The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin

Thursday 6 June 2019,
BP Lecture Theatre
Free, booking essential

Phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181
Ticket Desk in Great Court

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With Jonathan Phillips, Royal Holloway, University of London.

As the man who conquered Jerusalem from the crusaders the Sultan Saladin became the hero of medieval Islam; down the centuries his image and reputation have blossomed and today he holds a remarkably high profile in the contemporary culture and politics of the Near East. The lecture will illustrate how this Kurdish warrior drew together a confederation of forces from Egypt, Syria and Iraq to build a family empire and to set himself up as Islam’s leading holy warrior.

A rich blend of poetry, narratives and medical texts bring this remarkable story to life, showcasing Saladin’s acute political judgement and highlighting his personal charisma through his generosity, piety and mercy. His conquest of Jerusalem (in 1187) struck a mortal blow to Christendom and provoked the Third Crusade, led by Richard the Lionheart. These two great leaders fought one another to a standstill, but Saladin succeeded in holding on to Jerusalem for Islam. Worn out by the struggle, he died within months of the campaign’s end in March 1193.

The lecture also traces his reputation down the centuries, looking at how his image evolved, first in the Christian West where he underwent an astonishing transformation from a reviled manifestation of the devil, to a paragon of chivalric virtue. In the Near East his profile, along with the memory of the crusading era, remained of note until the modern age when renewed Western involvement in the Eastern Mediterranean brought these issues sharply to the fore again. Figures from politics, religion and culture have all drawn upon the memory of this icon of the Arab and the Muslim world; the talk will conclude by highlighting the sheer diversity of those who have invoked the legacy of the medieval Sultan Saladin.

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