** KINGDOM OF HEAVEN**
Researcher: Dave Feldmann
Undergrad and unofficial medievalist, current practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts. I've been looking at and reading knight stuff since I could read and walk, including research into the zettel of Lichtenauer and Hans Talhoffer's Fechtbuch.
Incident(s) the film touches on?
The film takes place about 100 years after the mostly Frankish and Norman knights of the First Crusade conquered Antioch, Edessa, Jerusalem, and much of the Holy Land from the Seljuk Turks. The targets of the Crusaders were primarily everyone in the Levant who were not Roman Catholics - the massacre of Jerusalem at the conclusion of the First Crusade killed Jews, Greek Orthodox Christians, as well as the Muslim population is mentioned in the film directly. "Kingdom of Heaven" takes place after the failed Second Crusade to capture Damascus, and portrays the events that led directly to the showdown between King Richard (called the Lionhearted by the Saracens accoding to myth) and Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria.
Ridley Scott’s 2004 medieval anti-religious yet decidedly pro-chivalry epic suffers from many of the symptoms associated with almost every film he has ever made. In his historical films, Scott typically begins designing the look of his film from 19th century romantic paintings and does his best to recreate the look, feel, and color distribution represented.1.
- The only time Scott has not done this forcefully is in his very fine original work “The Duelists,” which contains, along with Polish film “The Deluge,” some truly wonderful, authentic, and realistic swordplay. I can talk about combat ad nauseum, let me know if you need/ want more.a
The Englishization of most Europeans in the film. The vast majority of the Crusaders and the Crusaders states during this time were mostly all French, including the Templars. The Knights Hospitaller were known for being more generally Italian. The Teutonic Knights were not founded until after the events of the movie, in 1192 in Acre. Scott is making a movie by and large for English-speaking audiences, with English speaking actors, so why not continue the trope of all of High Medieval civilization being represented by actors from the UK, speaking in public school accents for the most part?
Military history stuff. From a medieval combat perspective, especially including gear and equipment, the film presents some weaponry and armor from the late 12th century while including other weapons and weapon systems anachronistically.
The entire forest scene from beginning to end is looked upon fairly well in medievalist circles. The sophisticated hygiene of the Saracen warrior, the maintenance of war-fighting equipment, and Balian’s initial lesson in Fiore-style longsword combat are all fantastic and historically accurate. Using the full weapon (which Godrey demonstrates to Balan “the edge isn’t the only part of the sword”) are straight out of Fiore’s manuals.
Unfortunately, Italian longsword was a weapons system developed centuries later, and knights and warriors from Europe would most likely be using an arming sword, a weapon used in one hand and another weapon, most likely a shield typically (an arming sword corresponds to types X through XII in the below diagram. The two-handed Type XIIa is from about 60 years after Kingdom of Heaven). Longswords were denoted historically (and currently) due to their longer grip intended for two hand use. Two handed words existed in the 12th century, but are extremely rare in the historical record, and most of the fechtbucher (fight books) that have survived regarding medieval combat derive from the late 13th through early 16th centuries focus on longswords at great length. Most of the modern fight choreography uses or ignores these texts in equal measure - Game of Thrones varies in quality greatly but has some high points of authenticity.
A likely inaccuracy is the style of the German warrior’s sword, which is of an amalgamation of a longsword of the late 12th century, with its two handed grip common in the 13th and 14th centuries, and a non-cruciform hilt more common in the Viking age 200 years earlier. Such swords do exist, but are comparatively rare. It's likely that the design team was looking for a way to visually distinguish him from the other warriors in a germanic way. His berserker charge with two weapons even when grievously wounded by a quarrel in the neck is also a throwback to Viking or Teutonic warrior cultures, mentioned as far back as Tacitus.
The combat itself in the fight is high quality, but many elements are slowed or lost completely, primarily because “real” medieval combat is not very cinematic - it would have been better if the warriors of both sides preferred using the tip more than the edge but that’s just something that happens in all movies. Edge-based fighting (cuts with the edge) look scarier and more impressive. The use of crossbowmen and archers to launch the ambush under the facade of parley is commonplace in the historical record.
I personally love Kevin McKidd in this scene, executing a man of the knightly classes after Godfrey refuses to ransom him. The chainmail spike on his warhammer graphically bursts through the secondary chainmail on the noble’s head, and this is a demonstration of precisely what that weapon was designed to do. Warhammers were far more common on medieval battlefields than swords, due to the increased availability of chainmail for many soldiers of all classes, and for its effectiveness. These weapons in particular were favored by the lighter-armored Turkish, Persian, Kurdish, and Egyptian Muslim armies as they developed weapons systems to face more heavily armed and armored Christian knights in close combat. Too bad it's an almost exact replica of a warhammer from the 15th century.
The brief combat between Balian and the Saracen warrior first using a scimitar and then a spear (of some kind) is curious. After the mounted exchange is over (“fight me fairly!”), the Saracen starts combat with his curved blade on his forearm. This is not uncommon in treatises on Polish or Turkish sabre, and is considered to favor defense. However, soldiers in the service of Saladin at the time did not use curved swords. It is not known when the scimitar or any other curved blade weapon gained prominence in the Middle East.
In the battle outside Kerak, the cavalry charge of the Christian knights is very close to what it would’ve looked like, except that the knights would have ridden even closer together and used lances. Their armor is an amalgam of infantry and cavalry styles from the period, which is forgivable for two reasons: 1. They are portrayed as mounted men-at-arms rather than knights and 2. Latin feudal states in Outremer had compulsory military service for all free men, at the King's discretion. Think the Riders of Rohan, sort of. In pitched battles, cavalry charges by numerically inferior Christian knights packed close together were devastating to Saracen/ Turkish/ Kurdish/ Fatimid armies for centuries before and after the event of Kingdom of Heaven. For example, the battle of Arsuf saw a mounted heavy cavalry charge rout Saladin’s army. In the movie, Baldwin reminisces about his decisive victory over Saladin at Montgisard, another battle won by numerically fewer European knights in a heavy cavalry attack. Primary sources from the time indicate that Saladin had many thousands while Baldwin had only 375 knights, however, while the numbers are inflated or deflated by sources to maximize Baldwin’s victory, there is no doubt that Baldwin had fewer soldiers in this engagement.
Balian would not have pulled his helmet off in the middle of a battle, because he would not have been that dumb.
How the Arabs take down Balian is pretty accurate. Multiple soldiers would be swarming a single knight and incapacitating him for capture, and ultimate ransom. Chainmail works very well against cutting strikes and some “thrusts” (using the tip of a hand weapon). Getting hit with metal weapons while wearing chainmail armor hurts, but is not fatal - I can tell you this from experience. The number of survivors from the battle is not unreasonable, and the idea that prisoners would be released or ransomed by one side or the other was commonplace during the constant warfare of the period.
“There is peace there.”
Nope. Liam Neeson is wrong there. Battles, raids, sieges, all forms of warfare were more or less constant, with ceasefires and peace declarations constantly being made and broken. Sybilla’s marriage ceremony to Guy was interrupted by a siege.
“Between Baldwin and Saladin, they could make a better world.”
Maybe, if lasting peace were not diametrically opposed to the two leaders’ strategic aims.
Saladin’s stated goal was the capture of Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest city, and destroy the entire feudal structure of the Crusader states.
The goal of the Crusader states was to continue their occupation and defeat Saladin wherever possible.
On the other hand, there is also no evidence of widespread massacres, harsh treatment, mutilation,or execution of prisoners common in the First Crusade or the Third Crusade. Evidence of Saladin’s humane treatment of non-combatants and children is well-known. While Latin Christians would frequently be captured, ransomed, or enslaved, Greek Orthodox Christians, Coptic Christians, and Jews appear to be identified as outside the main Latin Christian structure and treated well by the standards of the time.
There is no evidence of Baldwin being a modern humanitarian with regards to his treatment of the non-Latin Christians.
“Saladin has crossed the Jordan with 500,000 men.”
WRONG. Saladin’s army did not number in the hundreds of thousands, but this does fall into common historiographical use. Eastern armies are regularly inflated by 10x in sources going back to Xenophon and Alexander, in order to magnify the victory, or to downplay the defeat, for propaganda purposes. Most estimates put Saladin’s army in the 50,000 range, outnumbering the Europeans, but not by orders of magnitude.
The Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller.
The status of the knightly orders within the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Crusader states is enormously complicated. They functioned both as shock troops, advisors to the king and court, while also not being formally answerable to the King. Primary sources are full of impetuous Templars charging too early in battle and imperiling the crusaders as such. It is unknown whether or not this is true -- many sources of this period are based on earlier works no longer in existence. Opinion regarding the Templars in subsequent centuries certainly contaminates the record.3.
- _I can talk about this in significantly more detail, but suffice it say that the Templars were accused of worshiping the Devil, sodomy, renouncing Christ in favor of Mohammad, and a ton of other religious crimes when they were suppressed by the King of France in 1307 before being formally disbanded in 1314. _
While raids by both sides continued constantly and often in defiance of ceasefires and peace treaties, the Templars in particular were known to at different points trade with other Saracen lords and even support them in battle. The kingdom of Jerusalem for example militarily supported a Fatimid Egyptian faction opposed to Saladin in the years prior to those of the film. The Templars’ position as bankers and financial advisors is completely ignored.
Other than being one of the good guys, the Hospitallers are basically ignored.
Horns of Hattin.
The movie greatly simplifies this battle, primarily because the battle itself is enormously complicated, and could probably have a movie about it by itself. Most primary sources agree that King Guy either took bad advice or made a tactical error and moved away from the water source at Saffuriya. Most sources agree that the fighting was extremely bitter and went on for two days, with one European cavalry charge threatening Saladin himself. It should be noted that medieval battles were typically decided in hours, sometimes in minutes. If the sources are to be believed, the battle of Hattin is one of the longest pitched battles in medieval history, and based on the primary sources seems to be a bloody battle of attrition, similar to the battle of Zama or the Napoleonic battle of Borodino. Multiple sources agree that the count of Tiberias led a cavalry against the Muslims, who parted their entire line in front of him and his troops, and then enveloped and wiped out his entire column. There is no agreement in the sources as to who was with the count, although modern sources claim that this was a desperate attempt to reach fresh water. Most sources agree that King Guy setting up camp away from a water source was a mistake which led directly to the European army being surrounded, increasingly desperate, and to their defeat.
“I did not give the cup to you.”
The meeting of King Guy, Raynald of Châtillon, and Saladin is supported by most primary and secondary resources. Where the sources disagree are primarily Raynald and Saladin’s brief conversation, and whether Saladin killed Raynald himself entirely, or stabbed Raynald and had his Mamluk bodyguards behead him.
Christian and Muslim accounts agree that almost the entire Crusader army was destroyed, and it is unclear how Balian and a handful of Europeans escaped. Medieval accounts describe the entire host as being killed or captured, with prisoners being sold into slavery. Multiple sources, both Muslim and Christian describe the execution of 200 Templars and Hospitillars.
The Siege of Jerusalem.
There would not have been time to construct siege towers, the siege lasted a few days to just over a week. Instead of building such material, Saladin was instead accepting the surrender of towns and castles all over the Latin kingdom with the one exception of Tyre, which resisted him. Since the vast amount of the fighting forces of the Latin kingdom had been effectively annihilated at Hattin, Saladin probably believed that he could take the city by storm. Even though Jerusalem is not improbably located on a desert plain, the soldiers of the First Crusade had found only enough wood to construct exactly one siege tower a hundred years before, rather than the 20 that you see in the film. There’s no evidence of boiling oil or Greek fire being used in this siege. The Muslims dug beneath the walls of Jerusalem to bring down the wall, and according to contemporary records, Saladin’s standard had been placed there, though his soldiers had been driven off.
Balian offered terms, and only threatened the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, the execution of the thousands of Muslim prisoners he still held, the murder of their families prior to capture, and essentially the ruination of the city itself prior to its fall to Saladin. The threat that his knights would kill ten Saracens for every Latin killed is supported by multiple sources. Considering that the fighting to take the city had been bloody thus far, (few cities fell by storm in the Middle Ages), this may have been on Saladin’s mind from the beginning. According to Imad ad-Din, this was discussed in council, and it was determined that such a victory would be too costly for the Muslims. Rather than going free, the soldiers and Latin people of Jerusalem would essentially be bought out of slavery with the riches of the city. After 40 days after the surrender of the city, still considered to be an unconditional surrender by the letter of the law, 15,000 Latin Christians were sold into slavery. Balian was concerned specifically with destitutes in the city. According to Imad ad-Din, Saladin gifted Balian 500 such slaves he had taken, with the full knowledge that they would be immediately freed.
After the surrender, Sybilla and Balian led the payrolled survivors from one Crusader-held castle and city to the next, only to be denied entry. Many were robbed and killed by brigands, some of whom were directed to do so by the Latin Christian lords. According to Imad ad-Din, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem stole significantly from the Church in defiance of the agreement. Ad-Din also criticized Saladin’s decision to not destroy the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While not violent by the standards of the time, the capture of Jerusalem was not as it was portrayed in the film, with everyone becoming friends right away. Still there is no evidence of widespread murder, looting, etc. The city certainly wasn’t burned as in previous sieges, or its population massacred. The Basileus of the Eastern Empire wrote to congratulate Saladin on his victory and thanked him for the good treatment of Orthodox Christians. Balian of Ibelin and Guy de Lusignan did not fight a duel in the marketplace of Jerusalem after the surrender of the city as shown in the Director’s Cut. King Guy would not even be released from imprisonment for years. Also, such a fight would likely be seen as a breach in the peace were it to happen and both men executed. It's also not a very good longsword fight.
Balian of Ibelin
Balian of Ibelin was a real person who did defend the city of Jerusalem. The Liam Neeson character bears more in common with the historical Balian than the Orlando Bloom version and his pretty face. Balian was an older man, and considered to be a leader of the old guard, descendants of the First Crusaders. Balian was effectively third-in-line for the throne while Baldwin lived. Balian never had an affair with Sybilla, who by all accounts was just head over heels for Guy de Lusignan. Some sources do claim that in order to replenish the ranks of knights, Balian created 60 knights from squires and raised other soldiers to squires. I have been utterly confounded as to where this comes from, it is not in any primary source that I have encountered. Balian did not return with Sybilla to France, and remained in the Holy Land, commanding the rearguard at the battle of Jaffa (the battle where Saladin sent a mount to Richard after he was unhorsed, according to legend) and served as a negotiator between Richard and Saladin. In Muslim sources, during the negotiation, Balian is said to speak with the royal “we,” which has led some historians to suspect that the Muslims treated Balian as the king of Jerusalem during the siege.
The characterization of Sybilla as an Orientalized European has more in common with Shelley, Byron, and other 19th century Romantic poets than with 12th century reality. The concept of a relationship between Sybilla and Balian is the product of a courtly love story written in the 13th century called in academic circles Old French Continuation of William Tyre. 4.
- No one including the author has ever read it. Highly suspect as a historical resource, it may instead be viewed as an idealized version of events of “the Latin East.” Some aspects of the work, such as Sybilla writing to Balian, offering her hand, and therefore the kingship of Jerusalem, if he frees her Saladin, bear striking similarities to much older legend of Attila the Hun and Honoria, the Roman Emperor’s imprisoned sister. It is all BS. Sybilla was indeed crowned sole regent and Queen after plots, counterplots, and royal intrigues following the death of her brother Baldwin (IV), as well as her son, Baldwin (V). His death is not traditionally attributed to leprosy. Raynald of Chatillon was one of her strongest supporters, along with the Master of the Temple, commander of the Templars. In negotiations with the ruling council of Jerusalem, she agreed to renounce her previous marriage in return for regency and queenship. She would also be granted the right to choose her own husband, and she chose Guy de Lusignan, bearing him two children. Sybilla’s choices of allies frequently place her in political opposition to the “Crusader old guard” led by Balian of Ibelin. Rather than pulling a Cersei and looking out the window the whole time, defence of the city is thought to have been led by Sybilla, Eraclius, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and Balian. Over the centuries Sybilla has been portrayed in a negative light by many chroniclers, at turns flighty, melodramatic, unpredictable, or any of the other epithets associated with powerful women throughout history. Her demand to marry Guy de Lusignan just prior to the epic defeat at Hattin is often portrayed as destroying the Crusader kingdom in the long run by European writers. Who knows, maybe they just don’t like powerful, savvy women. What is peculiar and interesting about Sybilla in Kingsom of Heaven, is that many of the piled up negative aspects found in the historiography and romances (dalliances with dashing knights, realpoliticking over the crown of Jerusalem, ruthlessness during her regency and ultimately the euthanasia of her own son) are presented in a sympathetic light, the actions of a paradoxically powerful but trapped woman.
Portrayed by Alexander Siddig (Siddig El Fadil), is a real chronicler, poet, professor of law, and judge of the time period. Highly educated, highly respected, Imad ad-Din is one of the only reasons we have as much knowledge about Saladin from the Muslim side as we do. By all accounts a close friend of Saladin, he was most often placed in high administrative and judicial posts around Saladin’s empire. His work, al-Nawādir al-Sultaniyya wa'l-Maḥāsin al-Yūsufiyya, (the Rare and Excellent Life of Saladin) is unusual in that it was written near contemporary of the events it depicts. There’s no evidence to suggest that he was ever a warrior, or the engineer who suggested the weak point in Jerusalem’s walls.
Gleefully played by Brendan Gleason, this character bears little similarity to the real Raynald. He was not a Templar, instead an aggressive newcomer to the region, who found courtly support with Queen Sybilla and King Guy There’s no evidence that he was insane, or drank and ate heavily while under siege at Kerak. He did attack a caravan and break the truce that existed between Guy and Saladin. I’ve found no evidence that Raynald murdered Saladin’s sister. On the contrary, Saladin’s son engaged a force of Templars immediately after the ceasefire was broken and decisively defeated them.
Elsewhere it is noted that Raynald’s death likely occurred as depicted in the movie. Just prior to his death, it's even possible that “snow-capped water” was being drunk in his presence, as depicted in the immediate aftermath of the battle.
The sultan of Egypt and Syria is portrayed by Ghassan Massoud (غسّان مسعود). He’s awesome in this movie. Saladin and his status as a Muslim chivalrous antagonist is a noted topic among romances, histories, chronicles of the Western Medeval world. He normally comes off looking much more humanitarian compared to his Latin adversaries, certainly Guy, Raynald, or Richard in the 3rd Crusade (who personally executed a bunch of prisoners within sight of Saladin himself).
Saladin’s status as a great leader of Sunni Islam has only been discussed and studied (possibly re-discovered) over the last century or so. Movies, TV, and books have increasingly portrayed him as a hero of Syria, Egypt, or Sunni Islam in general. Saladin is buried in Damascus, in the Umayyad Mosque. He has two sarcophagi: one wooden and one marble. The wooden sarcophagus covers Saladin’s burial shroud. The marble was donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II upon his visit to Damascus in 1898. It’s located off to the side. The mausoleum is open for visitors.
Researcher: Ally Pitts
Bachelor's degree in History, including several units on medieval topics
A Kurdish general. He brutally suppressed the Shia Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt on the orders of Nur ad-Din, the ruler of Aleppo and Damascus. When Nur ad-Din died without an adult heir, Saladin took over the territories he had ruled. He survived a serious illness in 1182, and is said to have dedicated himself to the recovery of Jerusalem in gratitude to God for having spared his life. Scholars have debated to what extent this is a literary device employed by supportive chroniclers. Saladin survived several attempts on his life by literal Assassins.
Guy de Lusignan:
Guy was originally from Poitou in western France. After his wife Sybil died, he lost his claim to the throne of Jerusalem. He was given control of Cyprus by Richard I of England (AKA ‘the Lionheart’), who had captured the island in 1191.
Reynald de Chatillon:
Reynald became Prince of Antioch (one of the Crusader States) through marriage to Constance, heiress to the principality. He was called ‘the elephant’ by Saladin, a comparison with a 6th-century Ethiopian king who had tried to destroy Mecca. He was rumoured to be planning to raid the city of Medina to steal the body of the Prophet Muhammad. This rumour was used by Saladin to gain support for his war against the Frankish states.
Balian of Ibelin:
Not actually a peasant. Threatened to kill all of his Muslim prisoners & destroy all the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem if Saladin didn’t offer terms to the Christian defenders of the city.
The Hospitallers (as represented by David Thewlis’s character):
Founded by merchants from Amalfi in the late 11th century, the St. John’s Hospital was part of a monastery near the Holy Sepulchre. It provided accommodation and medical care to Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. The Hospitallers didn’t have a military role until the mid 1130s, when they began garrisoning castles across the crusader states. Following the destruction of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, they resettled in Rhodes. When Rhodes was captured by the Ottoman Turks, the Hospitallers were given control of Malta by Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire in 1530 in exchange for an annual tribute of a single Maltese falcon. They were eventually kicked out of Malta in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte when he captured the island.
Life in the Crusader States:
The Frankish rulers of the Crusader States imposed taxes on the indigenous peoples, regardless of whether they were Muslims, Christians, or Jews. According to Professor Andrew Jotischky “...in the 12th century at least, there was no attempt to impose conformity of religious practice on the subject peoples. Indigenous Christians, Muslims, and Jews were by and large permitted to observe their own traditions unmolested''. However, Muslims were not permitted to enter Jerusalem.
The Crusades & Medieval Society:
According to Professor Christopher Tyerman, the first western European income tax was levied by Henry II of England in 1166 to fund crusading.
Legacy of the Crusades:
In the post-WWI carve-up of the Middle East, French Foreign Minister Stephen Jean-Marie Pichon traced France’s claim on Syria back to the Crusades. The Emir Feisal of the Hijaz, who was present at the Paris Peace Conference responded, “Pardon me, Monsieur Pichon, but which of us won the Crusades?”. Emir Feisal’s interpreter was T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia.
Crusading and the Crusader States, Andrew Jotischky (incidentally, one of my lecturers when I was at university), Pearson, 2004
A Trip Down the Red Sea with Reynald of Châtillon, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
Third Series, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Apr., 2008), pp. 141-153
The Sea Speaks Arabic, Umej Bhatia, History Today Vol. 55 (5), 2005
The Cross and the State, Christopher Tyerman, Vol. 56 (9), 2006
Researcher: Benjamin David Curley
Unsurprisingly the Crusades period of history is much more complicated than what little information about it we tend to learn either in school or via osmosis. A huge important factor that can get lost in the "Christianity vs Islam" framing we tend to get is that JUST before the Crusades period began we got The Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Christian Church that lead to the distinction we see today between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. We have to understand that for the European Christians of the day this was a massive change where now there was this huge shift in religious power, and this massive debate between the authority of The Pope vs the ecclesiastical powers of the Eastern Orthodox church. So when Jerusalem was captured by the Seljuk Turks in the late 1000s and the Byzantine Empire called for aid trying to retake it's lost territory the forces of religion, culture, economics, and politics all came together in unprecedented ways that no one factor can truly encapsulate.
The Catholic Church saw this as a chance to advance their goals of repairing the Schism by reclaiming the Holy Land thereby reuniting Christianity and undoing the fragmentation that was still fresh in everyone's memories. A Europe that still included Moorish Spain saw pressure on the Byzantines as the invaders at the gates of the last real bastion preventing another invasion of Europe, and maybe they wouldn't be able to stop them this time. And it's important to remember that with the feudal culture of the time and the difficulties faced by lesser sons of nobility the chance to have more from life than hoping your brothers die, or submitting yourself to a life of monastic servitude the opportunity to go and make a name for yourself and gain your own wealth land and titles or die trying was a tantalizing prospect. This all tied in to the very real religious zeal that many people felt where the call to retake the city of Jerusalem for God was a legitimate motivating factor for thousands of people who otherwise would likely never have left their own homes.
This lead to the First Crusade that, while successful in reclaiming Christian control of the Holy Land along the Mediteranian coast, they did not reinstate Byzantine control as the Empire would have wanted, and the many Crusader States were all controlled by people with their own goals and ambitions for the whole endeavour. This was mirrored by the Muslim powers in the region, who while not happy about this Eurpoean invasion were also not unified in their goals or ambitions. Just as in Europe the different Muslim powers jockying for land and control in the Middle East were often happy to see someone else coming to give their rivals a bloody nose and make them weaker the next time they tried to gain ground or negotiate an aliance. This also was exacerbated by the very hostile relationship between the new Catholic Crusader power structure and the Christians who had been previously living in the region. All the holy sites that had been under Eastern Orthodox control were now replaced with Catholic clergy and liturgy failing to bring about the reunification that was a goal of the Crusade, but how can you tell the zealous Christians who just fought and bled under Papal order to not then perform their own rites even if it did undermine the high minded goal of reuniting the Church, and if you're an Orthodox Christian it felt like you were just trading one occupier for another.
In the aftermath of the First Crusade we get a hundred fifty year period of The Crusader States, where the different Crusader Kingdoms and the Muslim Caliphates are in near constant warfare, but who was fighting whom was constantly in shift including some instances where Muslim states made aliances with Christians ones to fight their rivals. This all really began to change when through lots of fascinating and complicated movements Al-Nasir Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (Saladin) was able to become Sultan of Egypt and then Sultan of Syria thereby uniting the two main Muslim powers under one banner. He was a great diplomat and generous leader but now that the Muslims were ostensibly united there was only one major enemy in the region and one target for his might to be facing and that was The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Crusader States. We need to remember that for all the power and authority Kings and Sultans wield the Feudal system is by its very nature fractured. A leader who is not answering the calls of their subordinates may not find themselves a leader for long. Saladin to his credit was a brilliant logistical mind and knew to pick his fights instead of just wasting the strength of his unified empire in blow after blow. When we see the Jerusalem of Kingdom of Heaven Saladin has learned his lesson from his previous war against Baldwin IV and has spent the years of truce solidifying his control of Muslim lands and making sure that he was ready to fight the next war everyone knew was coming. So the world we are entering is a world that is as divided and as contentious as the film shows us. It is a world of practical rules, of men hungry for power, of soldiers just looking to make name and fortune for themselves, and of warriors truly inspired by religious fervor who believe that God is on their side. While it may be easier to paint the Crusades with broad brushes, either as a derogatory example of the evils of religion, or as decisions made by people as secular as the modern reader looking back it cannot be overstated that for the people of the time they were not as mindlessly blindly devoted to whatever "God Wills" but also were not universally pragmatic and using that language as a cover. Many of them did believe that they were legitimately acting out the desires of God, but they were not also unaware of the other forces motivating and driving them.
Some other historical footnotes for this movie:
By all contemporary accounts Sibylla did in fact love Guy and was completely devoted to him (but then we don't get to see our lead mack with our beautiful damsel).
Reynald likely did not kill Saladin's sister, though the depiction of his death was close to the historical record. The added context there that is undercut by the "I take water for what it is" line is that it would have been known that for a captured person to receive food or drink from their captor was a sign of safety. So Saladin's note that "I did not offer the cup to you" is a very pointed "Guy is safe, not you". Muslim records of the event state that Saladin offered Reynald the chance to convert to Islam to prevent his execution for his many crimes, and when Reynald refused Saladin cut his head off. If this was a true offer, or an addition by his chroniclers to make Saladin seem more magnanimous is a matter of debate, but Saladin was known for showing mercy and being generous to a fault.
Finally my favorite anecdote, contrary to the depiction in the film, Balian was present at the Horns of Hattin and survived the battle. Knowing that Saladin's next stop would be Jerusalem he asked for and was granted permission to go back to the city to secure his wife and family. When Balian arrived he found no one of any rank there to defend the city. He sent word to Saladin saying he had to break his word to just grab his family and go, and true to his nature Saladin seemed to completely understand, and even provided Balian's family safe passage through to Tripoli before the siege started. A true moment of "yeah, I get it" when many people at the time might go into full vengeance mode for the breaking of an oath.
Finally a small nitpick as I also come from a historical combat perspective. During the attempted assassination of Balian a knight is seen with a "ball and chain" style flail. These weapons are so rare that it's iffy if they even existed. While weapons called Flails are real they were giant paddles similar to grain flails. The spiked ball on several feet of chain is an anachronism that plagues a lot of medieval films. Similarly, as much as it pains me to say as a practitioning sword fighter, the use of swords is very much overdone in medieval epics, especially the longswords depicted in the film. Most swords of the time would have been single handed arming swords meant to be used with a shield (you know, so you don't die), and all swords would have been side arms. A knight on the charge, as we see in the defence of Kerak, would have been fighting with a lance or spear and with swords held high as depicted in the film. The sword fighting demonstrated early in the film as Balian is being taught isn't bad, it's just not correct for the time, and of course Balian wouldn't be ready to go and fight 3 on 1 as he does later from a 5 minute intro to sword fighting from Liam Neeson. Finally, while we do get some great sense of the brutality and confusion of a medieval battle this film still falls prey to the "everyone wears armor, then you wack them once with a sword and they go down" trope that a lot of movie swordfights fall for (though at least we don't see anyone stab straight through a breastplate in this one". Part of the reason the European Knight was such a devastating force on the battlefield was the inherent difficulty to just kill them. Later accounts tell of gangs of men having to basically dogpile a knight while someone else found a gap to stab them, or more commonly they surrendered so you could ransom them back for a big payday.