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THE BRUTAL STORY OF THE MOST BRUTAL MAN - RAYNALD DE CHATILLON

Updated: Mar 11

One of the most crucial events in the Medieval History of the Holy Land was the famous Battle of Hittin on July 14, 1187. At that day, the great Muslim warrior, the Sultan Salah ad-Din wiped out the whole Crusades army and with that, brought the bitter end to the Crusades Kingdom of Jerusalem.


Sultan Salah ad Din

Battle of Hattin


Just before the Battle, the Muslims and the Crusades had enjoyed a long-term truce ("Hudna"), and if the Sultan wanted to keep it or not, he had never broken any of the agreements he signed. But there was one man, a Crusader himself, who did his utmost to bring the destruction of the Crusades Kingdom and to eventually help the Sultan to break the truce. His name was Raynald de Chatillon. He always insisted to be called "The Price of Antioch", the title he was forced to share with his wife, Constance of Antioch. Constance, whose first husband had died in 1149, fell in love with Raynald and married him in 1153, giving him his hand, heart, and the title.


Raynald de Chatillon and his Castle Kerak in Jordan


Chatillon was famous for his cruelty, extraordinary even for those cruel times. His list of atrocities was long and impressive. Among them was his infamous sack of Cyprus. He overrun an unsuspecting and friendly Christian island, destroying cities, wrecking fortresses, plundering monasteries and raping “nuns and tender maidens.” The ravaging lasted for days, showing “no mercy to age or sex.” And what was the reason for all that? Cyprus belonged to the Byzantine Emperor, who failed to timely pay Raynald for his mercenary's services, and, in Raynald view, sacking friendly Cyprus was a descent revenge.


Raynald's famous atrocities were not even limited to the across the border raids. Once, out of sheer animosity to the Patriarch of Antioch, who opposed his next marriage (one of very many) and was not afraid to say so publicly, Chatillon had him seized, bound, and exposed to the blazing summer sun with his head covered with honey. The honey attracted the flies, and the old man, the highest church official in Chatillon's lordship, was tormented with heat and flies and would die if not the Byzantine Emperor's personal interference.


In 1161 Raynald was eventually captured by the Syrian Sultan Nur ad-Din and was imprisoned in extremely brutal conditions. It took him long 15 years in captivity, until he was finally released in prisoner exchange. Usually, prisoners were released much sooner, after the ransom was paid for them. But not in Raynald's case – Nur ad-Din hated him far too much to get him released "just for money". At time of his liberation, Raynald already was 52 years old, landless, and penniless - although he always insisted on being addressed as “Prince.” And still this "Prince" Raynald kept his extraordinarily rich imagination and highest ambitions. All that made him to decide launching a pirate raid against the most holy cities of Islam – Mecca and Medina, in an obvious attempt to destroy the Prophet Muhammad's Tomb in Medina. This happened just in the middle of the truce between the Muslims and the Crusades, making Raynald's crime even much worse.


Prophet Muhammad's Tomb in Medina


In December of 1182, de Chatillon's pirate ships manned by an estimated 3,000 cut-throats suddenly started terrorizing trade and pilgrims in the Red Sea. As such, they became the first Christian ships to be seen in the Red Sea in over 500 years. Muslim rulers had no warships in the Red Sea to deal with the pirate threat. As a result, within a short time these ships had completely disrupted the centuries old rich and vital trade between Egypt and India. But the worst of the worst - they had also disrupted the pilgrim traffic that converged on port of Jedda from all over North Africa for the final leg of the Haj to Mecca. The number of unarmed merchants and pilgrims, men, women, and children, abused, raped, or slaughtered was tremendously high. By the rumors, one of the de Chatillon's victims was the new Sultan Salah ad-Din' own sister, whose body was never returned or recovered.


Crusaders regular and pirate Ships


By the early February 1183, however, de Chatillon's pirates' luck had run out. The Egyptians brought their fleet to the Red Sea by dragging the ships across the Sinai Desert. The pirates were trapped up in the harbor of the Arabian port of al-Haura. Unable to break out of the harbor, the pirates abandoned their ships and spoils to flee inland. Five days later they were tracked down and caught in a narrow ravine, where most were slaughtered but 170 surrendered and were taken prisoner.


Not unsurprisingly, Salah ad-Din took a very dim view of the activities of these raiders. He made a vow to kill Raynald de Chatillon with his own hands. And although devoted Muslim for whom the Islamic Law prohibits the execution of prisoners who voluntarily surrender, Salah ad-Din ordered the execution of all the captives. They were dispersed across the huge Salah ad-Din’s empire for public execution in as many towns and cities. But even that was not enough - two of the prisoners were singled out for a special punishment: they were taken to Mecca, where they were slaughtered like sacrificial animals in front of the thousands of pilgrims who had come there for the Haj.


But Raynald de Chatillon was not among the captives. He would eventually meet his just and brutal end at Salah ad-Din’s own hand following the Battle of Hattin. When the captured Jerusalem King Guy de Lusignan and Raynald de Chatillon were brought before the Sultan, Salah ad-Din greeted the King and served him with a glass of icy water. Guy drank from the glass and tried to pass it to thirsty Raynald. But the Sultan grabbed the glass from his hand and threw it away. He had no intention to serve Raynald with the water, which would be a sign that he was a welcomed guest. Then the Sultan pulled his sword and cut Raynald's head off. Salah ad-Din was a man of the word, and he kept his promise to kill Raynald with his own hand. It was a violent end for a violent man. Raynald de Chatillon was 62 years old at the time of his execution.


King Guy and Raynald brought before Salah ad-Din

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