Battle of Yarmuk/Yarmuq/Hieromyax

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20 Aug 636
Battle of Yarmuk/Yarmuq/Hieromyax
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Battle of Yarmuk/Yarmuq/Hieromyax

Date: Saturday, 20 Aug 636
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The Battle of Yarmuk (also spelled Yarmuq or Hieromyax) took place between the Muslim Arabs and the Byzantine Empire in 636. It is considered by some historians to have been one of the most significant battles in the history of the world, since it marked the first great wave of Muslim conquests outside Arabia, and heralded the rapid advance of Islam into Christian Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia.

The battle took place only four years after the prophet Muhammad died in 632. He was succeeded by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, who sought to bring all the Arabic-speaking peoples under Muslim control. In 633 Muslim armies invaded Syria, and after raids and skirmishing quickly captured Damascus in 635. Byzantine emperor Heraclius organized a force of about 40 000 troops on learning of the loss of Damascus and Emesa. The advance of this large Byzantine army, caused the Muslims under Khalid ibn Walid to abandon the cities, and retreat southward towards the River Yarmuk, a tributary of the River Jordan.

Part of the Byzantine force under Theodore the Sacellarius was defeated outside Emesa. The Muslims under Khalid ibn Walid met the other Byzantine commander, Baänes in the valley of the Yarmuk River in late July. Baänes had only infantry forces to fight against Arab light cavalry, as Theodore had taken most of the cavalry with him. After a month of skirmishes, with no decisive action, the two armies finally confronted each other on August 20. According to Muslim accounts, a strong south wind blew clouds of dust into the Christians' faces, and the soldiers wilted under the heat of the August sun. Despite this, Khalid was at first pushed back, but although his army was only about half the size of the Byzantine force, it was more unified than the multinational Imperial Army which contained Armenians, Slavs and Ghassanids as well as regular Byzantine troops. According to some accounts the Muslims successfully bribed elements in the Byzantine army to defect, this task being made easier by the fact that the Arab Christians, Ghassanids, had not been paid for several months and whose Monophysite Christianity was persecuted by the Orthodox Byzantines. Some 12,000 Ghassanid Arabs switched sides. The Christian advance on the right flank, towards one of the camps containing the Arab women and families, was finally repulsed with the aid of some of the Arab women. Eventually renewed Muslim counter-attacks broke through the Byzantine lines, and a rout ensued. Most of Baänes men were either encircled and massacred, or driven to their deaths over a steep ravine. As a result of this, all of Syria lay open to the Muslim Arabs. Damascus was recaptured by the Muslims within a month, and Jerusalem fell shortly after. Historians rank this battle as one of the most important engagements in history.

When news of the disaster reached Heraclius at Antioch, it is said that he bade a last farewell to Syria, saying, "Farewell Syria, my fair province. Thou art an enemy's now"; and left Antioch for Constantinople. Heraclius began to concentrate his remaining forces on a defense of Egypt instead.

From Chapter XVII of Sir William Muir's history of the Caliphate:

The opposing armies came face to face on Tuesday, the 12th of Jumadà II., of the year 15 (23rd July 636). The fierce and decisive battle which followed is variously named the battle of the Yarmuk—after the great river which divides the highlands of Jaulan from those of Ajlun, and flows into the Jordan at a point some five miles below the point where that river leaves the Lake of Tiberias—and the battle of Yakusa, from a tributary of the Yarmuk—which flows from the neighbourhood of Fik (Aphek), and joins the latter river from the north-west.

The village of Yakusa was rediscovered by Seetzen in 1806. On the day on which the two armies met, an engagement took place which resulted in favour of the Muslims; but after that, they remained facing one another for an entire month, without either side striking a blow. During these weeks disaffection spread amongst the Greeks, several of the leaders intrigued with the enemy, and a quarrel arose between the commander-in-chief and the leader of the Armenian contingent. At last, on a day in the month of Rejeb when a strong south wind blew, and the Greeks were blinded by clouds of dust in addition to the scorching rays of an August sun, the Muslim army advanced to the attack. The Greeks had no fortune that day. Whenever they succeeded in penetrating the Arab lines, the women laid hold of swords and drove them back. Their cavalry sought refuge in flight across the plains. The infantry, roped together in companies to increase their steadiness, fell easy victims to the lances of the Arabs, or were hurled down the precipitous sides of the Wadi1. The heterogeneous host of the Greeks began to crumble up before the smaller but united army of the Arabs2. The Sakkellarius perished in the fight: Baanes, however, seems to have made good his flight. It is said that, fearing to face Heraclius, he found his way to Mount Sinai, where he was received as a monk and assumed the name of Anastasius3. He became the author of a homily on the sixtieth Psalm. When news of the disaster reached Heraclius at Antioch, he bade a last farewell to Syria "Farewell Syria, my fair province. Thou art an enemy's now"; and quitted Antioch for Constantinople.

The loss on the Muslim side was also considerable, but it was as nothing compared to what they gained by this battle. Many of the "Companions" lost their lives, and many bore the marks of wounds received there to their graves; but now Khalid could declare that "Syria sat as quiet as a camel." They could now for the first time call Syria their own.

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