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Saladin (c.1137-1193 AD) was a Kurdish Muslim warrior and self-proclaimed Sultan of Egypt. During his life he was the Defender of Islam and great opponent to the Crusaders.
Of Kurdish descent, born in Mesopotamia, Saladin grew to become a religious warrior. During his youth he studied Sunni theology for ten years and then accompanied his uncle during his battles to conquer Egypt (ca. 1167). After his uncle died, Saladin succeeded him as vizier (minister of state) of Egypt, and he eventually proclaimed himself sultan (sovereign).
During his reign Saladin conquered portions of North Africa, Yemen, Syria and Palestine. He mustered a large force of Muslims to defeat the Christian occupiers and retake the city of Jerusalem. He fought off a spirited attempt to retake the city (the Third Crusade) in 1189; in 1192 Saladin signed a treaty with the Crusaders, leaving them just a small strip of land in Syria on the coast of the Mediterranean.
Saladin had a richly-deserved reputation for generosity and chivalry in battle. He treated his prisoners honorably, and was a man of his word. He was greatly admired by his European opponents, who barely acknowledged other Muslims as human.
Whereas the Christian Crusaders, upon capturing Jerusalem in 1099 AD, massacred its citizens, Saladin gained world renown for the mercy which he showed the defeated Crusaders when he retook the city in 1187.
Saladin founded the Ayyubid Dynasty of Egypt. While the empire was strong during Saladin's reign, it survived until only 1250 AD, little more than 50 years after his death. The dynasty was overthrown by a caste of slave soldiers known as the Mamlukes.