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Siege of Damascus, 635 animated battle map

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Khalid ibn al-Walid versus Thomas: A Byzantine garrison under Thomas defies the will of a Rashidun army under Khalid. If a Byzantine relief force does not defeat Khalid, can Thomas maintain the support of the city’s inhabitants and break the siege himself? Click on images below to view PowerPoint presentation. | Legend |
This siege helped the Rashiduns establish themselves in the region and provoked a heavy-handed Byzantine response, eventually leading to the sought decisive victory at Yarmuk. However, this siege draws glory away from the Rashidun achievements due to the attention it brings to various inconsistencies in Arab accounts. Unlike other battles in which the strengths of each army may be inflated or deflated, Damascus is much more vacillating. For one, the estimated length of the siege varies from 4 to 14 months (Donner, 1981: 132), further complicating the already muddled timeline of Rashidun conquests. Khalid may not have even be the commander-in-chief of the Rashidun force (Donner, 1981: 131). Burns argues the true events during the siege have been “lost in the thicket of legends” (2005: 99). While this last statement may an exaggeration, a critique of medieval historians adding tales of personal achievements and failures, it reinforces the idea that history is subjective and must be scrutinized.
Khalid’s execution of this siege was sound enough to capture the city but we must be impressed by Thomas’ skillful handling of such a difficult situation. Typically, the defeat of the relief army is enough to force a besieged city to surrender but Thomas was able to scrape up enough morale from the city’s garrison to nearly defeat Shurahbil’s corps and break the siege. More impressively, even when the city was irrevocably captured by force from the east, Thomas was able to save his city from the sword by allowing Abu Ubaida’s corps to enter the city from the west, resulting in a heated argument over how the city was captured. Thomas not only attacked the dilemma he faced when the Rashiduns broke through and saved the garrison. He also attacked history; by generating such conflicting accounts at the time of the battle, he helped to discredit Arab accounts as a whole. While Arab accounts of this time period are not “heavily discounted” as some may suggest (Burns, 2005: 99), Thomas harmed their reputation with his actions.
This time I was not surprised by the interest generated by this engagement from the Arab conquests. Once again, I relied primarily on Akram’s account (1970), leaving out superfluous details that may be more myth than fact, and stiffened the validity of his account with others. Despite my issues with Arab accounts, I feel my animation of this siege is fairly accurate. If anyone is interested, Akram’s work covering Khalid’s military career is freely accessible online here.
– Jonathan Webb
Works Consulted
Akram, Agha Ibrahim. The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed – His Life and Campaigns. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Burns, Ross. Damascus: A History. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Donner, Fred McGraw. The Early Islamic Conquests. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981.
Kaegi, Walter Emil. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Nicolle, David. Yarmuk AD 636: Muslim Conquest of Syria. Oxford: Osprey, 1994.

Byzantine infantry:
Rashidun cavalry:
Rashidun infantry:

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  1. One Comment to “Siege of Damascus, 635 animated battle map”

  2. Interesting how the war is still fought in the history books well after the battle has faded into the ether of time.

    By Kien Tran on Dec 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm

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