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: 9

A number of questions were raised wherever people assembled. Even if Heraclius raised a fresh column-and this was unlikely in the near future-what assurance did they have that it would achieve better success than the last one? If the Muslims could do what they did to an army of 90,000 men at Ajnadein, what chance did the relatively small force at Damascus have of avoiding a military defeat and the plunder and captivity which would doubtless follow? How much longer would the supplies last? Would it not be better to make peace with, the Muslims on whatever terms were offered, and in this manner avoid total destruction? Spirits fell and discontent rose in Damascus, especially in the non-Roman section of the population. The situation was becoming increasingly more desperate, and the tension increasingly more unbearable.

Then a delegation of prominent citizens approached Thomas. They apprised him of their fears and suggested that he consider the possibility of making peace with Khalid; but Thomas assured them that he had sufficient troops to defend the city, and would soon take the offensive to drive the Muslims away. Special services were held in the churches and prayers offered for deliverance from the peril which threatened the city. Thomas decided to attempt a powerful sally from the fort. He was a brave man, and as long as there was some chance of success, he would not surrender.

The following morning, early in the third week of September 634, Thomas drew men from all sectors of the city and formed a strong force to break out through the Gate of Thomas. His immediate opponent here was Shurahbil with his corps of about 5,000 men. Thomas started the operation with a concentrated shower of arrows and stones against the Muslim archers in order to drive them back and get more room for debouching from the gate. The Muslims answered the Roman salvos with their own volleys of arrows. At the very beginning of this exchange several Muslims were killed, one of whom was Aban bin Saeed bin Al Aas-a man who had only recently got married to an unusually brave woman. As soon as she heard that she had become a widow, she took a bow and joined the Muslim archers, seeking revenge. On the wall of the fort, near the Gate of Thomas, stood a priest with a large cross, the sight of which was intended to give added courage to the Romans. Unfortunately for this priest, the young Muslim widow chose him as her target. The arrow she shot at him drove through the man's breast; and priest and cross came tumbling down to the foot of the wall, to the delight of the Muslims and the dismay of the Romans. However, in this exchange the Romans got the better of the Muslims; and after a while the besiegers were driven back to a line out of range of the Roman archers and slingers.

Next the gate was opened and the Roman foot-soldiers covered by the archers and slingers on the wall, rushed through the gate and fanned out into battle formation. As soon as the deployment was complete, Thomas ordered the attack against the corps of Shurahbil, which had also formed up a few hundred yards from the gate. Thomas himself led the assault, sword in hand, and according to the chronicler, 'roared like a camel!' 1

Very soon there was heavy fighting between the two bodies of men. Shurahbil's corps was outnumbered but held its ground, not yielding an inch, and Roman losses began to mount. Thomas now noticed Shurahbil and guessing that he was the commander of this Muslim force, made for him. Shurahbil saw him coming, and with a blood-covered sword in his hand prepared to meet him. But before Thomas could reach Shurahbil, he was struck in his right eye by an arrow, again fired by the widow, and fell to the ground. He was quickly picked up by his men and carried away, while at the same moment the Romans began to fall back to the fort. Thus, under pressure from swordsmen and under the punishing fire of Muslim archers deployed on the flanks, the Romans returned to the fort, leaving behind a large number of dead, several of whom had fallen to the arrows of the widow of Aban.

Inside the fort the surgeons examined the eye of Thomas. The arrow had not penetrated deep, but they found that it could not be extracted. They therefore cut off the shaft where it entered the eye, and Thomas, instead of being depressed by the loss of his eye and the pain of his wound, showed himself to be a man of extraordinary courage. He swore that he would take a thousand eyes in return; that he would not only defeat these Muslims but would follow them into Arabia, which, after he had finished with it, would be fit only for the habitation of wild beasts. He ordered another great sally to be carried out that night.

1. Waqidi: p. 46.