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Al-Baladhuri: The Battle Of The Yarmuk (636) and After

In the face of the Muslim expansion, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius gathered a large army which met the Muslim army at the Battle of the Yarmuk in Syria on 20 August 636. It was a crushing victory which gave Syria to the Muslims. The account of al-Baladhuri (d. c. 892) shows the episodic and personal character of early Islamic historiography but also emphasizes the hostility of Syria to Byzantium and the welcome which the inhabitants of the former province accorded to their invaders.


A description of the battle. Heraclius gathered large bodies of Greeks, Syrians, Mesopotamians and Armenians numbering about 200,000. This army he put under the command of one of his choice men and sent as a vanguard Jabalah ibn-al-Aiham al-Ghassani at the bead of the "naturalized" Arabs [musta'ribah] of Syria of the tribes of Lakhm, Judham and others, resolving to fight the Moslems so that be might either win or withdraw to the land of the Greeks and live in Constantinople. The Muslims gathered together and the Greek army marched against them. The battle they fought at al-Yarmuk ,was of the fiercest and bloodiest kind. Al-Yarmuk [Hieromax] is a river. In this battle 24,000 Moslems took part. The Greeks and their followers in this battle tied themselves to each other by chains, so that no one might set his hope on flight. By Allah's help, some 70,000 of them were put to death, and their remnants took to flight, reaching as far as Palestine, Antioch, Aleppo, Mesopotamia and Armenia. In the battle of al-Yarmuk certain Moslem women took part and fought violently. Among them was Hind, daughter of 'Utbah and mother of Mu'awivah ibn-abi-Sufyan, who repeatedly exclaimed, "Cut the arms of these 'uncircumcised' , with your swords!" Her husband abu-Sufvan had come to Syria as a volunteer desiring to see his sons, and so he brought his wife with him. He then returned to al-Madinah where he died, year 31, at the age of 88. Others say he died in Syria. When the news of his death was carried to his daughter, umm-Habibah, she waited until the third day on which she ordered some yellow paint and covered with it her arms and face saving, "I would not have done that, had I not heard the Prophet say, 'A woman should not be in mourning for more than three days over anyone except her husband."' It is stated that she did likewise when she received the news of her brother Yazid's death. But Allah knows best.

Those who lost an eye or suffered martyrdom. Abu-Sufvan ibn-Harb was one-eyed. He had lost his eve in the battle of at-Ta'if. In the battle of al-Yarmuk, however, al-Ash'ath ibn-Kais, Hashim ibn-'Utbah ibn-abi-WakkAs azZuhri (i.e., al-Mirkal) and Kais ibn-Makshuh, each lost an eve. In this battle 'Amir ibn-abi-Wakkas az-Zu'hri fell a martvr. It is this 'Amir who once carried the letter of Umar ibn-al-Khattab assigning abu-'Ubaidah to the governorship of Syria. Others say he was a victim of the plague; still others report that he suffered martyrdom in the battle of Ajnadin; but all that is not true.

Habib ibn-Maslamah pursues the fugitives. Abu-'Ubaidah put Habib ibn Maslamah-l-Fihri at the head of a cavalry detachment charged with pursuing the fugitive enemy, and Habib set out killing every man whom he could reach.

The story of Jabalali. Jabalah ibn-al-Aibam sided with the Ansar saying, "Ye are our brethren and the sons of our fathers," and professed Islam. After the arrival of 'Umar ibn-al-Khattab in Svria, year 17, Jabalah had a dispute with one of the Muzainah and knocked out his eve. 'Umar ordered that he be punished, upon which Jabalah said, "Is his eye like mine? Never, by Allah, shall I abide in a town where I am under authority." He then apostatized and went to the land of the Greeks. This Jabalah was the king of Ghassan and the successor of al-Harith ibn-abi-Shimr.

According to another report, when Jabalah came to 'Umar ibn-al-KhattAb, he was still a Christian. 'Umar asked him to accept Islam and pav sadakah [a Muslim alms tax] but he refused saving, "I shall keep my faith and pav sadakah." 'Umar's answer was, "If thou keepest thy faith, thou least to pay poll-tax". The man refused, and 'Umar added, "We have only three alternatives for thee: Islam tax or going whither thou willest." Accordingly, Jabalah left with 30,000 men to the land of the Greeks [Asia Minor]. 'Ubadah ibn-as-Samit gently reproved 'Umar saying, "If thou hadst accepted sadakah from him and treated him in a friendly way, be would have become Moslem."

In the year 21, 'Umar directed 'LTmair ibi)-Sa'd a]-AnsAri at the head of a great army against the land of the Greeks, and put him in command of the summer expedition which was the first of its kind. 'Umar instructed him to treat Jabalah ibn-al-Aiham very, kindly, and to try and appeal to him through the blood relationship between them, 'so that be should come back to the land of the Moslems with the understanding that he would keep his own faith and pay the amount of sadakah lie had agreed to pay. 'Umair marched until he came to the land of 'the 'Greeks and proposed to Jabalah what he was ordered by 'Umar to propose; but Jabalah refused the offer and insisted on staying in the land of the Greeks. 'Umar then came into a place called al-Himar-a valley-- which he destroyed putting its inhabitants to the sword. Hence the proverb, "In a more ruined state than the hollow of Himar."

Heraclius' adieu to Syria. When Heraclius received the news about the troops in al-Yarmuk and the destruction of his army by the Moslems, he fled from Antioch to Constantinople, and as he passed ad-D'arb he turned and said, "Peace unto thee, O Syria, and what an excellent country this is for the enemy!"-referring to the numerous pastures in Syria.

The battle of al-Yarmuk took place in Rajah, year 15.

Hubash loses his leg . According to Hisham ibn-al-Kalbi, among those who witnessed the battle of al-Yarmuk was Hubash ibn-Kais al-Kushairi, who killed many of the "uncircumcised" and lost his leg without feeling it. At last he began to look for it. Hence the verse of Sauwar ibn-Aufa:

Among us were ibn-'Attab and the one who went seeking his leg; and among us was one who offered protection to the quarter,

-referring to abu-1-Rukaibah.

Christians and Jews prefer Moslem rule. Abu-Hafs ad-Dimashki from Sa'id ibn-'Abd-al-'Aziz: -When Heraclius massed his troops against the Moslems and the Moslems heard that they were coming to meet them at al-Yarmuk, the Moslems refunded to the inhabitants of Hims the karaj [tribute] they had taken from them saying, "We are too busy to support and protect you. Take care of yourselves." But the people of Hims replied, "We like your rule and justice far better than the state of oppression and tyrannv in which we were. The army of Heraclius we shall indeed, with your 'amil's' help, repulse from the citv." The Jews rose and said, "We swear b the Torah, no governor of Heraclius shall enter the city of Hims unless we are first vanquished and exhausted!" Saving this, they closed the gates of the city and guarded them. The inhabitants of the other cities - Christian and Jew - that had capitulated to the Moslems, did the same, saying, "If Heraclius and his followers win over the Moslems we would return to our previous condition, otherwise we shall retain our present state so long as numbers are with the Moslems." When by Allah's help the "unbelievers" were defeated and the Moslems won, they opened the gates of their cities, went out with the singers and music players who began to play, and paid the kharaj.

from., The Origins of the Islamic State, being a translation from the Arabic of the Kitab Futuh al-Buldha of Ahmad ibn-Jabir al-Baladhuri, trans. by P. K. Hitti and F. C. Murgotten, Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, LXVIII (New York, Columbia University Press,1916 and 1924), I, 207-211


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996
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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 6 October 2023 [CV]