|Battle of Ajnadayn|
|Part of Muslim conquest of Syria
and Byzantine-Arab Wars
<th colspan="2" style="background-color: #B0C4DE; text-align: center; vertical-align: middle; font-size: 110%;">Belligerents</th>
<td style="width:50%; border-right:1px dotted #aaa;">Eastern Roman Empire
</td><td style="width:50%; padding-left:0.25em">Rashidun Caliphate
<th colspan="2" style="background-color: #B0C4DE; text-align: center; vertical-align: middle; font-size: 110%;">Commanders and leaders</th>
<td style="width:50%; border-right:1px dotted #aaa;">Vardan
The Battle of Ajnadayn, fought on July 30, 634, was the first major pitched battle between the Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine) and the army of the Arabic Rashidun Caliphate. The result of the battle was a decisive Muslim victory. The details of this battle are mostly known through Muslim sources, such as Al-Waqidi.
After the Muslim conquest of the city of Bosra, their commander Shurahbil's spy came from Ajnadayn with news that soon a strong Imperial army would gather there. At this time Yazeed was still south of the River Yarmuk; Amr bin Al Aas was still at the Valley of Araba; and several detachments of the corps of Abu Ubaidah and Shurahbil were spread over the District of Hauran. Khalid ibn al-Walid, commander of Muslim army, wrote to all commanders to march at once and concentrate at Ajnadayn. This act to move towards Ajnadayn was correct; as with a large Roman army poised at the area, the Muslims would have remained tied down to their own land, which in itself was of little importance. The Romans, at this time, still thought they were dealing with local Arab bandits, so organized their defence only with local troops. For the Arabs, this perceived threat, engineered by the general Heraclius, had to be overcome if they wanted to proceed deeper into Syria. In the third week of July 634, the Muslim army marched from Busra. The Muslims had taken a week to concentrate their army at Ajnadayn, a task which took the Romans more than two months. The Arab army consisted of up to 20,000 men, while the Roman army had only up to 10,000 men, recruited from the local population.
Before the start of the battle, both armies were arrayed in extended lines, with their camps to the rear. The Muslims, and almost certainly the Romans, were divided into three divisions with a flank guard on each wing. Mu'adh ibn Jabal commanded the Muslim centre; Sa'id Ibn 'Amir the left; and ‘Abd ar-Rahman, son of the Caliph Abu Bakr, the right. Shurahbil led the vital left flank guard, but the name of the man who led the right flank guard is unknown. Behind the centre, protecting the Muslim camp, a reserve was led by Yazid. Muslim archers that day were also ordered to fire controlled barrages instead of individual firing. Khalid, Amr and other senior leaders and 'champions' were in the centre. As well, Muslim women were directed to defend the camp if necessary.
Before the beginning of the battle, Khalid is reported to have gone around visiting the various units in the camp and spoke to their commanders and men. He said:
Before the battle began, commanders of both armies made morale-boosting speeches while reconnaissance took place on both sides. According to legend, a Christian bishop tried in vain to negotiate a withdrawal from the Arabs. Khalid retorted by offering conversion to Islam, the payment of jizyah (tax), or a fight. Another legend tells of Zarrar Ibn al Azwar, a former tax collector but now a renowned warrior, who surveyed the Roman position and slew those who tried to chase him off. Zarrar soon played an important role in the battle.
The Romans first sent in their light skirmishing infantry, with slingers and archers pelting and firing upon the Muslim army, seemingly attempting to disrupt cohesion and lower morale. But the Muslims stood firm and did not return fire as ordered; the Roman slingers and archers were out of range of the Muslim's archers. This phase of the battle went against the Muslims, several of whom were killed while many were wounded. Khalid now decided to let individual champions go into combat against champions from the Roman side. 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. Zarrar Ibn al Azwar was sent first by Khalid. Zarrar was known popularly as "the half naked warrior" because he often fought without his shirt and armour, but he advanced forward in full armor and a Roman elephant hide shield taken from a dead soldier, to protect himself against the projectiles. He then challenged several champions from the Roman side.
As a few of the opposing champions advanced to answer Zarrar's challenge, he quickly disrobed and allegedly Roman army knew him at once as the half naked Champion. In Muslim sources he is credited with defeating several Roman champions who accepted his duels, including the governors of Tiberias and Amman. The Muslim account then states that a group of 10 officers emerged from the Roman army and moved towards Zarrar. At this move, Khalid ibn Walid picked 10 of his men, and jumped into the combat, intercepted and killed the Romans. Now more champions came forward from both sides, individually and in groups. Gradually, the duelling increased in extent and continued for about couple of hours, during which the Roman archers and slingers remained inactive.
As these duels were still being fought, Khalid ordered a general attack. The fight was ferocious, and continued until the sun set. There was no clear victor after the bloodshed, and both armies were in the same positions, ready to continue the fight.
Theodorus planned to assassinate Khalid. However, fate was not with Theodorus; next day when the ambush tried to kill Khalid, it was defeated by the Zarrar's corps. Theodorus invited Khalid for a duel; without drawing his sword, he sprang at Khalid and held him, at the same time shouting for 10 Romans to come to his aid. The 10 Romans emerged and raced towards him. Khalid thought that if Dhiraar had at last met his match. As the group of Romans got nearer, however, Theodorus noticed that the leader of these "Romans" was naked to the waist; it was Zarrar who had put on the garments and armour of the Romans, later discarded the garments and reverted to his normal half naked fighting dress! Theodorus was killed "apparently by the fearsome Zarrar".
With the Romans losing their commander and the confusion that ensued after the failed ambush, the Muslims saw an opportunity to attack. They promptly did so, and brutal and merciless combat ensued. Yet the Romans, now at a disadvantage, did not yet collapse. However Khalid now committed his final reserves under Yazid (who were defending the camp) into the fray, desperate to end the long hours of bloodshed of this prolonged battle. The Roman line finally collapsed under the weight of this final push.
The battle took a heavy toll on both sides, with more fallen senior Muslim figures than in any other battle in the conquest of Syria. Even across the valley today, one can find many tombstones of this era. Many of the Roman army were able to make it safely off the field, turning 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 Roman army suffered even more casualties than in the two days of fighting on the plain of Ajnadayn.
After the battle of Ajnadayn, the Rashidun army conquered all of Palestine and much of Syria, including Damascus (after two separate sieges). However, Emperor Heraclius realized that the Arab attacks were more than just raids by bandits, but a coordinated effort to conquer territory. Heraclius, who was in Emesa at the time, fled to Antioch upon hearing news of the battle's outcome.
In the spring of 636, the Romans sent an Imperial army against the Arabs, no longer relying on local forces to deal with the problem. Recognizing the hard price of victory at Ajnadayn against a much smaller force than the army that now marched against him, Khalid withdrew all the Muslim forces south. Hotly pursued by the Romans, Khalid stopped his advance at the Yarmouk River and finally gave battle.
In the Battle of Yarmuk, Khalid Ibn al-Walid once again fought the Romans, this time under the command of Theodore the Sacellarius and Baänes. This further victory led to the total Muslim conquest of Palestine and Syria, the latter soon to become the centre of Islamic civilization.
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