Kafir-Ul-Ma, Syria (636 AD)
The Battle of Yarmouk was the first major clash between the nascent Islamic Caliphate and ancient Byzentine Empire. Because it opened up the Mediterranean world to further Muslim conquests, it was also one of the most important battles of the early Middle Ages. It pitted two of the greatest military leaders of the time against each other: Emperor Heraclius and Caliph Umar, each of whom had just won immense victories against the powerful Sassanid Empire. The Muslim victory at Yarmouk essentially set the stage for the total hegemony of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa that persists to the present day.
The 630s were among the most turbulent and critical years in the history of the Middle East. In 629, the Byzantine Empire had just delivered a crushing defeat against the Sassanid Empire in Persia, the latest (and as it turned out the last) in a series of wars between the Roman west and Persian east that stretched back nearly eight centuries. This allowed the Byzantines to re-annex all of their lost territory in the eastern Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, it also severely weakened the Sassanid Empire at the worst possible time. A new threat had gathered to the south, a frontier which had never before given the Persians much pause for thought. In 632, the Arabian Peninsula was consolidated into a single Islamic realm under the first caliph, Abu Bakr. Almost immediately, the caliph hurled his army northwards in a war of conquest. Under the brilliant general Khalid ibn al-Walid, the Muslims crushed all Sassanid opposition and conquered the entire region of what is now Iraq in less than a year.
With barely a pause, the whirlwind campaign of conquest then proceeded against the Byzantines. The suddenness of the arrival and ferocity of this hitherto unknown enemy, as well as the collapse of the Sassanid Empire, took the Byzantines completely by surprise. In 634 Damascus fell, and the Muslim army now threatened Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor. The Byzantines mustered a huge army, greatly outnumbering the Arab forces, to meet the threat.
The two forces met on the plains of Yarmouk, beginning a six-day battle which was one of the best recorded in medieval history. The tide of the battle turned several times, with heavy casualties on both sides. However, on the sixth day, the Muslim cavalry outmaneuvered and smashed the Byzantine cavalry, then routed and annihilated the imperial infantry forces. The overwhelming Arab victory was the high point of Khalid ibn al-Walid’s career and marked the beginning of the decline of the Eastern Empire.
The Yarmouk site actually consists of several battlefields spread out over a large area. The vicinity of the battlefield is now home to small villages, but is otherwise largely pristine and looks much as it did in the seventh century. Unfortunately, the site of the battle is not well marked, though it is close to the road from Damascus to Amman which passes through the area.
The Yarmouk Battlefield is located on the south side of the Yarmouk River in southern Syria close to the border of Jordan andthe Sea of Galilee, approximately forty miles south of Damascus. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.visit-syria.com (official tourism website of Syria).