Battle of Bosra
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|Battle of Bosra|
|Part of the Arab–Byzantine Wars and
the campaigns of Khalid ibn al-Walid
Roman theatre of Bosra
|Rashidun Caliphate||Byzantine Empire,
|Commanders and leaders|
|Khalid ibn al-Walid||Heraclius,
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Bosra was fought in 634 between the Rashidun Caliphate army and the Byzantine Empire for the possession of Bosra, in Syria. The city, then capital of the Ghassanid kingdom, a Byzantine vassal, was the first important one to be captured by the Islamic forces. The siege lasted between June and July 634.
Caliph Abu Bakr sent his four corps under Amr ibn al-A'as, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Shurahbil bin Hasana and Yazid bin Abu Sufyan and appointed for them different districts of Syria to capture. They were unable to get significant success in their goals and were in great pressure because of concentration of the Byzantine army at Ajnadayn. Abu Bakr therefore decided to send Khalid ibn Walid,The conqueror of Iraq, to Syria to command the Rashidun army there.Khalid ibn Walid reached Syria and capturing town to town he finally reached the city of Bosra in June 634 A.C. According to his instructions Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah who had already occupied the District of Hauran which lay north-east of the river Yarmuk, was to remain at his position until Khalid arrived at Bosra. Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah had three corps of the Muslim army under his command - his own, Yazid's and Shurahbil's, but he had fought no battles and captured no towns. One place which worried him a great deal was Bosra, a large town which was the capital of the Ghassanid Kingdom.It was garrisoned by a strong force of Byzantine and Christian Arabs under the command of Roman officers.
While Khalid was clearing the region of Eastern Syria, Abu Ubaidah came to know that he would come under Khalid's command upon the latter's arrival. He decided to take Bosra quickly.He therefore sent Shurahbil with 4,000 men to capture Bosra. Shurahbil marched to Bosra, the garrison of which withdrew into the fortified town as soon as the Muslims appeared in sight. This garrison consisted of 4,000 soldiers, but expecting that more Muslim forces would soon arrive and that Shurahbil's detachment was only an advance guard, it remained within the walls of the fort. Shurahbil camped on the western side of the town, and positioned groups of his men all round the fort.
For two days nothing happened. The following day, as Khalid ibn al-Walid set out on the last day of his march to Bosra, the garrison of the town came out to give battle to the Muslims outside the city. Both forces formed up for battle; but first there were talks between Shurahbil and the Roman commander, at which the Muslim offered the usual choices: Islam, tribute, or the sword. The Romans chose the sword, and in the middle of the morning the battle began.
For the first two hours or so the fighting continued at a steady pace with neither side making any headway; but soon after midday, the superior strength of the Romans began to tell and the battle turned in their favors. The Romans were able to move forces around both Muslim flanks, and the fighting increased in intensity. The temper of the Muslims became suicidal as the real danger of their position became evident and they fought ferociously to avoid encirclement, which appeared to be the Roman design. By early afternoon the Roman wings had moved further forward, and the encirclement of Shurahbil's force became a virtual certainty. Then suddenly the combatants became aware of a powerful force of cavalry galloping in mass towards the battlefield from the northwest.
Khalid was about a mile from Bosra when the wind carried the sounds of battle to him. He immediately ordered the men to horse, and as soon as the cavalry was ready, led it a gallop towards the battlefield. But Khalid and the Romans never met. As soon as the Romans discovered the arrival of the Muslims Cavalry, they broke contact from Shurahbil and withdrew hastily into the fort. The Muslims under Shurahbil came to regard this occurrence as a miracle: the Khalid had been sent to save them from destruction!
The next morning, the Byzantine garrison again came out of the fort to give battle. The shock of Khalid's arrival the previous day had now worn off, and seeing that the combined strength of the Muslims was about the same as their own, the Romans decided to try their luck again. They also hoped to fight and defeat the Muslims before they could get a rest after their march.
The two armies formed up for battle on the plain outside the town. Khalid kept the center of the Rashidun army under his own command, appointing Rafay bin Umayr as the commander of the right wing and Dharar bin Al Azwar as the commander of the left wing. In front of the center, he placed a thin screen under Abdur-Rahman bin Abu Bakr (son of the Caliph Abu Bakr). At the very start of the battle, Abdur-Rahman dueled with the Roman army commander and defeated him. As the Roman general fled to the safety of the Roman ranks, Khalid launched a general attack along the entire front. For some time the Romans resisted bravely, while the commanders of the Muslim wings played havoc with the opposing wings, especially Dharar, who now established a personal tradition which would make him famous in Syria - adored by the Muslims, and dreaded by the Romans. Because of the heat of the day, he took off his coat of mail; and this made him feel lighter and happier. Then he took off his shirt and became naked above the waist. This made him feel even lighter and even happier. In this half naked condition Dharar launched his assaults against the Romans and slaughtered all who faced him in single combat. Within a week, stories of the Naked Champion would spread over Syria, and only the bravest of Romans would feel inclined to face him in combat.
After some fighting, the Byzantine army broke contact and withdrew into the fort. At this time Khalid was fighting on foot in front of his centre. As he turned to give orders for the commencement of the siege, he saw a horseman approaching through the ranks of the Muslims. It was Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah and with him was a yellow standard and is believed to have been the standard of the Muhammad at the Battle of Khaybar. This was the man who had been placed under the command of Khalid. He gave that standard to Khalid ibn al-Walid and he took it saying.
"By Allah," said Khalid, "but for the necessity of obeying the orders of the Caliph, I would never have accepted this command over you. You are much higher than me in Islam. I am a Companion of [Muhammad], but you are one whom [Muhammad] had called 'the trusted one of this nation."
The Muslims now laid siege to Bosra. The Byzantine commander lost hope, for he knew that most of the available reserves had either moved or were moving to Ajnadayn, and doubted that any help would be forthcoming. After a few days of inactivity, he surrendered the fort peacefully. The only condition Khalid bin Walid imposed on Bosra was the payment of the tribute. This surrender took place in about the middle of July 634.
Romanus's conversion to Islam
Another version of the battle of Bosra records the conversion to Islam one of the commanders of the Byzantine force, Romanus. The conversion occurred after the arrival of Khalid's reinforcements to Bosra during pre-battle melee. This conversion made night infiltration into the Bosra fortification possible under the guide of Romanus, hence enabling the Muslim army to inflict disproportionate numbers of casualties when compared to their own among the Byzantines forces.
The battle was preceded by a call for personal combat between the commanders of the armies. Khalid stepped forward from the Muslim ranks and out of the Byzantine ranks their commander Romanus stepped forward. Before dueling, Khalid offered Islam to Romanus, and surprisingly enough, Romanus after asking a few questions about Islam, declared the article of faith and became a Muslim. He crossed over to the Muslim camp.
From the Muslim camp, Romanus addressed the Byzantines in the following terms:
O ye, enemies of God and His prophet. You must not forget that I have accepted the true faith of Islam to please God. Now no common ties exist between you and me, either in this world, or in the world hereafter. I deny him who was crucified, and sever any connections with his followers. I choose Allah for my Lord, and Muhammad (peace be on him) as my Prophet, the Ka'abah as my sanctuary, and the Muslims as my brethren. In sooth, I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. He has no partner, and Muhammad (peace be on him) is His prophet, whom He selected to direct mankind to the right way. I am fully convinced that God would exalt the true religion of Islam over the religion of those who join partners with His Divinity.
The conversion of Romanus to Islam unnerved the Byzantine forces, and instead of giving the fight, they withdrew to the city and shut the gates against the Muslims. That night, Romanus led a Muslim detachment to a subterranean passage under the ramparts of the city. This contingent was led by Abdur Rahman, the son of Abu Bakr. This contingent entered the city through the underground passage and then dashing towards the city gates opened them for the main Muslim army to enter. The Muslim forces attacked right and left, raising the cries of "Allah-u-Akbar". The Byzantines were slaughtered in thousands and the survivors laid down arms. The citizens of Bosra agreed to pay the jizya tax, and thereupon a peace pact was drawn up.
Consequences of the conquest of Bosra were: The conquest of Bosra in the second week of July 634 was the first important victory gained by the Muslims in Syria. The Muslims lost 130 men in the battle, while the Byzantines suffered several thousand casualties. The conquest of Bosra opened, for the Muslims the gate for the conquest of Syria.
Khalid bin Walid wrote to Caliph Abu Bakr, informing him of the progress of his operations since his entry into Syria, and sent one-fifth of the spoils which had been won during the past few weeks. Hardly had Bosra surrendered when an agent sent by Shurahbil to the region of Ajnadayn returned to inform the Muslims that the concentration of Roman legions was proceeding apace. Soon they would have a vast army of 90,000 imperial soldiers at Ajnadayn. Khalid ibn Walid ordered all the Muslim corps in Syria to concentrate at Ajnadayn and defeated the Byzantine army in the Battle of Ajnadayn.
- Edward Gibbon (1788). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 5.
- Al- Waqidi: page no: 23
- Akram, A.I. (1970). A.I. Akram The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns. Rawalpindi: Nat. Publishing. ISBN 0-7101-0104-X.
- Romanus conversion to Islam www.witness-pioneer.org
- Romanus conversion in revolt against a city that rejected him is recorded in Chapter LI (pp 303-304) of "The history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire" By Edward Gibbon, Published 1862 (E. Claxton & co.) and available on Google Books. The relevant part is marked "Siege of Bosra".