If one were inclined to rank the most important battles in world history, the Battle of Yarmouk probably should be pretty high on the list. It eliminated, over the course of one 6-day battle, almost the entirety of the Byzantine military south of the Taurus Mountains, leaving Syria and the rest of the Levant with Egypt waiting beyond that, and then the rest of North Africa open to Arab conquest. Along with the Battle of Qadisiyah, which was fought in November of the same year and essentially destroyed the Sasanian Persian Empire, Yarmouk established the Islamic caliphate and thus helped fundamentally change the course of history. The Byzantine Emperor, Heraclius d. Those dispersed armies were all recalled to join the main Arab army in the region at Jabiyah, under the nominal overall command of a man named Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrar.
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If one were inclined to rank the most important battles in world history, the Battle of Yarmouk probably should be pretty high on the list. It eliminated, over the course of one 6-day battle, almost the entirety of the Byzantine military south of the Taurus Mountains, leaving Syria and the rest of the Levant with Egypt waiting beyond that, and then the rest of North Africa open to Arab conquest.
Along with the Battle of Qadisiyah, which was fought in November of the same year and essentially destroyed the Sasanian Persian Empire, Yarmouk established the Islamic caliphate and thus helped fundamentally change the course of history. The Byzantine Emperor, Heraclius d. Those dispersed armies were all recalled to join the main Arab army in the region at Jabiyah, under the nominal overall command of a man named Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrar. The sources suggest that the Byzantine army was somewhere in the neighborhood of , men, which would have been absolutely massive for that time, and that the combined Arab army was around 24, men, also very large.
He was held in such renown, in fact, that when the second Caliph, Umar, came to power, he removed Khalid from his own command and placed him under Abu Ubaydah. New emperors sometimes get nervous about having popular and successful generals out there being so popular and successful.
Arab and Byzantine troop movements, , leading up to Yarmouk Arunreginald via Wikimedia Commons. After a couple of weeks of skirmishes between the two armies, they wound up near the Yarmouk River in the modern Israel-Jordan-Syria border region.
The Arabs also decided to force the issue. For the first four days of the battle, the Byzantines pressed the offensive but the Arabs, though very hard-pressed at times, refused to break. At one point on day 2, sources relay that the Muslim left flank almost fell apart, but soldiers retreating toward their camp encountered their angry wives yes, the army traveled with families in tow. Apparently—if this story is true—the soldiers were more afraid of their wives than of the opposing army, because they promptly returned to the battlefield and managed to hold out long enough for Khalid to shift troops over to support them.
Finally, after a lull in the fighting on day 5, Khalid amassed his entire cavalry force for an offensive the next day. This was the decisive stroke. First they chased off the Byzantine cavalry, then they got around the Byzantine left flank and attacked from the rear. Though we like to think of our modern world as more civilized than the world of the distant past, the fact is that most of the deadliest battles in human history are modern, because technology has made it easier and easier to kill large numbers of people.
Men are killed by the army chasing them, but also by their stampeding comrades and major obstacles in the way of their flight. So it was here, where the Byzantine line of retreat was complicated by rivers and mountains and it was a relatively simple matter for the Arab cavalry to cut off the easiest paths of retreat to the north. This is why Byzantine emperors were usually reluctant to commit their armies to pitched battles, because losing an army in this way was almost always worse than simply losing territory or even a major city.
The Byzantine Empire had just been weakened by plague and a major war with the Persians and their empire was coming apart along ethnic and sectarian lines, while the Arabs were fresh, devoted, and seemingly better-led. But it must have been a shock to people who were alive when it happened. Yes, Arab armies had been successful in small clashes with Byzantine forces before this, but here they defeated a large relatively, at least Byzantine army in a pitched battle and, in doing so, signaled decisively that there was a new military power on the block.
Before Yarmouk, as far as the empire knew, these Arabs were just a big raiding party. If any Byzantines were aware of Muhammad, or Islam, or the imperial structures that had already started forming at Medina, it was merely in passing.
But they certainly got the message. After Yarmouk, the Byzantines effectively holed themselves up in Anatolia and went on the defensive. It worked, too, more or less—a couple of Arab sieges of Constantinople notwithstanding, no Muslim army was able to take and permanently hold territory in Anatolia until the Seljuk Turks won the Battle of Manzikert in But the decision to retreat meant that the rest of the empire, from Syria to Egypt to the rest of North Africa, would pretty quickly be lost to the Arab conquerors.
The hope in Constantinople was that, while the countryside was lost, the major cities of the region would be able to resist the Arab armies long enough for the empire to rebuild its shattered army. But it was only a hope, not a plan, and we know how things turned out. What about Khalid b. Foreign Exchanges Subscribe. About Archive Help Sign in. Login Privacy Terms. Sign up to like post Subscribe. Create your profile Set photo. Only paying subscribers can comment on this post Subscribe.
Battle of Yarmouk: An Analysis of Byzantine Military Failure
Dining Out. O n this date, August 20, in , the first major military clash between Islam and the West was fought. The Battle of Yarmuk is now little remembered, but its outcome forever changed the face of the world, with ripples felt even today. Four years earlier, in , the prophet of Islam had died. During his lifetime, he had managed to rally the Arabs under the banner of Islam. In , these wars were over; in , so was the life of Abu Bakr.
Today in Middle Eastern history: the Battle of Yarmouk (636)
The Levant. North Africa. Sicily and Southern Italy. Conquest of the Persian Empire. Conquest of Roman Syria. Campaigns in Armenia and Anatolia. The battle consisted of a series of engagements that lasted for six days in August , near the Yarmouk River , along what are now the borders of Syria—Jordan and Syria—Israel , east of the Sea of Galilee.