1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arsuf

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ARSUF, a town on the coast of Palestine, 12 m. N.N.E. of Jaffa, famous as the scene of a victory of the crusaders under Richard I. of England over the army of Saladin. After the capture of Acre on the 12th of July 1191, the army of the crusaders, under Richard Cœur-de-Lion and the duke of Burgundy, opened their campaign for the recovery of Jerusalem by marching southward towards Jaffa, from which place it was intended to move direct upon the holy city. The march was along the sea-shore, and, the forces of Saladin being in the vicinity, the army moved in such a formation as to be able to give battle at any moment. Richard thus moved slowly, but in such compact order as to arouse the admiration even of the enemy. The right column of baggage and supplies, guarded by infantry, was nearest the sea, the various corps of heavy cavalry, one behind the other, formed the central column, and on the exposed left flank was the infantry, well closed up, and “level and firm as a wall,” according to the testimony of Saracen authors. The columns were united into a narrow rectangle by the advanced and rear guards. The whole march was a running fight between untiring horse-archers and steady infantry. Only once did the column open out, and the opportunity was swiftly seized by the Saracens, yet so rapid was the rally of the crusaders that little damage was done (August 25). The latter maintained for many days an absolutely passive defence, and could not be tempted to fight; Richard and his knights made occasional charges, but quickly withdrew, and on the 7th of September this irregular skirmishing, in which the crusaders had scarcely suffered at all, culminated in the battle of Arsuf. Saladin had by now decided that the only hope of success lay in compelling the rear of the Christians’ column to halt—and thus opening a gap, should the van be still on the move. Richard, on the other hand, had prepared for action by closing up still more, and as the crusaders were now formed a simple left turn brought them into two lines of battle, infantry in first line, cavalry in second line. Near Arsuf the road entered a defile between the sea and a wooded range of hills; and from the latter the whole Moslem army suddenly burst forth. The weight of the attack fell upon the rear of Richard’s column, as Saladin desired. The column slowly continued its march, suffering heavily in horses, but otherwise unharmed. The first assault thus made no impression, but a fierce hand-to-hand combat followed, in which the Hospitallers, who formed the rear of the Christian army, were hard pressed. Their grand master, like many other subordinates in history, repeatedly begged to be allowed to charge, but Richard, who on this occasion showed the highest gift of generalship, that of feeling the pulse of the fight, waited for the favourable moment. Almost as he gave the signal for the whole line to charge, the sorely pressed Hospitallers rode out upon the enemy on their own initiative. At once the whole of the cavalry followed suit. The head (or right wing) and centre were not closely engaged, and their fleeter opponents had time to ride off, but the rear of the column carried all before it in its impetuous onset, and cut down the Saracens in great numbers. A second charge, followed by a third, dispersed the enemy in all directions. The total loss of the Saracens was more than tenfold that of the Christians, who lost but seven hundred men. The army arrived at Jaffa on the 10th of September.

See Oman, Hist. of the Art of War, ii. 303-317.