Battle of Cresson

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The Battle of Cresson was a small battle fought on May 1, 1187, at the springs of Cresson, or 'Ain Gozeh, near Nazareth. It was a prelude to the decisive defeat of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin two months later.


The political situation in Jerusalem was tense because of factional rivalries between two branches of the royal house. Raymond III of Tripoli, who had previously been regent for the kingdom, refused to accept Guy of Lusignan as king, following the death of the child king, Baldwin V (Guy's stepson) the previous year. Gerard of Ridefort, master of the Knights Templar; Roger de Moulins, master of the Knights Hospitaller; Balian of Ibelin, Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre; and Reginald Grenier, lord of Sidon, were sent to Tiberias to negotiate with Raymond and try to bring him back into the Christian fold.

The battle

Meanwhile, Saladin had sent a small force towards Tiberias led by Muzaffar ad-Din Gökböri, seeking revenge for an attack on a Muslim caravan by Raynald of Châtillon. Raymond III hoped Saladin would ally with him against Guy, and allowed this force to pass through Tiberias on April 30, although he warned the Christians in Nazareth about the army's presence. Hearing this, Gerard quickly assembled a small army, consisting of the Templar garrisons from Qaqun and al-Fulah and the royal knights stationed at Nazareth, only about 130 knights in total; Balian had stopped along the way at his fief of Nablus and Reginald was also elsewhere. A second probably larger Ayyubid force, led by Saladin's son Al Afdal, was at Al Qahwani and did not participate in the battle.[1]

Gerard reached Cresson on May 1. As the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, a chronicle of the Third Crusade, records it:

So Saladin assembled armed forces and marched violently on Palestine. He sent the emir of Edessa, Manafaradin (al-Muzaffar- Gökböri), on ahead with 7,000 Turks to ravage the Holy Land. Now, when this Manafaradin advanced into the Tiberias region, he happened to encounter the master of the Temple, Gerard de Ridefort, and the master of the Hospital, Roger des Moulins. In the unexpected battle which followed, he put the former to flight and killed the latter.

The Muslims feigned a retreat, a common tactic which should not have fooled Gerard; nevertheless, he ordered a charge, against Roger's advice, and the knights were separated from the foot-soldiers. The Muslims easily repulsed a direct Christian attack, killing both the exhausted knights, and, later, the foot-soldiers. Gerard was wounded, but survived; however, almost all the others were killed. According to the Itinerarium, however, Gerard did not rashly engage the enemy, but was actually caught unaware and was the victim of an attack himself. The Itinerarium also records the exploits of a certain Templar named Jakelin de Mailly, who, after all his companions had been killed, fought singlehandedly against the throng of Muslims until he too fell.


Balian was still a day behind, and had also stopped at Sebastea to celebrate a feast day. After reaching the castle of La Fève, where the Templars and Hospitallers had camped, he found that the place was deserted. He sent his squire Ernoul ahead to learn what had happened, and news of the disastrous battle soon arrived from the few survivors. Raymond heard about the battle as well and met the embassy at Tiberias, and agreed to accompany them back to Jerusalem.

Raymond was finally willing to acknowledge Guy as king, but the damage to the kingdom was severe, and both Gerard and Raynald considered Raymond a traitor. However Guy, knowing that Saladin's army was already forming for a renewed assault on the kingdom, could not afford to let this internecine quarrel continue and welcomed Raymond with open arms.

Saladin gathered a much larger army of 20,000 men, invaded the kingdom in June, and defeated Guy at Hattin on July 4; by October he captured Jerusalem itself.

The problem of the sources

The battle is mentioned in a number of contemporary chronicles. These accounts differ considerably, and have never been fully reconciled by historians. Instead historical accounts tend to be dominated by the early interpretations of the Latin De expugnatione Terrae Sanctae libellus. The aforementioned Latin Itinerarium was probably compiled in the late 1190s or early 13th century, incorporating material from a member of Richard I's army in the unsuccessful Third Crusade, and some other sources.

The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre (1230s in its present form) includes an account of the immediate aftermath which is attributed to Balian's squire Ernoul: Ernoul himself was travelling with his lord and was not present for the actual fighting. Gerard of Ridefort's own report of the battle was the source for a short narrative written by Pope Urban III to Baldwin of Exeter, archbishop of Canterbury. The Arabic chronicle of Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad briefly mentions Saladin's expedition but does not refer specifically to Cresson; according to him the advance guard remained in the Hawran while Saladin was in Damascus.

There is no real secondary literature on this battle, which was a minor prelude to Hattin. However, the classic study on crusader warfare of this period is Smail. A useful additional read is Marshall, which covers the armies of the region shortly after the battle of Hattin.

For succession of related campaigns see also


  1. Nicholson and Nicolle, p. 55


  • Thierry Delcourt, Danielle Quérel, Fabrice Masanès (eds.): Sébastien Mamerot, Les Passages d'Outremer. A chronicle of the Crusades. Cologne, Taschen, 2009, p. 145 (ISBN 978-3-8365-0555-0).
  • Nicholson, H and Nicolle, D (2006) God's Warriors: Knights Templar, Saracens and the Battle for Jerusalem, Osprey Publishing.
  • David Nicolle, Hattin 1187, Saladin's greatest victory Osprey Publishing, Oxford 1993. ISBN 1-85532-284-6.
  • Kenneth Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades. Madison, 1969–1989 (available online).
  • Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, vol. II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press, 1952.
  • R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097–1193. Cambridge, 1995 (first published 1956)
  • Christopher Marshall, Warfare in the Latin East 1197–1291 Cambridge, 1992
  • De Expugnatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum, translated by James A. Brundage, in The Crusades: A Documentary Survey. Marquette University Press, 1962.
  • Chronicle of the Third Crusade, a Translation of Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, translated by Helen J. Nicholson. Ashgate, 1997.
  • Peter W. Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade: Sources in Translation. Ashgate, 1996. [The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, with Pope Urban III's letter.]