The Battle of Yarmouk

On August 20, 636, the Rashidun Caliphate forces commanded by Kahlid bin Walid and Abu Ubaidah crushed the Byzantine armies at the plain of Yarmouk.

American military historian George F. Nafziger, in his book Islam at War, describes the battle:

“Although Yarmouk is little known today, it is one of the most decisive battles in human history…… Had Heraclius’ forces prevailed, the modern world would be so changed as to be unrecognizable.”

Photo: MBC

The Battle of Yarmuk was the most disastrous defeat ever suffered by the Eastern Roman Empire, which brought an end to the Roman rule in Syria. Soon, Emperor Heraclius would depart from Antioch and travel by land route to Constantinople. On arrival at the border between Syria and what was known to the Muslims as ‘Rome’, he would look back towards Syria and, with a sorrowing heart, lament:

“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!”

Heraclius ascended the Byzantine throne in 610 but his attempts to limit the Arab success in the Levant had failed over the years. Therefore, he decided to organize a massive and overwhelming attack. He would raise such an army as had never been seen in Syria, and with this army, he would bring the Arabs to battle in such a way that few, if any, would escape his clutches.

At this time of their Syrian campaign, the Muslims were split into four groups. In this dispersed situation, they were so vulnerable that each of their corps could be attacked in turn without the least chance of fighting a successful battle. And this situation was fully exploited by Heraclius in the plan which he put into execution.

On the other hand, the Arabs had established an excellent intelligence system in the land, and no major movement or concentration of enemy forces remained concealed from them. In fact, they had agents within the Roman army. As a result, the plans of Heraclius failed again.

The Byzantine army thus finally arrived at the plain of Yarmouk in July 636. On the other side, Abu Ubaidah adjusted the Muslim camps to correspond to a battlefront running from the Yarmuk to the Jabiya Road. This is what Khalid had advised in the council. Now the two armies settled down in their respective camps and began to make preparations for battle.

For almost a month, there was no major action on the Plain of Yarmouk. It was this time that Abu Ubaida gave the command of the battle to Khalid bin Walid and ordered the other generals, “Abu Ubaidah commands that you listen to whatever Khalid says and obey his orders.”

The battle began on August 15, 636, and lasted for 6 days. As an example of a military operation, the Battle of Yarmouk combined many tactical forms. Khalid’s plan of remaining on the defensive until he had worn down the Romans had worked admirably.

Sources: Al-Baladhuri (Vol 1), Al-Tabari, George Nafziger, PK Hitti, AI Akram, K Armstrong

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