Battle of Mongisard 25th Nov 1177
The battle was a rare example of a victory by the Crusaders and the only instance when Saladin was defeated. There were probably special reasons and research into this battle can reveal some of the reasons for this exceptional triumph.
Saladin had set out for his 1177 campaign with an army of 26,000 horsemen according to William of Tyre. Baldwin IV, the king of Jerusalem, had sent a large contingent of the army and knights available to him to aid a campaign by the Count of Flanders in the north. He summoned all the knights still in the kingdom, with their squires and sergeants, some 350 heavy horsemen with their retinues. The Templars, who had also sent a contingent to aid the Count of Flanders, succeeded in gathering 84 knights. Baldwin barricaded himself in Ascalon and the Templars in Gaza. On hearing that Saladin was ravaging and looting the countryside and understanding that he was about to march on Jerusalem itself, the king of Jerusalem gathered all forces available to him and marched out of Ascalon to seek Saladin. With him he had a relic of the True Cross. On the 25th of November 1177 Baldwin surprised Saladin near a mound known to the Franks as Mons Gisardi or Montgisard.
Although Arab sources talk instead of the ”battle of Ramla”, Imad al Din says quite specifically that the baggage train was mired at the river on which the mound of Al-Safiya (modern Tell Es-Safi) stands. The mound is near the village of Menehem, about 25 km from Ascalon and about 18-20km from Ramla. It had a fort at around that time called Blanche Garde. The fort was razed by Saladin at some point in time but its foundations have been found at the very top of Tell es-Safi. It was called Blanche (white) being made of stone from the same hill (the quarry has also been identified on the hill) and clearly the mound or hill was made of white rock and all this detail has confirmed the archaeologists’ association of the fort under that name with this specific mound or hill (the only uncertainty is that Mont Gisard has not yet been independently identified as the same/different mound as Tell es-Safi). Nevertheless, Saladin arrayed his army in front of Tell al-Safiya (Telll es-Safi), according again to Imad al-Din who described also the battle in great detail (he was in the entourage of Saladin and fought in the battle).
Saladin had been marching with part of his army and his baggage towards Jerusalem. Just past Tell es-Safi, the front guard may have proceeded either north or else east towards Jerusalem but the rest of the army had been delayed and bunched up because of the baggage train being mired in front of the mound. This was presumably a consequence of the ploughed fields and orchards further west being unsuitable for the march while the narrowness of the dirt path would have caused a bottleneck, if it run as it does today in between the river on one hand and the rocky hill on the other. Moreover, the path running next to the river could have been muddy on account of all this happening in November and not least by the passage of thousands of horses that would have turned up the moist earth.
Much of Saladin’s cavalry was mixed with the mired baggage train, partly assisting in moving it forward. The two wings (the wings during a march normally take the position of front guard and rear guard) were ordered by Saladin to converge before the mound when the enemy was sighted. Quite likely, Saladin was forced into battle in front of Tell es-Safi, as otherwise he would have to abandon his baggage train, that would have included money, provisions and siege engines, to the enemy. But the front guard (his right wing) would have been some way up the road, maybe a long way up the road and so his men joined battle piecemeal. First the rear guard and some among those with the baggage train, then his Mamluk guard and in the course of all this the front guard (or his right wing) would hurry to battle joined by members of the raiding parties from further north, such as might get to the battle in time.
How much army did he have with him? He had left troops to lay siege on Gaza and Ascalon, not a very strong force as Baldwin and the Templars escaped, but perhaps a couple thousand at least. He had sent raiding parties further north to Ramla, Lydda and Qalqilya by Arsuf. Moreover, his advance guard had been marching towards Jerusalem and may have been miles up the road when he was surprised by Baldwin. Probably Saladin only had half his army with him, if that.
William of Tyre puts the total of Saladin’s force to 26,000 horse, plus additional camels and mules. Clearly men would not fight on mules, so even he is estimating here only the total number of animals not of combatants. Egyptian records from that year mention only 8500 cavalry in total (though they only mention Ghulams and Mamluks as cavalry, so this number was perhaps just the professional cavalry). We may reconcile the two accounts by considering 8,500 professional cavalry and close to 20000 maximum others with potential mounts, used in part to carry baggage, etc. Among these there would have been a significant number of non-combatant camp followers. There would have been also some light troops and infantry that even if they travelled on horse, either they or their horses were not trained to fight as cavalry and would have had to dismount to fight. Considering the tired state of the Egyptian horses, which most sources agree on, the majority in Saladin’s force would have fought on foot. Those who fought on horse would be less effective than normally, so the normal effectiveness of the Royal Mamluks and Khassakis would be reduced. The non-combatants and those arriving with provisions, loot and cattle from the raids that could rush into battle on time would probably be mere rabble by the time they were on hand. So even at the highest estimate, Saladin would have fought this battle with effective forces not much more numerous than Baldwin’s.
The battle began after Baldwin kneeled before the relic of the True Cross, prayed and then ordered the relic to be born before the army as they prepared to join battle. Effective command of the Jerusalem army was under Reynald de Chatillion, while the Egyptian effective command was under his nephew Taqi ad-Din, who presumably commanded the rear guard (left wing). Taqi ad-Din apparently attacked while Saladin was putting his Mamluk guard together. Taqi’s son Ahmad died in the early fighting.
The battle seems to have taken place in the afternoon and would have probably ended around sunset. Saladin lost for the first and last time, and escaped as the last of his Mamluk guard fended off a small number of knights chasing him. While the majority of his army was stuck north of the battle field, by nightfall, those Egyptians that were with the Sultan had reached Caunetum Esturnellorum near the mound of Tell el Hessy (or Hessi). This is about 25 miles from Ramla. It is only about 7 km from Tell-es-Safi (al-Safiya).
It had not been an easy victory for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, despite their advantage of surprise and better morale. William of Tyre reports 1100 dead and 700 wounded. On the other hand it is said that Saladin reached Egypt with only a tenth of his army.
The Historical Battle in Kingdoms, Crusaders
Based on the foregoing, I have set up this battle which, if there is interest, I can offer for download. It is set at practically the upper limit of what is possible in M2TW. For this reason the battle often crashes, sometimes if you move your viewpoint or your force beyond the nearest enemy deployment area without eliminating the respective army. But sometimes it does not crash at all and you can finish it, though it can take 2-3 hours if you micromanage (almost as much as the actual battle). The terrain and numbers and types of combatants are as close to being historical as possible, within the limits of the game.
The terrain of the battle was based on Google Earth, photographs of the actual area in front of Tell es-Safi and on archaeological reports. To the right of the KoJ deployment zone ran the river and so their right flank was relatively safe but the left KoJ flank is somewhat exposed, considering the more numerous Egyptian cavalry. The land is fertile flat land, agricultural land ever since the Bronze Age. There would have never been many trees. Certainly no palm trees are present today. There is some brush and small trees on the very rocky Tell es-Safi and along the river. The hill country starts east of Tell es-Safi and the battle did not spread to the hills, so Tell es-Safi is the only hilly feature in the battle map.
In addition to the 84 Templar knights under Templar Master Odo de St Amand, Baldwin’s army included about 350 knights of Jerusalem under a number of generals, including Raymond de Chantillion, brothers Balian and Baldwin of Ibelin, Reginald of Sidon, Joscelin III Count of Edessa and the Count of Ramla and also an undefined “several thousand” soldiers (which chronicler cares about numbers when it is not knights …). The knights would have included presumably some sergeants and squires as “crusader knights” (the Templar sergeants wore brown garments, not the white of knights) and some of the sergeants might have had lighter armament than others and in that case they would not be considered by contemporary chroniclers as “knights”. These are simulated by Mounted Sergeants. Of course some would have fought on foot and foot there certainly was. So several thousand non-knights would mean about 3-9 thousand (mean = six), of which a small number would be mounted sergeants, the rest dismounted sergeants of Jerusalem, dismounted squires (= dismounted knights of Jerusalem) and lighter infantry, plus the 450 or so knights (including among them a few well -armed and experienced mounted sergeants as Crusader knights). Saladin’s army can be estimated between under 8,500 cavalry as the lowest estimate and 30,000 as the upper estimate. Several thousand were on raids, marches and sieges or were non-combatant camp-followers and would have not taken part in the battle. So let us say Saladin had between 5000 and 15000 men (mean about 10,000). About a third of these would be fighting on horse, the rest on foot, if we take into account the situation with the horses described further up (for the high estimate, only 1 out of three at best could be professional cavalry anyway).
The Egyptian troops start somewhat disordered, on account of their being surprised and forced to battle. There are 8835 Egyptians and 5832 KoJ combatants. KoJ have been given higher experience to portray their higher morale due to the relic of the True Cross, their eager determination, the advantage of surprise and relative rested state. Saladin has a guard of 1000 Mamluks as in the actual battle. The battle is actually balanced and it is possible to win it as either Baldwin or Saladin, the main handicap being the “allied” AI-controlled armies. Whichever side you choose, the battle tends to proceed much as stated by the historians of the time.
For instance, Ralph of Diss, otherwise known as Raduphus de Diceto, dean of St. Paul`s cathedral in London in the late twelfth century, records in his history the battle of Montgisard of 1177 between King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Saladin:
“Odo the master of the Knighthood of the Temple, like another Judas Maccabaeus [a great Biblical hero], had eighty-four knights of his order with him in his personal company. He took himself into battle with his men, strengthened by the sign of the cross. Spurring all together, as one man, they made a charge, turning neither to the left nor to the right. Recognising the battalion in which Saladin commanded many knights, they manfully approached it, immediately penetrated it, incessantly knocked down, scattered, struck and crushed. Saladin was smitten with admiration, seeing his men dispersed everywhere, everywhere turned in flight, everywhere given to the mouth of the sword. He took thought for himself and fled, throwing off his mailshirt for speed, mounted a racing camel and barely escaped with a few of his men. ('Ymagines Historiarum', 1, pp. 423-4.) “
The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period by D.S. Richards
Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani al-Fath al-Qussi
William of Tyre Deeds done Beyond the Seas
Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War by Malcolm Cameron Lyons
Ralph de Diceto (Radulf de Diceto decani Lundoniensis) Ymagines historiarum