The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 4

Author: Simon Ockley  | Date: A.D. 636

The Saracen Conquest of Syria

A.D. 636


Abu-Bekr was chosen caliph, or khalif (signifying successor) to Mahomet, but died after a reign of two years. His successor, Caliph Omar, continued with unabated ardor the efforts for the spread of Islam which Abu-Bekr had initiated by sending an invading expedition into Persia, and another into the Roman provinces of Syria.

The victorious armies of the Crescent were by this time far advanced beyond the frontiers of Arabia, and with fanatic zeal endeavoring to obey the prophet’s injunction to Islamize mankind. "Allah il Allah!" ("God is God!") was their inspiring war-cry, and "Mahomet is the prophet of God" their watchword. With cimeter and Koran in either hand they offered the conquered" Infidels" Islam or the sword."

The Oxus, which alone separated Saracen territory from that of Syria, was easily passed. Damascus was conquered, and the impetuous spirit of the Moslems led them rapidly on to Heliopolis, then to Hems or Emesa. In subtlety they were no less practised than they were well proved in courage, and by many arts they succeeded in creating diversions among their adversaries, and often in enlisting them under the Saracen standard. By making the Syrians understand something of their language, customs, and religion, they prepared them for assimilation when once subjected. In some cases dissensions among the Syrians led them to invoke the intervention of those who came to subjugate them.

In less than two years the Saracens had conquered the Syrian plain and valley, but still they reproached themselves for loss of time, and with redoubled zeal pressed on to new victories. The forces arrayed against them were greatly augmented both from Asia and Europe, but the disciplined veterans of the Roman emperor Heraclius and the recruits from the provinces, vainly confronted the Arabs, whose valor was of the nature of religious frenzy, which no assault could cause to quail. They won at fearful cost to themselves, but with greater loss to their enemies at the battle of Yermouk, and there caused the Roman army to abandon active warfare against them.

It was then open to the victors to select their own objective among the Syrian cities and following the counsel of Ali, they entered at once upon the siege of Jerusalem, although they held that city next to Mecca and Medina in veneration.

After a siege of four months Jerusalem capitulated, her defenders having no rest from the ceaseless assaults of the besiegers. Hard work still lay before the Saracens in Syria; but after the reduction of Aleppo, which cost several months siege, with great loss of lives to the invaders they passed on to Antioch and other strongholds, until, one by one, all had been subdued; the surrender of Caesarea completing the great conquest and the subjection of Syria to the rule of the Caliph.

Heraclius, wearied with a constant and uninterrupted succession of ill news, which like those of Job came every day treading upon the heels of each other, grieved at the heart to see the Roman Empire, once the mistress of the world, now become the scorn and spoil of barbarian insolence, resolved, if possible, to put an end to the outrages of the Saracens once for all. With this view he raised troops in all parts of his dominions, and collected so considerable an army as since the first invasion of the Saracens had never appeared in Syria—not much unlike one engaged in single combat who, distrustful of his own abilities and fearing the worst, summons together his whole strength in hopes of ending the dispute with one decisive blow. Troops were sent to every tenable place which this inundation of the Saracens had not as yet reached, particularly to Casarea and all the sea-coast of Syria, as Tyre and Sidon, Accah, Joppa, Tripolis, Beyrout, and Tiberias, besides another army to defend Jerusalem. The main body, which was designed to give battle to the whole force of the Saracens, was commanded by one Mahan, an Armenian, whom I take to be the very same that the Greek historians call Manuel. To his generals the Emperor gave the best advice, charging them to behave themselves like men, and especially to take care to avoid all differences or dissensions. Afterward, when he had expressed his astonishment at this extraordinary success of the Arabs, who were inferior to the Greeks, in number, strength, arms, and discipline, after a short silence a grave man stood up and told him that the reason of it was that the Greeks had walked unworthily of their Christian profession, and changed their religion from what it was when Jesus Christ first delivered it to them, injuring and oppressing one another, taking usury, committing fornication, and fomenting all manner of strife and variance among themselves. The Emperor answered, that he was "too sensible of it." He then told them that he had thoughts of continuing no longer in Syria, but, leaving his army to their management, he purposed to withdraw to Constantinople. In answer to which they represented to him how much his departure would reflect upon his honor, what a lessening it would be to him in the eyes of his own subjects, and what occasion of triumph it would afford to his enemies the Saracens. Upon this they took their leave and prepared for their march. Besides a vast army of Asiatics and Europeans, Mahan was joined by Al Jabalah Ebn Al Ayham, King of the Christian Arabs, who had under him sixty thousand men. These Mahan commanded to march always in the front, saying that there was nothing like diamond to cut diamond. This great army, raised for the defence of Christian people, was little less insupportable than the Saracens themselves, committing all manner of disorder and outrage as they passed along; especially when they came to any of those places which had made any agreement with the Saracens, or surrendered to them, they swore and cursed and reviled the inhabitants with reproachful language, and compelled them by force to bear them company. The poor people excused their submission to the Saracens by their inability to defend themselves, and told the soldiers that if they did not approve of what they had done, they ought themselves to have come sooner to their relief.

The news of this great army having reached the Saracens while they were at Hems, filled them full of apprehensions, and put them to a very great strait as to the best course to pursue in this critical juncture. Some of them would very willingly have shrunk back and returned to Arabia. This course, they urged, presented a double advantage: on the one hand they would be sure of speedy assistance from their friends; and on the other, in that barren country the numerous army of the enemy must needs be reduced to great scarcity. But Abu Obeidah, fearing lest such a retreat might by the Caliph be interpreted cowardice in him, durst not approve of this advice. Others would rather die in the defence of those stately buildings, fruitful fields, and pleasant meadows they had won by the sword, than voluntarily to return to their former starving condition. They proposed therefore to remain where they were and wait the approach of the enemy. But Kaled disapproved of their remaining in their present position, as it was too near Caesarea, where Constantine, the Emperor’s son, lay with forty thousand men; and recommended that they should march to Yermouk, where they might reckon on assistance from the Caliph. As soon as Constantine heard of their departure, he sent a chiding letter to Mahan, and bade him mend his pace. Mahan advanced, but made no haste to give the Saracens battle, having received orders from the Emperor to make overtures of peace, which were no sooner proposed than rejected by Abu Obeidah. Several messages passed between them. The Saracens, endeavoring to bring their countryman Jabalah Ebn Al Ayham, with his Christian Arabs, to a neutrality, were answered that they were obliged to serve the Emperor, and resolved to fight. Upon this Kaled, contrary to the general advice, prepared to give him battle before Mahan should come up, although the number of his men—who, however, were the elite of the whole army—was very inconsiderable, urging that the Christians, being the army of the devil, had no advantage by their numbers against the Saracens, the army of God. In choosing his men, Kaled had called out more Ansers1

than Mohajerins,2 which, when it was observed, occasioned some grumbling, as it then was doubted whether it was because he respected them most or because he had a mind to expose them to the greater danger, that he might favor the others. Kaled told them that he had chosen them without any such regard, only because they were persons he could depend upon, whose valor he had proved, and who had the faith rooted in their hearts. One Cathib, happening to be called after his brother Sahal, and looking upon himself to be the better man, resented it as a high affront, and roundly abused Kaled. The latter, however, gave him very gentle and modest answers, to the great satisfaction of all, especially of Abu Obeidah, who, after a short contention, made them shake hands. Kaled, indeed, was admirable in this respect, that he knew no less how to govern his passions than to command the army; though, to most great generals, the latter frequently proves the easier task of the two. In this hazardous enterprise his success was beyond all expectation, for he threw Jabalah’s Arabs into disorder and killed a great many, losing very few of his own men on the field, besides five prisoners, three of whom were Yezid Ebn Abu Sofian, Rafi Ebn Omeira, and Derar Ebn Al Alzwar, all men of great note. Abu Obeidah sent Abdallah Ebn Kort with an express to Omar, acquainting him with their circumstances, begging his prayers and some fresh recruits of Unitarians, a title they glory in, as reckoning themselves the only asserters of the unity of the Deity. Omar and the whole court were extremely surprised, but comforted themselves with the promises made to them in the Koran, which seemed now to be all they had left to trust to. To encourage the people, he went into the pulpit and showed them the excellency of fighting’ for the cause of God, and afterward returned an answer to Abu Obeidah, full of such spiritual consolation as the Koran could afford. Omar commanded Abdallah, as soon as ever he came near the camp and before he delivered the letter, to cry out, "Good news!" in order to comfort the Mussulmans and ease them in some measure of the perplexing apprehensions they labored under. As soon as he received this letter and message, together with Omar’s blessing, he prepared to set out on his return to the army; but suddenly he remembered that he had omitted to pay his respects at Mahomet’s tomb, which it was very uncertain whether he should ever see again. Upon this he hastened to Ayesha’s house (the place where Mahomet was buried), and found her sitting by the tomb with All and Abbas, and All’s two sons, Hasan and Hosein, one sitting upon Ali’s lap, the other upon Abbas’. All was reading the chapter of beasts, being the sixth of the Koran, and Abbas the chapter of Hud, which is the eleventh. Abdallah, having paid his respects to Mahomet, Ali asked him whether he did not think of going? He answered, "Yes," but he feared he should not get to the army before the battle, which yet he greatly wished to do, if possible. "If you desired a speedy journey," answered Ali, "why did not you ask Omar to pray for you? Don’t you know that the prayers of Omar will not be turned back? Because the apostle of God said of him: ’If there were a prophet to be expected after me, it would be Omar, whose judgment agrees with the book of God.’ The prophet said of him besides, ’If an [universal] calamity were to come from heaven upon mankind, Omar would escape from it.’ Wherefore, if Omar prayed for thee, thou shalt not stay long for an answer from God." Abdallah told him that he had not spoken one word in praise of Omar but what he was very sensible of before. Only he desired to have not only his prayers but also those of all the Mussulmans, and especially of those who were at the tomb of the prophet. At these words all present lifted up their hands to heaven, and Ali said, "O God, I beseech thee, for the sake of this chosen apostle; in whose name Adam prayed, and thou answeredst his petition and forgavest his sins, that thou wouldst grant to Abdallah Ebn Kort a safe and speedy return, and assist the followers of thy prophet with help, O thou who alone art great and munificent!" Abdallah set out immediately, and afterward returned to the camp with such incredible speed that the Saracens were surprised. But their admiration ceased when he informed them of Omar’s blessing and Ali’s prayers at Mahomet’s tomb.

Recruits were instantly raised in every part of Arabia to send to the army. Said Ebn Amir commanded them, having received a flag of red silk at the hands of Omar, who told him that he gave him that commission in hopes of his behaving himself well in it; advising him, among other things, not to follow his appetites, and not forgetting to put him in hopes of further advancement if he should deserve it. Said thanked him for his advice, adding that if he followed it he should be saved. "And now," said Said, "as you have advised me, so let me advise you." "Speak on," said Omar. "I bid you then [added the other] fear God more than men, and not the contrary; and love all ’the Mussulmans as yourself and your family, as well those at a distance as those near you. And command that which is praiseworthy, and forbid that which is otherwise." Omar, all the while he spoke, stood looking steadfastly upon the ground, leaning his forehead upon his staff. Then he lifted up his head, and the tears ran down his cheeks, and he said, "who is able to do this without the divine assistance?" Ali bade Said make good use of the Caliph’s advice and dismissed him. Said, as he marched toward the army, lost his way, which turned out very unfortunate for the Christians, for’ by that means he fell in with the prefect of Amman with five thousand men. Said having cut all the foot to pieces, the prefect fled with the horse, but was intercepted by a party which had been sent out under Zobeir from the Saracen camp to forage. Said at first thought they had fallen together by the ears, and were fighting among themselves, but when he came up and heard the techir, he was well satisfied. Zobeir ran the prefect through with a lance; of the rest not a single man escaped. The Saracens cut off all their heads, then flayed them, and so carried them upon the points of their lances, presenting a most horrible spectacle to all that part of the country, till they came to the army, which received fresh courage by the accession of this reinforcement, consisting of eight thousand men.

However, their satisfaction was greatly lessened by the loss of the five prisoners whom Jabalah Ebn Al Ayham had taken. Now it happened that Mahan desired Abu Obeidah to send one of his officers to him for a conference. This being complied with, Kaled proffered his services, and being accepted by Abu Obeidah, by his advice he took along with him a hundred men, chosen out of the best soldiers in the army. Being met and examined by the out-guards, the chief of whom was Jabalah Ebn Al Ayham, they were ordered to wait till the general’s pleasure should be known. Mahan would have had Kaled come to him alone and leave his men behind him. But as Kaled refused to hear of this, they were commanded as soon as they came near the general’s tent to alight from their horses and deliver their swords; and when they would not submit to this either, they were at last permitted to enter as they pleased. They found Mahan sitting upon a throne, and seats prepared for themselves. But they refused to make use of them, and, removing them, sat down upon the ground. Mahan asked them the reason of their doing so, and taxed them with want of breeding. To which Kaled answered that that was the best breeding which was from God, and what God has prepared for us to sit down upon is purer than your tapestries, defending their practice from a sentence of their prophet Mahomet, backed with this text of the Koran, "Out of it [meaning the earth] we have created you, and to it we shall return you, and out of it we shall bring you another time." Mahan began then to expostulate with Kaled concerning their coming into Syria, and all those hostilities which they had committed there. Mahan seemed satisfied with Kaled’s way of talking, and said that he had before that time entertained a quite different opinion of the Arabs, having been informed that they were a foolish, ignorant people. Kaled confessed that that was the condition of most of them till God sent their prophet Mahomet to lead them into the right way, and teach them to distinguish good from evil, and truth from error. During this conference they would argue very coolly for a while, and then again fly into a violent passion. At last it happened that Kaled told Mahan that he should one day see him led with a rope about his neck to Omar to be beheaded. Upon this Mahan told him that the received law of all nations secured ambassadors from violence, which he supposed had encouraged him to take that indecent freedom; however, he was resolved to chastise his insolence in the persons of his friends, the five prisoners, who should instantly be beheaded. At this threat Kaled, bidding Mahan attend to what he was about to say, swore by God, by Mahomet, and the holy temple of Mecca, that if he killed them he should die by his hands, and that every Saracen present should kill his man, be the consequences what they might, and immediately rose from his place and drew his sword. The same was done by the rest of the Saracens. But when Mahan told him that he would not meddle with him for the aforesaid reasons, they sheathed their swords and talked calmly again. And then Mahan made Kaled a present of the prisoners, and begged of him his scarlet tent, which Kaled had brought with him, and pitched hard by. Kaled freely gave it him, and refused to take anything in return (though Mahan gave him his choice of whatever he liked best), thinking his own gift abundantly repaid by the liberation of the prisoners.

Both sides now prepared for that fight which was to determine the fate of Syria. The particulars are too tedious to be related, for they continued fighting for several days. Abu Obeidah resigned the whole command of the army to Kaled, standing himself in the rear, under the yellow flag which Abu-Bekr had given him at his first setting forth into Syria, being the same which Mahomet himself had fought under at the battle of Khaibar. Kaled judged this the most proper place for Abu Obeidah, not only because he was no extraordinary soldier, but because he hoped that the reverence for him would prevent the flight of the Saracens, who were now like to be as hard put to it as at any time since they first bore arms. For the same reason the women were placed in the rear. The Greeks charged so courageously and with such vast numbers that the right wing of the Saracen horse was quite borne down and cut off from the main body of the army. But no sooner did they turn their backs than they were attacked by the women, who used them so ill and loaded them with such plenty of reproaches that they were glad to return every man to his post, and chose rather to face the enemy than endure the storm of the women. However, they with much difficulty bore up, and were so hard pressed by the Greeks that occasionally they were fain to forget what their generals had said a little before the fight, who told them that paradise was before them and the devil and hell-fire behind them. Even Abu Sofian, who had himself used that very expression, was forced to retreat, and was received by one of the women with a hearty blow over the face with a tent-pole. Night at last parted the two armies at the very time when the victory began to incline to the Saracens, who had been thrice beaten back, and as often forced to return by the women. Then Abu Obeidah said at once those prayers which belonged to two several hours. His reason for this was, 1 suppose, a wish that his men, of whom he was very tender, should have the more time to rest. Accordingly, walking about the camp he looked after the wounded men, oftentimes binding up their wounds with his own hands, telling them that their enemies suffered the same pain that they did, but had not that reward to expect from God which they had.

Among other single combats, of which several were fought between the two armies, it chanced that Serjabil Ebn Shahhnah was engaged with an officer of the Christians, who was much too strong for him. The reason which our author assigns for this is, because Serjabil was wholly given up to watching and fasting. Derar, thinking he ought not to stand still and see the prophet’s secretary killed, drew his dagger, and while the combatants were over head and ears in dust, came behind the Christian and stabbed him to the heart. The Saracens gave Derar thanks for his service, but he said that he would receive no thanks but from God alone. Upon this a dispute arose between Serjabil and Derar concerning the spoil of this officer. Derar claimed it as being the person that killed him; Serjabil as having engaged him and tired him out first. The matter being referred to Abu Obeidah, he proposed the case to the Caliph, concealing the names of the persons concerned, who sent him word that the spoil of any enemy was due to him that killed him. Upon which Abu Obeidah took it from Serjabil and adjudged it to Derar.

Another day the Christian archers did such execution that besides those Saracens which were killed and wounded in other parts there were seven hundred which lost each of them one or both of their eyes, upon which account the day in which that battle was fought is called Yaumo’ttewir, "The Day of Blinding." And if any of those who lost their eyes that day were afterward asked by what mischance he was blinded, he would answer that it was not a mischance, but a token of favor from God, for they gloried as much in those wounds they received in the defence of their superstition as our enthusiasts do in what they call persecution, and with much the same reason. Abdallah Ebn Kort, who was present in all the wars in Syria, says that he never saw so hard a battle as that which was fought on that day at Yermouk; and though the generals fought most desperately, yet after ail they would have been beaten if the fight had not been renewed by the women. Caulah, Derar’s sister, being wounded, fell down; but Opheirah revenged her quarrel and struck off the man’s head that did it. Upon Opheirah asking her how she did, she answered, "Very well with God, but a dying woman." However, she proved to be mistaken, for in the evening she was able to walk about as if nothing had happened, and to look after the wounded men.

In the night the Greeks had another calamity added to their misfortune of losing the victory in the day. It was drawn upon them by their own inhuman barbarity. There was at Yermouk a gentleman of a very ample fortune, who had removed thither from Hems for the sake of the sweet salubrity of its air. When Mahan’s army came to Yermouk this gentleman used to entertain the officers and treat them nobly. To requite him for his courtesy, while they were this day revelling at his house, they bade him bring out his wife to them, and upon his refusing they took her by force and abused her all night, and to aggravate their barbarity they seized his little son and cut his head off. The poor lady took her child’s head and carried it to Mahan, and having given him an account of the outrages committed by his officers, demanded satisfaction. He took but little notice of the affair, and put her off with a slight answer; upon which her husband, resolved to take the first opportunity of being revenged, went privately over to the Saracens and acquainted them with his design. Returning back to the Greeks, he told them it was in his power to do them singular service. He therefore takes a great number of them, and brings them to a great stream, which was very deep, and only fordable at one place. By his instructions five hundred of the Saracen horse had crossed over where the water was shallow, and after attacking the Greeks, in a very little time returned in excellent order by the same way they came. The injured gentleman calls out and encourages the Greeks to pursue, who, not at all acquainted with the place, plunged into the water confusedly and perished in great numbers. In the subsequent engagements before Yermouk (all of which were in November, 636), the Christians invariably were defeated, till at last, Mahan’s vast army being broken and dispersed, he was forced to flee, thus leaving the Saracens masters of the field, and wholly delivered from those terrible apprehensions with which the news of his great preparations had filled them.

A short time after Abu Obeidah wrote to the Caliph the following letter:

"In the name of the most merciful God, etc.

"This is to acquaint thee that I encamped at Yermouk, where Mahan was near us with such an army as that the Mussulmans never beheld a greater. But God, of his abundant grace and goodness, overthrew this multitude and gave us the victory over them. We killed of them about a hundred and fifty thousand, and took forty thousand prisoners. Of the Mussulmans were killed four thousand and thirty, to whom God had decreed the honor of martyrdom. Finding some heads cut off, and not knowing whether they belonged to the Mussulmans or Christians, I prayed over them and buried them. Mahan was afterward killed at Damascus by Nooman Ebn Alkamah. There was one Abu Joaid that before the battle had belonged to them, having come from Hems; he drowned of them a great number unknown to any but God. As for those that fled into the deserts and mountains, we have destroyed them all, and stopped all the roads and passages, and God has made us masters of their country, and wealth, and children. Written after the victory from Damascus, where I stay expecting thy orders concerning the division of the spoil. Fare thee well, and the mercy and blessing of God be upon thee and all the Mussulmans."

Omar, in a short letter, expressed his satisfaction, and gave the Saracens thanks for their perseverance and diligence, commanding Abu Obeidah to continue where he was till further orders. As Omar had mentioned nothing concerning the spoil, Abu Obeidah regarded it as left to his own discretion and divided it without waiting for fresh instructions. To a horseman he gave thrice as much as to a footman, and made a further difference between those horses which were of the right Arabian breed (which they looked upon to be far the best) and those that were not, allowing twice as much to the former as to the latter. And when they were not satisfied with this distribution, Abu Obeidah told them that the prophet had done the same after the battle of Khaibar; which, upon appeal made to Omar, was by him confirmed. Zobeir had at the battle of Yermouk two horses, which he used to ride by turns. He received five lots, three for himself and two for his horses. If any slaves had run away from their masters before the battle, and were afterward retaken, they were restored to their masters, who nevertheless received an equal share of the spoil with the rest.

The Saracens having rested a month at Damascus, and refreshed themselves, Abu Obeidah sent to Omar to know whether he should go to Caesarea or Jerusalem. All being present when Omar was deliberating, said, to Jerusalem first, adding that he had heard the prophet say as much. This city they had a great longing after, as being the seat and burying place of a great many of the ancient prophets, in whom they reckoned none to have so deep an interest as themselves. Abu Obeidah having received orders to besiege it, sent Yezid Ebn Abu Sofian thither first with five thousand men; and for five days together sent after him considerable numbers of men under his most experienced and trustworthy officers. The Ierosolymites expressed no signs of fear, nor would they vouchsafe so much as to send out a messenger to parley; but, planting their engines upon the walls, made preparation for a vigorous defence. Yezid at last went near the walls with an interpreter, to know their minds, and to propose the usual terms. When these were rejected, the Saracens would willingly have assaulted the town forthwith, had not Yezid told them that the general had not commanded them to make any assault, but only to sit down before the city; and thereupon sent to Abu Obeidah, who forthwith gave them order to fight. The next morning the generals having said the morning prayer, each at the head of his respective division, they all, as it were with one consent, quoted this versicle out of the Koran, as being very apposite and pertinent to their present purpose: "O people! enter ye into the holy land which God hath decreed for you," being the twenty-fourth verse of the fifth chapter of the Koran, where the impostor introduces Moses speaking to the children of Israel, and which words the Saracens dexterously interpreted as belonging no less to themselves than to their predecessors, the Israelites. Nor have our own parts of the world been altogether destitute of such able expositors, who apply to themselves, without limitation or exception, whatever in Scripture is graciously expressed in favor of the people of God; while whatever is said of the wicked and ungodly, and of all the terrors and judgments denounced against them, they bestow with a liberal hand upon their neighbors. After their prayers were over, the Saracens began their assault. The Ierosolymites never flinched, but sent them showers of arrows from the walls, and maintained the fight with undaunted courage till the evening. Thus they continued fighting ten days, and on the eleventh Abu Obeidah came up with the remainder of the army. He had not been there long before he sent the besieged the following letter:

"In the name of the most merciful God.

"From Abu Obeidah Ebn Aljerahh, to the chief commanders of the people of AElia and the inhabitants thereof, health and happiness to everyone that follows the right way and believes in God and the apostle. We require of you to testify that there is but one God, and Mahomet is his apostle, and that there shall be a day of judgment, when God shall raise the dead out of their sepulchres; and when you have borne witness to this, it is unlawful for us either to shed your blood or meddle with your sustenance or children. If you refuse this, consent to pay tribute and be under us forthwith; otherwise I shall bring men against you who love death better than you do the drinking of wine, or eating hogs’ flesh: nor will I ever stir from you, if it please God, till I have destroyed those that fight for you and made slaves of your children."

The eating swine’s flesh and drinking wine are both forbidden in the Koran, which occasioned that reflection of Abu Obeidah upon the practice of the Christians. The besieged, not a whit daunted, held out four whole months entire, during all which time not one day passed without fighting; and it being winter time, the Saracens suffered a great deal of hardships through the extremity of the weather. At last, when the besieged had well considered the obstinacy of the Saracens; who, they had good reason to believe, would never raise the siege till they had taken the city, whatever time it took up or whatever pains it might cost them, Sophronius the patriarch went to the wall, and by an interpreter discoursed with Abu Obeidah, telling him that Jerusalem was the holy city, and whoever came into the Holy Land with any hostile intent would render himself obnoxious to the divine displeasure. To which Abu Obeidah answered: "We know that it is a noble city, and that our prophet Mahomet went from it in one night to heaven, and approached within two bows’ shot of his Lord, or nearer; and that it is the mine of the prophets, and their sepulchres are in it. But we are more worthy to have possession of it than you are; neither will we leave besieging it till God delivers it up to us, as he hath done other places before it." At last the patriarch consented that the city should be surrendered upon condition that the inhabitants received the articles of their security and protection from the Caliph’s own hands, and not by proxy. Accordingly, Abu Obeidah wrote to Omar to come, whereupon he advised with his friends. Othman, who afterward succeeded him in the government, dissuaded him from going, in order that the Ierosolymites might see that they were despised and beneath his notice. Ali was of a very different opinion, urging that the Mussulmans had endured great hardship in so long a siege, and suffered much from the extremity of the cold; that the presence of the Caliph would be a great refreshment and encouragement to them, and adding that the great respect which the Christians had for Jerusalem, as being the place to which they went on pilgrimage, ought to be considered; that it ought not to be supposed that they would easily part with it, but that it would soon be reinforced with fresh supplies. This advice of Ali being preferred to Othman’s, the Caliph resolved upon his journey; which, according to his frugal style of living, required no great expense or equipage. When he had said his prayers in the mosque and paid his respects at Mahomet’s tomb, he appointed All his substitute, and set forward with a small retinue, the greatest part of which, having kept him company a little way, returned back to Medina.

Omar, having all the way he went set things aright that were amiss, and distributed justice impartially, for which he was singularly eminent among the Saracens, came at last into the confines of Syria; and when he drew near Jerusalem he was met by Abu Obeidah, and conducted to the Saracen camp, where he was welcomed with the liveliest demonstrations of joy.

As soon as he came within sight of the city he cried out, "Allah acbar [O God], give us an easy conquest." Pitching his tent, which was made of hair, he sat down in it upon the ground. The Christians hearing that Omar was come, from whose hands they were to receive their articles, desired to confer with him personally; upon which the Mussulmans would have persuaded him not to expose his person for fear of some treachery. But Omar resolutely answered, in the words of the Koran: "Say, ’There shall nothing befall us but what God hath decreed for us; he is our Lord, and in God let all the believers put their trust."’ After a brief parley the besieged capitulated, and those articles of agreement made by Omar with the Ierosolymites are, as it were, the pattern which the Mahometan princes have chiefly imitated.

The articles were these: "1. The Christians shall build no new churches, either in the city or the adjacent territory. 2. They shall not refuse the Mussulmans entrance into their churches, either by night or day. 3. They should set open the doors of them to all passengers and travellers. 4. If any Mussulman should be upon a journey, they shall be obliged to entertain him gratis for the space of three days. 5. They should not teach their children the Koran, nor talk openly of their religion, nor persuade anyone to be of it; neither should they hinder any of their relations from becoming Mahometans, if they had an inclination to it. 6. They shall pay respect to the Mussulmans, and if they were sitting rise up to them. 7. They should not go like the Mussulmans in their dress, nor wear the same caps, shoes, nor turbans, nor part their hair as they do, nor speak after the same manner, nor be called by the names used by the Mussulmans. 8. They shall not ride upon saddles, nor bear any sort of arms, nor use the Arabic tongue in the inscriptions of their seals. 9. They shall not sell any wine. 10. They shall be obliged to keep to the same sort of habit wheresoever they went, and always wear girdles upon their waists. 11. They shall set no crosses upon their churches, nor show their crosses nor their books openly in the streets of the Mussulmans. 12. They shall not ring, but only toll their bells; nor shall they take any servant that had once belonged to the Mussulmans. 13. They shall not overlook the Mussulmans in their houses: and some say that Omar commanded the inhabitants of Jerusalem to have the foreparts of their heads shaved, and obliged them to ride upon their pannels sideways, and not like the Mussulmans."

Upon these terms the Christians had liberty of conscience, paying such tribute as their masters thought fit to impose upon them; and Jerusalem, once the glory of the East, was forced to submit to a heavier yoke than ever it had borne before. For though the number of the slain and the calamities of the besieged were greater when it was taken by the Romans, yet the servitude of those that survived was nothing comparable to this, either in respect of the circumstances or the duration. For however it might seem to be utterly ruined and destroyed by Titus, yet by Hadrian’s time it had greatly recovered itself. Now it fell, as it were, once for all, into the hands of the most mortal enemies of the Christian religion, and has continued so ever since, with the exception of a brief interval of about ninety years, during which it was held by the Christians in the holy war.

The Christians having submitted on these terms, Omar gave them the following writing under his hand:

"In the name of the most merciful God.

"From Omar Ebn Al Khattab, to the inhabitants of AElia. They shall be protected and secured both in their lives and fortunes, and their churches shall neither be pulled down nor made use of by any but themselves."

Upon this the gates were immediately opened, and the Caliph and those that were with him marched in. The Patriarch kept them company, and the Caliph talked with him familiarly, and asked him many questions concerning the antiquities of the place. Among other places which they visited, they went into the Temple of the Resurrection, and Omar sat down in the midst of it. When the time of prayers was come (the Mahometans have five set times of prayer in a day), Omar told the patriarch that he had a mind to pray, and desired him to show him a place where he might perform his devotion. The Patriarch bade him pray where he was; but this he positively refused. Then taking him out from thence, the Patriarch went with him into Constantine’s Church, and laid a mat for him to pray there, but he would not. At last he went alone to the steps which were at the east gate of St. Constantine’s Church, and kneeled by himself upon one of them. Having ended his prayers, he sat down and asked the Patriarch if he knew why he had refused to pray in the church. The Patriarch confessed that he could not tell what were his reasons. "Why, then," says Omar, "I will tell you. You know I promised you that none of your churches should be taken away from you, but that you should possess them quietly yourselves. Now if I had prayed in any one of these churches, the Mussulmans would infallibly take it away from you as soon as I had departed homeward. And notwithstanding all you might allege, they would say, This is the place where Omar prayed, and we will pray here, too. And so you would have been turned out of your church, contrary both to my intention and your expectation. But because my praying even on the steps of one may perhaps give some occasion to the Mussulmans to cause you disturbance on this account, I shall take what care I can to prevent that." So calling for pen, ink, and paper, he expressly commanded that none of the Mussulmans should pray upon the steps in any multitudes, but one by one. That they should never meet there to go to prayers; and that the muezzin, or crier, that calls the people to prayers (for the Mahometans never use bells), should not stand there. This paper he gave to the patriarch for a security, lest his praying upon the steps of the church should have set such an example to the Mussulmans as might occasion any inconvenience to the Christians—a noble instance of singular fidelity and the religious observance of a promise. This Caliph did not think it enough to perform what he engaged himself, but used all possible diligence to oblige others to do so too. And when the unwary patriarch had desired him to pray in the church, little considering what might be the consequence, the Caliph, well knowing how apt men are to be superstitious in the imitation of their princes and great men, especially such as they look upon to be successors of a prophet, made the best provision he could, that no pretended imitation of him might lead to the infringement of the security he had already given.

In the same year that Jerusalem was taken, Said Ebn Abi Wakkas, one of Omar’s captains, was making fearful havoc in the territories of Persia. He took Madayen, formerly the treasury and magazine of Khusrau (Cosroes), King of Persia; where he found money and rich furniture of all sorts, inestimable. Elmakin says that they found there no less than three thousand million of ducats, besides Khusrau’s crown and wardrobe, which was exceedingly rich, his clothes being all adorned with gold and jewels of great value. Then they opened the roof of Khusrau’s porch, where they found another considerable sum. They also plundered his armory, which was well stored with all sorts of weapons. Among other things they brought to Omar a piece of silk hangings, sixty cubits square, all curiously wrought with needle-work. That it was of great value appears from the price which Ali had for that part of it which fell to his share when Omar divided it; which, though it was none of the best, yielded him twenty thousand pieces of silver. After this, in the same year, the Persians were defeated by the Saracens in a great battle near Jaloulah.

Omar, having taken Jerusalem, continued there about ten days to put things in order.

Omar now thought of returning to Medina, having first disposed his affairs after the following manner: Syria he divided into two parts, and committed all that lies between Hauran and Aleppo to Abu Obeidah, with orders to make war upon it till he had completely subdued it. Yezid Ebn Abu Sofian was to take the charge of all Palestine and the sea-shore. Amrou Ebn Al Aas was sent to invade Egypt, no inconsiderable part of the Emperor’s dominions, which were now continually mouldering away. The Saracens at Medina had almost given Omar over, and began to conclude that he would never stir from Jerusalem, but be won to stay there from the richness of the country and the sweetness of the air; but especially by the thought that it was the country of the prophets and the Holy Land, and the place where we must all be summoned together at the resurrection. At last he came, the more welcome the less he had been expected. Abu Obeidah, in the mean time, reduced Kinnisrin and Aihadir, the inhabitants paying down five thousand ounces of gold, and as many of silver, two thousand suits of clothes of several sorts of silk, and five hundred asses’ loads of figs and olives. Yezid marched against Caesarea in vain, that place being too well fortified to be taken by his little army, especially since it had been reinforced by the Emperor, who had sent a store of all sorts of provision by sea, and a reinforcement to the garrison of two thousand men. The inhabitants of Aleppowere much disheartened by the loss of Kinnisrin and Alhadir, well knowing that it would not be long before their turn would come to experience themselves what, till then, they had known only by report. They had two governors, brothers, who dwelt in the castle (the strongest in all Syria), which was not at that time encompassed by the town, but stood out of it, at a little distance. The name of one of these brethren, if my author mistakes not, was Youkinna, the other John. Their father held of the emperor Heraclius all the territory between Aleppo and Euphrates, after whose decease Youkinna managed the affairs; John, not troubling himself with secular employments, did not meddle with the government, but led a monkish life, spending his time in retirement, reading, and deeds of charity. He tried to persuade his brother to secure himself, by compounding with the Arabs for a good round sum of money; but he told him that he talked like a monk, and did not understand what belonged to a soldier; that he had provisions and warlike means enough, and was resolved to make the best resistance he could. Accordingly the next day he called his men together, among whom there were several Christian Arabs, and having armed them, and for their encouragement distributed some money among them, told them that he was fully purposed to act offensively, and, if possible, give the Saracens battle before they should come too near Aleppo. He was informed that the Saracen army was divided and weakened, a part being gone to Caesarea, another to Damascus, and a third into Egypt. Having thus inspirited his men, he marched forward with twelve thousand. Abu Obeidah had sent before him Kaab Ebn Damarah with one thousand men, but with express orders not to fight till he had received information of the strength of the enemy. Youkinna’s spies found Kaab and his men resting themselves and watering their horses, quite secure and free from all apprehension of danger; upon which Youkinna laid an ambuscade, and then, with the rest of his men, fell upon the Saracens. The engagement was sharp, and the Saracens had the best of it at first; but the ambuscade breaking in upon them, they were in great danger of being overpowered with numbers; one hundred and seventy of them being slain, and most of the rest being grievously wounded that they were upon the very brink of despair, and cried out, "Ya Mahomet! Ya Mahomet!" ("O Mahomet! O Mahomet!") However, with much difficulty they made shift to hold up till night parted them, earnestly expecting the coming of Abu Obeidah.

In the mean time while Youkinna was going out with his forces to engage the Saracens, the wealthy and trading people of Aleppo, knowing very well how hard it would go with them if they should stand it out obstinately to the last and be taken by storm, resolved upon debate to go and make terms with Abu Obeidah, that, let Youkinna’s success be what it would, they might be secure.

As they were going back they chanced to meet with one of Youkinna’s officers, to whom they gave an account of the whole transaction. Upon this he hastened with all possible speed to his master, who was waiting with impatience for the morning, that he might despatch Kaab and his men, whom the coming of the night had preserved; but hearing this news he began to fear lest an attempt should be made upon the castle in his absence, and thought it safest to make the best of his way homeward. In the morning the Saracens were surprised to see no enemy, and wondered what was the matter with them. Kaab would have pursued them, but none of his men had any inclination to go with him; so they rested themselves, and in a little time Kaled and Abu Obeidah came up with the rest of the army.

Abu Obeidah reminded Kaled of the obligation they were under to protect the Aleppians, now their confederates, who were likely to be exposed to the outrage and cruelty of Youkinna, for, in all probability, he would severely resent their defection. They therefore marched as fast as they could, and when they drew near Aleppo found that they had not been at all wrong in their apprehensions. Youkinna had drawn up his soldiers with the design to fall upon the townsmen, and threatened them with present death unless they would break their covenant with the Arabs and go out with him to fight them, and unless they brought out to him the first contriver and proposer of the convention. At last he fell upon them in good earnest and killed about three hundred of them. His brother John, who was in the castle, hearing a piteous outcry and lamentation, came down from the castle and entreated his brother to spare the people, representing to him that Jesus Christ had commanded us not to contend with our enemies, much less with those of our own religion. Youkinna told him that they had agreed with the Arabs and assisted them; which John excused, telling him, "That what they did was only for their own security, because they were no fighting men." In short, he took their part so long till he provoked his brother to that degree that he charged him with being the chief contriver and manager of the whole business; and at last, in a great passion, cut his head off. While he was murdering the unhappy Aleppians, Kaled (better late than never) came to their relief. Youkinna, perceiving his arrival, retired with a considerable number of soldiers into the castle. The Saracens killed that day three thousand of his men. However, he prepared himself to sustain a siege, and planted engines upon the castle walls.

Abu Obeidah next deliberated in a council of war what measures were most proper to be taken. Some were of opinion that the best way would be to besiege the castle with some part of the army, and let the rest be sent out to forage. Kaled would not hear of it, but was for attacking the castle at once with their whole force; that, if possible, it might be taken before fresh supplies could arrive from the Emperor. This plan being adopted, they made a vigorous assault, in which they had as hard fighting as any in all the wars of Syria. The besieged made a noble defence, and threw stones from the walls in such plenty that a great many of the Saracens were killed and a great many more maimed. Youkinna, encouraged with his success, determined to act on the offensive and turn everything to advantage. The Saracens looked upon all the country as their own, and knowing that there was no army of the enemy near them, and fearing nothing less than an attack from the besieged, kept guard negligently. In the dead of night, therefore, Youkinna sent out a party who, as soon as the fires were out in the camp, fell upon the Saracens, and having killed about sixty, carried off fifty prisoners. Kaled pursued and cut off about a hundred of them, but the rest escaped to the castle with the prisoners, who by the command of Youkinna were the next day beheaded in the sight of the Saracen army. Upon this Youkinna ventured Once more to send out another party, having received information from one of his spies (most of which were Christian Arabs) that some of the Mussulmans were gone out to forage. They fell upon the Mussulmans, killed a hundred and thirty of them, and seized all their camels, mules, and horses, which they either killed or hamstrung, and then they retired into the mountains, in hopes of lying hid during the day and returning to the castle in the silence of the night. In the mean time some that had escaped brought the news to Abu Obeidah, who sent Kaled and Derar to pursue the Christians. Coming to the place of the fight, they found their men and camels dead, and the country people making great lamentation, for they were afraid lest the Saracens should suspect them of treachery, and revenge upon them their loss. Falling down before Kaled, they told him they were altogether innocent, and had not in any way, either directly or indirectly, been instrumental in the attack; but that it was made solely by a party of horse that sallied from the castle. Kaled, having made them swear that they knew nothing more, and taking some of them for guides, closely watched the only passage by which the sallying party could return to the castle, when about a fourth part of the night was passed, they perceived Youkinna’s men approaching, and, falling upon them, took three hundred prisoners and killed the rest. The prisoners begged to be allowed to ransom themselves, but they were all beheaded the next morning in front of the castle.

The Saracens pressed the siege for a while very closely, but perceiving that they made no way, Abu Obeidah removed the camp about a mile’s distance from the castle, hoping by this means to tempt the besieged to security and negligence in their watch, which might eventually afford him an opportunity of taking the castle by surprise. But all would not do, for Youkinna kept a very strict watch and suffered not a man to stir out.

The siege continued four months, and some say five. Tn the mean time Omar was very much concerned, having heard nothing from the camp in Syria. He wrote, therefore, to Abu Obeidah, letting him know how tender he was over the Mussulmans, and what a great grief it was to him to hear no news of them for so long a time. Abu Obeidah answered that Kinnisrin, Hader, and Aleppo were surrendered to him, only the castle of Aleppo held out, and that they had lost a considerable number of men before it; that he had some thoughts of raising the siege, and passing forward into that part of the country which lies between Aleppo and Antioch; but only he stayed for his answer. About the time that Abu Obeidah’s messengers reached Medina, there also arrived a considerable number of men out of the several tribes of the Arabs, to proffer their service to the Caliph. Omar ordered seventy camels to help their foot, and despatched them into Syria, with a letter to Abu Obeidah, in which he acquainted him "that he was variously affected, according to the different success they had met, but charged them by no means to raise the siege of the castle, for that would make them look little, and encourage their enemies to fall upon them on all sides. Wherefore," adds he, "continue besieging it till God shall determine the event, and forage with your horse round about the country."

Among those fresh supplies which Omar had just sent to the Saracen camp, there was a very remarkable man, whose name was Dames, of a gigantic size, and an admirable soldier. When he had been in the camp forty-seven days, and all the force and cunning of the Saracens availed nothing toward taking the castle, he desired Abu Obeidah to let him have the command of thirty men, and he would try his best against it. Kaled had heard much of the man, and told Abu Obeidah a long story of a wonderful performance of this Dames in Arabia, and that he looked upon him as a very proper person for such an undertaking. Abu Obeidah selected thirty men to go with him, and bade them not to despise their commander because of the meanness of his condition, he being a slave, and swore that, but for the care of the whole army which lay upon him, he would be the first man that should go under him upon such an enterprise. To which they answered with entire submission and profound respect. Dames, who lay hid at no great distance, went out several times, and brought in with him five or six Greeks, but never a man of them understood one word of Arabic, which made him angry and say: "God curse these dogs! What a strange, barbarous language they use."

At last he went out again, and seeing a man descend from the wall, he took him prisoner, and by the help of a Christian Arab, whom he captured shortly afterward, examined him. He learned from him that immediately upon the departure of the Saracens, Youkinna began to ill use the townsmen who had made the convention with the Arabs, and to exact large sums of money of them; that he being one of them had endeavored to make his escape from the oppression and tyranny of Youkinna, by leaping down from the wall. Upon this the Saracens let him go, as being under their protection by virtue of the articles made between Abu Obeidah and the Aleppians, but beheaded all the rest.

In the evening, after having sent two of his men to Abu Obeidah, requesting him to order a body of horse to move forward to his support about sunrise, Dames has recourse to the following stratagem: Taking out of a knapsack a goat’s skin, he covered with it his back and shoulders, and holding a dry crust in his hand, he crept on all-fours as near to the castle as he could. When he heard a noise, or suspected anyone to be near, to prevent his being discovered he began to make a noise with his crust, as a dog does when gnawing a bone; the rest of his company came after him, sometimes skulking and creeping along, at other times walking. When they came near to the castle, it appeared almost inaccessible. However Dames was resolved to make an attempt upon it. Having found a place where the walls seemed easier to scale than elsewhere, he sat down upon the ground, and ordered another to sit upon his shoulders; and so on till seven of them had mounted up, each sitting upon the other’s shoulders, and all leaning against the wall, so as to throw as much of their weight as possible upon it. Then he that was uppermost of all stood upright upon the shoulders of the second, next the second raised himself, and so on, all in order, till at last Dames himself stood up, bearing the weight of all the rest upon his shoulders, who however did all they could to relieve him by bearing against the wall. By this means the uppermost man could just make a shift to reach the top of the wall, while in an undertone they all cried, "O apostle of God, help us and deliver us!" When this man had got up on the wall, he found a watchman drunk and asleep. Seizing him hand and foot, he threw him down among the Saracens, who immediately cut him to pieces. Two other sentinels, whom he found in the same condition, he stabbed with his dagger and threw down from the wall. He then let down his turban, and drew up the second, they two the third, till at last Dames was drawn up, who enjoined them to wait there in silence while he went and looked about him. In this expedition he gained a sight of Youkinna, richly dressed, sitting upon a tapestry of scarlet silk flowered with gold, and a large company with him, eating and drinking, and very merry. On his return he told his men that because of the great inequality of their numbers, he did not think it advisable to fall upon them then, but had rather wait till break of day, at which time they might look for help from the main body. In the mean time he went alone, and privately stabbing the sentinels, and setting open the gates, came back to his men, and bade them hasten to take possession of the gates. This was not done so quietly, but they were at last taken notice of and the castle alarmed. There was no hope of escape for them, but everyone expected to perish. Dames behaved himself bravely, but, overpowered by superior numbers, he and his men were no longer able to hold up, when, as the morning began to dawn, Kaled came to their relief. As soon as the besieged perceived the Saracens rushing in upon them, they threw down their arms, and cried, "Quarter!" Abu Obeidah was not far behind with the rest of the army. Having taken the castle, he proposed Mohametanism to the Christians. The first that embraced it was Youkinna, and his example was followed by some of the chief men with him, who immediately had their wives and children and all their wealth restored to them. Abu Obeidah set the old and impotent people at liberty, and having set apart the fifth of the spoil (which was of great value), divided the rest among the Mussulmans. Dames was talked of and admired by all, and Abu Obeidah, in order to pay him marked respect, commanded the army to continue in their present quarters till he and his men should be perfectly cured of their wounds.

Obeidah’s next thoughts, after the capture of the castle of Aleppo, were to march to Antioch, then the seat of the Grecian Emperor. But Youkinna, the late governor of the castle of Aleppo, having, with the changing of his religion, become a deadly enemy of the Christians, persuaded him to defer his march to Antioch, till they had first taken the castle of Aazaz.

The armies before Antioch were drawn out in battle array in front of each other. The Christian general, whose name was Nestorius, went forward and challenged any Saracen to single combat. Dames was the first to answer him; but in the engagement, his horse stumbling, he was seized before he could recover himself, and, being taken prisoner, was conveyed by Nestorius to his tent and there bound. Nestorius, returning to the army and offering himself a second time, was answered by one Dehac. The combatants behaved themselves bravely, and, the victory being doubtful, the soldiers were desirous of being spectators, and pressed eagerly forward. In the jostling and thronging both of horse and foot to see this engagement, the tent’ of Nestorius, with his chair of state, was thrown down. Three servants had been left in the sent, who, fearing they should be beaten when their master came back, and having nobody else to help them, told Dames that if he would lend them a hand to set up the tent and put things in order they would unbind him, upon condition that he should voluntarily return to his bonds again till their master came home, at which time they promised to speak a good word for him. He readily accepted the terms; but as soon as he was at liberty he immediately seized two of them, one in his right hand, the other in his left, and dashed their two heads so violently against the third man’s that they all three fell down dead upon the spot. Then opening a chest and taking out a rich suit of clothes, he mounted a good horse of Nestorius’, and having wrapped up his face as well as he could he made toward the Christian Arabs, where Jabalah, with the chief of his tribe, stood on the left hand of Heraclius. In the mean time Dehac and Nestorius, being equally matched, continued fighting till both their horses were quite tired out and they were obliged to part by consent to rest themselves. Nestorius, returning to his tent, and finding things in such confusion, easily guessed that Dames must be the cause of it. The news flew instantly through all the army, and everyone was surprised at the strangeness of the action. Dames, in the mean time, had gotten among the Christian Arabs, and striking off at one blow the man’s head that stood next him, made a speedy escape to the Saracens.

Antioch was not lost without a set battle; but through the treachery of Youkinna and several other persons of note, together with the assistance of Derar and his company, who were mixed with Youkinna’s men, the Christians were beaten entirely. The people of the town, perceiving the battle lost, made agreement and surrendered, paying down three hundred thousand ducats; upon which Abu Obeidah entered into Antioch on Tuesday, being the 21st day of August, A.D. 638.

Thus did that ancient and famous city, the seat of so many kings and princes, fall into the hands of the infidels. The beauty of the site and abundance of all things contributing to delight and luxury were so great that Abu Obeidah, fearing his Saracens should be effeminated with the delicacies of that place, and remit their wonted vigor and bravery, durst not let them continue there long. After a short halt of three days to refresh his men, he again marched out of it.

Then he wrote a letter to the Caliph, in which he gave him an account of his great success in taking the metropolis of Syria, and of the flight of Heraclius to Constantinople, telling him withal what was the reason why he stayed no longer there, adding that the Saracens were desirous of marrying the Grecian women, which he had forbidden. He was afraid, he said, lest the love of the things of this world should take possession of their hearts and draw them off from their obedience to God.

Constantine, the emperor Heraclius’ son, guarded that part of the country where Amrou lay, with a considerable army. The weather was very cold, and the Christians were quite disheartened, having been frequently beaten and discouraged with the daily increasing power of the Saracens, so that a great many grew weary of the service and withdrew from the army. Constantine, having no hopes of victory, and fearing lest the Saracens should seize Caesarea, took the opportunity of a tempestuous night to move off, and left his camp to the Saracens. Amrou, acquainting Abu Obeidah with all that had happened, received express orders to march directly to Caesarea, where he promised to join him speedily, in order to go against Tripoli, Acre, and Tyre. A short time after this, Tripoli was surprised by the treachery of Youkinna, who succeeded in getting possession of it on a sudden, and without any noise. Within a few days of its capture there arrived in the harbor about fifty ships from Cyprus and Crete, with provisions and arms which were to go to Constantine. The officers, not knowing that Tripoli was fallen into the hands of new masters, made no scruple of landing there, where they were courteously received by Youkinna, who proffered the utmost of his service, and promised to go along with them, but immediately seized both them and their ships, and delivered the town into the hands of Kaled, who was just come.

With these ships the traitor Youkinna sailed to Tyre, where he told the inhabitants that he had brought arms and provisions for Constantine’s army; upon which he was kindly received, and, landing, he was liberally entertained with nine hundred of his men. But being betrayed by one of his own soldiers, he and his crew were seized and bound, receiving all the while such treatment from the soldiers as their villanous practices well deserved. In the mean time Yezid Ebn Abu Sofian, being detached by Abu Obeidah from the camp before Caesarea, came within sight of Tyre. The governor upon this caused Youkinna and his men to be conveyed to the castle, and there secured, and prepared for the defence of the town. Perceiving that Yezid had with him but two thousand men in all, he resolved to make a sally. In the mean time the rest of the inhabitants ran up to the walls to see the engagement. While they were fighting, Youkinna and his men were set at liberty by one Basil, of whom they give the following account, viz.: That this Basil going one day to pay a visit to Bahira the monk, the caravan of the Koreishites came by, with which were Kadija’s camels, under the care of Mahomet. As he looked toward the caravan, he beheld Mahomet in the middle of it, and above him there was a cloud to keep him from the sun. Then the caravan having halted, as Mahomet leaned against an old, withered tree, it immediately brought forth leaves. Bahira, perceiving this, made an entertainment for the caravan, and invited them into the monastery. They all went, leaving Mahomet behind with the camels. Bahira, missing him, asked if they were all present. "Yes," they said, "all but a little boy we have left to look after their things and feed the camels." "What is his name?" says Bahira. They told him, "Mahomet Ebn Abdallah." Bahira asked if his father and mother were not both dead, and if he was not brought up by his grandfather and his uncle. Being informed that it was so, he said: "O Koreish! Set a high value upon him, for he is your lord, and by him will your power be great both in this world and that to come; for he is your ornament and glory." When they asked him how he knew that, Bahira answered, "Because as you were coming, there was never a tree nor stone nor clod but bowed itself and worshipped God." Moreover, Bahira told this Basil that a great many prophets had leaned against this tree and sat under it since it was first withered, but that it never bore any leaves before. And I heard him say, says this same Basil: "This is the prophet concerning whom Isa (Jesus) spake. Happy is he that believes in him and follows him and gives credit to his mission." This Basil, after the visit to Bahira, had gone to Constantinople and other parts of the Greek Emperor’s territories, and upon information of the great success of the followers of this prophet was abundantly convinced of the truth of his mission. This inclined him, having so fair an opportunity offered, to release Youkinna and his men; who, sending word to the ships, the rest of their forces landed and joined them. In the mean time a messenger in disguise was sent to acquaint Yezid with what was done. As soon as he returned, Youkinna was for falling upon the townsmen upon the wall; but Basil said, "Perhaps God might lead some of them into the right way," and persuaded him to place the men so as to prevent their coming down from the wall. This dope, they cried out, "La Ilaha," etc. The people, perceiving themselves betrayed and the prisoners at liberty, were in the utmost confusion, none of them being able to stir a step or lift up a hand. The Saracens in the camp, hearing the noise in the city, knew what it meant, and, marching up, Youkinna opened the gates and let them in. Those that were in the city fled, some one way and some another, and were pursued by the Saracens and put to the sword. Those upon the wall cried, "Quarter!" but Yezid told them that since they had not surrendered, but the city was taken by force, they were all slaves. "However," said he, "we of our own accord set you free, upon condition you pay tribute; and if any of you has a mind to change his religion, he shall fare as well as we do." The greatest part of them turned Mahometans. When Constantine heard of the loss of Tripoli and Tyre his heart failed him, and taking shipping with his family and the greater part of his wealth he departed for Constantinople. All this while Amrou ben-el-Ass lay before Caesarea. In the morning when the people came to inquire after Constantine, and could hear no tidings of him nor his family, they consulted together, and with one consent surrendered the city to Amrou, paying down for their security two thousand pieces of silver, and delivering into his hands all that Constantine had been obliged to leave behind him of his property. Thus was Caesarea lost in the year of our Lord 638, being the seventeenth year of the Hegira and the fifth of Omar’s reign, which answers to the twenty-ninth year of the emperor Heraclius. After the taking of Caesarea all the other places in Syria which as yet held out, namely, Ramlah, Acre, Joppa, Ascalon, Gaza, Sichem (or Nablos), and Tiberias, surrendered, and in a little time after the people of Beiro Zidon, Jabalah, and Laodicea followed their example; so that there remained nothing more for the Saracens to do in Syria, who, in little more than six years from the time of their first expedition in Abu-Beker’s reign, had succeeded in subduing the whole of that large, wealthy, and populous country.

Syria did not remain long in the possession of those persons who had the chief hand in subduing it, for in the eighteenth year of the Hegira the mortality in Syria, both among men and beasts, was so terrible, particularly at Emaus and the adjacent territory, that the Arabs called that year the year of destruction. By that pestilence the Saracens lost five-and-twenty thousand men, among whom were Abu Obeidah, who was then fifty-eight years old; Serjabil Ebn Hasanah, formerly Mahomet’s secretary; and Yezid Ebn Abu Sofian, with several other officers of note. Kaled survived them about three years, and then died; but the place of his burial—consequently of his death, for they did not use in those days to carry them far—is uncertain; some say at Hems, others at Medina.

1Those of Medina are called by that name because they helped Mahomet in his flight from Mecca.

2Those that fled with him are called Mohajerins; by these names the inhabitants of Mecca and Medina are often distinguished.


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Chicago: Simon Ockley, "The Saracen Conquest of Syria," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 4 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2022,

MLA: Ockley, Simon. "The Saracen Conquest of Syria." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 4, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Ockley, S, 'The Saracen Conquest of Syria' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 4. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2022, from