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.
SIEGE AND CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM.
THE Moslem invaders reposed for a month at Damascus from the toil of conquest, during which time Abu Obeidah sent to the Caliph to know whether be should undertake the siege of Caesarea or Jerusalem. Ali was with Omar at the time, and advised the instant siege of the latter; for such, he said, had been the intention of the prophet. The enterprise against Jerusalem was as a holy war to the Moslems, for they reverenced it as an ancient seat of prophecy and revelation, connected with the histories of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, and sanctified by containing the tombs of several of the ancient prophets. The Caliph adopted the advice of Ali, and ordered Abu Obeidah to lead his army into Palestine, and lay siege to Jerusalem.
On receiving these orders, Abu Obeidah sent forward Yezed Abu Sofian with five thousand men, to commence the siege, and for five successive days detached after him considerable reinforcements. The people of Jerusalem saw the approach of these portentous invaders, who were spreading such consternation throughout the East, but they made no sally to oppose them, nor sent out any one to parley, but planted engines on their walls, and prepared for vigorous defense. Yezed approached the city and summoned it by sound of trumpet, propounding the customary terms, profession of the faith or tribute: both were rejected with disdain. The Moslems would have made instant assault, but Yezed had no such instructions: he encamped, therefore, and waited until orders arrived from Abu Obeidah to attack the city, when he made the necessary preparations.
At cock-crow in the morning the Moslem host was marshalled, the leaders repeated the matin prayer each at the head of his battalion, and all, as if by one consent, with a loud voice gave the verse from the Koran,* “Enter ye, oh people, into the holy land which Allah hath destined for you.”
* These words are from the fifth chapter of the Koran, where Mohammed puts them into the mouth of Moses, as addressed to the children of Israel.
For ten days they made repeated but unavailing attacks; on the eleventh day Abu Obeidah brought the whole army to their aid. He immediately sent a written summons requiring the inhabitants to believe in the unity of God, the divine mission of Mohammed, the resurrection and final judgment; or else to acknowledge allegiance, and pay tribute to the Caliph; “otherwise,” concluded the letter, “I will bring men against you, who love death better than you love wine or swine’s flesh; nor will I leave you, God willing, until I have destroyed your fighting men, and made slaves of your children.”
The summons was addressed to the magistrates and principal inhabitants of Aelia, for so Jerusalem was named after the emperor Aelius Adrian, when he rebuilt that city.
Sophronius, the Christian patriarch, or bishop of Jerusalem, replied that this was the holy city, and the holy land, and that whoever entered either, for a hostile purpose, was an offender in the eyes of God. He felt some confidence in setting the invaders at defiance, for the walls and towers of the city had been diligently strengthened, and the garrison had been reinforced by fugitives from Yermouk, and from various parts of Syria. The city, too, was strong in its situation, being surrounded by deep ravines and a broken country; and above all there was a pious incentive to courage and perseverance in defending the sepulcher of Christ.
Four wintry months elapsed; every day there was sharp skirmishing; the besiegers were assailed by sallying parties, annoyed by the engines on the walls, and harassed by the inclement weather; still they carried on the siege with undiminished spirit. At length the Patriarch Sophronius held a parley from the walls with Abu Obeidah. “Do you not know,” said he, “that this city is holy; and that whoever offers violence to it, draws upon his head the vengeance of Heaven?”
“We know it,” replied Abu Obeidah, “to be the house of the prophets, where their bodies lie interred; we know it to be the place whence our prophet Mohammed made his nocturnal ascent to heaven; and we know that we are more worthy of possessing it than you are, nor will we raise the siege until Allah has delivered it into our hands, as he has done many other places.”
Seeing there was no further hope, the patriarch consented to give up the city, on condition that the Caliph would come in person to take possession and sign the articles of surrender.
When this unusual stipulation was made known to the Caliph, he held a council with his friends. Othman despised the people of Jerusalem, and was for refusing their terms, but Ali represented the sanctity and importance of the place in the eyes of the Christians, which might prompt them to reinforce it, and to make a desperate defense if treated with indignity. Besides, he added, the presence of the Caliph would cheer and inspirit the army in their long absence, and after the hardships of a wintry campaign.
The words of All had their weight with the Caliph: though certain Arabian writers pretend that he was chiefly moved by a tradition handed down in Jerusalem from days of yore, which said that a man of his name, religion, and personal appearance should conquer the holy city. Whatever may have been his inducements, the Caliph resolved to receive in person the surrender of Jerusalem. He accordingly appointed Ali to officiate in his place during his absence from Medina; then, having prayed at the mosque, and paid a pious visit to the tomb of the prophet, he set out on his journey.
The progress of this formidable potentate, who already held the destinies of empires in his grasp, and had the plunder of the Orient at his command, is characteristic of the primitive days of Mohammedanism, and reveals, in some measure, the secret of its success. He travelled on a red or sorrel camel, across which was slung an alforja, or wallet, with a huge sack or pocket at each end, something like the modern saddle-bags. One pocket contained dates and dried fruits, the other a provision called sawik, which was nothing more than barley, rice, or wheat, parched or sodden. Before him hung a leathern bottle, or sack, for water, and behind him a wooden platter. His companions, without distinction of rank, ate with him out of the same dish, using their fingers according to Oriental usage. He slept at night on a mat spread out under a tree, or under a common Bedouin tent of hair-cloth, and never resumed his march until he had offered up the morning prayer.
As he journeyed through Arabia in this simple way, he listened to the complaints of the people, redressed their grievances, and administered justice with sound judgment and a rigid hand. Information was brought to him of an Arab who was married to two sisters, a practice not unusual among idolaters, but the man was now a Mohammedan. Omar cited the culprit and his two wives into his presence, and taxed him roundly with his offense; but he declared his ignorance that it was contrary to the law of the prophet.
“Thou liest!” said Omar; “thou shalt part with one of them instantly, or lose thy head.”
“Evil was the day that I embraced such a religion,” muttered the culprit. “Of what advantage has it been to me?”
“Come nearer to me,” said Omar; and on his approaching, the Caliph bestowed two wholesome blows on his head with his walking-staff.
“Enemy of God and of thyself,” cried he, “let these blows reform thy manners, and teach thee to speak with more reverence of a religion ordained by Allah, and acknowledged by the best of his creatures.”
He then ordered the offender to choose between his wives, and finding him at a loss which to prefer, the matter was determined by lot, and he was dismissed by the Caliph with this parting admonition: “Whoever professes Islam, and afterward renounces it, is punishable with death; therefore take heed to your faith. And as to your wife’s sister, whom you have put away, if ever I hear that you have meddled with her, you shall be stoned.”
At another place he beheld a number of men exposed to the burning heat of the sun by their Moslem conquerors, as a punishment for failing to pay their tribute. Finding, on inquiry, that they were entirely destitute of means, he ordered them to be released; and turning reproachfully to their oppressors, “Compel no men,” said he, “to more than they can bear; for I heard the apostle of God say he who afflicts his fellow man in this world will be punished with the fire of Jehennam.”
While yet within a day’s journey of Jerusalem, Abu Obeidah came to meet him and conduct him to the camp. The Caliph proceeded with due deliberation, never forgetting his duties as a priest and teacher of Islam. In the morning he said the usual prayers, and preached a sermon, in which he spoke of the security of those whom God should lead in the right way; but added, that there was no help for such as God should lead into error.
A gray-headed Christian priest, who sat before him, could not resist the opportunity to criticize the language of the Caliph preacher. “God leads no man into error,” said he, aloud.
Omar deigned no direct reply, but, turning to those around, “Strike off that old man’s head,” said he, “if he repeats his words.”
The old man was discreet, and held his peace. There was no arguing against the sword of Islam.
On his way to the camp Omar beheld a number of Arabs, who had thrown by the simple garb of their country, and arrayed themselves in the silken spoils of Syria. He saw the danger of this luxury and effeminacy, and ordered that they should be dragged with their faces in the dirt, and their silken garments torn from their backs.
When he came in sight of Jerusalem he lifted up his voice and exclaimed, “Allah Achbar? God is mighty! God grant us an easy conquest!” Then commanding his tent to be pitched, he dismounted from his camel and sat down within it on the ground. The Christians thronged to see the sovereign of this new and irresistible people, who were overrunning and subduing the earth. The Moslems, fearful of an attempt at assassination, would have kept them at a distance, but Omar rebuked their fears. “Nothing will befall us but what God hath decreed. Let the faithful trust in him.”
The arrival of the Caliph was followed by immediate capitulation. When the deputies from Jerusalem were admitted to a parley, they were astonished to find this dreaded potentate a bald-headed man, simply clad, and seated on the ground in a tent of hair-cloth.
The articles of surrender were drawn up in writing by Omar, and served afterward as a model for the Moslem leaders in other conquests. The Christians were to build no new churches in the surrendered territory. The church doors were to be set open to travellers, and free ingress permitted to Mohammedans by day and night. The bells should only toll, and not ring, and no crosses should be erected on the churches, nor shown publicly in the streets. The Christians should not teach the Koran to their children; nor speak openly of their religion; nor attempt to make proselytes; nor hinder their kinsfolk from embracing Islam. They should not assume the Moslem dress, either caps, slippers, or turbans, nor part their hair like Moslems, but should always be distinguished by girdles. They should not use the Arabian language in inscriptions on their signets, nor salute after the Moslem manner, nor be called by Moslem surnames. They should rise on the entrance of a Moslem, and remain standing until he should be seated. They should entertain every Moslem traveller three days gratis. They should sell no wine, bear no arms, and use no saddle in riding; neither should they have any domestic who had been in Moslem service.
Such were the degrading conditions imposed upon the proud city of Jerusalem, once the glory and terror of the East, by the leader of a host of wandering Arabs. They were the conditions generally imposed by the Moslems in their fanatical career of conquest. Utter scorn and abhorrence of their religious adversaries formed one of the main pillars of their faith.
The Christians having agreed to surrender on these terms, the Caliph gave them, under his own hand, an assurance of protection in their lives and fortunes, the use of their churches, and the exercise of their religion.
Omar entered the once splendid city of Solomon on foot, in his simple Arab garb, with his walking-staff in his hand, and accompanied by the venerable Sophronius, with whom he talked familiarly, inquiring about the antiquities and public edifices. The worthy patriarch treated the conqueror with all outward deference, but, if we may trust the words of a Christian historian, he loathed the dirty Arab in his heart, and was particularly disgusted with his garb of coarse woolen, patched with sheepskin. His disgust was almost irrepressible when they entered the church of the Resurrection, and Sophronius beheld the Caliph in his filthy attire, seated in the midst of the sacred edifice. “This, of a truth,” exclaimed he, “is the abomination of desolation predicted by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place.”
It is added that, to pacify the cleanly scruples of the patriarch, Omar consented to put on clean raiment which he offered him, until his own garments were washed.
An instance of the strict good faith of Omar is related as occurring on this visit to the Christian temples. While he was standing with the patriarch in the church of the Resurrection, one of the stated hours for Moslem worship arrived, and he demanded where he might pray. “Where you now are,” replied the patriarch. Omar, however, refused, and went forth. The patriarch conducted him to the church of Constantine, and spread a mat for him to pray there: but again he refused. On going forth, he knelt, and prayed on the flight of steps leading down from the east gate of the church. This done, he turned to the patriarch, and gave him a generous reason for his conduct. “Had I prayed in either of the churches,” said he, “the Moslems would have taken possession of it, and consecrated it as a mosque.”
So scrupulous was he in observing his capitulations respecting the churches, that he gave the patriarch a writing, forbidding the Moslems to pray upon the steps where he had prayed, except one person at a time. The zeal of the faithful, however, outstripped their respect for his commands, and one half of the steps and porch was afterward included in a mosque built over the spot which he had accidentally sanctified.
The Caliph next sought the place where the temple of Solomon had stood, where he founded a mosque; which, in after times, being enlarged and enriched by succeeding Caliphs, became one of the noblest edifices of Islam worship, and second only to the magnificent mosque of Cordova.
The surrender of Jerusalem took place in the seventeenth year of the Hegira, and the six hundred and thirty-seventh year of the Christian era.
PROGRESS OF THE MOSLEM ARMS IN SYRIA—SIEGE OF ALEPPO— OBSTINATE DEFENSE BY YOUKENNA—EXPLOIT OF DAMAS—CAPTURE OF THE CASTLE—CONVERSION OF YOUKENNA.
THE Caliph Omar remained ten days in Jerusalem, regulating the great scheme of Islam conquest. To complete the subjugation of Syria, he divided it into two parts. Southern Syria, consisting of Palestine and the maritime towns, he gave in charge to Yezed Ibn Abu Sofian, with a considerable portion of the army to enable him to master it; while Abu Obeidah, with a larger force, had orders promptly to reduce all northern Syria, comprising the country lying between Hauran and Aleppo. At the same time, Amru Ibn al Aass, with a body of Moslem troops, was ordered to invade Egypt, which venerable and once mighty empire was then in a state of melancholy decline. Such were the great plans of Islam conquest in these regions; while at the same time, Saad Ibn Abi Wakkâs, another of Omar’s generals, was pursuing a career of victories in the Persian territories.
The return of Omar to Medina was hailed with joy by the inhabitants, for they had regarded with great anxiety and apprehension his visit to Jerusalem. They knew the salubrity of the climate, the fertility of the country, and the sacred character of the city, containing the tombs of the prophets, and being the place, according to Moslem belief, where all mankind were to be assembled in the day of the resurrection. They had feared, therefore, that he would be tempted to fix his residence, for the rest of his days, in that consecrated city. Great was their joy, therefore, when they saw their Caliph re-enter their gates in his primitive simplicity, clad in his coarse Arab garb, and seated on his camel with his wallets of dried fruits and sodden corn; his leathern bottle and his wooden platter.
Abu Obeidah departed from Jerusalem shortly after the Caliph, and marched with his army to the north, receiving in the course of his progress through Syria the submission of the cities of Kennesrin and Alhâdir, the inhabitants of which ransomed themselves and their possessions for five thousand ounces of gold, the like quantity of silver, two thousand suits of silken raiment, and as much figs and aloes as would load five hundred mules; he then proceeded toward the city of Aleppo, which the Caliph had ordered him to besiege. The inhabitants of this place were much given to commerce, and had amassed great wealth; they trembled, therefore, at the approach of these plundering sons of the desert, who had laid so many cities under contribution.
The city of Aleppo was walled and fortified; but it depended chiefly for defense upon its citadel, which stood without the walls and apart from the city, on an artificial hill or mound, shaped like a truncated cone or sugar loaf, and faced with stone. The citadel was of great size, and commanded all the adjacent country; it was encompassed by a deep moat, which could be filled from springs of water, and was considered the strongest castle in all Syria. The governor, who had been appointed to this place by the emperor Heraclius, and who had held all the territory between Aleppo and the Euphrates, had lately died, leaving two sons, Youkenna and Johannas, who resided in the castle and succeeded to his command. They were completely opposite in character and conduct. Youkenna, the elder of the two, was a warrior, and managed the government, while Johannas passed his life in almost monkish retirement, devoting himself to study, to religious exercises, and to acts of charity. On the approach of the Moslems Johannas sympathized with the fears of the wealthy merchants, and advised his brother to compound peaceably with the enemy for a ransom in money. “You talk like a monk,” replied the fierce Youkenna; “you know nothing that is due to the honor of a soldier. Have we not strong walls, a brave garrison, and ample wealth to sustain us, and shall we meanly buy a peace without striking a blow? Shut yourself up with your books and beads; study and pray, and leave the defense of the place to me.”
The next day he summoned his troops, distributed money among them, and having thus roused their spirit, “The Arabs,” said he, “have divided their forces; some are in Palestine, some have gone to Egypt, it can be but a mere detachment that is coming against us; I am for meeting them on the way, and giving them battle before they come near to Aleppo.” His troops answered his harangue with shouts, so he put himself at the head of twelve thousand men, and sallied forth to encounter the Moslems on their march.
Scarcely had this reckless warrior departed with his troops when the timid and trading part of the community gathered together, and took advantage of his absence to send thirty of the most important and opulent of the inhabitants to Abu Obeidah, with an offer of a ransom for the city. These worthies, when they entered the Moslem camp, were astonished at the order and tranquillity that reigned throughout, under the wise regulations of the commander-in-chief. They were received by Abu Obeidah with dignified composure, and informed him that they had come without the knowledge of Youkenna, their warlike governor, who had sallied out on a foray, and whose tyranny they found insupportable. After much discussion Abu Obeidah offered indemnity to the city of Aleppo, on condition that they should pay a certain sum of money, furnish provisions to his army, make discovery of everything within their knowledge prejudicial to his interests, and prevent Youkenna from returning to the castle. They agreed to all the terms except that relating to the castle, which it was impossible for them to execute.
Abu Obeidah dispensed with that point, but exacted from them all an oath to fulfill punctually the other conditions, assuring them of his protection and kindness, should they observe it; but adding that, should they break it, they need expect no quarter. He then offered them an escort, which they declined, preferring to return quietly by the way they had come.
In the mean time Youkenna, on the day after his sallying forth, fell in with the advance guard of the Moslem army, consisting of one thousand men under Caab Ibn Damarrah. He came upon them by surprise while watering their horses and resting themselves on the grass in negligent security. A desperate fight was the consequence; the Moslems at first were successful, but were overpowered by numbers. One hundred and seventy were slain, most of the rest wounded, and their frequent cries of “Ya Mahommed! Ya Mahommed!” (Oh Mohammed! Oh Mohammed!) showed the extremity of their despair. Night alone saved them from total massacre; but Youkenna resolved to pursue the work of extermination with the morning light. In the course of the night, however, one of his scouts brought him word of the peaceful negotiation carried on by the citizens of Aleppo during his absence. Boiling with rage, he gave up all further thought about Caab and his men, and hastening back to Aleppo, drew up his forces, and threatened to put everything to fire and sword unless the inhabitants renounced the treaty, joined him against the Moslems, and gave up the devisers of the late traitorous schemes. On their hesitating to comply with his demands, he charged on them with his troops, and put three hundred to the sword. The cries and lamentations of the multitude reached the pious Johannas in his retirement in the castle. He hastened to the scene of carnage, and sought, by prayers and supplications and pious remonstrances, to stay the fury of his brother. “What!” cried the fierce Youkenna, “shall I spare traitors who are leagued with the enemy and selling us for gold?”
“Alas!” replied Johannas, “they have only sought their own safety; they are not fighting men.”
“Base wretch!” cried Youkenna in a frenzy, “’tis thou hast been the contriver of this infamous treason.”
His naked sword was in his hand; his actions were even more frantic than his words, and in an instant the head of his meek and pious brother rolled on the pavement.
The people of Aleppo were in danger of suffering more from the madness of the army than they had apprehended from the sword of the invader, when a part of the Moslem army appeared in sight, led on by Khaled. A bloody battle ensued before the walls of the town, three thousand of Youkenna’s troops were slain, and he was obliged to take refuge with a considerable number within the castle, where he placed engines on the walls and prepared to defend himself to the last extremity.
A council was held in the Moslem camp. Abu Obeidah was disposed to besiege the citadel and starve out the garrison, but Khaled, with his accustomed promptness, was for instant assault, before the emperor could send reinforcements and supplies. As usual his bold counsel prevailed: the castle was stormed, and he headed the assault. The conflict was one of the fiercest in the wars of Syria. The besieged hurled huge stones from the battlements; many of the assailants were slain, many maimed, and Khaled was compelled to desist from the attack.
In the dead of that very night, when the fires of the camp were extinguished, and the Moslems were sleeping after their hard-fought battle, Youkenna sallied forth with his troops, fell on the enemy sword in hand, killed sixty, and bore off fifty prisoners; Khaled, however, was hard on his traces, and killed above a hundred of his men before they could shelter themselves within the castle. On the next morning Youkenna paraded his fifty prisoners on the walls of the citadel, ordered them to be beheaded, and threw their heads among the besiegers.
Learning from his spies that a detachment of Moslems were foraging the country, Youkenna sent out, secretly, a troop of horse in the night, who fell upon the foragers, killed nearly seven score of them, slew or hamstrung their camels, mules, and horses, and then hid themselves in the recesses of the mountains, awaiting the night to get back to the castle.
Some fugitives carried tidings of this skirmish to the camp, and Khaled and Derar, with a troop of horse, were soon at the scene of combat. They found the ground strewed with the dead bodies of men and animals, learned from some peasants whither the enemy had retreated, and were informed of a narrow defile by which they must return to the castle. Khaled and Derar stationed their troops in ambush in this defile. Late in the night they perceived the enemy advancing. They suffered them to get completely entangled in the defile, when, closing suddenly upon them on every side, they slew a number on the spot, and took three hundred prisoners. These were brought in triumph to the Moslem camp, where they would have redeemed themselves with ample ransom, but their heads were all stricken off in front of the castle, by way of retaliation.
For five months did the siege of this fortress continue; all the attacks of the Moslems were repulsed, all their stratagems discovered and circumvented, for Youkenna had spies in the very camp of the enemy, who gave him intelligence by word, or signal, of every plan and movement. Abu Obeidah despaired of reducing this impregnable castle, which impeded him in his career of conquest, and wrote to the Caliph, proposing to abandon the siege and proceed against Antioch. The Caliph, in reply, ordered him by no means to desist, as that would give courage to the enemy, but to press the siege hard, and trust the event to God. As an additional reliance, he sent him a reinforcement of horse and foot, with twenty camels to facilitate the march of the infantry. Notwithstanding all this aid, the siege was continued for seven-and-forty days, with no greater prospect of success.
While in this state of vexatious impediment and delay, Abu Obeidah was one day accosted by one of the newly arrived soldiers, who told him that, if he would give him thirty men, all strong and valiant, he would pledge his head to put him in possession of the castle. The man who made this singular application was named Damâs; he was of herculean strength and gigantic size, a brave soldier, and of great natural sagacity, although unimproved by education, as he was born a slave. Khaled backed his application, having heard of great exploits performed by him in Arabia. Abu Obeidah, in his perplexities, was willing to adopt any expedient to get possession of this obstinate castle, and the Arabs were always prone to strange and extravagant stratagems in their warfare. He accordingly placed thirty of his bravest men under command of Damâs, charging them to obey him implicitly, notwithstanding his base condition; at the same time, in compliance with his request, he removed with his army to the distance of a league, as though about to abandon the siege.
It was now night, and Damâs concealed his thirty men near to the castle, charging them not to stir, nor utter a sound. He then went out alone and brought in six Christian prisoners, one after another. He questioned them in Arabic, but they were ignorant of the language, and replied in their own tongue. “The curse of Allah on these Christian dogs and their barbarous jargon, which no man can understand,” cried the rude Arab, and in his rage he smote off their heads.
He went forth again, and saw a man sliding down the wall, whom he seized the moment he touched the ground. He was a Christian Arab, and was endeavoring to escape from the tyranny of Youkenna, and from him Damâs obtained the information he desired. He instantly dispatched two men to Abu Obeidah, requesting him to send him some horse about sunrise. He then took a goat-skin from his wallet, with which he covered his back and shoulders, and a dry crust of bread in his hand, and crept on all-fours close to the wall of the castle. His men crept silently after him. When he heard a noise he gnawed his crust with a sound like that of a dog gnawing a bone, and his followers remained motionless. In this way he reached a part of the castle wall which was easiest of access. Then seating himself on the ground he made one of his men seat himself on his shoulders, and so on until seven were thus mounted on each other. Then he who was uppermost stood upright, and so did the others in succession, until Damâs rose from the ground upon his feet, and sustained the whole by his wondrous strength, each rendering such aid as he could by bearing against the wall. The uppermost man was now enabled to scramble upon the battlement, where he found a Christian sentinel drunk and asleep. He seized and threw him down to the Moslems below the wall, who instantly dispatched him. He then unfolded his turban and drew up the man below him, and they two the next, and so on until Damâs was also on the wall.
Damâs now enjoined silence on them all, and left them. He found two other sentinels sleeping, whom he despatched with his dagger, and then made his way to an aperture for the discharge of arrows, looking through which he beheld Youkenna in a spacious chamber, richly clad, seated on tapestry of scarlet silk, flowered with gold, drinking and making merry with a large company; for it would seem as if, on the apparent departure of the besieging army, the whole castle had been given up to feasting and carousing.
Damâs considered the company too numerous to be attacked; returning to his men, therefore, he explored cautiously with them the interior of the castle. Coming suddenly upon the guards at the main entrance, who had no apprehension of danger from within, they killed them, threw open the gate, let down the drawbridge, and were joined by the residue of their party. The castle was by this time alarmed; the garrison, half drunk and half asleep, came rushing from all quarters in wild confusion. The Moslems defended themselves stoutly on the drawbridge and in the narrow pass of the barbican until the dawn of day, when a shout of Allah Achbar was heard, and Khaled, with a troop of horse, came thundering through the gate.
The Christians threw down their arms and cried for mercy. Khaled offered them their choice, death or the faith of Islam. Youkenna was the first to raise his finger and pronounce the formula; his example was followed by several of his leading men, whereupon their wives and children and property were secured to them. The castle, having been taken by storm, was completely plundered, and the spoils were divided among the army, excepting the usual fifth part reserved for the Caliph. Damâs and his brave companions, who had been almost cut to pieces in the fight, were praised to the skies, nor would Abu Obeidah stir with his host until those of them who survived were out of danger from their wounds.
PERFIDY OF YOUKENNA TO HIS FORMER FRIENDS—ATTEMPTS THE CASTLE OF AAZAZ BY TREACHERY—CAPTURE OF THE CASTLE.
IT is a circumstance worthy of remark in the history both of Mohammed and his successors, that the most inveterate enemies of the Islam faith, when once converted to it, even though their conversion were by the edge of the sword, that great Moslem instrument of persuasion, became its faithful defenders. Such was the case with Youkenna, who, from the time he embraced Islam with the Arab scimitar at his throat, became as determined a champion of its doctrines as he had before been an opponent. Like all new converts, he was anxious to give striking proofs of his zeal; he had slain a brother in supporting his old faith, he now proposed to betray a cousin in promoting the interests of the new. This cousin, whose name was Theodorus, was governor of an important town and fortress, named Aazaz, situated at no great distance from Aleppo, and which it was necessary for the Moslems to secure before they left that neighborhood. The castle was of great strength, and had a numerous garrison, but Youkenna offered to put it into the hands of Abu Obeidah by stratagem. His plan was, to have one hundred Moslems disguised as Christian soldiers; with these he would pretend to fly to the fortress of Aazaz for refuge; being pursued at a distance by a large body of Arabs, who, after coming in sight of the place, would appear to retire in despair, but would conceal themselves in the neighborhood. His cousin Theodorus, who knew nothing of his conversion, would receive him with perfect confidence; at a concerted hour of the night he and his men would fall suddenly upon the garrison, and at the same time throw open the gates to the party without the walls, and between them both he had no doubt of carrying the place without difficulty.
Abu Obeidah held counsel with Khaled, who pronounced the stratagem apt and feasible, provided the sincerity of Youkenna’s conversion might be depended upon. The new proselyte managed to obtain their confidence, and was dispatched on his enterprise with one hundred chosen men, selected by tens from ten tribes of Arabs. After they had departed a sufficient time, one thousand men were sent in pretended pursuit, headed by Malec Alashtar, who was instructed in the whole stratagem.
These Moslem wars were always a tissue of plot and counterplot, of which this whole story of Youkenna is a striking example. Scarce had this scheme of treachery been devised in the Moslem camp, when the distant governor of Aazaz was apprised of it, with a success and celerity that almost seemed like magic. He had at that time a spy in the Moslem camp, an Arab of the tribe of Gassan, who sent him a letter tied under the wing of a carrier-pigeon, informing him of the apostasy of Youkenna, and of his intended treachery; though the spy was ignorant of that part of the plan relating to the thousand men under Malec Alashtar. On receiving this letter, Theodorus put his town and castle in a posture of defense, called in the Christian Arabs of the neighboring villages capable of bearing arms, and despatched a messenger named Tarik al Gassani to Lucas the prefect of Arrawendân, urging him to repair with troops to his assistance.
Before the arrival of the latter, Youkenna appeared with his pretended fugitives before the gates of Aazaz, announcing that his castle was taken, and that he and his band were flying before pursuers. Theodorus sallied forth on horseback, at the head of many of his troops, as if to receive his cousin with all due honors. He even alighted from his steed, and, approaching Youkenna in a reverential manner, stooped as if to kiss his stirrup; but suddenly cutting the saddle girth, he pulled him with his face on the ground, and in an instant his hundred followers were likewise unhorsed and made prisoners. Theodorus then spat in the face of the prostrate Youkenna and reproached him with his apostasy and treachery; threatening to send him to answer for his crimes before the emperor Heraclius, and to put all his followers to the sword.
In the mean time Tarik al Gassani, the Christian Arab, who had been sent by Theodorus to summon the prefect of Arrawendân to his aid, had executed his errand, but on the way back fell into the hand of Malec, who was lying in ambuscade with his thousand men. The sight of a naked scimitar drew from Tarik information that the plot of Youkenna had been discovered; that he had been sent after aid, and that Lucas, the prefect of Arrawendân, must be actually on his way with five hundred cavalry.
Profiting by this information, Malec placed his thousand men so advantageously as completely to surprise and capture Lucas and his reinforcement, as they were marching in the night. He then devised a stratagem still to outwit the governor of Aazaz. First he disguised his five hundred men in dresses taken from their Christian prisoners, and gave them the Christian standard of the prefect of Arrawendân. Then summoning Tarik the messenger before him, and again displaying the scimitar, he exhorted him most earnestly to turn Mohammedan. There was no resisting his arguments, and Tarik made a full and hearty profession of the faith. Malec then ordered him to prove his zeal for the good cause by proceeding to Aazaz and informing Theodorus that the prefect of Arrawendân was at hand with a reinforcement of five hundred men. The double-faced courier departed on his errand, accompanied by a trusty Moslem, who had secret orders to smite off his head if he should be found to waver; but there were still other plots at work in this tissue of stratagems.
As Tarik and his companion approached Aazaz, they heard great shouting and the sound of trumpets, and this was the cause of the change. Theodorus, the governor, had committed Youkenna and his men into the custody of his son Leon. Now it so happened that the youth having frequently visited his father’s kinsmen at the castle of Aleppo, had become violently enamored of the daughter of Youkenna, but had met strong opposition to his love. The present breach between his father and Youkenna threatened to place an inseparable barrier between him and the gratification of his passion. Maddened by his desires, the youth now offered to Youkenna, if he would give him his daughter to wife, to embrace Mohammedanism, and to set him and his companions at liberty. The offer was accepted. At the dead of the night, when the prisoners were armed and liberated, they fell upon the sleeping garrison; a tumultuous fight ensued, in the course of which Theodorus was slain, by the hand, it is said, of his unnatural son.
It was in the height of this conflict that Tarik and his companion arrived at the place, and, learning the situation of affairs, hastened back to Malec Alashtar with the news. The latter hurried on with his troops and came in time to complete the capture of the place. He bestowed great praises on Youkenna, but the latter, taking him by the hand, exclaimed, “Thank Allah and this youth.” He then related the whole story. The pious Malec lifted up his eyes and hands in wonder “When Allah wills a thing,” exclaimed he, “he prepares the means.”
Leaving Seid Ibn Amir in command of the place, with Youkenna’s band of a hundred men as a garrison, Malec Alashtar returned to the main army with great booty and many prisoners. Youkenna, however, refused to accompany him. He was mortified at the questionable result of his undertaking against Aazaz, the place having been taken by other means than his own, and vowed not to show himself in the Moslem camp until he had retrieved his credit by some signal blow. Just at this time there arrived at Aazaz a foraging party of a thousand Moslems, that had been ravaging the neighboring country; among them were two hundred renegades, who had apostatized with Youkenna, and whose families and effects were in the castle of Aleppo. They were the very men for his purpose, and with these he marched off to execute one of his characteristic stratagems at Antioch.
INTRIGUES OF YOUKENNA AT ANTIOCH—SIEGE OF THAT CITY BY THE MOSLEMS—FLIGHT OF THE EMPEROR TO CONSTANTINOPLE—SURRENDER OF ANTIOCH.
THE city of Antioch was at that time the capital of Syria, and the seat of the Roman government in the East. It was of great extent, surrounded by stone walls and numerous towers, and stood in the midst of a fertile country, watered by wells and fountains and abundant streams. Here Heraclius held his court, and here the Greeks, sunk in luxury and effeminacy, had lost all the military discipline and heroism that had made them conquerors in Asia.
Toward this capital Youkenna proceeded with his band of two hundred men; but in the second watch of the night he left them, after giving them orders to keep on in the highway of the caravans, and on arriving at Antioch, to give themselves out as fugitives from Aleppo. In the meantime he, with two of his relatives, struck into a by-road, and soon fell into the hands of one of the emperor’s outposts. On announcing himself Youkenna, late governor of Aleppo, he was sent under a guard of horse to Antioch.
The emperor Heraclius, broken in spirit by his late reverses and his continual apprehensions, wept at the sight of Youkenna, and meekly upbraided him with his apostasy and treason, but the latter, with perfect self-possession and effrontery, declared that whatever he had done was for the purpose of preserving his life for the emperor’s service; and cited the obstinate defense he had made at Aleppo and his present voluntary arrival at Antioch as proofs of his fidelity. The emperor was easily deceived by a man he had been accustomed to regard as one of his bravest and most devoted officers; and indeed the subtle apostate had the address to incline most of the courtiers in his favor. To console him for what was considered his recent misfortunes, he was put in command of the two hundred pretended fugitives of his former garrison, as soon as they arrived at Antioch; he had thus a band of kindred renegades, ready to aid him in any desperate treachery. Furthermore, to show his entire confidence in him, the emperor sent him with upward of two thousand men, to escort his youngest daughter from a neighboring place to the court at Antioch. He performed his mission with correctness; as he and his troop were escorting the princess about midnight, the neighing of their horses put them on the alert, and sending out scouts they received intelligence of a party of Moslems asleep, with their horses grazing near them. They proved to be a body of a thousand Christian Arabs, under Haim, son of the apostate Jabalah Ibn al Ayam, who had made captives of Derar Ibn al Azwar and a foraging party of two hundred Moslems. They all proceeded together to Antioch, where the emperor received his daughter with great joy, and made Youkenna one of his chief counsellors.
Derar and his men were brought into the presence of the emperor, and commanded to prostrate themselves before him, but they held themselves erect and took no heed of the command. It was repeated more peremptorily. “We bow to no created being,” replied Derar; “the prophet bids us to yield adoration to God alone.”
The emperor, struck with this reply, propounded several questions touching Mohammed and his doctrines, but Derar, whose province did not lie in words, beckoned to Kais Ibn Amir, an old gray-headed Moslem, to answer them. A long and edifying conference ensued, in which, in reply to the searching questions of the emperor, the venerable Kais went into a history of the prophet, and of the various modes in which inspiration came upon him. Sometimes like the sound of a bell; sometimes in the likeness of an angel in human shape; sometimes in a dream; sometimes like the brightness of the dawning day; and that when it was upon him great drops of sweat rolled from his forehead, and a tremor seized upon his limbs. He furthermore descanted with eloquence upon the miracles of Mohammed, of his nocturnal journey to heaven, and his conversation with the Most High. The emperor listened with seeming respect to all these matters, but they roused the indignation of a bishop who was present, and who pronounced Mohammed an impostor. Derar took fire in an instant; if he could not argue, he could make use of a soldier’s vocabulary, and he roundly gave the bishop the lie, and assailed him with all kinds of epithets. Instantly a number of Christian swords flashed from their scabbards, blows were aimed at him from every side; and according to Moslem accounts he escaped death only by miracle; though others attribute it to the hurry and confusion of his assailants, and to the interference of Youkenna. The emperor was now for having him executed on the spot; but here the good offices of Youkenna again saved him, and his execution was deferred.
In the mean time Abu Obeidah, with his main army, was making his victorious approaches, and subjecting all Syria to his arms. The emperor, in his miserable imbecility and blind infatuation, put the treacherous Youkenna in full command of the city and army. He would again have executed Derar and his fellow-prisoners, but Youkenna suggested that they had better be spared to be exchanged for any Christians that might be taken by the enemy. They were then, by advice of the bishops, taken to one of the churches, and exhorted to embrace the Christian faith, but they obstinately refused. The Arabian writers, as usual, give them sententious replies to the questions put to them. “What hinders ye,” demanded the patriarch, “from turning Christians?” “The truth of our religion,” replied they. Heraclius had heard of the mean attire of the Caliph Omar, and asked them why, having gained so much wealth by his conquests, he did not go richly clad like other princes? They replied that he cared not for this world, but for the world to come, and sought favor in the eyes of God alone. “In what kind of a palace does he reside?” asked the emperor. “In a house built of mud.” “Who are his attendants?” “Beggars and the poor.” “What tapestry does he sit upon?” “Justice and equity.” “What is his throne?” “Abstinence and true knowledge.” “What is his treasure?” “Trust in God.” “And who are his guard?” “The bravest of the Unitarians.”
Of all the prisoners one only could be induced to swerve from his faith; and he was a youth fascinated by the beauty and the unveiled charms of the Greek women. He was baptized with triumph; the bishops strove who most should honor him, and the emperor gave him a horse, a beautiful damsel to wife, and enrolled him in the army of Christian Arabs, commanded by the renegade Jabalah; but he was upbraided in bitter terms by his father, who was one of the prisoners, and ready to die in the faith of Islam.
The emperor now reviewed his army, which was drawn up outside of the walls, and at the head of every battalion was a wooden oratory with a crucifix; while a precious crucifix out of the main church, exhibited only on extraordinary occasions, was borne as a sacred standard before the treacherous Youkenna. One of the main dependences of Heraclius for the safety of Antioch was in the Iron Bridge, so called from its great strength. It was a bridge of stone across the river Orontes, guarded by two towers and garrisoned by a great force, having not less than three hundred officers. The fate of this most important pass shows the degeneracy of Greek discipline and the licentiousness of the soldiery, to which in a great measure has been attributed the rapid successes of the Moslems. An officer of the court was charged to visit this fortress each day, and see that everything was in order. On one of his visits he found those who had charge of the towers drinking and revelling, whereupon he ordered them to be punished with fifty stripes each. They treasured the disgrace in their hearts; the Moslem army approached to lay siege to that formidable fortress, and when the emperor expected to hear of a long and valiant resistance, he was astonished by the tidings that the Iron Bridge had been surrendered without a blow.
Heraclius now lost heart altogether. Instead of calling a council of his generals, he assembled the bishops and wealthiest citizens in the cathedral, and wept over the affairs of Syria. It was a time for dastard counsel; the apostate Jabalah proposed the assassination of the Caliph Omar as a means of throwing the affairs of the Saracens into confusion. The emperor was weak enough to consent, and Vathek Ibn Mosapher, a bold young Arab of the tribe of Jabalah, was dispatched to Medina to effect the treacherous deed. The Arabian historians give a miraculous close to this undertaking. Arriving at Medina, Vathek concealed himself in a tree, without the wails, at a place where the Caliph was accustomed to walk after the hour of prayers. After a time Omar approached the place, and lay down to sleep near the foot of the tree. The assassin drew his dagger, and was descending, when be beheld a lion walking round the Caliph, licking his feet and guarding him as he slept. When he woke the lion went away upon which Vathek, convinced that Omar was under the protection of Heaven, hastened down from the tree, kissed his hand in token of allegiance, revealed his treacherous errand, and avowed his conversion to the Islam faith.
The surrender of the Iron Bridge had laid open Antioch to the approach of Abu Obeidah, and he advanced in battle array to where the Christian army was drawn up beneath its walls. Nestorius, one of the Christian commanders, sallied forth from among the troops and defied the Moslems to single combat. Damâs, the herculean warrior, who had taken the castle of Aleppo, spurred forward to meet him, but his horse stumbled and fell with him, and he was seized as the prisoner of Nestorius, and conveyed to his tent, where he was bound hand and foot. Dehac, another Moslem, took his place, and a brave fight ensued between him and Nestorius. The parties, however, were so well matched that, after fighting for a long time until both were exhausted, they parted by mutual consent. While this fight was going on, the soldiers, horse and foot, of either army, thronged to see it, and in the tumult the tent of Nestorius was thrown down. There were but three servants left in charge of it. Fearful of the anger of their master, they hastened to set it up again, and loosened the bands of Damâs that he might assist them; but the moment he was free he arose in his giant strength, seized two of the attendants, one in each hand, dashed their heads against the head of the third, and soon laid them all lifeless on the ground. Then opening a chest, he arrayed himself in a dress belonging to Nestorius, armed himself with a saber, sprang on a horse that stood ready saddled, and cut his way through the Christian Arabs of Jabalah to the Moslem host.
While these things were happening without the walls, treason was at work in the city. Youkenna, who commanded there, set free Derar and his fellow-prisoners, furnished them with weapons, and joined to them his own band of renegadoes. The tidings of this treachery and the apprehension of revolt among his own troops struck despair to the heart of Heraclius. He had been terrified by a dream in which he had found himself thrust from his throne, and his crown falling from his head; the fulfillment appeared to be at hand. Without waiting to withstand the evil, he assembled a few domestics, made a secret retreat to the sea-shore, and set sail for Constantinople.
The generals of Heraclius, more brave than their emperor, fought a pitched battle beneath the walls; but the treachery of Youkenna and the valor of Derar and his men, who fell on them unawares, rendered their gallant struggle unavailing; the people of Antioch seeing the battle lost capitulated for the safety of their city at the cost of three hundred thousand golden ducats, and Abu Obeidah entered the ancient capital of Syria in triumph. This event took place on the 21st of August, in the year of redemption 638.
EXPEDITION INTO THE MOUNTAINS OF SYRIA—STORY OF A MIRACULOUS CAP.
The discreet Abu Obeidah feared to expose his troops to the enervating delights of Antioch, and to the allurements of the Greek women, and, after three days of repose and refreshment, marched forth from that luxurious city. He wrote a letter to the Caliph, relating his important conquest, and the flight of the emperor Heraclius; and added that he discovered a grievous propensity among his troops to intermarry with the beautiful Grecian females, which he had forbidden them to do, as contrary to the injunctions of the Koran.
The epistle was delivered to Omar just as be was departing on a pilgrimage to Mecca, accompanied by the widows of the prophet. When he had read the letter he offered prayers and thanksgiving to Allah, but wept over Abu Obeidah’s rigor to his soldiers. Seating himself upon the ground, he immediately wrote a reply to his general, expressing his satisfaction at his success, but exhorting him to more indulgence to his soldiers. Those who had fought the good fight ought to be permitted to rest themselves, and to enjoy the good things they had gained. Such as had no wives at home, might marry in Syria, and those who had a desire for female slaves might purchase as many as they chose.
While the main army reposed after the taking of Antioch, the indefatigable Khaled, at the head of a detachment, scoured the country as far as to the Euphrates; took Membege, the ancient Hierapolis, by force, and Berah and Bales, and other places, by capitulation, receiving a hundred thousand pieces of gold by way of ransom, besides laying the inhabitants under annual tribute.
Abu Obeidah, in an assemblage of his officers, now proposed an expedition to subdue the mountains of Syria; but no one stepped forward to volunteer. The mountains were rugged and sterile, and covered with ice and snow for the greater part of the year, and the troops already began to feel the effects of the softening climate and delights of Syria. At length a candidate presented himself, named Meisara Ibn Mesroud; a numerous body of picked men was placed under his command, and a black flag was given him, bearing the inscription, “There is no God but God. Mohammed is the messenger of God.” Damâs accompanied him at the head of one thousand black Ethiopian slaves. The detachment suffered greatly in the mountains, for they were men of sultry climates, unaccustomed to ice and snow, and they passed suddenly from a soft Syrian summer to the severity of frozen winter, and from the midst of abundance to regions of solitude and sterility. The inhabitants, too, of the scanty villages, fled at their approach. At length they captured a prisoner, who informed them that an imperial army of many thousand men was lying in wait for them in a valley about three leagues distant, and that all the passes behind them were guarded. A scout, dispatched in search of intelligence, confirmed this news; whereupon they entrenched themselves in a commanding position, and dispatched a fleet courier to Abu Obeidah, to inform him of their perilous situation.
The courier made such speed that when he reached the presence of Obeidah he fainted through exhaustion. Khaled, who had just returned from his successful expedition to the Euphrates, instantly hastened to the relief of Meisara, with three thousand men, and was presently followed by Ayad Ibn Ganam, with two thousand more.
Khaled found Meisara and his men making desperate stand against an overwhelming force. At the sight of this powerful reinforcement, with the black eagle of Khaled in the advance, the Greeks gave over the attack and returned to their camp, but secretly retreated in the night, leaving their tents standing, and bearing off captive Abdallah Ibn Hodafa, a near relative of the prophet and a beloved friend of the Caliph Omar, whom they straightway sent to the emperor at Constantinople.
The Moslems forbore to pursue the enemy through these difficult mountains, and, after plundering the deserted tents, returned to the main army. When the Caliph Omar received tidings from Abu Obeidah of the capture of Abdallah Ibn Hodafa, he was grieved at heart, and dispatched instantly an epistle to the emperor Heraclius at Constantinople.
“Bismillah! In the name of the all-merciful God!
“Praise be to Allah, the Lord of this world, and of that which is to come, who has neither companion, wife, nor son; and blessed be Mohammed his apostle. Omar Ibn al Khattâb, servant of God, to Heraclius, emperor of the Greeks. As soon as thou shalt receive this epistle, fail not to send to me the Moslem captive whose name is Abdallah Ibn Hodafa. If thou doest this, I shall have hope that Allah will conduct thee in the right path. If thou dost refuse, I will not fail to send thee such men as traffic and merchandise have not turned from the fear of God. Health and happiness to all those who tread in the right way!”
In the mean time the emperor had treated his prisoner with great distinction, and as Abdallah was a cousin-german to the prophet, the son of one of his uncles, he was an object of great curiosity at Constantinople. The emperor proffered him liberty if he would only make a single sign of adoration to the crucifix, and magnificent rewards if he would embrace the Christian faith; but both proposals were rejected. Heraclius, say the Arab writers, then changed his treatment of him; shut him up for three days with nothing to eat and drink but swine’s flesh and wine, but on the fourth day found both untouched. The faith of Abdallah was put to no further proof, as by this time the emperor received the stern letter from the Caliph. The letter had its effect. The prisoner was dismissed, with costly robes and rich presents, and Heraclius sent to Omar a diamond of great size and beauty; but no jeweller at Medina could estimate its value. The abstemious Omar refused to appropriate it to his own use, though urged to do so by the Moslems. He placed it in the public treasury, of which, from his office, he was the guardian and manager. It was afterward sold for a great sum.
A singular story is related by a Moslem writer, but not supported by any rumor or surmise among Christian historians. It is said that the emperor Heraclius wavered in his faith, if he did not absolutely become a secret convert of Mohammedanism, and this is stated as the cause. He was afflicted with a violent pain in the head, for which he could find no remedy, until the Caliph Omar sent him a cap of mysterious virtue. So long as he wore this cap he was at ease, but the moment he laid it aside the pain returned. Heraclius caused the cap to be ripped open, and found within the lining a scrap of paper, on which was written in Arabic character, Bismillah! Arrahmani Arrahimi! In the name of the all-merciful God. This cap is said to have been preserved among the Christians until the year 833, when it was given up by the governor of a besieged town to the Caliph Almotassem, on condition of his raising the siege. It was found still to retain its medicinal virtues, which the pious Arabians ascribed to the efficacy of the devout inscription. An unbelieving Christian will set it down among the charms and incantations which have full effect on imaginative persons inclined to credulity, but upon none others; such persons abounded among the Arabs.
EXPEDITION OF AMRU IBN AL AASS AGAINST PRINCE CONSTANTINE IN SYRIA—THEIR CONFERENCE—CAPTURE OF TRIPOLI AND TYRE—FLIGHT OF CONSTANTINE—DEATH OF KHALED.
The course of our history now turns to record the victories of Amru Ibn al Aass, to whom, after the capture of Jerusalem, the Caliph had assigned the invasion and subjugation of Egypt. Amru, however, did not proceed immediately to that country, but remained for some time with his division of the army, in Palestine, where some places still held out for the emperor. The natural and religious sobriety of the Arabs was still sorely endangered among the temptations of Syria. Several of the Moslem officers being seized, while on the march, With chills and griping pains in consequence of eating unripe grapes, were counselled by a crafty old Christian Arab to drink freely of wine which he produced, and which he pronounced a sovereign remedy. They followed his prescriptions so lustily that they all came reeling into the camp to the great scandal of Amru. The punishment for drunkenness, recommended by Ali and adopted by the Caliph, was administered to the delinquents, who each received a sound bastinado on the soles of the feet. This sobered them completely, but so enraged them with the old man who had recommended the potations that they would have put him to death, had it not been represented to them that he was a stranger and under Moslem protection.
Amru now advanced upon the city of Caesarea, where Constantine, son of the emperor, was posted with a large army. The Moslems were beset by spies, sent by the Christian commander to obtain intelligence. These were commonly Christian Arabs, whom it was almost impossible to distinguish from those of the faith of Islam. One of these, however, after sitting one day by the camp fires, as he rose trod on the end of his own robe and stumbled; in his vexation he uttered an oath “by Christ!” He was immediately detected by his blasphemy to be a Christian and a spy, and was cut to pieces by the bystanders. Amru rebuked them for their precipitancy, as he might have gained information from their victim, and ordered that in future all spies should be brought to him.
The fears of Constantine increased with the approach of the army, and he now dispatched a Christian priest to Amru, soliciting him to send some principal officer to confer amicably with him. An Ethiopian negro, named Belal Ibn Rebah, offered to undertake the embassy. He was a man of powerful frame and sonorous voice, and had been employed by Mohammed as a Muezzin or crier, to summon the people to prayers. Proud of having officiated under the prophet, he retired from office at his death, and had raised his voice but once since that event, and that was on the taking possession of Jerusalem, the city of the prophets, when, at the Caliph Omar’s command, he summoned the true believers to prayers with a force of lungs that astonished the Jewish inhabitants.
Amru would have declined the officious offer of the vociferous Ethiopian, representing to him that such a mission required a smooth-spoken Arab, rather than one of his country; but, on Belal conjuring him in the name of Allah and the prophet to let him go, he reluctantly consented. When, the priest saw who was to accompany him back to Constantine, he objected stoutly to such an ambassador, and glancing contemptuously at the negro features of the Ethiopian, observed that Constantine had not sent for a slave but for an officer. The negro ambassador, however, persisted in his diplomatic errand, but was refused admission. and returned mortified and indignant.
Amru now determined to undertake the conference in person. Repairing to the Christian camp, he was conducted to Constantine, whom he found seated in state, and who ordered a chair to be placed for him; but he put it aside, and seated himself cross-legged on the ground after the Arab fashion, with his scimitar on his thigh and his lance across his knees. The curious conference that ensued is minutely narrated by that pious Imam and Cadi, the Moslem historian Alwakedi, in his chronicle of the conquest of Syria.
Constantine remonstrated against the invasion, telling Amru that the Romans and Greeks and Arabs were brethren, as being all the children of Noah, although, it was true, the Arabs were misbegotten, as being the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Hagar, a slave and a concubine, yet being thus brethren, it was sinful for them to war against each other.
Amru replied that what Constantine had said was true, and that the Arabs gloried in acknowledging Ishmael as their progenitor, and envied not the Greeks their forefather Esau, who had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. He added that their difference related to their religion, upon which ground even brothers were justified in warfare.
Amru proceeded to state that Noah, after the deluge, divided the earth into three parts, between his sons Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and that Syria was in the portion assigned to Shem, which continued down through his descendants Kathan and Tesm, and Jodais to Amalek, the father of the Amalekite Arabs; but that the Arabs had been pushed from their fertile inheritance of Syria into the stony and thorny deserts of Arabia.
“We come now,” continued Amru, “to claim our ancient inheritance, and resume the ancient partition. Take you the stones and the thorns and the barren deserts we have occupied, and give us back the pleasant land of Syria, with its groves, its pastures, its fair cities and running streams.”
To this Constantine replied, that the partition was already made; that time and possession had confirmed it; and that the groves had been planted, and the cities built by the present inhabitants. Each, therefore, ought to be contented with the lot that had fallen to him.
There are two conditions,” rejoined Amru, “on which the land may remain with its present inhabitants. Let them profess the religion of Islam, or pay tribute to the Caliph, as is due from all unbelievers.”
“Not so,” said Constantine, “but let each continue to possess the land he has inhabited, and enjoy the produce of his own toil, and profess the faith which he believes, in his own conscience, to be true.”
Upon this Amru sternly rose. “One only alternative,” said he, “remains. Since you obstinately refuse the conditions I propose, even as your ancestor Esau refused obedience to his mother, let God and the sword decide between us.”
As he was about to depart, he added: “We will acknowledge no kindred with you, while ye continue unbelievers. Ye are the children of Esau, we of Ishmael, through whom alone the seal and gift of prophecy descended from father to son, from our great forefather Adam, until it reached the prophet Mohammed. Now Ishmael was the best of the sons of his father, and made the tribe of Kenanah, the best tribe of Arabia; and the family of Koreish is the best of the tribe of Kenanah; and the children of Haschem are the best of the family of Koreish; and Abdallah Motâlleb, grandsire of Mohammed, was the best of the sons of Haschem; and Abdallah, the youngest and best of the thirteen sons of Abu Motâlleb, was the father of Mohammed (on whom be peace!), who was the best and only issue of his sire; and to him the angel Gabriel descended from Allah, and inspired him with the gift of prophecy.”
Thus terminated this noted conference, and Amru returned to his host. The armies now remained in sight of each other, prepared for battle, but without coming to action. One day an officer richly arrayed came forth from the Christian camp, defying the Moslems to single combat. Several wore eager to accept the challenge in hopes of gaining such glittering spoil; but Amru rebuked their sordid motives. “Let no man fight for gain,” said he, “but for the truth. He who loses his life fighting for the love of God will have paradise as a reward; but he who loses it fighting for any other object will lose his life and all that he fights for.”
A stripling now advanced, an Arab from Yemen, or Arabia the Happy, who had sought these wars not, as he said, for the delights of Syria, or the fading enjoyments of this world, but to devote himself to the service of God and his apostle. His mother and sister had in vain opposed his leaving his peaceful home to seek a life of danger. “If I fall in the service of Allah,” said he, “I shall be a martyr; and the prophet has said that the spirits of the martyrs shall dwell in the crops of the green birds that eat of the fruits and drink of the rivers of paradise.” Finding their remonstrances of no avail, his mother and sister had followed him to the wars, and they now endeavored to dissuade him from fighting with an adversary so much his superior in strength and years; but the youthful enthusiast was not to be moved. “Farewell, mother and sister!” cried he; “we shall meet again by that river of joy provided in paradise for the apostle and his followers.”
The youth rushed to the combat, but obtained almost instantly the crown of martyrdom he sought. Another and another succeeded him, but shared the same fate. Serjabil Ibn Hasanah stepped forth. As on a former occasion, in purifying the spirit, he had reduced the flesh; and a course of watching and fasting had rendered him but little competent to face his powerful adversary. After a short combat the Christian bore him to the earth, and setting his foot upon his breast, was about to take his life, when his own hand was suddenly severed from his body. The prostrate Serjabil looked up with surprise at his deliverer; for he was in Grecian attire, and had come from the Grecian host. He announced himself as the unhappy Tuleia Ibn Chowailed, formerly a pretended prophet and an associate of Moseilma. After the death of that impostor, he had repented of his false prophecies, and become a Moslem in heart, and had sought an opportunity of signalizing his devotion to the Islam cause.
“Oh brother!” cried Serjabil, “the mercy of Allah is infinite, and repentance wipes away all crimes.”
Serjabil would now have taken him to the Moslem host, but Tuleia hung back; and at length confessed that he would long since have joined the standard of Islam, but that he was afraid of Khaled, that terror and scourge of false prophets, who had killed his friend Moseilma, and who might put him to death out of resentment for past misdeeds. Serjabil quieted his fears by assuring him that Khaled was not in the Moslem camp; he then conducted him to Amru, who received him with great favor, and afterward gave him a letter to the Caliph setting forth the signal service he had performed, and his sincere devotion to the cause of Islam. He was subsequently employed in the wars of the Moslems against the Persians.
The weather was cold and tempestuous, and the Christians, disheartened by repeated reverses, began daily to desert their colors. The prince Constantine dreaded, with his diminished and discouraged troops, to encounter an enemy flushed with success, and continually augmenting in force. Accordingly, he took advantage of a tempestuous night, and abandoning his camp to be plundered by the Moslems, retreated with his army to Caesarea, and shut himself up within its walls. Hither he was soon followed by Amru, who laid close siege to the place, but the walls were strong, the garrison was numerous, and Constantine hoped to be able to hold out until the arrival of reinforcements. The tidings of further disasters, and disgraces to the imperial cause, however, destroyed this hope; and these were brought about by the stratagems and treacheries of that arch deceiver Youkenna. After the surrender of Antioch, that wily traitor still kept up his pretended devotion to the Christian cause, and retreated with his band of renegadoes to the town of Tripoli, a seaport in Syria, situated on the Mediterranean. Here he was cordially admitted, as his treachery was still unknown. Watching his opportunity, he rose with his devoted band, seized on the town and citadel without noise or tumult, and kept the standard of the cross still flying, while he sent secret intelligence of his exploit to Abu Obeidah. Just at this time, a fleet of fifty ships from Cyprus and Crete put in there, laden with arms and provisions for Constantine’s army. Before notice could be given of the posture of affairs, Youkenna gained possession of the ships, and embarked on board of them with his renegadoes and other troops, delivering the city of Tripoli into the hands of the force sent by Abu Obeidah to receive it.
Bent on new treacheries, Youkenna now sailed with the fleet to Tyre, displaying the Christian flag, and informing the governor that he was come with a reinforcement for the army of the emperor. He was kindly received, and landed with nine hundred of his troops, intending to rise on the garrison in the night. One of his own men, however, betrayed the plot, and Youkenna and his followers were seized and imprisoned in the citadel.
In the mean time Yezed Ibn Abu Sofian, who had marched with two thousand men against Caesarea, but had left Amru to subdue it, came with his troops into the neighborhood of Tyre, in hopes to find it in possession of Youkenna. The governor of the city, despising so slender a force, sallied forth with the greater part of his garrison, and the inhabitants mounted on the walls to see the battle.
It was the fortune of Youkenna, which he derived from his consummate skill in intrigue, that his failure and captivity on this occasion, as on a former one in the castle of Aazaz, served only as a foundation for his success. He contrived to gain over a Christian officer named Basil, to whose keeping he and the other prisoners were entrusted, and who was already disposed to embrace the Islam faith; and he sent information of his plan by a disguised messenger to Yezed, and to those of his own followers who remained on board of the fleet. All this was the work of a few hours, while the opposing forces were preparing for action.
The battle was hardly begun when Youkenna and his nine hundred men, set free by the apostate Basil, and conducted to the arsenal, armed themselves and separated in different parties. Some scoured the streets, shouting La ilaha Allah! and Alla Achbar! Others stationed themselves at the passages by which alone the guard could descend from the walls. Others ran to the port, where they were joined by their comrades from the fleet, and others threw wide the gates to a detachment of the army of Yezed. All this was suddenly effected, and with such co-operation from various points, that the place was presently in the hands of the Moslems. Most of the inhabitants embraced the Islam faith; the rest were pillaged and made slaves.
It was the tidings of the loss of Tripoli and Tyre, and of the capture of the fleet, with its munitions of war, that struck dismay into the heart of the prince Constantine, and made him quake within the walls of Caesarea. He felt as if Amru and his besieging army were already within the walls, and, taking disgraceful counsel from his fears, and example from his father’s flight from Antioch, he removed furtively from Caesarea with his family and vast treasure, gained promptly a convenient port, and set all sail for Constantinople.
The people of Caesarea finding one morning that the son of their sovereign had fled in the night, capitulated with Amru, offering to deliver up the city, with all the wealth belonging to the family of the late emperor, and two hundred thousand pieces of silver, as ransom for their own property. Their terms were promptly accepted, Amru being anxious to depart on the invasion of Egypt.
The surrender of Caesarea was followed by the other places in the province which had still held out, and thus, after a war of six years, the Moslem conquest of Syria was completed, in the fifth year of the Caliph Omar, the 29th of the reign of the emperor Heraclius, the 17th of the Hegira, and the 639th year of our redemption.
The conquest was followed by a pestilence, one of the customary attendants upon war. Great numbers of the people of Syria perished, and with them twenty-five thousand of their Arabian conquerors. Among the latter was Abu Obeidah, the commander-in-chief, then fifty-eight years of age; also Yezed Ibn Abu Sofian, Serjabil, and other distinguished generals, so that the 18th year of the Hegira became designated as “The year of the mortality.”
In closing this account of the conquest of Syria, we must note the fate of one of the most efficient of its conquerors, the invincible Khaled. He had never been a favorite of Omar who considered him rash and headlong, arrogant in the exercise of command, unsparing in the use of the sword, and rapacious in grasping the spoils of victory. His brilliant achievements in Irak and Syria, and the magnanimity with which he yielded the command to Abu Obeidah, and zealously fought under his standard, had never sufficed to efface the prejudice of Omar.
After the capture of Emessa, which was mainly effected by the bravery of Khaled, he received congratulations on all hands as the victor. Eschaus, an Arabian poet, sang his exploits in lofty verse, making him the hero of the whole Syrian conquest. Khaled, who was as ready to squander as to grasp, rewarded the adulation of the poet with thirty thousand pieces of silver. All this, when reported to Omar, excited his quick disgust; he was indignant at Khaled for arrogating to himself, as he supposed, all the glory of the war; and he attributed the lavish reward of the poet to gratified vanity. “Even if the money came from his own purse,” said he, “it was shameful squandering; and God, says the Koran, loves not a squanderer.”
He now gave faith to a charge made against Khaled of embezzling the spoils set apart for the public treasury, and forthwith sent orders for him to be degraded from his command in presence of the assembled army; it is even said his arms were tied behind his back with his turban.
A rigid examination proved the charge of embezzlement to be unfounded, but Khaled was subjected to a heavy fine. The sentence causing great dissatisfaction in the army, the Caliph wrote to the commanders: “I have punished Khaled not on account of fraud or falsehood, but for his vanity and prodigality; paying poets for ascribing to him alone all the successes of the holy war. Good and evil come from God, not from Khaled!”
These indignities broke the heart of the veteran, who was already infirm from the wounds and hardships of his arduous campaigns, and he gradually sank into the grave, regretting in his last moments that he had not died in the field of battle. He left a name idolized by the soldiery and beloved by his kindred; at his sepulture, all the women of his race cut off their hair in token of lamentation. When it was ascertained, at his death, that instead of having enriched himself by the wars, his whole property consisted of his war-horse, his arms, and a single slave, Omar became sensible of the injustice he had done to his faithful general, and shed tears over his grave.
INVASION OF EGYPT BY AMRU—CAPTURE OF MEMPHIS—SIEGE AND SURRENDER OF ALEXANDRIA—BURNING OF THE ALEXANDRIAN LIBRARY.
A PROOF of the religious infatuation, or the blind confidence in destiny, which hurried the Moslem commanders of those days into the most extravagant enterprises, is furnished in the invasion of the once proud empire of the Pharaohs, the mighty, the mysterious Egypt, with an army of merely five thousand men. The Caliph, himself, though he had suggested this expedition, seems to have been conscious of its rashness; or rather to have been chilled by the doubts of his prime counsellor Othman; for, while Amru was on the march, he dispatched missives after him to the following effect: “If this epistle reach thee before thou hast crossed the boundary of Egypt, come instantly back; but if it find thee within the Egyptian territory, march on with the blessing of Allah, and be assured I will send thee all necessary aid.”
The bearer of the letter overtook Amru while yet within the bounds of Syria; that wary general either had secret information, or made a shrewd surmise as to the purport of his errand, and continued his march across the border without admitting him to an audience. Having encamped at the Egyptian village of Arish, he received the courier with all due respect, and read the letter aloud in the presence of his officers. When he had finished, he demanded of those about him whether they were in Syria or Egypt. “In Egypt,” was the reply. “Then,” said Amru, “we will proceed, with the blessing of Allah, and fulfill the commands of the Caliph.”
The first place to which he laid siege was Farwak, or Pelusium, situated on the shores of the Mediterranean, on the Isthmus which separates that sea from the Arabian Gulf, and connects Egypt with Syria and Arabia. It was therefore considered the key to Egypt. A month’s siege put Amru in possession of the place; he then examined the surrounding country with more forethought than was generally manifested by the Moslem conquerors, and projected a canal across the Isthmus, to connect the waters of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. His plan, however, was condemned by the Caliph, as calculated to throw open Arabia to a maritime invasion of the Christians.
Amru now proceeded to Misrah, the Memphis of the ancients, and residence of the early Egyptian kings. This city was at that time the strongest fortress in Egypt, except Alexandria, and still retained much of its ancient magnificence. It stood on the western bank of the Nile, above the Delta, and a little east of the Pyramids. The citadel was of great strength, and well garrisoned, and had recently been surrounded with a deep ditch, into which nails and spikes had been thrown, to impede assailants.
The Arab armies, rarely provided with the engines necessary for the attack of fortified places, generally beleaguered them; cut off all supplies; attacked all foraging parties that sallied forth, and thus destroyed the garrison in detail, or starved it to a surrender. This was the reason of the long duration of their sieges. This of Misrah, or Memphis, lasted seven months; in the course of which the little army of Amru was much reduced by frequent skirmishings. At the end of this time he received a reinforcement of four thousand men, sent to him at his urgent entreaties by the Caliph. Still his force would have been insufficient for the capture of the place, had he not been aided by the treachery of its governor, Mokawkas.
This man, an original Egyptian, or Copt, by birth, and of noble rank, was a profound hypocrite. Like most of the Copts, he was of the Jacobite sect, who denied the double nature of Christ. He had dissembled his sectarian creed, however, and deceived the emperor Heraclius by a show of loyalty, so as to be made prefect of his native province, and governor of the city. Most of the inhabitants of Memphis were Copts and Jacobite Christians, and held their Greek fellow-citizens, who were of the regular Catholic church of Constantinople, in great antipathy.
Mokawkas in the course of his administration had collected, by taxes and tribute, an immense amount of treasure, which he had deposited in the citadel. He saw that the power of the emperor was coming to an end in this quarter, and thought the present a good opportunity to provide for his own fortune. Carrying on a secret correspondence with the Moslem general, he agreed to betray the place into his hands, on condition of receiving the treasure as a reward for his treason. He accordingly, at an appointed time, removed the greater part of the garrison from the citadel to an island in the Nile. The fortress was immediately assailed by Amru, at the head of his fresh troops, and was easily carried by assault, the Copts rendering no assistance. The Greek soldiery, on the Moslem standard being hoisted on the citadel, saw through the treachery, and, giving up all as lost, escaped in their ships to the main land; upon which the prefect surrendered the place by capitulation. An annual tribute of two ducats a head was levied on all the inhabitants of the district, with the exception of old men, women, and boys under the age of sixteen years. It was further conditioned that the Moslem army should be furnished with provisions, for which they would pay, and that the inhabitants of the country should, forthwith, build bridges over all the streams on the way to Alexandria. It was also agreed that every Mussulman travelling through the country should be entitled to three days’ hospitality, free of charge.
The traitor Mokawkas was put in possession of his ill-gotten wealth. He begged of Amru to be taxed with the Copts, and always to be enrolled among them; declaring his abhorrence of the Greeks and their doctrines; urging Amru to persecute them with unremitting violence. He extended his sectarian bigotry even into the grave, stipulating that, at his death, he should be buried in the Christian Jacobite church of St. John, at Alexandria.
Amru, who was politic as well as brave, seeing the irreconcilable hatred of the Coptic or Jacobite Christians to the Greeks, showed some favor to that sect, in order to make use of them in his conquest of the country. He even prevailed upon their patriarch Benjamin to emerge from his desert and hold a conference with him; and subsequently declared that “he had never conversed with a Christian priest of more innocent manners or venerable aspect.” This piece of diplomacy had its effect, for we are told that all the Copts above and below Memphis swore allegiance to the Caliph.
Amru now pressed on for the city of Alexandria, distant about one hundred and twenty-five miles. According to stipulation, the people of the country repaired the roads and erected bridges to facilitate his march; the Greeks, however, driven from various quarters by the progress of their invaders, had collected at different posts on the island of the Delta, and the channels of the Nile, and disputed with desperate but fruitless obstinacy, the onward course of the conquerors. The severest check was given at Keram al Shoraik, by the late garrison of Memphis, who had fortified themselves there after retreating from the island of the Nile. For three days did they maintain a gallant conflict with the Moslems, and then retired in good order to Alexandria. With all the facilities furnished to them on their march, it cost the Moslems two-and-twenty days to fight their way to that great city.
Alexandria now lay before them, the metropolis of wealthy Egypt, the emporium of the East, a place strongly fortified, stored with all the munitions of war, open by sea to all kinds of supplies and reinforcements, and garrisoned by Greeks, aggregated from various quarters, who here were to make the last stand for their Egyptian empire. It would seem that nothing short of an enthusiasm bordering on madness could have led Amru and his host on an enterprise against this powerful city.
The Moslem leader, on planting his standard before the place, summoned it to surrender on the usual terms, which being promptly refused, he prepared for a vigorous siege. The garrison did not wait to be attacked, but made repeated sallies, and fought with desperate valor. Those who gave greatest annoyance to the Moslems were their old enemies, the Greek troops from Memphis. Amru, seeing that the greatest defense was from a main tower, or citadel, made a gallant assault upon it, and carried it sword in hand. The Greek troops, however, rallied to that point from all parts of the city; the Moslems, after a furious struggle, gave way, and Amru, his faithful slave Werdan, and one of his generals, named Moslema Ibn al Mokalled, fighting to the last, were surrounded, overpowered, and taken prisoners.
The Greeks, unaware of the importance of their captives, led them before the governor. He demanded of them, haughtily, what was their object in thus overrunning the world, and disturbing the quiet of peaceable neighbors. Amru made the usual reply, that they came to spread the faith of Islam; and that it was their intention, before they laid by the sword, to make the Egyptians either converts or tributaries. The boldness of his answer and the loftiness of his demeanor awakened the suspicions of the governor, who, supposing him to be a warrior of note among the Arabs, ordered one of his guards to strike off his head. Upon this Werdan, the slave, understanding the Greek language, seized his master by the collar, and, giving him a buffet on the cheek, called him an impudent dog, and ordered him to hold his peace, and let his superiors speak. Moslema, perceiving the meaning of the slave, now interposed, and made a plausible speech to the governor, telling him that Amru had thoughts of raising the siege, having received a letter to that effect from the Caliph, who intended to send ambassadors to treat for peace, and assuring the governor that, if permitted to depart, they would make a favorable report to Amru.
The governor, who, if Arabian chronicles may be believed on this point, must have been a man of easy faith, ordered the prisoners to be set at liberty; but the shouts of the besieging army on the safe return of their general soon showed him how completely he had been duped.
But scanty details of the siege of Alexandria have reached the Christian reader, yet it was one of the longest, most obstinately contested and sanguinary, in the whole course of the Moslem wars. It endured fourteen months with various success; the Moslem army was repeatedly reinforced, and lost twenty-three thousand men; at length their irresistible ardor and perseverance prevailed; the capital of Egypt was conquered, and the Greek inhabitants were dispersed in all directions. Some retreated in considerable bodies into the interior of the country, and fortified themselves in strongholds; others took refuge in the ships, and put to sea.
Amru, on taking possession of the city, found it nearly abandoned; he prohibited his troops from plundering; and leaving a small garrison to guard the place, hastened with his main army in pursuit of the fugitive Greeks. In the mean time the ships which had taken off a part of the garrison were still lingering on the coast, and tidings reached them that the Moslem general had departed, and had left the captured city nearly defenseless. They immediately made sail back for Alexandria, and entered the port in the night. The Greek soldiers surprised the sentinels, got possession of the city, and put most of the Moslems they found there to the sword.
Amru was in full pursuit of the Greek fugitives when he heard of the recapture of the city. Mortified at his own negligence in leaving so rich a conquest with so slight a guard, he returned in all haste; resolved to retake it by storm. The Greeks, however, had fortified themselves strongly in the castle, and made stout resistance. Amru was obliged, therefore, to besiege it a second time, but the siege was short. The castle was carried by assault; many of the Greeks were cut to pieces, the rest escaped once more to their ships, and now gave up the capital as lost. All this occurred in the nineteenth year of the Hegira, and the year 640 of the Christian era.
On this second capture of the city by force of arms, and without capitulation, the troops were clamorous to be permitted to plunder. Amru again checked their rapacity, and commanded that all persons and property in the place should remain inviolate, until the will of the Caliph could be known. So perfect was his command over his troops, that not the most trivial article was taken. His letter to the Caliph shows what must have been the population and splendor of Alexandria, and the luxury and effeminacy of its inhabitants, at the time of the Moslem conquest. It states the city to have contained four thousand palaces, five thousand baths, four hundred theatres and places of amusement, twelve thousand gardeners which supply it with vegetables, and forty thousand tributary Jews. It was impossible, he said, to do justice to its riches and magnificence. He had hitherto held it sacred from plunder, but his troops, having won it by force of arms, considered themselves entitled to the spoils of victory.
The Caliph Omar, in reply, expressed a high sense of his important services, but reproved him for even mentioning the desire of the soldiery to plunder so rich a city, one of the greatest emporiums of the East. He charged him, therefore, most rigidly to watch over the rapacious propensities of his men; to prevent all pillage, violence, and waste; to collect and make out an account of all moneys, jewels, household furniture, and everything else that was valuable, to be appropriated toward defraying the expenses of this war of the faith. He ordered the tribute also, collected in the conquered country, to be treasured up at Alexandria, for the supplies of the Moslem troops.
The surrender of all Egypt followed the capture of its capital. A tribute of two ducats was laid on every male of mature age, besides a tax on all lands in proportion to their value, and the revenue which resulted to the Caliph is estimated at twelve millions of ducats.
We have shown that Amru was a poet in his youth; and throughout all his campaigns he manifested an intelligent and inquiring spirit, if not more highly informed, at least more liberal and extended in its views than was usual among the early Moslem conquerors. He delighted, in his hours of leisure, to converse with learned men, and acquire through their means such knowledge as had been denied to him by the deficiency of his education. Such a companion he found at Alexandria in a native of the place, a Christian of the sect of the Jacobites, eminent for his philological researches, his commentaries on Moses and Aristotle, and his laborious treatises of various kinds, surnamed Philoponus from his love of study, but commonly known by the name of John the Grammarian. An intimacy soon arose between the Arab conqueror and the Christian philologist; an intimacy honorable to Amru, but destined to be lamentable in its result to the cause of letters. In an evil hour, John the Grammarian, being encouraged by the favor shown him by the Arab general, revealed to him a treasure hitherto unnoticed, or rather unvalued, by the Moslem conquerors. This was a vast collection of books or manuscripts, since renowned in history as the ALEXANDRIAN LIBRARY. Perceiving that in taking an account of everything valuable in the city, and sealing up all its treasures, Amru had taken no notice of the books, John solicited that they might be given to him. Unfortunately, the learned zeal of the Grammarian gave a consequence to the books in the eyes of Amru, and made him scrupulous of giving them away without permission of the Caliph. He forthwith wrote to Omar, stating the merits of John, and requesting to know whether the books might be given to him. The reply of Omar was laconic, but fatal. “The contents of those books,” said he, “are in conformity with the Koran, or they are not. If they are, the Koran is sufficient without them; if they are not, they are pernicious. Let them, therefore, be destroyed.”
Amru, it is said, obeyed the order punctually. The books and manuscripts were distributed as fuel among the five thousand baths of the city; but so numerous were they that it took six months to consume them. This act of barbarism, recorded by Abulpharagius, is considered somewhat doubtful by Gibbon, in consequence of its not being mentioned by two of the most ancient chroniclers, Elmacin in his Saracenic history, and Eutychius in his annals, the latter of whom was patriarch of Alexandria, and has detailed the conquest of that city. It is inconsistent, too, with the character of Amru, as a poet and a man of superior intelligence; and it has recently been reported, we know not on what authority, that many of the literary treasures thus said to have been destroyed, do actually exist in Constantinople. Their destruction, however, is generally credited and deeply deplored by historians. Amru, as a man of genius and intelligence, may have grieved at the order of the Caliph; while, as a loyal subject and faithful soldier, he felt bound to obey it.
The Alexandrian Library was formed by Ptolemy Soter, and placed in a building called the Bruchion. It was augmented in successive reigns to 400,000 volumes, and an additional 300,000 volumes were placed in a temple called the Serapeon. The Bruchion, with the books it contained, was burnt in the war of Caesar, but the Serapeon was preserved. Cleopatra, it is said, added to it the library of Pergamas, given to her by Marc Antony, consisting of 200,000 volumes. It sustained repeated injuries during various subsequent revolutions, but was always restored to its ancient splendor, and numerous additions made to It. Such was its state at the capture of Alexandria by the Moslems.
The fall of Alexandria decided the fate of Egypt and likewise that of the emperor Heraclius. He was already afflicted with a dropsy, and took the loss of his Syrian, and now that of his Egyptian dominions, so much to heart, that he underwent a paroxysm, which ended in his death, about seven weeks after the loss of his Egyptian capital. He was succeeded by his son Constantine.
While Amru was successfully extending his conquests, a great dearth and famine fell upon all Arabia, insomuch that the Caliph Omar had to call upon him for supplies from the fertile plains of Egypt; whereupon Amru dispatched such a train of camels laden with grain, that it is said, when the first of the line had reached the city of Medina, the last had not yet left the land of Egypt. But this mode of conveyance proving too tardy, at the command of the Caliph he dug a canal of communication from the Nile to the Red Sea, a distance of eighty miles, by which provisions might be conveyed to the Arabian shores. This canal had been commenced by Trajan, the Roman emperor.
The able and indefatigable Amru went on in this manner, executing the commands and fulfilling the wishes of the Caliph, and governed the country he had conquered with such sagacity and justice that he rendered himself one of the most worthily renowned among the Moslem generals.
ENTERPRISES OF THE MOSLEMS IN PERSIA—DEFENSE OF THE KINGDOM BY QUEEN ARZEMIA—BATTLE OF THE BRIDGE.
For the sake of perspicuity, we have recorded the Moslem conquests in Syria and Egypt in a continued narrative, without pausing to notice events which were occurring at the same time in other quarters; we now recede several years to take up the course of affairs in Persia, from the time that Khaled, in the thirteenth year of the Hegira, in obedience to the orders of Abu Beker, left his victorious army on the banks of the Euphrates, to take the general command in Syria. The victories of Khaled had doubtless been owing in part to the distracted state of the Persian empire. In the course of an inconsiderable number of years, the proud scepter of the Khosrus had passed from hand to hand; Khosru II., surnamed Parviz, having been repeatedly defeated by Heraclius, was deposed in 628, by a party of his nobles, headed by his own son Siroes (or Shiruyah), and was put to death by the latter in a vault under the palace, among the treasures he had amassed. To secure possession of the throne, Siroes followed up the parricide by the massacre of seventeen of his brothers. It was not ambition alone that instigated these crimes. He was enamored of a sultana in the harem of his father, the matchless Shireen. While yet reeking with his father’s blood he declared his passion to her. She recoiled from him with horror, and when he would have used force, gave herself instant death to escape from his embraces. The disappointment of his passion, the upbraidings of his sisters for the murders of their father and their brothers, and the stings of his own conscience, threw Siroes into a moody melancholy, and either caused, or added acuteness to a malady, of which he died in the course of eight months.
His infant son Ardisheer was placed on the throne about the end of 628, but was presently slain, and the throne usurped by Sheriyar, a Persian noble, who was himself killed after a very short reign. Turan-Docht, a daughter of Khosru Parviz, was now crowned and reigned eighteen months, when she was set aside by her cousin Shah Shenandeh, who was himself deposed by the nobles, and Arzemi-Docht [Docht or Dokht, diminutive of dukhter, signifies the unmarried or maiden state.] or Arzemia, as the name is commonly given, another daughter of Khosru Parviz, was placed on the throne in the year 632 of the Christian era. The Persian seat of government, which had been often changed, was at this time held in the magnificent city of Madain, or Madayn, on the Tigris, where was the ancient Ctesiphon.
Arzemia was distinguished alike for masculine talents and feminine beauty; she had been carefully instructed under her father Khosru, and had acquired sad experience, during the series of conspiracies and assassinations which had beset the throne for the last four years. Rejecting from her council the very traitors who had placed the crown upon her head, she undertook to wield the sceptre without the aid of a vizir, thereby giving mortal offence to the most powerful nobles of her realm. She was soon called upon to exert her masculine spirit by the continued aggressions of the Moslems.
The reader will recollect that the Moslem army on the Euphrates, at the departure of Khaled, was left under the command of Mosenna Ibn Haris (or Muthenna Ibn Hârith, as the name is sometimes rendered). On the accession of Omar to the Caliphat, he appointed Mosenna emir or governor of Sewad, the country recently conquered by Khaled, lying about the lower part of the Euphrates and the Tigris, forming a portion of the Persian province of Irak-Arabi. This was in compliance with the wishes and intentions of Abu Beker; though Omar does not appear to have had great confidence in the military talents of Mosenna, the career of conquest having languished in his hands since the departure of Khaled. He accordingly sent Abu Obeidah Sakfi, one of the most important disciples of the prophet, at the head of a thousand chosen men, to reinforce the army under Mosenna, and to take the lead in military enterprises.* He was accompanied by Sabit Ibn Kais, one of the veterans of the battle of Beder.
* This Abu Obeidah has sometimes been confounded with the general of the same name, who commanded in Syria; the latter, however, was Abu Obeidah lbn Aljerah (the son of Aljerah).
The Persian queen, hearing of the advance of the Moslem army thus reinforced, sent an able general, Rustam Ibn Ferukh-Zad (or Feruchsad), with thirty thousand more, to repel them. Rustam halted on the confines of Irak, and sent forward strong detachments under a general named Dschaban, and a Persian prince named Narsi (or Narsis). These were so roughly handled by the Moslems that Rustam found it necessary to hasten with his main force to their assistance. He arrived too late; they had been severally defeated and put to flight, and the whole country of Sewad was in the hands of the Moslems.
Queen Arzemia, still more aroused to the danger of her kingdom, sent Rustam a reinforcement led by Behman Dschadu, surnamed the Veiled, from the shaggy eyebrows which overshadowed his visage. He brought with him three thousand men and thirty elephants. These animals, of little real utility in warfare, were formidable in the eyes of those unaccustomed to them, and were intended to strike terror into the Arabian troops. One of them was the white elephant Mahmoud, famous for having been ridden by Abraha, the Ethiopian king, in foregone times, when he invaded Mecca, and assailed the Kaaba. It was considered a harbinger of victory, all the enterprises in which it had been employed having proved successful.
With Behman, the heavy-browed, came also the standard of Kaoh, the sacred standard. It was originally the leathern apron of the blacksmith Kaoh, which he reared as a banner when he roused the people, and delivered Persia from the tyranny of Sohak. It had been enlarged from time to time with costly silk, embroidered with gold, until it was twenty-two feet long and fifteen broad; and was decorated with gems of inestimable value. With this standard the fate of the kingdom was believed, by superstitious Persians, to be connected.
The Moslem forces, even with the reinforcement brought by Abu Obeidah Sakfi, did not exceed nine thousand in number; the Persians, encamped near the ruins of Babylon, were vastly superior. It was the counsel of Mosenna and the veteran Sabit, that they should fall back into the deserts, and remain encamped there until reinforcements could be obtained from the Caliph. Abu Obeidah, however, was for a totally different course. He undervalued the prowess of the Persians; he had heard Mosenna censured for want of enterprise, and Khaled extolled to the skies for his daring achievements in this quarter. He was determined to emulate them, to cross the Euphrates and attack the Persians in their encampment. In vain Mosenna and Sabit remonstrated. He caused a bridge of boats to be thrown across the Euphrates, and led the way to the opposite bank. His troops did not follow with their usual alacrity, for they felt the rashness of the enterprise. While they were yet crossing the bridge, they were severely galled by a body of archers, detached in the advance by Rustam; and were met at the head of the bridge by that warrior with his vanguard of cavalry.
The conflict was severe. The banner of Islam passed from hand to hand of seven brave champions, as one after another fell in its defence. The Persians were beaten back, but now arrived the main body of the army with the thirty elephants. Abu Obeidah breasted fearlessly the storm of war which he had so rashly provoked. He called to his men not to fear the elephants, but to strike at their trunks. He himself severed, with a blow of his scimitar, the trunk of the famous white elephant, but in so doing his foot slipped, he fell to the earth, and was trampled to death by the enraged animal.
The Moslems, disheartened by his loss, and overwhelmed by numbers, endeavored to regain the bridge. The enemy had thrown combustibles into the boats on which it was constructed, and had set them on fire. Some of the troops were driven into the water and perished there; the main body retreated along the river, protected in the rear by Mosenna, who now displayed the skill of an able general, and kept the enemy at bay until a slight bridge could be hastily thrown across another part of the river. He was the last to cross the bridge, and caused it to be broken behind him.
Four thousand Moslems were either slain or drowned in this rash affair; two thousand fled to Medina, and about three thousand remained with Mosenna, who encamped and entrenched them, and sent a fleet courier to the Caliph, entreating instant aid. Nothing saved this remnant of the army from utter destruction but a dissension which took place between the Persian commanders, who, instead of following up their victory, returned to Madayn, the Persian capital.
This was the severest and almost the only severe check that Moslem audacity had for a long time experienced. It took place in the 13th year of the Hegira, and the year 634 of the Christian era, and was long and ruefully remembered by the Arabs as the battle of “El Jisir,” or The Battle of the Bridge.
MOSENNA lBN HARIS RAVAGES THE COUNTRY ALONG THE EUPHRATES—DEATH OF ARZEMIA—YEZDEGIRD III. RAISED TO THE THRONE—SAAD IBN ABU WAKKAS GIVEN THE GENERAL COMMAND—DEATH OF MOSENNA—EMBASSY TO YEZDEGIRD—ITS RECEPTION.
HAVING received moderate reinforcements, Mosenna again took the field in Arab style, hovering about the confines of Babylonia, and sending detachments in different directions to plunder and lay waste the country bordering on the Euphrates. It was an instance of the vicissitude of human affairs, and the instability of earthly grandeur, that this proud region, which once held the world in awe, should be thus marauded and insulted by a handful of predatory Arabs.
To check their ravages, Queen Arzemia sent out a general named Mahran, with twelve thousand chosen cavalry. Mosenna, hearing of their approach, called in his plundering parties and prepared for battle. The two hosts met near Hirah, on the borders of the desert. Mosenna, who in the battle of the bridge had been the last man to retire, was now the foremost man to charge. In the fury of the fight he made his way, almost alone, into the heart of the Persian army, and with difficulty fought his way out again and back to his own men. The Persians, as we have noted, were chosen troops, and fought with unusual spirit. The Moslems, in some parts of the field, began to give way. Mosenna galloped up and threw himself before them; he expostulated, he threatened, he tore his beard in the agony of his feelings; he succeeded in leading them back to the fight, which endured from noon until sunset, and still continued doubtful. At the close of the day Mosenna encountered Mahran hand to hand, in the midst of his guards, and received a powerful blow, which might have proved fatal but for his armor. In return he smote the Persian commander with his scimitar just where the neck joins to the shoulder, and laid him dead. The Persians, seeing their leader fall, took to flight, nor stopped until they reached Madayn.
The Moslems next made a plundering expedition to Bagdad, at that time a mere village, but noted for a great fair, the resort of merchants from various parts of the East. An Arab detachment pounced upon it at the time of the fair, and carried off many captives and immense booty.
The tidings of the defeat of Mahran and the plundering of the fair spread consternation in the Persian capital. The nobles and priests, who had hitherto stood in awe of the spirit of the queen, now raised a tumult. “These are the fruits,” said they, “of having a woman to reign over us.”
The fate of the beautiful Arzemia was hastened by private revenge. Faruch-Zad, one of the most powerful of her nobles, and governor of Khorassan, incited by love and ambition, had aspired to her hand. At first, it is said, she appeared to favor his addresses, fearing to provoke his enmity, but afterward slighted them; whereupon he entered the palace by night, and attempted to get possession of her person. His attempt failed, and, by her command, he received instant death at the hands of her guards, accompanied by some indignities.
His son, Rustam, who had been left by him in the government of Khorassan, hastened, at the head of an armed force, to avenge his death. He arrived in the height of the public discontent; entered the city without opposition, stormed the palace, captured the young and beautiful queen, subjected her to degrading outrages, and put her to death in the most cruel manner. She was the sixth of the usurping sovereigns, and had not yet reigned a year.
A remaining son of Khosru Parviz was now brought forward and placed on the slippery throne, but was poisoned within forty days, some say by his courtiers, others by a slave.
The priests and nobles now elevated a youth about fifteen years of age to this perilous dignity. He was a grandson of Khosru Parviz, and had been secluded, during the late period of anarchy and assassination, in the city of Istakar, the ancient Persepolis. He is known by the name of Yezdegird III., though some historians call him Hermisdas IV., from his family, instead of his personal appellation. He was of a good natural disposition, but weak and irresolute, and apt, from his youth and inexperience, to become a passive instrument in the hands of the faction which had placed him on the throne.
One of the first measures of the new reign was to assemble a powerful army and place it under the command of Rustam, the same general who had so signally revenged the death of his father. It was determined, by a signal blow, to sweep the Arabian marauders from the land.
Omar, on his part, hearing of the changes and warlike preparations in the Persian capital, made a hasty levy of troops, and would have marched in person to carry the war into the heart of Persia. It was with great difficulty he was dissuaded from this plan by his discreet counsellors, Othman and Ali, and induced to send in his place Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs. This was a zealous soldier of the faith who used to boast that he was the first who had shed the blood of the unbelieving, and, moreover, that the prophet, in the first holy war, had entrusted to him the care of his household during his absence, saying, “To you, oh Saad, who are to me as my father and my mother, I confide my family.” To have been a favored and confidential companion of the prophet was fast growing to be a title of great distinction among the faithful.
Saad was invested with the general command of the forces in Persia; and Mosenna, though his recent good conduct and signal success entitled him to the highest consideration, was ordered to serve under him.
Saad set out from Medina with an army of but six or seven thousand men; among these, however, were one thousand well-tried soldiers who had followed the prophet in his campaigns, and one hundred of the veterans of Beder. They were led on also by some of the most famous champions of the faith. The army was joined on its march by recruits from all quarters, so that by the time it joined the troops under Mosenna it amounted to upward of thirty thousand men.
Mosenna died three days after the arrival of his successor in the camp; the cause and nature of his death are not mentioned. He left behind him a good name, and a wife remarkable for her beauty. The widow was easily brought to listen to the addresses of Saad, who thus succeeded to Mosenna in his matrimonial as well as his military capacity.
The Persian force under Rustam lay encamped at Kadesia (or Khâdesiyah), on the frontier of Sawâd or Irak-Arabi, and was vastly superior in numbers to the Moslems. Saad sent expresses to the Caliph entreating reinforcements. He was promised them, but exhorted in the mean time to doubt nothing; never to regard the number of the foe, but to think always that he was fighting under the eye of the Caliph. He was instructed, however, before commencing hostilities, to send a delegation to Yezdegird inviting him to embrace the faith.
Saad accordingly sent several of his most discreet and veteran officers on this mission. They repaired to the magnificent city of Madayn, and were ushered through the sumptuous halls and saloons of the palace of the Khosrus, crowded with guards and attendants all richly arrayed, into the presence of the youthful monarch, whom they found seated in state on a throne, supported by silver columns, and surrounded by the dazzling splendor of an oriental court.
The appearance of the Moslem envoys, attired in simple Arab style, in the striped garments of Yemen, amidst the gorgeous throng of nobles arrayed in jewels and embroidery, was but little calculated to inspire deference in a young and inconsiderate prince, brought up in pomp and luxury, and accustomed to consider dignity inseparable from splendor. He had no doubt, also, been schooled for the interview by his crafty counsellors.
The audience opened by a haughty demand on his party, through his interpreter, as to the object of their embassy. Upon this, one of their number, Na’man Ibn Muskry, set forth the divine mission of the prophet and his dying command to enforce his religion by the sword, leaving no peaceable alternative to unbelievers but conversion or tribute. He concluded by inviting the king to embrace the faith; if not, to consent to become a tributary; if he should refuse both, to prepare for battle.
Yezdegird restrained his indignation, and answered in words which had probably been prepared for him. “You Arabs,” said he, “have hitherto been known to us by report, as wanderers of the desert; your food dates, and sometimes lizards and serpents; your drink brackish water; your garments coarse hair-cloth. Some of you who by chance have wandered into our realms have found sweet water, savory food, and soft raiment. They have carried back word of the same to their brethren in the desert, and now you come in swarms to rob us of our goods and our very land. Ye are like the starving fox, to whom the husbandman afforded shelter in his vineyard, and who in return brought a troop of his brethren to devour his grapes. Receive from my generosity whatever your wants require; load your camels with corn and dates, and depart in peace to your native land; but if you tarry in Persia, beware the fate of the fox who was slain by the husbandman.”
The most aged of the Arab envoys, the Sheikh Mukair Ibn Zarrarah, replied with great gravity and decorum, and an unaltered countenance. “Oh king! all thou hast said of the Arabs is most true. The green lizard of the desert was their sometime food; the brackish water of wells their drink; their garments were of hair-cloth, and they buried their infant daughters to restrain the increase of their tribes. All this was in the days of ignorance. They knew not good from evil. They were guilty, and they suffered. But Allah in his mercy sent his apostle Mohammed, and his sacred Koran among them. He rendered them wise and valiant. He commanded them to war with infidels until all should be converted to the true faith. On his behest we come. All we demand of thee is to acknowledge that there is no God but God, and that Mohammed is his apostle, and to pay from thy income the customary contribution of the Zacat, paid by all true believers, in charity to the poor, and for the support of the family of the prophet. Do this, and not a Moslem shall enter the Persian dominions without thy leave; but if thou refuse it, and refuse to pay the tribute exacted from all unbelievers, prepare for the subjugation of the sword.”
The forbearance of Yezdegird was at an end. “Were it not unworthy of a great Padischah,” said he, “to put ambassadors to death, the sword should be the only tongue with which I would reply to your insolence. Away! ye robbers of the lands of others! take with ye a portion of the Persian soil ye crave.” So saying, he caused sacks of earth to be bound upon their shoulders; to be delivered by them to their chiefs as symbols of the graves they would be sure to find at Kadesia.
When beyond the limits of the city. the envoys transferred the sacks of earth to the backs of their camels, and returned with them to Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs, shrewdly interpreting into a good omen what had been intended by the Persian monarch as a scornful taunt. “Earth,” said they, “is the emblem of empire. As surely, oh Saad, as we deliver thee these sacks of earth, so surely will Allah deliver the empire of Persia into the hands of true believers.”
THE BATTLE OF KADESIA.
The hostile armies came in presence of each other on the plains of Kadesia (or Kâdesiyah), adjacent to a canal derived from the Euphrates. The huge mass of the Persian army would have been sufficient to bear down the inferior number of the Moslems, had it possessed the Grecian or Roman discipline; but it was a tumultuous multitude, unwieldy from its military pomp, and encumbered by its splendid trappings. The Arabs, on the contrary, were veteran skirmishers of the desert; light and hardy horsemen; dexterous with the bow and lance, and skilled to wheel and retreat, and to return again to the attack. Many individual acts of prowess took place between champions of either army, who dared each other to single combat in front of the hosts when drawn out in battle array. The costly armor of the Persians, wrought with gold, and their belts or girdles studded with gems, made them rich prizes to their Moslem victors; while the Persians, if victorious, gained nothing from the rudely clad warriors of the desert but honor and hard blows.
Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs was in an unfortunate plight for a leader of an army on such a momentous occasion. He was grievously afflicted with boils in his reins, so that he sat on his horse with extreme difficulty. Still he animated his troops by his presence, and gave the tekbir or battle-cry—Allah Achbar!
The Persian force came on with great shouts, their elephants in the van. The horses of the Moslem cavalry recoiled at sight of the latter, and became unmanageable. A great number of the horsemen dismounted, attacked the unwieldy animals with their swords, and drove them back upon their own host. Still the day went hard with the Moslems; their force being so inferior, and their general unable to take the lead and mingle in the battle. The arrival of a reinforcement from Syria put them in new heart, and they fought on until the approach of night, when both parties desisted and drew off to their encampments. Thus ended the first day’s fight, which the Persians called the battle of Armâth; but the Moslems, The Day of Succor, from the timely arrival of reinforcements.
On the following morning the armies drew out again in battle array, but no general conflict took place. Saad was unable to mount his horse and lead his troops into action, and the Persians, aware of the reinforcements received by the Moslems, were not disposed to provoke a battle. The day passed in light skirmishes and single combats between the prime warriors of either host, who defied each other to trials of skill and prowess. These combats, of course, were desperate, and commonly cost the life of one, if not both of the combatants.
Saad overlooked the field from the shelter of a tent, where he sat at a repast with his beautiful bride beside him. Her heart swelled with grief at seeing so many gallant Moslems laid low; a thought of the valiant husband she had lost passed across her mind, and the unwary ejaculation escaped her, “Alas! Mosenna Ibn Haris, where art thou?” Saad was stung to the quick by what he conceived a reproach on his courage or activity, and in the heat of the moment struck her on the face with his dagger. “To-morrow,” muttered he to himself, “I will mount my horse.”
In the night he secretly sent out a detachment in the direction of Damascus, to remain concealed until the two armies should be engaged on the following day, and then to come with banners displayed, and a great sound of drum and trumpet, as though they were a reinforcement hurrying to the field of action.
The morning dawned, but still, to his great mortification, Saad was unable to sit upon his horse, and had to entrust the conduct of the battle to one of his generals. It was a day of bloody and obstinate conflict; and from the tremendous shock of the encountering hosts was celebrated among the Arabs as “The day of the Concussion.”
The arrival of the pretended reinforcement inspirited the Moslems, who were ignorant of the stratagem, and dismayed the enemy. Rustam urged on his elephants to break down the Arab host, but they had become familiar with those animals, and attacked them so vigorously that, as before, they turned upon their own employers and trampled them down in their unwieldy flight from the field.
The battle continued throughout the day with varying fortune; nor did it cease at nightfall, for Rustam rode about among his troops urging them to fight until morning. That night was called by some the night of delirium; for in the dark and deadly struggle the combatants struck at random, and often caught each other by the beard; by others it was called the night of howling and lamentation, from the cries of the wounded.
The battle ceased not even at the dawning, but continued until the heat of the day. A whirlwind of dust hid the armies from each other for a time, and produced confusion on the field, but it aided the Moslems, as it blew in the faces of the enemy. During a pause in the conflict, Rustam, panting with heat and fatigue, and half blinded with dust, took shelter from the sun under a tent which had been pitched near the water, and was surrounded by camels laden with treasure, and with the luxurious furniture of the camp. A gust of wind whirled the tent into the water. He then threw himself upon the earth in the shade of one of the camels. A band of Arab soldiers came upon him by surprise. One of them, Hellâl Ibn Alkameh by name, in his eagerness for plunder, cut the cords which bound the burden on the camel. A package of silver fell upon Rustam and broke his spine. In his agony he fell or threw himself into the water, but was drawn out by the leg, his head stricken off, and elevated on the lance of Hellâl. The Persians recognized the bloody features, and fled amain, abandoning to the victors their camp, with all its rich furniture and baggage, and scores of beasts of burden, laden with treasure and with costly gear. The amount of booty was incalculable.
The sacred standard, too, was among the spoils. To the soldier who had captured it, thirty thousand pieces of gold are said to have been paid at Saad’s command; and the jewels with which it was studded were put with the other booty, to be shared according to rule. Hellâl, too, who brought the head of Rustam to Saad, was allowed as a reward to strip the body of his victim. Never did Arab soldier make richer spoil. The garments of Rustam were richly embroidered, and he wore two gorgeous belts, ornamented with jewels, one worth a thousand pieces of gold, the other seventy thousand dirhems of silver.
Thirty thousand Persians are said to have fallen in this battle, and upward of seven thousand Moslems. The loss most deplored by the Persians was that of their sacred banner, with which they connected the fate of the realm.
This battle took place in the fifteenth year of the Hegira, and the six hundred and thirty-sixth year of the Christian era, and is said to be as famous among the Arabs as that of Arbela among the Greeks.
Complaints having circulated among the troops that Saad had not mingled in the fight, he summoned several of the old men to his tent, and, stripping himself, showed the boils by which he was so grievously afflicted; after which there were no further expressions of dissatisfaction. It is to be hoped he found some means, equally explicit, of excusing himself to his beautiful bride for the outrage be had committed upon her.
FOUNDING OF BASSORA—CAPTURE OF THE PERSIAN CAPITAL—FLIGHT OF YEZDEGIRD TO HOLWAN.
AFTER the signal victory of Kadesia, Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs, by command of the Caliph, remained for some months in the neighborhood, completing the subjugation of the conquered country, collecting tax and tribute, and building mosques in every direction for the propagation of the faith. About the same time Omar caused the city of Basra, or Bassora, to be founded in the lower part of Irak Arabi, on that great river formed by the junction of the Euphrates and the Tigris. This city was intended to protect the region conquered by the Moslems about the mouth of the Euphrates; to cut off the trade of India from Persia, and to keep a check upon Ahwâz (a part of Susiana or Khusestan), the prince or satrap of which, Hormusân by name, had taken an active part in the late battle of Kadesia. The city of Bassora was founded in the fourteenth year of the Hegira, by Orweh Ibn Otbeh. It soon gathered within its walls great numbers of inhabitants from the surrounding country; rose rapidly in importance, and has ever since been distinguished as a mart for the Indian commerce.
Having brought all the country in the neighborhood of Kadesia into complete subjection, Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs, by command of the Caliph, proceeded in the conquest of Persia. The late victories, and the capture of the national banner, had struck despair into the hearts of the Persians. They considered the downfall of their religion and empire at hand, and for a time made scarcely any resistance to the invaders. Cities and strongholds surrendered almost without a blow. Babel is incidentally enumerated among the captured places; but the once all-powerful Babylon was now shrunk into such insignificance that its capture seemed not worthy of a boast. Saad crossed the Tigris and advanced upon Madayn, the Persian capital. His army, on departing from Kadesia, had not exceeded twenty thousand men, having lost many by battle and more by disease. Multitudes, however, from the subjugated cities, and from other parts, joined his standard while on the march, so that, as he approached Madayn, his forces amounted to sixty thousand men.
There was abundance of troops in Madayn, the wrecks of vanquished armies and routed garrisons, but there was no one capable or willing to take the general command. All seemed paralyzed by their fears. The king summoned his counsellors about him, but their only advice was to fly. “Khorassan and Kerman are still yours,” said they; “let us depart while we may do so in safety; why should we remain here to be made captives?”
Yezdegird hesitated to take this craven advice; but more from weakness and indecision of character than from any manly repugnance. He wavered and lingered, until what might have been an orderly retreat became a shameful flight. When the invaders were within one day’s march of his capital he ordered his valuables to be packed upon beasts of burden, and set off, with a worthless retinue of palace minions, attendants, and slaves, male and female, for Holwân, at the foot of the Medean hills. His example was followed throughout the city. There was hurry and tumult in every part. Fortunate was he who had a camel, or a horse, or an ass, to load with his most valuable effects; such as were not so provided, took what they could on their shoulders; but, in such a hasty and panic-stricken flight, where personal safety was the chief concern, little could be preserved; the greater part of their riches remained behind. Thus, the wealthy Madayn, the once famous Ctesiphon, which had formerly repulsed a Roman army, though furnished with battering rams and other warlike engines, was abandoned without a blow at the approach of these nomad warriors.
As Saad entered the deserted city he gazed with wonder and admiration at its stately edifices, surrounded by vineyards and gardens, all left to his mercy by the flying owners. In pious exultation he repeated aloud a passage of the Koran, alluding to the abandonment by Pharaoh and his troops of their habitations, when they went in pursuit of the children of Israel. “How many gardens and fountains, and fields of corn and fair dwellings, and other sources of delight, did they leave behind them! Thus we dispossessed them thereof, and gave the same for an inheritance to another people. Neither heaven nor earth wept for them. They were unpitied.” [Koran, chapter 24.]
The deserted city was sacked and pillaged. One may imagine the sacking of such a place by the ignorant hordes of the desert. The rude Arabs beheld themselves surrounded by treasures beyond their conception; works of art, the value of which they could not appreciate, and articles of luxury which moved their ridicule rather than their admiration. In roving through the streets they came to the famous palace of the Khosrus, begun by Khobâd Ibn Firuz, and finished by his son Nushirwan, constructed of polished marble, and called the white palace, from its resplendent appearance. As they gazed at it in wonderment, they called to mind the prediction of Mohammed, when he heard that the haughty monarch of Persia had torn his letter: “Even so shall Allah rend his empire in pieces.” “Behold the white palace of Khosru,” cried the Moslems to one another! “This is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the apostle of God!”
Saad entered the lofty portal of the palace with feelings of devotion. His first act was to make his salaam and prostrations, and pronounce the confession of faith in its deserted halls. He then took note of its contents, and protected it from the ravage of the soldiery, by making it his headquarters. It was furnished throughout with oriental luxury. It had wardrobes filled with gorgeous apparel. In the armory were weapons of all kinds, magnificently wrought; a coat of mail and sword, for state occasions, bedecked with jewels of incalculable value; a silver horseman on a golden horse, and a golden rider on a silver camel, all likewise studded with jewels.
In the vaults were treasures of gold and silver and precious stones; with money, the vast amount of which, though stated by Arabian historians, we hesitate to mention.
In some of the apartments were gold and silver vessels filled with oriental perfumes. In the magazines were stored exquisite spices, odoriferous gums, and medicinal drugs. Among the latter were quantities of camphor, which the Arabs mistook for salt and mixed with their food.
In one of the chambers was a silken carpet of great size, which the king used in winter. Art and expense had been lavished upon it. It was made to represent a garden. The leaves of the plants were emeralds; the flowers were embroidered in their natural colors, with pearls and jewels and precious stones; the fountains were wrought with diamonds and sapphires, to represent the sparkling of their waters. The value of the whole was beyond calculation.
The hall of audience surpassed every other part in magnificence. The vaulted roof, says D’Herbolot, resembled a firmament decked with golden spheres, each with a corresponding movement, so as to represent the planets and the signs of the zodiac. The throne was of prodigious grandeur, supported on silver columns. Above it was the crown of Khosru Nashirwan, suspended by a golden chain to bear the immense weight of its jewels, but contrived to appear as if on the head of the monarch when seated.
A mule is said to have been overtaken, on which a trusty officer of the palace was bearing away some of the jewels of the crown, the tiara or diadem of Yezdegird, with his belt and scimitar and bracelets.
Saad appointed Omar Ibn Muskry to take charge of all the spoils for regular distribution, and criers were sent about to make proclamation that the soldiers should render in their booty to that officer. Such was the enormous amount that, after a fifth had been set apart for the Caliph, the remainder, divided among sixty thousand men, gave each of them twelve hundred dirhems of silver.
It took nine hundred heavily laden camels to convey to Medina the Caliph’s fifth of the spoil, among which the carpet, the clothing, and regalia of the king were included. The people of Medina, though of late years accustomed to the rich booty of the armies, were astonished at such an amount of treasure. Omar ordered that a mosque should be built of part of the proceeds. A consultation was held over the royal carpet, whether it should be stored away in the public treasury to be used by the Caliph on state occasions, or whether it should be included in the booty to be shared.
Omar hesitated to decide with his usual promptness, and referred the matter to Ali. “Oh, prince of true believers!” exclaimed the latter; “how can one of thy clear perception doubt in this matter? In the world, nothing is thine but what thou expendest in well-doing. What thou wearest will be worn out; what thou eatest will be consumed; but that which thou expendest in well-doing is sent before thee to the other world.”
Omar determined that the carpet should be shared among his chiefs. He divided it literally, with rigid equity, cutting it up without regard to the skill and beauty of the design, or its value as an entire piece of workmanship. Such was the richness of the materials, that the portion allotted to Ali alone sold for eight thousand dirhems of silver.
This signal capture of the capital of Persia took place in the month Safar, in the sixteenth year of the Hegira, and the year 637 of the Christian era; the same year with the capture of Jerusalem. The fame of such immense spoil, such treasures of art, in the hands of ignorant Arab soldiery, summoned the crafty and the avaricious from all quarters. All the world, it is said, flocked from the West, from Yemen, and from Egypt, to purchase the costly stuffs, captured from the Persians. It was like the vultures, winging their way from all parts of the heavens, to gorge on the relics of a hunting camp.
CAPTURE OF JALULA—FLIGHT OF YEZDEGIRD TO REI—FOUNDING OF CUFA—SAAD RECEIVES A SEVERE REBUKE FROM THE CALIPH FOR HIS MAGNIFICENCE.
SAAD IBN ABU WAKKAS would fain have pursued Yezdegird to Holwân, among the hills of ancient Medea, where he had taken refuge; but he was restrained by the Caliph Omar, who kept a cautious check from Medina upon his conquering generals; fearful that in the flush and excitement of victory they might hurry forward beyond the reach of succor. By the command of Omar, therefore, he remained with his main army in Madayn, and sent his brother Hashem with twelve thousand men in pursuit of the fugitive monarch. Hashem found a large force of Persians, relics of defeated armies, assembled in Jâlulâ, not far from Holwân, where they were disposed to make a stand. He laid siege to the place, but it was of great strength and maintained a brave and obstinate defense for six months, during which there were eighty assaults. At length, the garrison being reduced by famine and incessant fighting, and the commander slain, it surrendered.
Yezdegird on hearing of the capture of Jâlulâ abandoned the city of Holwân, leaving troops there under a general named Habesh, to check the pursuit of the enemy. The place of refuge which he now sought was the city of Rei, or Rai, the Rhages of Arrian; the Rhaga and Rhageia of the Greek geographers; a city of remote antiquity, contemporary, it is said, with Nineveh and Ecbatana, and mentioned in the book of Tobit; who, we are told, travelled from Nineveh to Rages, a city of Medea. It was a favorite residence of the Parthian kings in days of yore. In his flight though the mountains the monarch was borne on a chair or litter between mules; travelling a station each day and sleeping in the litter. Habesh, whom he had left behind, was soon defeated, and followed him in his flight.
Saad again wrote to the Caliph, urging that he might be permitted to follow the Persian king to his place of refuge among the mountains, before he should have time to assemble another army; but he again met with a cautious check. “You have this year,” said the Caliph, “taken Sawad and Irak; for Holwân is at the extremity of Irak. That is enough for the present. The welfare of true believers is of more value than booty.” So ended the sixteenth year of the Hegira.
The climate of Madayn proving unhealthy to his troops, and Saad wishing to establish a fortified camp in the midst of his victories, was ordered by the Caliph to seek some favorable site on the western side of the Euphrates, where there was good air, a well-watered plain and plenty of grass for the camels; things highly appreciated by the Arabs.
Saad chose for the purpose the village of Cufa, which, according to Moslem tradition, was the spot where Noah embarked in the ark. The Arabs further pretend that the serpent after tempting Eve was banished to this place. Hence, they say, the guile and treachery for which the men of Cufa are proverbial. This city became so celebrated that the Euphrates was at one time generally denominated Gahar Cufa, or the river of Cufa. The most ancient characters of the Arabic alphabet are termed Cufic to the present day.
In building Cufa, much of the stone, marble, and timber for the principal edifices were furnished from the ruins of Madayn; there being such a scarcity of those materials in Babylonia and its vicinity that the houses were generally constructed of bricks baked in the sun and cemented with bitumen. It used to be said, therefore, that the army on its remove took with it all the houses of Sawad. Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs, who appears to have imbibed a taste for Persian splendor, erected a sumptuous Kiosk or summer residence, and decorated it with a grand portal taken from the palace of the Khosrus at Madayn. When Omar heard of this he was sorely displeased, his great apprehension being that his generals would lose the good old Arab simplicity of manners in the luxurious countries they were conquering. He forthwith dispatched a trusty envoy, Mahomet Ibn Muslemah, empowered to give Saad a salutary rebuke. On arriving at Cufa, Mahomet caused a great quantity of wood to be heaped against the door of the Kiosk and set fire to it. When Saad came forth in amazement at this outrage, Mahomet put into his hands the following letter from the Caliph:
“I am told thou hast built a lofty palace, like to that of the Khosrus, and decorated it with a door taken from the latter, with a view to have guards and chamberlains stationed about it to keep off those who may come in quest of justice or assistance, as was the practice of the Khosrus before thee. In so doing thou hast departed from the ways of the prophet (on whom be benedictions), and hast fallen into the ways of the Persian monarchs. Know that the Khosrus have passed from their palace to the tomb; while the prophet, from his lowly habitation on earth, has been elevated to the highest heaven. I have sent Mahomet Ibn Muselmah to burn thy palace. In this world two houses are sufficient for thee—one to dwell in, the other to contain the treasure of the Moslem.”
Saad was too wary to make any opposition to the orders of the stern-minded Omar; so he looked on without a murmur as his stately Kiosk was consumed by the flames. He even offered Mahomet presents, which the latter declined, and returned to Medina. Saad removed to a different part of the city, and built a more modest mansion for himself, and another for the treasury.
In the same year with the founding of Cufa the Caliph Omar married Omm Kolsam, the daughter of Ali and Fatima, and granddaughter of the prophet. This drew him in still closer bonds of friendship and confidence with Ali, who with Othman shared his councils, and aided him in managing from Medina the rapidly accumulating affairs of the Moslem empire.
It must be always noted, that however stern and strict may appear the laws and ordinances of Omar, he was rigidly impartial in enforcing them; and one of his own sons, having been found intoxicated, received the twenty bastinadoes on the soles of the feet, which he had decreed for offenses of the kind.
WAR WITH HORMUZAN, THE SATRAP OF AHWAZ—HIS CONQUEST AND CONVERSION.
THE founding of the city of Bassora had given great annoyance and uneasiness to Hormuzân, the satrap or viceroy of Ahwâz, or Susiana. His province lay between Babylonia and Farsistan, and he saw that this rising city of the Arabs was intended as a check upon him. His province was one of the richest and most important of Persia, producing cotton, rice, sugar, and wheat. It was studded with cities, which the historian Tabari compared to a cluster of stars. In the center stood the metropolis Susa, one of the royal resorts of the Persian kings, celebrated in scriptural history, and said to possess the tomb of the prophet Daniel. It was once adorned with palaces and courts, and parks of prodigious extent, though now all is a waste, “echoing only to the roar of the lion, or yell of the hyena.”
Here Hormuzân, the satrap, emulated the state and luxury of a king. He was of a haughty spirit, priding himself upon his descent, his ancestors having once sat on the throne of Persia. For this reason his sons, being of the blood royal, were permitted to wear crowns, though of smaller size than those worn by kings, and his family was regarded with great deference by the Persians.
This haughty satrap, not rendered wary by the prowess of the Moslem arms, which he had witnessed and experienced at Kadesia, made preparations to crush the rising colony of Bassora. The founders of that city called on the Caliph for protection, and troops were marched to their assistance from Medina, and from the headquarters of Saad at Cufa. Hormuzân soon had reason to repent his having provoked hostilities. He was defeated in repeated battles, and at length was glad to make peace with the loss of half of his territories, and all but four of his cluster of cities. He was not permitted long to enjoy even this remnant of domain. Yezdegird, from his retreat at Rei, reproached Hormuzân and the satrap of the adjacent province of Farsistan, for not co-operating to withstand the Moslems. At his command they united their forces, and Hormuzân broke the treaty of peace which he had so recently concluded.
The devotion of Hormuzân to his fugitive sovereign ended in his ruin. The Caliph ordered troops to assemble from the different Moslem posts, and complete the conquest of Ahwâz. Hormuzân disputed his territory bravely, but was driven from place to place, until he made his last stand in the fortress of Ahwâz, or Susa. For six months he was beleaguered, during which time there were many sallies and assaults, and hard fighting on both sides. At length, Barâ Ibn Mâlek was sent to take command of the besiegers. He had been an especial favorite of the prophet, and there was a superstitious feeling concerning him. He manifested at all times an indifference to life or death; always pressed forward to the place of danger, and every action in which he served was successful.
On his taking the command, his troops gathered round him. “Oh Barâ! swear to overthrow these infidels, and the Most High will favor us.”
Barâ swore that the place would be taken, and the infidels put to flight, but that he would fall a martyr.
In the very next assault he was killed by an arrow sped by Hormuzân. The army took his death as a good omen. “One half of his oath is fulfilled,” said they, “and so will be the other.”
Shortly afterward a Persian traitor came to Abu Shebrah, who had succeeded to the Moslem command, and revealed a secret entrance by a conduit under the castle, by which it was supplied with water. A hundred Moslems entered it by night, threw open the outward gates, and let in the army into the court-yards. Hormuzân was ensconced, however, in a strong tower, or keep, from the battlements of which he held a parley with the Moslem commander. “I have a thousand expert archers with me,” said he, “who never miss their aim. By every arrow they discharge you will lose a man. Avoid this useless sacrifice. Let me depart in honor; give me safe conduct to the Caliph, and let him dispose of me as he pleases.”
It was agreed. Hormuzân was treated with respect as he issued from his fortress, and was sent under an escort to Medina. He maintained the air of one not conducted as a prisoner, but attended by a guard of honor. As he approached the city he halted, arrayed himself in sumptuous apparel, with his jewelled belt and regal crown, and in this guise entered the gates. The inhabitants gazed in astonishment at such unwonted luxury of attire.
Omar was not at his dwelling; he had gone to the mosque. Hormuzân was conducted thither. On approaching the sacred edifice, the Caliph’s cloak was seen hanging against the wall, while he himself, arrayed in patched garments, lay asleep with his staff under his head. The officers of the escort seated themselves at a respectful distance until he should awake. “This,” whispered they to Hormuzân, “is the prince of true believers.”
“This the Arab king!” said the astonished satrap; “and is this his usual attire?” “It is.” “And does he sleep thus without guards?” “He does; he comes and goes alone; and lies down and sleeps where he pleases.” “And can he administer justice, and conduct affairs without officers and messengers and attendants?” “Even so,” was the reply. “This,” exclaimed Hormuzân, at length, “is the condition of a prophet, but not of a king.” “He is not a prophet,” was the reply, “but he acts like one.”
As the Caliph awoke he recognized the officers of the escort. “What tidings do you bring?” demanded he.—“But who is this so extravagantly arrayed?” rubbing his eyes as they fell upon the embroidered robes and jewelled crown of the satrap. “This is Hormuzân, the king of Ahwâz.” “Take the infidel out of this place,” cried he, turning away his head. “Strip him of his riches, and put on him the riches of Islam.”
Hormuzân was accordingly taken forth, and in a little time was brought again before the Caliph, clad in a simple garb of the striped cloth of Yemen.
The Moslem writers relate various quibbles by which Hormuzân sought to avert the death with which he was threatened, for having slain Barâ Ibn Mâlek. He craved water to allay his thirst. A vessel of water was brought. Affecting to apprehend immediate execution: “Shall I be spared until I have drunk this?” Being answered by the Caliph in the affirmative, he dashed the vessel to the ground. “Now,” said he, “you cannot put me to death, for I can never drink the water.”
The straightforward Omar, however, was not to be caught by a quibble. “Your cunning will do you no good,” said he. “Nothing will save you but to embrace Islamism.” The haughty Hormuzân was subdued. He made the profession of faith in due style, and was at once enrolled among true believers.
He resided thenceforth in Medina, received rich presents from the Caliph, and subsequently gave him much serviceable information and advice in his prosecution of the war with Persia. The conquest of Ahwâz was completed in the nineteenth year of the Hegira.
SAAD SUSPENDED FROM THE COMMAND—A PERSIAN ARMY ASSEMBLED AT NEHAVEND—COUNCIL AT THE MOSQUE OF MEDINA—BATTLE OF NEHAVEND.
OMAR, as we have seen, kept a jealous and vigilant eye upon his distant generals, being constantly haunted by the fear that they would become corrupted in the rich and luxurious countries they were invading, and lose that Arab simplicity which he considered inestimable in itself, and all-essential to the success of the cause of Islam. Notwithstanding the severe reproof he had given to Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs in burning down his palace at Cufa, complaints still reached him that the general affected the pomp of a Caliph, that he was unjust and oppressive, unfair in the division of spoils, and slow in conducting military concerns. These charges proved, for the most part, unfounded, but they caused Saad to be suspended from his command until they could be investigated.
When the news reached Yezdegird at Rei that the Moslem general who had conquered at Kadesia, slain Rustam, captured Madayn, and driven himself to the mountains, was deposed from the command, he conceived fresh hopes, and wrote letters to all the provinces yet unconquered, calling on the inhabitants to take up arms and make a grand effort for the salvation of the empire. Nehâvend was appointed as the place where the troops were to assemble. It was a place of great antiquity, founded, says tradition, by Noah, and called after him, and was about fifteen leagues from Hamadân, the ancient Ecbatana. Here troops gathered together to the number of one hundred and fifty thousand.
Omar assembled his counsellors at the mosque of Medina, and gave them intelligence, just received, of this great armament. “This,” said he, “is probably the last great effort of the Persians. If we defeat them now they will never be able to unite again.” He expressed a disposition, therefore, to take the command in person. Strong objections were advanced. “Assemble troops from various parts,” said Othman; “but remain, yourself, either at Medina, Cufa, or Holwân, to send reinforcements if required, or to form a rallying point for the Moslems, if defeated.” Others gave different counsel. At length the matter was referred to Abbas Ibn Abd al Motâlleb, who was considered one of the sagest heads for counsel in the tribe of Koreish. He gave it as his opinion that the Caliph should remain in Medina, and give the command of the campaign to Nu’mân Ibn Mukry, who was already in Ahwâz, where he had been ever since Saad had sent him thither from Irak. It is singular to see the fate of the once mighty and magnificent empires of the Orient—Syria, Chaldea, Babylonia, and the dominions of the Medes and Persians—thus debated and decided in the mosque of Medina—by a handful of gray-headed Arabs, who but a few years previously had been homeless fugitives.
Orders were now sent to Nu’mân to march to Nehâvend, and reinforcements joined him from Medina, Bassora, and Cufa. His force, when thus collected, was but moderate, but it was made up of men hardened and sharpened by incessant warfare, rendered daring and confident by repeated victory, and led by able officers. He was afterward joined by ten thousand men from Sawad, Holwan, and other places, many of whom were tributaries.
The Persian army now collected at Nehâvend was commanded by Firuzân; he was old and infirm. but full of intelligence and spirit, and the only remaining general considered capable of taking charge of such a force, the best generals having fallen in battle. The veteran, knowing the impetuosity of the Arab attack, and their superiority in the open field, had taken a strong position, fortified his camp, and surrounded it with a deep moat filled with water. Here he determined to tire out the patience of the Moslems, and await an opportunity to strike a decisive blow.
Nu’mân displayed his forces before the Persian camp, and repeatedly offered battle, but the cautious veteran was not to be drawn out of his entrenchments. Two months elapsed without any action, and the Moslem troops, as Firuzân had foreseen, began to grow discontented, and to murmur at their general.
A stratagem was now resorted to by Nu’mân to draw out the enemy. Breaking up his camp, he made a hasty retreat, leaving behind him many articles of little value. The stratagem succeeded. The Persians sallied, though cautiously, in pursuit. Nu’mân continued his feigned retreat for another day, still followed by the enemy. Having drawn them to a sufficient distance from their fortified camp, he took up a position at nightfall. “To-morrow,” said he to his troops, “before the day reddens, be ready for battle. I have been with the prophet in many conflicts, and he always commenced battle after the Friday prayer.”
The following day, when the troops were drawn out in order of battle, he made this prayer in their presence: “Oh Allah! sustain this day the cause of Islamism; give us victory over the infidels, and grant me the glory of martyrdom.” Then turning to his officers, he expressed a presentiment that he should fall in the battle, and named the person who, in such case, should take the command.
He now appointed the signal for battle. “Three times,” said he, “I will cry the tekbir, and each time will shake my standard. At the third time let every one fall on as I shall do.” He gave the signal, Allah Achbar! Allah Achbar! Allah Achbar! At the third shaking of the standard the tekbir was responded by the army, and the air was rent by the universal shout of Allah Achbar!
The shock of the two armies was terrific; they were soon enveloped in a cloud of dust, in which the sound of scimitars and battle-axes told the deadly work that was going on, while the shouts of Allah Achbar continued, mingled with furious cries and execrations of the Persians, and dismal groans of the wounded. In an hour the Persians were completely routed. “Oh Lord!” exclaimed Nu’mân in pious ecstasy, “my prayer for victory has been heard; may that for martyrdom be likewise favored!”
He advanced his standard in pursuit of the enemy, but at the same moment a Parthian arrow from the flying foe gave him the death he coveted. His body, with the face covered, was conveyed to his brother, and his standard given to Hadifeh, whom he had named to succeed him in the command.
The Persians were pursued with great slaughter. Firuzân fled toward Hamadân, but was overtaken at midnight as he was ascending a steep hill, embarrassed among a crowd of mules and camels laden with the luxurious superfluities of a Persian camp. Here he and several thousand of his soldiers and camp-followers were cut to pieces. The booty was immense. Forty of the mules were found to be laden with honey; which made the Arabs say, with a sneer, that Firuzân’s army was clogged with its own honey, until overtaken by the true believers. The whole number of Persians slain in this battle, which sealed the fate of the empire, is said to have amounted to one hundred thousand. It took place in the twenty-first year of the Hegira, and the year 641 of the Christian era, and was commemorated among Moslems as “The Victory of Victories.”
On a day subsequent to the battle a man mounted on an ass rode into the camp of Hadifeh. He was one who had served in the temples of the fire-worshippers, and was in great consternation, fearing to be sacrificed by the fanatic Moslems. “Spare my life,” said he to Hadifeh, “and the life of another person whom I shall designate, and I will deliver into your hands a treasure put under my charge by Yezdegird when he fled to Rei.” His terms being promised, he produced a sealed box. On breaking the seal, Hadifeh found it filled with rubies and precious stones of various colors, and jewels of great price. He was astonished at the sight of what appeared to him incalculable riches. “These jewels,” said he, “have not been gained in battle, nor by the sword; we have, therefore, no right to any share in them.” With the concurrence of his officers, therefore, he sent the box to the Caliph to be retained by himself or divided among the true believers as he should think proper. The officer who conducted the fifth part of the spoils to Medina delivered the box, and related its history to Omar. The Caliph, little skilled in matters of luxury, and holding them in supreme contempt, gazed with an ignorant or scornful eye at the imperial jewels, and refused to receive them. “You know not what these things are,” said he. “Neither do I; but they justly belong to those who slew the infidels, and to no one else.” He ordered the officer, therefore, to depart forthwith and carry the box back to Hadifeh. The jewels were sold by the latter to the merchants who followed the camp, and when the proceeds were divided among the troops, each horseman received for his share four thousand pieces of gold.
Far other was the conduct of the Caliph when he received the letter giving an account of the victory at Nehâvend. His first inquiry was after his old companion in the faith, Nu’mân. “May God grant you and him mercy!” was the reply. “He has become a martyr.”
Omar, it is said, wept. He next inquired who also were martyrs. Several were named with whom he was acquainted; but many who were unknown to him. “If I know them not,” said he, piously quoting a text of the Koran, “God does!”
CAPTURE OF HAMADAN; OF REI—SUBJUGATION OF TABARISTAN; OF AZERBIJAN—CAMPAIGN AMONG THE CAUCASIAN MOUNTAINS.
THE Persian troops who had survived the signal defeat of Firuzân assembled their broken forces near the city of Hamadân, but were soon routed again by a detachment sent against them by Hadlifeh, who had fixed his headquarters at Nehâvend. They then took refuge in Hamadân, and ensconced themselves in its strong fortress or citadel.
Hamadân was the second city in Persia for grandeur, and was built upon the site of Ecbatana, in old times the principal city of the Medes. There were more Jews among its inhabitants than were to be found in any other city of Persia, and it boasted of possessing the tombs of Esther and Mordecai. It was situated on a steep eminence, down the sides of which it descended into a fruitful plain, watered by streams gushing down from the lofty Orontes, now Mount Elwand. The place was commanded by Habesh, the same general who had been driven from Holwân after the flight of Yezdegird. Habesh sought an interview with Hadifeh, at his encampment at Nehâvend, and made a treaty of peace with him; but it was a fraudulent one, and intended merely to gain time. Returning to Hamadân, he turned the whole city into a fortress, and assembled a strong garrison, being reinforced from the neighboring province of Azerbijân.
On being informed of this want of good faith on the part of the governor of Hamadân, the Caliph Omar dispatched a strong force against the place, led by an able officer named Nu’haim Ibn Mukrin. Habesh had more courage than caution. Confident in the large force he had assembled, instead of remaining within his strongly fortified city, he sallied forth and met the Moslems in open field. The battle lasted for three days, and was harder fought than even that of Nehâvend, but ended in leaving the Moslems triumphant masters of the once formidable capital of Medea.
Nu’haim now marched against Rei, late the place of refuge of Yezdegird. That prince, however, had deserted it on the approach of danger, leaving it in charge of a noble named Siyâwesh Ibn Barham. Hither the Persian princes had sent troops from the yet unconquered provinces, for Siyâwesh had nobly offered to make himself as a buckler to them, and conquer or fall in their defense. His patriotism was unavailing; treachery and corruption were too prevalent among the Persians. Zain, a powerful noble resident in Rei, and a deadly enemy of Siyâwesh, conspired to admit two thousand Moslems in at one gate of the city, at the time when its gallant governor was making a sally by another. A scene of tumult and carnage took place in the streets, where both armies engaged in deadly conflict. The patriot Siyâwesh was slain, with a great part of his troops; the city was captured and sacked, and its citadel destroyed, and the traitor Zain was rewarded for his treachery by being made governor of the ruined place.
Nu’haim now sent troops in different directions against Kumish, and Dameghân, and Jurgan (the ancient Hircania), and Tabaristan. They met with feeble resistance. The national spirit was broken; even the national religion was nearly at an end. “This Persian religion of ours has become obsolete,” said Farkham, a military sage, to an assemblage of commanders, who asked his advice; “the new religion is carrying everything before it; my advice is to make peace and pay tribute.” His advice was adopted. All Tabaristan became tributary in the annual sum of five hundred thousand dirhems, with the condition that the Moslems should levy no troops in that quarter.
Azerbijân was next invaded; the country which had sent troops to the aid of Hamadân. This province lay north of Rei and Hamadân, and extended to the Rocky Caucasus. It was the stronghold of the Magians or Fire-worshippers, where they had their temples, and maintained their perpetual fire. Hence the name of the country, Azer signifying fire. The princes of the country made an ineffectual stand; their army was defeated; the altars of the fire-worshippers were overturned; their temples destroyed, and Azerbijân won.
The arms of Islam had now been carried triumphantly to the very defiles of the Caucasus; those mountains were yet to be subdued. Their rocky sierras on the east separated Azerbijân from Haziz and the shores of the Caspian, and on the north from the vast Sarmatian regions. The passes through these mountains were secured of yore by fortresses and walls and iron gates, to bar against irruptions from the shadowy land of Gog and Magog, the terror of the olden time, for by these passes had poured in the barbarous hordes of the north, “a mighty host all riding upon horses,” who lived in tents, worshipped the naked sword planted in the earth, and decorated their steeds with the scalps of their enemies slain in battle.
By some Gog and Magog are taken in an allegorical sense, signifying the princes of heathendom, enemies of saints and the church.
According to the prophet Ezekiel, Gog was the king of Magog; Magog signifying the people, and Gog the king of the country. They are names that loom vaguely and fearfully in the dark denunciations of the prophets, and in the olden time inspired awe throughout the Eastern world.
The Arabs, says Lane, call Gog and Magog, Yâjuj and Mâjuj, and say they are two nations or tribes descended from Japhet, the son of Noah; or, as others write, Gog is a tribe of the Turks, and Magog those of Gilan; the Geli and the Gelae of Ptolemy and Strabo. They made their irruptions into the neighboring countries in the spring, and carried off all the fruits of the earth.—Sale’s Koran, note to ch. 18.
According to Moslem belief, a great irruption of Gog and Magog is to be one of the signs of the latter days, forerunning the resurrection and final judgment. They are to come from the north in a mighty host, covering the land as a cloud; so that when subdued, their shields and bucklers, their bows and arrows and quivers, and the staves of their spears, shall furnish the faithful with fuel for seven years.—All which is evidently derived from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, with which Mohammed had been made acquainted by his Jewish instructors.
The Koran makes mention of a wall built as a protection against these fearful people of the north by Dhu’lkarneim, or the Two Horned; by whom some suppose is meant Alexander the Great, others a Persian king of the first race, contemporary with Abraham.
And they said, O Dhu’lkarneim, verily, Gog and Magog waste the land. . . . He answered, I will set a strong wall between you and them. Bring me iron in large pieces, until it fill up the space between the two sides of these mountains. And he said to the workmen, Blow with your bellows until it make the iron red hot; and bring me molten brass, that I may pour upon it. Wherefore, when this wall was finished, Gog and Magog could not scale it, neither could they dig through it—Sale’s Koran, chap. 18.
The Czar Peter the Great, in his expedition against the Persians, saw in the neighborhood of the city of Derbend, which was then besieged, the ruins of a wall which went up hill and down dale, along the Caucasus, and was said to extend from the Euxine to the Caspian. It was fortified from place to place, by towers or castles. It was eighteen Russian stades in height; built of stones laid up dry; some of them three ells long and very wide. The color of the stones, and the traditions of the country, showed it to be of great antiquity. The Arabs and Persians said that it was built against the invasions of Gog and Magog.—See Travels in the East, by Sir William Ouseley.
Detachments of Moslems under different leaders penetrated the defiles of these mountains and made themselves masters of the Derbends, or mountain barriers. One of the most important, and which cost the greatest struggle, was a city or fortress called by the Persians Der-bend; by the Turks Demir-Capi or the Gate of Iron, and by the Arabs Bab-el-abwâb (the Gate of Gates). It guards a defile between a promontory of Mount Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. A superstitious belief is still connected with it by the Moslems. Originally it had three gates, two only are left; one of these has nearly sunk into the earth; they say when it disappears the day of judgment will arrive.
Abda’lrahman Ibn Rabiah, one of the Moslem commanders who penetrated the defiles of the Caucasus, was appointed by Omar to the command of the Derbends or passes, with orders to keep vigilant watch over them; for the Caliph was in continual solicitude about the safety of the Moslems on these remote expeditions, and was fearful that the Moslem troops might be swept away by some irruption from the north.
Abda’lrahman, with the approbation of the Caliph, made a compact with Shahr-Zad, one of the native chiefs, by which the latter, in consideration of being excused from paying tribute, undertook to guard the Derbends against the northern hordes. The Arab general had many conversations with Shahr-Zad about the mountains, which are favored regions of Persian romance and fable. His imagination was fired with what he was told about the people beyond the Derbends, the Allâni and the Rus; and about the great wall or barrier of Yâjuj and Mâjuj, built to restrain their inroads.
In one of the stories told by Shahr-Zad, the reader will perceive the germ of one of the Arabian tales of Sinbad the Sailor. It is recorded to the following purport by Tabari, the Persian historian: “One day as Abda’lrahman was seated by ShahrZad, conversing with him, he perceived upon his finger a ring decorated with a ruby, which burned like fire in the day-time, but at night was of dazzling brilliancy. ‘It came,’ said Shahr-Zad, ‘from the wall of Yâjuj and Mâjuj; from a king whose dominions between the mountains is traversed by the wall. I sent him many presents and asked but one ruby in return.’ Seeing the curiosity of Abda’lrahman aroused, he sent for the man who had brought the ring, and commanded him to relate the circumstances of his errand.
“‘When I delivered the presents and the letter of Shahr-Zad to that king,’ said the man, ‘he called his chief falconer, and ordered him to procure the jewel required. The falconer kept an eagle for three days without food, until he was nearly starved; he then took him up into the mountains near the wall, and I accompanied him. From the summit of one of these mountains, we looked down into a deep dark chasm like an abyss. The falconer now produced a piece of tainted meat; threw it into the ravine, and let loose the eagle. He swept down after it; pounced upon it as it reached the ground, and returning with it, perched upon the hand of the falconer. The ruby which now shines in that ring was found adhering to the meat.’
“Abda’lrahman asked an account of the wall. ‘It is built,’ replied the man, ‘of stone, iron, and brass, and extends down one mountain and up another.’ ‘This,’ said the devout and all-believing Abda’lrahman, ‘must be the very wall of which the Almighty makes mention in the Koran.’
“He now inquired of Shahr-Zad what was the value of the ruby. ‘No one knows its value,’ was the reply; ‘though presents to an immense amount had been made in return for it.’ Shahr-Zad now drew the ring from his finger, and offered it to Abda’lrahman, but the latter refused to accept it, saying that a gem of that value was not suitable to him. ‘Had you been one of the Persian kings,’ said Shahr-Zad, ‘you would have taken it from me by force; but men who conduct like you will conquer all the world.”
The stories which he had heard had such an effect upon Abda’lrahman, that he resolved to make a foray into the mysterious country beyond the Derbends. Still it could only be of a partial nature, as he was restrained from venturing far by the cautious injunctions of Omar. “Were I not fearful of displeasing the Caliph,” said he, “I would push forward even to Yâjuj and Mâjuj, and make converts of all the infidels.”
On issuing from the mountains, he found himself among a barbarous people, the ancestors of the present Turks, who inhabited a region of country between the Euxine and the Caspian seas. A soldier who followed Abda’lrahman in this foray gave the following account of these people to the Caliph on his return to Medina. “They were astonished,” said he, “at our appearance, so different from their old enemies the Persians, and asked us, ‘Are you angels, or the sons of Adam?’ to which we replied, we are sons of Adam; but the angels of heaven are on our side and aid us in our warfare.”
The infidels forbore to assail men thus protected; one, however, more shrewd or dubious than the rest, stationed himself behind a tree, sped an arrow, and slew a Moslem. The delusion was at an end; the Turks saw that the strangers were mortal, and from that time there was hard fighting. Abda’lrahman laid siege to a place called Belandscher, the city or stronghold of the Bulgarians or Huns, another semi-barbarous and warlike people like the Turks, who, like them, had not yet made themselves world-famous by their conquering migrations. The Turks came to the aid of their neighbors; a severe battle took place, the Moslems were defeated, and Abda’lrahman paid for his daring enterprise and romantic curiosity with his life. The Turks, who still appear to have retained a superstitious opinion of their unknown invaders, preserved the body of the unfortunate general as a relic, and erected a shrine in honor of it, at which they used to put up their prayers for rain in time of drought.
The troops of Abda’lrahman retreated within the Derbends; his brother Selman Ibn Rabiah was appointed to succeed him in the command of the Caucasian passes, and thus ended the unfortunate foray into the land of Gog and Magog.
THE CALIPH OMAR ASSASSINATED BY A FIRE-WORSHIPPER—HIS CHARACTER—OTHMAN ELECTED CALIPH.
The life and reign of the Caliph Omar, distinguished by such great and striking events, were at length brought to a sudden and sanguinary end. Among the Persians who had been brought as slaves to Medina, was one named Firuz, of the sect of the Magi, or fire-worshippers. Being taxed daily by his master two pieces of silver out of his earnings, he complained of it to Omar as an extortion. The Caliph inquired into his condition, and, finding that he was a carpenter, and expert in the construction of windmills, replied, that the man who excelled in such a handicraft could well afford to pay two dirhems a day. “Then,” muttered Firuz, “I’ll construct a windmill for you that shall keep grinding until the day of judgment.” Omar was struck with his menacing air. “The slave threatens me,” said he, calmly. “If I were disposed to punish any one on suspicion. I should take off his head;” he suffered him, however, to depart without further notice.
Three days afterward, as he was praying in the mosque, Firuz entered suddenly and stabbed him thrice with a dagger. The attendants rushed upon the assassin. He made furious resistance, slew some and wounded others, until one of his assailants threw his vest over him and seized him, upon which be stabbed himself to the heart and expired. Religion may have had some share in prompting this act of violence; perhaps revenge for the ruin brought upon his native country. “God be thanked,” said Omar, “that he by whose hand it was decreed I should fall was not a Moslem!”
The Caliph gathered strength sufficient to finish the prayer in which he had been interrupted; “for he who deserts his prayers,” said he, “is not in Islam.” Being taken to his house, he languished three days without hope of recovery, but could not be prevailed upon to nominate a successor. “I cannot presume to do that,” said he, “which the prophet himself did not do.” Some suggested that he should nominate his son Abdallah. “Omar’s family,” said he, “has had enough in Omar, and needs no more.” He appointed a council of six persons to determine as to the succession after his decease; all of whom he considered worthy of the Caliphat; though he gave it as his opinion that the choice would be either Ali or Othman. “Shouldst thou become Caliph,” said he to Ali, “do not favor thy relatives above all others, nor place the house of Haschem on the neck of all mankind;” and he gave the same caution to Othman in respect to the family of Omeya.
Calling for ink and paper, he wrote a letter as his last testament, to whosoever might be his successor, full of excellent counsel for the upright management of affairs, and the promotion of the faith. He charged his son Abdallah in the most earnest manner, as one of the highest duties of Islamism, to repay eighteen thousand dirhems which he had borrowed out of the public treasury. All present protested against this as unreasonable, since the money had been expended in relief of the poor and destitute, but Omar insisted upon it as his last will. He then sent to Ayesha and procured permission of her to be buried next to her father Abu Beker.
Ibn Abbas and Ali now spoke to him in words of comfort, setting forth the blessings of Islam, which had crowned his administration, and that he would leave no one behind him who could charge him with injustice. “Testify this for me,” said he, earnestly, “at the day of judgment.” They gave him their hands in promise; but he exacted that they should give him a written testimonial, and that it should be buried with him in the grave.
Having settled all his worldly affairs, and given directions about his sepulture, he expired, the seventh day after his assassination, in the sixty-third year of his age, after a triumphant reign of ten years and six months.
His death was rashly and bloodily revenged. Mahomet Ibn Abu Beker, the brother of Ayesha, and imbued with her mischief-making propensity, persuaded Abdallah, the son of Omar, that his father’s murder was the result of a conspiracy: Firuz having been instigated to the act by his daughter Lulu, a Christian named Dschofeine, and Hormuzân, the once haughty and magnificent satrap of Susiana. In the transport of his rage, and instigated by the old Arab principle of blood revenge, Abdallah slew all three of the accused, without reflecting on the improbability of Hormuzân, at least, being accessory to the murder; being, since his conversion, in close friendship with the late Caliph, and his adviser, on many occasions, in the prosecution of the Persian war.
The whole history of Omar shows him to have been a man of great powers of mind, inflexible integrity, and rigid justice. He was, more than any one else, the founder of the Islam empire, confirming and carrying out the inspirations of the prophet; aiding Abu Beker with his counsels during his brief Caliphat; and establishing wise regulations for the strict administration of the laws throughout the rapidly-extending bounds of the Moslem conquests. The rigid hand which he kept upon his most popular generals in the midst of their armies, and in the most distant scenes of their triumphs, give signal evidence of his extraordinary capacity to rule. In the simplicity of his habits, and his contempt for all pomp and luxury, he emulated the example of the prophet and Abu Beker. He endeavored incessantly to impress the merit and policy of the same in his letters to his generals. “Beware,” he would say, “of Persian luxury, both in food and raiment. Keep to the simple habits of your country, and Allah will continue you victorious; depart from them, and he will reverse your fortunes.” It was his strong conviction of the truth of this policy, which made him so severe in punishing all ostentatious style and luxurious indulgence in his officers.
Some of his ordinances do credit to his heart as well as his head. He forbade that any female captive who had borne a child should be sold as a slave. In his weekly distributions of the surplus money of his treasury he proportioned them to the wants, not the merits of the applicant. “God,” said he, “has bestowed the good things of this world to relieve our necessities, not to reward our virtues: those will be rewarded in another world.”
One of the early measures of his reign was the assigning pensions to the most faithful companions of the prophet, and those who had signalized themselves in the early service of the faith. Abbas, the uncle of the prophet, had a yearly pension of 200,000 dirhems; others of his relatives in graduated proportions; those veterans who had fought in the battle of Beder 5000 dirhems; pensions of less amount to those who had distinguished themselves in Syria, Persia, and Egypt. Each of the prophet’s wives was allowed ten thousand dirhems yearly, and Ayesha twelve thousand. Hasan and Hosein, the sons of Ali and grandsons of the prophet, had each a pension of five thousand dirhems. On any one who found fault with these disbursements out of the public wealth, Omar invoked the curse of Allah.
He was the first to establish a chamber of accounts or exchequer; the first to date events from the Hegira or flight of the prophet: and the first to introduce a coinage into the Moslem dominions; stamping the coins with the name of the reigning Caliph; and the words, “There is no God but God.”
During his reign, we are told, there were thirty-six thousand towns, castles, and strongholds taken; but he was not a wasteful conqueror. He founded new cities, established important marts, built innumerable mosques, and linked the newly acquired provinces into one vast empire by his iron inflexibility of purpose. As has well been observed, “His Caliphat, crowned with the glories of its triple conquest of Syria, Persia, and Egypt, deserves to be distinguished as the heroic age of Saracen history. The gigantic foundations of the Saracenic power were perfected in the short space of less than ten years.” Let it be remembered, moreover, that this great conqueror, this great legislator, this magnanimous sovereign, was originally a rude, half-instructed Arab of Mecca. Well may we say in regard to the early champions of Islam, “There were giants in those days.”
After the death of Omar the six persons met together whom he had named as a council to elect his successor. They were Ali, Othman, Telha, Ibn Obeid’allah (Mohammed’s son-in-law), Zobeir, Abda’lrahman, Ibn Awf, and Saad Ibn Abu Wakkâs. They had all been personally intimate with Mohammed, were therefore styled THE COMPANIONS.
After much discussion and repeated meetings the Caliphat was offered to Ali, on condition that he would promise to govern according to the Koran and the traditions of Mohammed, and the regulations established by the two seniors or elders, meaning the two preceding Caliphs, Abu Beker and Omar.
Ali replied that he would govern according to the Koran and the authentic traditions; but would, in all other respects, act according to his own judgment, without reference to the example of the seniors. This reply not being satisfactory to the council, they made the same proposal to Othman Ibn Affân, who assented to all the conditions, and was immediately elected, and installed three days after the death of his predecessor. He was seventy years of age at the time of his election. He was tall and swarthy, and his long gray beard was tinged with henna. He was strict in his religious duties; fasting, meditating, and studying the Koran; not so simple in his habits as his predecessors, but prone to expense and lavish of his riches. His bountiful spirit, however, was evinced at times in a way that gained him much popularity. In a time of famine he had supplied the poor of Medina with corn. He had purchased at great cost the ground about the mosque of Medina, to give room for houses for the prophet’s wives. He had contributed six hundred and fifty camels and fifty horses for the campaign against Tabuc.
He derived much respect among zealous Moslems for having married two of the prophet’s daughters, and for having been in both of the Hegiras or flights, the first into Abyssinia, the second, the memorable flight to Medina. Mohammed used to say of him, “Each thing has its mate, and each man his associate: my associate in paradise is Othman.”
Scarcely was the new Caliph installed in office when the retaliatory punishment prescribed by the law was invoked upon Obeid’allah, the son of Omar, for the deaths so rashly inflicted on those whom he had suspected of instigating his father’s assassination. Othman was perplexed between the letter of the law and the odium of following the murder of the father by the execution of the son. He was kindly relieved from his perplexity by the suggestion, that as the act of Obeid’allah took place in the interregnum between the Caliphats of Omar and Othman, it did not come under the cognizance of either. Othman gladly availed himself of the quibble; Obeid’allah escaped unpunished, and the sacrifice of the once magnificent Hormuzân and his fellow-victims remained unavenged.
CONCLUSION OF THE PERSIAN CONQUEST—FLIGHT AND DEATH OF YEZDEGIRD.
THE proud empire of the Khosrus had received its deathblow during the vigorous Caliphat of Omar; what signs of life it yet gave were but its dying struggles. The Moslems, led by able generals, pursued their conquests in different directions. Some, turning to the west, urged their triumphant way through ancient Assyria; crossed the Tigris by the bridge of Mosul, passing the ruins of mighty Nineveh as unheedingly as they had passed those of Babylon; completed the subjugation of Mesopotamia, and planted their standards beside those of their brethren who had achieved the conquest of Syria.
Others directed their course into the southern and eastern provinces, following the retreating steps of Yezdegird. A fiat issued by the late Caliph Omar had sealed the doom of that unhappy monarch. “Pursue the fugitive king wherever he may go, until you have driven him from the face of the earth!”
Yezdegird, after abandoning Rei, had led a wandering life, shifting from city to city and province to province, still flying at the approach of danger. At one time we hear of him in the splendid city of Ispahan; next among the mountains of Farsistan, the original Persis, the cradle of the conquerors of Asia; and it is another of the lessons furnished by history, to see the last of the Khosrus a fugitive among those mountains whence, in foregone times, Cyrus had led his hardy but frugal and rugged bands to win, by force of arms, that vast empire which was now falling to ruin through its effeminate degeneracy.
For a time the unhappy monarch halted in Istakar, the pride of Persia, where the tottering remains of Persepolis, and its hall of a thousand columns, speak of the ancient glories of the Persian kings. Here Yezdegird bad been fostered and concealed during his youthful days, and here he came near being taken among the relics of Persian magnificence.
From Farsistan he was driven to Kerman, the ancient Carmania; thence into Khorassan, in the northern part of which vast province he took breath at the city of Merv, or Merou, on the remote boundary of Bactriana. In all his wanderings he was encumbered by the shattered pageant of an oriental court, a worthless throng which had fled with him from Madayn, and which he had no means of supporting. At Merv he had four thousand persons in his train, all minions of the palace, useless hangers-on, porters, grooms, and slaves, together with his wives and concubines, and their female attendants.
In this remote halting-place he devoted himself to building a fire-temple; in the mean time he wrote letters to such of the cities and provinces as were yet unconquered, exhorting his governors and generals to defend, piece by piece, the fragments of empire which he had deserted.
The city of Ispahan, one of the brightest jewels of his crown, was well garrisoned by wrecks of the army of Nehâvend, and might have made brave resistance; but its governor, Kadeskan, staked the fortunes of the place upon a single combat with the Moslem commander who had invested it, and capitulated at the first shock of lances; probably through some traitorous arrangement.
Ispahan has never recovered from that blow. Modern travellers speak of its deserted streets, its abandoned palaces, its silent bazaars. “I have ridden for miles among its ruins,” says one, “without meeting any living creature, excepting perhaps a jackal peeping over a wall, or a fox running into his hole. Now and then an inhabited house was to be seen, the owner of which might be assimilated to Job’s forlorn man dwelling in desolate cities, and in houses which no man inhabiteth; which are ready to become heaps.”
Istakar made a nobler defense. The national pride of the Persians was too much connected with this city, once their boast, to let it fall without a struggle. There was another gathering of troops from various parts; one hundred and twenty thousand are said to have united under the standard of Shah-reg the patriotic governor. It was all in vain. The Persians were again defeated in a bloody battle; Shah-reg was slain, and Istakar, the ancient Persepolis, once almost the mistress of the Eastern world, was compelled to pay tribute to the Arabian Caliph.
The course of Moslem conquest now turned into the vast province of Khorassan; subdued one part of it after another, and approached the remote region where Yezdegird had taken refuge. Driven to the boundaries of his dominions, the fugitive monarch crossed the Oxus (the ancient Gihon) and the sandy deserts beyond, and threw himself among the shepherd hordes of Scythia. His wanderings are said to have extended to the borders of Tshin, or China, from the emperor of which he sought assistance.
Obscurity hangs over this part of his story; it is affirmed that he succeeded in obtaining aid from the great Khan of the Tartars, and re-crossing the Gihon was joined by the troops of Balkh or Bactria, which province was still unsubdued and loyal. With these he endeavored to make a stand against his unrelenting pursuers. A slight reverse, or some secret treachery, put an end to the adhesion of his barbarian ally. The Tartar chief returned with his troops to Turkestan.
Yezdegird’s own nobles, tired of following his desperate fortunes, now conspired to betray him and his treasures into the hands of the Moslems as a price for their own safety. He was at that time at Merv, or Merov, on the Oxus, called Merou al Roud, or “Merou of the River,” to distinguish it from Merou in Khorassan. Discovering the intended treachery of his nobles, and of the governor of the place, he caused his slaves to let him down with cords from a window of his palace and fled, alone and on foot, under cover of the night. At the break of day he found himself near a mill, on the banks of the river, only eight miles from the city, and offered the miller his ring and bracelets, enriched with gems, if he would ferry him across the stream. The boor, who knew nothing of jewels, demanded four silver oboli, or drachms, the amount of a day’s earnings, as a compensation for leaving his work. While they were debating, a party of horsemen who were in pursuit of the king came up and clove him with their scimitars. Another account states that, exhausted and fatigued with the weight of his embroidered garments, he sought rest and concealment in the mill, and that the miller spread a mat, on which he laid down and slept. His rich attire, however, his belt of gold studded with jewels, his rings and bracelets, excited the avarice of the miller, who slew him with an axe while he slept, and, having stripped the body, threw it into the water. In the morning several horsemen in search of him arrived at the mill, where discovering, by his clothes and jewels, that he had been murdered, they put the miller to death.
This miserable catastrophe to a miserable career is said to have occurred on the 23d August, in the year 651 of the Christian era. Yezdegird was in the thirty-fourth year of his age, having reigned nine years previous to the battle of Nehâvend, and since that event having been ten years a fugitive. History lays no crime to his charge, yet his hard fortunes and untimely end have failed to awaken the usual interest and sympathy. He had been schooled in adversity from his early youth, yet he failed to profit by it. Carrying about with him the wretched relics of an effeminate court, he sought only his personal safety, and wanted the courage and magnanimity to throw himself at the head of his armies, and battle for his crown and country like a great sovereign and a patriot prince.
Empires, however, like all other things, have their allotted time, and die, if not by violence, at length of imbecility and old age. That of Persia had long since lost its stamina, and the energy of a Cyrus would have been unable to infuse new life into its gigantic but palsied limbs. At the death of Yezdegird it fell under the undisputed sway of the Caliphs, and became little better than a subject province.
According to popular traditions in Persia, Yezdegird, in the course of his wanderings, took refuge for a time in the castle of Fahender, near Schiraz, and buried the crown jewels and treasures of Nushirwan, in a deep pit or well under the castle, where they still remain guarded by a talisman, so that they cannot be found or drawn forth. Others say that he had them removed and deposited in trust with the Khacan, or emperor of Chin or Tartary. After the extinction of the royal Persian dynasty, those treasures and the crown remained in Chin.—Sir William Ouseley’s Travels in the East, vol. ii. p. 34.