As the leader of a large coalition force I'm aware he was multilingual, speaking at least Kurdish and Arabic (one site added Turkish) but a European language seems like a longshot. If he did speak one, I'd guess possibly a little Latin or Norman French? Certainly not English, or so I'd imagine. Hmm.

My question is basically would Saladin have needed a translator when speaking with Norman crusaders? (This is a common scenario from pop culture, in everything from Kingdom of Heaven to Scott and Haggard novels, in which he usually gets by on his own.) I've tried several googles and articles on Saladin and not turned anything up.

No doubt information might be sparse online given the period and non-western subject, not to say the unlikelihood that he did speak any such language at all, but I'm hoping someone here might know.

Edit: As an extra, I would also be curious to know if there was a standard practice for this, such as when Richard met Al-Adil?

1 Answer 1


Short Answer

Saladin is believed to have spoken Kurdish, Turkish and Arabic. When communicating with crusaders, he needed an interpreter unless he was speaking to a crusader who knew Arabic (and there were certainly some who did - see examples below). I can find no evidence that he was conversant in any European language, though that does not mean to say that he didn't pick up a few words of Latin or Norman French.


On Saladin's knowledge of languages,

The study of the Quran as well as the hadith would have given him an excellent knowledge of Arabic, for although by birth he was a Kurd, his education and learning would have been arabised at a very early age. Nevertheless, it is likely that he spoke Kurdish at home. He would also have equally been fluent in Turkish, which was the language of the military.

Source: Abdul Rahman Razzam, 'Saladin' (2009)

His need for a translator when communicating with crusaders is evident in the aftermath of the Siege of Acre in 1191 when Richard I (for reasons which are unclear) massacred several thousand Muslim prisoners:

On hearing of the massacre Saladin was moved to fury....a day after the massacre a knight - 'his appearance announced that he was a leading man among them' - was captured and brought to Saladin. Through an interpreter, he was asked about the state of Richard's army and then as to why the massacre of the Muslims had taken place. The Knight replied that it had been the will of the king of England. Saladin then ordered that the knight be put to death, and when this was translated to him, he visibly blanched and requested that he would free a Muslim prisoner in his place instead.

Source: Abdul Rahman Razzam

One crusader who was conversant in Arabic and spoke with Saladin was Reginald of Sidon. He communicated directly with Saladin during April 1189 when the sultan was camped with his army while besieging Beaufort Castle in southern Lebanon.

That there were crusaders and local Christians (as C Monsour points out in his comment) who spoke Arabic is not in doubt. One example was Humphrey IV of Toron, from the Kingdom of Jerusalem:

By the 1190s the balance between the Muslim world and Western Christendom was very much in the Muslims’ favour. They were in the ascendant in the ‘crusading’ wars, which, of course, they won with the eviction of the Franks from Palestine in 1291. Theirs was also the dominant culture. Communications across the linguistic divide were in Arabic; the negotiations between Richard and Saladin’s brother al-Adil were conducted through the young Humphrey IV of Toron, one of the Franks fluent in the language.

Source: G. Hindley, 'Saladin: Hero of Islam'

Some of the Christians who spoke Arabic were descendants of earlier crusaders who had been on the First Crusade (1096-99). Although the large majority of those who survived that crusade returned home, some remained in Jerusalem and other settlements in the eastern Mediterranean, as did some of the pilgrims who had accompanied them.

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    The Qtitle is for Saladin himself. Could you upgrade that first find to nonWP (which lists only a book that is not listed on the page itself, and when found has no ref for that claim (but also lists 'Turkish'))? Mar 23, 2021 at 16:05
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    If a particular group of crusaders did not include an Arabic speaker, there were plenty of Arabic speaking Christians in the area, some of whom would have picked up Latin or French in the course of the 1100s and would have made ideal interpreters.
    – C Monsour
    Mar 23, 2021 at 18:08
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    @LаngLаngС Upgraded first ref. Mar 24, 2021 at 2:43

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