USAMA IBN MUNQIDH was born on 4 July 1095 at his family’s castle at Shayzar, on the banks of the Orontes River in northern Syria. His clan, the Banu Mungidh, was an established aristocratic Muslim Arab family who had gained political prominence locally and elsewhere in the medieval Near East at a time when the Muslim world was adjusting to the Turkish invasions of the eleventh century, and still reeling from the Crusades of the twelfth. Exiled from Shayzar by an uncle who saw him as a rival, Usama took up service with many of the most prominent courts of the region, in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, giving him ample opportunity to hone his skills as a warrior, diplomat and man of letters, and to observe the strange customs of his new Frankish neighbours.