Today in Middle Eastern history: Saladin takes Jerusalem (1187)

There are plenty of things wrong with Ridley Scott’s 2005 Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven. It completely rewrites the history of the court at Jerusalem, for one thing. In Scott’s story, Princess (later queen) Sybilla (d. 1190) is trapped in an unhappy marriage to malicious idiot (and later king) Guy of Lusignon (d. 1194), leading her to have a fling with a righteous but agnostic court outsider, Balian of Ibelin (d. 1193). In reality, Sybilla seems to have been at least content with her marriage, and it’s not clear that Guy was any more malicious than your average 12th century ambitious noble, though he does seem to have been kind of an idiot. Scott’s hero, Balian, really was the hero of the siege of Jerusalem from the Christian side, but he wasn’t agnostic, definitely wasn’t an outsider, and he didn’t have a fling with Sybilla. Unless you see the director’s cut, the young King Baldwin V never appears in the film at all, which is historically inaccurate and makes some of the characters’ choices seem inexplicable.

I could go on. There’s never really a great explanation (apart from the white savior complex, I guess) for why Scott’s Balian, who suddenly goes from blacksmith in France to noble in the Levant, knows how to find water in the desert better than any Bedouin and has a better grasp of military tactics and strategy than anybody else in the film. And in the movie’s desire to be “even handed” in its post-9/11 treatment of Muslims, it actually does a disservice to both the Crusaders (portraying many of them as little more than religious zealots) and the Muslims (removing any complexity from them in favor of a “noble savage” feel). Another thing you don’t see in the film is that there were some Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem—Orthodox Christians, for example—who actually welcomed the arrival of the Muslims, because their freedom of worship had been suppressed by the Catholic Crusaders. Other than that, though, it’s uhhhh really great.

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