Case Study: Arsuf

Approaches to Combat: I thought this week’s module was fascinating – although I may be biased because I am fascinated with the history of the Crusades and the rise of Islam in general.  Arsuf is a battle I had heard about in passing, but I was unware of the details, and studying history from a tactical standpoint is new to me, but I really, really enjoy it.  Since Salah al-Din approached the battle with only light infantry and regular cavalry and Richard approached it with infantry and knights/heavy cavalry, I think that the inequality of not only the number of fighters but the methods that could be employed by those fighters certainly contributed to the eventual outcome – although this may not be a clear-cut victory in Richard’s favor as one may think.[1]  Salah al-Din’s strategy at the beginning of the battle seemed to be to lure the Crusaders into a trap by bombarding them with projectiles, hoping to draw them into a trap by attacking unprepared[2].  This tactic failed.  Richard, conversely, demonstrated patience and extreme foresight both before and during the battle.[3]  The discipline displayed by the Crusaders at the onset of this battle is admirable, to say the least.  Salah al-Din’s strategy of harassing and provoking the Crusaders not only did not prompt them to attack, but it also exhausted his own troops against a larger force.[4]  When the surge finally did occur, the Hospitallers were able to create a hole in Salah al-Din’s front line.[5]  Although Salah al-Din attempts to surround the charging knights, a second cavalry charge by the Knights Templar forces Salah al-Din to move back or else have his forces face encirclement.[6]

How did various Approaches determine the Battle’s outcome: Salah al-Din’s approach was a good one, given the previous displayed temperament of a lot of the Crusader forces he had faced in the Holy Land earlier.  In many previous battles throughout the Crusades, the Crusaders had been lured into battle, away from defensive structures, away from satisfactory food and water supplies and into the heat of the desert.  By attempting to provoke the larger Crusader force into battle against Salah al-Din’s smaller but lighter and faster force, Salah al-Din did indeed have a shot at success.  This failed however, due to Richard’s ability to adapt, adjust and use his superior numbers and heavier cavalry to his advantage.  The Muslim army exhausted itself in close combat by barraging the Crusaders with missiles constantly and were unable to sufficiently deflect the eventual charge.[7]

Disparity between Richard’s Victory and his ability to capture Jerusalem and why

Although the Battle of Arsuf seems like a clear victory for the Crusaders in terms of sheer numbers of casualties (7000 on the Muslim side versus 700 on the Crusader side), the outcome ultimately was not as cut and dry as sheer numbers would suggest.[8]  Richard was never able to capture Jerusalem, and although he never faced Salah al-Din in battle again, Salah al-Din aimed to prevent Richard from his ultimate prize by adopting a “scorched earth” policy, denying Richard the much-needed resources for besieging Jerusalem.[9]

[1] Webb, Jonathan, “Battle of Arsuf, 1191,” The Art of, Internet, available from, accessed 17 January 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

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