Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Battle of Yarmouk


Here is a continuation about my journey in Jordan. One of the historical places in Irbid is the battlefield of Yarmouk. It was a major battle between the Muslim Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate led by Khalid Al-Walid and the armies of the East Roman-Byzantine Empire. The battle started on 12th August 636 A.D. (6 Rajab 15 Hijri), but only during the last five days from 13th August 636 A.D., the heavy fighting of the decisive.

The Battlefield
The battlefield lies about 65km south-west of the Golan Heights, an upland region currently on the frontier between Israel, Jordan and Syria.. The battle was fought on the plain of Yarmouk, which was enclosed on its western edges by a deep ravine known as Wadi-ur-Raqad, around 200m deep. This ravine joins the Yarmouk River which runs in the Yarmouk Valley. It forms part of the northern borders between Jordan and Syria. the Yarmouk River meets River Jordan slightly south to the lake of Tiberia. Strategically there was only one prominence in the battlefield; a 100m elevation known as Tel al Jumm'a (Hill of Gathering). The Muslim troops concentrated there, having a good view of the plain of Yarmouk. Logistically, the Yarmouk plain had enough water supplies and pastures to sustain both armies. The plain was excellent for cavalry manoeuvers.

The battlefield viewing point

Tourists will be brought to the lands of the village of Saham  Al Kfarat, overlooking the central location where Yarmouk Battle took place. The battle ground include Khalid's Hill, named after Khalid Bin Al Waleed, who was leading the Muslim army, and the slopes of the Golan Plateau (Al Wakowsa) where the Byzantines descend to the river bed. We could also see a stretch of the Yarmouk River where the main battle took place in its final days.

The plains of Yarmouk where the battle took place

The Battle
The Muslim army, numbered only about one third of the Byzantine army (40 000 Muslims to 125 000 Byzantines). The Byzantines descend into the river bed followed by the Muslim army, and the fighting spread along the Yarmouk River all the way from north of Mukheibeh, to Wadi Qwaylbeh (Abila). The battle ended by the Muslim fighters chasing the Byzantines in the many ravines and valleys in the immediate vicinity. The leader of the Muslim army, Khalid Bin Al Walid, chased one of the main leaders of the Byzantines (Mahan) and killed him. As for their other leader, Hercules, he managed to escape to Antioch, saying his famous sentence "Farewell to Syria, for the last time". In this battle, about 80 000 fighters from the Byzantines were killed, compared to only around 4000 Muslims fighters. 

Yarmouk was a decisive battle in the Islamic history. The Arab historian, Al Tabari, stated "There was never a battle as that of Yarmouk".

The Battle of Yarmouk is seen as an example in military history where an inferior force manages to overcome a superior force by superior generalship. Even though the Imperial Byzantine commanders had the obvious advantages of the favoured battlefield and bigger troops of army, they were at no substantial tactical disadvantage. 

Khalid Al-Walid on the other hand, although he commanded a numerically inferior force, he nevertheless had the confidence and foresight to dispatch a cavalry regiment the night before his assault to seal off a critical path of the retreat he anticipated for the enemy army. When he decided to take the offensive and attack on the final day of battle, he did so with a degree of imagination, foresight and courage that none of the Byzantine commanders managed to display. 
Khalid Al-Walid as a leader, understood very well the potential strengths and weaknesses of his mounted troops. His strategy in using the mobile guard that could move quickly from one point to another made the Byzantine commanders confused and they were unable to use the advantage of their bigger army effectively.  Although they were on the offensive five days out of the six, their battle line remained remarkably static. 
This all stands in stark contrast to the very successful offensive plan that Khalid carried out on the final day, when he re-organised virtually all his cavalry and committed them to a grand manoeuvre that won the battle. His leadership quality made the Muslims fighting alongside him placed a great trust in him as their leader. And of course, the biggest factor to their victory is the strong faith to Allah which led to their bravery.

George F. Nafziger, in his book Islam at war, describes the battle as:

"Although Yarmouk is little known today, it is one of the most decisive battles in the human history...Had Heraclius' forces prevailed, the modern word would be so changed as to be unrecognizable"


  1. A battle to be remembered, a battle to be studied and a battle to be credited to the Muslims...

  2. The brilliance, courage, and devotion of Khalid have made him one of the elite commanders history has ever known. He was one of a kind. Studying his tactics would make better generals than the fat good-for nothing generals that we have today in the face of challenges.

  3. Your photo of the Plains of Yarmouk, is in the latest issue of "Dabiq" magazine, the mag of ISIS....