Battle of Ajnadayn

Battle of Ajnadayn

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Ajnadayn

partof=Muslim conquest of Syria
and Byzantine-Arab Wars
date=July 30, 634
result=Decisive Rashidun Caliphate victory
territory=Southern Syria and Palestine annexed by Muslims [Irfan Shahid (1996). Review of Walter E. Kaegi (1992), "Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests". "Journal of the American Oriental Society" 116 (4), p. 784.]
combatant1=Eastern Roman Empire
combatant2=Rashidun Caliphate
commander1=Vardan (Governor of Emesa) Unknown Cubicularius Theodorus
commander2=Khalid ibn al-Walid Amr Ibn al-As Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah Shurahbil Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan
strength1=9,000-10,000 [D. Nicolle, "Yarmuk 636 AD - The Muslim Conquest of Syria", p. 43] (Muslim sources: 90,000 - 100,000 [Muslim sources such as Al-Waqidi placed the army's strength at around 90,000 - 100,000, Edward Gibbon copied these numbers and put them at around 80,000. Note the exaggerations present in Muslim accounts of the battle, as well as claiming numerical superiority for the Byzantine side.] )
strength2=15,000-20,000 [D. Nicolle, "Yarmuk 636 AD - The Muslim Conquest of Syria", p. 43: gives 15,000-18,000] [David Morray "Ajnadain, battle of" The Oxford Companion to Military History. Ed. Richard Holmes. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press: gives 20,000.] (Muslim sources: 32,000 (Al-Waqidi)Al-Waqidi, Book 1, page 42.] )
casualties1=Unknown(Muslim sources: 50,000 (Al-Waqidi)Lieutenant-General Agha Ibrahim Akram (1970). "The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns", page 467. Nat. Publishing House. Rawalpindi. ISBN 978-0-7101-0104-4.] )
casualties2=Unknown(Muslim sources: 450 (Al-Waqidi))

The Battle of Ajnadayn, fought on July 30, 634, was the first major pitched battle between the Byzantine Empire and the Rashidun Caliphate army of the Arabic Rashidun Caliphate. The result of the battle was a decisive Muslim victory. The details of this battle are mostly known through Muslim sources, such as Al-Waqidi. The following account may therefore contain elements inserted at later times to glorify and magnify the victory of the Arabs.


After the Muslims' conquest of Busra city, their commander Shurahbil's spy came from Ajnadayn with news that soon a strong Imperial army would gather there. At this time Yazeed was still south of the River Yarmuk; Amr bin Al Aas was still at the Valley of Araba; and several detachments of the corps of Abu Ubaidah and Shurahbil were spread over the District of Hauran. Khalid ibn al-Walid wrote to all commanders to march at once and concentrate at Ajnadayn. This act to move towards Ajnadayn was correct; as with a large Byzantine army poised at the area, the Muslims would have remained tied down to their own land, which in itself was of little importance. The Byzantines, at this time, still thought they were dealing with local Arab bandits, so organized their defence only with local troops. For the Arabs, this perceived threat, engineered by the general Heraclius, had to be overcome if they wanted to proceed deeper into Syria. In the third week of July 634, the Rashidun army marched from Busra. The Muslims had taken a week to concentrate their army at Ajnadayn, a task which took the Romans more than two months. The Arab army consisted of up to 20,000 men, while the Byzantine army had only up to 100,000 men, recruited from the local population.

The Battle

Before the start of the battle, both armies were arrayed in extended lines, with their camps to the rear. The Muslims, and almost certainly the Romans, were divided into three divisions with a flank guard on each wing. Mu'adh ibn Jabal commanded the Muslim centre; Sa'id Ibn 'Amir the left; and ‘Abd ar-Rahman, son of the Caliph Abu Bakr, the right. Shurahbil led the vital left flank guard, but the name of the man who led the right flank guard is unknown. Behind the centre, protecting the Muslim camp, a reserve was led by Yazid. Muslim archers that day were also ordered to fire controlled barrages instead of individual firing. Khalid, Amr and other senior leaders and 'champions' were in the centre. As well, Muslim women were directed to defend the camp if necessary.Before the battle begun Khalid ibn Walid the commander of Muslim army is reported to have gone around visiting the various units in the camp and spoke to their commanders and men. He said,

Day 1

Before the battle began, commanders of both armies made morale-boosting speeches while reconnaissance took place on both sides. According to legend, a Christian bishop tried in vain to negotiate a withdrawal from the Arabs. Khalid retorted by offering conversion to Islam, the payment of jizyah (tax), or a fight. Another legend tells of Zarrar Ibn al Azwar, a former tax collector but now a renowned warrior, who surveyed the Roman position and slew those who tried to chase him off. Zarrar soon played an important role in the battle.

The Romans first sent in their light skirmishing infantry, with slingers and archers pelting and firing upon the Muslim army, seemingly attempting to disrupt cohesion and lower morale. But the Muslims stood firm and did not return fire as ordered; the Roman slingers and archers were out of range of the Muslim's archers. This phase of the battle went against the Muslims, several of whom were killed while many were wounded. Khalid now decided to let individual champions go into combat against champions from the Byzantine side. In this duelling the Muslims would have the advantage, and it would be useful to eliminate as many of the Roman officers as possible, as this would in turn reduce the effectiveness of the Roman army. [Al-Waqidi, page 36.] Zarrar Ibn al Azwar was sent first by Khalid. Zarrar was known popularly as "the half naked warrior" because he often fought without his shirt and armour, but he advanced forward in full armor and a Byzantine elephant hide shield taken from a dead soldier, to protect himself against the projectiles. He then challenged several champions from the Byzantine side.

As a few of the opposing champions advanced to answer Zarrar's challenge, he quickly disrobed and allegedly Byzantine army knew him at once as the half naked Champion. In Muslim sources he is credited with defeating several Roman champions who accepted his duels, including the governors of Tiberias and Amman. The Muslim account then states that a group of 10 officers emerged from the Byzantine army and moved towards Zarrar. At this move, Khalid ibn Walid picked 10 of his stalwarts, and jumped into the combat, intercepted and killed the Romans. Now more champions came forward from both sides, individually and in groups. Gradually, the duelling increased in extent and continued for about couple of hours, during which the Roman archers and slingers remained inactive.

As these duels were still being fought, Khalid ordered a general attack. The fight was ferocious, and continued until the sun set. There was no clear victor after the bloodshed, and both armies were in the same positions, ready to continue the fight.

Day 2

Theodorus planned to assassinate his formidable rival Khalid ibn Walid. However, fate was not with Theodorus; next day when the ambush tried to kill Khalid, it was defeated by the Zarrar's corps. Theodorus invited Khalid for a duel; without drawing his sword, he sprang at Khalid and held him, at the same time shouting for 10 Romans to come to his aid. The 10 Romans emerged and raced towards him. Khalid thought that if Dhiraar had at last met his match. As the group of Romans got nearer, however, Theodorus noticed that the leader of these 'Romans' was naked to the waist; it was Zarrar who had put on the garments and armour of the Romans, later discarded the garments and reverted to his normal half naked fighting dress! Theodorus was killed "apparently by the fearsome Zarrar".

With the Romans losing their commander and the confusion that ensued after the failed ambush, the Muslims saw an opportunity to attack. They promptly did so, and brutal and merciless combat ensued. Yet the Romans, now at a disadvantage, did not yet collapse. However Khalid now committed his final reserves under Yazid (who were defending the camp) into the fray, desperate to end the long hours of bloodshed of this prolonged battle. The Roman line finally collapsed under the weight of this final push.

The battle took a heavy toll on both sides, with more fallen senior Muslim figures than in any other battle in the conquest of Syria. Even across the valley today, one can find many tombstones of this era. Many of the Byzantine army were able to make it safely off the field, turning in three directions: some fled towards Gaza, others towards Jaffa, but the largest group of fugitives made for Jerusalem. Khalid forthwith launched his cavalry in several regiments to pursue the enemy on all three routes, and at the hands of this cavalry the Byzantine army suffered even more casualties than in the two days of fighting on the plain of Ajnadayn. [Lieutenant-General Agha Ibrahim Akram (1970). "The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns", [ Battle of Ajnadein, Page 7] .]


After the battle of Ajnadayn, Muslim forces conquered all of Palestine and much of Syria, including Damascus (after two separate sieges). However, Emperor Heraclius realized that the Arab attacks were more than just raids by bandits, but a coordinated effort to conquer territory. In the spring of 636, the Byzantines sent an Imperial army against the Arabs, no longer relying on local forces to deal with the problem. Recognizing the hard price of victory at Ajnadayn against a much smaller force than the army that now marched against him, Khalid withdrew all the Muslim forces south. Hotly pursued by the Byzantines, Khalid stopped his advance at the Yarmouk River and finally gave battle.In the Battle of Yarmuk, Khalid Ibn al-Walid once again fought the Romans, this time under the command of Theodore the Sacellarius and Baänes. This victory led to the total Muslim conquest of Palestine and Syria, the latter soon to become the centre of Islamic civilization (before Baghdad).


Online resources

*Lieutenant-General Agha Ibrahim Akram (1970). "The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns", [ Battle of Ajnadein] .
*David Morray "Ajnadain, battle of" The Oxford Companion to Military History. Ed. Richard Holmes. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. (Login required)

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