Preliminary notice of Arabia and the Arabs
Birth and parentage of Mohammed.—His infancy and childhood.
Traditions concerning Mecca and the Kaaba.
First journey of Mohammed with the caravan to Syria.
Commercial occupations of Mohammed.—His marriage with Khadijah.
Conduct of Mohammed after his marriage.—Becomes anxious for religious reform.—His habits of solitary abstraction.—The vision of the cave.— His annunciation as a prophet.
Mohammed inculcates his doctrines secretly and slowly.—Receives further revelations and commands.—Announces it to his kindred.—Manner in which it was received.—Enthusiastic devotion of Ali.—Christian portents.
Outlines of the Mohammedan faith.
Ridicule cast on Mohammed and his doctrines.—Demand for miracles.—Conduct of Abu Taleb.—Violence of the Koreishites.—Mohammed’s daughter Rokaia, with her uncle Othman and a number of disciples, take refuge in Abyssinia.—Mohammed in the house of Orkham.—Hostility of Abu Jahl; his punishment.
Omar Ibn al Kattâb, nephew of Abu JahI, undertakes to revenge his uncle by slaying Mohammed.—His wonderful conversion to the faith.— Mohammed takes refuge in a castle of Abu Taleb.—Abu Sofian, at the head of the rival branch of the Koreishites, persecutes Mohammed and his followers.—Obtains a decree of non-intercourse with them.—Mohammed leaves his retreat and makes converts during the month of pilgrimage.—Legend of the conversion of Habib the Wise.
The ban of non-intercourse mysteriously destroyed.—Mohammed enabled to return to Mecca.—Death of Abu Taleb; of Khadijah.—Mohammed betroths himself to Ayesha.—Marries Sawda.—The Koreishites renew their persecution.— Mohammed seeks an asylum in Tayef.—His expulsion thence.—Visited by genii in the desert of Naklah.
Night journey of the prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem; and thence to the seventh heaven.
Mohammed makes converts of pilgrims from Medina.—Determines to fly to that city.—A plot to slay him.—His miraculous escape.—His Hegira, or flight.— His reception at Medina.
Moslems in Medina, Mohadjerins and Ansarians.—The party of Abdallah Ibn Obba and the Hypocrites.—Mohammed builds a mosque; preaches; makes converts among the Christians.—The Jews slow to believe.—Brotherhood established between fugitives and allies.
Marriage of Mohammed with Ayesha.—Of his daughter Fatima with Ali.—Their household arrangements.
The sword announced as the instrument of faith.—First foray against the Koreishites.—Surprisal of a caravan.
The battle of Beder.
Death of the prophet’s daughter Rokaia.—Restoration of his daughter Zeinab. Effect of the prophet’s malediction on Abu Lahab and his family.—Frantic rage of Henda, the wife of Abu Sofian.—Mohammed narrowly escapes assassination.—Embassy of the Koreishites.—The King of Abyssinia.
Growing power of Mohammed.—His resentment against the Jews—Insult to an Arab damsel by the Jewish tribe of Kainoka.—A tumult.—The Beni Kainoka takes refuge in their castle.— Subdued amid punished by confiscation and banishment.—Marriage of Othman to the prophet’s daughter Omm Kalthum, and of the prophet to Hafza.
Henda incites Abu Sofian and the Koreishites to revenge the death of her relations slain in the battle of Beder.—The Koreishites sally forth, followed by Henda and her female companions.—Battle of Ohod.—Ferocious triumph of Henda.—Mohammed consoles himself by marrying Hend, the daughter of Omeya.
Treachery of certain Jewish tribes; their punishment.—Devotion of the prophet’s freedman Zeid; divorces his beautiful wife Zeinab, that she may become the wife of the prophet.
Expedition of Mohammed against the Beni Mostalek.—He espouses Barra, a captive.—Treachery of Abdallah Ibn Obba.—Ayesha slandered.—Her vindication.—Her innocence proved by a revelation.
The battle of the Moat.—Bravery of Saad Ibn Moad.—Defeat of the Koreishites.—Capture of the Jewish castle of Coraida.—Saad decides as to the punishment of the Jews.—Mohammed espouses Rehana, a Jewish captive.—His life endangered by sorcery; saved by a revelation of the angel Gabriel.
Mohammed undertakes a pilgrimage to Mecca.—Evades Khaled and a troop of horse sent against him.—Encamps near Mecca.—Negotiates with the Koreishites for permission to enter and complete his pilgrimage.—Treaty for ten years, by which he is permitted to make a yearly visit of three days.—He returns to Medina.
Expedition against the city of Khaibar; siege.—Exploits of Mohammed’s captains.—Battle of Ali and Marhab.—Storming of the citadel.—Ali makes a buckler of the gate.—Capture of the place.—Mohammed poisoned; he marries Safiya, a captive; also Omm Habiba, a widow.
Missions to various princes; to Heraclius; to Khosru II.; to the Prefect of Egypt.—Their result.
Mohammed’s pilgrimage to Mecca; his marriage with Maimuna.—Khaled Ibn al Waled and Amru Ibn al Aass become proselytes.
A Moslem envoy slain in Syria.—Expedition to avenge his death.—Battle of Muta.—Its results.
Designs upon Mecca.—Mission of Abu Sofian.—Its result.
Surprise and capture of Mecca.
Hostilities in the mountains.—Enemy’s camp in the valley of Autas.—Battle at the pass of Honein.—Capture of the enemy’s camp.—Interview of Mohammed with the nurse of his childhood.—Division of spoil.—Mohammed at his mother’s grave.
Death of the prophet’s daughter Zeinab.—Birth of his son Ibrahim.—Deputations from distant tribes.—Poetical contest in presence of the prophet.— His susceptibility to the charms of poetry.—Reduction of the city of Tayef; destruction of its idols.—Negotiation with Amir Ibn Tafiel, a proud Bedouin chief; independent spirit of the latter.—Interview of Adi, another chief, with Mohammed.
Preparations for an expedition against Syria.—Intrigues of Abdallah Ibn Obba.—Contributions of the faithful.—March of the army.—The accursed region of Hajar.—Encampment at Tabuc.—Subjugation of the neighboring provinces.—Khaled surprises Okaidor and his castle.—Return of the army to Medina.
Triumphal entry into Medina.—Punishment of those who had refused to join the campaign.—Effects of excommunication.—Death of Abdallah Ibu Obba.—Dissensions in the prophet’s harem.
Abu Beker conducts the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.—Mission of Ali to announce a revelation.
Mohammed sends his captains on distant enterprises.—Appoints lieutenants to govern in Arabia Felix.—Sends Ali to suppress an insurrection in that province.—Death of the prophet’s only son Ibrahim.—His conduct at the deathbed and the grave.—His growing infirmities.—His valedictory pilgrimage to Mecca, and his conduct and preaching while there.
Of the two false prophets Al Aswad and Moseilma.
An army prepared to march against Syria.—Command given to Osama.—The prophet’s farewell address to the troops.—His last illness.—His sermons in the mosque.—His death and the attending circumstances.
Person and character of Mohammed, and speculations on his prophetic career.
Of the Islam Faith.
Election of Abu Beker, first Caliph, Hegira 11th, A.D. 632.
Moderation of Abu Beker.—Traits of his character.—Rebellion of Arab tribes.—Defeat and death of Malec Ibn Nowirah.—Harsh measures of Khaled condemned by Omar, but excused by Abu Beker.—Khaled defeats Moseilma the false prophet.—Compilation of the Koran.
Campaign against Syria.—Army sent under Yezed Ibn Abu Sofian.—Successes.—Another army under Amru Ibn al Aass.—Brilliant achievements of Khaled in lrak.
Incompetency of Abu Obeidab to the general command in Syria.—Khaled sent to supersede him.—Peril of the Moslem army before Bosra.—Timely arrival of Khaled.—His exploits during the siege.—Capture of Bosra.
Khaled lays siege to Damascus.
Siege of Damascus continued.—Exploits of Derar.—Defeat of the imperial army.
Siege of Damascus continued.—Sally of the garrison.—Heroism of the Moslem women.
Battle of Aiznadin.
Occurrences before Damascus.—Exploits of Thomas.—Aban Ibn Zeid and his Amazonian wife.
Surrender of Damascus.—Disputes of the Saracen generals.—Departure of Thomas and the exile.
Story of Jonas and Eudocea.—Pursuit of the exiles.—Death of the Caliph Abu Beker.
Election of Omar, second Caliph.—Khaled superseded in command by Abu Obeidah.—Magnanimous conduct of those generals.—Expedition to the convent of Abyla.
Moderate measures of Abu Obeidah.—Reproved by the Caliph for his slowness.
Siege and capture of Baalbec.
Siege of Emessa.—Stratagems of the Moslems.—Fanatic devotion of Ikremah.—Surrender of the city.
Advance of a powerful Imperial army.—Skirmishes of Khaled.—Capture of Derar.—Interview of Khaled and Manuel.
The battle of Yermouk.
Siege and capture of Jerusalem.
Progress of the Moslem arms in Syria.—Siege of Aleppo.—Obstinate defense by Youkenna.—Exploit of Damas.—Capture of the castle.—Conversion of Youkenna.
Perfidy of Youkenna to his former friends.—Attempts the castle of Aazaz by treachery.—Capture of the castle.
Intrigues of Youkenna at Antioch.—Siege of that city by the Moslems.—Flight of the emperor to Constantinople.—Surrender of Antioch.
Expedition into the mountains of Syria.—Story of a miraculous cap.
Expedition of Amru Ibn al Aass against Prince Constantine in Syria.—Their conference.—Capture of Tripoli and Tyre.—Flight of Constantine.—Death of Khaled.
Invasion of Egypt by Amru.—Capture of Memphis.—Siege and surrender of Alexandria.—Burning of the Alexandrian library.
Enterprises of the Moslems in Persia.—Defense of the kingdom by Queen Arzemia.—Battle of the Bridge.
Mosenna Ibn Haris ravages the country along the Euphrates.—Death of Arzemia.—Yezdegird III. raised to the throne.—Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs given the general command.—Death of Mosenna.—Embassy to Yezdegird.—Its reception.
The battle of Kadesia.
Founding of Bassora.—Capture of the Persian capital.—Flight of Yezdegird to Holwân.
Capture of Jâlulâ.—Flight of Yezdegird to Rei.—Founding of Cufa.—Saad receives a severe rebuke from the Caliph for his magnificence.
War with Hormuzân, the Satrap of Ahwâz.—His conquest and conversion.
Saad suspended from the command.—A Persian army assembled at Nehâvend.—Council at the mosque of Medina.—Battle of Nehâvend.
Capture of Hamadân; of Rei.—Subjugation of Tabaristan; of Azerbijân.—Campaign among the Caucasian mountains.
The Caliph Omar assassinated by a fire-worshipper.—His character.—Othman elected Caliph.
Conclusion of the Persian conquest.—Flight and death of Yezdegird.
Amru displaced from the government of Egypt.—Revolt of the inhabitants.— Alexandria retaken by the Imperialists.—Amru reinstated in command.—Retakes Alexandria, and tranquillizes Egypt.—Is again displaced.—Abdallah Ibn Saad invades the north of Africa.
Moawyah, Emir of Syria.—His naval victories.—Othman loses the prophet’s ring.—Suppresses erroneous copies of the Koran.—Conspiracies against him.—His death.
Candidates for the Caliphat.—Inauguration of Ali, fourth Caliph.—He undertakes measures of reform.—Their consequences.—Conspiracy of Ayesha.—She gets possession of Bassora.
Ali defeats the rebels under Ayesha.—His treatment of her.
Battles between Ali and Moawyah.—Their claims to the Caliphat left to arbitration; the result.—Decline of the power of Ali.—Loss of Egypt.
Preparations of Ali for the Invasion of Syria.—His assassination.
Succession of Hassan, fifth Caliph.—He abdicates in favor of Moawyah.
Reign of Moawyah I., sixth Caliph.—Account of his illegitimate brother Zeyad.—Death of Amru.
Siege of Constantinople.—Truce with the emperor.—Murder of Hassan.—Death of Ayesha.
Moslem conquests in Northern Africa.—Achievements of Acbah; his death.
Moawyah names his successor.—His last acts and death.—Traits of his character.
Succession of Yezid, seventh Caliph.—Final fortunes of Hosein, the son of Ali.
Insurrection of Abdallah Ibn Zobeir.—Medina taken and sacked.—Mecca besieged.—Death of Yezid.
Inauguration of Moawyah II., eighth Caliph.—His abdication and death. —Merwan Ibn Hakem and Abdallah Ibn Zobeir, rival Caliphs.—Civil wars in Syria.
State of affairs in Khorassan.—Conspiracy at Cufa.—Faction of the Penitents; their fortunes.—Death of the Caliph Merwân.
Inauguration of Abd’almâlec, the eleventh Caliph.—Story of Al Moktar, the Avenger.
Musab Ibn Zobeir takes possession of Babylonia.—Usurpation of Amru Ibn Saad; his death.—Expedition of Abd’almâlec against Musab.—The result.—Omens; their effect upon Abd’almâlec.—Exploits of Al Mohalleb.
Abd’almâlec makes war upon his rival Caliph in Mecca.—Siege of the sacred city.—Death of Abdallah.—Demolition and reconstruction of the Kaaba.
Administration of Al Hejagi as emir of Babylonla.
Renunciation of tribute to the emperor.—Battles in Northern Africa.—The prophet queen Cahina; her achievements and fate.
Musa lbn Nosseyr made emir of Northern Africa.—His campaigns against the Berbers.
Naval enterprises of Musa.—Cruisings of his son Abdolola.—Death of Abd’almâlec.
Inauguration of Waled, twelfth Caliph.—Revival of the arts under his reign.— His taste for architecture.—Erection of mosques.—Conquests of his generals.
Further triumphs of Musa Ibn Nosseyr.—Naval enterprises.—Descents in Sicily, Sardinia and Mallorca.—Invasion of Tingitania.—Projects for the invasion of Spain.—Conclusion.
It is the intention of the author in the following pages to trace the progress of the Moslem dominion from the death of Mohammed, in A.D. 622, to the invasion of Spain, in A.D. 710. In this period, which did not occupy fourscore and ten years, and passed within the lifetime of many an aged Arab, the Moslems extended their empire and their faith over the wide regions of Asia and Africa, subverting the empire of the Khosrus, subjugating great territories in India, establishing a splendid seat of power in Syria, dictating to the conquered kingdom of the Pharaohs, overrunning the whole northern coast of Africa, scouring the Mediterranean with their ships, carrying their conquests in one direction to the very walls of Constantinople, and in another to the extreme limits of Mauritania; in a word, trampling down all the old dynasties which once held haughty and magnificent sway in the East. The whole presents a striking instance of the triumph of fanatic enthusiasm over disciplined valor, at a period when the invention of firearms had not reduced war to a matter of almost arithmetical calculation. There is also an air of wild romance about many of the events recorded in this narrative, owing to the character of the Arabs, and their fondness for stratagems, daring exploits, and individual achievements of an extravagant nature. These have sometimes been softened, if not suppressed, by cautious historians; but the author has found them so in unison with the people and the times, and with a career of conquest, of itself out of the bounds of common probability, that be has been induced to leave them in all their graphic force.
Those who have read the life of Mohammed will find in the following pages most of their old acquaintances again engaged, but in a vastly grander field of action; leading armies, subjugating empires, and dictating from the palaces and thrones of deposed potentates.
In constructing his work, which is merely intended for popular use, the author has adopted a form somewhat between biography and chronicle, admitting of personal anecdote, and a greater play of familiar traits and peculiarities than is considered admissible in the stately walk of history. His ignorance of the oriental languages has obliged him to take his materials at second hand, where be could have wished to read them in the original; such, for instance, has been the case with the accounts given by the Arabian writer, Al Wakidi, of the conquest of Syria, and especially of the siege of Damascus, which retain much of their dramatic spirit even in the homely pages of Ockley. To this latter writer the author has been much indebted, as well as to the Abbé de Marigny’s History of the Arabians, and to D’Herbelot’s Bibliotheque Orientale. In fact his pages are often a mere digest of facts already before the public, but divested of cumbrous diction and uninteresting details. Some, however, are furnished from sources recently laid open, and not hitherto wrought into the regular web of history.
In his account of the Persian conquest, the author has been much benefited by the perusal of the Gemaldesaal of the learned Hammer-Purgstall, and by a translation of the Persian historian Tabari, recently given to the public through the pages of the Journal of the American Oriental Society, by Mr. John P. Brown, dragoman of the United States legation at Constantinople.
In the account of the Moslem conquests along the northern coast of Africa, of which so little is known, he has gleaned many of his facts from Conde’s Domination of the Arabs in Spain, and from the valuable work on the same subject, recently put forth under the sanction of the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, by his estimable friend, Don Pascual de Gayangos, formerly Professor of Arabic in the Athenaeum of Madrid.
The author might cite other sources whence he has derived scattered facts; but it appears to him that he has already said enough on this point, about a work written more through inclination than ambition; and which, as before intimated, does not aspire to be consulted as authority, but merely to be read as a digest of current knowledge, adapted to popular use.
ELECTION OF ABU BEKER, FIRST CALIPH, HEGIRA 11, A.D. 632.
THE death of Mohammed left his religion without a head and his people without a sovereign; there was danger, therefore, of the newly formed empire falling into confusion. All Medina, on the day of his death, was in a kind of tumult, and nothing but the precaution of Osama Ibn Zeid in planting the standard before the prophet’s door, and posting troops in various parts, prevented popular commotions. The question was, on whom to devolve the reins of government? Four names stood prominent as having claims of affinity: Abu Beker, Omar, Othman, and Ali. Abu Beker was the father of Ayesha, the favorite wife of Mohammed. Omar was father of Hafsa, another of his wives, and the one to whose care he had confided the coffer containing the revelations of the Koran. Othman had married successively two of his daughters, but they were dead, and also their progeny. Ali was cousin german of Mohammed and husband of Fatima, his only daughter. Such were the ties of relationship to him of these four great captains. The right of succession, in order of consanguinity, lay with Ali; and his virtues and services eminently entitled him to it. On the first burst of his generous zeal, when Islamism was a derided and persecuted faith, he had been pronounced by Mohammed his brother, his vicegerent; he had ever since been devoted to him in word and deed, and had honored the cause by his magnanimity as signally as he had vindicated it by his valor. His friends, confiding in the justice of his claims, gathered round him in the dwelling of his wife Fatima, to consult about means of putting him quietly in possession of the government.
Other interests, however, were at work, operating upon the public mind. Abu Beker was held up, not merely as connected by marriage ties with the prophet, but as one of the first and most zealous of his disciples; as the voucher for the truth of his night journey; as his fellow-sufferer in persecution; as the one who accompanied him in his flight from Mecca; as his companion in the cave when they were miraculously saved from discovery; as his counsellor and co-operator in all his plans and undertakings; as the one in fact whom the prophet had plainly pointed out as his successor, by deputing him to officiate in his stead in the religious ceremonies during his last illness. His claims were strongly urged by his daughter Ayesha, who had great influence among the faithful; and who was stimulated not so much by zeal for her father, as by hatred of Ali, whom she had never forgiven for having inclined his ear to the charge of incontinence against her in the celebrated case entitled The False Accusation.
Omar also had a powerful party among the populace, who admired him for his lion-like demeanor, his consummate military skill, his straightforward simplicity, and dauntless courage. He also had an active female partisan in his daughter Hafsa.
While therefore Ali and his friends were in quiet counsel in the house of Fatima, many of the principal Moslems gathered together without their knowledge, to settle the question of succession. The two most important personages in this assemblage were Abu Beker and Omar. The first measure was to declare the supreme power not hereditary but elective; a measure which at once destroyed the claims of Ali on the score of consanguinity, and left the matter open to the public choice. This has been ascribed to the jealousy of the Koreishites of the line of Abd Schems; who feared, should Ali’s claims be recognized, that the sovereign power, like the guardianship of the Kaaba, might be perpetuated in the haughty line of Haschem. Some, however, pretend to detect in it the subtle and hostile influence of Ayesha.
A dispute now arose between the Mohadjerins or refugees from Mecca and the Ansarians or Helpers of Medina, as to the claims of their respective cities in nominating a successor to Mohammed. The former founded the claims of Mecca on its being the birthplace of the prophet, and the first in which his doctrines had been divulged; they set forward their own claims also as his townsmen, his relatives, and the companions of his exile. The Ansarians, on the other hand, insisted on the superior claims of Medina, as having been the asylum of the prophet, and his chosen residence; and on their own claims as having supported him in his exile, and enabled him to withstand and overcome his persecutors.
The dispute soon grew furious, and scimitars flashed from their scabbards, when one of the people of Medina proposed as a compromise that each party should furnish a ruler and the government have two heads. Omar derided the proposition with scorn. “Two blades,” said he, “cannot go into one sheath.” Abu Beker also remonstrated against a measure calculated to weaken the empire in its very infancy. He conjured the Moslems to remain under one head, and named Omar and Abu Obeidah as persons worthy of the office, and between whom they should choose. Abu Obeidah was one of the earliest disciples of Mohammed; he had accompanied him in his flight from Mecca, and adhered to him in all his fortunes.
The counsel of Abu Beker calmed for a time the turbulence of the assembly, but it soon revived with redoubled violence. Upon this Omar suddenly rose, advanced to Abu Beker, and hailed him as the oldest, best, and most thoroughly-tried of the adherents of the prophet, and the one most worthy to succeed him. So saying, he kissed his hand in token of allegiance, and swore to obey him as his sovereign.
This sacrifice of his own claims in favor of a rival struck the assembly with surprise, and opened their eyes to the real merits of Abu Beker. They beheld in him the faithful companion of the prophet, who had always been by his side. They knew his wisdom and moderation, and venerated his gray hairs. It appeared but reasonable that the man whose counsels had contributed to establish the government, should be chosen to carry it on. The example of Omar, therefore, was promptly followed, and Abu Beker was hailed as chief.
Omar now ascended the pulpit. “Henceforth,” said he, “if any one shall presume to take upon himself the sovereign power without the public voice, let him suffer death; as well as all who may nominate or uphold him.” This measure was instantly adopted, and thus a bar was put to the attempts of any other candidate.
The whole policy of Omar in these measures, which at first sight appears magnanimous, has been cavilled at as crafty and selfish. Abu Beker, it is observed, was well stricken in years, being about the same age with the prophet; it was not probable he would long survive. Omar trusted, therefore, to succeed in a little while to the command. His last measures struck at once at the hopes of Ali, his most formidable competitor; who, shut up with his friends in the dwelling of Fatima, knew nothing of the meeting in which his pretensions were thus demolished. Craft, however, we must observe, was not one of Omar’s characteristics, and was totally opposed to the prompt, stern, and simple course of his conduct on all occasions; nor did he ever show any craving lust for power. He seems ever to have been a zealot in the cause of Islam, and to have taken no indirect measures to promote it.
His next movement was, indicative of his straightforward cut-and-thrust policy. Abu Beker, wary and managing, feared there might be some outbreak on the part of Ali and his friends when they should hear of the election which had taken place. He requested Omar, therefore, to proceed with an armed band to the mansion of Fatima,, and maintain tranquillity in that quarter. Omar surrounded the house with his followers; announced to Ali the election of Abu Beker, and demanded his concurrence. Ali attempted to remonstrate, alleging his own claims; but Omar proclaimed the penalty of death decreed to all who should attempt to usurp the sovereign power in defiance of public will, and threatened to enforce it by setting fire to the house and consuming its inmates.
“Oh son of Khattâb!” cried Fatima reproachfully, “thou wilt not surely commit such an outrage!”
“Ay will I in very truth!” replied Omar, “unless ye all make common cause with the people.”
The friends of Ali were fain to yield, and to acknowledge the sovereignty of Abu Beker. Ali, however, held himself apart in proud and indignant reserve until the death of Fatima, which happened in the course of several months. He then paid tardy homage to Abu Beker, but, in so doing, upbraided him with want of openness and good faith in managing the election without his privity; a reproach which the reader will probably think not altogether unmerited. Abu Beker, however, disavowed all intrigue, and declared he had accepted the sovereignty merely to allay the popular commotion; and was ready to lay it down whenever a more worthy candidate could be found who would unite the wishes of the people.
Ali was seemingly pacified by this explanation; but he spurned it in his heart, and retired in disgust into the interior of Arabia, taking with him his two sons Hassan and Hosein, the only descendants of the prophet. From these have sprung a numerous progeny, who to this day are considered noble, and wear green turbans as the outward sign of their illustrious lineage.
MODERATION OF ABU BEKER—TRAITS OF HIS CHARACTER—REBELLION OF ARAB TRIBES—DEFEAT AND DEATH OF MALEC IBN NOWIRAH—HARSH MEASURES OF KHALED CONDEMNED BY OMAR, BUT EXCUSED BY ABU BEKER—KHALED DEFEATS MOSEILMA THE FALSE PROPHET—COMPILATION OF THE KORAN.
ON assuming the supreme authority, Abu Beker refused to take the title of king or prince; several of the Moslems hailed him as God’s vicar on earth, but he rejected the appellation; he was not the vicar of God, he said, but of his prophet, whose plans and wishes it was his duty to carry out and fulfill. “In so doing,” added he, “I will endeavor to avoid all prejudice and partiality. Obey me only so far as I obey God and the prophet. If I go beyond these bounds, I have no authority over you. If I err, set me right; I shall be open to conviction.”
He contented himself, therefore, with the modest title of Caliph, that is to say, successor, by which the Arab sovereigns have ever since been designated. They have not all, however, imitated the modesty of Abu Beker, in calling themselves successors of the prophet; but many, in after times, arrogated to themselves the title of Caliphs and Vicars of God, and his Shadow upon Earth. The supreme authority, as when exercised by Mohammed, united the civil and religious functions: the Caliph was sovereign and pontiff.
It may be well to observe, that the original name of the newly elected Caliph was Abdallah Athek Ibn Abu Kahafa. He was also, as we have shown, termed Al Seddek, or The Testifier to the Truth; from having maintained the verity of Mohammed’s nocturnal journey; but he is always named in Moslem histories, Abu Beker; that is to say, The Father of the Virgin; his daughter Ayesha being the only one of the prophet’s wives that came a virgin to his arms, the others having previously been in wedlock.
At the time of his election Abu Beker was about sixty-two years of age; tall, and well formed, though spare; with a florid complexion and thin beard, which would have been gray, but that he tinged it after the oriental usage. He was a man of great judgment and discretion, whose wariness and management at times almost amounted to craft; yet his purposes appear to have been honest and unselfish; directed to the good of the cause, not to his own benefit. In the administration of his office he betrayed nothing of sordid worldliness. Indifferent to riches, and to all pomps, luxuries, and sensual indulgencies, he accepted no pay for his services but a mere pittance, sufficient to maintain an Arab establishment of the simplest kind, in which all his retinue consisted of a camel and a black slave. The surplus funds accruing to his treasury he dispensed every Friday; part to the meritorious, the rest to the poor; and was ever ready, from his own private means, to help the distressed. On entering office he caused his daughter Ayesha to take a strict account of his private patrimony, to stand as a record against him should he enrich himself while in office.
Notwithstanding all his merits, however, his advent to power was attended by public commotions. Many of the Arabian tribes had been converted by the sword, and it needed the combined terrors of a conqueror and a prophet to maintain them in allegiance to the faith. On the death of Mohammed, therefore, they spurned at the authority of his successor, and refused to pay the Zacat, or religious contributions of tribute, tithes, and alms. The signal of revolt flew from tribe to tribe, until the Islam empire suddenly shrank to the cities of Mecca, Medina, and Tayef.
A strong body of the rebels even took the field and advanced upon Medina. They were led on by a powerful and popular Sheikh named Malec Ibn Nowirah. He was a man of high birth and great valor, an excellent horseman, and a distinguished poet; all great claims on Arab admiration. To these may be added the enviable fortune of having for wife the most beautiful woman in all Arabia.
Hearing of the approach of this warrior poet and his army, Abu Beker hastened to fortify the city, sending the women and children, the aged and infirm, to the rocks and caverns of the neighboring mountains.
But though Mohammed was dead, the sword of Islam was not buried with him; and Khaled Ibn Waled now stood forward to sustain the fame acquired by former acts of prowess. He was sent out against the rebels at the head of a hasty levy of four thousand five hundred men and eleven banners. The wary Abu Beker, with whom discretion kept an equal pace with valor, had a high opinion of the character and talents of the rebel chief, and hoped, notwithstanding his defection, to conquer him by kindness. Khaled was instructed, therefore, should Malec fall into his power, to treat him with great respect; to be lenient to the vanquished, and to endeavor, by gentle means, to win all back to the standard of Islam.
Khaled, however, was a downright soldier, who had no liking for gentle means. Having overcome the rebels in a pitched battle, he overran their country, giving his soldiery permission to seize upon the flocks and herds of the vanquished, and make slaves of their children.
Among the prisoners brought into his presence were Malec and his beautiful wife. The beauty of the latter dazzled the eyes even of the rough soldier, but probably hardened his heart against her husband.
“Why,” demanded he of Malec, “do you refuse to pay the Zacat?”
“Because I can pray to God without paying these exactions,” was the reply.
“Prayer, without alms, is of no avail,” said Khaled.
“Does your master say so?” demanded Malec haughtily.
“My master!” echoed Khaled, “and is he not thy master likewise? By Allah, I have a mind to strike off thy head!”
“Are these also the orders of your master?” rejoined Malec with a sneer.
“Again!” cried Khaled, in a fury; “smite off the head of this rebel.”
His officers interfered, for all respected the prisoner; but the rage of Khaled was not to be appeased.
“The beauty of this woman kills me,” said Malec, significantly, pointing to his wife.
“Nay!” cried Khaled, “it is Allah who kills thee because of thine apostasy.”
“I am no apostate,” said Malec; “I profess the true faith—”
It was too late; the signal of death had already been given. Scarce had the declaration of faith passed the lips of the unfortunate Malec, when his head fell beneath the scimitar of Derar Ibn al Azwar, a rough soldier after Khaled’s own heart.
This summary execution, to which the beauty of a woman was alleged as the main excitement, gave deep concern to Abu Beker, who remarked, that the prophet had pardoned even Wacksa, the Ethiop, the slayer of his uncle Hamza. when the culprit made profession of the faith. As to Omar, he declared that Khaled, according to the laws of the Koran, ought to be stoned to death for adultery, or executed for the murder of a Moslem. The politic Abu Beker, however, observed that Khaled had sinned through error rather than intention. “Shall I,” added he, “sheathe the sword of God? The sword which he himself has drawn against the unbelieving?”
So far from sheathing the sword, we find it shortly afterward employed in an important service. This was against the false prophet Moseilma, who, encouraged by the impunity with which, during the illness of Mohammed, he had been suffered to propagate his doctrines, had increased greatly the number of his proselytes and adherents, and held a kind of regal and sacerdotal sway over the important city and fertile province of Yamama, between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Persia.
There is quite a flavor of romance in the story of this imposter. Among those dazzled by his celebrity and charmed by his rhapsodical effusions, was Sedjah, wife of Abu Cahdla, a poetess of the tribe of Tamim, distinguished among the Arabs for her personal and mental charms. She came to see Moseilma in like manner as the Queen of Sheba came to witness the wisdom and grandeur of King Solomon. They were inspired with a mutual passion at the first interview, and passed much of their time together in tender, if not religious intercourse. Sedjah became a convert to the faith of her lover, and caught from him the imaginary gift of prophecy. He appears to have caught, in exchange, the gift of poetry, for certain amatory effusions, addressed by him to his beautiful visitant, are still preserved by an Arabian historian, and breathe all the warmth of the Song of Solomon.
This dream of poetry and prophecy was interrupted by the approach of Khaled at the head of a numerous army. Moseilma sallied forth to meet him with a still greater force. A battle took place at Akreba, not far from the capital city of Yamama. At the onset the rebels had a transient success, and twelve hundred Moslems bit the dust. Khaled, however, rallied his forces; the enemy were overthrown, and ten thousand cut to pieces. Moseilma fought with desperation, but fell covered with wounds. It is said his death-blow was given by Wacksa, the Ethiopian, the same who had killed Hamza, uncle of Mohammed, in the battle of Ohod, and that he used the self-same spear. Wacksa, since his pardon by Mohammed, had become a zealous Moslem.
The surviving disciples of Moseilma became promptly converted to Islamism under the pious but heavy hand of Khaled, whose late offense in the savage execution of Malec was completely atoned for by his victory over the false prophet. He added other services of the same military kind in this critical juncture of public affairs; reinforcing and co-operating with certain commanders who had been sent in different directions to suppress rebellions; and it was chiefly through his prompt and energetic activity that, before the expiration of the first year of the Caliphat, order was restored, and the empire of Islam re-established in Arabia.
It was shortly after the victory of Khaled over Moseilma that Abu Beker undertook to gather together, from written and oral sources, the precepts and revelations of the Koran, which hitherto had existed partly in scattered documents, and partly in the memories of the disciples and companions of the prophet. He was greatly urged to this undertaking by Omar, that ardent zealot for the faith. The latter had observed with alarm the number of veteran companions of the prophet who had fallen in the battle of Akreba. “In a little while,” said he, “all the living testifiers to the faith, who bear the revelations of it in their memories, will have passed away, and with them so many records of the doctrines of Islam.” He urged Abu Beker, therefore, to collect from the surviving disciples all that they remembered; and to gather together from all quarters whatever parts of the Koran existed in writing. The manner in which Abu Beker proceeded to execute this pious task has been noticed in the preceding volume; it was not, however, completed until under a succeeding Caliph.
CAMPAIGN AGAINST SYRIA—ARMY SENT UNDER YEZED IBN ABU SOFIAN — SUCCESSES — ANOTHER ARMY UNDER AMRU IBN AL AASS—BRILLIANT ACHIEVEMENTS OF KHALED IN IRAK.
THE rebel tribes of Arabia being once more brought into allegiance, and tranquillity established at home, Abu Beker turned his thoughts to execute the injunction of the prophet, to propagate the faith throughout the world, until all nations should be converted to Islamism, by persuasion or the sword. The moment was auspicious for such a gigantic task. The long and desolating wars between the Persian and Byzantine emperors, though now at an end, had exhausted those once mighty powers, and left their frontiers open to aggression. In the second year of his reign, therefore, Abu Beker prepared to carry out the great enterprise contemplated by Mohammed in his latter days—the conquest of Syria.
Under this general name, it should be observed, were comprehended the countries lying between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean, including Phoenicia and Palestine.* These countries, once forming a system of petty states and kingdoms, each with its own government and monarch, were now merged into the great Byzantine Empire, and acknowledged the sway of the emperor Heraclius at Constantinople.
* Syria, in its widest oriental acceptation, included likewise Mesopotamia, Chaldea and even Assyria, the whole forming what in Scriptural geography was denominated Aram.
Syria had long been a land of promise to the Arabs. They had known it for ages by the intercourse of the caravans, and had drawn from it their chief supplies of corn. It was a land of abundance. Part of it was devoted to agriculture and husbandry, covered with fields of grain, with vineyards and trees producing the finest fruits; with pastures well stocked with flocks and herds. On the Arabian borders it had cities, the rich marts of internal trade; while its seaports, though declined from the ancient splendor and pre-eminence of Tyre and Sidon, still were the staples of an opulent and widely extended commerce.
In the twelfth year of the Hegira, the following summons was sent by Abu Beker to the chiefs of Arabia Petrea and Arabia Felix.
“In the name of the Most Merciful God! Abdallah Athek Ibn Abu Kahafa to all true believers, health, happiness, and the blessing of God. Praise be to God, and to Mohammed his prophet! This is to inform you that I intend to send an army of the faithful into Syria, to deliver that country from the infidels, and I remind you that to fight for the true faith is to obey God!”
There needed no further inducement to bring to his standard every Arab that owned a horse or a camel, or could wield a lance. Every day brought some Sheikh to Medina at the head of the fighting men of his tribe, and before long the fields round the city were studded with encampments. The command of the army was given to Yezed Ibn Abu Sofian. The troops soon became impatient to strike their sunburnt tents and march. “Why do we loiter?” cried they: “all our fighting men are here; there are none more to come. The plains of Medina are parched and bare, there is no food for man or steed. Give us the word, and let us march for the fruitful land of Syria.”
Abu Beker assented to their wishes. From the brow of a hill he reviewed the army on the point of departure. The heart of the Caliph swelled with pious exultation as he looked down upon the stirring multitude, the glittering array of arms, the squadrons of horsemen, the lengthening line of camels, and called to mind the scanty handful that used to gather round the standard of the prophet. Scarce ten years had elapsed since the latter had been driven a fugitive from Mecca, and now a mighty host assembled at the summons of his successor, and distant empires were threatened by the sword of Islam. Filled with these thoughts, he lifted up his voice and prayed to God to make these troops valiant and victorious. Then giving the word to march, the tents were struck, the camels laden, and in a little while the army poured in a long continuous train over hill and valley.
Abu Beker accompanied them on foot on the first day’s march. The leaders would have dismounted and yielded him their steeds. “Nay,” said he, “ride on. You are in the service of Allah. As for me, I shall be rewarded for every step I take in his cause.”
His parting charge to Yezed, the commander of the army, was a singular mixture of severity and mercy.
“Treat your soldiers with kindness and consideration; be just in all your dealings with them, and consult their feelings and opinions. Fight valiantly, and never turn your back upon a foe. When victorious, harm not the aged, and protect women and children. Destroy not the palm-tree nor fruit-trees of any kind; waste not the cornfield with fire; nor kill any cattle excepting for food. Stand faithfully to every covenant and promise; respect all religious persons who live in hermitages, or convents, and spare their edifices. But should you meet with a class of unbelievers of a different kind, who go about with shaven crowns, and belong to the synagogue of Satan, be sure you cleave their skulls unless they embrace the true faith, or render tribute.”
Having received this summary charge, Yezed continued his march toward Syria, and the pious Caliph returned to Medina. The prayers which the latter had put up for the success of the army appeared to be successful. Before long a great cavalgada of horses, mules, and camels laden with booty poured into the gates of Medina. Yezed had encountered, on the confines of Syria, a body of troops detached by the emperor Heraclius to observe him, and had defeated them, killing the general and twelve hundred men. He had been equally successful in various subsequent skirmishes. All the booty gained in these actions had been sent to the Caliph, as an offering by the army of the first fruits of the harvest of Syria.
Abu Beker sent tidings of this success to Mecca and the surrounding country, calling upon all true believers to press forward in the career of victory, thus prosperously commenced. Another army was soon set on foot, the command of which was given to Seid Ibn Khaled. This appointment, however, not being satisfactory to Omar, whose opinions and wishes had vast weight at Medina, Ayesha prevailed on her father to invite Seid to resign, and to appoint in his place Amru Ibn al Aass; the same who in the early days of the faith ridiculed Mohammed and his doctrines in satirical verses, but who, since his conversion to Islamism, had risen to eminence in its service, and was one of its most valiant and efficient champions.
Such was the zeal of the Moslems in the prosecution of this holy war, that Seid Ibn Khaled cheerfully resigned his command and enlisted under the standard which he had lately reared.
At the departure of the army, Abu Beker, who was excellent at counsel, and fond of bestowing it, gave Amru a code of conduct for his government, admonishing him to live righteously, as a dying man in the presence of God, and accountable for all things in a future state. That he should not trouble himself about the private concerns of others, and should forbid his men all religious disputes about events and doctrines of the “times of ignorance;” that is to say; the times antecedent to Mohammed; but should enforce the diligent reading of the Koran, which contained all that was necessary for them to know.
As there would now be large bodies of troops in Syria, and various able commanders, Abu Beker in maturing the plan of his campaign assigned them different points of action. Amru was to draw towards Palestine; Abu Obeidah to undertake Emessa; Seid Ibn Abu Sofian, Damascus; and Serhil Ibn Hasan, the country about the Jordan. They were all to act as much as possible in concert, and to aid each other in case of need. When together they were all to be under the orders of Abu Obeidah, to whom was given the general command in Syria. This veteran disciple of the prophet stood high, as we have shown, in the esteem and confidence of Abu Beker, having been one of the two whom he had named as worthy of the Caliphat. He was now about fifty years of age; zealously devoted to the cause, yet one with whom the sword of faith was sheathed in meekness and humanity; perhaps the cautious Abu Beker thought his moderation would be a salutary check to the headlong valor of the fanatical soldiers of Islam.
While this grand campaign was put in operation against the Roman possessions in Syria, a minor force was sent to invade Irak. This province, which included the ancient Chaldea and the Babylonia of Ptolemy, was bounded on the east by Susiana or Khurzestan and the mountains of Assyria and Medea, on the north by part of Mesopotamia, on the west and south by the Deserts of Sham or Syria and by a part of Arabia Deserta. It was a region tributary to the Persian monarch, and so far as part of his dominions. The campaign in this quarter was confided to Khaled, of whose prowess Abu Beker had an exalted opinion, and who was at this time at the head of a moderate force in one of the rebellious provinces which he had brought into subjection. The Caliph’s letter to him was to the following effect. “Turn thee toward Arabian Irak! The conquest of Hira and Cufa is entrusted to thee. After the subjection of those lands, turn thee against Aila and subdue it with God’s help!”
Hira was a kingdom to the west of Babylonia, on the verge of the Syrian Desert; it had been founded by a race of Arabs, descendants of Kahtan, and had subsisted upward of six hundred years; the greater part of the time it had been under a line of princes of the house of Mondar; who acknowledged allegiance to the kings of Persia and acted as their lieutenants over the Arabs of Irak.
During the early part of the third century many Jacobite Christians had been driven by the persecutions and disorders of the Eastern Church to take refuge among the Arabs of Hira. Their numbers had been augmented in subsequent times by fugitives from various quarters, until, shortly before the birth of Mohammed, the king of Hira and all his subjects had embraced Christianity.
Much was said of the splendor of the capital, which bore the same name with the kingdom. Here were two palaces of extraordinary magnificence, the beauty of one of which, if Arabian legends speak true, was fatal to the architect; for the king, fearing that he might build one still more beautiful for some other monarch, had him thrown headlong from the tower.
Khaled acted with his usual energy and success in the invasion of this kingdom. With ten thousand men he besieged the city of Hira; stormed its palaces; slew the king in battle; subdued the kingdom; imposed on it an annual tribute of seventy thousand pieces of gold, the first tribute ever levied by Moslems on a foreign land, and sent the same with the son of the deceased king to Medina.
He next carried his triumphant arms against Aila, defeated Hormuz, the Persian governor, and sent his crown, with a fifth part of the booty, to the Caliph. The crown was of great value, being one of the first class of those worn by the seven vicegerents of the Persian “King of Kings.” Among the trophies of victory sent to Medina was an elephant. Three other Persian generals and governors made several attempts, with powerful armies, to check the victorious career of Khaled, but were alike defeated. City after city fell into his hands; nothing seemed capable of withstanding his arms. Planting his victorious standard on the bank of the Euphrates, he wrote to the Persian monarch, calling upon him to embrace the faith or pay tribute. “If you refuse both,” added he, “I will come upon you with a host who love death as much as you do life.”
The repeated convoys of booty sent by Khaled to Medina after his several victories, the sight of captured crowns and captured princes, and of the first tribute imposed on foreign lands, had excited the public exultation to an uncommon degree. Abu Beker especially took pride in his achievements; considering them proofs of his own sagacity and foresight, which he had shown in refusing to punish him with death when strongly urged to do so by Omar. As victory after victory was announced, and train after train laden with spoils crowded the gates of Medina, he joyed to see his anticipations so far outstripped by the deeds of this headlong warrior. “By Allah,” exclaimed he, in an ecstasy, “womankind is too weak to give birth to another Khaled.”
INCOMPETENCY OF ABU OBEIDAH TO THE GENERAL COMMAND IN SYRIA—KHALED SENT TO SUPERSEDE HIM—PERIL OF THE MOSLEM ARMY BEFORE BOSRA—TIMELY ARRIVAL OF KHALED—HIS EXPLOITS DURING THE SIEGE—CAPTURE OF BOSRA.
THE exultation of the Caliph over the triumphs in Irak was checked by tidings of a different tone from the army in Syria. Abu Obeidah, who had the general command, wanted the boldness and enterprise requisite to an invading general. A partial defeat of some of his troops discouraged him, and he heard with disquiet of vast hosts which the emperor Heraclius was assembling to overwhelm him. His letters to the Caliph partook of the anxiety and perplexity of his mind. Abu Beker, whose generally sober mind was dazzled at the time by the daring exploits of Khaled, was annoyed at finding that, while the latter was dashing forward in a brilliant career of conquest in Irak, Abu Obeidah was merely standing on the defensive in Syria. In the vexation of the moment he regretted that he had entrusted the invasion of the latter country to one who appeared to him a nerveless man; and he forthwith sent missives to Khaled ordering him to leave the prosecution of the war in Irak to his subordinate generals, and repair, in all haste, to aid the armies in Syria, and take the general command there. Khaled obeyed the orders with his usual promptness. Leaving his army under the charge of Mosenna Ibn Haris, he put himself at the head of fifteen hundred horse, and spurred over the Syrian borders to join the Moslem host, which he learned, while on the way, was drawing toward the Christian city of Bosra.
This city, the reader will recollect, was the great mart on the Syrian frontier, annually visited by the caravans, and where Mohammed, when a youth, had his first interview with Sergius, the Nestorian monk, from whom he was said to have received instructions in the Christian faith. It was a place usually filled with merchandise, and held out a promise of great booty; but it was strongly walled, its inhabitants were inured to arms, and it could at any time pour forth twelve thousand horse. Its very name, in the Syrian tongue, signified a tower of safety. Against this place Abu Obeidah had sent Serjabil Ibn Hasanah, a veteran secretary of Mohammed, with a troop of ten thousand horse. On his approach, Romanus, the governor of the city, notwithstanding the strength of the place and of the garrison, would fain have paid tribute, for he was dismayed by the accounts he had received of the fanatic zeal and irresistible valor of the Moslems, but his people were stout of heart, and insisted on fighting.
The venerable Serjabil, as he drew near to the city, called upon Allah to grant the victory promised in his name by his apostle; and to establish the truth of his unity by confounding its opposers. His prayers apparently were of no avail. Squadron after squadron of horsemen wheeled down from the gates of Bosra, attacked the Moslems on every side, threw them into confusion, and made great slaughter. Overwhelmed by numbers, Serjabil was about to order a retreat, when a great cloud of dust gave notice of another army at hand.
There was a momentary pause on both sides, but the shout of Allah Achbar! Allah Achbar! resounded through the Moslem host, as the eagle banner of Khaled was descried through the cloud. That warrior came galloping to the field, at the head of his troop of horsemen, all covered with dust. Charging the foe with his characteristic impetuosity, he drove them back to the city, and planted his standard before the walls.
The battle over, Serjabil would have embraced his deliverer, who was likewise his ancient friend, but Khaled regarded him reproachfully. “What madness possessed thee,” said he, “to attack with thy handful of horsemen a fortress girt with stone walls and thronged with soldiers?”
“I acted,” said Serjabil, “not for myself, but at the command of Abu Obeidah”
“Abu Obeidah,” replied Khaled, bluntly, “is a very worthy man, but he knows little of warfare.”
In effect the army of Syria soon found the difference between the commanders. The soldiers of Khaled, fatigued with a hard march, and harder combat, snatched a hasty repast, and throwing themselves upon the ground, were soon asleep. Khaled alone took no rest; but, mounting a fresh horse, prowled all night round the city and the camp, fearing some new irruption from the foe.
At daybreak he roused his army for the morning prayer. Some of the troops performed their ablutions with water, others with sand. Khaled put up the matin prayer; then every man grasped his weapon and sprang to horse, for the gates of Bosra were already pouring forth their legions. The eyes of Khaled kindled as he saw them prancing down into the plain and glittering in the rising sun. “These infidels,” said he, “think us weary and wayworn, but they will be confounded. Forward to the fight, for the blessing of Allah is with us!”
As the armies approached each other, Romanus rode in advance of his troops and defied the Moslem chief to single combat. Khaled advanced on the instant. Romanus, however, instead of levelling his lance, entered into a parley in an undertone of voice. He declared that he was a Mohammedan at heart, and had incurred great odium among the people of the place, by endeavoring to persuade them to pay tribute. He now offered to embrace Islamism, and to return and do his best to yield the city into the hands of the Moslems, on condition of security for life, liberty, and property.
Khaled readily consented to the condition, but suggested that they should exchange a few dry blows, to enable Romanus to return to the city with a better grace, and prevent a suspicion of collusion. Romanus agreed to the proposal, but with no great relish, for he was an arrant craven. He would fain have made a mere feint and flourish of weapons; but Khaled had a heavy hand and a kindling spirit, and dealt such hearty blows that he would have severed the other in twain, or cloven him to the saddle, had he struck with the edge instead of the flat of the sword.
“Softly, softly,” cried Romanus. “Is this what you call sham fighting; or do you mean to slay me?”
“By no means,” replied Khaled, “but we must lay on our blows a little roughly, to appear in earnest.”
Romanus, battered and bruised, and wounded in several places, was glad to get back to his army with his life. He now extolled the prowess of Khaled, and advised the citizens to negotiate a surrender; but they upbraided him with his cowardice, stripped him of his command, and made him a prisoner in his own house; substituting in his place the general who had come to them with reinforcements from the emperor Heraclius.
The new governor, as his first essay in command, sallied in advance of the army, and defied Khaled to combat. Abda’Irahman, son of the Caliph, a youth of great promise, begged of Khaled the honor of being his champion. His request being granted, he rode forth, well armed, to the encounter. The combat was of short duration. At the onset the governor was daunted by the fierce countenance of the youthful Moslem, and confounded by the address with which he managed his horse and wielded his lance. At the first wound he lost all presence of mind, and turning the reins endeavored to escape by dint of hoof. His steed was swiftest, and he succeeded in throwing himself into the midst of his forces. The impetuous youth spurred after him, cutting and slashing, right and left, and hewing his way with his scimitar.
Khaled, delighted with his valor, but alarmed at his peril, gave the signal for a general charge. To the fight! to the fight! Paradise! Paradise! was the maddening cry. Horse was spurred against horse; man grappled man. The desperate conflict was witnessed from the walls, and spread dismay through the city. The bells rang alarums, the shrieks of women and children mingled with the prayers and chants of priests and monks moving in procession through the streets.
The Moslems, too, called upon Allah for succor, mingling prayers and execrations as they fought. At length the troops of Bosra gave way: the squadrons that had sallied forth so gloriously in the morning were driven back in broken and headlong masses to the city; the gates were hastily swung to and barred after them; and, while they panted with fatigue and terror behind their bulwarks, the standards and banners of the cross were planted on the battlements, and couriers were sent off imploring reinforcements from the emperor.
Night closed upon the scene of battle. The stifled groans of wounded warriors, mingled with the wailings of women, and the prayers of monks and friars, were heard in the once joyful streets of Bosra; while sentinels walked the rounds of the Arab camp to guard it against the desperation of the foe.
Abda’lrahman commanded one of the patrols. Walking his round beneath the shadow of the city walls, he beheld a man come stealthily forth, the embroidery of whose garments, faintly glittering in the starlight, betrayed him to be a person of consequence. The lance of Abda’lrahman was at his breast, when he proclaimed himself to be Romanus, and demanded to be led to Khaled. On entering the tent of that leader he inveighed against the treatment he had experienced from the people of Bosra, and invoked vengeance. They had confined him to his house, but it was built against the wall of the city. He had caused his sons and servants, therefore, to break a hole through it, by which he had issued forth, and by which he offered to introduce a band of soldiers, who might throw open the city gates to the army.
His offer was instantly accepted, and Abda’lrahman was entrusted with the dangerous enterprise. He took with him a hundred picked men, and, conducted by Romanus, entered in the dead of night, by the breach in the wall, into the house of the traitor. Here they were refreshed with food, and disguised to look like the soldiers of the garrison. Abda’lrahman then divided them into four bands of twenty-five men each, three of which he sent in different directions, with orders to keep quiet until he and his followers should give the signal shout of Allah Achbar! He then requested Romanus to conduct him to the quarters of the governor, who had fled the fight with him that day. Under the guidance of the traitor he and his twenty-five men passed with noiseless steps through the streets. Most of the unfortunate people of Bosra had sunk to sleep; but now and then the groan of some wounded warrior, or the lament of some afflicted woman, broke the stillness of the night and startled the prowlers.
Arrived at the gate of the citadel, they surprised the sentinels, who mistook them for a friendly patrol, and made their way to the governor’s chamber. Romanus entered first, and summoned the governor to receive a friend.
“What friend seeks me at this hour of the night?”
“Thy friend Abda’lrahman,” cried Romanus with malignant triumph; “who comes to send thee to hell!”
The wretched poltroon would have fled. “Nay,” cried Abda’lrahman, “you escape me not a second time!” and with a blow of his scimitar laid him dead at his feet. He then gave the signal shout of Allah Achbar! It was repeated by his followers at the portal; echoed by the other parties in different quarters; the city gates were thrown open, the legions of Khaled and Serjabil rushed in, and the whole city resounded with the cries of Allah Achbar! The inhabitants, startled from their sleep, hastened forth to know the meaning of the uproar, but were cut down at their thresholds, and a horrible carnage took place until there was a general cry for quarter. Then, in compliance with one of the precepts of Mohammed, Khaled put a stop to the slaughter, and received the survivors under the yoke.
The savage tumult being appeased, the unhappy inhabitants of Bosra inquired as to the mode in which they had been surprised. Khaled hesitated to expose the baseness of Romanus; but the traitor gloried in his shame, and in the vengeance he had wreaked upon former friends. “’Twas I!” cried he, with demoniac exultation. “I renounce ye both in this world and the next. I deny him who was crucified, and despise his worshippers. I choose Islam for my faith, the Kaaba for my temple, the Moslems for my brethren, Mohammed for my prophet; and I bear witness that there is but one only God, who has no partner in his power and glory.”
Having made this full recantation of his old faith and profession of his new, in fulfillment of his traitorous compact, the apostate departed from Bosra, followed by the execrations of its inhabitants, among whom he durst no longer abide: and Khaled, although he despised him in his heart, appointed a guard to protect his property from plunder.
KHALED LAYS SIEGE TO DAMASCUS.
THE capture of Bosra increased the ambition and daring of the Moslems, and Khaled now aspired to the conquest of Damascus. This renowned and beautiful city, one of the largest and most magnificent of the East, and reputed to be the oldest in the world, stood in a plain of wonderful richness and fertility, covered with groves and gardens, and bounded by an amphitheatre of hills, the skirts of Mount Lebanon. A river called by the ancients Chrysorrhoa, or the stream of gold, flows through this plain, feeding the canals and water-courses of its gardens, and the fountains of the city.
The commerce of the place bespoke the luxuriance of the soil; dealing in wines, silks, wool, prunes, raisins, figs of unrivalled flavor, sweet scented waters and perfumes. The fields were covered with odoriferous flowers, and the rose of Damascus has become famous throughout the world. This is one of the few, the very few, cities famous in ancient times, which still retain a trace of ancient delights. “The citron,” says a recent traveller, “perfumes the air for many miles round the city; and the fig-trees are of vast size. The pomegranate and orange grow in thickets. There is the trickling of water on every hand. Wherever you go there is a trotting brook, or a full and silent stream beside the track; and you have frequently to cross from one vivid green meadow to another by fording, or by little bridges. These streams are all from the river beloved by Naaman of old. He might well ask whether the Jordan was better than Pharpar and Abana, the rivers of Damascus.”
In this city too were invented those silken stuffs called damask from the place of their origin, and those swords and scimitars proverbial for their matchless temper.
When Khaled resolved to strike for this great prize, he had but fifteen hundred horse, which had followed him from Irak, in addition to the force which he found with Serjabil; having, however, the general command of the troops in Syria, he wrote to Abu Obeidah to join him with his army, amounting to thirty-seven thousand men.
The Moslems, accustomed to the aridity of the desert, gazed with wonder and delight upon the rich plain of Damascus. As they wound in lengthening files along the banks of the shining river, through verdant and flowery fields, or among groves and vineyards and blooming gardens, it seemed as if they were already realizing the paradise promised by the prophet to true believers; but when the fanes and towers of Damascus rose to sight from among tufted bowers, they broke forth into shouts of transport.
Heraclius the emperor was at Antioch, the capital of his Syrian dominions, when he heard of the advance of the Arabs upon the city of Damascus. He supposed the troops of Khaled, however, to be a mere predatory band, intent as usual on hasty ravage, and easily repulsed when satisfied with plunder; and he felt little alarm for the safety of the city, knowing it to be very populous, strongly fortified, and well garrisoned. He contented himself, therefore, with dispatching a general named Caloüs with five thousand men to reinforce it.
In passing through the country, Caloüs found the people flying to castles and other strongholds and putting them in a state of defense. As he approached Baalbec, the women came forth with dishevelled hair, wringing their hands and uttering cries of despair. “Alas!” cried they, “the Arabs overrun the land, and nothing can withstand them. Aracah and Sachnah, and Tadmor and Bosra, have fallen, and who shall protect Damascus!”
Caloüs inquired the force of the invaders.
They knew but of the troops of Khaled, and answered, “Fifteen hundred horse.”
“Be of good cheer,” said Caloüs; “in a few days I will return with the head of Khaled on the point of this good spear.”
He arrived at Damascus before the Moslem army came in sight, and the same self-confidence marked his proceedings. Arrogating to himself the supreme command, he would have deposed and expelled the former governor Azrail, a meritorious old soldier, wall beloved by the people. Violent dissensions immediately arose, and the city, instead of being prepared for defense, was a prey to internal strife.
In the height of these tumults the army of Khaled, forty thousand strong, being augmented by that of Abu Obeidah, was descried marching across the plain. The sense of danger calmed the fury of contention, and the two governors sallied forth, with a great part of the garrison, to encounter the invaders.
Both armies drew up in battle array. Khaled was in front of the Moslem line, and with him was his brother in arms, Derar Ibn al Azwar. The latter was mounted on a fine Arabian mare, and poised a ponderous lance, looking a warrior at all points. Khaled regarded him with friendly pride, and resolved to give him an opportunity of distinguishing himself. For this purpose he detached him with a small squadron of horse to feel the pulse of the enemy. “Now is the time, Derar,” cried he, “to show thyself a man, and emulate the deeds of thy father and other illustrious soldiers of the faith. Forward in the righteous cause, and Allah will protect thee.”
Derar levelled his lance, and at the head of his handful of followers charged into the thickest of the foe. In the first encounter four horsemen fell beneath his arm; then wheeling off, and soaring as it were into the field to mark a different quarry, he charged with his little troop upon the foot soldiers, slew six with his own hand, trampled down others, and produced great confusion. The Christians, however, recovered from a temporary panic, and opposed him with overwhelming numbers and Roman discipline. Derar saw the inequality of the fight, and having glutted his martial fury, showed the Arab dexterity at retreat, making his way back safely to the Moslem army, by whom he was received with acclamation.
Abda’lrahman gave a similar proof of fiery courage; but his cavalry was received by a battalion of infantry arranged in phalanx with extended spears, while stones and darts hurled from a distance galled both horse and rider. He also, after making a daring assault and sudden carnage, retired upon the spur and rejoined the army.
Khaled now emulated the prowess of his friends, and careering in front of the enemy, launched a general defiance to single combat.
The jealousies of the two Christian commanders continued in the field. AzraiI, turning to CaIoüs, taunted him to accept the challenge as a matter of course; seeing he was sent to protect the country in this hour of danger.
The vaunting of Caloüs was at an end. He had no inclination for so close a fight with such an enemy, but pride would not permit him to refuse. He entered into the conflict with a faint heart, and in a short time would have retreated, but Khaled wheeled between him and his army. He then fought with desperation, and the contest was furious on both sides, until Caloüs beheld his blood streaming down his armor. His heart failed him at the sight; his strength flagged; he fought merely on the defensive. Khaled perceiving this, suddenly closed with him, shifted his lance to his left hand, grasped Caloüs with the right, dragged him out of the saddle, and bore him off captive to the Moslem host, who rent the air with triumphant shouts.
Mounting a fresh horse, Khaled prepared again for battle.
“Tarry, my friend,” cried Derar; “repose thyself for a time, and I will take thy place.”
“Oh, Derar,” replied Khaled, “he who labors to-day shall rest to-morrow. There will be repose sufficient amid the delights of paradise!”
When about to return to the field, Caloüs demanded a moment’s audience, and making use of the traitor Romanus as an interpreter, advised Khaled to bend all his efforts against Azrail, the former governor of the city, whose death he said would be the surest means of gaining the victory. Thus a spirit of envy induced him to sacrifice the good of his country to the desire of injuring a rival.
Khaled was willing to take advice even from an enemy, especially when it fell in with his own humor; he advanced, therefore, in front, challenging Azrail loudly by name. The latter quickly appeared, well armed and mounted, and with undaunted bearing.
The contest was long and obstinate. The combatants paused for breath. Khaled could not but regard his adversary with admiration.
“Thy name,” said he, “is Azrail?” (This is the Arabic name for the angel of death.)
“Azrail is my name,” replied the other.
“By Allah!” replied Khaled, “thy namesake is at hand, waiting to carry thy soul to the fire of Jehennam!”
They renewed the fight. Azrail, who was the most fleetly mounted, being sorely pressed, made use of an Arabian stratagem, and giving the reins to his steed pretended to fly the field. Having distanced his adversary and fatigued his horse, he suddenly wheeled about and returned to the charge. Khaled, however, was not to be outdone in stratagem. Throwing himself lightly from his saddle just as his antagonist came galloping upon him, he struck at the legs of his horse, brought him to the ground, and took his rider prisoner.
The magnanimity of Khaled was not equal to his valor; or rather his fanatical zeal overcame all generous feelings. He admired Azrail as a soldier, but detested him as an infidel. Placing him beside his late rival Caloüs, he called upon both to renounce Christianity and embrace the faith of Islam. They persisted in a firm refusal, upon which he gave the signal, and their heads were struck off and thrown over the walls into the city, a fearful warning to the inhabitants.
SIEGE OF DAMASCUS CONTINUED—EXPLOITS OF DERAR—DEFEAT OF THE IMPERIAL ARMY.
THE siege of Damascus continued with increasing rigor. The inhabitants were embarrassed and dismayed by the loss of their two governors, and the garrison was thinned by frequent skirmishes, in which the bravest warriors were sure to fall. At length the soldiers ceased to sally forth, and the place became strictly invested. Khaled, with one half of the army, drew near to the walls on the east side, while Abu Obeidah, with the other half, was stationed on the west. The inhabitants now attempted to corrupt Khaled, offering him a thousand ounces of gold and two hundred magnificent damask robes to raise the siege. His reply was, that they must embrace the Islam faith, pay tribute, or fight unto the death.
While the Arabs lay thus encamped round the city, as if watching its expiring throes, they were surprised one day by the unusual sound of shouts of joy within its walls. Sending out scouts, they soon learned the astounding intelligence that a great army was marching to the relief of the place.
The besieged, in fact, in the height of their extremity, had lowered a messenger from the walls in the dead of the night, bearing tidings to the emperor at Antioch of their perilous condition, and imploring prompt and efficient succor. Aware for the first time of the real magnitude of the danger, Heraclius dispatched an army of a hundred thousand men to their relief, led on by Werdan, prefect of Emessa, an experienced general.
Khaled would at once have marched to meet the foe, alleging that so great a host could come only in divisions, which might be defeated in detail; the cautious and quiet Abu Obeidah, however, counselled to continue the siege, and send some able officer with a detachment to check and divert the advancing army. His advice was adopted, and Derar, the cherished companion in arms of Khaled, was chosen for the purpose. That fiery Moslem was ready to march at once and attack the enemy with any handful of men that might be assigned him; but Khaled rebuked his inconsiderate zeal. “We are expected,” said he, “to fight for the faith, but not to throw ourselves away.” Allotting to his friend, therefore, one thousand chosen horsemen, he recommended to him to hang on the flanks of the enemy and impede their march.
The fleetly mounted band of Derar soon came in sight of the van of Werdan’s army, slowly marching in heavy masses. They were for hovering about it and harassing it in the Arab manner, but the impetuous valor of Derar was inflamed, and he swore not to draw back a step without hard fighting. He was seconded by Rafi Ibn Omeirah, who reminded the troops that a handful of the faithful was sufficient to defeat an army of infidels.
The battle cry was given. Derar, with some of his choicest troops, attacked the center of the army, seeking to grapple with the general, whom he beheld there, surrounded by his guard. At the very onset he struck down the prefect’s right-hand man, and then his standard-bearer. Several of Derar’s followers sprang from their steeds to seize the standard, a cross richly adorned with precious stones, while he beat off the enemy who endeavored to regain it. The captured cross was borne off in triumph; but at the same moment Derar received a wound in the left arm from a javelin, launched by a son of Werdan. Turning upon the youth, he thrust his lance into his body, but, in withdrawing it, the iron head remained in the wound. Thus left, unarmed, he defended himself for a time with the mere truncheon of the lance, but was overpowered and taken prisoner. The Moslems fought furiously to rescue him, but in vain, and he was borne captive from the field. They would now have fled, but were recalled by Rafi Ibn Omeirah. “Whoever flies,” cried he, “turns his back upon God and his prophet. Paradise is for those who fall in battle. If your captain be dead, God is living, and sees your actions.”
They rallied and stood at bay. The fortune of the day was against them; they were attacked by tenfold their number, and though they fought with desperation, they would soon have been cut to pieces, had not Khaled, at that critical moment, arrived at the scene of action with the greater part of his forces; a swift horseman having brought him tidings of this disastrous affray, and the capture of his friend.
On arriving, he stopped not to parley, but charged into the thickest of the foe, where he saw most banners, hoping there to find his captive friend. Wherever he turned he hewed a path before him, but Derar was not to be found. At length a prisoner told him that the captive had been sent off to Emessa under a strong escort. Khaled instantly dispatched Rafi Ibn Omeirah with a hundred horse in pursuit. They soon overtook the escort, attacked them furiously, slew several, and put the rest to flight, who left Derar, bound with cords, upon his charger.
By the time that Rafi and Derar rejoined the Moslem army, Khaled had defeated the whole forces of Werdan, division after division, as they arrived successively at the field of action. In this manner a hundred thousand troops were defeated, in detail, by less than a third of their number, inspired by fanatic valor, and led on by a skillful and intrepid chief. Thousands of the fugitives were killed in the pursuit; an immense booty in treasure, arms, baggage, and horses fell to the victors, and Khaled led back his army, flushed with conquest, but fatigued with fighting and burdened with spoils, to resume the siege of Damascus.
SIEGE OF DAMASCUS CONTINUED—SALLY OF THE GARRISON—HEROISM OF THE MOSLEM WOMEN.
THE tidings of the defeat of Werdan and his powerful army made the emperor Heraclius tremble in his palace at Antioch for the safety of his Syrian kingdom. Hastily levying another army of seventy thousand men, he put them under the command of Werdan, at Aiznadan, with orders to hasten to the relief of Damascus, and attack the Arab army, which must be diminished and enfeebled by the recent battle.
Khaled took counsel of Abu Obeidah how to avoid the impending storm. It was determined to raise the siege of Damascus, and seek the enemy promptly at Aiznadin. Conscious, however, of the inadequacy of his forces, Khaled sent missives to all the Moslem generals within his call.
“In the name of the most merciful God! Khaled Ibn al Walid to Amru Ibn al Aass, health and happiness. The Moslem brethren are about to march to Aiznadin to do battle with seventy thousand Greeks, who are coming to extinguish the light of God. But Allah will preserve his light in despite of all the infidels. Come to Aiznadin with thy troops; for, God willing, thou shalt find me there.” These missives sent, he broke up his encampment before Damascus, and marched, with his whole force, towards Aiznadin. He would have placed Abu Obeidah at the head of the army; but the latter modestly remarked, that as Khaled was now commander-in-chief, that station appertained to him. Abu Obeidah, therefore, brought up the rear, where were the baggage, the booty, the women, and the children.
When the garrison of Damascus saw their enemy on the march, they sallied forth under two brothers named Peter and Paul. The former led ten thousand infantry, the latter six thousand horse. Overtaking the rear of the Moslems, Paul with his cavalry charged into the midst of them, cutting down some, trampling others under foot, and spreading wide confusion. Peter in the mean time, with his infantry, made a sweep of the camp equipage, the baggage, and the accumulated booty, and capturing most of the women, made off with his spoils towards Damascus.
Tidings of this onset having reached Khaled in the van, he sent Derar, Abda’Irahman, and Rafi Ibn Omeirah, scouring back, each at the head of two hundred horse, while he followed with the main force.
Derar and his associates soon turned the tide of battle, routing Paul and his cavalry with such slaughter, that of the six thousand but a small part escaped to Damascus. Paul threw himself from his horse, and attempted to escape on foot, but was taken prisoner. The exultation of the victors, however, was damped by the intelligence that their women had been carried away captive, and great was the grief of Derar, on learning that his sister Caulah, a woman of great beauty, was among the number.
In the mean time Peter and his troops, with their spoils and captives, had proceeded on the way to Damascus, but halted under some trees beside a fountain, to refresh themselves and divide their booty. In the division, Caulah the sister of Derar was allotted to Peter. This done, the captors went into their tents to carouse and make merry with the spoils, leaving the women among the baggage, bewailing their captive state.
Caulah, however, was the worthy sister of Derar. Instead of weeping and wringing her hands, she reproached her companions with their weakness. “What!” cried she, “shall we, the daughters of warriors and followers of Mohammed, submit to be the slaves and paramours of barbarians and idolaters? For my part, sooner will I die!”
Among her fellow-captives were Hamzarite women, descendants as it is supposed of the Amalekites of old, and others of the tribe of Himiar, all bold viragos, accustomed from their youth to mount the horse, ply the bow, and launch the javelin. They were roused by the appeal of Caulah. “What, however, can we do,” cried they, “having neither sword nor lance nor bow?”
“Let us each take a tent pole,” replied Caulah, “and defend ourselves to the utmost. God may deliver us; if not, we shall die and be at rest, leaving no stain upon our country.” She was seconded by a resolute woman named Offeirah. Her words prevailed. They all armed themselves with tent poles, and Caulah placed them closely side by side in a circle. “Stand firm,” said she. “Let no one pass between you; parry the weapons of your assailants, and strike at their heads.”
With Caulah, as with her brother, the word was accompanied by the deed; for scarce had she spoken, when a Greek soldier happening to approach, with one blow of her staff she shattered his skull.
The noise brought the carousers from the tents. They surrounded the women, and sought to pacify them; but whoever came within reach of their staves was sure to suffer. Peter was struck with the matchless form and glowing beauty of Caulah, as she stood, fierce and fearless, dealing her blows on all who approached. He charged his men not to harm her, and endeavored to win her by soothing words and offers of wealth and honor; but she reviled him as an infidel, a dog, and rejected with scorn his brutal love. Incensed at length by her taunts and menaces, he gave the word, and his followers rushed upon the women with their scimitars. The unequal combat would soon have ended, when Khaled and Derar came galloping with their cavalry to the rescue. Khaled was heavily armed; but Derar was almost naked, on a horse without a saddle, and brandishing a lance.
At sight of them Peter’s heart quaked; he put a stop to the assault on the women, and would have made a merit of delivering them up unharmed. “We have wives and sisters of our own,” said he, “and respect your courageous defense. Go in peace to your countrymen.”
He turned his horse’s head, but Caulah smote the legs of the animal and brought him to the ground; and Derar thrust his spear through the rider as he fell. Then alighting and striking off the head of Peter, he elevated it on the point of his lance. A general action ensued. The enemy were routed and pursued with slaughter to the gates of Damascus, and great booty was gained of horses and armor.
The battle over, Paul was brought a prisoner before Khaled, and the gory head of his brother was shown to him. “Such,” cried Khaled, “will be your fate unless you instantly embrace the faith of Islam.” Paul wept over the head of his brother, and said he wished not to survive him. “Enough,” cried Khaled; the signal was given, and the head of Paul was severed from his body.
The Moslem army now retired to their old camp, where they found Abu Obeidah, who had rallied his fugitives and entrenched himself, for it was uncertain how near Werdan and his army might be. Here the weary victors reposed themselves from their dangers and fatigues; talked over the fortunes of the day, and exulted in the courage of their women.
BATTLE OF AIZNADIN.
The army of the prefect Werdan, though seventy thousand in number, was for the most part composed of newly levied troops. It lay encamped at Aiznadin, and ancient historians speak much of the splendid appearance of the imperial camp, rich in its sumptuous furniture of silk and gold, and of the brilliant array of the troops in burnished armor, with glittering swords and lances.
While thus encamped, Werdan was surprised one day to behold clouds of dust rising in different directions, from which as they advanced broke forth the flash of arms and din of trumpets. These were in fact the troops which Khaled had summoned by letter from various parts, and which, though widely separated, arrived at the appointed time with a punctuality recorded by the Arabian chroniclers as miraculous.
The Moslems were at first a little daunted by the number and formidable array of the imperial host; but Khaled harangued them in a confident tone. “You behold,” said he, “the last stake of the infidels. This army vanquished and dispersed, they can never muster another of any force, and all Syria is ours.”
The armies lay encamped in sight of each other all night, and drew out in battle array in the morning.
“Who will undertake,” said Khaled, “to observe the enemy near at hand, and bring me an account of the number and disposition of his forces?”
Derar immediately stepped forward. “Go,” said Khaled, “and Allah go with thee. But I charge thee, Derar, not to strike a blow unprovoked, nor to expose thy life unnecessarily.”
When Werdan saw a single horseman prowling in view of his army and noting its strength and disposition, he sent forth thirty horsemen to surround and capture him. Derar retreated before them until they became separated in the eagerness of pursuit, then suddenly wheeling he received the first upon the point of his lance, and so another and another, thrusting them through or striking them from their saddles, until he had killed or unhorsed seventeen, and so daunted the rest that he was enabled to make his retreat in safety.
Khaled reproached him with rashness and disobedience of orders.
“I sought not the fight,” replied Derar. “They came forth against me, and I feared that God should see me turn my back. He doubtless aided me, and had it not been for your orders, I should not have desisted when I did.”
Being informed by Derar of the number and positions of the enemy’s troops, Khaled marshalled his army accordingly. He gave command of the right wing to Mead and Noman; the left to Saad Ibn Abu Wakkas and Serjabil, and took charge of the center himself, accompanied by Amru, Abda’lrahman, Derar, Kais, Rafi, and other distinguished leaders. A body of four thousand horse, under Yezed Ebn Abu Sofian, was posted in the rear to guard the baggage and the women.
But it was not the men alone that prepared for this momentous battle. Caulah and Offeirah, and their intrepid companions, among whom were women of the highest rank, excited by their recent success, armed themselves with such weapons as they found at hand, and prepared to mingle in the fight. Khaled applauded their courage and devotion, assuring them that, if they fell, the gates of paradise would be open to them. He then formed them into two battalions, giving command of one to Caulah, and of the other to Offeirah; and charged them, besides defending themselves against the enemy, to keep a strict eye upon his own troops; and whenever they saw a Moslem turn his back upon the foe, to slay him as a recreant and an apostate. Finally he rode through the ranks of his army, exhorting them all to fight with desperation, since they had wives, children, honor, religion, everything at stake, and no place of refuge should they be defeated.
The war cries now arose from either army; the Christians shouting for “Christ and for the faith;” the Moslems, “La I’laha illa Allah, Mohammed Resoul Allah!” “There is but one God! Mohammed is the prophet of God.”
Just before the armies engaged, a venerable man came forth from among the Christians, and, approaching Khaled, demanded, “Art thou the general of this army?” “I am considered such,” replied Khaled, “while I am true to God, the Koran, and the prophet.”
“Thou art come unprovoked,” said the old man, “thou and thy host, to invade this Christian land. Be not too certain of success. Others who have heretofore invaded this land have found a tomb instead of a triumph. Look at this host. It is more numerous and perhaps better disciplined than thine. Why wilt thou tempt a battle which may end in thy defeat, and must at all events cost thee most lamentable bloodshed! Retire, then, in peace, and spare the miseries which must otherwise fall upon either army. Shouldst thou do so, I am authorized to offer, for every soldier in thy host, a suit of garments, a turban, and a piece of gold; for thyself a hundred pieces and ten silken robes, and for thy Caliph a thousand pieces and a hundred robes.”
“You proffer a part,” replied Khaled scornfully, “to one who will soon possess the whole. For yourselves there are but three conditions: embrace the faith, pay tribute, or expect the sword.” With this rough reply the venerable man returned sorrowfully to the Christian host.
Still Khaled was unusually wary. “Our enemies are two to one,” said he; “we must have patience and outwind them. Let us hold back until nightfall, for that with the prophet was the propitious time of victory.”
The enemy now threw their Armenian archers in the advance, and several Moslems were killed and wounded with flights of arrows. Still Khaled restrained the impatience of his troops, ordering that no man should stir from his post. The impetuous Derar at length obtained permission to attack the assaulting band of archers, and spurred vigorously upon them with his troop of horse. They faltered, but were reinforced; troops were sent to sustain Derar; many were slain on both sides, but success inclined to the Moslems.
The action was on the point of becoming general, when a horseman from the advance army galloped up, and inquired for the Moslem general. Khaled, considering it a challenge, levelled his lance for the encounter. “Turn thy lance aside, I pray thee,” cried the Christian eagerly; “I am but a messenger, and seek a parley.”
Khaled quietly reined up his steed, and laid his lance athwart the pommel of his saddle: “Speak to the purpose,” said he, “and tell no lies.”
“I will tell the naked truth; dangerous for me to tell, but most important for thee to hear; but first promise protection for myself and family.”
Having obtained this promise, the messenger, whose name was David, proceeded: “I am sent by Werdan to entreat that the battle may cease, and the blood of brave men be spared; and that thou wilt meet him to-morrow morning, singly, in sight of either army, to treat of terms of peace. Such is my message; but beware, oh Khaled! for treason lurks beneath it. Ten chosen men, well armed, will be stationed in the night close by the place of conference, to surprise and seize, or kill thee, when defenseless and off thy guard.”
He then proceeded to mention the place appointed for the conference, and all the other particulars. “Enough,” said Khaled. “Return to Werdan, and tell him I agree to meet him.”
The Moslems were astonished at hearing a retreat sounded, when the conflict was inclining in their favor; they withdrew reluctantly from the field, and Abu Obeidah and Derar demanded of Khaled the meaning of his conduct. He informed them of what had just been revealed to him. “I will keep this appointment,” said he. “I will go singly, and will bring back the heads of all the assassins.” Abu Obeidah, however, remonstrated against his exposing himself to such unnecessary danger. “Take ten men with thee,” said he, “man for man.” “Why defer the punishment of their perfidy until morning?” cried Derar. “Give me the ten men, and I will counterplot these lurkers this very night.”
Having obtained permission, he picked out ten men of assured coolness and courage, and set off with them in the dead of the night for the place of ambush. As they drew near Derar caused his companions to halt, and, putting off his clothes to prevent all rustling noise, crept warily with his naked scimitar to the appointed ground. Here he beheld the ten men fast asleep, with their weapons beneath their heads. Returning silently, and beckoning his companions, they singled out each his man, so that the whole were dispatched at a blow. They then stripped the dead, disguised themselves in their clothes, and awaited the coming day.
The rising sun shone on the two armies drawn out in battle array, and awaiting the parley of the chiefs. Werdan rode forth on a white mule, and was arrayed in rich attire, with chains of gold and precious stones. Khaled was clad in a yellow silk vest and green turban. He suffered himself to be drawn by Werdan toward the place of ambush; then, alighting and seating themselves on the ground, they entered into a parley. Their conference was brief and boisterous. Each considered the other in his power, and conducted himself with haughtiness and acrimony. Werdan spoke of the Moslems as needy spoilers, who lived by the sword, and invaded the fertile territories of their neighbors in quest of plunder. “We, on the other hand,” said he, “are wealthy, and desire peace. Speak, what do you require to relieve your wants and satisfy your rapacity?”
“Miserable infidel!” replied Khaled. “We are not so poor as to accept alms at your hands. Allah provides for us. You offer us a part of what is all our own; for Allah has put all that you have into our hands; even to your wives and children. But do you desire peace? We have already told you our conditions. Either acknowledge that there is no other God but God, and that Mohammed is his prophet, or pay us such tribute as we may impose. Do you refuse? For what, then, have you brought me here? You knew our terms yesterday, and that all your propositions were rejected. Do you entice me here alone for single combat? Be it so, and let our weapons decide between us.”
So saying, he sprang upon his feet. Werdan also rose, but expecting instant aid, neglected to draw his sword. Khaled seized him by the throat, upon which he called loudly to his men in ambush. The Moslems in ambush rushed forth, and, deceived by their Grecian dresses, Werdan for an instant thought himself secure. As they drew near he discovered his mistake, and shrank with horror at the sight of Derar, who advanced, almost naked, brandishing a scimitar, and in whom he recognized the slayer of his son. “Mercy! Mercy!” cried he to Khaled, at finding himself caught in his own snare.
“There is no mercy,” replied Khaled, “for him who has no faith. You came to me with peace on your lips, but murder in your heart. Your crime be upon your head.”
The sentence was no sooner pronounced than the powerful sword of Derar performed its office, and the head of Werdan was struck off at a blow. The gory trophy was elevated on the point of a lance and borne by the little band toward the Christian troops, who, deceived by the Greek disguises, supposed it the head of Khaled and shouted with joy. Their triumph was soon turned to dismay as they discovered their error. Khaled did not suffer them to recover from their confusion, but bade his trumpets sound a general charge. What ensued was a massacre rather than a battle. The imperial army broke and fled in all directions; some toward Caesarea, others to Damascus, and others to Antioch. The booty was immense; crosses of silver and gold, adorned with precious stones, rich chains and bracelets, jewels of price, silken robes, armor and weapons of all kinds, and numerous banners, all which Khaled declared should not be divided until after the capture of Damascus.
Tidings of this great victory was sent to the Caliph at Medina, by his brave and well-beloved son Abda’lrahman. On receiving it, Abu Beker prostrated himself and returned thanks to God. The news spread rapidly throughout Arabia. Hosts of adventurers hurried to Medina from all parts, and especially from Mecca. All were eager to serve in the cause of the faith, now that they found it crowned with conquest and rewarded with riches.
The worthy Abu Beker was disposed to gratify their wishes, but Omar, on being consulted, sternly objected. “The greater part of these fellows,” said he, “who are so eager to join us now that we are successful, are those who sought to crush us when we were few and feeble. They care not for the faith, but they long to ravish the rich fields of Syria, and share the plunder of Damascus. Send them not to the army to make brawls and dissensions. Those already there are sufficient to complete what they have begun. They have won the victory; let them enjoy the spoils.”
In compliance with this advice, Abu Beker refused the prayer of the applicants. Upon this the people of Mecca, and especially those of the tribe of Koreish, sent a powerful deputation, headed by Abu Sofian, to remonstrate with the Caliph. “Why are we denied permission,” said they, “to fight in the cause of our religion? It is true that in the days of darkness and ignorance we made war on the disciples of the prophet, because we thought we were doing God service. Allah, however, has blessed us with the light; we have seen and renounced our former errors. We are your brethren in the faith, as we have ever been your kindred in blood, and hereby take upon ourselves to fight in the common cause. Let there then no longer be jealousy and envy between us.”
The heart of the Caliph was moved by these remonstrances. He consulted with Ali and Omar, and it was agreed that the tribe of Koreish should be permitted to join the army. Abu Beker accordingly wrote to Khaled congratulating him on his success, and informing him that a large reinforcement would join him conducted by Abu Sofian. This letter he sealed with the seal of the prophet, and dispatched it by his son Abda’lrahman.
OCCURRENCES BEFORE DAMASCUS—EXPLOITS OF THOMAS—ABAN IBN ZEID AND HIS AMAZONIAN WIFE.
THE fugitives from the field of Aiznadin carried to Damascus the dismal tidings that the army was overthrown, and the last hope of succor destroyed. Great was the consternation of the inhabitants, yet they set to work, with desperate activity, to prepare for the coming storm. The fugitives had reinforced the garrison with several thousand effective men. New fortifications were hastily erected. The walls were lined with engines to discharge stones and darts, which were managed by Jews skilled in their use.
In the midst of their preparation, they beheld squadron after squadron of Moslem cavalry emerging from among distant groves, while a lengthening line of foot soldiers poured along between the gardens. This was the order of march of the Moslem host. The advance guard, of upward of nine thousand horsemen, was led by Amru. Then came two thousand Koreishite horse, led by Abu Sofian. Then a like number under Serjabil. Then Omar Ibn Rabiyah with a similar division; then the main body of the army led by Abu Obeidah, and lastly the rear-guard displaying the black eagle, the fateful banner of Khaled, and led by that invincible warrior.
Khaled now assembled his captains, and assigned to them their different stations. Abu Sofian was posted opposite the southern gate. Serjabil opposite that of St. Thomas. Amru before that of Paradise, and Kais Ibn Hobeirah before that of Kaisan. Abu Obeidah encamped at some distance, in front of the gate of Jabiyah, and was charged to be strict and vigilant, and to make frequent assaults, for Khaled knew his humane and easy nature. As to Khaled himself, he took his station and planted his black eagle before the eastern gate.
There was still a southern gate, that of St. Mark, so situated that it was not practicable to establish posts or engage in skirmishes before it: it was, therefore, termed the Gate of Peace. As to the active and impetuous Derar, he was ordered to patrol round the walls and scour the adjacent plain at the head of two thousand horse, protecting the camp from surprise and preventing supplies and reinforcements to the city. “If you should be attacked,” said Khaled, “send me word, and I will come to your assistance.” “And must I stand peaceably until you arrive?” said Derar, in recollection of former reproofs of his rash contests. “Not so,” rejoined Khaled, “but fight stoutly, and be assured I will not fail you. The rest of the army were dismounted to carry on the siege on foot.
The Moslems were now better equipped for war than ever, having supplied themselves with armor and weapons taken in repeated battles. As yet, however, they retained their Arab frugality and plainness, neglecting the delicate viands, the sumptuous raiment, and other luxurious indulgences of their enemies. Even Abu Obeidah, in the humility of his spirit, contented himself with his primitive Arab tent of camel’s hair; refusing the sumptuous tents of the Christian commanders, won in the recent battle. Such were the stern and simple-minded invaders of the effeminate and sensual nations of the East.
The first assaults of the Moslems were bravely repelled, and many were slain by darts and stones hurled by the machines from the wall. The garrison even ventured to make a sally, but were driven back with signal slaughter. The siege was then pressed with unremitting rigor, until no one dared to venture beyond the bulwarks. The principal inhabitants now consulted together whether it were not best to capitulate, while there was yet a chance of obtaining favorable terms.
There was at this time living in Damascus a noble Greek, named Thomas, who was married to a daughter of the emperor Heraclius. He held no post, but was greatly respected, for he was a man of talents and consummate courage. In this moment of general depression he endeavored to rouse the spirits of the people; representing their invaders as despicable, barbarous, naked, and poorly armed, without discipline or military service, and formidable only through their mad fanaticism, and the panic they had spread through the country.
Finding all arguments in vain, he offered to take the lead himself, if they would venture upon another sally. His offer was accepted, and the next morning appointed for the effort.
Khaled perceived a stir of preparation throughout the night, lights gleaming in the turrets and along the battlements, and exhorted his men to be vigilant, for he anticipated some desperate movement. “Let no man sleep,” said he. “We shall have rest enough after death, and sweet will be the repose that is never more to be followed by labor.”
The Christians were sadly devout in this hour of extremity. At early dawn the bishop, in his robes, proceeded at the head of the clergy to the gate by which the sally was to be made, where he elevated the cross, and laid beside it the New Testament. As Thomas passed out at the gate, he laid his hand upon the sacred volume. “Oh God!” exclaimed he, “if our faith be true, aid us, and deliver us not into the hands of its enemies.”
The Moslems, who had been on the alert, were advancing to attack just at the time of the sally, but were checked by a general discharge from the engines on the wall. Thomas led his troops bravely to the encounter, and the conflict was fierce and bloody. He was a dexterous archer, and singled out the most conspicuous of the Moslems, who fell one after another beneath his shafts. Among others, he wounded Abân Ibn Zeid with an arrow tipped with poison. The latter bound up the wound with his turban, and continued in the field, but being overcome by the venom was conveyed to the camp. He had but recently been married to a beautiful woman of the intrepid race of the Himiar, one of those Amazons accustomed to use the bow and arrow, and to mingle in warfare.
Hearing that her husband was wounded, she hastened to his tent, but before she could reach it he had expired. She uttered no lamentation, nor shed a tear, but, bending over the body, “Happy art thou, oh my beloved,” said she, “for thou art with Allah, who joined us but to part us from each other. But I will avenge thy death, and then seek to join thee in paradise. Henceforth shall no man touch me more, for I dedicate myself to God.”
Then grasping her husband’s bow and arrows, she hastened to the field in quest of Thomas, who, she had been told, was the slayer of her husband. Pressing toward the place where he was fighting, she let fly a shaft, which wounded his standard-bearer in the hand. The standard fell, and was borne off by the Moslems. Thomas pursued it, laying about him furiously, and calling upon his men to rescue their banner. It was shifted from hand to hand until it came into that of Serjabil. Thomas assailed him with his scimitar; Serjabil threw the standard among his troops and closed with him. They fought with equal ardor, but Thomas was gaining the advantage, when an arrow, shot by the wife of Abân, smote him in the eye. He staggered with the wound, but his men, abandoning the contested standard, rushed to his support and bore him off to the city. He refused to retire to his home, and, his wound being dressed on the ramparts, would have returned to the conflict, but was overruled by the public. He took his station, however, at the city gate, whence he could survey the field and issue his orders. The battle continued with great fury; but such showers of stones and darts and other missiles were discharged by the Jews from the engines on the walls that the besiegers were kept at a distance. Night terminated the conflict. The Moslems returned to their camp wearied with a long day’s fighting; and, throwing themselves on the earth, were soon buried in profound sleep.
Thomas, finding the courage of the garrison roused by the stand they had that day made, resolved to put it to further proof. At his suggestion preparations were made in the dead of the night for a general sally at daybreak from all the gates of the city. At the signal of a single stroke upon a bell at the first peep of dawn, all the gates were thrown open, and from each rushed forth a torrent of warriors upon the nearest encampment.
So silently had the preparations been made that the besiegers were completely taken by surprise. The trumpets sounded alarms, the Moslems started from sleep and snatched up their weapons, but the enemy were already upon them, and struck them down before they had recovered from their amazement. For a time it was a slaughter rather than a fight, at the various stations. Khaled is said to have shed tears at beholding the carnage. “Oh thou, who never sleepest!” cried he, in the agony of his heart, “aid thy faithful servants; let them not fall beneath the weapons of these infidels.” Then, followed by four hundred horsemen, he spurred about the field wherever relief was most needed.
The hottest of the fight was opposite the gate whence Thomas had sallied. Here Serjabil had his station, and fought with undaunted valor. Near him was the intrepid wife of Abân, doing deadly execution with her shafts. She had expended all but one, when a Greek soldier attempted to seize her. In an instant the arrow was sped through his throat, and laid him dead at her feet; but she was now weaponless, and was taken prisoner.
At the same time Serjabil and Thomas were again engaged hand to hand with equal valor; but the scimitar of Serjabil broke on the buckler of his adversary, and he was on the point of being slain or captured, when Khaled and Abda’lrahman galloped up with a troop of horse. Thomas was obliged to take refuge in the city, and Serjabil and the Amazonian widow were rescued.
The troops who sallied out at the gate of Jabiyah met with the severest treatment. The meek Abu Obeidah was stationed in front of that gate, and was slumbering quietly in his hair tent at the time of the sally. His first care in the moment of alarm was to repeat the morning prayer. He then ordered forth a body of chosen men to keep the enemy at bay, and while they were fighting, led another detachment, silently but rapidly, round between the combatants and the city. The Greeks thus suddenly found themselves assailed in front and rear; they fought desperately, but so successful was the stratagem, and so active the valor of the meek Abu Obeidah, when once aroused, that never a man, says the Arabian historian, that sallied from that gate, returned again.
The battle of the night was almost as sanguinary as that of the day; the Christians were repulsed in all quarters, and driven once more within their walls, leaving several thousand dead upon the field. The Moslems followed them to the very gates, but were compelled to retire by the deadly shower hurled by the Jews from the engines on the walls.
SURRENDER OF DAMASCUS—DISPUTES OF THE SARACEN GENERALS—DEPARTURE OF THOMAS AND THE EXILES.
FOR seventy days had Damascus been besieged by the fanatic legions of the desert: the inhabitants had no longer the heart to make further sallies, but again began to talk of capitulating. It was in vain that Thomas urged them to have patience until he should write to the emperor for succor; they listened only to their fears, and sent to Khaled begging a truce, that they might have time to treat of a surrender. That fierce warrior turned a deaf ear to their prayer: he wished for no surrender, that would protect the lives and property of the besieged; he was bent upon taking the city by the sword, and giving it up to be plundered by his Arabs.
In their extremity the people of Damascus turned to the good Abu Obeidah, whom they knew to be meek and humane. Having first treated with him by a messenger who understood Arabic, and received his promise of security, a hundred of the principal inhabitants, including the most venerable of the clergy, issued privately one night by the gate of Jabiyah, and sought his presence. They found this leader of a mighty force, that was shaking the empire of the Orient, living in a humble tent of hair-cloth, like a mere wanderer of the desert. He listened favorably to their propositions, for his object was conversion rather than conquest; tribute rather than plunder. A covenant was soon written, in which he engaged that hostilities should cease on their delivering the city into his hands; that such of the inhabitants as pleased might depart in safety with as much of their effects as they could carry, and those who remained as tributaries should retain their property, and have seven churches allotted to them. This covenant was not signed by Abu Obeidah, not being commander-in-chief, but he assured the envoys it would be held sacred by the Moslems.
The capitulation being arranged, and hostages given for the good faith of the besieged, the gate opposite to the encampment of Abu Obeidah was thrown open, and the venerable chief entered at the head of a hundred men to take possession.
While these transactions were taking place at the gate of Jabiyah, a different scene occurred at the eastern gate. Khaled was exasperated by the death of a brother of Amru, shot from the walls with a poisoned arrow. In the height of his indignation, an apostate priest, named Josias, undertook to deliver the gate into his hands, on condition of security of person and property for himself and his relatives.
By means of this traitor, a hundred Arabs were secretly introduced within the walls, who, rushing to the eastern gate, broke the bolts and bars and chains by which it was fastened, and threw it open with the signal shout of Allah Achbar!
Khaled and his legions poured in at the gate with sound of trumpet and tramp of steed; putting all to the sword, and deluging the streets with blood. “Mercy! Mercy!” was the cry. “No mercy for infidels!” was Khaled’s fierce response.
He pursued his career of carnage into the great square before the church of the Virgin Mary. Here, to his astonishment, he beheld Abu Obeidah and his attendants, their swords sheathed, and marching in solemn procession with priests and monks and the principal inhabitants, and surrounded by women and children.
Abu Obeidah saw fury and surprise in the looks of Khaled, and hastened to propitiate him by gentle words. “Allah in his mercy,” said he, “has delivered this city into my hands by peaceful surrender; sparing the effusion of blood and the necessity of fighting.”
“Not so,” cried Khaled in a fury. “I have won it with this sword, and I grant no quarter.”
“But I have given the inhabitants a covenant written with my own hand.”
“And what right had you,” demanded Khaled, “to grant a capitulation without consulting me? Am I not the general? Yes, by Allah! and to prove it I will put every inhabitant to the sword.”
Abu Obeidah felt that in point of military duty he had erred, but he sought to pacify Khaled, assuring him he had intended all for the best, and felt sure of his approbation, entreating him to respect the covenant he had made in the name of God and the prophet, and with the approbation of all the Moslems present at the transaction.
Several of the Moslem officers seconded Abu Obeidah, and endeavored to persuade Khaled to agree to the capitulation. While he hesitated, his troops, impatient of delay, resumed the work of massacre and pillage.
The patience of the good Abu Obeidah was at an end. “By Allah!” cried he, “my word is treated as nought, and my covenant is trampled under foot!”
Spurring his horse among the marauders, he commanded them, in the name of the prophet, to desist until he and Khaled should have time to settle their dispute. The name of the prophet had its effect; the soldiery paused in their bloody career, and the two generals with their officers retired to the church of the Virgin.
Here, after a sharp altercation, Khaled, callous to all claims of justice and mercy, was brought to listen to policy. It was represented to him that he was invading a country where many cities were yet to be taken; that it was important to respect the capitulations of his generals, even though they might not be altogether to his mind; otherwise the Moslem word would cease to be trusted, and other cities, warned by the fate of Damascus, instead of surrendering on favorable terms, might turn a deaf ear to all offers of mercy and fight to the last extremity.
It was with the utmost difficulty that Abu Obeidah wrung from the iron soul of Khaled a slow consent to his capitulation, on condition that the whole matter should be referred to the Caliph. At every article he paused and murmured. He would fain have inflicted death upon Thomas, and another leader named Herbis, but Abu Obeidah insisted that they were expressly included in the covenant.
Proclamation was then made that such of the inhabitants as chose to remain tributaries to the Caliph should enjoy the exercise of their religion; the rest were permitted to depart. The greater part preferred to remain; but some determined to follow their champion Thomas to Antioch. The latter prayed for a passport or a safe-conduct through the country controlled by the Moslems. After much difficulty Khaled granted them three days’ grace, during which they should be safe from molestation or pursuit, on condition they took nothing with them but provisions.
Here the worthy Abu Obeidah interfered, declaring that he had covenanted to let them go forth with bag and baggage. “Then,” said Khaled, “they shall go unarmed.” Again Abu Obeidah interfered, and Khaled at length consented that they should have arms sufficient to defend themselves against robbers and wild beasts; he, however, who had a lance, should have no sword; and he who had a bow should have no lance.
Thomas and Herbis, who were to conduct this unhappy caravan, pitched their tents in the meadow adjacent to the city, whither all repaired who were to follow them into exile, each laden with plate, jewels, silken stuffs, and whatever was most precious and least burdensome. Among other things was a wardrobe of the emperor Heraclius, in which there were above three hundred loads of costly silks and cloth of gold.
All being assembled, the sad multitude set forth on their wayfaring. Those who from pride, from patriotism, or from religion, thus doomed themselves to poverty and exile, were among the noblest and most highly bred of the land; people accustomed to soft and luxurious life, and to the silken abodes of palaces. Of this number was the wife of Thomas, a daughter of the emperor Heraclius, who was attended by her maidens. It was a piteous sight to behold aged men, delicate and shrinking women, and helpless children, thus setting forth on a wandering journey through wastes and deserts, and rugged mountains, infested by savage hordes. Many a time did they turn to cut a look of fondness and despair on those sumptuous palaces and delightful gardens, once their pride and joy; and still would they turn and weep, and beat their breasts, and gaze through their tears on the stately towers of Damascus, and the flowery banks of the Pharpar.
Thus terminated the hard-contested siege of Damascus, which Voltaire has likened for its stratagems, skirmishes, and single combats to Homer’s siege of Troy. More than twelve months elapsed between the time the Saracens first pitched their tents before it and the day of its surrender.
STORY OF JONAS AND EUDOCEA—PURSUIT OF THE EXILES—DEATH OF THE CALIPH ABU BEKER.
IT is recorded that Derar gnashed his teeth with rage at seeing the multitude of exiles departing in peace, laden with treasures, which he considered as so much hard-earned spoil, lost to the faithful; but what most incensed him was, that so many unbelievers should escape the edge of the scimitar. Khaled would have been equally indignant, but that he had secretly covenanted with himself to regain this booty. For this purpose he ordered his men to refresh themselves and their horses, and be in readiness for action, resolving to pursue the exiles when the three days of grace should have expired.
A dispute with Abu Obeidah concerning a quantity of grain, which the latter claimed for the citizens, detained him one day longer, and he was about to abandon the pursuit as hopeless, when a guide presented himself who knew all the country, and the shortest passes through the mountains. The story of this guide is worthy of notice, as illustrating the character of these people and these wars.
During the siege Derar, as has been related, was appointed to patrol round the city and the camp with two thousand horse. As a party of these were one night going their rounds, near the walls, they heard the distant neighing of a horse, and looking narrowly round, descried a horseman coming stealthily from the gate Keisan. Halting in a shadowy place, they waited until he came close to them, when, rushing forth, they made him prisoner. He was a youthful Syrian, richly and gallantly arrayed, and apparently a person of distinction. Scarcely had they seized him when they beheld another horseman issuing from the same gate, who in a soft voice called upon their captive, by the name of Jonas. They commanded the latter to invite his companion to advance. He seemed to reply, and called out something in Greek: upon hearing which the other turned bridle and galloped back into the city. The Arabs, ignorant of Greek, and suspecting the words to be a warning, would have slain their prisoner on the spot; but, upon second thoughts, conducted him to Khaled.
The youth avowed himself a nobleman of Damascus, and betrothed to a beautiful maiden named Eudocea; but her parents, from some capricious reason, had withdrawn their consent to his nuptials; whereupon the lovers had secretly agreed to fly from Damascus. A sum of gold had bribed the sentinels who kept watch that night at the gate. The damsel, disguised in male attire, and accompanied by two domestics, was following her lover at a distance, as he sallied in advance. His reply in Greek when she called upon him was, “The bird is caught!” a warning at the hearing of which she had fled back to the city.
Khaled was not the man to be moved by a love tale; but he gave the prisoner his alternative. “Embrace the faith of Islam,” said he, “and when Damascus falls into our power, you shall have your betrothed; refuse, and your head is forfeit.”
The youth paused not between a scimitar and a bride. He made immediate profession of faith between the hands of Khaled, and thenceforth fought zealously for the capture of the city, since its downfall was to crown his hopes.
When Damascus yielded to its foes, he sought the dwelling of Eudocea, and learnt a new proof of her affection. Supposing, on his capture by the Arabs, that he had fallen a martyr to his faith, she had renounced the world, and shut herself up in a convent. With throbbing heart he hastened to the convent, but when the lofty-minded maiden beheld in him a renegade, she turned from him with scorn, retired to her cell, and refused to see him more. She was among the noble ladies who followed Thomas and Herbis into exile. Her lover, frantic at the thoughts of losing her, reminded Khaled of his promise to restore her to him, and entreated that she might be detained; but Khaled pleaded the covenant of Abu Obeidah, according to which all had free leave to depart.
When Jonas afterward discovered that Khaled meditated a pursuit of the exiles, but was discouraged by the lapse of time, he offered to conduct him by short and secret passes through the mountains, which would insure his overtaking them. His offer was accepted. On the fourth day after the departure of the exiles, Khaled set out in pursuit, with four thousand chosen horsemen; who, by the advice of Jonas, were disguised as Christian Arabs. For some time they traced the exiles along the plains, by the numerous footprints of mules and camels, and by articles thrown away to enable them to travel more expeditiously. At length the footprints turned toward the mountains of Lebanon, and were lost in their arid and rocky defiles. The Moslems began to falter. “Courage!” cried Jonas, “they will be entangled among the mountains. They cannot now escape.”
They continued their weary course, stopping only at the stated hours of prayer. They had now to climb the high and cragged passes of Lebanon, along rifts and glens worn by winter torrents. The horses struck fire at every tramp; they cast their shoes, their hoofs were battered on the rocks, and many of them were lamed and disabled. The horsemen dismounted and scrambled up on foot, leading their weary and crippled steeds. Their clothes were worn to shreds, and the soles of their iron-shod boots were torn from the upper leathers. The men murmured and repined; never in all their marches had they experienced such hardships; they insisted on halting, to rest and to bait their horses. Even Khaled, whose hatred of infidels furnished an impulse almost equal to the lover’s passion, began to flag, and reproached the renegade as the cause of all this trouble.
Jonas still urged them forward: he pointed to fresh footprints and tracks of horses that must have recently passed. Alter a few hours’ refreshment they resumed the pursuit; passing within sight of Jabalah and Laodicea, but without venturing within their gates, lest the disguise of Christian Arabs, which deceived the simple peasantry, might not avail with the shrewder inhabitants of the towns.
Intelligence received from a country boor increased their perplexity. The emperor Heraclius, fearing that the arrival of the exiles might cause a panic at Antioch, had sent orders for them to proceed along the sea-coast to Constantinople. This gave their pursuers a greater chance to overtake them; but Khaled was startled at learning, in addition, that troops were assembling to be sent against him, and that but a single mountain separated him from them. He now feared they might intercept his return, or fall upon Damascus in his absence. A sinister dream added to his uneasiness, but it was favorably interpreted by Abda’lrahman, and he continued the pursuit.
A tempestuous night closed on them: the rain fell in torrents, and man and beast were ready to sink with fatigue; still they were urged forward; the fugitives could not be far distant, the enemy was at hand: they must snatch their prey and retreat. The morning dawned; the storm cleared up, and the sun shone brightly on the surrounding heights. They dragged their steps wearily, however, along the defiles, now swept by torrents or filled with mire, until the scouts in the advance gave joyful signal from the mountain brow. It commanded a grassy meadow, sprinkled with flowers, and watered by a running stream.
On the borders of the rivulet was the caravan of exiles, reposing in the sunshine from the fatigues of the recent storm. Some were sleeping on the grass, others were taking their morning repast; while the meadow was gay with embroidered robes and silks of various dyes spread out to dry upon the herbage. The weary Moslems, worn out with the horrors of the mountains, gazed with delight on the sweetness and freshness of the meadow; but Khaled eyed the caravan with an eager eye, and the lover only stretched his gaze to catch a glimpse of his betrothed among the females reclining on the margin of the stream.
Having cautiously reconnoitered the caravan without being perceived, Khaled disposed of his band in four squadrons; the first commanded by Derar, the second by Rafi Ibn Omeirah, the third by Abda’lrahman, and the fourth led by himself. He gave orders that the squadrons should make their appearance successively, one at a time, to deceive the enemy as to their force, and that there should be no pillaging until the victory was complete.
Having offered up a prayer, he gave the word to his division, “In the name of Allah and the prophet!” and led to the attack. The Christians were roused from their repose on beholding a squadron rushing down from the mountain. They were deceived at first by the Greek dresses, but were soon aware of the truth; though the small number of the enemy gave them but little dread. Thomas hastily marshalled five thousand men to receive the shock of the onset, with such weapons as had been left them. Another and another division came hurrying down from the mountain; and the fight was furious and well contested. Thomas and Khaled fought hand to hand; but the Christian champion was struck to the ground. Abda’lrahman cut off his head, elevated it on the spear of the standard of the cross which he had taken at Damascus, and called upon the Christians to behold the head of their leader.
Rafi Ibn Omeirah penetrated with his division into the midst of the encampment to capture the women. They stood courageously on the defensive, hurling stones at their assailants. Among them was a female of matchless beauty, dressed in splendid attire, with a diadem of jewels. It was the reputed daughter of the emperor, the wife of Thomas. Rafi attempted to seize her, but she hurled a stone that struck his horse in the head and killed him. The Arab drew his scimitar, and would have slain her, but she cried for mercy, so he took her prisoner, and gave her in charge to a trusty follower.
In the midst of the carnage and confusion Jonas hastened in search of his betrothed. If she had treated him with disdain as a renegade, she now regarded him with horror, as the traitor who had brought this destruction upon his unhappy countrymen. All his entreaties for her to forgive and be reconciled to him were of no avail. She solemnly vowed to repair to Constantinople and end her days in a convent. Finding supplication fruitless, he seized her, and after a violent struggle, threw her on the ground and made her prisoner. She made no further resistance, but submitting to captivity, seated herself quietly on the grass. The lover flattered himself that she relented; but, watching her opportunity, she suddenly drew forth a poniard, plunged it in her breast, and fell dead at his feet.
While this tragedy was performing, the general battle, or rather carnage, continued. Khaled ranged the field in quest of Herbis, but, while fighting pell-mell among a throng of Christians, that commander came behind him and dealt a blow that severed his helmet, and would have cleft his skull but for the folds of his turban. The sword of Herbis fell from his hand with the violence of the blow, and before he could recover it he was cut in pieces by the followers of Khaled. The struggle of the unhappy Christians was at an end; all were slain, or taken prisoners, except one, who was permitted to depart, and who bore the dismal tidings of the massacre to Constantinople.
The renegade Jonas was loud in his lamentations for the loss of his betrothed, but his Moslem comrades consoled him with one of the doctrines of the faith he had newly embraced. “It was written in the book of fate,” said they, “that you should never possess that woman; but be comforted, Allah has doubtless greater blessings in store for you;” and, in fact, Rafi Ibn Omeirah, out of compassion for his distress, presented him with the beautiful princess he had taken captive. Khaled consented to the gift, provided the emperor did not send to ransom her.
There was now no time to be lost. In this headlong pursuit they had penetrated above a hundred and fifty miles into the heart of the enemy’s country, and might be cut off in their retreat. “To horse and away,” therefore, was the word. The plunder was hastily packed upon the mules, the scanty number of surviving exiles were secured, and the marauding band set off on a forced march for Damascus. While on their way, they were one day alarmed by a cloud of dust, through which their scouts descried the banner of the cross. They prepared for a desperate conflict. It proved, however, a peaceful mission. An ancient bishop, followed by a numerous train, sought from Khaled, in the emperor’s name, the liberation of his daughter. The haughty Saracen released her without ransom. “Take her,” said he, “but tell your master I intend to have him in exchange; never will I cease this war until I have wrested from him every foot of territory.”
To indemnify the renegade for this second deprivation, a large sum of gold was given him, wherewith to buy a wife from among the captives; but he now disclaimed forever all earthly love, and, like a devout Mohammedan, looked forward for consolation among the black-eyed Houris of paradise. He continued more faithful to his new faith and new companions than he had been to the religion of his fathers and the friends of his infancy; and after serving the Saracens in a variety of ways, earned an undoubted admission to the paradise of the prophet, being shot through the breast at the battle of Yermouk.
Thus perished this apostate, says the Christian chronicler; but Alwakedi, the venerable Cadi of Bagdad, adds a supplement to the story, for the encouragement of all proselytes to the Islam faith. He states that Jonas, after his death, was seen in a vision by Rafi Ibn Omeirah, arrayed in rich robes and golden sandals, and walking in a flowery mead; and the beatified renegade assured him that, for his exemplary services, Allah had given him seventy of the black-eyed damsels of paradise, each of resplendent beauty, sufficient to throw the sun and moon in the shade. Rafi related his vision to Khaled, who heard it with implicit faith. “This it is,” said that Moslem zealot, “to die a martyr to the faith. Happy the man to whose lot it falls!”
The story of Jonas and Eudocea has been made the subject of an English tragedy by Hughes, entitled The Siege of Damascus; but the lover’s name is changed to Phocyas, the incidents are altered, and the catastrophe Is made entirely different.
Khaled succeeded in leading his adventurous band safely back to Damascus, where they were joyfully received by their companions in arms, who had entertained great fears for their safety. He now divided the rich spoils taken in his expedition; four parts were given to the officers and soldiers, a fifth he reserved for the public treasury, and sent it off to the Caliph, with letters informing him of the capture of Damascus; of his disputes with Abu Obeidah as to the treatment of the city and its inhabitants, and lastly of his expedition in pursuit of the exiles, and his recovery of the wealth they were bearing away. These missives were sent in the confident expectation that his policy of the sword would far outshine, in the estimation of the Caliph, and of all true Moslems, the more peaceful policy of Abu Obeidah.
It was written in the book of fate, say the Arabian historians, that the pious Abu Beker should die without hearing of the brightest triumph of the Islam faith; the very day that Damascus surrendered, the Caliph breathed his last at Medina. Arabian authors differ as to the cause of his death. Abulfeda asserts that he was poisoned by the Jews, in his frugal repast of rice; but his daughter Ayesha, with more probability, ascribes his death to bathing on an unusually cold day, which threw him into a fever. While struggling with his malady, he directed his chosen friend Omar to perform the religious functions of his office in his stead.
Feeling his end approaching, he summoned his secretary, Othman Ibn Affân, and in presence of several of the principal Moslems, dictated as follows: “I, Abu Beker Ibn Abu Kahafa, being on the point of leaving this world for the next, and at that moment when infidels believe, when the wicked cease to doubt, and when liars speak the truth, do make this declaration of my will to the Moslems. I nominate as my successor”—Here he was overtaken with faintness so that he could not speak. Othman, who knew his intentions, added the name of Omar Ibn al Khattâb. When Abu Beker came to himself, and saw what his secretary had written, “God bless thee,” said he, “for this foresight!” He then continued to dictate. “Listen to him, and obey him, for, as far as I know him, and have seen him, he is integrity itself. He is competent to everything be undertakes. He will rule with justice; if not, God, who knows all secrets, will reward him according to his works. I mean all for the best, but I cannot see into the hidden thoughts of men. Farewell. Act uprightly, and the blessing of Allah be upon you.”
He ordered this testament to be sealed with his seal, and copies of it to be sent to the principal authorities, civil and military. Then, having sent for Omar, he told him of his having nominated him as his successor.
Omar was a stern and simple-minded man; unambitious of posts and dignities. “Oh, successor to the apostle of God!” said he; “spare me from this burden. I have no need of the Caliphat.” “But the Caliphat has need of you!” replied the dying Abu Beker.
He went on to claim his acceptance of the office as a proof of friendship to himself, and of devotion to the public good, for he considered him eminently calculated to maintain an undivided rule over the restless people so newly congregated into an empire. Having brought him to accept, he gave him much dying counsel, and after he had retired, prayed fervently for his success, and that the dominion of the faith might be strengthened and extended during his reign. Having thus provided for a quiet succession to his office, the good Caliph expired in the arms of his daughter Ayesha, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, having reigned two years, three months, and nine days. At the time of his death his father and mother were still living, the former ninety-seven years of age. When the ancient Moslem heard of the death of his son, he merely said, in scriptural phrase, “The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Abu Beker had four wives; the last had been the widow of Jaafar, who fell in the battle of Muta. She bore him two sons after his sixtieth year. He does not appear, however, to have had the same fondness for the sex as the prophet, notwithstanding his experience in wedlock. “The women,” he used to say, “are all an evil; but the greatest evil of all is, that they are necessary.”
Abu Beker was universally lamented by his subjects, and he deserved their lamentations, for he had been an excellent ruler, just, moderate, temperate, frugal, and disinterested. His reign was too short to enable him to carry out any extensive schemes; but it was signalized by the promptness and ability with which, through the aid of the sword, he quelled the widespreading insurrections on the death of the prophet, and preserved the scarcely launched empire of Islam from perfect shipwreck. He left behind him a name dear to all true Moslems, and an example which, Omar used to say, would be a difficult pattern for his successors to imitate.
ELECTION OF OMAR, SECOND CALIPH—KHALED SUPERSEDED IN COMMAND BY ABU OBEIDAH—MAGNANIMOUS CONDUCT OF THOSE GENERALS—EXPEDITION TO THE CONVENT OF ABYLA.
THE nomination of Omar to the succession was supported by Ayesha, and acquiesced in by Ali, who saw that opposition would be ineffectual. The election took place on the day of the decease of Abu Beker. The character of the new Caliph has already, through his deeds, been made known in some measure to the reader; yet a sketch of him may not be unacceptable. He was now about fifty-three years of age, a tall, dark man, with a grave demeanor and a bald head. He was so tall, says one of his biographers, that when he sat he was higher than those who stood. His strength was uncommon, and he used the left as adroitly as the right hand. Though so bitter an enemy of Islamism at first as to seek the life of Mohammed, he became from the moment of his conversion one of its most sincere and strenuous champions. He had taken an active part in the weightiest and most decisive events of the prophet’s career. His name stands at the head of the weapon companions at Beder, Ohod, Khaibar, Honein, and Tabuc, at the defense of Medina, and the capture of Mecca, and indeed he appears to have been the soul of most of the early military enterprises of the faith. His zeal was prompt and almost fiery in its operations. He expounded and enforced the doctrines of Islam like a soldier; when a question was too knotty for his logic, he was ready to sever it with the sword, and to strike off the head of him who persisted in false arguing and unbelief.
In the administration of affairs, his probity and justice were proverbial. In private life he was noted for abstinence and frugality, and a contempt for the false grandeur of the world. Water was his only beverage. His food a few dates, or a few bits of barley bread and salt; but in time of penance even salt was retrenched as a luxury. His austere piety and self-denial, and the simplicity and almost poverty of his appearance, were regarded with reverence in those primitive days of Islam. He had shrewd maxims on which he squared his conduct, of which the following is a specimen. “Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.”
During his reign mosques were erected without number for the instruction and devotion of the faithful, and prisons for the punishment of delinquents. He likewise put in use a scourge with twisted thongs for the correction of minor offences, among which he included satire and scandal, and so potently and extensively was it plied that the word went round, “Omar’s twisted scourge is more to be feared than his sword.”
On assuming his office he was saluted as Caliph of the Caliph of the apostle of God, in other words, successor to the successor of the prophet. Omar objected, that such a title must lengthen with every successor, until it became endless; upon which it was proposed and agreed that he should receive the title of Emir-al-Moumenin, that is to say, Commander of the Faithful. This title, altered into Miramamolin, was subsequently borne by such Moslem sovereigns as held independent sway, acknowledging no superior, and is equivalent to that of emperor.
One of the first measures of the new Caliph was with regard to the army in Syria. His sober judgment was not to be dazzled by daring and briffiant exploits in arms, and he doubted the fitness of Khaled for the general command. He acknowledged his valor and military skill, but considered him rash, fiery, and prodigal; prone to hazardous and extravagant adventure, and more fitted to be a partisan than a leader. He resolved, therefore, to take the principal command of the army out of such indiscreet hands, and restore it to Abu Obeidah, who, he said, had proved himself worthy of it by his piety, modesty, moderation, and good faith. He accordingly wrote on a skin of parchment, a letter to Abu Obeidah, informing him of the death of Abu Beker, and his own elevation as Caliph, and appointing him commander-in-chief of the army of Syria.
The letter was delivered to Abu Obeidah at the time that Khaled was absent in pursuit of the caravan of exiles. The good Obeidah was surprised, but sorely perplexed by the contents. His own modesty made him unambitious of high command, and his opinion of the signal valor and brilliant services of Khaled made him loath to supersede him, and doubtful whether the Caliph would not feel disposed to continue him as commander-in-chief when he should hear of his recent success at Damascus. He resolved, therefore, to keep for the present the contents of the Caliph’s letter to himself; and accordingly on Khaled’s return to Damascus continued to treat him as commander, and suffered him to write his second letter to Abu Beker, giving him an account of his recent pursuit and plundering of the exiles.
Omar had not been long installed in office when he received the first letters of Khaled announcing the capture of Damascus. These tidings occasioned the most extravagant joy at Medina, and the valor of Khaled was extolled by the multitude to the very skies. In the midst of their rejoicings they learnt with astonishment that the general command had been transferred to Abu Obeidah. The admirers of Khaled were loud in their expostulations. “What!” cried they, “dismiss Khaled when in the full career of victory? Remember the reply of Abu Beker, when a like measure was urged upon him. ‘I will not sheathe the sword of God drawn for the promotion of the faith.’”
Omar revolved their remonstrances in his mind, but his resolution remained unchanged. “Abu Obeidah,” said he, “is tender and merciful, yet brave. He will be careful of his people, not lavishing their lives in rash adventures and plundering inroads; nor will he be the less formidable in battle for being moderate when victorious.”
In the mean time came the second dispatches of Khaled, addressed to Abu Beker, announcing the success of his expedition in pursuit of the exiles, and requesting his decision of the matters in dispute between him and Abu Obeidah. The Caliph was perplexed by this letter, which showed that his election as Caliph was yet unknown to the army, and that Abu Obeidah had not assumed the command. He now wrote again to the latter, reiterating his appointment, and deciding upon the matters in dispute. He gave it as his opinion that Damascus had surrendered on capitulation, and had not been taken by the sword, and directed that the stipulations of the covenant should be fulfilled. He declared the pursuit of the exiles iniquitous and rash, and that it would have proved fatal, but for the mercy of God. The dismissal of the emperor’s daughter free of ransom, he termed a prodigal action, as a large sum might have hen obtained and given to the poor. He counselled Abu Obeidah, of whose mild and humane temper he was well aware, not to be too modest and compliant, but at the same time not to risk the lives of the faithful in the mere hope of plunder. This latter hint was a reproof to Khaled.
Lest this letter should likewise be suppressed through the modesty of Abu Obeidah, he dispatched it by an officer of distinction, Shaded Ibn Aass, whom he appointed his representative in Syria, with orders to have the letter read in presence of the Moslems, and to cause him to be proclaimed Caliph at Damascus.
Shaded made good his journey, and found Khaled in his tent, still acting as commander-in-chief, and the army ignorant of the death of Abu Beker. The tidings he brought struck every one with astonishment. The first sentiment expressed was grief at the death of the good Abu Beker, who was universally lamented as a father; the second was surprise at the deposition of Khaled from the command, in the very midst of such signal victories; and many of his officers and soldiers were loud in expressing their indignation.
If Khaled had been fierce and rude in his career of triumph, he proved himself magnanimous in this moment of adversity. “I know,” said he, “that Omar does not love me; but since Abu Beker is dead, and has appointed him his successor, I submit to his commands.” He accordingly caused Omar to be proclaimed Caliph at Damascus, and resigned his command to Abu Obeidah. The latter accepted it with characteristic modesty; but evinced a fear that Khaled would retire in disgust, and his signal services be lost to the cause of Islam. Khaled, however, soon let him know that he was as ready to serve as to command, and only required an occasion to prove that his zeal for the faith was unabated. His personal submission extorted admiration even from his enemies, and gained him the fullest deference, respect, and confidence of Abu Obeidah.
About this time one of the Christian tributaries, a base-spirited wretch, eager to ingratiate himself with Abu Obeidah, came and informed him of a fair object of enterprise. “At no great distance from this, between Tripoli and Harran, there is a convent called Daiz Abil Kodos, or the monastery of the Holy Father, from being inhabited by a Christian hermit, so eminent for wisdom, piety, and mortification of the flesh, that he is looked up to as a saint; so that young and old, rich and poor, resort from all parts to seek his advice and blessing, and not a marriage takes place among the nobles of the country, but the bride and bridegroom repair to receive from him the nuptial benediction. At Easter there is an annual fair held at Abyla in front of the convent, to which are brought the richest manufactures of the surrounding country; silken stuffs, jewels of gold and silver, and other precious productions of art; and as the fair is a peaceful congregation of people unarmed and unguarded, it will afford ample booty at little risk or trouble.”
Abu Obeidah announced the intelligence to his troops. “Who,” said he, “will undertake this enterprise?” His eye glanced involuntarily upon Khaled; it was just such a foray as he was wont to delight in; but Khaled remained silent. Abu Obeidah could not ask a service from one so lately in chief command; and while he hesitated, Abdallah Ibn Jaafar, stepson of Abu Beker, came forward. A banner was given him, and five hundred veteran horsemen, scarred in many a battle, sallied with him from the gates of Damascus, guided by the traitor Christian. They halted to rest before arriving at Abyla, and sent forward the Christian as a scout. As he approached the place he was astonished to see it crowded with an immense concourse of Greeks, Armenians, Copts, and Jews, in their various garbs; besides these there was a grand procession of nobles and courtiers in rich attire, and priests in religious dresses, with a guard of five thousand horse; all, as he learned, escorting the daughter of the prefect of Tripoli, who was lately married, and had come with her husband to receive the blessing of the venerable hermit. The Christian scout hastened back to the Moslems, and warned them to retreat.
“I dare not,” said Abdallah promptly; “I fear the wrath of Allah, should I turn my back. I will fight these infidels. Those who help me, God will reward; those whose hearts fail them are welcome to retire.” Not a Moslem turned his back. “Forward!” said Abdallah to the Christian, and thou shalt behold what the companions of the prophet can perform.” The traitor hesitated, however, and was with difficulty persuaded to guide them on a service of such peril.
Abdallah led his band near to Abyla, where they lay close until morning. At the dawn of day, having performed the customary prayer, he divided his host into five squadrons of a hundred each; they were to charge at once in five different places, with the shout of Allah Achbar! and to slay or capture without stopping to pillage until the victory should be complete. He then reconnoitred the place. The hermit was preaching in front of his convent to a multitude of auditors; the fair teemed with people in the variegated garbs of the Orient. One house was guarded by a great number of horsemen, and numbers of persons, richly clad, were going in and out, or standing about it. In this house evidently was the youthful bride.
Abdallah encouraged his followers to despise the number of these foes. “Remember,” cried he, “the words of the prophet. ‘Paradise is under the shadow of swords!’ If we conquer, we shall have glorious booty; if we fall, paradise awaits us!”
The five squadrons charged as they had been ordered, with the well-known war-cry. The Christians were struck with dismay, thinking the whole Moslem army upon them. There was a direful confusion; the multitude flying in all directions; women and children shrieking and crying; booths and tents overturned, and precious merchandise scattered about the streets. The troops, however, seeing the inferior number of the assailants, plucked up spirits and charged upon them. The merchants and inhabitants recovered from their panic and flew to arms, and the Moslem band, hemmed in among such a host of foes, seemed, say the Arabian writers, like a white spot on the hide of a black camel. A Moslem trooper, seeing the peril of his companions, broke his way out of the throng, and, throwing the reins on the neck of his steed, scoured back to Damascus for succor.
In this moment of emergency Abu Obeidah forgot all scruples of delicacy, and turned to the man he had superseded in office. “Fail us not,” cried he, “in this moment of peril; but, for God’s sake, hasten to deliver thy brethren from destruction.”
“Had Omar given the command of the army to a child,” replied the gracious Khaled, “I should have obeyed him; how much more thee, my predecessor in the faith of Islam!”
He now arrayed himself in a coat of mail, the spoil of the false prophet Moseilma; he put on a helmet of proof, and over it a skull-cap, which he called the blessed cap, and attributed to it wonderful virtues, having received the prophet’s benediction. Then springing on his horse, and putting himself at the head of a chosen band, he scoured off toward Abyla, with the bold Derar at his side.
In the mean time the troops under Abdallah had maintained throughout the day a desperate conflict; heaps of the slain testified their prowess; but their ranks were sadly thinned, scarce one of the survivors but had received repeated wounds, and they were ready to sink under heat, fatigue and thirst. Toward sunset a cloud of dust is seen: is it a reinforcement of their enemies? A troop of horsemen emerge. They bear the black eagle of Khaled. The air resounds with the shout of Allah Achbar. The Christians are assailed on either side; some fly and are pursued to the river by the unsparing sword of Khaled; others rally round the monastery. Derar engages hand to hand with the prefect of Tripoli; they grapple; they struggle; they fall to the earth; Derar is uppermost, and, drawing a poniard, plunges it into the heart of his adversary. He springs upon his feet; vaults into the saddle of the prefect’s horse, and, with the shout of Allah Achbar, gallops in quest of new opponents.
The battle is over. The fair is given up to plunder. Horses, mules, and asses are laden with silken stuffs, rich embroidery, jewels of gold and silver, precious stones, spices, perfumes, and other wealthy plunder of the merchants; but the most precious part of the spoil is the beautiful bride, with forty damsels, who formed her bridal train.
The monastery was left desolate, with none but the holy anchorite to inhabit it. Khaled called upon the old man, but received no answer; he called again, but the only reply was to invoke the vengeance of heaven upon his head for the Christian blood he had spilt. The fierce Saracen paused as he was driving off the spoil, and laying his hand upon the hilt of his scimitar, looked backed grimly upon the hermit. “What we have done,” said he, “is in obedience to the law of God, who commands us to slay all unbelievers; and had not the apostle of God commanded us to let such men as thee alone, thou shouldst have shared the fate of thy fellow-infidels.”
The old man saw his danger in time, and discreetly held his peace, and the sword of Islam remained within its scabbard.
The conquerors bore their booty and their captives back in triumph to Damascus. One fifth of the spoil was set apart for the public treasury: the rest was distributed among the soldiery. Derar, as a trophy of his exploit, received the horse of the prefect of Tripoli, but he made it a present to his Amazonian sister Caulah. The saddle and trappings were studded with precious stones; these she picked out and distributed among her female companions.
Among the spoils was a cloth curiously wrought with a likeness of the blessed Saviour; which, from the exquisite workmanship or the sanctity of the portrait, was afterwards sold in Arabia Felix for ten times its weight in gold.
Abdallah, for his part of the spoil, asked for the daughter of the prefect, having been smitten with her charms. His demand was referred to the Caliph Omar and granted, and the captive beauty lived with him many years. Obeidah, in his letters to the Caliph, generously set forth the magnanimous conduct and distinguished prowess of Khaled on this occasion, and entreated Omar to write a letter to that general expressive of his sense of his recent services, as it might soothe the mortification he must experience from his late deposition. The Caliph, however, though he replied to every other part of the letter of Obeidah, took no notice, either by word or deed, of that relating to Khaled, from which it was evident that, in secret, he entertained no great regard for the unsparing sword of Islam.
MODERATE MEASURES OF ABU OBEIDAH—REPROVED BY THE CALIPH FOR HIS SLOWNESS.
The alertness and hardihood of the Saracens in their rapid campaigns have been attributed to their simple and abstemious habits. They knew nothing of the luxuries of the pampered Greeks, and were prohibited the use of wine. Their drink was water, their food principally milk, rice, and the fruits of the earth, and their dress the coarse raiments of the desert. An army of such men was easily sustained; marched rapidly from place to place; and was fitted to cope with the vicissitudes of war. The interval of repose, however, in the luxurious city of Damascus, and the general abundance of the fertile regions of Syria, began to have their effect upon the Moslem troops, and the good Abu Obeidah was especially scandalized at discovering that they were lapsing into the use of wine, so strongly forbidden by the prophet. He mentioned the prevalence of this grievous sin in his letter to the Caliph, who read it in the mosque in presence of his officers. “By Allah,” exclaimed the abstemious Omar; “these fellows are only fit for poverty and hard fare; what is to be done with these wine-bibbers?”
“Let him who drinks wine,” replied All, promptly, “receive twenty bastinadoes on the soles of his feet.”
“Good, it shall be so,” rejoined the Caliph; and he wrote to that effect to the commander-in-chief. On receiving the letter, Abu Obeidah forthwith summoned the offenders, and had the punishment publicly inflicted for the edification of his troops; he took the occasion to descant on the enormity of the offense, and to exhort such as had sinned in private to come forward like good Moslems, make public confession, and submit to the bastinado in token of repentance; whereupon many, who had indulged in secret potations, moved by his paternal exhortation, avowed their crime and their repentance, and were set at ease in their consciences by a sound bastinadoing and the forgiveness of the good Abu Obeidah.
That worthy commander now left a garrison of five hundred horse at Damascus, and issued forth with his host to prosecute the subjugation of Syria. He had a rich field of enterprise before him. The country of Syria, from the amenity of its climate, tempered by the vicinity of the sea and the mountains, from the fertility of its soil, and the happy distribution of woods and streams, was peculiarly adapted for the vigorous support and prolific increase of animal life; it accordingly teemed with population, and was studded with ancient and embattled cities and fortresses. Two of the proudest and most splendid of these were Emessa (the modern Hems), the capital of the plains; and Baalbec, the famous city of the Sun, situated between the mountains of Lebanon.
These two cities, with others intermediate, were the objects of Abu Obeidah’s enterprise, and he sent Khaled in advance, with Derar and Rafi Ibn Omeirah, at the head of a third of the army, to scour the country about Emessa. In his own slower march, with the main body of the army, he approached the city of Jusheyah, but was met by the governor, who purchased a year’s truce with the payment of four hundred pieces of gold and fifty silken robes; and the promise to surrender the city at the expiration of a year, if in that interval Baalbec and Emessa should have been taken.
When Abu Obeidah came before Emessa he found Khaled in active operation. The governor of the place had died on the day on which the Moslem force appeared, and the city was not fully provisioned for a siege. The inhabitants negotiated a truce for one year by the payment of ten thousand pieces of gold and two hundred suits of silk, with the engagement to surrender at the end of that term, provided he should have taken Aleppo, Alhâdir, and Kennesrin, and defeated army the of the emperor. Khaled would have persevered in the siege, but Abu Obeidah thought it the wisest policy to agree to these golden terms, by which he provided himself with the sinews of war, and was enabled to proceed more surely in his career.
The moment the treaty was concluded the people of Emessa threw open their gates; held a market or fair beneath the walls, and began to drive a lucrative trade; for the Moslem camp was full of booty, and these marauding warriors, flushed with sudden wealth, squandered plunder of all kinds, and never regarded the price of anything that struck their fancy. In the mean time predatory bands foraged the country both far and near, and came in driving sheep and cattle, and horses and camels, laden with household booty of all kinds, besides multitudes of captives. The piteous lamentations of these people, torn from their peaceful homes and doomed to slavery, touched the heart of Abu Obeidah. He told them that all who would embrace the Islam faith should have their lives and property. On such as chose to remain in infidelity, he imposed a ransom of five pieces of gold a head, besides an annual tribute; caused their names and places of abode to be registered in a book, and then gave them back their property, their wives and children, on condition that they should act as guides and interpreters to the Moslems in case of need.
The merciful policy of the good Abu Obeidah promised to promote the success of Islam, even more potently than the sword. The Syrian Greeks came in, in great numbers, to have their names enregistered in the book of tributaries; and other cities capitulated for a year’s truce on the terms granted to Emessa. Khaled, however, who was no friend to truces and negotiations, murmured at these peaceful measures, and offered to take these cities in less time than it required to treat with them; but Abu Obeidah was not to be swerved from the path of moderation; thus, in a little time the whole territories of Emessa, Alhâdir, and Kennesrin were rendered sacred from maraud. The predatory warriors of the desert were somewhat impatient at being thus hemmed in by prohibited boundaries, and on one occasion had well nigh brought the truce to an abrupt termination. A party of Saracen troopers, in prowling along the confines of Kennesrin, came to where the Christians, to mark their boundary, had erected a statue of the emperor Heraclius, seated on his throne. The troopers, who had a Moslem hatred of images, regarded this with derision, and amused themselves with careering round and tilting at it, until one of them, either accidentally or in sport, struck out one of the eyes with his lance.
The Greeks were indignant at this outrage. Messengers were sent to Abu Obeidah, loudly complaining of it as an intentional breach of the truce, and a flagrant insult to the emperor. Abu Obeidah mildly assured them that it was his disposition most rigorously to observe the truce; that the injury to the statue must have been accidental, and that no indignity to the emperor could have been intended. His moderation only increased the arrogance of the ambassadors; their emperor had been insulted; it was for the Caliph to give redress according to the measure of the law: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” “What!” cried some of the over-zealous Moslems; “do the infidels mean to claim an eye from the Caliph?” In their rage they would have slain the messengers on the spot; but the quiet Abu Obeidah stayed their wrath. “They speak but figuratively,” said he; then taking the messengers aside, he shrewdly compromised the matter, and satisfied their wounded loyalty, by agreeing that they should set up a statue of the Caliph, with glass eyes, and strike out one of them in retaliation.
While Abu Obeidah was pursuing this moderate course, and subduing the country by clemency rather than by force of arms, missives came from the Caliph, who was astonished at receiving no tidings of further conquests, reproaching him with his slowness, and with preferring worldly gain to the pious exercise of the sword. The soldiers when they heard of the purport of this letter, took the reproaches to themselves, and wept with vexation. Abu Obeidah himself was stung to the quick and repented him of the judicious truces he had made. In the excitement of the moment he held a council of war, and it was determined to lose not a day, although the truces had but about a month to run. He accordingly left Khaled with a strong force in the vicinity of Emessa to await the expiration of the truce, while he marched with the main host against the city of Baalbec.
SIEGE AND CAPTURE OF BAALBEC.
BAALBEC, so called from Baal, the Syrian appellation of the sun, or Apollo, to which deity it was dedicated, was one of the proudest cities of ancient Syria. It was the metropolis of the great and fertile valley of Bekaa, lying between the mountains of Lebanon, and anti-Lebanon. During the Grecian domination it was called Heliopolis, which likewise means the City of the Sun. It was famous for its magnificent temple of Baal, which, tradition affirms, was built by Solomon the Wise, to please one of his wives, a native of Sidon and a worshipper of the Sun. The immense blocks of stone of which it was constructed were said to have been brought by the genii, over whom Solomon had control by virtue of his talismanic seal. Some of them remain to this day objects of admiration to the traveller, and perplexity to the modern engineer.
Among these huge blocks some measure fifty-eight, and one sixty-nine feet in length.
On his march against Baalbec Abu Obeidah intercepted a caravan of four hundred camels laden with silk and sugars, on the way to that city. With his usual clemency he allowed the captives to ransom themselves; some of whom carried to Baalbec the news of his approach, and of the capture of the caravan. Herbis, the governor, supposing the Saracens to be a mere marauding party, sallied forth with six thousand horse and a multitude of irregular foot, in hope to recover the spoils, but found to his cost that he had an army to contend with, and was driven back to the city with great loss, after receiving seven wounds.
Abu Obeidah set himself down before the city, and addressed a letter to the inhabitants, reminding them of the invincible arms of the faithful, and inviting them to profess Islamism, or pay tribute. This letter he gave in charge to a Syrian peasant; and with it a reward of twenty pieces of silver; “for Allah forbid,” said the conscientious general, “that I should employ thee without pay. The laborer is worthy of his hire.”
The messenger was drawn up by a cord to the battlements, and delivered the letter to the inhabitants, many of whom, on hearing the contents, were inclined to surrender. Herbis, the governor, however, who was still smarting with his wounds, tore the letter in pieces, and dismissed the messenger without deigning a reply.
Abu Obeidah now ordered his troops to the assault, but the garrison made brave defense, and did such execution with their engines from the walls, that the Saracens were repulsed with considerable loss. The weather was cold; so Abu Obeidah, who was ever mindful of the welfare of his men, sent a trumpeter round the camp next morning, forbidding any man to take the field until he had made a comfortable meal. All were now busy cooking, when, in the midst of their preparations, the city gates were thrown open, and the Greeks came scouring upon them, making great slaughter. They were repulsed with some difficulty, but carried off prisoners and plunder.
Abu Obeidah now removed his camp out of reach of the engines, and where his cavalry would have more room. He threw out detachments also, to distract the attention of the enemy and oblige them to fight in several places. Saad Ibn Zeid, with five hundred horse and three hundred foot, was to show himself in the valley opposite the gate looking toward the mountains; while Derar, with three hundred horse and two hundred foot, was stationed in front of the gate on the side toward Damascus.
Herbis, the governor, seeing the Saracens move back their tents, supposed them to be intimidated by their late loss. “These Arabs,” said he, “are half-naked vagabonds of the desert, who fight without object; we are locked up in steel, and fight for our wives and children, our property and our lives.” He accordingly roused his troops to make another sally, and an obstinate battle ensued. One of the Moslem officers, Sohail Ibn Sabah, being disabled by a saber cut in the right arm, alighted from his horse, and clambered a neighboring hill which overlooked the field, the city, and its vicinity. Here he sat watching the various fortunes of the field. The sally had been made through the gate before which Abu Obeidah was posted, who of course received the whole brunt of the attack. The battle was hot, and Sohail perceived from his hill that the Moslems in this quarter were hard pressed, and that the general was giving ground, and in imminent danger of being routed; while Derar and Saad remained inactive at their distant posts; no sally having been made from the gates before which they were stationed. Upon this Sohail gathered together some green branches, and set fire to them, so as to make a column of smoke; a customary signal by day among the Arabs, as fire was by night. Derar and Saad beheld the smoke and galloped with their troops in that direction. Their arrival changed the whole fortune of the field. Herbis, who had thought himself on the eve of victory, now found himself beset on each side and cut off from the city! Nothing but strict discipline and the impenetrable Grecian phalanx saved him. His men closed shield to shield, their lances in advance, and made a slow and defensive retreat, the Moslems wheeling around and charging incessantly upon them. Abu Obeidah, who knew nothing of the arrival of Derar and Saad, imagined the retreat of the Christians a mere feint, and called back his troops; Saad, however, who heard not the general’s order, kept on in pursuit, until he drove the enemy to the top of a hill, where they ensconced themselves in an old deserted monastery.
When Abu Obeidah learned the secret of this most timely aid, and that it was in consequence of a supposed signal from him, he acknowledged that the smoke was an apt thought, and saved his camp from being sacked; but he prohibited any man from repeating such an act without orders from the general.
In the mean time Herbis, the governor, finding the small number that invested the convent, sallied forth with his troops, in hopes of cutting his way to the city. Never did men fight more valiantly, and they had already made great havoc, when the arrival of a fresh swarm of Moslems drove them back to their forlorn fortress, where they were so closely watched that not a Grecian eye could peer from the old walls without being the aim of a Moslem arrow.
Abu Obeidah now invested the city more closely than ever, leaving Saad, with his forces, to keep the governor encased in the monastery. The latter perceived it would be impossible to hold out longer in this shattered edifice, destitute of provisions. His proud spirit was completely broken, and, throwing off his silken robes, and clothing him in a worn woolen garb, as suited to his humble situation, he sought a conference with Saad to treat on terms of capitulation. The Moslem captain replied that he could only treat for the party in the convent, whom he would receive as brothers, if they would acknowledge God and the prophet, or would let them free on the pledge not to bear arms against the Moslems. He proffered to lead Herbis to the general, if he wished to treat for the city also; and added that, should the negotiation fail, he and his Greeks might return into their convent, and let God and the sword decide.
Herbis was accordingly led through the besieging camp into the presence of Abu Obeidah, and gnawed his lip when he saw the inconsiderable number of the Moslem host. He offered, as a ransom for the city, one thousand ounces of gold, two thousand of silver, and one thousand silken robes; but Abu Obeidah demanded that he should double the amount, and add thereto one thousand sabers, and all the arms of the soldiers in the monastery; as well as engage in behalf of the city to pay an annual tribute; to engage to erect no more Christian churches, nor ever more act in hostility against the Moslem power.
These harsh terms being conceded, Herbis was permitted to enter the city alone, and submit them to the inhabitants, all his attendants being detained as hostages. The townsmen at first refused to capitulate, saying their city was the strongest in all Syria; but Herbis offered to pay down one fourth of the ransom himself, and they at length complied. One point was conceded to the people of Baalbec to soothe their wounded pride. It was agreed that Rafi Ibn Abdallah, who was to remain with five hundred men, acting as lieutenant of Baalbec for Abu Obeidah, should encamp without the walls, and not enter the city. These matters being arranged, Abu Obeidah marched with his host on other enterprises.
The Saracen troops, under Rafi Ibn Abdallah, soon ingratiated themselves with the people of Baalbec. They pillaged the surrounding country, and sold their booty for low prices to the townsfolk, who thus grew wealthy on the spoils of their own countrymen. Herbis, the governor, felt a desire to participate in these profits. He reminded his fellow-citizens how much he had paid for their ransom, and what good terms he had effected for them; and then proposed that he should have one tenth of what they gained in traffic with the Moslems to reimburse him. They consented, though with extreme reluctance. In a few days he found the gain so sweet that he thirsted for more; he therefore told them that his reimbursement would be tedious at this rate, and proposed to receive one fourth. The people, enraged at his cupidity, rushed on him with furious outcries, and killed him on the spot. The noise of the tumult reached the camp of Rafi Ibn Abdallah, and a deputation of the inhabitants coming forth, entreated him to enter the city and govern it himself. He scrupled to depart from the terms of the treaty until he had written to Abu Obeidah; but on receiving permission from the general, he entered and took command. Thus did the famous Baalbec, the ancient Heliopolis, or City of the Sun, fall under the Saracen sway on the 20th of January, A.D. 636, being the fifteenth year of the Hegira.
SIEGE OF EMESSA—STRATAGEMS OF THE MOSLEMS—FANATIC DEVOTION OF IKREMAH—SURRENDER OF THE CITY.
The year’s truce with the city of Emessa having now expired, Abu Obeidah appeared before that place, and summoned it in the following form:
“In the name of the most merciful God. Abu Obeidah Ibn Aljerah, general of the armies of the Commander of the Faithful, Omar al Khattâb, to the people of Emessa. Let not the loftiness of your walls, the strength of your bulwarks, nor the robustness of your bodies, lead you into error. Allah hath conquered stronger places through the means of his servants. Your city would be of no more consideration against us than a kettle of pottage set in the midst of our camp.
“I invite you to embrace our holy faith, and the law revealed to our prophet Mohammed; and we will send pious men to instruct you, and you shall participate in all our fortunes.
“If you refuse, you shall still be left in possession of all your property on the payment of annual tribute. If you reject both conditions, come forth from behind your stone walls, and let Allah, the supreme judge, decide between us.”
This summons was treated with scorn; and the garrison made a bold sally, and handled their besiegers so roughly that they were glad when night put an end to the conflict. In the evening a crafty old Arab sought the tent of Abu Obeidah; he represented the strength of the place, the intrepidity of the soldiers, and the ample stock of provisions, which would enable it to stand a weary siege. He suggested a stratagem, however, by which it might be reduced; and Abu Obeidah adopted his counsel. Sending a messenger into the city, he offered to the inhabitants to strike his tents, and lead his troops to the attack of other places, provided they would furnish him provisions for five days’ march. His offer was promptly accepted, and the provisions were furnished. Abu Obeidah now pretended that, as his march would be long, a greater supply would be necessary: he continued to buy, therefore, as long as the Christians had provisions to sell, and in this manner exhausted their magazines; and as the scouts from other cities beheld the people of Emessa throw open their gates and bring forth provisions, it became rumored throughout the country that the city had surrendered.
Abu Obeidah, according to promise, led his host against other places. The first was Arrestan, a fortified city, well watered, provisioned, and garrisoned. His summons being repeated, and rejected, he requested the governor of the place to let him leave there twenty chests of cumbrous articles, which impeded him in his movements. The request was granted with great pleasure at getting clear so readily of such marauders. The twenty chests, secured with padlocks, were taken into the citadel, but every chest had a sliding bottom, and contained an armed man. Among the picked warriors thus concealed were Derar, Abda’lrahman, and Abdallah Ibn Jaafar; while Khaled with a number of troops was placed in ambush to co-operate with those in the chests.
The Moslem host departed. The Christians went to church to return thanks for their deliverance, and the sounds of their hymns of triumph reached the ears of Derar and his comrades. Upon this they issued forth from their chests, seized the wife of the governor, and obtained from her the keys of the gates. Abdallah, with fourteen men, hastened to the church and closed the doors upon the congregation; while Derar, with four companions, threw open the gates with the cry of Allah Achbar; upon which Khaled and his forces rushed from their ambuscade, and the city was taken almost without bloodshed.
The city of Shaizar was next assailed, and capitulated on favorable terms; and now Abu Obeidah returned before Emessa, and once more summoned it to surrender. The governor remonstrated loudly, reminding the Moslem general of his treaty, by which he engaged to depart from Emessa and carry the war against other places. “I engaged to depart,” replied Abu Obeidah, “but I did not engage not to return. I have carried the war against other places, and have subdued Arrestan and Shaizar.”
The people of Emessa now perceived how they had been circumvented. Their magazines had been drained of provisions, and they had not wherewithal to maintain them against a siege. The governor, however, encouraged them to try the chance of a battle as before. They prepared for the fight by prayers in the churches; and the governor took the sacrament in the church of St. George; but he sought to enhearten himself by grosser means, for we are told he ate the whole of a roasted kid for his supper, and caroused on wine until the crowing of the cock. In the morning, early, he arrayed himself in rich apparel, and sallied forth at the head of five thousand horsemen, all men of strength and courage, and well armed. They charged the besiegers so bravely, and their archers so galled them from the wails, that the Moslem force gave way.
Khaled now threw himself in front of the battle, and enacted wondrous feats to rally his soldiers and restore the fight. In an encounter, hand to hand, with a Greek horseman, his scimitar broke, and he was weaponless, but closing with his adversary, he clasped him in his arms, crushed his ribs, and drawing him from his saddle threw him dead to the earth. The imminent peril of the fight roused a frantic valor in the Moslems. In the heat of enthusiasm Ikremah, a youthful cousin of Khaled, galloped about the field, fighting with reckless fury, and raving about the joys of paradise promised to all true believers who fell in the battles of the faith. “I see,” cried he, “the black-eyed Houris of Paradise. One of them, if seen on earth, would make mankind die of love. They are smiling on us. One of them waves a handkerchief of green silk and holds a cup of precious stones. She beckons me; come hither quickly, she cries, my well beloved!” In this way he went, shouting Al Jennah! Al Jennah! Paradise! Paradise! charging into the thickest of the Christians, and making fearful havoc, until he reached the place where the governor was fighting, who sent a javelin through his heart, and dispatched him in quest of his vaunted Elysium.
Night alone parted the hosts, and the Moslems retired exhausted to their tents, glad to repose from so rude a fight. Even Khaled counselled Abu Obeidah to have recourse to stratagem, and make a pretended fight the next morning; to draw the Greeks, confident through this day’s success, into disorder; for while collected their phalanx presented an impenetrable wall to the Moslem horsemen.
Accordingly, at the dawning of the day, the Moslems retreated: at first with a show of order: then with a feigned confusion, for it was an Arab stratagem of war to scatter and rally again in the twinkling of an eye. The Christians, thinking their flight unfeigned, broke up their steady phalanx, some making headlong pursuit, while others dispersed to plunder the Moslem camp.
Suddenly the Moslems faced about, surrounded the confused mass of Christians, and fell upon it, as the Arabian historian says, “like eagles upon a carcass.” Khaled and Derar and other chiefs spirited them on with shouts of Allah Achbar, and a terrible rout and slaughter ensued. The number of Christian corpses on that field exceeded sixteen hundred. The governor was recognized among the slain by his enormous bulk, his bloated face, and his costly apparel, fragrant with perfumes.
The city of Emessa surrendered as a sequel to that fight, but the Moslems could neither stay to take possession nor afford to leave a garrison. Tidings had reached them of the approach of an immense army, composed of the heavily armed Grecian soldiery and the light troops of the desert, that threatened completely to overwhelm them. Various and contradictory were the counsels in this moment of agitation and alarm. Some advised that they should hasten back to their native deserts, where they would be reinforced by their friends, and where the hostile army could not find sustenance; but Abu Obeidah objected that such a retreat would be attributed to cowardice. Others cast a wistful eye upon the stately dwellings, the delightful gardens, the fertile fields, and green pastures, which they had just won by the sword, and chose rather to stay and fight for this land of pleasure and abundance than return to famine and the desert. Khaled decided the question. It would not do to linger there, he said; Constantine, the emperor’s son, being not far off, at Caesarea, with forty thousand men; he advised, therefore, that they should march to Yermouk, on the borders of Palestine and Arabia, where they would be within reach of assistance from the Caliph, and might await, with confidence, the attack of the imperial army. The advice of Khaled was adopted.
ADVANCE OF A POWERFUL IMPERIAL ARMY—SKIRMISHES OF KHALED—CAPTURE OF DERAR—INTERVIEW OF KHALED AND MANUEL.
THE rapid conquests of the Saracens had alarmed the emperor Heraclius for the safety of his rich province of Syria. Troops had been levied both in Europe and Asia, and transported, by sea and land, to various parts of the invaded country. The main body, consisting of eighty thousand men, advanced to seek the Moslem host, under the command of a distinguished general, called Mahan by the Arabian writers, and Manuel by the Greeks. On its way the imperial army was joined by Jabalah Ibn al Aynham, chief or king of the Christian tribe of Gassan. This Jabalah had professed the Mohammedan faith, but had apostatized in consequence of the following circumstance: He had accompanied the Caliph Omar on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and was performing the religious ceremony of the Towah, or sacred walk seven times round the Kaaba, when an Arab of the tribe of Fezarah accidentally trod on the skirt of his Ihram or pilgrim scarf, so as to draw it from his shoulders. Turning fiercely upon the Arab, “Woe be unto thee,” cried he, “for uncovering my back in the sacred house of God.” The pilgrim protested it was an accident, but Jabalah buffeted him in the face, bruising him sorely, and beating out four of his teeth. The pilgrim complained to Omar, but Jabalah justified himself, stating the indignity he had suffered. “Had it not been for my reverence for the Kaaba, and for the prohibition to shed blood within the sacred city, I would have slain the offender on the spot.” “Thou hast confessed thy fault,” said Omar, “and unless forgiven by thy adversary, must submit to the law of retaliation, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’” “I am a king,” replied Jabalah, proudly, “and he is but a peasant.” “Ye are both Moslems,” rejoined Omar, “and in the sight of Allah, who is no respecter of persons, ye are equal.” The utmost that Jabalah could obtain from the rigid justice of Omar was, that the execution of the sentence might be postponed until the next day. In the night he made his escape and fled to Constantinople, where he abjured Islamism, resumed the Christian faith, and went over to the service of the emperor Heraclius. He had now brought sixty thousand Arabs to the aid of Manuel. Such was the powerful host, the approach of which had compelled the Moslems to abandon Emessa on the very moment of surrender. They had marched to Yermouk, a place noted for its pleasant groves and the sweet salubrity of its air, and lay encamped on the banks of a little stream of the same name, heretofore obscure, but now destined to become famous by a battle decisive of the fate of Syria.
Manuel advanced slowly and deliberately with his heavily armed Grecian soldiery; but he sent Jabalah in the advance, to scour the country with his light Arab troops, as best fitted to cope with the skirmishing warriors of the desert; thus, as he said, “using diamond to cut diamond.” The course of these combined armies was marked with waste, rapine, and outrage, and they inflicted all kinds of injuries and indignities on those Christian places which had made treaties with or surrendered to the Moslems.
While Manuel with his main army was yet at a distance, he sent proposals of peace to Abu Obeidah, according to the commands of the emperor. His proposals were rejected; but Obeidah sent several messengers to Jabalah, reproaching him with his apostasy, and his warfare against his countrymen, and endeavoring to persuade him to remain neutral in the impending battle. Jabalah replied, however, that his faith was committed to the emperor, and he was resolved to fight in his cause.
Upon this Khaled came forward, and offered to take this apostate in his own hands. “He is far in the advance of the main army,” said he; “let me have a small body of picked men chosen by myself, and I will fall upon him and his infidel Arabs before Manuel can come up to their assistance.”
His proposal was condemned by many as rash and extravagant. “By no means,” cried Khaled, with zealous zeal; “this infidel force is the army of the devil, and can do nothing against the army of Allah, who will assist us with his angels.”
So pious an argument was unanswerable. Khaled was permitted to choose his men, all well-seasoned warriors whose valor he had proved. With them he fell upon Jabalah, who was totally unprepared for so hare-brained an assault, threw his host into complete confusion, and obliged him, after much slaughter, to retreat upon the main body. The triumph of Khaled, however, was damped by the loss of several valiant officers, among whom were Yezed, Rafi, and Derar, who were borne off captives by the retreating Christians.
In the mean time a special messenger, named Abdallah Ibn Kort, arrived at Medina, bringing letters to the Caliph from Abu Obeidah, describing the perilous situation of the Moslem army, and entreating reinforcements. The Caliph ascended the pulpit of Mohammed, and preached up the glory of fighting the good fight of faith for God and the prophet. He then gave Abdallah an epistle for Abu Obeidah, filled with edifying texts from the Koran, and ending with an assurance that he would pray for him, and would, moreover, send him a speedy reinforcement. This done, he pronounced a blessing on Abdallah, and bade him depart with all speed.
Abdallah was well advanced on his return, when he called to mind that he had omitted to visit the tomb of the prophet. Shocked at his forgetfulness, he retraced his steps, and sought the dwelling of Ayesha, within which the prophet lay interred. He found the beautiful widow reclining beside the tomb, and listening to Ali and Abbas, who were reading the Koran, while Hassan and Hosein, the two sons of Ali and grandsons of the prophet, were sitting on their knees.
Having paid due honors to the prophet’s tomb, the considerate messenger expressed his fears that this pious visit might prevent his reaching the army before the expected battle; whereupon the holy party lifted up their hands to heaven, and Ali put up a prayer for his speedy journey. Thus inspirited, he set out anew, and travelled with such unusual and incredible speed that the army looked upon it as miraculous, and attributed it to the blessing of Omar and the prayer of Ali.
The promised reinforcement was soon on foot. It consisted of eight thousand men under the command of Seid Ibn Amir, to whom the Caliph gave a red silk banner, and a word of advice at parting; cautioning him to govern himself as well as his soldiers, and not to let his appetites get the better of his self-command.
Seid, with Moslem frankness, counselled him, in return, to fear God and not man; to love all Moslems equally with his own kindred; to cherish those at a distance equally with those at hand; finally, to command nothing but what was right and to forbid nothing but what was wrong. The Caliph listened attentively, his forehead resting on his staff and his eyes cast upon the ground. When Seid had finished, he raised his head, and the tears ran down his cheek. “Alas!” said he, “who can do all this without the aid of God.”
Seid Ibn Amir led his force by the shortest route across the deserts, and hurrying forward with more rapidity than heed, lost his way. While he halted one night, in the vicinity of some springs, to ascertain his route, he was apprised by his scouts that the prefect of Ammon, with five thousand men, was near at hand. He fell upon him instantly and cut the infantry to pieces. The prefect fled with his cavalry, but encountered a foraging party from the Moslem camp, the leader of which, Zobeir, thrust a lance through his body, and between the two parties not a man of his troop escaped. The Moslems then placed the heads of the Christians on their lances, and arrived with their ghastly trophies at the camp, to the great encouragement of Abu Obeidah and his host.
The imperial army had now drawn near, and Manuel, the general, attempted again to enter into negotiations. Khaled offered to go and confer with him; but his real object was to attempt the release of his friends and brethren in arms, Abu Sofian, Derar, Rafi, and the two other officers captured in the late skirmish with the apostate Jabalah.
When Khaled reached the outpost of the Christian army, he was required to leave his escort of one hundred chosen warriors, and proceed alone to the presence of the general; but he refused. He equally refused a demand that he and his men should dismount and deliver up their scimitars. After some parley he was permitted to enter into the presence of the general in his own way.
Manuel was seated in state on a kind of throne, surrounded by his officers, all splendidly arrayed, while Khaled entered with his hundred war-worn veterans, clad in the simplest guise. Chairs were set out for him and his principal companions, but they pushed them aside and seated themselves cross-legged on the ground, after the Arabic manner. When Manuel demanded the reason, Khaled replied by quoting a verse from the twentieth chapter of the Koran. “Of earth ye are created, from earth ye came, and unto earth ye must return.” “God made the earth,” added he, “and what God has made for men to sit upon is more precious than your silken tapestries.”
The conference was begun by Manuel, who expostulated on the injustice of the Moslems in making an unprovoked inroad into the territories of their neighbors, molesting them in their religious worship, robbing them of their wives and property, and seizing on their persons as slaves. Khaled retorted, that it was all owing to their own obstinacy, in refusing to acknowledge that there was but one God, without relation or associate, and that Mohammed was his prophet. Their discussion grew violent, and Khaled, in his heat, told Manuel that he should one day see him dragged into the presence of Omar with a halter round his neck, there to have his head struck off as an example to all infidels and for the edification of true believers.
Manuel replied, in wrath, that Khaled was protected by his character of ambassador; but that he would punish his insolence by causing the five Moslem captives, his friends, to be instantly beheaded. Khaled defied him to execute his threat, swearing by Allah, by his prophet, and by the holy Kaaba, that if a hair of their heads were injured, he would slay Manuel with his own hand on the spot, and that each of his Moslems present should slay his man. So saying, he rose and drew his scimitar, as did likewise his companions.
The imperial general was struck with admiration at his intrepidity. He replied calmly, that what he had said was a mere threat, which his humanity and his respect for the mission of Khaled would not permit him to fulfill. The Saracens were pacified and sheathed their swords, and the conference went on calmly.
In the end, Manuel gave up the five prisoners to Khaled as a token of his esteem; and in return Khaled presented him with a beautiful scarlet pavilion, which he had brought with him, and pitched in the Christian camp, and for which Manuel had expressed a desire. Thus ended this conference, and both parties retired from it with soldier-like regard for each other.
THE BATTLE OF YERMOUK.
THE great battle was now at hand that was to determine the fate of Syria, for the emperor had staked the fortunes of this favorite province on a single but gigantic blow. Abu Obeidah, conscious of the momentous nature of the conflict, and diffident of his abilities in the field, gave a proof of his modesty and magnanimity by restoring to Khaled the command of the whole army. For himself he took his station with the women in the rear, that he might rally the Moslems should any of them be inclined to fly the field. Here he erected his standard, a yellow flag, given him by Abu Beker, being the same which Mohammed had displayed in the battle of Khaibar.
Before the action commenced Khaled rode among his troops, making a short but emphatic speech. “Paradise,” cried he, “is before you; the devil and hell behind. Fight bravely, and you will secure the one; fly, and you will fall into the other.”
The armies closed, but the numbers of the Christians and the superiority of Greek and Roman discipline bore down the right wing of the Moslems. Those, however, who turned their backs and attempted to fly were assailed with reproaches and blows by the women, so that they found it easier to face the enemy than such a storm. Even Abu Sofian himself received a blow over the face with a tent-pole from one of those viragoes, as he retreated before the enemy.
Thrice were the Moslems beaten back by the steady bearing of the Grecian phalanx, and thrice were they checked and driven back to battle by the women. Night at length brought a cessation of the bloody conflict; when Abu Obeidah went round among the wounded, ministering to them with his own hands, while the women bound up their wounds with tender care.
The battle was renewed on the following morning, and again the Moslems were sorely pressed. The Christian archers made fearful havoc, and such was their dexterity that, among the great number of Moslems who suffered from their arrows on that day, seven hundred lost one or both eyes. Hence it was commemorated as “the Day of the Blinding;” and those who had received such wounds gloried in them, in after years, as so many trophies of their having struggled for the faith in that day of hard fighting. There were several single combats of note; among others, Serjabil was engaged hand to hand with a stout Christian; but Serjabil, having signalized his piety by excessive watching and fasting, was so reduced in flesh and strength that he was no match for his adversary, and would infallibly have been overpowered had not Derar come behind the Christian and stabbed him to the heart. Both warriors claimed the spoil, but it was adjudged to him who slew the enemy. In the course of this arduous day the Moslems more than once wavered, but were rallied back by the valor of the women. Caulah, the heroic sister of Derar, mingling in the fight, was wounded and struck down; but Offeirah, her female friend, smote off the head of her opponent and rescued her. The battle lasted as long as there was light enough to distinguish friend from foe; but the night was welcome to the Moslems, who needed all their enthusiasm and reliance on the promises of the prophet to sustain them, so hard was the struggle and so overwhelming the numbers of the enemy. On this night the good Abu Obeidah repeated at once the prayers belonging to two separate hours, that his weary soldiers might enjoy uninterrupted sleep.
For several successive days this desperate battle, on which hung the fate of Syria, was renewed with various fortunes. In the end the fanatic valor of the Moslems prevailed; the Christian host was completely routed and fled in all directions. Many were overtaken and slain in the difficult passes of the mountains; others perished in a deep part of the river to which they were decoyed by one of their own people, in revenge for an injury. Manuel, the imperial general, fell by the hand of a Moslem named Noman Ibn Alkamah.
Abu Obeidah went over the battle-field in person, seeing that the wounded Moslems were well taken care of, and the slain decently interred. He was perplexed for a time on finding some heads without bodies, to know whether they were Moslems or infidels, but finally prayed over them at a venture and had them buried like the rest.
In dividing the spoils, Abu Obeidah, after setting aside one fifth for the Caliph and the public treasury, allotted to each foot soldier one portion and to each horseman three—two for himself and one for his steed; but for each horse of the pure Arabian breed he allowed a double portion. This last allotment met with opposition, but was subsequently confirmed by the Caliph, on account of the superior value of true Arabian horses.
Such was the great battle fought on the banks of the Yermouk, near the city of that name, in the month of November A.D. 636, and in the 15th year of the Hegira.