The Conquest of Syria



About the same time that Heraclius, newly hailed deliverer of Christendom and restorer of the unity of the Eastern Empire, was in Jerusalem reinstalling the true Cross,1 which had just been recovered from the Persians, his troops beyond the Jordan reported an attack by an Arabian band which was repelled with little difficulty. Mu’tah, on the frontier of al-Balgā’ to the east of the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, was the scene of the encounter. Zayd ibn-Ḥarithāh, the adopted son of Muhammad, was the leader; under him were 3000 men.2 Zayd lost his life in the raid and the newly converted Khālid ibn-al-Walīd succeeded in leading the remnant of the shattered army back to al-Madīnah. The ostensible object of the raid was to avenge the martyrdom of the Prophet’s emissary sent to the Ghassānid prince of Busra; the real one was to secure the coveted Mashrafīyah3 swords manufactured at Mu’tah and neighbouring towns with a view to using them in the impending attack on Makkah. The event was naturally interpreted as one of the ordinary raids to which the settled peoples of the borderland had long been accustomed; but actually it was the first gun in a struggle that was not to cease until the proud Byzantine capital had fallen (1453) to the latest champions of Islam and the name of Muḥammad substituted for that of Christ on the walls of the most magnificent cathedral of Christendom, St. Sophia.


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  1. 2.
    Alois Musil, Arabia Deserta (New York, 1927), pp. 553–73.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Not Jannābatayn; see S. D. Goitein in Journal, American Oriental Society, vol. lxx (1950), p. 106.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See H. R. P. Dickson, The Arab of the Desert (London, 1949), pp. 258–62.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip K. Hitti 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Princeton UniversityUSA

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