By John Walker In November 1177, Saladin launched his first significant military campaign against a crusader state. With 26,000 men, siege engines, a huge baggage train, and his own personal force of elite Mamluk bodyguards, Saladin marched his Ayyubid army across the Sinai Desert from Egypt into southern Palestine. Saladin’s overwhelming numerical superiority over his foe had made him confident enough to allow his troops to disperse into the vast, open countryside, where they plundered, foraged for food, and looted Christian settlements at Ramla, Lydda, and Arsuf. King Baldwin IV, who was suffering from aggressive leprosy, rapidly cobbled together his remaining forces, approximately 350 mounted knights and several thousand foot soldiers, and with the notorious Christian Prince Raynald of Chatillon in command, marched to Ascalon. There, in the face of Saladin’s huge army, Baldwin withdrew his army into the safety of the fortress, leaving the road to Jerusalem wide open. Approximately 84 Knights Templar commanded by Master Odo de St. Amand marched from Gaza to join the Christian forces. On November 25, with the roads muddy from recent rains, Saladin and the vanguard of his army were pushing east toward Ibelin. Near the rear of the column, his baggage train and siege engines b

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