Dec 635 – 9 Months Before The Battle of Yarmuk
Two inches remained of a foot long candle that burned most of the night illuminating a map spread out across Heraclius desk. Alone and frustrated, he stared at the map dumbfounded! His generals marked those cities lost in battle over the past two years and those that remained.
Every manoeuvre Heraclius made was strategically flawless but ended in defeat. The first concentration at Ajnadein – failed. His attempt to limit the Muslim advance by a stout defense at Damascus – failed. The defensive manoeuvre at Baisan also failed.
After the fall of Damascus the Muslim army split into four divisions and spread out like birds migrating across the land. The flag of Islam spread quickly as city after city fell in quick succession to the onslaught.
In Syria; Emessa, Qinassareen, Hama, Shaizar, Asamiya and Ma’arra were conquered by Khalid (RA) and Abu Ubaidah (RA).
In Palestine; Nablus, Amawas, Gaza, and Yubna fell to Amr al Aas.
In Jordan; Shurahbeel subdued Tabariya.
Along the Mediterranean coast; Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Arqa, Jabail and Beirut were crushed.
Heraclius could not stop the destruction of his armies
The Muslims went from victory to victory and by the summer of 636, they had conquered the frontier provinces of Palestine, Jordan and the southern part of Syria.
Muslim conquests by the summer of 636
Heraclius folded his arms and swivelled around in his chair staring at his shadow cast against the back wall. He stroked his beard and realized the situation had become critical. He had to move decisively and with overwhelming force if he had any chance of victory.
When Khalid (RA) broke into the Southern part of Syria, the Muslims threatened the economic wellbeing of the Empire. The cities in Syria were the key to power. Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo; they were sophisticated trading centers, outposts that received caravans from the east. Losing Syria meant losing a pillar of the Empires economic base.
Over the next few months, Heraclius would reach out across the empire and stretch his resources to face this mortal threat. He sought the Empires best generals and provided them with his best officers. He assembled an army of 150,000 men and concentrated them in the area of Antioch.
He appointed Mahan, King of Armenia the General of the Army.
Heraclius divided his forces into five divisions. His strategy was to isolate each Muslim division and attack them one at a time. His first target would be the army led by Khalid (RA) and Abu Ubaidah (RA) operating in the region of Hama and Emessa. He would attack from the front, the two wings and cut off their retreat to Damascus. Even Khalid (RA) would not be able to fend off an army 10 times his size.
Once Khalid (RA) was disposed of, he would move onto Beirut to confront Shurahbeel,and Amr al Aas in Palestine. He would continue until his dominion was purified of this foreign threat.
It was Heraclius’ last chance and he knew it!
July 636 – 5 Weeks Before the Battle of Yarmuk
Umar (RA) called the Majlis-al-Shura to gather at the Prophet’s (SAW) Mosque after fajr salat. They had been discussing, arguing and debating for the better part of the morning without reaching a conclusion. Umar (RA) was silent for most of the deliberation; he was lost in thought with the situation the Muslims found themselves in.
The wars in Syria and Iraq were going well but both had reached a boiling point. It was obvious to Umar (RA) that a decisive battle was coming in both arenas. He had an army encamped at Qadisiya in Iraq waiting for Rustam and the Persians to arrive but it was the situation in Syria that disturbed him on this day.
The Muslims conquests in Syria over the past two years were remarkable but the intelligence reports he received from Northern Syria was staggering; 120,000 to 150,000 soldiers amassing in the area surrounding Antioch. Even after such a bruising war, the Romans were still capable of fielding such a large force.
Umar’s (RA) keen strategic eye immediately understood Roman intentions and realized how vulnerable the Muslims were. The Muslim divisions were scattered across the land and could be picked off one at a time. Abu Ubaidah’s (RA) and Khalid’s (RA) division (which were furthest north) hung like an overripe fruit ready to be plucked.
The sun was reaching its zenith and Umar (RA) had other business to attend to. He final interjected and asked the assembled Majlis for their final opinion. Should they retreat into the desert and fight another day or challenge this juggernaut?
The Majlis fell silent. A Sahabi spoke up and said “It is Khalid’s (RA) opinion in this letter that the Muslims should face the enemy in battle.” The other notable Sahaba silently nodded their head in agreement.
Khalid’s (RA) reputation preceded him. Although Umar (RA) had issues with Khalid (RA), he respected his judgement in military matters. Second, retreating meant giving up all they had gained over the past two years which was not acceptable. Therefore the only decision left was to face the enemy head on.
Umar (RA) accepted their opinion and closed the meeting with a final du’a.
Khalid (RA) and Abu Ubaidah (RA) beat a tactical retreat. If they’re going to face this Roman juggernaut, it would be as a combined army. All of the territory and cities conquered over the past two years were abandoned and each division converged on the scrubby plains of Yarmuk.
Yarmuk was the battle of the century. It was a battle to decide the fate of this war. Heraclius placed the full weight of the Empire behind his army and he had nothing left to give.
By the time Mahan arrived on the plains of Yarmuk, he had anywhere between 80,000 to 120,000 professional soldiers. The Muslims had 30,000 to 40,000 men and no reserves.
Retreat was not an option for either side. The Muslims had invested two years and numerous lives just to reach this point and giving up was not in their nature, no matter what the odds. Heraclius fought the Persians for ten years just to regain Syria and he was not about to walk away.
The war had reached its climax. Only one side would be left standing and Yarmuk would decide it.
In the second week of Rajab in the 15th year after Hijra (3rd week of August 636), Mahan ordered a general assault on the Muslim line, marking day 1 of the Battle of Yarmuk.
The battle would last for six grueling days.
Mahan came within a hair widths edge of victory several times but the Khalid (RA) pushed him back from the brink. On the final day, the military brilliance of Khalid (RA) wiped Mahan’s army off the field. The Roman army was decimated, nothing remained of this army.