The Medieval Review 11.06.46

Nicolle, David. Saladin: Leadership, Strategy, Conflict. Command. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011. Pp. 64. . . $18.95. 978-1-84908-317-1.

Reviewed by:

David S. Bachrach
University of New Hampshire

David Nicolle, well-known for his extensive publications on the arms, armor, and warfare of the medieval Near East, has turned in this present work to a study of the military career of the great Muslim commander of the twelfth century, Saladin (1138-1193). This study, which is published in the Osprey series on Leadership, Strategy, Conflict, traces the life of Saladin from his youth in Damascus through his final campaigns against King Richard I of England (1189- 1199) during the Third Crusade. The focus throughout the text is on Saladin's life as a soldier, which included his military education and training and the implications of this background on his tactical and strategic thinking.

The short volume is divided into seven chapters that deal, in turn, with Saladin's youth, his life as a soldier, the seminal achievement of his career in the capture of Jerusalem in 1187, his struggle against King Richard, Saladin's conception of war, the impact of Saladin's war on the society and economy of the Near East, particularly Egypt, and finally the depiction of Saladin by both contemporary writers, and later generations. A brief introduction and chronology provide an overview of the Islamic world before Saladin's rise to power, and the major events of his life. The volume is rounded out by a list of further readings dealing with Saladin's career and the military history of the crusades, which includes some French and German scholarly works, a glossary of terms used in the text, and an index. Nicolle does not provide a list of sources in translation.

This volume is not intended to be a scholarly work, and it contains only a slight scholarly apparatus. Consistent with other Osprey publications, however, Saladin is copiously provided with beautiful illustrations, executed by Peter Dennis. The most important of these illustrations are maps of Saladin's major battles with indications of troop movements. These maps also include detailed annotations that denote the series of events leading up the battle, and the sequence of action during the battle, itself. In addition to these very well done maps, the volume is extensively endowed with images of twelfth-century art, architecture, and arms. These include numerous manuscript illustrations, as well as photographs of the remains of fortifications, and other material goods, including pottery, clothing, and weapons.

Nicolle's work provides a synthesis of recent scholarship regarding Saladin's military career, and does not break new ground here. The main value of the book is to provide an accessible image of warfare in the Near East that highlights the importance of tactics and strategy that were grounded in a formal military doctrine that was taught to Saladin as a youth. As a consequence, Nicolle's focus on Saladin's education is particularly valuable. Here attention is paid to both Saladin's physical training as a soldier, and to his academic training, which included religion, ethics, and culture. As a youth, Saladin gained practical military experience as an apprentice under his uncle Shirkuh, who served as an emir under the great Muslim general, Zengi. This work will be useful in undergraduate courses in Western Civilization and medieval history that seek to integrate military affairs into a broader narrative of economic, social, and political life. The text, which is clearly written, will appeal to undergraduates, and hopefully will inspire them to follow Nicolle's suggestions in the section on Further Reading.