EVENTS FOLLOWING THE BATTLE OF AL-KADISIYA.
CAPTURE OF AL-MEDAIN
A.H. 15-16. / A.D. 636-637
BY desire of the Caliph, Sa'd paused for a while to let the weary troops refit. Fragments of the defeated host escaped in the direction of Babylon, and rallied there. After two months' rest, Sa'd, now recovered from sickness, advanced to attack them. On the march he re-entered Al-Hira. It was the third time the unfortunate city had been taken. Punishment for the last helpless defection was now the doubling of its tribute. Soon supplanted by Al-Kufa, a few miles distant, the once royal city of Al-Hira speedily dwindled into insignificance. But the neighbouring palace of the Khawarnak, beautiful residence of a bygone Dynasty, was still left standing by the Lake of Najaf, and was sometimes visited as a country-seat by the Caliphs and their Court in after days.
The scattered Persian troops rallied first at the Tower of Babel, and then, recrossing the Euphrates, halted under the great mound of Babylon. Driven from thence, they fell back upon the Tigris. Sa'd pitched a standing camp at Babylon, from whence he cleared the plain of Dura, fifty miles broad, from the Euphrates to the Tigris. The territorial chiefs from all sides now came in, some as converts, some as tributaries; and throughout the tract between the two rivers, Muslim rule again became supreme. Several months passed; and at last, in the summer, Sa'd found himself able, with the full consent of 'Omar, now in the second year of his reign, to advance upon Al-Medain.
The royal City was built on both banks of the Tigris, at a sharp double bend of the river, fifteen miles below the capital of modern Baghdad. Seleucia, on the right bank, was the seat of the Alexandrian conquerors. On the opposite shore had grown up Ctesiphon, residence of the Persian monarchs. The combined City had for ages superseded Babylon as the capital of Chaldĉa. Repeatedly taken by the Romans, it was now great and prosperous, but helplessly torn by intrigue and enervated by luxury. The main City, with its Royal palaces, was on the eastern side, where the noble arch, the Tak i Kesra, still arrests the traveller's eye as he sails down the Tigris. Sa'd now directed his march to the quarter which lay upon the nearer side. On the way he was attacked by the Queen-mother. Animated by the ancient spirit of her race, and with a great oath that so long as the Dynasty survived the empire was invincible, she took the field with an army commanded by a veteran General, "the lion of Chosroes." She was utterly discomfited, and her champion slain by the hand of Hashim.
Sa'd then marched forward; and, drawing a lesson from the vainglorious boast of the vanquished Princess, publicly recited before the assembled troops this passage from the sacred text:
In this spirit they came upon the river; and lo! the famous Iwan, with its great hall of white marble, stood close before them on the farther shore. "Good heavens!" exclaimed Sa'd, dazzled at the sight; Allahu Akbar! What this but the White Pavilion of Chosroes! Now hath the Lord fulfilled the promise which He made unto His Prophet." And each company shouted Allahu Akbar! Great is the Lord! as they came up and gazed at the Palace almost within their grasp. But the City was too strong to storm, and Sa'd sat down before it. Warlike engines were brought up, but they made no impression on ramparts of sunburnt brick. The besieged issued forth in frequent sallies; it was the last occasion on which the warriors of Persia
adventured themselves in single combat with the Arabs. The investment was strict, and the inhabitants reduced to great straits. The army lay for several months before the City; but Sa'd was not inactive in other directions. Bands were despatched wherever the great landholders failed to tender their submission. These ravaged Mesopotamia, and brought in multitudes as prisoners; but, by 'Omar's command, they were dismissed to their homes. Thus the country from Tekrit downwards, and from the Tigris to the Syrian desert, was brought entirely and conclusively under Muslim sway.
The siege at last pressed so heavily on the western quarter, that the King sent a messenger with terms. He would give up all dominion west of the Tigris if they would leave him undisturbed on the eastern side. The offer was indignantly refused. Not long after, observing the walls no longer manned, an advance was ordered. They entered unopposed; the Persians had crossed, and carrying the ferryboats with them, entirely evacuated the City on the western bank. Not a soul was to be seen. But the farther Capital with the river between was still defiant and secure. So the army for some weeks rested, and, occupying the deserted mansions of the western quarter, enjoyed a fore-taste of Persian luxury.
On Al-Medain being threatened, Yezdejird had despatched his family, with the regalia and treasure, to Holwan in the hilly country to the north: and now he contemplated flight himself in the same direction. The heart of Persia had sunk hopelessly; for otherwise the deep and rapid Tigris still formed ample defence against sudden assault. Indeed, the Arabs thought so themselves; for they were occupied many weeks in search of boats, which had all been removed from the western bank. Unexpectedly, a deserter apprised Sa'd of a place where the river could be swum or forded. But the stream, always swift, was then upon the rise, and they feared lest the horses should be carried down by the turbid flood. Just then, tidings coming of the intended flight of Yezdejird, Sa'd at once resolved upon the enterprise. Gathering his force, he said to them:"We are now at the mercy of the enemy, who, with the river at command, is able to attack us unawares. Now, the
Lord bath shown unto one amongst us a vision of the faithful upon horses, crossing the stream triumphantly. Arise, let us stem the flood!" The desperate venture was voted by acclamation. Six hundred picked cavalry were drawn up in bands of sixty. The foremost plunged in, and bravely battled with the rapid flood. Down and across they had already neared the other shore, when a hostile picket dashed into the water, and vainly endeavoured to beat them back. "Raise your lances," shouted 'Asim; " bear right into their eyes." So they drove them back, and safely reached dry land. Sa'd no sooner saw them safe on shore, than he called on the rest to follow; and thus, with the cry"Allah! triumph to Thy people; Destruction to Thine enemies!"troop after troop leaped into the river, so thick and close, that the water was hidden from their view; and, treading as it had been solid ground, without a single loss, all gained the farther side. The Persians, taken by surprise, fled panic-stricken. The rapid passage afforded them time barely to escape. The few remaining submitted themselves as tributaries. The Muslims pursued the fugitives; but soon hastened back to share the royal spoil. They wandered over the gorgeous pavilions of a Court into which the East had been long pouring forth its treasures, and revelled in gardens decked with flowers and laden with fruit. The Conqueror established himself in the Palace of the Chosroes.
But first he was minded to render thanks in a service of praise. The princely building was turned for this end into a House of prayer; and there, followed by as many as could be spared, Sa'd ascribed the victory to the Lord of Hosts. The lesson was a passage of the Kor'an which speaks of Pharaoh overwhelmed in the Red Sea; and also this verse thought peculiarly appropriate:
(Sura xliv. 24 f.)
The booty was rich beyond conception. Besides millions of treasure, there was countless store of silver and golden vessels, gorgeous vestments and garniture,precious things
of untold rarity and cost. The lucky capture of a train of mules disclosed an unexpected prize consisting of the tiara, robes, and girdle of the King. The Arabs gazed in wonder at the crown, jewelled swords, and splendour of the throne; and, among other marvels, at a camel of silver, large as life, with rider of gold; and a golden horse, with emeralds for teeth, its neck set with rubies, and its trappings of gold. The precious metals lost their value, for gold was plentiful as silver. Rich works of art in sandal-wood and amber were in the hands of everyone, hoards of musk and spicy products of the East. Camphor lay about in sacks, and was at first by mistake kneaded with the cakes as salt. The prize agents had a heavy task, for each man's share (and the army now numbered 60,000) was twelve thousand pieces,1 besides special largesses for the more distinguished. The army forwarded to Medina, beyond the royal fifth, such rare and precious things as might stir the wonder of the simple Citizens at home. To the Caliph they sent, as fitting gift, the regalia of the Empire, and the sword of the Chosroes.2 But the spectacle of the day was the royal banqueting carpet, seventy cubits long and sixty broad. It represented a garden, the ground wrought in gold, and the walks in silver; meadows of emeralds, and rivulets of pearls; trees, flowers, and fruits of sparkling diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. When the rest of the spoil had been disposed of; Omar took counsel what should be done with the carpet. The most advised to keep it as a trophy of Islam. But 'Ali, reflecting on the instability of earthly things, objected; and the Caliph, accepting his advice, had it cut in pieces and distributed with the other booty. The part which fell to 'Ali's lot fetched twenty thousand dirhams.
Al-Medain offering every convenience for the seat of government, Sa'd now established himself there. The palaces and mansions of the fugitive nobles were divided
1 Say £400 or £500 sterling for each
soldier from which (adding also the fifth) the entire value of the
booty may be gathered. The treasure alone was put at 1500 million
pieces, a like sum having been taken away by Rustem for the Kadisiya
2 Four other swords were taken: that
of the Kaisar kept by Sa'd, and of Bahram by Al-Ka'ka'; a third,
of the Khakan of the Turks; and a fourth, of the "King of Hind."
1 Say £400 or £500 sterling for each soldier from which (adding also the fifth) the entire value of the booty may be gathered. The treasure alone was put at 1500 million pieces, a like sum having been taken away by Rustem for the Kadisiya campaign.
2 Four other swords were taken: that of the Kaisar kept by Sa'd, and of Bahram by Al-Ka'ka'; a third, of the Khakan of the Turks; and a fourth, of the "King of Hind."
amongst his followers. The Royal residence he occupied himself. The grand Hall, its garnishing unchanged, was consecrated as a place of Prayer, and here the Friday, or Cathedral, service of Islam was first celebrated in the land of Persia.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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