Saladin, or صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب as his mother called him, was as nice as you can get while still killing people (if you asked Sir Walter Scott, at least). He once bought back a baby lost by a Frankish woman with money from his own pocket. He only massacred civilians in response to his enemies doing the same, which is what is called chivalry.

Saladin was born in 1137 in what is now Tikrit, Iraq, but raised in Damascus. Growing up, he was more interested in religion than the military, but you’d be surprised how well the two complement each other. He fought both Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, depending on who needed the most correction. (Part of his religious correction included who would be the ruler of the known world. It was him.)

Saladin was soon recognized as Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and set to kicking about the Crusaders around Palestine properly. They harassed each other’s pilgrims, besieged each other’s cities, and executed each other’s commanders (War) until Saladin captured Jerusalem and shocked all by allowing poor Frank civilians to leave without paying the ransom they couldn’t have afforded.

Richard I of England later arrived, executing 3000 Muslim men, women, and children in the siege of Acre, for which Saladin declared “there was not a more noble Christian lord” than he, subsequently killing thousands of Frank prisoners. Richard responded that Saladin was clearly the greatest leader in the Muslim world. Mutual respect is worth something, just not lives.

Saladin died in 1193 of a fever. He was a generous man, saying “the most miserable rulers are those whose purses are fat and their people thin.” This is why he died without enough money to pay for his own funeral. He didn’t think you could take it with you and didn’t try.

The life of Saladin tells us that chivalry is all relative.

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