The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 33: The Conquest of Emessa

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


Page: 4

When another few weeks had passed and there was no further retrograde movement by the Muslims, the Romans realised that their opponents had no intention of raising the siege. It was now about the middle of March 636 (the beginning of Safar, 15 Hijri), when the worst of the winter was over. The Roman hope of the cold driving the Muslims away vanished. Supplies were running low, and with the coming of spring and better weather the Muslims would receive further reinforcements and would then be in an even stronger position. Something had to be done quickly. The local inhabitants were all for peace, but Harbees was a loyal son of the Empire and sought glory in battle. He decided to make a surprise sally and defeat the Muslims in battle outside the fort; and with this decision of Harbees matters came to a head. The end was now in sight, though not the kind of end which Harbees had in mind.

Early one morning the Rastan Gate was flung open and Harbees led 5,000 men into a quick attack on the unsuspecting Muslims facing that gate. The speed and violence of the attack took the Muslims by surprise, and although this was the largest of the four groups positioned at the four gates, it was driven back from the position where it had hastily formed up for battle. A short distance back the Muslims reformed their front and held the attack of the Romans, but the pressure became increasingly heavy and the danger of a break-through became clearly evident.

Abu Ubaidah now asked Khalid to restore the situation. Khalid moved forward with the Mobile Guard, took the hard pressed Muslims under his command and redisposed the Muslim army for battle. The surprise of the morning had had a depressing effect on the Muslims, who had already been distressed by the discomfort of the cold; and they took some time to recover from it, but with Khalid present in their midst, they soon regained their spirits and began to give as well as they took. This situation continued till midday. Then Khalid took the offensive and steadily pushed the Romans back, though it was not till near sunset that the Romans were finally driven back into the fort. The sally had proved unsuccessful, but it had the effect of making the Muslims feel a special respect for Harbees and the Roman warriors of Emessa.

The following morning Abu Ubaidah held a council of war. The Muslim officers were in a restrained mood, and did not show their usual enthusiasm. Abu Ubaidah expressed his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Muslims had given way before the Roman attack, whereupon Khalid remarked that these Romans were the bravest he had ever met. "Then what do you advise, O Father of Sulaiman?" asked Abu Ubaidah. "May Allah have mercy upon you!"

"O Commander", replied Khalid, "tomorrow morning let us move away from the fort and. . . ." 1

Early the following morning, the Romans saw hectic activity in the Muslim camps around Emessa. Tents were being struck and bundles packed to be loaded onto the camels. Before their eyes the main body of the Muslims began to march away to the south, leaving behind small parties to see to the movement of the families, the baggage and the flocks. Here was deliverance! The Muslims were raising the siege and withdrawing to the south. The winter had got them after all! The Roman soldiers rejoiced at this sight, but Harbees was not a man to be content with a drawn battle. His trained eye could see a military opportunity when it appeared; and such an opportunity had clearly presented itself. He immediately collected 5,000 Roman warriors and led them out of the fort to chase the Muslims. As the Romans approached the main Muslim camp, the few Muslim warriors who were there looked at them with horror and with cries of fear fled southwards, leaving behind the families and the flocks and the baggage!

Harbees decided to leave the camp alone for the moment. The camp could wait. He launched his mounted force into a fast pursuit to catch up with the retreating enemy and strike him down as he fled. He caught up with the Muslims a few miles from Emessa. His leading elements were about to pounce upon the 'retreating enemy' when the Muslims suddenly turned and struck at the Romans with such ferocity that they were taken aback and hard put to defend themselves. As the Muslims turned on the Romans, Khalid shouted a command at which two mounted groups detached themselves from the Muslim army, galloped round the flanks of the surprised Romans and met between them. The plan proposed by Khalid and universally accepted the day before at the council of war had worked; the Romans were now trapped in a ring of steel! Ruefully Harbees thought of the words of a local priest who had tried to warm him as he was leaving Emessa to pursue the Muslims. The priest had said, "By the Messiah, this is a trick of the Arabs. The Arab never leaves his camels and his family behind!" 2 But it was now too late.

1. Waqidi: p. 103.
2. Waqidi p.104.