Chapter 29: The Battle for Ajnadein
"How often has a small force vanquished a large force by the permission of Allah? And Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere."
In the third week of July 634, the Muslim army marched from Busra; and the march of this army was an amazing sight-one that would earn the immediate disapproval of any regular, disciplined soldier. It had none of the appearance of a normal army. Its advance was more like the movement of a caravan than the march of a military force.
The soldiers of this army had no uniform of any kind, and there was no similarity in the dress that they wore. The men could wear anything they chose, including captured Persian and Roman robes. There were no badges of rank and no insignia to distinguish the commander from the commanded. In fact there were no officers so far as rank was concerned; officership was an appointment and not a rank. Any Muslim could join this army, and regardless of his tribal status would consider it an honour to serve in the ranks. The man fighting as a simple soldier one day could next day find himself appointed the commander of a regiment, or even a larger force. Officers were appointed to command for the battle or the campaign; and once the operation was concluded, they could well find themselves in the ranks again. The army was organised on the decimal system-a system started by the Holy Prophet at Madinah. 1 There were commanders of 10, 100 and 1,000 men, the latter corresponding to regiments. The grouping of regiments to form larger forces was flexible, varying with the situation.
Even in weapons and equipment there was no standard scale for this army. Men fought with whatever weapons they possessed, and had to find their own weapons either by purchase or by taking them from fallen foes. They could have any or all of the normally used weapons of the time-the lance, the javelin, the spear, the sword, the dagger and the bow. For armour they wore coats of mail and chain helmets. And these could be of any colour or design; in fact many of them had been taken from the Persians and the Romans. Most of the men mounted camels; those who possessed horses formed the cavalry.
One remarkable feature of the movement of this great army was that it was independent of lines of communication. Behind it stretched no line of supply, since it had no logistical base. Its food trotted along with the army; and if it ran out of meat, the men, women and children could live for weeks on a simple ration of dates and water. This army could not be cut off from its supplies, for it had no supply depots. It needed no roads for its movement, for it had no wagons and everything was carried on camels. Thus this army could go anywhere and traverse any terrain so long as there was a path over which men and animals could move. This ease of movement gave the Muslims a tremendous edge on the Romans in mobility and speed.
Although this army moved like a caravan and gave the impression of an undrilled horde, from the point of view of military security it was virtually invulnerable. The advance was led by a mobile advance guard consisting of a regiment or more. Then came the main body of the army, and this was followed by the women and children and the baggage loaded on camels. At the end of the column moved the rear guard. On long marches the horses were led; but if there was any danger of enemy interference on the march, the horses were mounted, and the cavalry thus formed would act either as the advance guard or the rear guard or move wide on a flank, depending on the direction from which the greatest danger threatened. In case of need, the entire army could vanish in an hour or so and be safe at a distance beyond terrain which no other large army could traverse. In this fashion the Muslims marched from Busra.
The route of the army has not been recorded; but it undoubtedly lay north of the Dead Sea, for the army arrived at Ajnadein before the corps of Amr bin Al Aas, who joined the army at Ajnadein. Had the army travelled south of the Dead Sea, Amr bin Al Aas, who was still at the Valley of Araba, would have been picked up en route. The army probably marched via Jarash and Jericho, then by-passed Jerusalem, which was strongly garrisoned by the Romans, and crossed the Judea Hills stretching south of Jerusalem. Beyond this range it descended into the plain of Ajnadein, arriving there on July 24. The following day Amr bin Al Aas, moving up from the Valley of Araba on the orders of Khalid, arrived at Ajnadein, and his joy knew no bounds. He had been in a state of anxiety for several weeks, expecting the Roman storm gathering at Ajnadein to break over his head any day.
1. Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 8.
The Muslims now established a camp which was a vast affair in view of the strength of the army-32,000 men, the largest Muslim force yet assembled for battle. The camp stood about a mile away from the Roman camp, which was even larger and lined the road from Jerusalem to Bait Jibreen. The opposing camps ran like two parallel lines, so laid out as to enable the armies to take the field at a moment's notice without unnecessary movement.
The Muslims had taken a week to concentrate their army at Ajnadein, a task which took the Romans more than two months. The Roman army, like any regular, sophisticated military force, needed time for its movement, and had to spend weeks in preparation-in collecting supplies, wagons and horses, and in issuing weapons and equipment. Since it travelled with thousands of wagons and carriages, it needed good roads for its movement. But over these two months the Romans had successfully concentrated an army of 90,000 men at Ajnadein under the command of Wardan, Governor of Emessa. Another general, one named Qubuqlar, acted as the Chief of Staff or the Deputy Commander-in-Chief.
The Muslims had marched to Ajnadein as a matter of choice. So long as the Roman army remained at Ajnadein, it posed no immediate threat to the Muslim corps. Only if a forward movement were undertaken by the Romans could a threat to the Muslims arise; and then the normal Arab strategy would be to pull back to the eastern or southern part of Jordan and fight a battle with their backs to the desert, into which they could withdraw in case of a reverse. The Muslims could have waited for the Romans to start the first move.
In this case, why did the Muslim army move away from the desert, and enter deep into a fertile, inhabited region towards a Roman army three times its size? The answer lies in the character of Khalid. It was his destiny to fight battles, and the promise of battle drew him like a magnet. Twelve centuries later another illustrious general, Napoleon, would say, "Nothing pleases me more than a great battle." So it was with Khalid. If anyone else had been the commander of the Muslim army, it is doubtful that the Muslims would have moved to Ajnadein.
In the long run, Khalid's decision was the right one. With a large Roman army poised at Ajnadein, the Muslims would have remained tied down to the area occupied by them, which in itself was of little importance. This Roman threat, cleverly engineered by Heraclius, had to be eliminated before the invasion could proceed deeper into Syria.
So it came about that the Romans and the Muslims faced each other in their respective camps at Ajnadein. Guards and outposts were positioned by both armies to prevent surprise. The officers rode across the land, carrying out reconnaissances, while the men made their preparations for battle.
The sight of the gigantic Roman camp had a somewhat disturbing impact on the Muslims. Everyone knew the strength of the Roman army-a staggering figure of 90,000. The majority of the Muslims had never taken part in a great battle. The only men who were left unmoved by the sight of the Roman camp were Khalid's 9,000 veterans, who had fought regular battles with large armies in Iraq; but even they had never before faced an army of this size.
Khalid went round visiting the various units in the camp and spoke to their commanders and men. He said, "Know, O Muslims, that you have never seen an army of Rome as you see now. If Allah defeats them by your hand, they shall never again stand against you. So be steadfast in battle and defend your faith. Beware of turning your backs on the enemy, for then your punishment will be the Fire. Be watchful and steady in your ranks, and do not attack until I give the order." 1 The personality of their commander and the supreme confidence which emanated from him had a marvellously steadying effect on the Muslims.
In the opposing camp, Wardan called a council of war and spoke to his generals. "O Romans," he said, "Caesar has placed his trust in you. If you are defeated, you will never again be able to make a stand against the Arabs; and they shall conquer your land and ravish your women. So be steadfast. When you attack, attack as one man-do not disperse your efforts. Seek the help of the Cross; and remember that you are three to each one of them." 2
1. Waqidi: p. 35.
As part of his preparations for battle, which in fact did not take place until some days later, Khalid decided to send a brave scout to carry out a close reconnaissance of the Roman camp. Dhiraar volunteered for the job and was sent forward accordingly. The youth stripped to the waist and rode up to a little hillock not far from the centre of the Roman camp. Here he was seen, and a body of 30 Romans rode out to catch him. As they approached, Dhiraar began to canter back to the Muslim camp; and when they drew nearer, Dhiraar increased his pace. His purpose was to draw these Romans away from their camp, so that others should not be able to come to their assistance. When he had reached a spot between the two armies, Dhiraar turned on his pursuers and attacked the one nearest him with his lance. After bringing him down, Dhiraar assaulted a second and a third and a fourth and so he continued, throughout the combat manoeuvring his horse in such a way that he should not have to tackle more than one man at a time. Against some he used his sword also; and it is believed that he killed 19 of the Romans before the remainder turned and galloped back to their camp. That night the Roman camp was full of stories of the dreaded Naked Champion.
On his return Dhiraar was greeted with joy by the Muslims; but Khalid looked at him sternly and rebuked him for engaging in combat when the task given to him was reconnaissance. To this Dhiraar replied that he was conscious of the possible disapproval of his commander, and that but for this he would have pursued the fleeing Romans to kill every one of them!
Following this incident, Qubuqlar, the Roman deputy commander, sent a Christian Arab to enter the Muslim camp, spend a day and a night with the Muslims and gather all possible information about the strength and quality of the Muslim army. This Christian Arab had no difficulty in entering the Muslim camp, as he was taken for a Muslim. The following day he slipped out and returned to Qubuqlar, who questioned him about the Muslims, "By night they are like monks, by day like warriors", said the spy. "If the son of their ruler were to commit theft, they would cut off his hand; and if he were to commit adultery, they would stone him to death. Thus they establish righteousness among themselves."
"If what you say be true", remarked Qubuqlar, "it would be better to be in the belly of the earth than to meet such a people upon its surface. I wish it were my portion from Allah to stay away from them, so that He would not have to help either me against them or them against me." 1
Wardan, the Commander-in-Chief, was full of fight; but Qubuqlar had lost his nerve.
Early in the morning of July 30, 634 (the 28th of Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 13 Hijri), as the men finished their morning prayers, Khalid ordered the move to battle positions, detailed instructions for which had been given the day before. The Muslims moved forward and formed up for battle on the plain a few hundred yards ahead of the camp. Khalid deployed his army facing west on a front of about 5 miles, stretched sufficiently to prevent the more numerous Roman army from overlapping his flanks. The army was deployed with a centre and two strong wings. On either side of the army, next to the wing, as an extension of the front, was positioned a flank guard to counter any Roman attempt to envelop the Muslim flanks or to outflank their position entirely.
The centre was placed under Muadh bin Jabal, the left wing under Saeed bin Amir and the right wing under Abdur-Rahman, the Caliph's son. We also know that the left flank guard was commanded by Shurahbil, but the name of the commander of the right flank guard is not recorded. Behind the centre, Khalid placed 4,000 men under Yazeed, as a reserve and for the close protection of the Muslim camp in which the women and children stayed. Khalid's place was near the centre, where he kept a number of officers near him to be used as champions or as commanders of groups needed for any specific task in battle. These included Amr bin Al Aas, Dhiraar, Raafe and Umar's son, Abdullah.
When the Romans saw the Muslims moving, they also rushed out and began to form up in their battle positions about half a mile from the Muslim front line. They formed up on about the same frontage, but had much greater depth in their dispositions, the detailed layout of which is not known. Wardan and Qubuqlar stood surrounded by their bodyguards in the centre. The massive formations of the Romans, carrying large crosses and banners, were an awe-inspiring sight.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 610.
When his men had been formed up for battle, Khalid rode along the front, checking units and urging his warriors to fight in the way of Allah. In the few words that he said to each unit, he laid emphasis on concentrating their efforts in time and attacking as one man. "When you use your bows," he said, "let the arrows fly from your bows as if shot by a single bow to land like a swarm of locusts on the enemy." He even spoke to the women in the camp and told them to be prepared to defend themselves against any Romans who might break through the Muslim front. They assured him that this was the least that they could do, considering that they had not been allowed to fight in the forefront of the Muslim army!
Forming their positions took the two armies a couple of hours. When all was in readiness, an old bishop wearing a black hat emerged from the Roman centre, walked up half-way towards the Muslim army and called out in perfect Arabic, "Which of you will come forth and talk with me?"
Muslims have no priests; and in those days the commander himself acted as the Imam 1 of the army. Hence Khalid rode forward, and the bishop asked, "Are you the commander of this army?" Khalid replied, "So they regard me as long as I obey Allah and follow the example of His Prophet; but if I fail in this, I have no command over them and no right to be obeyed." The bishop thought for a moment, then remarked, "It is thus that you conquer us."
He then continued: "Know, O Arab, that you have invaded a land which no king dares to enter. The Persians entered it and returned dismayed. Others also came and fought with their lives, but could not attain what they sought. You have won over us up till now, but victory does not belong permanently to you"
"My master, Wardan, is inclined to be generous with you. He has sent me to tell you that if you take your army away from this land, he will give each of your men a dinar, a robe and a turban; and for you there will be a hundred dinars and a hundred robes and a hundred turbans."
"Lo, We have an army numerous as the atoms, and it is not like the armies that you have met before. With this army Caesar has sent his mightiest generals and his most illustrious bishops." 2
In reply Khalid offered the usual three alternatives; Islam, the Jizya or the sword. Without the satisfaction of one of these alternatives the Muslims would not leave Syria. As for the dinars and the fine clothes, Khalid pointed out that the Muslims would soon possess them anyway, by right of conquest!
With this reply, the bishop returned and informed Wardan of his talks. The Roman commander was furious and swore that he would crush the Muslims with one all-destroying attack.
Wardan now ordered a line of archers and slingers to be positioned ahead of the Roman front within range of the Muslim army. As this line formed up, Muadh the commander of the Muslim centre, began to order his men to attack, but was stopped by Khalid who stood nearby. "Not till I give the order" said Khalid. "And not till the sun has passed its zenith." 3
Muadh had wished to attack because the Roman archers, with their better bows, outranged the Muslim bows and to the slingers the Muslims had no effective counter. The only way to deal with the situation would be to get closer to the Romans-to come to grips. But Khalid did not wish to risk a reverse by launching a premature attack against the well-formed legions of the Romans. Thus a couple of hours before noon, the battle began with the action of the Roman archers and slingers.
1. One who leads the prayer.
2. Waqidi: p. 36.
This phase of the battle went against the Muslims, several of whom were killed while many were wounded. This suited the Romans very well; and for some time the missiles continued to fly from their bows and slings. The Muslims, unable to do anything to offset this Roman advantage, became impatient to attack with sword and lance, but still Khalid restrained them. Finally the impetuous Dhiraar came to Khalid and said, "Why are we waiting when Allah, the Most High, is on our side? By Allah, our enemies will think that we are afraid of them. Order the attack, and we shall attack with you." Khalid decided to let individual champions go into combat against Roman champions.
In this duelling the Muslims would have the advantage, and it would be useful to eliminate as many of the Roman officers as possible, as this would in turn reduce the effectiveness of the Roman army. "You may attack, Dhiraar", he said. 1 And the delighted Dhiraar urged his horse forward.
Because of the Roman archers, Dhiraar kept on his coat of mail and helmet, and in his hand carried a shield made of elephant hide, which had once belonged to a Roman. Having gone halfway to the Roman line, he stopped and raising his head, gave his personal battle cry:
I am the death of the Pale Ones;
I am the killer of the Romans;
I am a scourge sent upon you;
I am Dhiraar bin Al Azwar! 2
As a few of the Roman champions advanced to answer his challenge, Dhiraar quickly disrobed; and the Romans knew him at once as the Naked Champion. In the next few minutes, Dhiraar killed several Romans, including two generals, one of whom was the governor of Amman and the other the governor of Tiberius.
Then a group of 10 officers emerged from the Roman army and moved towards Dhiraar. At this move, Khalid picked 10 of his stalwarts, and riding up, intercepted and killed the Romans. Now more champions came forward from both sides, some individually, others in groups. Gradually, the duelling increased in extent and intensity, and continued for about two hours, during which the Roman archers and slingers remained inactive. This phase more than restored the balance in favour of the Muslims, for most of the Roman champions were killed in combat.
While this duelling was still in progress-and it was now past midday-Khalid ordered a general attack; and the entire Muslim front moved forward and hurled itself at the Roman army. The main battle was now on with sword and shield.
This was a frontal struggle with no fine manoeuvre and neither side attempting to outflank the other. It was a hard slogging match at close quarters, and continued for some hours. Then in the late afternoon both sides, now very tired, broke contact and fell back to their original lines. No more could be done on this day.
The losses of the Romans were staggering. Wardan was shocked to learn that thousands of his soldiers lay dead on the battlefield, while very few Muslims had been accounted for. He called a council of war, at which he expressed his misgivings about the outcome of the battle, but his generals swore that they would fight to the last. Wardan asked for ideas; and of the various suggestions made, the one that appealed to him most was a plot to kill the Muslim commander. According to this plan, Wardan would personally go forward in the morning, offer peace and ask for Khalid to come forth and discuss the terms with him. When Khalid had approached near enough Wardan would engage him in combat; then, on his signal, 10 men, suitably concealed nearby, would rush up and cut the Muslim commander to pieces. It was as simple as that. Wardan was a brave general and agreed to the plan. The men would be positioned during the night, and would be carefully briefed for their role.
The Roman commander then sent a Christian Arab named David, who was a member of his staff, with instructions to proceed to the Muslim army and seek Khalid. He was to say to the Muslim commander that sufficient blood had been shed; that there should be no more fighting; that they should make peace; and that Khalid should meet Wardan early next morning between the two armies to discuss terms of peace. Both generals would appear alone.
1. Waqidi: p. 36.
2. Ibid: p. 37.
David was horrified to hear these instructions, as they appeared to be against the orders of Heraclius to fight the Muslims and throw them back into the desert. He therefore refused to carry out this mission. Wardan then told him the entire plan of the plot in order to convince him that he intended no disobedience of the instructions of the Emperor. And this, as we shall see, was a mistake.
The sun had not yet set when David walked up to the Muslim army, which was still arrayed in battle order, and asked to see Khalid on a matter of peace proposed by Wardan. As soon as Khalid was informed, he came out to David and stood glaring at him.
The sight of Khalid with his 6 feet and more of bone and muscle could have an unnerving effect on any man at whom Khalid glared. His hard, weather-beaten, battle-scarred face and his piercing eyes gave the impression of pitilessness to those whom Khalid regarded as enemies. The effect on poor David was devastating. Wilting under the gaze of the Sword of Allah, he blurted out: "I am not a man of war! I am only an emissary!"
Khalid drew closer. "Speak!" he ordered. "If you are truthful you will survive. If you lie you shall perish."
The Christian Arab spoke: "Wardan is pained by all this unnecessary bloodshed and wishes to avoid it. He is prepared to sign a pact with you and spare those who still live. There should be no more fighting until the talks are completed. He proposes that you and he meet alone between the two armies in the morning and discuss terms of peace."
"If what your master intends is deceit," replied Khalid, "then by Allah, we ourselves are the root of trickery and there is none like us in stratagem, and guile. If he has a secret plot, it will only hasten his own end and the annihilation of the rest of you. If on the other hand he is truthful, then we shall not make peace except on the payment of the Jizya. As for any offer of wealth, we shall soon take it from you anyway." 1
Khalid's words, uttered with unshakeable conviction, had a profound effect on David. Saying that he would go and convey Khalid's message to Wardan, he turned and began to walk away while Khalid stood staring after him and sensing that all was not as it seemed. David had not gone far before it suddenly struck him that Khalid was right; that victory would go to the Muslims and the Romans would perish no matter what tricks they tried. He decided to save himself and his family by confessing the truth. Consequently he retraced his steps and once again stood before Khalid, to whom he revealed the entire Roman plot, including the place at which the 10 Romans would lie concealed - below a hillock a little to the right of the Roman centre. Khalid promised to spare David and his family on condition that he did not tell Wardan that the Muslims now knew of his plot. To this, David agreed.
On his return to the Roman Army, David informed Wardan of the initial talks he had had with Khalid and Khalid's agreement to the rendezvous as planned; but said nothing of the second conversation he had with the Muslim. Wardan was delighted.
At first Khalid thought of going to the hillock alone and killing all 10 Romans himself. His adventurous soul thrilled at the prospect of a glorious fight. But when he discussed the matter with Abu Ubaidah, the latter dissuaded him and suggested that he should detail 10 valiant fighters instead. To this Khalid agreed. The 10 men he chose included Dhiraar, who was appointed leader of the party. He instructed Dhiraar to be prepared to next morning to dash out from the front rank of the Muslims and intercept and kill the 10 Romans when they appeared. But Dhiraar was no less adventurous in spirit that Khalid and insisted that he and his men be allowed to use the hours of darkness to find the Romans in their place of concealment and kill then in their lair. Knowing Dhiraar as he did, Khalid acceded to his request. Shortly before midnight Dhiraar and his nine comrades set off from the camp.
1. Waqidi: p. 39.
Soon after sunrise, Wardan came forward in full imperial regalia, wearing bejewelled armour with a bejewelled sword hanging at his side. Khalid walked up from the Muslim centre and stood in front of Wardan. The two armies were already arrayed in battle order as on the previous day.
Wardan started negotiations with an attempt to browbeat the Muslim. He expressed his low opinion of the Arabians; how wretched were the conditions in which they lived, and how miserably starved they were in their homeland. Khalid's response was sharp and aggressive. "O Christian dog!" he snapped. "This is your last chance to accept Islam or pay the Jizya." 1 At this, Wardan, without drawing his sword, sprang at Khalid and held him, at the same time shouting for the 10 Romans to come to his aid.
From behind the hillock he saw, out of the corner of his eye, 10 Romans, emerge and race towards him. Khalid also saw then and was horrified, for he was expecting to see Muslims emerge from behind the hillock. He has made no other arrangement for his own protection, and he wondered with a sense of deep sorrow, if Dhiraar had at last met his match. As the group of Romans got nearer, however, Wardan noticed that the leader of these 'Romans' was naked to the waist; and then the terrible truth dawned upon him.
During the night Dhiraar and his nine comrades had got to the hillock, killed all 10 Romans noiselessly, and then, such was Dhiraar's impish sense of humour, put on the garments and armour of the Romans. Later, however, Dhiraar discarded the garments and reverted to his normal fighting dress! As the first light of dawn appeared, these 10 Muslims said the prayer of the Morning and then awaited the call of the Roman commander.
Wardan left Khalid and stepped back, looking on helplessly as the 10 Muslims surrounded the pair. Dhiraar now advanced with drawn sword. At this Wardan implored Khalid, "I beseech you, in the name of whatever you worship, to kill me yourself; do not net this devil come near me" 2
In reply Khalid nodded to Dhiraar, and Dhiraar's sword flashed in the sun and severed Wardan's head.
It was Khalid's way so to time his attack as to get the maximum benefit from any tactical advantage which he had gained over his enemy. When no other advantage was possible and manoeuvre was restricted, he would exploit the psychological effect of killing the enemy commander-in-chief or some other prominent general, and strike a powerful blow with the entire army while the enemy was stunned by the moral setback of such a loss. Here again Khalid did the same. As soon as Wardan was killed, he ordered a general attack: the centre, the wings and the flank guards swept forward and assaulted the Romans, who were now under the command of Qubuqlar.
As the two armies met, another phase of violent hand-to-hand fighting began. Soon the fighting became vicious, with no quarter given or taken. The Muslims struck fiercely at the Roman formations, and the Romans struggled desperately to hold the assault. Khalid and all his officers fought in front of the men, and so did many of the Roman generals who were prepared to die for the glory of the empire. The battlefield soon turned into a wreckage of human bodies, mostly Roman, as the men struggled mightily without respite.
At last, as the two sides were reaching the point of exhaustion, Khalid threw his reserve of 4,000 men under Yazeed into the centre; and with the added impetus of this reinforcement, the Muslims broke through at several places, driving deep wedges, into the Roman army. In the centre a Muslim group got to where Qubuqlar stood with his head wrapped in a cloth, and killed him. It is believed that Qubuqlar had ordered his head to be so wrapped because he could no longer bear to see such carnage. With the death of Qubuqlar, the Roman resistance weakened, and soon after collapsed entirely. The Romans fled from the field of battle.
It was safer to stand and fight the Muslim Arabs in battle than to run from them. Against a fleeing enemy, the Arab of the desert was in his element. As the Romans sought to escape, they turned in three directions; some fled towards Gaza, others towards Jaffa, but the largest group of fugitives made for Jerusalem. Khalid forthwith launched his cavalry in several regiments to pursue the enemy on all three routes; and at the hands of this cavalry the Romans suffered even more grievous damage than in the two days of fighting on the plain of Ajnadein. The pursuit and the killing of the fugitives continued till sunset, when the pursuing columns returned to camp.
1. MISSING REFERENCE
2. MISSING REFERENCE
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, pp. 610-611.
The Roman army had been torn to pieces.
It was a complete victory. The Romans had been fought in a set-piece battle after the regular imperial fashion, and were not only defeated tactically but also slaughtered mercilessly. The Roman army assembled at Ajnadein had ceased to exist as an army, although a sizable Portion of it managed to get away, especially the part that fled to Jerusalem and found safety within its walls. In the first great encounter between Islam and Byzantium, the followers of Muhammad had conquered.
It had been a full and fierce battle, but without any fine manoeuvres. The Roman army had not attempted any outflanking movement, since it was too large and too cumbersome to do so. The Muslims had not because their army was comparatively small, and manoeuvres against the flanks and rear of the enemy could only have been carried out by weakening the centre-a clearly unjustifiable risk. Hence this had been a frontal clash of massed bodies of men in which Muslim leadership and the courage and skill of the warriors prevailed over the great size of the Roman legions. The only choice of manoeuvre available to Khalid had been to time his assaults to get the maximum benefit from the prevailing situation, which he did as has been described. And of course, when the Roman army broke, Khalid showed his typical drive by organising the pursuit to ensure that as many Romans as possible were brought down before the rest reached a place of safety.
Victory in the Battle of Ajnadein opened the way for the conquest of Syria. This land could not, of course, be conquered with a single battle; for large imperial forces remained in the cities of Syria and Palestine, and the Roman Emperor could draw on the resources of the whole Empire, which stretched from Armenia to the Balkans. But the first great clash With the Romans was over; and the Muslims could now continue their campaign with the confidence that they would have no less success in the mighty battles that undoubtedly lay ahead.
Three days after the battle, according to Waqidi, Khalid wrote to Abu Bakr and informed him of the battle, giving the Roman casualties as 50,000 dead at the cost of only 450 Muslims. 1 The Roman Commander-in-Chief, his deputy, and several top generals of the Roman army had been killed. Khalid also informed the Caliph that he would shortly march on Damascus. At Madinah the news of this victory was received with joy and shouts of Allah-o-Akbar, and more volunteers came forward to join the holy war in Syria. These included Abu Sufyan, who, along with his wife, the redoubtable Hind, journeyed to Syria to join the corps of his son, Yazeed. In reply to Khalid's letter, Abu Bakr wrote to him to besiege Damascus until it was conquered, and thereafter attack Emessa and Antioch. Khalid was not, however, to advance beyond the northern frontier of Syria.
Heraclius was at Emessa when the news of the crushing defeat of the Roman army struck him like a bolt from the sky. Heraclius felt devastated. He journeyed to Antioch; and expecting the Muslims to advance on Damascus, ordered the remnants of the Roman army at Jerusalem (but not its local garrison) to intercept the Muslims at Yaqusa and delay their advance. (See Map 16) At the same time he ordered more forces into motion towards Damascus to strengthen that city and prepare for a siege.
A week after the Battle of Ajnadein, Khalid marched with the Muslim army and, again by-passing Jerusalem from the south, moved towards Damascus. At Fahl, which held a strong Roman garrison, he left a mounted detachment under Abul A'war to keep the garrison tied down in the fort; with the rest of the army he moved on and reached the bank of the River Yarmuk at Yaqusa, 2 where he was again faced by Roman forces on the north bank. The Romans were not in a position to offer serious resistance, as they were still shaken by their defeat at Ajnadein; their main purpose here was only a rear-guard action to gain more time for the reinforcement of Damascus. Nevertheless a battle did take place at Yaqusa in mid-August 634 (mid-Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 13 Hijri), and the Romans were again defeated. 3
The Romans fell back in haste; and Khalid advanced upon Damascus.
1. Waqidi: p. 42.
2. Also known as Waqusa.
3. Some early writers, including Tabari, appear to have confused this action at Yaqusa with the Battle of Yarmuk, which was fought in the same general area, and have given the year of Yarmuk as 13 Hijri, which is incorrect.