Siege of Damascus, 1148 CE

Siege of Damascus, 1148 CE


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Siege of Damascus (1148)

The Siege of Damascus took place between 24 July and 29 July 1148, during the Second Crusade. It ended in a decisive crusader defeat and led to the disintegration of the crusade. The two main Christian forces that marched to the Holy Land in response to Pope Eugene III and Bernard of Clairvaux's call for the Second Crusade were led by Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany. Both faced disastrous marches across Anatolia in the months that followed, with most of their armies being destroyed. The original focus of the crusade was Edessa, but in Jerusalem, the preferred target of King Baldwin III and the Knights Templar was Damascus. At the Council of Acre, magnates from France, Germany, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem decided to divert the crusade to Damascus.

The crusaders decided to attack Damascus from the west, where orchards would provide them with a constant food supply. Having arrived outside the walls of the city, they immediately put it to siege, using wood from the orchards. On 27 July, the crusaders decided to move to the plain on the eastern side of the city, which was less heavily fortified but had much less food and water. Nur ad-Din Zangi arrived with Muslim reinforcements and cut off the crusader's route to their previous position. The local crusader lords refused to carry on with the siege, and the three kings had no choice but to abandon the city. The entire crusader army retreated back to Jerusalem by 28 July.


Military conflicts similar to or like Siege of Damascus (1148)

The timeline of the Kingdom of Jerusalem presents important events of the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem—a crusader state in Palestine—in chronological order. Established during the First Crusade. Wikipedia

The Council of Acre met at Palmarea, near Acre, a major city of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, on 24 June 1148. The Haute Cour of Jerusalem met with recently arrived crusaders from Europe, to decide on the best target for the crusade. Wikipedia

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The Siege of Ascalon took place in 1153, resulting in the capture of that Egyptian fortress by the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Fatimid Egypt's greatest and most important frontier fortress. Wikipedia

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Leap year starting on Thursday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar. January 1 &ndash The French crusaders under King Louis VII defeat a Turkish ambush next to the Meander River. Three days later they arrive at Laodicea – passing the spot where the German contingent led by Otto of Freising has been so disastrously ambushed (see 1147). The Crusaders are badly mauled as they cross Mount Cadmus (around January 8) before reaching Adalia on January 20. Wikipedia

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Aftermath

Each of the Christian forces felt betrayed by the other. [2] A new plan was made to attack Ascalon but this was abandoned due to the lack of trust that had resulted from the failed siege. This mutual distrust would linger for a generation due to the defeat, to the ruin of the Christian kingdoms in the Holy Land. Following the battle, Conrad returned to Constantinople to further his alliance with Manuel. As a result of the attack, Damascus no longer trusted the crusaders, and the city was formally handed over to Nur ad-Din in 1154. Bernard of Clairvaux was also humiliated, and when his attempt to call a new crusade failed, he tried to disassociate himself from the fiasco of the Second Crusade altogether. [17]


The Siege of Damascus, 1148 – A Logistical Nightmare!

As military enthusiasts and historians know, performance on the battlefield is not the only factor that secures victory. There are other essential elements that must be taken into consideration, few more fundamental than logistics. The establishment and maintenance of key supply lines can make or break an army, a fact not lost on leaders and strategists throughout history, from Sun Tzu&rsquos assertion that &lsquothe line between disorder and order lies in logistics&rsquo to General Robert H. Barrow&rsquos 1980 note that &lsquoamateurs think about tactics, but professionals think about logistics.&rsquo History is littered with examples that illustrate this point and one of the best can be found in the Second Crusade.

The Siege of Damascus in 1148 AD is often viewed as the great betrayal of the Second Crusade and the key architect of its demise. Indeed, the Christian kingdoms of 12th-century Europe wasted little time in laying blame for this disaster, first at the feet of the &lsquoSyrian Franks&rsquo and then God Himself, as was common practice when any Western army suffered defeat in the Holy Land. In truth, the disaster that befell the crusading forces that laid siege to the walls of Damascus was the result of neither treachery nor divine intervention, but of poor logistical foresight and an inability to protect key supply lines.

A crusader supply unit is ambushed outside Damascus

There is no denying that the sheer size of the crusading army granted a distinct initial advantage over the defenders of Damascus. The 50,000-strong contingent that approached the city through the Shahura Valley on the morning of 24 July overwhelmed the Muslim forces arrayed against them. After ferocious fighting in the narrow, walled lanes and dense orchards of the Mazzawi region that blanketed the western approach to the city, the crusaders forced their way to the banks of the Barada River, where they crossed and quickly established a fortified position. Prolonged sieges demanded the constant maintenance and protection of open supply lines to provide the assaulting forces with the necessary resources to either overcome or outlast a defensive positon. Therefore, the crusaders&rsquo chosen approach made logistical sense. With the richly fertile Mazzawi region secured at their backs, they would have ready access to food, water and timber &ndash the basic supplies needed for the establishment of a camp closer to the walls of the city.[1]

Furthermore, it could certainly be argued that the hard-learned lessons of the previous year&rsquos campaign across Anatolia proved an influential factor in the crusading army&rsquos decision to approach from the west. Emperor Konrad III&rsquos attempt to cross Anatolia before the winter of 1147 resulted in a disastrous rout in which the emperor himself was seriously wounded while attempting to protect his supply lines. King Louis VII of France suffered a similar fate in January 1148 while navigating the Kazik Beli Pass (Mount Cadmus). A breakdown in discipline and communication between the French army&rsquos rear and vanguard exposed its cumbersome baggage train to an ambush by Turkish forces. These experiences would no doubt have been fresh in the minds of both kings as they planned the assault of Damascus.

The problem was that while access to the Mazzawi met the immediate supply needs of the crusading army, it allowed Turkoman mercenaries, Syrian villagers and ahdath militia (local militia) to mount a very successful guerrilla campaign. For as long as the walls of Damascus held, this campaign harried the crusaders&rsquo exposed flanks and, ironically, threatened their ability to control their supply lines. The thick orchards and low stone walls offered the perfect positions for Muslim archers and crossbowmen to pick off isolated groups of crusaders and mercilessly harass the besieging army as it attempted to forage for food and water. While the crusaders successfully defeated a number of serious counter-attacks from the city itself, most notably one on 25 July in which Saladin&rsquos brother, Nur al-Dawlah Shahinshah, was killed, the city held firm and the guerrilla attacks intensified to point where the crusaders lost control of the surrounding Mazzawi and thus their primary route of supply. That is not to say that the leaders of the crusading army did not try to counter this problem. As the situation became more desperate, scouting missions were sent to the more open southern and eastern plains with a view to shifting their fortified position. This ultimately proved ineffective as both the southern and eastern plains were largely barren and could not support an army of such a size.

As a result, on 28 July, trapped and broken, the forces of the Second Crusade simply abandoned the siege of Damascus and retreated. Despite their numerical advantage, the crusaders were defeated by an enemy that was able to hamper their supply lines. While the Mazzawi region was a good resource for a besieging army, the crusaders were never in complete control of it, and their position swiftly became untenable.

As von Clausewitz said, &lsquothere is nothing more common than to find considerations of supply affecting the strategic lines of a campaign and a war&rsquo, and the Siege of Damascus is just one example of the importance of logistics in warfare. As always, we would like to hear from you, the Osprey reader &ndash what battles or campaigns stand out for you in this regard?

The illustration was taken from Campaign 204: The Second Crusade 1148. Other books looking at the Crusades can be found in the Medieval section of our store.

[1] It is worth noting that, while 12th-century Christian and Muslim sources undoubtedly exaggerate the true size of the crusading army that assaulted Damascus, any army numbering in the tens of thousands would require a bewildering amount of food and water to maintain combat efficiency even before accounting for the rigours of fighting in armour under the punishing summer sun.


Siege of Granada, April 1491 to 2 January 1492

The Capitulation of Granada, by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz: Boabdil confronts Ferdinand and Isabella. 1882

Despite failures in the Holy Land, the crusading ideal lived on. It was particularly important in the Iberian Peninsula, where Christian monarchs spent centuries driving back their Arab neighbors. The Siege of Granada was the final act in this series of wars, known as the Reconquista, which left all of Spain and Portugal in Christian hands. The borders of Europe had been drawn, as much by crusading armies as by culture or cartography. This was now the edge of Christendom.


This siege was the pivotal moment of the Second Crusade and resulted in a Crusader defeat. The Second Crusade was announced by Pope Eugene III in 1147, and it was the first of the crusades to be led by European kings including Conrad III of Germany and Louis VII of France. Unlike the First Crusade, the Holy Roman Empire was heavily involved and featured Emperor Frederick Barbarossa I. It began poorly as the armies of Conrad and Louis were defeated by Seljuk Turks in separate engagements.

The original target of the Second Crusade was Edessa, but King Baldwin III of Jerusalem and the Knights Templar had designs on Damascus. Magnates from Germany, France and the Kingdom of Jerusalem decided to divert their attention to Damascus at the Council of Acre. They elected to attack from the west because the orchards would provide a steady supply of food. The crusaders arrived at Damascus on July 24, 1148, and immediately laid siege using wood from the orchard.

On July 27, they made the fateful decision to move to the east of the city. It wasn&rsquot as well fortified but also had less food. Meanwhile, a Muslim commander by the name of Nur ad-Din Zangi arrived at the city with reinforcements and immediately blocked off the crusader&rsquos way back to the west. The crusader lords decided to quit the siege so it ended in dismal failure. On July 28, the crusaders abandoned the siege and returned to Jerusalem but suffered casualties after being attacked by Turk archers.

The failure at Damascus all but ended the Second Crusade and was considered a great victory for the Muslims. Moreover, the Christian forces no longer trusted one another which is why a planned attack on Ascalon never came to fruition. The debacle had a significant cultural impact on several European nations, and the long-term consequences of the failure were disastrous for Jerusalem. The breakdown in trust between European nations, the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Byzantine Empire enabled the Muslims to gain a foothold in the region. In 1187, Saladin captured Jerusalem which led to the Third Crusade.


Contents

In 610, during the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, Heraclius became the emperor of the Byzantine Empire after overthrowing Phocas. [6] While Heraclius focused his attention on the internal affairs of his empire, the Sassanid Persians conquered Mesopotamia, overran Syria in 611, and entered Anatolia to occupy Caesarea Mazaca. In 612, Heraclius expelled the Persians from Anatolia. In 613, he launched a counter offensive against Syria, but was decisively defeated. [7]

Over the next decade, the Persians conquered Palestine and Egypt and Heraclius rebuilt his army, preparing for a new offensive, which he launched in 622. [8] He achieved substantial victories over the Persians and their allies in the Caucasus and Armenia. In 627, he launched a daring winter offensive against Persia in Mesopotamia, and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Nineveh. This victory threatened the Persian capital city of Ctesiphon. [9]

Discredited by this series of disasters, Khosrau II was killed in a coup led by his son Kavadh II, [9] who at once sued for peace, agreeing to withdraw from all occupied territories of the Byzantine empire. Heraclius restored the True Cross to Jerusalem with an elaborate ceremony in 629. [10]

In Arabia, the Prophet Muhammad had united most of Arabia under a single religious and political authority. When Muhammad died in June 632, Abu Bakr was elected to the newly formed office of Caliph, becoming Muhammad's political and religious successor. Several Arabic tribes revolted against Abu Bakr. In the Ridda wars (Arabic for the Wars of Apostasy), Abu Bakr quelled the revolt. By 633, Arabia was firmly united under the central authority of the Caliph in Medina. [11] In 633, Abu Bakr initiated a war of conquest against the neighboring Sassanian and Byzantine empires. [12] After a successful conquest of the Persian province of Iraq, Abu Bakr's confidence grew and in April 634 his armies invaded the Byzantine Levant from four different routes. These armies proved to be too small for the task, necessitating reinforcements from Iraq, led by Abu Bakr's capable general Khalid ibn Walid [13] Crossing the desert, Khalid ibn Walid entered Syria from an unexpected route in a bold move. He attacked and overthrew the Byzantine defenses of Levant and quickly captured the Ghassanid capital city of Bosra. In July, the Muslim army under Khalid's command defeated another Byzantine army in the Battle of Ajnadayn. After clearing their southern flank, the Muslims laid siege to Damascus. [14]

Siege site Edit

Strategically located, Damascus attracted merchants from all over the world. The city was known as the paradise of Syria. [15]

The fortifications matched its importance. The main part of the city was enclosed by a massive 11 m (36 ft) high wall. [b] The fortified city was approximately 1,500 m (4,900 ft) long and 800 m (2,600 ft) wide. [15]

  • The East Gate (Bab Sharqi)
  • The Gate of Thomas (Bab Touma)
  • The Jabiya Gate (Bab al-Jabiya)
  • The Gate of Paradise (Bab al-Faradis)
  • The Keisan Gate (Bab Kisan)
  • The Small Gate (Bab al-Saghir) [c]

Although the River Barada ran along the north wall of Damascas, it was too shallow to be of defensive importance. [16]

At the time of the Syrian campaign, the Byzantine Commander of Damascus was Thomas, son-in-law of Emperor Heraclius. [d] A devout Christian, he was known for his courage and skill at command, and also for his intelligence and learning. [15]

Without the necessary siege equipment, armies of the early Muslim expansion would surround a city, denying it supplies until the city's defenders surrendered. [17] Meanwhile any chance of breaking into the city would be availed, if possible, using stealth and espionage. Muslim armies would usually isolate the city from the rest of the region and deploy scouts along vital routes. [18]

Before the siege of Damascus, Khalid isolated it from the rest of the northern Syria. To the west, a detachment of cavalry at Fahal occupied the attention of the Byzantine garrison. This detachment also protected the Muslim supply lines to Medina. [18] Thus this cavalry detachment functioned as the rearguard of the Muslim forces on the Syrian front. Another detachment was sent on the road to Emesa to take up a position near Bait Lihya, approximately 10 miles (16 km) from the city. Its instructions were to reconnoiter for any Byzantine relief columns. If unable to defeat or repel a Byzantine rescue effort, the detachment commander was instructed to send for reinforcements from Khalid. [19]

Having isolated Damascus, Khalid ordered his army to surround the city on 21 August (the 20th of Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 13 Hijri). [19] The corps commanders were instructed to repel any Byzantine offensive from the respective gates and seek assistance in case of heavy attack. Dharar bin al-Azwar commanded 2.000 horsemen from the mobile guard to patrol in the empty area between the gates at night and to reinforce any corps attacked by the Byzantines. [20]

The following Muslim generals held the siege of the six gates of the Damascus. Each commander at the gate had 4,000–5,000 forces under his command:

  • Gate of Thomas: Shurahbil
  • Jabiya Gate: Abu Ubaidah
  • Gate of Faradis: Amr
  • Keisan Gate: Yazid
  • Small Gate: Yazid
  • Eastern Gate: Rafay bin Umayr. [21]

Khalid placed the main body of his forces under the command of Rafay bin Umayr at the eastern gate. [21] He established his headquarters a short distance away from the eastern gate in a monastery, known since then as Deir al Khalid, the monastery of Khalid. [21] Khalid's army had encircled the city, halting the flow of supplies into Damascus while the Ghouta of Damascus provided the Muslim army with all the supplies Khalid needed for his men and their mounts. [19]

Byzantine relief Edit

Emperor Heraclius was at Antioch at the beginning of the siege and [ citation needed ] on 9 September, he dispatched a relief force, thought to have numbered around 12,000 men. [22] Scouts posted on the road from Emesa to Damascus reported the approach of a Byzantine army. Upon hearing this news, Khalid sent Rafay bin Umayr with 5,000 troops. They met 20 miles (32 km) north of Damascus at Uqab Pass (Eagle Pass) on the Damascus-Emesa road. [23] That force proved insufficient and was soon surrounded by the Byzantine troops. However before the Byzantines could defeat the Muslim detachment, Khalid arrived with another column of 4,000 men and routed them. [24] It has since come to be known as Battle of the pass of Uqab. [23]

The Muslim siege forces had been weakened by the withdrawal of 9,000 men to repel the Byzantine relief force. If the Byzantine garrison had sallied out against the Muslim army, historians suspect the defenders would have broken through the Muslim lines and lifted the siege. Understanding the danger of the situation, Khalid hurriedly returned to Damascus. [25]

First Byzantine attack Edit

After realizing that no reinforcements would come, Thomas decided to launch a counter offensive. [26] Early in the third week of September, Thomas drew men from all sectors of the city to form a force strong enough to break through the Gate of Thomas. He was there faced by Shurahbil with his corps of about 5,000 men. The Byzantine attack began with a concentrated shower of arrows against the Muslims. The Byzantine infantry, covered by the archers on the wall, rushed through the gate and fanned out into battle formation. Thomas himself led the assault. [27] During this action, Thomas was struck in his right eye by an arrow. Unsuccessful in breaking the Muslim lines, the Byzantines retreated back to the fortress. The wounded Thomas is said to have sworn to take a thousand eyes in return. He ordered another great sortie for that night. [23]

Second Byzantine attack Edit

This time Thomas planned to launch simultaneous sorties from four gates. The main sector was to be again the Thomas gate, to take full advantage of the exhausted Muslim corps stationed there. The attacks from the other gates—Jabiya Gate, the Small Gate and the Eastern Gate—were intended to tie down the other Muslim corps so that they could not aid Shurhabil's corps at the Thomas gate. [28]

At the Eastern Gate, Thomas assembled more forces than at the other gates, so that Khalid would be unable to move to Shurahbil's assistance and take command in that decisive sector. Thomas' attack at several gates also gave more flexibility to the operation: if success were achieved in any sector other than the Gate of Thomas, such success could be exploited by sending troops to that sector to achieve the breakthrough. Thomas ordered Khalid to be taken alive. [29]

After some hard fighting at the Jabiya Gate, commander Abu Ubaidah and his men, repulsed the sally and the Byzantines hastened back to the city. The battle was intense at the Small Gate, which was guarded by commander Yazid and his men. Yazid had fewer troops but Dharar came to Yazid's aid with his 2,000 cavalry of the Mobile Guard. The cavalry attacked the flank of the Byzantine sortie force and repulsed the sally. [26]

At the East Gate, the situation also became serious, for a larger Byzantine force had been assigned to this sector. Rafay was unable to withstand their attacks. The timely arrival of Khalid with his reserve of 400 veteran cavalry and his subsequent attack on the Roman flank, marked the turning point in the sally at the Eastern Gate. [30]

The heaviest fighting occurred at the Thomas gate, where Thomas again commanded the sally in person. [26] After intense fighting, Thomas, seeing that there was no weakening in the Muslim front, decided that continuing the attack would be fruitless and would lead to even heavier casualties among his men. He ordered a withdrawal and the Romans moved back at a steady pace, during which they were subjected to a concentrated shower of arrows by the Muslims. This was the last attempt by Thomas to break the siege. The attempt had failed. He had lost thousands [ clarification needed ] of men in these sallies, and could no longer afford to fight outside the walls of the city. [31]

On 18 September, a Syriac monophysite priest named Jonah [32] informed Khalid about a festival celebration in the city that night. [e] The festivities offered Khalid an opportunity to capture the city in a surprise attack on the relatively lightly defended walls. In return, Jonah requested immunity for himself and his fiance. [33] According to Muslim chronicles, she was still not handed over to him because of the arrival of the Muslim army that was to besiege Damascus, and according to the narrations he came to Khalid with this information only to get his wife sooner. Jonah also converted to Islam. [ clarification needed ] [30]

With no time to make a coordinated plan of attack for the whole army, Khalid decided to storm the East Gate himself. He, Qa'qa ibn Amr, and Mazur ibn Adi climbed the wall hand-by-hand from the side of the gate. [34] This part of the wall was the strongest, no guard was stationed at the top. They secured ropes to the wall and dropped them to 100 selected soldiers waiting at the base. [31] Leaving a few men to assist the climbers, Khalid descended into the city, killing the guards at the inside of the East Gate. Khalid and Qa'qa flung the gate open and the remainder of Khalid's men entered the city. An intense battle ensued. [19]

When Thomas saw that the rest of the army did not move from the other gates, he assumed first that only Khalid's army had entered the city and second that the other corps commanders were unaware of Thomas tried to save Damascus for one last time. He sent envoys to the Jabiya Gate to talk with Abu Ubaidah, the second in command to Khalid, and offered to surrender the fort peacefully and to pay the Jizya. [35] Abu Ubaidah, who was well known for his peace-loving nature, accepted the terms, thinking that Khalid would also agree. [36]

The news was sent to all the corps commanders. After dawn Abu Ubaidah entered Damascus from Jabiyah gate and the other commanders from their respective gates, while Khalid's corps was still battling in the city from the East Gate. [26] Abu Ubaidah marched peacefully with his corps, accompanied by Thomas, Harbees [ who? ] , several dignitaries, and the bishops of Damascus, toward the center of city. From the East Gate, Khalid and his men fought their way towards the center of Damascus, killing all who resisted. The commanders met at the Mariamite Cathedral of Damascus in the center of the city. [37]

Capture of the city Edit

Khalid argued that he had conquered the city by force. Abu Ubaidah maintained the city had capitulated, through the peace agreement between him and Thomas. [37] The corps commanders discussed the situation, and reportedly told Khalid that the peace agreement must be honoured, which Khalid agreed to although reluctantly. [27]

The terms of the peace agreement were that no one would be enslaved, no harm would be done to the temples, nothing would be taken as booty and that safe passage was given to Thomas, Harbees, and every citizen of Damascus who was not willing to live under Muslim rule. The peace agreement also stated that the peace would end after three days and that the Muslims could attack after these three days without violating the agreement. [35]

The following pact was drawn up and signed by Khalid bin Walid:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This is given by Khalid bin Al Waleed [sic] to the people of Damascus. When the Muslims enter, they (the people) shall have safety for themselves, their property, their temples and the walls of their city, of which nothing shall be destroyed. They have this guarantee on behalf of Allah, Messenger of Allah, the Caliph (Umar) and the Muslims, from whom they shall receive nothing but good so long as they pay the Jizya. [32]

The Syriac, Jonah, who had helped Khalid enter the city by the East Gate, showed him a short-cut to Antioch. Leading a cavalry regiment, Khalid caught up with a convoy of Byzantine refugees from Damascus at the sea, near Antioch. [38] The three-day truce had passed Khalid's cavalry attacked the convoy during a heavy rain. In the subsequent battle, Khalid reportedly killed Thomas in a duel. After the Battle, known as the Battle of Marj-ud-Deebaj (Battle of Brocade Meadow), the Muslims took a great amount of brocade as booty. [39] In addition, Thomas' wife, the daughter of Heraclius, was captured. According to chronicles, the Greek man Jonah, who guided Khalid on the short cut to Antioch, got his fiance, but she committed suicide. Khalid offered Jonah the daughter of Emperor Heraclius, whom he refused. Khalid sent her back to her father. Jonah died two years later in the Battle of Yarmuk. [40]

Caliph Abu Bakr died in Medina, making Umar his successor. Umar removed Khalid from command of the Muslim army and appointed Abu Ubaidah as the new commander in chief. In later years, following the Battle of Yarmuk, the Rashidun Caliphate annexed the whole Levant, followed by the conquest of Antioch in 638. [41] By 639, the Byzantines had lost Armenia and Mesopotamia. Emperor Heraclius concentrated on the defenses of Egypt and Anatolia, creating a buffer-zone in Anatolia west of Caesarea by abandoning all the Byzantine fortifications there. The Muslims never invaded Anatolia. However, by 642 the Byzantines lost Egypt and Tripolitania to the Caliphate. [42]

While the Arabs administered the city of Damascus, the population of Damascus remained mostly Christian—Eastern Orthodox and Monophysite—with a growing community of Arab Muslims from Makkah, Medina, and the Syrian Desert. [43]

The city was chosen as the capital of Islamic Syria. Its first Muslim governor was Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan, one of the commanders of the Muslim army that captured the city. Yazid died of plague in 640 and his younger brother, Mu'awiya I, succeeded him. After the murder of the last Rashidun Caliph, Caliph Ali in 661, Mu'awiya installed himself as the caliph of the Islamic empire founding the Umayyad dynasty.

Damascus subsequently became the capital of the Ummayad Caliphate [44] and all of the surplus revenue of the Ummayad Caliphate's provinces were forwarded to the treasury of Damascus. Arabic was also established as the official language, giving the Arab minority of the city an advantage over the Greek-speaking Christians in administrative affairs. [45]

Trade and economics prospered in the city and under the Umayyads, Damascus remained one of the most dazzling cities of the world, until in 750, when it fell to the Abbasids. On 25 August 750, the Abbasids, having already beaten the Umayyads in the Battle of the Zab in Iraq, conquered Damascus after facing little resistance. With the heralding of the Abbasid Caliphate, Damascus became eclipsed and subordinated by Baghdad, the new Islamic capital. [46]

^ a: According to Burns (2007), the siege ended in September 635. [47]
^ b: Damascus City has risen 4 metres since then, so that the wall is now only 7 metres above ground level (See Akram (2004), pg.294.)
^ c: See The walls and gates of Damascus.
^ d: According to Edward Gibbon: "Vanity prompted the Arabs to believe, that Thomas was the son-in-law of the emperor. We know the children of Heraclius by his two wives: and his august daughter would not have married in exile at Damascus (see du Cange, Historia Byzantina Familiae Byzantinae. p. 118–119.) Had he been less religious, I might only suspect the legitimacy of the damsel." [48]
^ e: It is not clear which festival it was, some early Muslim sources says it was a celebration of the birth of son to the high priest of Damascus (Al-Waqidi, p.46)


After Edessa, the Second Crusade was called. An army whose leaders included King Louis VII of France marched toward expected glory in the Holy Land. Instead they failed abysmally, losing thousands of men in the failed Siege of Damascus, and eventually giving up. This was characteristic of the whole period – no other crusade would be as successful as the first.

Saladin was the most famous Muslim commander the Crusaders faced, both at the time and since. Advancing on Jerusalem, he outmanoeuvred and surrounded the Christian forces at the Horns of Hattin, utterly defeating them. This led to the recapture of Jerusalem on 2 October. The city would change hands several more times, but its days as a Crusader bastion were over.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – The Emergence of Damascus (9000 – c1100 BC)

The mother of all battles

Chapter 2 – Dimashqu – Damascus from the Aramaeans to the Assyrians (c1100 – 732 BC)

An Aramaean Empire (Eleventh Century–733 BC)

Neo-Assyrian Empire (964–c800 BC)

Damascus in Aramaean Times

Resurgent Assyria (8 th century BC)

Epilogue: An altar for Jerusalem

Chapter 3 – A Greater Game – Assyrians, Persians, Greeks (732 – c300 BC)

Neo-Babylonians (Chaldean Rule) (626–539 BC)

Persian (Achaemenid) rule (539–333 BC)

Damascus during the twilight of the Ancient Near East

Chapter 4 – The Sowing of Hellenism – Ptolemies and Seleucids (300 – 64 BC)

Ptolemaic rule – Third Century BC

Damascus between rival dynasties

Seleucid rule – second century BC

The persistence of the plan

A Hellenistic civilisation?

Chapter 5 – Towards a Pax Romana (64 BC – AD 30)

The east Mediterranean theatre

Damascus and the struggle for empire

Stabilising the Damascus region

Chapter 6 – Metropolis Romana (AD 30 – 268)

The city and temple of Jupiter

Importance of cult centres

Chapter 7 – Holding the Line (AD 269 – 610)

Nature of the Persian threat

Decline and disintegration

‘Do it yourself’ defence doctrine

Chapter 8 – ‘Farewell, Oh Syria’ (611 – 661)

Damascus – The First Bulwark

The great field army perishes

Chapter 9 – The Umayyads (661 – 750)

Muʿawiya and the new order

Acquisition of the Church of Saint John

The building of the Mosque

Preface to Part Two - When did the ancient end?

Chapter 10 – Decline, Confusion and Irrelevance (750 – 1098)

Teaching Damascus a lesson

Turkish inroads, Tulunids (877–905)

Arrival of the Burids (1104)

Chapter 11 – Islam Resurgent (1098 – 1174)

Bulwark Against the Crusaders?

Early Burids (Tughtagin r. 1104–28)

Burids versus Zengids (1128–48)

The Second Crusade (1148) – ‘Fiasco’

Chapter 12 – Saladin and the Ayyubids (1174 – 1250)

Back on the periphery (1238-50)

Chapter 13 – Mamluks (1250 – 1515)

Tengiz’s governorship (1312– 40)

Chapter 14 – The First Ottoman Centuries (1516 – 1840)

European ambitions – Egypt intervenes

Chapter 15 – Reform and Reaction (1840 – 1918)

Tanzimat – reform and reaction

Command for monument protection

‘To Damascus!’ – the great ride

Chapter 16 Epilogue – Countdown to Catastrophe (1919–2011)

Glossary of Terms and Names

Maps of City and Environs


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