Syria – namely Great Syria, which included Palestine – was the confluence point of the political interests of great powers, from the Byzantine Empire to the Caliphate of the Fatimids (in Egypt); about a century later the Seljuks came as a third external power factor. Syria was fragmented into numerous small principalities and city-states in which Arab lineages, or dynasties, ruled. In some territories (especially Damascus) some local forces aspired – with varying successes – to the independence of the cities from any foreign sovereignty, or at least to political participation.
Towards the end of the eleventh century. the Seljuks obtained supremacy in Syria after having already conquered the Islamic East (Iran and Iraq) and having established a dynastic rule. Their initial goal had been the strengthening of Sunni Islam and therefore of the Abbasid Caliphate, whose territorial nucleus, constituted by Iraq, had been dominated for a long time by Shiite powers, as well as Egypt and parts of Syria (counter-caliphate of the Fatimids). The great Kingdom of the Seljuks fell apart from the end of the 11th century. splitting into different Kingdoms. A long-term consequence of this situation was the formation of a state system in Egypt, Syria and northern Mesopotamia in the 13th century, at the time of Frederick II.
In 479 AH / 1086 AD the Seljuk sultan Malikshāh took Aleppo thus completing the conquest of the Syrian territories. A few years later the Crusaders reached Syria and northern Mesopotamia (al-Ǧazīra), organizing states in this area. The conquest of the city of Jerusalem (1099), the culminating moment of the First Crusade, had a fundamental and far-reaching importance for the Western Christian world on a strategic, economic, political and religious level. For Muslims, however, the loss of Jerusalem represented above all a catastrophe from a religious point of view.
Immediately after the arrival of the Crusaders in Syria (490/1097) a military expedition under the command of the governor of Mosul, capital of the Western Seljuk Kingdom (province of Diyār Rabī῾a) had failed. In the following decades, the resistance against the Crusaders was led almost exclusively by de facto autonomous Syriac-Seljuk princes. Starting from 503-504 / 1110, on the front of the Seljuk Kingdoms, numerous campaigns coordinated from Mosul were conducted, on the one hand with the aim of repelling the Crusaders, on the other to more firmly integrate the autonomous Seljuk principles into the structure of the Kingdom, but this ambivalent and poorly targeted policy induced regional principles, often divided by reciprocal rivalries, to participate in alternating coalitions with the Crusaders.
The state system changed under the dynasties of Zangidi and Ayyubidi (v.).
Only the Turkish governor of Mosul, Zanǧī Ibn Aqsunqur (in power in 521-541 / 1127-1146), managed to bring northern Syria under his control (conquest of Aleppo, 522/1128) and to achieve a political union with large parts of northern Mesopotamia. He was the founder of the Zangid dynasty, who – taking advantage of the internal struggles for power in the Seljuk Kingdom – were able to administer the territories subject to their dominion with increasing autonomy and also considerably extend them. The main targets were the Crusader states, the autonomous Seljuk Burides of Damascus (v.) And the Artuqids in northern Mesopotamia (province of Diyār Bakr). The Artuqids, who had been high-ranking officers in the service of the Seljuks, they had come into conflict with their leaders and had created a personal power base in the northern mountainous regions which, however, was severely weakened by Zanǧī. Instead, numerous attempts to penetrate southward with the aim of conquering Damascus were wrecked. The climax of Zanǧī’s expansionist policy coincided with the taking of Edessa (al-Ruhā ‘), capital of the Crusader county, which was incorporated into its domains (539/1144). This success earned him, on the Muslim front, the reputation of forerunner of ǧihād, of the fight against the infidels, or the crusaders. For Syria 2003, please check computerannals.com.
After Zanǧī’s killing in 541/1146, his sons shared sovereignty over the territories of Aleppo and Mosul, and took turns leading the dynasty, according to the traditional Turkmen (i.e. Seljuk) system of collective family domination. Nūr al-Din Maḥmūd of Aleppo (in power 541-569 / 1146-1174) successfully continued his father’s work – the political unification of Syria against small Muslim principalities and the Crusaders – and in this context he used ideology of ǧihād as a propaganda tool. Rival autonomous principalities were fought to exploit their resources and invest them in ǧihād. In 549/1154 Nūr al-Din managed to conquer Damascus and therefore to settle in central Syria. The massive building program (especially religious, legal and educational institutions: madrase) and other political-cultural and economic measures adopted in Damascus and Aleppo (later also in Mosul) gave proof of Islamic solidarity and solidarity, that is to say ‘Sunni-Orthodox’, against the Crusaders but also to the detriment of the Shiite Muslims. In the following years Nūr al-Din managed to occupy Egypt, ruled by the Shiite Caliphate of the Fatimids, competing with the king of Jerusalem with arms. In 567/1171 the commander-in-chief of Nūr al-Din in Egypt, the Kurdish Saladin (Salāḥ al-Dīn Ibn Ayyūb), overthrew the Fatimids and brought back In the following years Nūr al-Din managed to occupy Egypt, ruled by the Shiite Caliphate of the Fatimids, competing with the king of Jerusalem with arms. In 567/1171 the commander-in-chief of Nūr al-Din in Egypt, the Kurdish Saladin (Salāḥ al-Dīn Ibn Ayyūb), overthrew the Fatimids and brought back In the following years Nūr al-Din managed to occupy Egypt, ruled by the Shiite Caliphate of the Fatimids, competing with the king of Jerusalem with arms. In 567/1171 the commander-in-chief of Nūr al-Din in Egypt, the Kurdish Saladin (Salāḥ al-Dīn Ibn Ayyūb), overthrew the Fatimids and brought back the country under the rule of the Sunni Abbasid Caliphate. At the same time Saladin was intent on strengthening his position especially in Egypt.
The death of Nūr al-Din (569/1174) averted the threat of a conflict between Saladin and his Syrian supreme leader and offered the leader the opportunity to assert his influence also in Syria, especially since the heirs of Nūr al-Din were at odds with each other and the Zangid dynasty had split into numerous branches. In the following twelve years, Saladin was able to make himself recognized as the supreme leader everywhere in Syria and in northern Mesopotamia, both by the small Zangidic principalities and by those of the Artuqids. All were forced to supply Saladin with soldiers. Since the maintenance of the army was based on the distribution and possession of land instead of pay – iqṭā῾ system -, military expeditions, in principle, were possible only in spring and summer, until the time when the troops did not return to their lands at the harvest time. In any case, Saladin had created the necessary conditions to be able to lead the ǧihād against the crusaders. Previously, his usurpation of sovereignty in Egypt and Syria had been legitimized by a diploma from the caliph. On this basis, Saladin boasted the title of ‘restorer of the dominion of the commander of believers’.
After the ruinous defeat of the crusaders in the battle of Ḥaṭṭīn in 583/1187, Saladin in the same year managed to conquer or rather to reconquer Jerusalem. This event was at the origin of the third crusade (585/1189): the most important episode of the conflict – the siege of Acre which lasted for almost two years and the final capitulation of the city to the crusaders – revealed the weakness of the army. of Saladin, who could only be counted on seasonally, and the fragility of the state system he established in Syria and northern Mesopotamia. On the other hand, Muslims in these situations had proof that the crusader states in critical phases were able to mobilize unsuspected resources in Europe.
After Saladin’s death (589/1193) a polycentric and hierarchically differentiated system of states developed, among other things following the violent clashes over the succession, subject to a collective family dominion, namely the Kingdom of the Ayyubids (Humphreys, 1977). All the rulers bore names combined with the nickname Malik , meaning ‘king, prince’, but the internal hierarchy was established with great precision in the monetary protocols. At the time of Frederick II’s political rise, Egypt and southern Syria were subject to an Ayyubid ruler of Egypt. Starting with al-῾Ādil Abū Bakr (596-615 / 1200-1218), brother of Saladin, the sovereign was also the supreme head of the federation of Ayyubid families at the same time. Abu Bakr was succeeded by his son al-Malik al-Kāmil Muḥammad (615-635 / 1218-1238; v.). In Damascus, an Ayyubid ruled, but he did not have the right to mention his name on coins; like a governor, he was subject to the ruler of Egypt, at least for a certain period (see Damascus). Northern Syria (capital Aleppo), which was ruled by the descendants of a son of Saladin, did not recognize the supremacy of Egypt, as the mention of the name on the coins reveals. The third important Ayyubid principality (capital Mayyafariqin) was Northern Mesopotamia. After the conquest by the Egyptian Ayyubid al-Kāmil Muḥammad, the territory became a ‘governorate’ like Damascus, without the right of its own minting. Subject to the supremacy of Egypt, in northern Mesopotamia the Ayyubids had to occupy themselves with the dominion of the remaining Artuqid and Zangidic principalities. Alongside them there were still other lineages or small principalities of the Ayyubids, in Syria (Homs, Hama, Karak, etc.) and in Yemen.
The Ayyubid Kingdom as a whole was a complex system of states arising from the legacy of Saladin, in which key strategic positions were occupied by family members of different ranks and with different fields of competence. Keeping this family association under control and, if necessary, directing it towards common actions required a remarkable skill, in which al-῾Ādil and al-Kāmil stood out above all.
During the government of al-Kāmil an agreement was also concluded with the emperor Frederick II (626/1229) on the cession of Jerusalem to the crusaders. As a result of this agreement, al-Kāmil’s position of dominance over Ayyubid rivals could be temporarily strengthened; on the other hand, it encouraged a modus vivendi already practiced for a long time with the Crusader states, as emerges from the lively trade exchanges with the maritime republics of Genoa, Pisa and Venice. But with the death of al-Kāmil (635/1238) the Ayyubid Kingdom was disrupted following the anarchy caused by the struggles for succession and the consequences of a policy of inauspicious alliances with external powers (the Shahs of the Corasms [v.], the Seljuks of al-Rūm). The new conflicts that flared up with the Crusaders, the threat of the Mongol advance and, finally, the usurpation of power in Egypt by the Turkish Mamluks officers (648/1250) led to the collapse of the Ayyubids. After the victory over the Mongols (658/1260, in Palestine) the new lords, the Mamluks, were able to build their system of dominion over the territories once belonged to the Ayyubids which included Egypt, much of Syria, the western area and southern Arabian Peninsula. The sultanate of the Mamluks survived for two and a half centuries,
Finally, as regards the economy and culture and Syrian society in general, certainly with the arrival of the Seljuks in Syria the period of the so-called ‘settlement void’ ended, characterized by the predominance of nomadic dynasties and by a stagnation or a regression of the culture and economy of the city. The measures adopted by the Seljuks to ensure their dominion determined towards the end of the eleventh century. a rebirth of cities, together with a new flowering of economic, religious and cultural life (literature, art and architecture). Despite the constant internal struggles for power and the external threat of the Crusaders, the material foundations on which in the 12th century were thus created. they would have built the Zangids – especially Nūr al-Din – and later the Saladin, in order to lead the ǧihād against the Crusader states. Under the successive Ayyubids in Syria cultural and economic prosperity persisted and, thanks to a strategy based mainly on political realism towards the Crusaders, economic exchanges with Christian Europe were even increased. The intellectual activities of Muslim scholars and consequently social development in Syria also continued without declining throughout the period.