance. Saladin had picked his ground to come to battle and his Saracens outnumbered the Christians three to one.

Saladin Attacks in Force

With Saladin's army drawn up in battle array on his left flank, King Richard remained cool and calmly formed up his army into five divisions. The Templars were in the van, followed by the Angevins, Bretons and the men from Anjou; then came the Poitevins with the Normans and English under King Guy with the Hospitallers bringing up the rear. Each division consisted of two battalions of horse and foot and in so tight a formation that it was impossible to throw an apple between the ranks.

Amid fierce hoots and shouts, trumpets sounding, drums beating and cymbals clashing, Saladin's Turkish cavalry attacked. Appearing to be everywhere at once, they charged in, wheeled about and charged in again, each time pressing closer and closer: 'Like lightning sped their horses fleet and dust rose thick before their feet.' Backing up the cavalry were dark-skinned Arab pikemen and black faced, howling, screaming Nubian archers who 'filled the air so full of arrows they dimmed the sunlight.'

King Richard waited and delayed his attack. He had given orders for the infantry to resist the Saracen attacks - how valiantly they withstood them - and the knights to hold their charge until Richard gave the signal of six trumpets sounding simultaneously. The heat of the fighting was as fierce as the sun above as the Saracens furiously closed in on the crusaders. Knights sweltered in their armour whilst casualties among the infantry mounted.

Still Richard waited. The sun became hotter as it reached its zenith but discipline remained with the crusaders - no ranks breaking. Richard was waiting for the moment when all of Saladin's forces were engaged and their horses had tired.

The impatient Master of the Hospitallers spurred his horse toward the King: 'Sire, we are sore discomforted and suffer shame and bitter pain - our horses are all being slain.'

The King responded: 'Master, do not despair, one cannot be everywhere,' and the Master rejoined his troops.

By early afternoon the Marshal of the Hospitallers and a Flemish knight could endure no longer. The two finally charged at the Saracens, shouting: 'St. George! St. George!' All the knights followed and King Richard, realising that he could no longer hold them back, spurred his horse forward and charged into the fray 'swifter than a crossbow bolt doth fly.'

The Saracens, driven back at first, rallied and counter-attacked but the Christian knights held their discipline and charged again. This time King Richard (pictured right) led the charge and 'so mightily he smote the loathsome enemy that with bewilderment they viewed his chivalry and fortitude.'

The Christians completely routed the Saracens leaving them 'wounded either in their bodies or in their hearts.'

It was a great triumph for King Richard over Saladin and from then on, because of his bravery, ruse and patience, the Saracens began to call our King: 'Malek Rik' - malek being the Arabic word for 'King'.

Crusaders Rebuild Jaffa

After the Battle of Arsuf, the crusaders marched on unopposed and reached Jaffa three days later. There they found that the Saracens had so wrecked the walls and houses that they were unfit to live in and they had to camp close by in an olive grove. It was a pleasant place to rest. The surrounding almonds, grapes, figs and pomegranates all added to the fresh supplies brought by the fleet from Acre, so the crusaders rested and ate their fill.

King Richard learned that Saladin had razed the town of Ascalon, the harbour fortress several miles further south that controlled the all-important route to Egypt - Saladin did not have enough forces to defend both Jerusalem and Ascalon and had opted to defend Jerusalem.

The crusaders held a council to decide what to do next. King Richard wanted to push on and re-fortify Ascalon but the majority had their way, deciding to rest and rebuild Jaffa because it was the shortest route to Jerusalem.

Following them from Acre, the prostitutes came to Jaffa to do a roaring trade. 'Back to the host the women came, and plied their trade of lust and shame,' sang the minstrel.

The crusaders, in a leisurely fashion, rebuilt the town of Jaffa.

Richard Takes Many Risks

The King is so confident of success that Queen Berengia and Queen Joanna have re-joined him at Jaffa, though the Saracens are never far away. He astounds everyone at the risks he takes - 'in every conflict he delights in being the first to attack and the last to return.'

Once out hunting with a small escort - he likes to mix spying out the territory with flying his falcons at hares and rock partridges - he and his party stopped for a rest at midday and fell asleep. King Richard woke up just in time when surprised by a group of Saracens. Shouting to warn the others, he leapt on his horse and chased the Saracens who cunningly led him straight into an ambush. Only the quick thinking and devotion of one of his knights, William of Preaux, saved the day. Pretending to be the King by shouting: 'Malek am I!' he gave time for King Richard to escape.

Our King Richard has written optimistically home: 'With God's grace we hope to recover the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre within twenty days after Christmas and then we can all return to our dominions.'

Every crusader believes he will soon be entering the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Knights Templars

'The Templars are known as the 'poor soldiers of Jesus Christ' and always form the right wing of a crusading army. Obedience is their first rule of life and like the early Christians the whole company have one purse, one heart and one soul. Neither do they sit idle nor wander for their pleasure. They earn their bread by mending their arms and clothes.

No insolent or immoderate laughter is heard among them; they abhor chess and dice and neither do they hunt nor hawk. They detest actors, sorcerers, jongleurs, licentious songs and gay spectacles such as vanities, falsehoods and follies. They cut their hair short, never adorn, seldom wash themselves and pride themselves on neglected hair, soiled with dust and burnt by the sun. Wonderful and strange it is to see them - as gentle as lambs yet as bold as lions.'

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

King Richard Sets Off
Two Kings in Sicily
Siege of Acre
Marriage Arranged
King Richard Weds
Arrival at Acre
Acre Falls
Battle of Arsuf
Retreat from Holy City
King Richard's Crusade


Saladin Defeated at Jaffa
King Richard Captured
Eleanor of Aquitaine
William Marshall
Earl John
Chancellor Longchamps
Double Dealing
Attack on Nottm. Castle
Sherwood Times