The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 30: The Conquest of Damascus

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq

 

Page: 5

The Romans stood firm for an hour or so, but could not hold the Muslims longer. The loss of a large number of their officers, including the two top generals, had had a depressing effect on their spirits; and the fact that Damascus stood just behind, beckoning to them to come and be safe within its walls acted as a temptation to withdraw. So they retreated, in good order, leaving behind a large number of dead. The Roman army arrived at the city and entered its walls, closing the gates behind it.

The Muslims spent the night on the plain, and the following day marched to the city. Here, on August 20, 634 (the 20th of Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 13 Hijri), Khalid launched the Muslim army into the siege of Damascus. 1

Khalid had already left behind a mounted detachment at Fahl to keep the Roman garrison occupied and prevent it from coming to the aid of Damascus or interfering with the movement of messengers and reinforcements from Madinah. Now he sent out another detachment on the road to Emessa to take up a position near Bait Lihya, about 10 miles from the city, 2 and instructed its commander to send out scouts to observe and report the arrival of Roman relief columns. If unable to deal with such columns himself, the detachment commander would seek Khalid's help. Having thus arranged a blocking position to isolate Damascus from Northern Syria, which was the most likely region whence relief columns could approach Damascus, Khalid surrounded the city with the rest of the army (See Map 17 below).

map 1 chapter 30

Damascus now held a Roman garrison of about 15,000 to 16,000 soldiers, a considerable civil population comprising the permanent inhabitants and a large number of people from the surrounding region who had taken refuge in the city. The Muslim strength at Damascus is not recorded, but must have been quite a bit less than in the preceding month. Muslim dead in the three battles just fought - at Ajnadein, at Yaqusa and at the Marj-us-Suffar - undoubtedly ran into four figures; and thousands more must have been wounded in these battles and rendered unable to participate in the siege. Moreover, a group had been sent out as a blocking force and a detachment left at Fahl. In view of all this, I estimate the Muslim strength at Damascus at about 20,000 men. With this strength Khalid besieged the city.

He positioned the corps of Iraq, which included elements of the Mobile Guard, at the East Gate. He placed the bulk of this corps under Raafe, and himself stayed a short distance away from the East Gate with a reserve of 400 horsemen from the Mobile Guard. He established his headquarters in a monastery which, as a result, became known as Dair Khalid, i.e. Monastery of Khalid (and it is believed that the monks living in this monastery helped the Muslims in various ways, including the care of the Muslim wounded). 3 At each of the remaining gates, he deployed a force of 4,000 to 5,000 men whose commanders were as follows (See Map 18 below):

Gate of Thomas : Shurahbil,
Jabiya Gate : Abu Ubaidah,
Gate of Faradees : Amr bin Al Aas,
Keisan Gate : Yazeed,
Small Gate : Yazeed.

map 2 chapter 30

To the corps commanders Khalid gave instructions to the effect that they would: (a) camp outside bow-range of the fort; (b) keep the gate under observation; (c) move archers up to engage any Roman archers who appeared on the battlements; (d) throw back any Roman force which sallied out from the gate; and (e) seek Khalid's help in case of heavy pressure. Dhiraar was placed in command of 2,000 horsemen from the Mobile Guard, and given the task of patrolling the empty spaces between the gates during the night and helping any corps attacked by the Romans.

With these instructions the Muslim corps deployed, and the siege began. Tents were pitched, and Dhiraar started his patrolling. Every main avenue of relief and escape was closed, but this applied only to formed bodies of men. Individuals could still be lowered from the wall at many places during the night, and thus Thomas was able to keep in touch with the outside world and with Heraclius at Antioch.

1. For an explanation of the details of the Battle of Marj-us-Suffar, see Note 10 in Appendix B.
2. Bait Lihya no longer exists, and its exact location is not known. It was a small town in the Ghuta (Yaqut: Vol. 1, p. 780), and I have placed it at the outer edge of the Ghuta because to position a blocking force nearer the city would be militarily unsound.
3. This monastery, which was also known as Dair-ul-Ahmar (the Red Monastery), no longer exists, but its general location is known. About a quarter of a mile from the East Gate, stretching eastwards, stands a garden. The monastery was in this garden, and according to Waqidi (p. 43), was less than half a mile from the gate.