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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It is one of the great ironies of history that Emperor Heraclius, who rescued the Byzantine Empire from potential collapse at the hands of the Sassanid Empire, should preside over the defeat of the Byzantine army at the hands of the early Arab caliphs.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to state that the Battle of Yarmouk was one of the most decisive battles in history. In the course of six days, a vastly outnumbered Arab army succeeded in annihilating a significantly larger Byzantine force. Rather, a number of factors including Heraclius flawed military strategy and leadership and the delay of the Byzantine army in responding to the early Arab incursions in the Levant, must be considered. Yet, within a span of two years the Arabs were able to score two impressive victories over the Byzantines; the first at Ajnadayn in July and the second at Pella also known as the Battle of the Mud in January The Byzantines pursuit of the Arabs, however, imposed massive logistical strains on the Empire and the local population in particular , and served to exacerbate the disputes over strategy within the Byzantine high command.
The battle itself occurred over the course of six days. Though the Byzantines initially took the offensive and repulsed some Muslim counterattacks, they were unable to attack the main Arab encampment. The exact losses are unknown, though Al-Baladhuri states that up to 70, Byzantine soldiers were killed during and immediately after the battle. Al-Baladhuri, for instance, states that the Muslim army was 24, strong and that they faced a Byzantine force of over , It is important to note that Heraclius, while he personally commanded the Byzantine army in its campaigns against the Persians, remained at Antioch and delegated command to Theodore the Sakellarios and the Armenian prince, Vartan Mamikonian.
This, however, was likely unavoidable. Herculius, who by the s was an increasingly ill man suffering from hydrophobia and possibly cancer, was simply too frail to go on campaign with his army. The skill of the Arab cavalry, particularly the horse archers, also gave the Arab army a distinct advantage in terms of their ability to outmaneuver their Byzantine counterparts.
The delay between May and August was disastrous for two reasons; first it provided the Arabs with an invaluable respite to regroup and gather reinforcements. Second, the delay wreaked havoc on the overall moral and discipline of the Byzantine troops; the Armenian contingents in particular grew increasingly agitated and mutinous. During the battle itself the Armenians seemed to have refused to support the Byzantine troops when they attacked, while the Ghassanid-Arabs remained largely passive towards their fellow Arabs.
The legacy of the Battle of Yarmouk was both far reaching and profound. Third, the battle also stimulated a change in military tactics and strategy on the part of the Byzantines. Having failed to defeat the Muslim armies in open battle, the Byzantine army withdrew to form a defensive line along the Taurus and Anti-Taurus mountain ranges. Finally, the Arab conquests, and the battle of Yarmouk in particular, destroyed the military reputation of Heraclius.
Having failed to prevent the loss of half the empire, Heraclius retreated into isolation, by all accounts a broken man, a mere shadow of the former dynamic personality who had been victorious against the Persians merely a decade before. Bailey, Norman A. Intelligence Studies 14, no. Gregory, Timothy E. A History of Byzantium.
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Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Kaegi, Walter Emil. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Kunselman, David E.
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Battle of Yarmouk
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. It would fall to the second caliph, Omar bin al-Khattab r.
The Most Consequential Clash between Muslims and the Western World
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