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The Mysterious Death of Saladin the Great

Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.

The Magnificence of Saladin the Great

The Magnificence of Saladin the Great

The Magnificence of Saladin the Great

“I warn you against shedding blood, indulging in it, and making a habit of it, for blood never sleeps.”

The above quote from Saladin helps us to decipher the mindset of a legend who has achieved great military feats but within minimum bloodshed. Saladin is a glowing example of one of the greatest rulers of all time who had conquered more of people’s hearts through kindness and chivalry rather than spilling blood.

And Saladin’s generosity even impressed the crusaders including the King of England, Richard the Lionheart, who called him the greatest and the most powerful leader of the Islamic world.

As the story goes, when King Richard’s horse was killed on the battlefield, Saladin sent his troops to the king to offer him fresh horses so that a fair contest was maintained. Richard was ill so he even helped him to get through his illness by sending him his personal doctor.

This gesture was not in vain, as King Richard was impressed, and even after beating Saladin’s army, he proposed a truce that later led to the signing of an important treaty between the two parties.

Indeed Saladin managed to make his mark into the western world by becoming a part of many literary works as in The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri or the novel The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott. From these works, Saladin has been immortalized as a great name in history not just in Islamic states but also as a role model for every ruler.

However, there is a mystery about his death that has puzzled archaeologists, historians, and doctors for over 800 years. What malady killed Sultan Saladin? Was it smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid, or maybe malaria?

For two weeks, the sultan suffered from a high fever and sweated profusely. He was extremely weak, had unbearable headaches, and continuously felt indigestion to the point that he lost his appetite. Aides tried to save him with bloodletting and enemas, to no avail.

Saladin finally died in 1193 at age 55 or 56.

Saladin was a Generous KIng

Saladin was a Generous KIng

Saladin’s mysterious illness

The historical descriptions of Sultan Saladin’s fatal sickness are quite puzzling as a physician examining him says.

“The patient then seems to have done well until overtaken by his final illness at age 56. He was feeling old then and complained of loss of appetite, weakness, lassitude, and indigestion. Though the weather was damp and cold, he eschewed the quilted tunic he always wore in public and ‘seemed like a man awakening from a dream.’ In the evening, his lassitude increased, and ‘a little before midnight he had an attack of bilious fever, which was internal rather than external.’ The next day his fever was worse. However, when it was suppressed, he seemed to improve and to take pleasure in conversation with associates. However, from that time, his illness grew more and more serious, with headaches of mounting intensity. Those in attendance began to despair for his life.”

What was this illness? Doctors have been puzzling over the descriptions for the last 800 years. Evidence shows that Saladin’s symptoms started when he was 47 years old and although there is no documentation of his symptoms, his ordeal went for over 2 months in which he experienced fluctuating bouts of fever and colic. However, it seems he eventually recovered enough to go back to the battlefield.

The next bout came when was 56 years old. He then experienced a bilious fever and his illness continued to grow more serious as he experienced severe headaches and bleeding.

On the 7th and 8th day, he became delirious and on the 11th day, he was sweating so profusely that his mattresses were wet. On the 14th day, he died after losing consciousness.

There are many theories of his mysterious illness starting from smallpox, tuberculosis to even poisoning by the ‘the Assassins’ led by Rashid ad-Din Sinan who had made several attempts on his life. However, none of them explains all the symptoms satisfactorily.

According to Dr. Stephen Gluckman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, it appears to be typhoid, a disease known to infect people throughout the Middle East at the time.

As per Gluckman, who extensively studied the sultan’s illness, plague and smallpox are fast-acting so they cannot be the culprits. On the other hand, Saladin did not experience breathing problems, so tuberculosis is ruled out.

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Yes, Saladin sweated profusely but he did not face any chills, so Malaria is also ruled out. Poisoning by the assassins cannot be the cause, as all known poisons of that era do not produce symptoms like that.

So, the only option left is typhoid, the symptoms of which include high fever, weakness, stomach pain, headache, and loss of appetite that match perfectly with what Saladin experienced. As Gluckman said.

“Today, antibiotics are prescribed for people with typhoid, but, of course, those weren't available during the 12th century and that was what probably killed Saladin.”

Saladin's Tomb at Damascus

Saladin's Tomb at Damascus

Saladin's Death

Saladin died in Damascus in 1193, after having reportedly given away so much of his wealth to his subjects that there was not even enough money wealth for his funeral. His burial rites were ‘as simple as a pauper’s funeral’ as his body was buried beneath a wooden sarcophagus covered in a green cloth.

His tomb is in Damascus, at the Umayyad Mosque is a popular attraction as people come to pay their homage to a ruler who propagated the rich history and peacefulness of Islam; a forgotten concept that is very much needed to change the myopic definition of Islam being practiced today by some wayward proponents of the faith for their ulterior motives.

As Saladin has rightly said.

“Victory is changing the hearts of your opponents with gentleness and kindness.”


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 19, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh for your comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 19, 2021:

This is an interesting article. There's none so among the muslim kings that compare with the Sultan Saladin. Thanks for the read.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 19, 2021:

All please feel free to comment on this article

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 19, 2021:

All please feel free to comment on this article

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 19, 2021:

Thanks Misbah for your kind comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 19, 2021:

Thanks Liz for your wonderful comments

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on April 19, 2021:

Thanks a lot for sharing this beautiful history of Sultan Saladin, Ravi. He was the first sultan of Egypt and has a great name in history . He was brave but sad that he died due to mysterious illness.

Blessings and Peace

Liz Westwood from UK on April 19, 2021:

I have learnt a lot about Saladin from this interesting article. He certainly had some admirable characteristics.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 19, 2021:

Thanks Urwa for your comments

Iqra from East County on April 19, 2021:

Saladin was a great hero, his mysterious illness and death are a historical story. Ravi thanks for sharing this story.

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