Saracens was a term employed by Christian Europeans whose meaning evolved throughout the centuries of its usage but ultimately came to refer to the Muslim Arabs during the Middle Ages. Most notably, it described the Islamic armies who fought against the Crusaders in the Crusades. During the Third Crusade, they were led by the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin, who defended the Holy Land from the Christian forces seeking to retake Jerusalem.
In 1176, in the midst of Saladin's conquests of the Levant, the Saracens under his command launched a campaign into the An-Nusayriyah Mountains in the hopes of unseating the leader of the Assassins, Al Mualim, who had previously ordered two attempts on Saladin's life. The invasion proved to be a brief affair as the first attack, conducted against Masyaf, was withdrawn when the Assassin Umar Ibn-La'Ahad frightened Saladin into enacting a peace treaty by sneaking into his tent in the middle of the night and planting a warning message.
In 1187, the Saracen forces of Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, delivered a critical blow against the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Knights Templar at the Battle of Hattin. Building on this momentum, the Saracens swiftly wrestled almost the entirety of the Holy Land from the Christians, including the capital of Jerusalem itself, a holy city for both factions. By 1189, the only major city still in Christian possession was Tyre, which successfully defended itself against a massive Saracen invasion.
Shortly afterwards, in 1189, the Christian Europeans launched the Third Crusade in the hopes of retaking Jerusalem. The Crusaders managed to seize the harbor city of Acre after a protracted siege that defined the majority of the war. However, the Saracens under Saladin were able to retain most of the Levant, with the cities of Damascus and Jerusalem acting as major strongholds. Though they would suffer a decisive defeat at the hands of King Richard the Lionheart of England at the Battle of Arsuf and Battle of Jaffa, the war would end with Jerusalem, the main target of the Crusaders, still resting in their hands.
True to the multi-ethnic demographics of the Ayyubid Sultanate, the soldiers of the Saracen armies were drawn from a diverse pool of peoples, including, but not limited to, Arabs, Turks, Egyptians, Armenians, and Nubians serving as either infantry or cavalry. The slave military caste known as the Mamluks fought among their ranks, generally as cavalry.
The cavalry generally wielded sabers, maces, lances, and longswords, but prominent among them were also the horse archers, typical of Western and Central Asian militaries of the era. For field battles, the infantry were equipped with spears and javelins alongside divisions of archers. Standard equipment of the infantry garrisoned as a city's defense force chiefly consisted of swords instead, or for rooftop guards, bows.
Regardless, Saracens soldiers most commonly donned lamellar armour, in contrast to their Christian adversaries who favored chain mail, plate armour, and great helms. Despite this, leather armour and chain mail were also used by some Saracens in large-scale warfare.
The common Saracen soldier of the lowest rank were often not trained to perform grappling maneuvers or counter-attacks in swordsmanship. Due to their inexperience, they were often easily felled in a single counterattack by Assassins such as Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, and as such, they lacked the stouter morale of their superiors and were the most prone to fleeing from battle in fright.
High-ranking soldiers of the Saracen army were provided with greater armor and better equipment. In contrast to their lesser comrades, these soldiers generally harbored the skill to grapple, counter, and outmaneuver even Assassins. Their expertise allowed them even to stave off the swift counter-attacks of Master Assassins such as Altaïr. Nevertheless, they were not adapted to combat against the iconic Hidden Blade of the Assassins, whose surprise employment could bypass all their defenses and kill them instantly.
During the Third Crusade, Saracens in the city of Damascus generally wore green tunics under their lamellar armour. However, guards who harassed civilians wore grey armour instead. In contrast, the uniform of the Jerusalem garrison were dark red.
- In Assassin's Creed, 100 Saracen flags are spread across the city of Damascus as collectibles for the player, as Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, to collect.