Robert Irwin

Return of the Mahdi?



Harvard University Press/Belknap Press 660pp £20 order from our bookshop

In Ridley Scott’s 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven Saladin features as an exotic male precursor of Goody Two-Shoes. He is shown to be the soul of chivalry, piety and good sense. By contrast, Reginald of Châtillon and most of the other barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, as well as the heads of the military orders, are portrayed as nefarious, short-tempered, stupid and ugly – satisfactory villains then. In modern times Saladin has been celebrated for his campaigns against the Crusader Kingdom, his defeat of the army of the Kingdom at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 and the consequent capture of Jerusalem and, finally, his drawn-out struggle to beat back the armies of the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart. Worn out, Saladin died not long after the withdrawal of those armies.

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