Al-Qadisiyyah, Iraq (637 AD)
The Battle of Al Qadisiyyah was the most decisive battle in the wars between the Arab Muslims and the Sassanid Empire of Persia. It also marked the beginning of the end of the Sassanids, one of several great Persian dynasties that had ruled over much of southwest Asia for over a thousand years. Most importantly, it was the last major military engagement which might have permanently stopped the advance of Islam out of the Arabian Peninsula. The victory of the Arabs at Al Qadisiyyah, coupled with their victory over the Byzantines a year before at Yarmouk, essentially laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate.
Within a few years of the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Arab Muslims had consolidated their rule over the Arabian Peninsula. Almost immediately thereafter they hurled their armies northwards into the the fertile lands of Mesopotamia and the massive, ancient Persian Empire, then ruled by the Sassanids. Thanks to distracting wars against the Byzantines and the brilliance of the great general Khalid ibn al-Walid, much of the western territory of the Sassanids was quickly lost to the Caliphate.
However, by 634 the Sassanids had made a peace and an alliance of sorts with the Byzantines, gathered fresh forces and launched a massive counterattack, retaking most of the lost territory. In 636, the Byzantines and Sassanids attempted to launch a war on two fronts against the Arabs, but were unable to coordinate the timing. The Byzantines were subsequently defeated at the disastrous Battle of Yarmouk, leaving the Sassanids to fend for themselves.
Nevertheless they were able to raise a sizeable force. Unfortunately many of these were untested recruits. The Arabs also raised fresh armies, though in much smaller numbers than the Persians. The two armies descended on the Euphrates River, where they met in open formations at Al-Qadisiyyah. The battle began with personal duels, followed by cavalry charges, elephant attacks and archers.
At first the fighting went against the Arabs, though both sides took heavy casualties. The fighting raged for three days, during which time the Arab army received reinforcements from Syria where they had been fighting the Byzantines. On the fourth day, fate, and the weather, turned against the Persians. A sandstorm blew up against the Sassanids. During this, a small Arab force made its way into the Persian camp and slew the commander Rostam. The Persians were forced to abandon the field, and from that point on the Muslims maintained the initiative until the empire was conquered less than two decades later.
The Battle of Al Qadisiyyah is one of many military engagements that have raged along the Euphrates River of four thousands years. Because of this it is sometimes lost amid the names of greater battles. Still it is more commonly frequented thanks to its excellent location. Although not well marked or memorialized, the site of the battle is nevertheless well known and easily reached.
The Al Qadisiyyah battlefield is located near the town of Qadisiyyah, not too far from the modern-day city of Kufah, about ninety miles south of Baghdad. The battlefield is an open site. There is no charge for admission. Web: www.babel-tourism.com (unofficial tourism website for Iraq).
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