Search
  • Adrian J. Boas

On Hattin. An Album


You cannot go to Hattin and come away feeling indifferent. It is like a vast stage setting. Perhaps you needs to know something of the play in order to really appreciate it, but the ambience of this place is so powerful that I believe it must impress even on the entirely uninitiated viewer an awareness that this was the scene of a great drama. And yet, there is nothing to see here, nothing but a vast empty expanse of land dropping away on all sides.

And the hill itself is not remarkably high. Yet it is seen from all around and has that unfathomable quality of great things that does not concern only size. It rises, or rather hangs over the countryside as Vesuvius does... dark, foreboding, dominating, uncompromising, filling the silent void with visual rumblings of volcanic origins.

The further one leaves its proximity and moves out into the landscape, the greater grows an awareness of its presence, always there like a sentinel, black, watching over everything like an eagle scanning the fields below for the tiniest of movements. And when one goes away it remains, an image cast on the retina of memory like a bright light that remains when the eyes are closed.

Hattin had a long history before 1187, perhaps an important one, but that is entirely lost beneath the rubble of an as yet unexplored Late Bronze and Iron Age city the walls of which crown the crater like a black wreath. This may have been the Biblical Adamah (Joshua 19.36) a name which means "soil" or "earth" (אדמה), and the name Hattin possibly comes from the Hebrew Hitim (חטים) meaning "wheat"; both appropriate names for this land of rich volcanic soil. But that is mere speculation. As to the battle that gave this place a name in memory, nothing remains, nothing but a few negligible fragments of iron. But we should not be surprised by this. It was after all one event, on one morning... just a few hours and it was over. Battlefields often are a disappointment in this regard. They rarely live up to the expectations that written words have evoked in our minds.

Hattin casts a penumbra over the events of 1187. In the end one is forced to ask, to what extent did Saladin plan the events of 3-4 July and did they indeed pan out as he had expected? We are likely to think that he had a good idea of what to do and what would happen, but that is surely because things went his way. We see King Guy as a bumbler; impetuous, apprehensive; and his advisors half hoping for his failure. And we assume that Saladin knew the setting well enough to plan out the progress of events, that he was aware that if he would taunt the Franks they would leave the safety of their camp at Saforie, that they would not take measures to have sufficient water in those hot summer days, that he could force them through a narrow pass, surround them, divide them, that they would panic, that he might herd them up to the death-trap of the horns.

Perhaps we assume too much, and some might put his success down to good luck as much as anything. But whereas luck is often a factor in battle, so too are confidence and preparation, and in those Saladin had a clear advantage over Guy.

0 views