BBC History Magazine

A clash of civilisations?

Lying in his own blood on the battlefield near Mansoura, his standard covering his grievously wounded body, Emir Fakhr al-Din departed this world on 8 February 1250. He had left his encampment with a handful of guards to assess the army of King Louis IX and devise a plan to defend Egypt from the onslaught of what became known as the Seventh Crusade. But before he could make it back to safety, he was cut down in an ambush. This was a sad ending for someone who only a few months earlier had become the de facto ruler of the Ayyubid sultanate.

Luck as well as talent had destined Fakhr al-Din for greatness. His mother had nursed the future Ayyubid sultan al-Kamil, which strengthened the bond between the two families. So when al-Kamil became sovereign in 1218, Fakhr al-Din was his closest confidant, and never left his side except on important missions.

One of these missions was an embassy to Sicily to negotiate an alliance with Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. Fakhr al-Din achieved much more than that. In the short time he stayed in Palermo, he profoundly impressed the emperor. The two conversed about science, falconry and poetry (see box on page 66), and

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