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Baybars, the Last Great Anticrusader

I t can be said that Saladin was the main enemy of the Latin Kingdom in the 12th century. His 13th century successor was called Baybars, and should you wander into the streets of any large Muslim city today, you may still hear his praise told from the storytellers' pedestals.

B aybars was actually a usurper who killed his Sultan Kutuz in 1260. An exceptionally brave and decisive leader, he sat on the throne until 1277, making Cairo his city. He understood the meaning of a consolidated empire and set to it with all his energy. Regular communications were arranged between Damascus in Syrian and Cairo, and this was one major success factor.

I n 1265 Baybars thought the time was right to go and drive the Franks out of the land. Caesarea, Haifa and Arsuf fell and had their fortifications completely destroyed. On July 7, 1266 he laid siege to Safed and its Templar garrison. The town could take it for only 18 days, and the Templars were all beheaded at capitulation. This was a very heavy loss to the Templars who had just recently started to regain military power in Palestine.

I n 1268 Templars had to yield to Baybars again: Beaufort was lost after ten days' siege. When Antioch fell that year too, Templars saw it necessary to vacate Baghras and Roche Roussel. 1271 Baybars took Chastel Blanc and even the great Krak des Chevaliers from the Hospitallers. All of these spelled dire consequences to the Orders and the Franks in general. When Baybars died in 1277, there was really only one strong Templar point of presence: Athlit the impregnable. As Baybars ventured north, he stopped there in 1265, but failed to take it.

A fter Baybars, the Templars were not in a position to fight for the Kingdom. They had only Athlit, Tortosa and Acre left of all their possessions, and regarding Tortosa, they were forced to accept a truce in 1282 with another strong Muslim leader, Qalawun, just to keep the stronghold. According to the terms of the uneasy truce, they were not to attack any of the Sultan's possessions, and this rendered the Order virtually useless in the Syrian region.

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