Battle of Yarmuk, 636 animated battle map
By Jonathan Webb
(Ensure you hit F5 or View Show)
Khalid Ibn al-Walid versus Vahan: A Byzantine army under Vahan stands in the way of a Rashidun army under Khalid. Will the religious fervor and military genius commander of the Rashiduns sweep aside the Byzantines? Also known as the Battle of Yarmouk, Yarmuq or Hieromyax.
It is impossible to read any account of this battle from either side without being overcome by the drama, intensity and resonance. Unlike any other animation to date, the Battle of Yarmuk features massive, determined men fighting for superiority rather than red and blue boxes.
The battle may have had a different result had Vahan used his cavalry reserve when it was needed most. Vahan launched three offensives aimed at breaking the Rashidun lines, all of which only marginally failed because Khalid effectively used the force at his disposal in a variety of ways. The reason for the Byzantine cavalry’s inactivity has yet to be properly explained. Although these marginal, defensive victories by the Rashiduns were only able to take place because of their superiority in morale and motivation, the Byzantine soldiers fought just as fiercely. The majority of the Byzantines did not flee until the situation was clearly hopeless and even then, they did not go quietly.
When I first set about researching this battle, I was immediately confronted with a seemingly impossible task: determining the strength of either side. Sources for Rashidun numbers range from 15-43,000 and the Byzantine numbers range from 20-400,000. I was also torn between whether the Western historians were just making excuses for the loss or if Middle Eastern writers were just making their greatest victory seem more spectacular. I considered just giving up and animating another battle but what kind of historian would I be? I came to the conclusion that Khalid was a military genius, that there was no sandstorm to explain the disastrous Byzantine defeat and then dug deep to decide on numbers. Dupuy’s Encyclopedia of Military History avoids specific numbers at the battle altogether but states that the entire Byzantine Empire fielded an army of 120-150,000, divided into thirteen themes. Seven of them were posted in Anatolia which means that if Vahan did command 80,000 troops at Yarmuk, there were no other Byzantine units for the rest of the region which is highly unlikely. After realizing the overwhelming attritional nature of the battle, mostly based on Akram’s The Sword of Allah, I then concluded that 40,000 Byzantines against 24,000 Rashiduns is a ratio that is plausible but also appreciates Khalid’s abilities as a commander. Based on the feedback I have received for this animation, I believe my decisions were more than satisfactory.
- Jonathan Webb
Akram, Agha Ibrahim. The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed - His Life and Campaigns. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Donner, Fred McGraw. The Early Islamic Conquests. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981.
Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Fratini, Dan. “The Battle of Yarmuk, 636.” http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/muslimwars/articles/yarmuk.aspx (Nov. 3, 2008).
Kaegi, Walter Emil. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Kennedy, Hugh. The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007.
Regan, Geoffrey. The Guinness Book of Decisive Battles. New York: Canopy, 1992.
Byzantine cavalry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_91_figure_1.htm
Byzantine infantry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_91_figure_1.htm
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
Map of Western Eurasia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Persia_600ad.jpg
Rashidun cavalry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_96_figure_1.htm
Rashidun infantry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_100_figure_1.htm
Tags: 600s, Byzantines, cavalry, envelopment of a single flank, envelopment of both flanks, indirect approach, infantry, Khalid ibn al-Walid, land, Medieval Era, modern day Jordan, penetration of the center, Rashiduns, Season 2, Vahan, Western Asia
Weider History Group