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Great Battles in History
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Great Battles in History

Author: Darryl Dee

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Welcome to Great Battles in History. This podcast explores some of the most famous and most important battles in world history from ancient times to the Second World War. Each episode dives deeply into a single battle, investigating its origins, the course of combat, and the outcomes. We will examine the contending forces, including some of history’s most celebrated armies, navies, and air forces. We will meet great captains like Hannibal Barca, Saladin, Napoleon, and Chester Nimitz. We will also delve into the experiences of the soldier at the sharp end: the Spartan hoplite at Thermopylae, the English longbowman at Agincourt, the mounted samurai at Nagashino, the Soviet tanker at Kursk. Battles are regarded as events that change the course of history; the most important have been described as decisive. We will come to question this idea, for, as we’ll see, while a handful of battles do qualify as momentous, epochal turning points, most others—including not a few widely considered decisive—changed very little if anything at all. Finally, battles are more than just exercises of pure strategy and tactics; they are artifacts— creations of the political, social, economic and cultural forces of their times. To investigate great battles is to open up history in its widest sense.
32 Episodes
When I published the original Complete Episode of Hattin, I made a mistake: I omitted Part Five from the episode. Here is the corrected version. The newly included part begins at 1:34:57. Profuse apologies, faithful listeners. 
Trailer for Episode Four, the Battle of Agincourt, coming in June.The music is L'Homme Armé (The Armed Man), a fifteenth-century French chanson (public domain) and Red by Scott Buckley ( Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0 Music promoted by Audio Library
Hattin-The Complete Episode

Hattin-The Complete Episode


The complete episode of the Battle of Hattin, combining parts one to eight.  If you are enjoying this podcast, please rate it wherever you are listening. And I would love to hear from you! If you have any questions, or comments, please write to
After Hattin, the Crusader States lay at Saladin’s mercy. The Muslim warlord swept into the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cities and castles fell to his armies. On October 2, 1187, he entered Jerusalem. Yet Saladin was unable to seize all of the Franks' ports. The Third Crusade, led by the formidable King Richard the Lionheart of England, was able to enter the Middle East and save the Crusader States from complete conquest. In the century after Hattin, crusading reached its climax. The Crusades would only come to an end in 1291, when a new Muslim power, the Mamluks of Egypt, captured Acre, the last remnant of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
After the death of the Leper King Baldwin IV in 1185, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem fell into turmoil. Two years later, Saladin invaded with a massive army.  To face him, Guy de Lusignan, newly crowned king of Jerusalem, mustered every man who could bear arms.  On July 4, 1187, the two armies met beneath the Horns of Hattin. At the end of the day, the host of Jerusalem had been wiped out.
An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub—better known in the West as Saladin—would emerge as the greatest of all the Muslim warlords of the Crusades. He began his career as a Kurdish officer in the service of Nur al-Din. In 1169, he seized power in Egypt and overthrew the Fatimid Caliphate. Then, following the fortuitous death of Nur al-Din in 1174, he began the conquest of Syria. In time, he would construct an empire that extended from North Africa to Mesopotamia. He would also become the champion of the jihad against the Crusader States and engage in fierce wars against the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem led by the Leper King Baldwin IV and Prince Reynald de Chatillon.  
 From the earliest days, the Crusader States fought to break out of the narrow confines of the Mediterranean coast and conquer the Muslim hinterlands of the Middle East. At first, they could exploit Muslim disunity. Beginning in the middle of the twelfth century, however, the powerful warlord Imad al-Din Zengi unified Syria under his rule. Zengi’s son, Nur al-Din, then became the champion of a holy war—a jihad—against the infidels.
The armies of the Crusader States were the finest and most formidable western fighting forces of the Middle Ages. Their potency was based on their adaptation of European military techniques to the challenges and conditions of the Middle East. 
A crucial reason for the success of the First Crusade was Muslim disunity. In the 1090s, the Seljuk Empire that ruled the heart of the Islamic world fell into crisis and civil war. The Middle East fragmented into innumerable mini-states ruled by warlords. The power of these warlords was based on their command of armies of some of the finest fighting men of the premodern age: Turkic nomad horse archers.      
In 1095, Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade. Four years later, the crusaders conquered Jerusalem. In this part of the episode, we will examine why Europeans took up the cross and how they succeeded in accomplishing their goal of capturing Jerusalem. We will also look at the states the Crusaders established in the lands they conquered.
The Battle of Hattin is the most famous battle of the Crusades. On July 4, 1187, the army of the Muslim warlord Saladin destroyed the host of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Horns of Hattin. In the battle’s aftermath, Saladin overran the Crusader States. On October 2, he entered Jerusalem. Yet Hattin was not a decisive battle that ended the Crusades. It ushered in a century of renewed and intensified holy war. This episode begins by examining the First Crusade and the establishment of the Crusader States. Then it looks at the armies of the Crusaders and the Muslims. It traces the wars between them, which culminated in the rise of the Muslim champion Saladin.  The episode next takes the listener through the battle of Hattin to its bloody climax beneath the shadow of the Horns. It concludes by examining how Hattin led to the crescendo and climax of crusading.   A note to the listener: I am posting parts one to four, the first half of the Battle of Hattin episode, today. Parts five to eight will appear in the coming days. Thanks so much for your patience. I hope you enjoy the episode.
Trailer for episode three of Great Battles in History, the Battle of Hattin, coming in February. The music is Prince of Persia by Zapac (c) copyright 2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial  (3.0) license. 
After Cannae, Hannibal was at the zenith of his success. Yet in the years after the battle, he squandered all his opportunities for final victory over Rome. Meanwhile, the Romans recovered from their crushing defeat. More importantly, they formulated a strategy that countered Hannibal’s battlefield genius. At last, in Scipio Africanus, the Romans found a general who could match the Carthaginian warlord. In 202 BCE, Africanus defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama. Carthage had once again been defeated. This time there would be no recovery. Fifty-six years later, in the Third Punic War, Rome destroyed Carthage. 
In 216 BCE, the Roman Republic made a maximum military effort. It raised the largest army in its history and sent it to destroy Hannibal Barca. The Carthaginian warlord also wanted to fight a decisive battle. On August 2, the Roman and Carthaginian armies clashed near the hill town of Cannae in southern Italy. At the end of the day, the Roman army had been completely wiped out.
Rome declared war on Carthage in 218 BCE, beginning the Second Punic War. Hannibal immediately put in motion a bold and risky plan. He marched his army from Spain across southern Gaul, crossed the Alps, and fell on Italy like a thunderbolt. In the next two years, he won brilliant victories at the Trebia and Lake Trasimene. Shocked by their defeats, the Romans appointed a Dictator, Fabius Maximus. Nicknamed the Delayer, Fabius avoided battle with Hannibal until the Romans had regained their strength and confidence.
After being defeated in the First Punic War, Carthage was reduced to an African city-state. Its remarkable revival was initiated by Hamilcar Barca, the most successful Carthaginian general and de facto ruler of the republic. Hamilcar and his family, the Barcids, conquered a new empire in Spain. In 221 BCE, Hannibal Barca, son of Hamilcar, came to power in Spain and Carthage. Inheriting the superb army that his Barcid predecessors had built, he immediately showed flashes of genius. Then, in 220 BCE, he received a fateful embassy from Rome.
War was not inevitable between Rome and Carthage. But in 264 BCE, they were drawn into conflict over Sicily. The result was the First Punic War, a twenty-three-year-long struggle that pushed both republics to their limits. In the end, Rome was triumphant and Carthage humbled.
The Roman legions are the most famous fighting force of the ancient world. In this part of the podcast, we will examine how the legions of the Punic Wars were raised, organized, trained and armed. Above all, we will see how they fought. In doing so, we shall catch a glimpse of the fierce face of Roman battle. 
By the third century BCE, the Western Mediterranean was dominated by two great republics, Carthage and Rome. From its matchless position on the coast of present-day Tunisia, Carthage dominated commerce in the Western Mediterranean basin. Its navy ruled the waves from the straits of Sicily to the Pillars of Hercules. It also ruled a considerable land empire that included much of North Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia. Rome was a fast-rising star—dynamic, vigorous, and aggressively expansionist. It had just recently imposed its dominion over most of Italy. Traditionally, Carthage and Rome have been portrayed as diametric opposites. In reality, they had much in common.
A note to listeners: In addition to the complete episode, I am publishing the Battle of Cannae in eight parts. On August 2, 216 BCE, at Cannae in southern Italy, the largest army ever fielded by the Roman Republic was wiped out by the Carthaginian warlord Hannibal Barca and his army of African, Spanish, and Gallic veterans. The battle of Cannae is a tactical masterpiece that has been studied ever since by scholars and soldiers. It remains a byword for slaughter, for the total annihilation of an army. For Hannibal, Cannae confirmed that he was one of the greatest military geniuses in history. It also brought him to the brink of final triumph over Rome. For the Romans Republic, Cannae was the darkest hour in its history. 
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