Siege of Kerak

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The Siege of Kerak took place in 1183, with Saladin's forces attacking and being repelled from the Crusader stronghold.


Kerak was the stronghold of Raynald of Châtillon, Lord of Oultrejordain, 124 km south of Amman.[1] The fortress was built in 1142 by Pagan the Butler, Lord of Montreal.[1] While Raynald ruled, several truces existed between the Christian and Muslim states in the Holy Land, none of which he made any qualms about breaking. The last straw came in 1183 when he organized an expedition around the Red Sea. He captured the town of Aqaba, giving him a base of operations against Islam's holiest city, Mecca. Saladin, the leader of the Muslim forces, could not tolerate this and moved against Raynald's stronghold.

Demonstrations of war machines used during the Siege of Kerak in Kerak Castle Museum

Siege and relief

The Muslims had sought to take Kerak for several years, but now they stretched its defenses to the breaking point. At one point, nine catapults were bombarding the walls and inhabitants within.

Inside the walls, a royal marriage was taking place. Humphrey IV of Toron, Raynald's stepson and heir, was to take the hand of Isabella of Jerusalem, the King's half sister. As the wedding ceremonies continued, Saladin instructed his troops to avoid bombarding the young couple's quarters, but pressure on Kerak continued. Messengers managed to escape the town and take word to the King, Baldwin IV.

Baldwin immediately marched with a relief force, accompanied by his regent, Raymond III of Tripoli. Although suffering from leprosy since childhood, Baldwin's determination to frustrate Saladin's attempt was such that he led personally, although he had to be carried on a stretcher. The Christian forces arrived while Saladin was still struggling against the heavy fortifications. Knowing he risked being crushed between the royal army and the walls of Kerak, he lifted the siege.


Saladin returned to Kerak again in 1184, with the same result. Kerak remained a Crusader stronghold and a symbol of the West's grip in the region until falling to Muslim control in 1188.[1] The next time the Crusaders had to contend with a major siege, it was at the walls of Jerusalem itself.

In fiction

The motion picture Kingdom of Heaven contains a fictional portrayal of the siege, in which the Knights of Ibelin and the Ayyubids engage in battle. In the film, the Knights attacked so defenseless citizens could retreat to Raynald's castle. The film portrayed the siege not taking place. Instead, King Baldwin IV and Saladin managed to talk it out with no actual battle taking place. Baldwin IV ended up punishing Raynald for breaking the truce (with Saladin) by attacking a Muslim caravan.