Chapter 24: Anbar & the Ain-ut-Tamr
After Ain at-Tamr, when Ayadh wrote to Khalid requesting reinforcements, Khalid wrote back,
"Wait a while: there will come to you mounts
Carrying lions in shining armour,
Battalions followed by battalions."1
The portion of Central Iraq lying between the Euphrates and the Tigris, below Ctesiphon, was now under Muslim control. The inactivity of the Persians confirmed Khalid's belief that Ctesiphon was no longer in a position to interfere with his operations, let alone pose a threat to his base at Hira or his communications with the desert. Hence Khalid turned his attention to the north, where his forces had not yet ventured. There were two places which offered a likelihood of opposition-Anbar and Ain-ut-Tamr, both manned by sizable Persian garrisons and Arab warriors who would resist the advance of the Muslims. Both were governed by Persian officers. (See Map 10.)
Khalid decided to take Anbar first. This was an ancient fortified town and commercial centre to which trade caravans came from Syria and Persia. It was also famous for its large granaries. At the end of June 633 (middle of Rabi-ul-Akhir, 12 Hijri) Khalid marched from Hira with half his army (about 9,000 men), leaving behind a strong garrison at Hira and several detachments in Central Iraq. Moving along the west bank of the Euphrates, he crossed the river somewhere below Anbar. As his scouts moved out eastwards to keep the approaches from Ctesiphon under observation, he moved the army to Anbar and laid siege to the town. The Muslims found that the town was protected not only by the walls of the fort, but also by a deep moat filled with water. The moat was within close bow?range of the wall so that those attempting to cross it would have to face accurate fire from archers on the walls. The bridges over the moat had been destroyed at the approach of the Muslims. 2
Anbar was the chief town of the district of Sabat, which lay between the two rivers west of Ctesiphon. In Anbar resided the governor of Sabat, a man named Sheerzad who was known more for his intellect and learning than his military ability. Sheerzad was now faced with the task of defending the fort against a Muslim army with the forces under his command-the Persian garrison and a large number of Arab auxiliaries in whom apparently he had little faith.
The day after his arrival Khalid moved up to examine the defences of the fort. On top of the wall he saw thousands of Persians and Arabs standing around carelessly in groups, looking at the Muslims as if watching a tournament. Amazed at this sight, Khalid remarked, "I see that these people know nothing about war." 2
He collected 1,000 archers-the best of his marksmen-and explained his plan. They would move up casually to the edge of the moat with bows ready, but arrows not fitted. At his command they would instantly fit arrows to their bows and fire salvo after salvo at the garrison. "Aim at the eyes", Khalid told the archers. "Nothing but the eyes!" 4
The detachment of archers moved towards the fort. The crowds standing on the wall gaped at the archers, wondering what they would do next. When the archers had got to the moat, Khalid gave the order, and 1,000 swift missiles flew across the moat, followed by another 1,000 and yet another. In a few seconds the garrison had lost 1,000 eyes. A clamour went up in the town: "The eyes of the people of Anbar are lost!" As a result of this action the Battle of Anbar is also known as the Battle of the Eyes. 5
When Sheerzad heard of the misfortune that had befallen the garrison, he sent Khalid an offer to surrender the fort if suitable terms were agreed upon. Khalid rejected the offer; the surrender would have to be unconditional. Sheerzad half-heartedly decided to continue resistance.
Khalid resolved to storm the fort. The wall would have to, be scaled, but this was not too difficult a task. The chief problem was crossing the moat, which was deep and wide. There were no boats available nor material with which to make boats or rafts; and the Arab of the desert was no swimmer. Khalid decided to make a bridge of flesh and bone.
1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 6 P. 428.
2. Nothing remains of Anbar except some mounds 3 miles north-west of the present Faluja and about a mile from the Euphrates. One can still pick up pieces of old pottery on the mounds which cover an area half a mile square. According to Yaqut (Vol. 1, p. 367), the Persians called this town Fairoz Sabur.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 575.
For the assault he selected a point where the moat was, narrowest, near the main gate of the fort. He placed his archers in a position from which they could shoot at enemy archers on that part of the wall which overlooked the crossing site, and gave them the task of preventing the enemy archers from shooting at the moat.
Khalid then ordered the collection of all the old and weak camels of the army. These jaded animals were led forward to the edge of the moat and under the covering fire provided by the Muslim archers, were slaughtered in twos and threes and thrown into the moat. Rapidly the pile of carcasses rose until it formed a firm though uneven bridge above the level of the water. Then a group of Khalid's warriors, on receiving his command, rushed on to the bridge of flesh and bone and crossed over to the far side of the moat.
As these warriors prepared to scale the wall, the gate of the fort opened and a body of Persians sallied out to drive the Muslims into the moat. There was some vicious fighting between the two groups, but the Muslims succeeded in repulsing this counterattack; and the Persians, fearing that the Muslims might get into the fort by the gate, withdrew hastily and closed the gate behind them. All this while the Muslim archers kept shooting at the Persian and Arab archers on the wall, making it impossible for them to interfere with the bridge-building and the crossing operation.
Khalid was about to order the scaling of the wall when an emissary of Sheerzad appeared on the gate and delivered another offer from the governor: he would surrender the fort if the Muslims would let him and the Persians depart in safety. Khalid took another look at the wall. He could see that it's scaling and the subsequent fighting inside the fort would not be easy. So he told the envoy that he would agree to the terms provided the Persians left all their possessions behind.
Sheerzad was only too glad to be allowed to get away, and accepted Khalid's terms with relief. The next day the Persian soldiers and their families departed for Ctesiphon and the Muslims entered the fort. The Christian Arabs laid down their arms and agreed to pay the Jizya. This happened in the second week of July 633 (end of Rabi-ul-Akhir, 12 Hijri). Over the next few days, Khalid received the submission of all the clans living in the neighbourhood of Anbar.
Sheerzad journeyed with the Persian garrison to Ctesiphon, where he was severely rebuked by Bahman. Like any ineffective commander, Sheerzad blamed his troops-in this case the Christian Arabs. "I was among a people who have no sense," he lamented, "and whose roots are among the Arabs." 1
Khalid appointed an administrator over Anbar, and then once again set out with the army. He recrossed the Euphrates and marched south. As he neared Ain-ut-Tamr, he found a purely Arab army deployed across his path in battle array.
Ain-ut-Tamr was a large town surrounded by date plantations, and is believed to have been named after its dates: Ain-ut-Tamr means Spring of Dates. 2 Garrisoned by Persian soldiers and Arab auxiliaries, this town was in a much stronger position than Anbar to oppose the advance of Khalid. The Persian commander of Ain-ut-Tamr was Mahran bin Bahram Jabeen who was not only an able general but also a wily politician. The Persian garrison of Ain-ut-Tamr was larger, and the Arabs here belonged to the proud, fierce tribe of Namr which considered itself second to none. And there were Christian Arab clans which joined the Namr to put up a united front against the Muslims. The commander of all the Arabs was a renowned chief, Aqqa bin Abi Aqqa.
When Arab scouts brought word of the Muslims marching from Anbar in the direction of Ain-ut-Tamr, Aqqa went to the Persian commander. "Arabs know best how to fight Arabs." he said. "Let me deal with Khalid."
Mahran nodded agreement. "True", he observed wisely. "You know better how to fight Arabs. And when it comes to fighting non-Arabs you are like us." 3
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 575.
2. Ain-ut-Tamr, of which nothing remains but a spring, was located 10 miles west-north-west of the present Shisasa. Shisasa is also called Ain-ut-Tamr these days, but the original Spring of Dates was situated as indicated above.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 576.
Aqqa was flattered by the compliment. Seeing that his words were having the desired effect, Mahran continued: "You go and fight Khalid. And if you should need help, we shall be waiting here to come to your assistance."1
A number of Persian officers were standing beside Mahran during this exchange. When Aqqa had left, they questioned their commander: "What made you talk like that to this dog?"
"Leave this matter to me", Mahran replied. "I plan what is best for you and worst for them. If these Arabs win, the victory shall be ours too. If they lose, they will at least have weakened the army of Khalid, and we shall then fight when our enemy is tired and we are fresh." 2
The Persians remained at Ain-ut-Tamr while the Arabs, moved up about 10 miles on the road to Anbar. There, Aqqa deployed his Arab army for battle.
When Khalid arrived to face Aqqa, he was surprised to find an exclusively Arab force arrayed against him; for so far all his battles in Iraq had been fought against mixed forces of Persians and Arabs. However, he deployed his army with the usual centre and wings and placed himself in front of the centre, accompanied by a strong bodyguard. Across the battlefield, in front of the Arab centre, stood Aqqa. Khalid decided that he would take Aqqa alive.
When forming up the Muslims, Khalid had instructed the commanders of the wings to engage the enemy wings on his signal but not to attack with any great violence-only enough to tie down the enemy wings before he launched the attack of the centre. Now Khalid gave the signal, and the Muslim wings moved forward and engaged the opposing wings. For some time this action continued. Aqqa was left perplexed about why the Muslim centre was not attacking. Then Khalid, followed by his bodyguard, charged at Aqqa.
The bodyguard engaged the Arab warriors who stood near Aqqa, while Khalid and Aqqa began to duel. Aqqa was a brave and skilful fighter, prepared to give as good as he took; but to his dismay he soon found himself overpowered and captured by Khalid. When the soldiers in the Arab centre saw heir commander captive, many of them surrendered and the rest of the centre turned and fled. Its example was followed by the wings; and the Arab army, leaving many of its officers in Muslim hands, retreated in haste to Ain-ut-Tamr.
The Arabs arrived at the fort to find the Persians gone. Mahran had sent a few scouts to watch the battle and report its progress. As soon as they saw the Arabs turn their backs to Khalid, these scouts galloped back to inform Mahran of the Arab defeat. Without wasting a moment Mahran led his army out of Ain-ut-Tamr and marched off to Ctesiphon. Discovering that they had been abandoned, the Arabs rushed into the fort, closed the gates, and prepared rather uncertainly for a siege.
The Muslims arrived and besieged the fort. Aqqa and the prisoners were paraded outside the fort, so that the defenders could see that their commander and comrades were helpless captives. This had an unnerving effect on the defenders, who called for a surrender on terms, but Khalid rejected the call. There would be no terms; they could surrender unconditionally and place themselves at his mercy. The Arab elders debated the situation for a while, and then decided that an unconditional surrender involved less risk than fighting on; for in the latter case their chances of survival would be slim indeed. In the end of July 633 (middle of Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 12 Hijri) the defenders of Ain-ut-Tamr surrendered to Khalid.
On the orders of Khalid, warriors who had defended the fort and those who had fought the Muslims on the road to Anbar were beheaded. 3 These included the chief Aqqa bin Abi Aqqa. The remainder were made captive, and the wealth of Ain-ut-Tamr was taken and distributed as spoils of war.
In Ain-ut-Tamr there was a monastery in which the Muslims found 40 boys-mainly Arabs-who were being trained for the priesthood. They were all taken captive. Among these captives there was a boy called Nusair, who was later to have a son called Musa, and Musa would become famous as the Muslim governor of North Africa and the man who launched Tariq bin Ziyad into Spain.
After a few days spent in dealing with problems of organisation and administration, Khalid prepared to return to Hira. He was about to set out when he received a call for help from Northern Arabia. After a brief consideration of this request, Khalid changed the direction of his march and gave his men a new destination-Daumat-ul-Jandal.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 576.
2. Ibid: p. 577.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 577.