Battle of Yarmouk

Battle of Yarmouk

Infobox Military Conflict

caption=Across the ravines lies battlefield of Yarmouk, a picture taken 8 miles from battlefield, from Jordan.
conflict=Battle of Yarmouk
partof=the Muslim conquest of Syria
and Byzantine-Arab Wars
date=15th-20th August, 636
place=Near the Yarmouk River
result=Decisive Rashidun victory
territory=Levant annexed by Rashidun Caliphate
combatant1= Byzantine Empire,
Ghassanid Kingdom,
combatant2= Rashidun Caliphate
(Rashidun army)
commander1= Heraclius
Theodore Trithyriuscite book|last=Kennedy|first=Hugh N. |year=2006|title=The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East|pages=p.145|publisher=Ashgate Publishing|id=ISBN 0754659097]
Vahan [Vahan is known as Mahan in certain Muslim texts although most scholars use Vahan only.]
Jabalah ibn al-Aiham
Buccinator (Qanateer)
commander2=Khalid ibn al-Walid
Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah
Amr ibn al-A'as
Shurahbil ibn Hassana
Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan
strength1= 15,000 - 120,000
(modern estimates) [Modern estimates for Roman army:
Gil and Broido (1997): 100,000.
David Chandler: 100,000.
Mango, Cyril (2002). The Oxford History of Byzantium: 80,000
Kindersley: 80,000
Donner (1981): 100,000.
Kennedy (2006, p. 145): 80,000.
Britannica (2007): "More than 50,000 byzantine soldiers died".
Yusuf Ghawanma, Ma’arakat al-Yarmuk (Irbid, 1985): 125,000
Nicolle (1994): 100,000.
Akram (1970): 150,000.
Kaegi (1995): 15,000-20,000
] 100,000 - 400,000
(primary sources) [Roman source for Roman army:
Theophanes (p. 337-338): 80,000 Roman troops (Kennedy, 2006, p. 145) and 60,000 allied Ghassanid troops (Gibbon, Vol. 5, p. 325).
] [Muslim sources for Roman army:
Baladhuri (p. 140): 200,000.
Tabari (Vol. 2, p. 598): 200,000.
Ibn Ishaq (Tabari, Vol. 3, p. 75): 100,000 against 24,000 Muslims.
Al-Waqidi (p. 107) (Ibn Khaldun, p. 126): 400,000.
strength2= 25,000 - 40,000
(modern estimates) [Modern estimates for Muslim army:
Haldon (2001): 20,000.
Yusuf Ghawanma, Ma’arakat al-Yarmuk (Irbid, 1985): 40,000
David Chandler: 30,000
Kaegi (2003): 15,000 - 20,000.
Nicolle (1994): 25,000 maximum.
Akram: 40,000 maximum.
] 24,000 - 40,000
(primary sources) [Primary sources for Muslim army:
Ibn Ishaq (Tabari, Vol. 3, p. 74): 24,000.
Baladhuri: 24,000.
Ibn Khaldun (p. 126): 30,000.
Al-Waqidi (p. 144): 40,000.
Tabari (Vol. 2, p. 592): 40,000.
casualties1=50,000 killed
(modern estimate) [ [ Khalid ibn al-Walid] , Encyclopædia Britannica (2007).] 45% killed
(modern estimate)
70,000 - 120,000 killed
(primary sources) [Primary sources for Roman casualties:
Tabari (Vol. 2, p. 596): 120,000 killed.
Ibn Ishaq (Tabari, Vol. 3, p. 75): 70,000 killed.
Baladhuri (p. 141): 70,000 killed.
Al-Waqidi: more than 120,000 killed.
casualties2=4,000 killed

The Battle of Yarmouk ( _ar. معركة اليرموك, also spelled "Yarmuk", "Yarmuq" or "Hieromyax") comprised a series of engagements between the Rashidun Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire over six days in August 636, near the Yarmouk River, along what is today the border between Syria and Jordan, south-east of the Sea of Galilee. The battle marked the first great wave of Islamic conquests after the death of Muhammad, heralding the rapid advance of Islam into the then Christian Levant. The battle is also considered to be one of Khalid ibn al-Walid's most decisive victories, and cemented his reputation as a great tactician and cavalry commander. [Yarmouk 636, Muslim conquest of Syria, By David Nicolle page 21]


Prophet Mohammad died in June 632, and Abu Bakr was appointed Caliph and his political successor. Troubles emerged soon after Abu Bakr's succession. Several Arabic tribes revolted against Abu Bakr. This was the start of the "Ridda wars" (Arabic for the Wars of Apostasy). Abu Bakr declared war against the rebels, The Campaign of the Apostasy was fought and completed during 632, and by 633, with Arabia united under the central authority of the Caliph at Medina. Once the rebellions had been put down, Abu Bakr began a war of conquest, beginning with Iraq, the richest province of the Persian Empire. He sent his most brilliant general Khalid ibn al-Walid to invade the Sassanid Persian Empire.After successful campaigns against the Sassanid Persians and the conquest of Iraq, Abu Bakr's confidence grew, and once Khalid established his stronghold in Iraq, Abu Bakr issued a call to arms for the invasion of Syria in February 634. The Muslim invasion of Syria was a carefully planned, coordinated and organised series of military operations using strategy well able to deal with Byzantine defensive measures.Abu Bakr organised the army into four corps, each with its own commander and objective. This tactic of penetrating by several self-sufficient armies eliminated the traditional distinction between "front" and "rear". [Yarmouk 636, Muslim conquest of Syria, By David Nicolle page 88] These armies soon proved to be small, and called for reinforcement when Byzantine emperor Heraclius, disturbed by this Arabian movement, sent in a foray, his brother TheodoreHarvnb|Runciman|1991|p=16, All over his (Heraclius's) Empire there had fallen that atmosphere of lassitude and pessimism that so often after a long bitter war assails the victors no less than the conquered felt the same way. Nevertheless, he sent his brother restore order in Palestine.] to lead an army of Syrian garrisons against the invaders. Khalid was sent by Abu Bakr from Iraq to Syria with reinforcement and to lead the invasion. The battle thus fought was at Ajnadayn, where the Byzantines were decisively defeated. Damascus fell in September 634, followed by Battle of Fahl where the last strong garrison of Palestine was defeated and routed. Caliph Abu Bakr died in 634, making Umar his successor. While Abu Bakr had been successful in invading Syria, Umar was determined to extend the reach of his kingdom and continued the conquest deeper into Syria.Harvnb|Runciman|1991|p=15] Though previous campaigns led by Khalid ibn al-Walid were successful, he was never in the good books of Umar and was replaced by Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah.Harvnb|Kennedy|2007|p=81, ...Umar disliked Khalid b. al-Walid intensely. The fact that Khalid had fought so brilliantly for the Muslim cause against the "ridda" in eastern Arabia and again in Iraq and Syria did little to improve his standing with the new caliph.] Harvnb|Kennedy|2007|p=81, When he (Khalid) arrived at Medina, 'Umar pursued his vendetta. Whenever, he met Khalid he would taunt him, 'Khalid take the property of the Muslims out from under your arse!', to which Khalid would meekly reply that he did not have any of the 'Muslims' property'.] Harvnb|Kennedy|2007|p=81, He ('Umar) now abruptly ordered that Khalid be removed from command and return to Medina. In one account, Abu Ubayda, now appointed as supreme commanded in Khalid's place, was ordered to demand that Khalid should confess to being a liar. If he refused, as he was bound to do, his turban should be pulled off his head and half his property confiscated.] [During the reign of Abu Bakr, Khalid ibn Walid remained the Commander-in-Chief of the army in Syria but at Umar's accession as caliph he dismissed him from the command. Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah became the new commander in chief. See Dismissal of Khalid] The Arabs had already secured southern Palestine now advanced up the trade route that went east of Jordan and over to Damascus and Orontes valley. Tiberias and Baalbek fell into the hands of the Arabs without much struggle and the Muslims Conquered Emesa later that year. From there on, the Muslims continued their conquest across the Levant. [Akram, A. I. The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns, Nat. Publishing House. Rawalpindi, 1970. ISBN 0-71010-104-X. ]

Byzantine counter-attack

By 635, Muslims had conquered most of Palestine and southern Syria and with Emesa under their power, the Muslims were just a march away from Aleppo, a Byzantine stronghold and Antioch where Heraclius resided. Now seriously alarmed by this debacle, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius started to plan for a counter-attack to roll back the lost region. Emperor Heraclius assembled a large army in northern Syria and Antioch in late-635 to halt the Arab invasion. Preparations started in late 635, and by May 636, a large force was put under arms and was concentrated at Antioch in northern Syria. The assembled army consisted of contingents of Byzantines, Slavs, Franks, Georgians, Armenians and Christian Arabs, [al-Waqidi: page no: 100] .This force was organized into five armies, the joint leader of which was Theodore Trithourios the Sakellarios, and Vahan, [ His name is mentioned in Islamic sources as Jaban, Vahan and Mahan, Vahan is most likely to be his name as it is of Armenian origin] the king of Armeniandash who commanded a purely Armenian army, was the field commander, Buccinator (Qanateer), a Slavic prince commanded the Slavs and Jabalah ibn al-Aiham, king of the Ghassanid Arabs, commanded an exclusively Christian Arab force. The remaining contingents (all European), were placed under Gregory and Dairjan. [ -Waqidi, pg. 106. ] . Heraclius himself supervised the operation from Antioch. Byzantine sources tells about the presence of Niketas son of Shahrbaraz among the commanders but it is not certain which army he commanded. [Yarmouk 636, Muslim conquest of Syria, By David Nicolle page 20] At that time, the Rashidun army was split in four groups: one under Amr ibn al-Aas in Palestine, one under Shurahbil in Jordan, one under Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan at Damascus-Caesarea region and the last one under Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah along with Khalid ibn al-Walid at Emesa. Being geographically divided up in each direction, Heraclius sought to exploit this situation and planned to attack and destroy each of these Muslim corps separately by putting a large concentration of troops against each of them in turn. Thus, reinforcements were sent to Caesarea under Heraclius’s son Constantine, probably to tie down Yazid's forces there, which were besieging Caesarea, so that it would not move to join other Muslim corps to help them. The rest of the Imperial Army was to operate on the following plan:

* Jabla would march from Aleppo on the direct route to Emessa via Hama, and hold the Muslims frontally in the Emessa region. The lighter-armed but faster moving Christian Arabs would thus be the first to contact the Muslim Arabs.
* Dairjan would move between the coast and the Aleppo road and approach Emessa from the west, thus striking the Muslims in their flank while they were held frontally by Jabla.
* Gregory would advance on Emessa from the north-east and attack the Muslims in their right flanks at the same time as they were struck by Dairjan.
* Qanateer would move along the coastal route up to Beirut, then approach Damascus from the west and cut off Abu Ubaidah.
* Mahan’s army would advance behind the Christian Arabs and act as a reserve. [The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns', pg. 562 by Lieutenant-General Agha Ibrahim Akram. Nat. Publishing. House, Rawalpindi (1970) ISBN 978-0-7101-0104-4]

The imperial army moved out from Antioch and northern Syria sometime in the middle of June 636.

The Muslim strategy

It was at Shaizar, through Roman prisoners, that the Muslims first came to know of the preparations being made by Heraclius. Alert to the possibility of being caught with separated forces that could be destroyed in detail, as Heraclius indeed planned, Khalid, in a council of war, advised Abu Ubaidah to pull back from northern and central Syria, as well as from Palestine and concentrated the entire Rashidun army at one place. Abu Ubaidah ordered the concentration of troops in the vast plain near Jabiya which was suitable for cavalry charge and from there it would be easier for the caliph to send reinforcements and thus a strong, united force could be fielded against the Byzantine armies. The position also was beneficiary, due to its close proximity to Najd (a Rashidun stronghold), in case of retreat. [19] Ibn al-Jarrah, Muslim's commander in chief, thus ordered the commanders to surrender the territory under their control and withdraw the army to Jabiya. In addition, he ordered the commanders to return the jizya (tribute) to the people who had paid it. [al-Baladhuri, pg. 143] At first the Muslim forces concentrated at Jabiya, but were subjected at raids from pro-Byzantine Ghassanid forces; the region was also not suitable to camp as there was a strong Byzantine garrison in Caeseara that could attack Muslims from rear while they were held in front by the Byzantine army. On Khalid’s advice they retreated to Dara’ah and dayr Ayyub, covering the gap between Yarmouk Gorges and Harra lava plains [Nicolle, David. Yarmuk 636 A.D.: The Muslim Conquest of Syria, Osprey Campaign Series #31, Osprey Publishing, 1994.] , and established a line of camps in the eastern part of the plain of Yarmuk.There were no major conflicts except for a minor skirmish between Khalid's elite light cavalry Mobile guard and Byzantine advance guard.


The battlefield lies about 65-kilometres south-west of the Golan heights, an upland region currently on the frontier between Israel, Jordan and Syria, east of the Sea of Galilee. [Golan heights was a part of Syria until 1967 when it was first occupied and then in 1981 annexed by Israel. Area: 1,250 km²./483 sq mi.] The battle was fought on the plain of Yarmouk which was enclosed on its western and southern edges by a deep ravine, known as Wadi-ur-Raqqad with banks about 30 m deep. This ravine joins the Yarmouk River, a tributary of the Jordan River on its south. The stream had very steep banks from 10–30 m deep. On the north lay the Jabiya road and to the east lie the Azra hills, although these hills were outside the actual field of battle. Strategically there was only one prominence in the battlefieldndash a 100 m high elevation known as the hill of Jamu'a (meaning "gathering"). For the Muslim troops concentrated on it, it gave a good view of the plain of Yarmouk. What now is a ravine on the west of the battlefield was accessible at a few places in 636 AD, and had one main crossing, a ford, where the village of Kafir-ul-Ma stands today.

Troop deployment

In most early Muslim accounts the size of the Muslim forces was stated at between 24,000 and 40,000 and the number of Byzantine forces at between 100,000 and 200,000. Modern estimates of the sizes of the respective armies vary: Estimates for the Byzantine army are mostly between 80,000 and 120,000, with some estimates as low as 50,000 and 15,000-20,000.Walter Kaegi, "Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests page: 131] Estimates for the Rashidun army are between 25,000 and 40,000, with one estimate at 15,000. These figures come from studying the logistical capabilities of the combatants, the sustainability of their respective bases of operations, and the overall manpower constraints affecting the Romans and Arabs. Most scholars, however, agree that the Byzantine army and their allies outnumbered the Muslim Arabs by a sizeable margin [David nicolle suggest at least four to one] .


The army was lined up on a front of ten miles, with its left on the Yarmouk River a mile before the ravine began and its right on the Jabiya road, with substantial gaps between the divisions so that they could cover the whole area that Byzantines were covering with their 12 mile long battle front. The center of the army was under the command of Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah (left half) and Shurhabil bin Hassana (right half). The left wing was under the command of Yazid and the right wing was under Amr ibn al-A'as. Center, left and right wings were given cavalry regiments under command, to be used as a reserve for counter attack in case they were pushed back by the Byzantines. Behind the center stood mobile guard under the personal command of Khalid. When Khalid was occupied in the conduct of the battle, Zirrar ibn al-Azwar would command the mobile guard. Each of the four corps had nine infantry regiments, which were all formed on a tribal and clan basis, so that every man would fight next to well-known comrades, and the army pushed out a line of scouts to keep the Byzantines under observation. [cite book|title=The Sword of Allah|pages=pp. 577-578|first=Agha Ibrahim |last=Akram|publisher=Nat. Publishing. House|location=Rawalpindi |year=1970|id=ISBN 978-0-7101-0104-4] The battle formation of "Tabi'a" was used which was a type of close defensive formation.During a council of war, Khalid ibn Walid, the former commander in chief of the Rashidun army in the campaign of Syria, [During the reign of Abu Bakr, Khalid ibn Walid remained the Commander-in-Chief of the army in Syria but at Umar's accession as Caliph he dismissed him from the command. Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah became the new commander in chief. See Dismissal of Khalid] offered his services as a commander of the Muslim army until the battle was over and it was given to him that day; Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah's military credentials were not as high as Khalid's. ["The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns": page no:576 by Lieutenant-General Agha Ibrahim Akram, Nat. Publishing. House, Rawalpindi (1970) ISBN 978-0-7101-0104-4.] After taking command, Khalid reorganized the army into infantry and cavalry regiments, with cavalry making up a quarter of army. Khalid further divided the army into 36 infantry regiments and four cavalry regiments; with his cavalry elite, mobile guard, held in reserve. Over the course of the battle Khalid would repeatedly make critical, decisive use of this mounted reserve.In late July 636, Mahan sent Jabla with his Christian Arabs forces to check the strength of the Muslim front, but they were repulsed by the mobile guard under Khalid. [cite book|title=The Sword of Allah|pages=p. 570|first=Agha Ibrahim |last=Akram|publisher=Nat. Publishing. House|location=Rawalpindi |year=1970|id=ISBN 978-0-7101-0104-4.] After this initial operation, no military activities occurred for a month.


The helmets included gilded helmets similar to that of silver helmets of Sassanid empire. Mail was commonly used to protect the face, neck and cheek either as an aventail from the helmet or as a mail coif.Heavy leather sandals as well as Roman type sandal boots were also typical of the early Muslim soldiers.Armor included, Hardened leather scale or lamellar armour, mail armors. Infantry soldiers were more heavily armored then the horsemen. Hauberks and large wooden or wickerwork shields were used. Long-shafted spears were used. Infantry spears were two and a half meter long and that of cavalry were up to five and a half meters long.In swords, a short infantry weapon like that of Roman gladius and Sassanid long swords were being used. Swords were hanged in baldric. Bows were about two meter long when unbraced, about the same size of famous English longbow. The maximum useful range of the traditional Arabian bow use to be about 150 meters. Early Muslim archers were infantry archers who proved to be very effective against the cavalry.


A few days after Muslims, the Byzantine armyndash proceeded by the lightly armed Ghassanids of Jablandash moved forward and established their strongly fortified camps just north of the Wadi-ur-Raqqad, some Byzanitne sources also mentions a fortified encampment at Yaqusah, 18 kilometer from the battlefield. [A.I.Akram, suggest that the byzantine camps were north of Waddi ur riqqad while David nicolle agrees with early armenian sources, which positioned camps at yaqusah.] Vahan deployed the Imperial Army forward of Allan, with a front about 12 kilometer long, as he was trying to cover the whole area between Yarmouk gorge and Roman road to Egypt, and there have been substantial gaps between the Byzantine division. He used his four regular armies to form the line of battle, extending from the Wadi Allan to south of the Hill of Jabiya.The right wing was commanded by Gregory and left was commanded by Qanateer. The centre was formed by the army of Dairjan and the Armenian army of Mahan-both under the command of Dairjan. The Roman regular heavy cavalry, the Cataphract was distributed equally among the four armies, with each army deployed with its infantry holding the front and its cavalry held as a reserve in the rear. Ahead of the front line, across the entire 11-mile front, Vahan deployed the Christian Arab army of Jabla, which was all mounted on horses and camels. This army acted as a screen and skirmish line, until they would be joined by the main army.The army of Gregory, which formed the right wing, used chains to link its foot soldiers together. [Edward Gibbon Vol no:5 page no: 325] All these foot soldiers had taken the oath of death. These chains were in 10-men lengths, and were used as a proof of unshakeable courage on the part of the men, who thus displayed their willingness to die where they stood and not retreat. The chains also acted as an insurance against a break-through by enemy cavalry, however modern historians suggest that Byzantines adopted the Greko-Roman military formation known as the testudo formation in which soldiers would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with shields held high and a 10-20 men arrangement would be completely shielded on all sides with the next soldier providing defence for the other.


Byzantine cavalry was armed with long swords known as "Spathion".They would also have a light wooden lance known as "kontarion"and a bow ("toxarion") with 40 arrows in it quiver, hung from a saddle or from belt.Heavy infantry, known as "Skoutatoi" had a short sword and a short spear. Light Byzantine troops, the archer, carried a small shield, a bow across the back hung from the shoulder rather than a belt and a quiver full with arrows.Cavalry armour consist of mail hauberk with a mail coif, and a helmet with a pendant i.e a throat guard lined with a fabric and having a fringe and with a check piece.The infantry similarly had a mail hauberk and helmets and leg defences. Where as light lamellar and scale armour was also used. [Yarmouk 636, Muslim conquest of Syria, By David Nicolle]

Tensions in Byzantine army

Rashisdun's strategy of withdrawing from the occupied areas and concentrating all of his troops for a decisive battle forced the Byzantines to concentrate their five armies in response. The Byzantines had for centuries avoided engaging in decisive battles, and the concentration of their forces created logistical demands for which the empire was ill-prepared. Damascus was the closest logistical base, but Mansur, leader of Damascus, couldn’t fully supply the massive Byzantine army that was gathered at the Yarmouk plain. Several clashes were reported with local citizens over supply requisition, as it was end of summer and there was a decline of pasturage. Greek court sources accused Vahan of treason for his disobedience to Heraclius’ command not to engage in large-scale battle with Arabs; given the massing of the Muslim armies at Yarmouk, however, Vahan had little choice but to respond in kind.

Relations between the various Byzantine commanders were also fraught with tension. There was a struggle for power between Trithurios and Vahan, Jarajis and Qanatir (Buccinator). Jabla, the Christian Arab leader, was largely ignored, to the detriment of the Byzantines given his knowledge of the local terrain. Thus a mistrust was created between Greeks, Armenians, and Arabs. Longstanding ecclesiastical feuds between the Monophysite and Chalcedonian factions, while of negligible direct impact, certainly increased underlying tensions. The effect of these feuds was decreased coordination and planning, one of the reasons for the catastrophic Byzantine defeat. [Kaegi, Walter E. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests, Cambridge, 1992.]

The battle

Vahan was instructed by Heraculis not to give battle until all avenues of peaceful negotiation had been explored. Accordingly, Vahan sent Gregory and then Jabla to negotiate, but their efforts failed. Before the battle, on Vahan’s invitation, Khalid came to talks but still with no result. [21] Meanwhile Caliph Umar sent a reinforcement of 6,000 troops, mostly from Yemen as well as 1,000 Sahaba (companions of Muhammad), among them a 100 veterans of the Battle of Badr, the first battle in Islamic History. The army also included citizens of the highest rank, such as Zubair, [22] Abu Sufyan, and his wife Hind bint Utbah. [23] The continuing stream of Muslim reinforcements meant that time was against the Byzantines, and they were forced to attack. [Akram, A. I. The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns, Nat. Publishing House. Rawalpindi, 1970. ISBN 0-71010-104-X. ]


The battle started on 15 August 636 [cite web|publisher=The Golan Heights:History, |url=|title=Jewish Virtual Library|accessdate=2008-05-29] At dawn both armies lined up for battle and were a little less than a mile apart. [Harvnb|Akram|2004, ch. 35, [ Yarmuk] . Retrieved on May 29, 2008] Before the battle would commence, George, a Byzantine commander of a unit in Byzantine right center, rode up to the Muslim line and converted to Islam; he would die the same day fighting on the Muslim side. The battle began with duels between the champions, Muslims mubarizuns came forwards for duels. These were specially trained swordsmen and lancers, with the objective to slay as many enemy commanders as possible to damage their morale. At midday, after losing a number of commanders to the Mubarizuns, Vahan attempted a limited offensive [Only a third of the infantry advanced into battle on the orders of Vahan to test the defences of the Muslims, however the Byzantine assault was not a determined one. Many of the soldiers of the Imperial army were not accustomed to battle and were unable to press the attack as the Muslim veterans did.] through the Byzantine infantry to test the strength and strategy of the Muslim army, and if possible, achieve a breakthrough wherever the Muslim front was weak. On some parts of the front the fighting was intense, but on the whole the action of this day could be described as steady and moderately hard.cite book |title=The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire |last=Gibbon |first=Edward|authorlink=Edward Gibbon |coauthors=David Womersley |year=1995 |publisher=Penguin Classics |url= |pages=267-279 |isbn=0140433953] The Muslims held their own. The Byzantine forces did not reinforce their forward infantry, and at sunset the action ended with the two armies separating and returning to their respective camps.

On 16 August 636, Vahan in a council of war decided to launch his attack just before dawn, to catch the Muslim force unprepared as they conducted their morning prayers. He planned to engage the two of his central armies with the Muslim centre in an effort to stall them while the main thrusts would be against the wings of the Muslim army, which would then either be driven away from the battlefield or pushed towards the centre. To observe the battlefield, Vahan had a large pavilion built behind his right wing with an Armenian bodyguard force. He ordered the army to prepare for the surprise attack.

Unbeknownst to the Byzatines, Khalid had placed a strong outpost line in front during the night to counter surprises, which gave the Muslims time to prepare for battle. At the center, the Byzantines did not press hard, as this was meant to be a limited attack to pin the Muslim central corps in their position. [Khalid Bin Waleed, [ Monthly Renaissance Journal] , Retrieved on May 29, 2008] Thus the center remained stable.But on the left wing of the Byzantine army, the Qanateer, commanding a force of mainly Slavs, attacked and forced the Muslim infantry to retreat. Amr, the Muslim right wing commander ordered his cavalry regiment to counter attack, which checked the Byzantine advance and stabilized the battle line on the right for some time. Khalid, aware of the situation at the wings, ordered his mobile guard and the reserve cavalry on the right to assist the right wing infantry. The Slavs, attacked from both sides by Muslim cavalry, retreated to their original position and Amr regained all the ground he had lost while starting to reorganise his corps for another round.

The situation on the Muslim left wing where Yazid commanded was slightly serious. Whilst the Muslim right wing enjoyed assistance from the mobile guard, the troops on the left wing were retreating back to their camps. Here the Byzantines had broken through the corps. The testudo formation that Gregory's army had adopted moved slow but also had a good defence. Yazid used his cavalry regiment to counter attack but was repulsed. After a period of stiff resistance the warriors of Yazid finally fell back to their camps and for a moment Vahan's plan appeared to be succeeding. The centre of the Muslim army was pinned down and its flanks had been pushed back. However, neither flank had broken, though their morale was severely damaged. [Wikipedia:Footnotes| [broken footnote] The retreating Muslim army, however, were met by the ferocious Arab women at the camps. Led by Hind, the Muslim women dismantled their tents and armed with tent poles and charged at their husbands and fellow men singing an improvised song sung at the Battle of Uhud.

“O you who run from a constant woman Who has both beauty and virtue; And leave her to the infidel, The hated and evil infidel, To possess, disgrace and ruin.” [Wikipedia:Footnotes| [broken footnote]
This boiled the blood of the retreating Muslims further and they fled back into the battlefield. [Harvnb|Regan|2003|p=164, The veteran Abu Sofyan, concluding that death at the hands of the Christians was preferable to a beating with a tent pole from his wife (Hind), turned his horse and rallied his men, leading them back into the fray.]

With the position on the right stabilised, the mobile guard cavalry moved towards the left wing.Khalid detached one regiment under Zirrar ibn al-Azwar and ordered him to attack the front of the army of Deirjan(left half of the center) in order to create a diversion and threaten the withdrawal of the Roman right wing from its advanced position. With the rest of the cavalry reserve he attacked the flank of Gregory. Here again, under simultaneous attacks from the front and flank, the Byzantines fell back, but more slowly because assuming their formation the men could not move as fast. At sunset the central armies broke contact and withdrew to their original positions and both fronts were restored along the lines occupied in the morning. The death of Dairjan and the failure of Vahan's battle plan left the Imperial army relatively demoralized, whereas Khalid's successful counter-attacks emboldened his troops.

On 17 August 636, Vahan pondered over his failures and mistakes of the previous day. What bothered him the most was the loss of one of his commanders. The imperial Byzantine army decided on a less ambitious plan, aiming to break the Muslim army at a specific points. [Vahan suggested that the junction between the Muslim centre and its right flank be charged at by Qanateer's Slavs to break the two apart and be fought with individually.] The battle resumed with the Byzantine attack. After holding the initial attacks by the Byzantines, the Muslim right retreated toward their base camp followed by the retreat of the right half of the Muslim center. [cite web|url=|title=Military History Online|accessdate=2008-05-29] , but the corps were able to reorganize some distance from the camp for a counter-attack. [al-Waqidi: page no:142] Knowing instantly that the Byzantine army was focusing on the Muslim right, Khalid launched an attack with his mobile guard, along with the Muslim right flank cavalry, on the other end of the Byzantines where Qanateer commanded. The combat soon accelerated into a bloodbath. Many fell on both sides and by dusk the Byzantines had been pushed back to their former positions and the situation restored to that existing at the beginning of the battle. [Wikipedia:Footnotes| [broken footnote]

18 August 636, the fourth day was to prove decisive. Vahan decided to persist with the previous day's war plan as he had been successful in inflicting damage on the Muslim right. Qanateer led two armies of Slavs against the Muslim right and right half of centre with a little assistance from the Armenianas and Christian Arabs led by Jabala. The Muslim armies were forced back but held position at the right wing with the Slavs while the right half of the Muslim centre gave way after repetitive attacks by the Armenians and Christian Arabs soldiers under Jabala. While the Muslim right was preoccupied, Khalid entered the fray yet again with this mobile guard. He feared a general attack on a broad front which would make it impossible for him to repulse and as a precaution ordered Abu Ubaida and Yazid on the left centre and the left wings respectively to attack the Byzantine armies at the respective fronts. The attack would result in stalling the Byzantine front and preempt a general advance of the Imperial army. [cite web|url=|title=Expansion of Islam and Military Campaign|accessdate=2008-05-29] With his mobile guard, Khalid struck the advancing Armenians. He divided his mobile guard into two equal groups, one which would attack at the Armenians at the front. While leading his own cavalry group, Khalid galloped around behind the fighting Muslim army and appeared in force to face the Armenian front. This three-pronged flanking manoeuvre against the Armenians and Christian Arabs with extreme cavalry-enabled force led the Armenians to retreat towards their original position. The Slavs were left alone in the battlefield without the Armenian support and soon retired as well. Shurahbil's and Amr's positions were secured.

While Khalid and his mobile guard were dealing with the Armenian front throughout the afternoon, the situation on the other end was worsening. Byzantine horse-archers had taken into the battlefield and had prevented Abu Ubaidah and Yazid from penetrating their lines. Many Muslim soldiers lost their sight to Byzantine arrows on that day, which thereafter became known as the "Day of Lost Eyes". [al-Waqidi: page no: 148] The veteran Abu Sufyan also lost an eye.Fact|date=June 2008 The Muslim armies fell back except for one regiment led by Ikramah bin Abu Jahal, which was on the left of Abu Ubaidah's corps. Ikramah had called on his men to take an oath of death and to go down fighting without retreat. While these four hundred men attacked the Byzantine front, the other armies reorganised themselves to counter-attack and gain their lost positions. All of Ikramah's men were either seriously injured or died that day. Ikrimah and his son Amr, a childhood friend of Khalid's were mortally wounded and died later in the evening. [Harvnb|Akram|2004|pp=605-606]

Early on 19 August 636, the fifth day of battle Vahan sent an emissary to the Muslim camp for a truce for the next few days so that fresh negotiations could be held. Abu Ubaidah nearly accepted the proposal but was restrained by Khalid. Khalid had been terribly sad at the death of his friend and devised a clear-cut offensive strategy. On Khalid's insistence he sent the envoy back with a negative reply, adding:

We are in a hurry to finish this business! [al-Waqidi: page no: 153]

Khalid knew that the Byzantines were no longer eager for battle. Up until now the Muslim army had adopted a largely defensive strategy, but Khalid now decided to take the offensive and reorganized his troops accordingly. All the cavalry regiments were grouped together into one powerful mounted force with the mobile guard acting as its core. The total strength of this cavalry group was now about 8,000 mounted warriors, an effective mounted corps for an offensive attack the next day. The rest of the day passed uneventful.

On 20 August 636, the final day of battle, Khalid formulated a simple but bold plan of attack and immediately put it into action. With his massed cavalry force he intended to drive the Byzantine cavalry entirely off the battlefield so that the infantry, which formed the bulk of the imperial army, would be left without cavalry support and thus be exposed when attacked from the flanks and rear. At the same time he planned to push a determined attack to turn the left flank of the Byzantine army and drive them toward the ravine to the west.

While the Muslim centre and left wing engaged the Byzantine armies on their fronts, [cite web|url=|title=Chapter 51: The Invasion of Syria by the Moslems] Khalid deployed his cavalry and charged the Byzantine left flank. He simultaneously dispatched a mounted regiment to engage the Byzantine cavalry on the left. The infantry was then harried into battle along with the cavalry.

The Slavic infantry under Qanateer resisted the attack but, without cavalry support, they retreated toward Vahan's army. The Muslim armies focused on dispatching them in the same manner as they had with the Slavs. Vahan noticing the huge cavalry formation of the Muslims ordered his cavalry to group together and face the advancing massed Muslims, but was not quick enough; before Vahan could organize his disparate heavy cavalry squadrons, Khalid had wheeled his cavalry back to attack the concentrating Byzantine horses, falling upon them from the front and the flank while they were still moving into formation. The Muslim horsemen were lightly armed and fast versus the disorganized and disoriented Byzantine cavalry that were soon routed and dispersed to the north, leaving the infantry to its fate. With the cavalry in retreat, the infantry lay unguarded and Khalid now turned his focus onto them attacking the Armenian army of Vahan from the rear. The Armenians were strong fighters but without support from Jabala reserve light infantry their line broke and they fell back.The Armenians were forced into retreat, and Trithyrius' unit bore the brunt of Khalid's cavalry. Soon the entire Byzantine army was in full retreat. Partially scattered and in panic, others fell back in good order toward Wadi Ruqqad. [Harvnb|Akram|2004|pp=611-620.] Khalid now turned this retreat into a rout, taking his cavalry towards the north-west so that no troops could escape from there, though before he could seal off all the gaps, a few thousand Byzantine troops escaped towards Damascus by way of a bridge at 'Ayn Dhakar over the deep gorges of the ravines of Wadi Ruqqad. In the confusion of the rout, Zarrar had already captured the bridge as part of Khalid's plan the night before. A unit of 500 mounted troops were sent through to block this passageway. In fact, this was the route Khalid wanted the Byzantines to retreat along all the time. The Byzantines were surrounded from all ends now. [Akram misinterprets the bridge at 'Ayn Dhakar for a ford while Nicolle explains the exact geography.] Some fell into the 200-meters deep ravines off the steep slopes, some tried to escape in the waters, only to be smashed on the rocks below and others were killed in their flight. The remainder surrendered, but the Muslims were unforgiving and they administered a massacre taking no prisoners. [Harvnb|Kennedy|2007|p=85]


Immediately after this operation was over, Khalid and his mobile guard moved north to pursue the retreating Byzantine soldiers; he found them near Damascus and attacked. In the ensuing fight the commander-in-chief of the imperial army, the Armenian prince Vahan who had escaped the fate of most of his men at Yarmouk, was killed. Khalid then entered Damascus where he was welcomed by the local residents, thus recapturing the city.

When news of the disaster reached the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius at Antioch, he was devastated and enraged. [Harvnb|Runciman|1991|p=17, Heraclius was at Antioch when the news of the battle reached him. He was utterly despondent.] He blamed his wrongdoings for the loss primarily referring to his incestuous marriage [Harvnb|Runciman|1991|p=96, Of Martina's nine children, four had died in infancy, one had a twisted neck and another was deaf and dumb. The Empress, never popular, ...found herself publicly reviled.] to his niece Martina. [Harvnb|Runciman|1991|p=17, (He believed) it was the hand of God stretching out to punish him for his incestuous marriage with his niece.] He would have tried to win over the province if he had the resources, [Harvnb|Runciman|1991|p=17, He had neither the men nor the money to defend the province further.] rather he resorted to the cathedral of Antioch where he observed a solemn service of intercession. [Harvnb|Runciman|1991|p=17] He summoned a meeting of his advisers at the cathedral and scrutinized the situation. He was told almost unanimously and accepted the fact the defeat was God's decision and a result of the sins of the people of the land including him. [Harvnb|Regan|2003|p=167] Heraclius took to the sea on a ship to Constantinople in the night.Harvnb|Regan|2003|p=167, Heraclius must have wondered the divine at the divine symbolism that has seen him return the True Cross to Jerusalem in 630, entering by the Golden Gate, only to have to go back again like a thief in the night just six years later to take away the relic so that it did not fall into the hands of the all-conquering Arabs.]

It is said that as his ship was set sail, he bade a last farewell to Syria, saying:

"Farewell, a long farewell to Syria, [Ibid., p. 17, Runciman expresses in his book the following to have been said in an agonising and bitter cry.] my fair province. Thou art an infidel's (enemy's) now. Peace be with you, O' Syria - what a beautiful land you will be for the enemy. [Harvnb|Regan|2003|p=167] "

Haraclius abandoned Syria with the holy relic of the True Cross on-board, not just to protect it from the invading Arabs but also for his own protection at sea. It is said that the emperor had a fear of water. [Harvnb|Regan|2003|p=169, ...a pontoon bridge was the means put forward to circumvent Heraclius's water phobia.] After abandoning Syria, the Emperor began to concentrate on his remaining forces for the defence of Egypt instead. The Byzantines again were defeated by the Muslims led by Amr ibn al-A'asndash who had commanded the right flank of the Rashidun army at Yarmouk.


The Battle of Yarmouk can be seen as an example in military history where an inferior force manages by superior generalship to overcome a superior one.

The Imperial Byzantine commanders allowed their enemy to have the battlefield of his choosing. Even then they were at no critical tactical disadvantage. Khalid knew all along that he was up against a force superior in numbers and, until the last day of the battle, he conducted an essentially defensive campaign suited to his relatively limited resources. When he decided to take the offensive and attack on the final day of battle, he did so with a degree of imagination, foresight and courage that none of the Byzantine commanders ever displayed. Although he commanded a numerically inferior force and needed all the men he could muster, he nevertheless had the confidence and foresight to dispatch a cavalry regiment the night before his assault to seal off a critical path of retreat for the enemy army. Khalid ibn al-Walid was one of the finest cavalry commanders in history [Yarmouk 636, Muslim conquest of Syria, By David Nicolle page 21 ] and his use of mounted warriors throughout the battle showed just how well he understood the potentials and strengths of mounted troops. His mobile guard moved quickly from one point to another, always changing the course of events wherever they appeared, and then just as quickly galloping away to change the course of events elsewhere on the field.

Vahan and his Byzantine commanders never dealt with this mounted force effectively. Their own Byzantine cavalry never played a significant role in the battle and were held in static reserve for most of the six days. They never pushed their attacks and even when they obtained what could have been a decisive breakthrough on the fourth day, they were unable to exploit it. There appeared to be a decided lack of resolve among the Imperial commanders, though this may have been caused by difficulties commanding the army because of internal conflict. Moreover, many of the Arab auxiliaries were mere levies, while the Muslim Arab army consisted for a much larger part of veteran troops.

The original strategy of Heraclius, to destroy the Muslim troops in Syria, needed rapid and quick deployment to be implemented, but the commanders on the ground never displayed these qualities. Ironically, on the field at Yarmouk, Khalid carried out on a small tactical scale what Heraclius had planned on a grand strategic scale: by rapidly deploying and manoeuvering his forces, Khalid was able to temporarily concentrate sufficient forces at specific locations on the field to defeat the Byzantine troops in detail. Vahan was never able to make his numerical superiority count, partly because of the unfavorable terrain that prevented large-scale deployment. However, at no point did Vahan attempt to concentrate a superior force to achieve a critical breakthrough. Although he was on the offensive 5 days out of the six, his battle line remained remarkably static. This all stands in stark contrast to the very successful offensive plan that Khalid carried out on the final day, when he reorganised virtually all his cavalry and committed them to a grand maneouvre that won the battle. [Yarmouk 636, Muslim conquest of Syria, By David Nicolle page: 87-89]



Primary sources

*Ibn Ishaq, "Sirah Rasul Allah", 750.
*Al-Waqidi, "Maghazi Rasulillah", 8th century.
*Theophanes the Confessor, "Chronographia", 810-815.
*Ahmad ibn Yahya al-Baladhuri, "Kitab Futuh al-Buldan", 9th century.
*Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, "History of the Prophets and Kings", 915.
*Ibn Khaldun, "Muqaddimah", 1377.

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*Harvard reference|title=Yarmuk 636 A.D.: The Muslim Conquest of Syria #31|given=David|surname=Nicolle|publisher=Osprey Publishing|year=1994|authorlink=David Nicolle
*Harvard reference|title=Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests|given=Walter Emil|surname=Kaegi|publisher=Cambridge University Press|year=1995|isbn=0521484553
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*Harvard reference|title=The Byzantine Wars|given=John|surname=Haldon|publisher=Arcadia Publishing|date=2001|isbn=0752417959
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*Harvard reference|title=First Crusader: Byzantium's Holy Wars|given=Geoffery|surname=Regan|publisher=Palgrave Macmillan: New York|edition=1|year=2003|isbn=1403961514
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External links

* [ Battle of Yarmuk, 636]

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