Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Battle of Yarmuk - Khalid Bin Al-Waleed’s Greatest Victory -Epilogue



March 634 - 2 Years Before The Battle of Yarmuk


Heraclius stood by the window with one hand on the wall gazing down at the city. He stared at the morning bustle in the streets of Constantinople but he wasn’t interested in the life below. He was lost in thought, disturbed by the reports he just received. A Roman Legion defeated by desert nomads!

The engagement at the oasis of Dasin, just outside of Gaza, was a minor skirmish but the Muslim victory sent a shock wave all the way up to Constantinople!

To Heraclius the Arabs were a backward people living in a desert wasteland. The Arabs he knew were an unsophisticated lot in constant conflict with each other, just barely eking out an existence under the unforgiving desert sun. The Arabs were not a military threat let alone a military power they were just a thorn in his side when they did pop out of the desert. He looked down on them as petty raiders looking to snatch camels, goats and sheep; the modern day equivalent of pick pockets.

But united for the first time under the banner of Islam, the Arabs unleashed a gale force wind that would sweep across the Middle East and blow as far East as China and West across North Africa.

The soldiers at Dasin were not raiders but the advance guard of an organized Muslim army with large ambitions. They were sent by the Caliph in Medina with a strategic objective... conquer Syria.

Heraclius wrapped his arms behind his back and staring down at the cobblestone floor he pulled away from the window and trudged his way back towards his chamber. He entered his dimly lit room as his mind raced back four years earlier; the citizenry showered him with honour as he rode through the streets of Constantinople in triumph after defeating the Persians and restoring the Empire’s splendor. It was a glorious time. He clenched his teeth and grimaced. Now was the time to enjoy the fruits of his labour, he did not expect this.

Four Muslim divisions marched through the Holy lands and swept across Jordan, Palestine, up the Mediterranean coast and penetrated as far north as Emessa. The Muslim armies terrorized the countryside but they did not lay siege to any city. He didn’t understand why.

The Muslim plan of attack into Syria
 sat down at his large oak desk illuminated by a red candle sitting at the corner. A parchment with his general’s plan and strategy to stop the Muslim advance lay on his desk.

Heraclius was a military genius and a master organizer. It was due to his incredible abilities that the Roman defeated the Persians and took back Anatolia and the Holy lands. But most important, he recovered the True Cross and brought it back to its rightful place.

Heraclius nodded his head in agreement as he read the plan to concentrate troops at Ajnadein; a strategic location where the Romans could strike at any of the four Muslim divisions in the theater of operations. He had an astute understanding of the situation and immediately understood the thinking behind the plan. First, by placing a large army behind Muslim lines it would stop the advance in its track; the Muslims would have to secure their rear before moving forward and second it gave the Romans the ability to strike back.

Roman counter measures


He grabbed the candle sitting at the corner of his desk. After four years of idleness his generals had not lost their ability to defend the Empire. He tilted the candle to allow several drops of hot red wax to drip on the plan. He stamped it with his royal seal and sent it off.

He leaned back in his chair and looking up at the ceiling, he asked the good Lord to help him once again!

Umar's (RA) Burden


Umar ibn Khattab (RA) sat in the Prophet’s (SAW) Mosque in Medina burdened with the weight of the nascent ummah on his shoulder. It had only been several weeks since Abu Bakr (RA), the first Caliph of Islam, passed away and Umar (RA) proclaimed the second Caliph. He inherited two wars on two fronts against two superpowers (Romans and Persians) but he was the ideal leader for the trials that lay ahead.

Umar (RA) was a towering figure, stout, firm and resolute. He had a fair complexion with a reddish tint, balding down the middle of his head with grey hair on the sides. Although he was Caliph, he despised extravagance. He walked the streets of Medina in garments of wool patched in places with leather. He lived a frugal life.

His anger was well known but he was just and had genuine concern for the people under his rule, he kept their needs central to his leadership. As Caliph, he refused to chop off the hands of thieves because he felt he had fallen short of his responsibility to provide meaningful employment to all of his subjects. His vision was to ensure that everyone in his domain slept on a full stomach.

Umar (RA) was known to have said:
If a dog dies hungry on the banks of the River Euphrates, Umar will be responsible for dereliction of duty”. –Umar (RA)
Such was his sense of responsibility to his people.
______ .... ______

The Sahaba sat in a semi circle around their new leader. The Majlis-al-Shura included Uthman ibn Affan, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abdur Rahman bin Awf; giants who were some of the closest Companions of the Prophet (SAW).

Umar (RA) sat crossed legged leaning against a wall. He read out loud the reports filtering in from Syria. The Sahaba’s faces were lit with expressions of relief as they listened.

Khalid bin Waleed (RA) had just recently entered Syria with 9000 veterans from the Persian campaign in Iraq and assessed the situation. The Muslim force of 32,000 were scattered across the land with 90,000 Romans concentrated at Ajnadein behind Muslim lines. The Roman concentration at Ajnadein had to be dealt with before further conquests could be made otherwise the Muslim forces would be picked off one division at a time. Khalid (RA) ordered all commanders to converge at Ajnadein with haste.

On July 30, 634, Khalid (RA) ordered a general assault and 32,000 Muslims fell upon 90,000 Romans. 50,000 Romans perished including the commander in chief, his deputy and several generals versus 450 dead on the Muslim side. The Roman army of Ajnadein cease to exist. Those who survived sought refuge behind the walls of Jerusalem, Gaza and Jaffa.

It was a crushing victory!

Umar (RA) heard murmurs of “Subhan Allah” in hushed tones from the gathered majlis, he continued.

A week after the mammoth battle, the combined army marched north to Damascus under Khalid’s (RA) orders. On Aug 20, 634 Khalid (RA) laid siege to the city with 20,000 men against a garrison of 15,000 deep inside Roman territory.

After two months of skirmishing with the Roman garrison, Khalid (RA) finally had an opening. Jonas the Greek crossed to the Muslim side and informed Khalid (RA) of a festival. During this festival the people would be drunk and the walls would have a skeleton crew manning them.

Khalid selected 100 of his elite soldiers and scaled the most impregnable point in the defenses. He and his men subdued the few men guarding the wall, dropped down on the other side and opened the gate from the inside. Khalid’s division rushed in and after several hours of fighting the city fell. The loss of Damascus was a staggering blow for Heraclius.

The army rested at Damascus awaiting their next orders.

Umar (RA) looked up at the Sahaba, paused and asked “What is your opinion?”

Dec 635 - 9 Months Before The Battle of Yarmuk 


Two inches remained of a foot long candle that burned most of the night illuminating a map spread out across Heraclius desk. Alone and frustrated, he stared at the map dumbfounded! His generals marked those cities lost in battle over the past two years and those that remained. 

Every manoeuvre Heraclius made was strategically flawless but ended in defeat. The first concentration at Ajnadein - failed. His attempt to limit the Muslim advance by a stout defense at Damascus - failed. The defensive manoeuvre at Baisan also failed.

After the fall of Damascus the Muslim army split into four divisions and spread out like birds migrating across the land. The flag of Islam spread quickly as city after city fell in quick succession to the onslaught.

In Syria; Emessa, Qinassareen, Hama, Shaizar, Asamiya and Ma’arra were conquered by Khalid (RA) and Abu Ubaidah (RA).

In Palestine; Nablus, Amawas, Gaza, and Yubna fell to Amr al Aas.  

In Jordan; Shurahbeel subdued Tabariya.

Along the Mediterranean coast; Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Arqa, Jabail and Beirut were crushed by Yazeed and Shurahbeel.

Heraclius could not stop the bloodletting.

The Muslims went from victory to victory and by the summer of 636, they had conquered the frontier provinces of Palestine, Jordan and the southern part of Syria.

Muslim conquests by the summer of 636

Heraclius folded his arms and swivelled around in his chair staring at his shadow cast against the back wall. He stroked his beard and realized the situation had become critical. He had to move decisively and with overwhelming force if he had any chance of victory.

When Khalid (RA) broke into the Southern part of Syria, the Muslims threatened the economic wellbeing of the Empire. The cities in Syria were the key to power. Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo; they were sophisticated trading centers, outposts that received caravans from the east. Losing Syria meant losing a pillar of the Empires economic base.

Over the next few months, Heraclius would reach out across the empire and stretch his resources to face this mortal threat. He sought the Empires best generals and provided them with his best officers. He assembled an army of 150,000 men and concentrated them in the area of Antioch.

He appointed Mahan, King of Armenia the General of the Army.

Heraclius divided his forces into five divisions. His strategy was to isolate each Muslim division and attack them one at a time. His first target would be the army led by Khalid (RA) and Abu Ubaidah (RA) operating in the region of Hama and Emessa. He would attack from the front, the two wings and cut off their retreat to Damascus. Even Khalid (RA) would not be able to fend off an army 10 times his size.

Once Khalid (RA) was disposed of, he would move onto Beirut to confront Shurahbeel, Yazeed at Caesarea and Amr al Aas in Palestine. He would continue until his dominion was purified of this foreign threat.

It was Heraclius’ last chance and he knew it!

Roman plans for a counter offensive

July 636 - 5 Weeks Before the Battle of Yarmuk


Umar (RA) called the Majlis-al-Shura to gather at the Prophet’s (SAW) Mosque after fajr salat. They had been discussing, arguing and debating for the better part of the morning without reaching a conclusion. Umar (RA) was silent for most of the deliberation; he was lost in thought with the situation the Muslims found themselves in.

The wars in Syria and Iraq were going well but both had reached a boiling point. It was obvious to Umar (RA) that a decisive battle was coming in both arenas. He had an army encamped at Qadisiya in Iraq waiting for Rustam and the Persians to arrive but it was the situation in Syria that disturbed him on this day.

The Muslims conquests in Syria over the past two years were remarkable but the intelligence reports he received from Northern Syria was staggering; 120,000 to 150,000 soldiers amassing in the area surrounding Antioch. Even after such a bruising war, the Romans were still capable of fielding such a large force.

Umar’s (RA) keen strategic eye immediately understood Roman intentions and realized how vulnerable the Muslims were. The Muslim divisions were scattered across the land and could be picked off one at a time. Abu Ubaidah’s (RA) and Khalid’s (RA) division (which were furthest north) hung like an overripe fruit ready to be plucked.

The sun was reaching its zenith and Umar (RA) had other business to attend to. He final interjected and asked the assembled Majlis for their final opinion. Should they retreat into the desert and fight another day or challenge this juggernaut?

The Majlis fell silent. A Sahaba spoke up and said “It is Khalid’s (RA) opinion in this letter that the Muslims should face the enemy in battle.” The other notable Sahaba silently nodded their head in agreement.

Khalid’s (RA) reputation preceded him. Although Umar (RA) had issues with Khalid (RA), he respected his judgement in military matters. Second, retreating meant giving up all they had gained over the past two years which was not acceptable. Therefore the only decision left was to face the enemy head on.

Umar (RA) accepted their opinion and closed the meeting with a final du’a.
______ .... ______

Khalid (RA) and Abu Ubaidah (RA) beat a tactical retreat. If they’re going to face this Roman juggernaut, it would be as a combined army. All of the territory and cities conquered over the past two years were abandoned and each division converged on the scrubby plains of Yarmuk.

Muslim retreat to the plains of Yarmuk

Yarmuk was the battle of the century. It was a battle to decide the fate of this war. Heraclius placed the full weight of the Empire behind his army and he had nothing left to give.

By the time Mahan arrived on the plains of Yarmuk, he had anywhere between 80,000 to 120,000 professional soldiers. The Muslims had 30,000 to 40,000 men and no reserves.

Retreat was not an option for either side. The Muslims had invested two years and numerous lives just to reach this point and giving up was not in their nature, no matter what the odds. Heraclius fought the Persians for ten years just to regain Syria and he was not about to walk away.

The war had reached its climax. Only one side would be left standing and Yarmuk would decide it.

In the second week of Rajab in the 15th year after Hijra (3rd week of August 636), Mahan ordered a general assault on the Muslim line, marking day 1 of the Battle of Yarmuk.

The battle would last for six grueling days.

Mahan came within a hair widths edge of victory several times but the Khalid (RA) pushed him back from the brink. On the final day, the military brilliance of Khalid (RA) wiped Mahan’s army off the field. The Roman army was decimated, nothing remained of this army.

Those who escaped were not given reprieve. Mahan was in full retreat when Khalid (RA) and the mobile guard caught up with him on the road to Damascus and was killed.

The Muslim army spent one month recuperating before marching. The first target was Jerusalem. After a 4 month siege, Jerusalem surrendered.

The army broke up again. Amr and Shurahbeel marched to reoccupy Palestine and Jordan. Yazeed lay siege to Caesarea. Abu Ubaidah (RA) and Khalid (RA) set out to complete the conquest of Syria and the cities fell fast and furious.

Damascus, Qinassareen, Aleppo, Antioch, Latakia, Jabla, Tartus and Azaz all fell in quick succession. Once Azaz fell, Syria was secure. Azaz was the northern most point on the road to Constantinople it was the cork which sealed the Syrian bottle. With the conquest of Azaz, no large Roman army could threaten Syria.

By the end of 637 all of Northern Syria and the Western coast were under Muslim control except Caesarea which held out until 640.


Sept 637 - 1 Year After the Battle of Yarmuk


Heraclius was riding his ornamented horse in the lead and could see the pine, cedar and oak trees on the slopes of the Taurus Mountains; the Roman column wasapproaching the Cilician Gates pass. What remained of the Roman army was in full retreat to the safety of Anatolia.

Two years earlier, Heraclius travelled to Antioch to take direct control of military affairs but after the loss of the city, he had no choice but to abandon Syria.

He left a broken man.

The Empire he saved from the Persians was torn apart by nomads from the desert and his empire was in a perilous situation. He had committed all military resources to Syria and only had a token force to protect his capital. Any thoughts of returning to Syria were abandoned. His focus was now to keep what he had left.

Just as Heraclius entered the pass, he turned around to take one last look at Syria and with sorrow said

“Salutations to thee, O Syria! And farewell from one who departs. Never again shall the Roman return to thee except in fear. Oh, what a fine land I leave to the enemy!”


Part 1 – Roman Offensive Day 1 and 2
Part 2 – Roman Offensive Day 3 and 4
Part 3 – Muslim Counter Offensive Day 5
Part 4 – Muslim Counter Offensive Day 6
Part 5 – Epilogue

Naeem Ali
-- End--

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Sources

Akram. A.I.”Khalid Bin Al-Waleed: Sword of Allah.” Birmingham: Maktabah Publishers and Distributors, 2007.

as-Suyuti, Jalal ad-Din. “The History of the Khalifahs Who Took the Right Way.” London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 1995.

Nicolle, David. “Yarmuk 636AD – The Muslim Conquest of Syria.” London: Osprey Publishing, 1994.

O’Shea , Stephen. “Sea of Faith.” New York: Walker and Company, 2006. 

“Umar.” Wikipedia. October 26, 2014. October 26, 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umar>

1 comment:

  1. In-depth details on this battle. Well-researched and well-presented. I have even reconfirmed with the sources you have provided beneath.

    ReplyDelete