Click to View




16 A.H.   /   637 A.D.

Persian advance.

'OMAR was satisfied, as well he might be, with the success achieved. His old spirit of caution revived, and beyond the plain skirted by the hilly range to the east, he strictly forbade a forward movement. Summer of the 16th year of the Hijra was passed in repose at Al-Medain. The King, with his broken troops, had fled into the Persian mountains; and the people on either bank of the Tigris, seeing opposition vain, readily submitted to the conqueror.

Battle of Jalula.

In the autumn, the Persians, resolving again to try the chance of arms, flocked in great numbers to Yezdejird at Holwan, about one hundred miles north of Al-Medain. From thence part of the force advanced to Jalula, a fortress held to be impregnable, surrounded by a deep trench, and the outlets guarded by chevaux de frise and spikes of iron. With 'Omar's sanction, Sa'd pushed forward Hashim and Al-Ka'ka' at the head of 12,000 men, including the flower of Mecca and Medina; and they sat down in front of the Citadel. The garrison, reinforced from time to time by the army at Holwan, attacked the besiegers with desperate bravery. Fresh troops were despatched from Al-Medain, and the siege was prolonged for eighty days. At length, during a vigorous sally, a storm darkened the air; and the Persian columns, losing their way, were pursued to the battlements by Al-Ka'ka', who seized one of the gates. Thus cut off they turned in despair upon the Arabs, and a general engagement ensued, which was not "surpassed by the Night of Clangour excepting that it was



Persians routed and Jalula taken, end of 16 A.H., Dec. 637 A.D.

Beaten at every point, many Persians in the attempt to flee were caught by the iron spikes. They were pursued, and the country strewn with corpses. Followed by the fragments of his army, Yezdejird fled to Ar-Reiy in the direction of the Caspian Sea. Al-Ka'ka' then advanced to Holwan, and defeating the enemy, left that stronghold garrisoned with Arab levies as the farthest Muslim outpost to the north.

The spoil.

The spoil again was rich and plentiful. Multitudes of captive women, many of gentle birth, were distributed, a much loved prize, part on the spot, and part sent to the troops at Al-Medain. The booty was valued at thirty million dirhems, besides vast numbers of fine Persian horses, which formed a welcome acquisition to the army, nine falling to the lot of every combatant.

Ziyad sent with the Fifth to 'Omar.

In charge of the fifth, Sa'd despatched to Medina a youth named Ziyad, of doubtful parentage (of which more hereafter), but of singular readiness and address. In presence of the Caliph, he harangued the Citizens, and recounted in glowing words the prize of Persia, rich lands, endless spoil, slave-girls, and captive princesses. 'Omar praised his speech, and declared that the troops of Sa'd surpassed the traditions even of Arab bravery. But next morning, when distributing the rubies, emeralds, and vast store of precious things, he was seen to weep. "What!" exclaimed 'Abd ar-Rahman; "a time of joy and thankfulness, and thou sheddest tears!" "Yea," replied the simple-minded Caliph; "it is not for this I weep, but I foresee that the riches which the Lord bestoweth on us will be a spring of worldliness and envy, and in the end a calamity to my people."

'Omar refuses an advance on Persia.

Ziyad was also the bearer of a petition for leave to pursue the fugitives across the border into Khorasan. 'Omar, content with the present, wisely forbade the enterprise. I desire," he replied, "that between Mesopotamia and the countries beyond, the hills shall be a barrier, so that the Persians shall not be able to get at us, nor we at them. The plain of Al-'Irak sufficeth for our wants. I would rather the safety of my people than thousands of spoil and further conquest." The thought of a world-wide mission was yet in embryo; obligation to enforce Islam by a universal Crusade had not yet dawned upon the Muslim mind; and,


in good truth, an empire embracing Syria, Chaldĉa, and Arabia might have satisfied the ambition even of an Assyrian or Babylonian monarch. The equal mind of 'Omar, far from being unsteadied by the flush and giddiness of victory, cared first to consolidate and secure the prize already in his hands.

Operations in Mesopotamia. Hit and Kirkisiya taken. Summer 16 A.H., 637 A.D.

Nothing now threatening on the Persian side, the ambition of Sa'd and his generals, checked by the Caliph's interdict, was for the present confined to the reduction of Mesopotamia. For this end, troops were sent up the Tigris as far as Tekrit,—a stronghold about a hundred miles above Al-Medain, held by a mixed garrison of Greek troops and Christian Bedawin. These bravely resisted attack. After forty days the Greeks thought to desert their native allies and escape by boat. The Bedawin, on the other hand, gained secretly over by the Muslims, seized the water-gate; and so the Greeks, taken on both sides, were put to the sword. The column, joined by the newly converted allies, pressed forward to Mosul, which surrendered and became tributary. On the Euphrates, the Muslim arms met with equal success. The Bedawin tribes in Mesopotamia, urged by the Byzantine court to attack the invaders then threatening Hims, Sa'd was charged by 'Omar to draw them off by a diversion from his side. The fortress of Hit on the Euphrates was accordingly besieged; but it was too strong to carry by assault. Half of the force were left before the town, and the rest marched rapidly up the river to Kirkisiya, at its junction with the Khabur, and took it by surprise. The garrison of Hit, when they heard of this, capitulated on condition of being allowed to retire. Thus, the lower half of Mesopotamia, from one river to the other, was reduced, the strongholds garrisoned, and the Bedawin either converted to the Faith or brought under subjection.

Persian Gulf; delta occupied; 'Otba governor of Obolla, 14. A.H., 635 A.D.

From the junction of the two rivers also, downwards on either side of the Shatt al-'Arab (the Arabian Stream) to the shores of the Persian Gulf, the rule of Islam was now thoroughly established. This tract had been exposed, with various fortune, to Arab raids ever since the invasion of Al-Muthanna. 'Omar saw that, to secure Al-'Irak, it was needful to occupy the head of the Gulf as far as the range of hills on its eastern side. About the period, therefore, of


Sa'd's campaign, he deputed 'Otba ibn Ghazwan, a Companion of note, with a party from Al-Bahrein, to capture the flourishing seaport of Ubulla. The garrison was defeated, and the inhabitants, chiefly Indian merchants, effected their escape by sea. The Persians rallied in force on the eastern bank of the river, and many encounters took place before the Arabs succeeded in securing their position. On one occasion, the women of the Muslim camp turning their veils into flags, and marching in martial array to the battlefield, were mistaken thus for fresh reinforcements, and contributed at a critical moment to victory. 'Otba remained at Ubulla as governor; and, as we shall see, carried on successful operations during the next three years, against Khuzistan and the Persian border. Meanwhile Ubulla gave place to the new capital of Al-Basra.

Basra founded, 17 A.H., 638 A.D.

On the ruins of Ubulla when first captured, there had, arisen a small town of huts constructed of reeds, with a Mosque of the same material. The settlement grew in size and importance by constant arrivals from Arabia. But the climate was inhospitable. The tide rises close to the level of the alluvial plain, which, irrigated thus with ease, stretches far and wide a sea of verdure. Groves of pomegranate, acacia, and shady trees abound; and a wide belt of the familiar date-palm fringing the river might reconcile the immigrant of the Hijaz to his new abode. But the moisture exhaled by so damp a soil was ill-suited to the Arabian humour; pestilential vapours followed the periodical inundations, and gnats everywhere settled in intolerable swarms1. Three times the site was changed; at last the pleasant spot of Al-Basra, near the river, which supplied a stream of running water, was fixed upon; and here a flourishing city rapidly grew up. It was laid out about the same time, and after the same fashion, as its rival Al-Kufa. But, partly from a better climate, partly from a larger endowment of conquered lands, the northern city took the lead, as well in numbers as in influence and riches.

and Kufa,

The founding of Al-Kufa was on this wise. The Arabs had been in occupation of Al-Medain for some months, when a deputation visited Medina. The Caliph, startled by their

1 The traveller of to-day still complains of the pest of mosquitoes issuing from the groves of the Delta in gigantic swarms.


sallow and unwholesome look, asked the cause. They replied that the city air did not suit the Arab temperament. Whereupon, he ordered inquiry for some more healthy and congenial spot; such as, approaching nearer the desert air, and well supplied with wholesome water, would not be cut off from ready help in any time of need. After diligent search along the desert outskirts, they found no place answering so well as the plain of Al-Kufa, not far from Al-Hira, on the banks of the western branch of the Euphrates. 'Omar confirmed the choice, and left it open for each man either to remain at Al-Medain, or transfer his habitation thither.

x. 18 A.H., Oct. 638 A.D.

The new Capital suited the Arabs well, and to it accordingly they migrated in great numbers. The dwellings, as at Al-Basra, were made at first of reeds. But fires were frequent; and after a disastrous conflagration, the Caliph gave permission that both cities might be built of brick. "The flitting camp," he wrote, "is the Warrior's proper place. But if ye must have a permanent abode, be it so; only let no man have more houses than three for his wives and children, nor exceed the modest exemplar of the Prophet's dwelling-place." So the City was rebuilt and the streets laid out in regular lines. The centre was kept an open square, in which was erected a Mosque with a portico for shade; and, for ornament, pillars of marble brought away from Al-Hira. Sa'd built himself a spacious edifice, and reared in front of it a gateway, to prevent intrusion from the market-place hard by.

'Omar bids Sa'd pull down the gateway of his palace.

The rumour of "the Castle of Sa'd" troubled the simple-minded Caliph, and he sent a Companion with a rescript commanding that the gateway should be pulled down. Arrived at Al-Kufa, the envoy, invited by Sa'd to enter his mansion as a guest, declined. Sa'd came forth, and received this letter at his hands:—"It hath been reported to me that thou hast builded for thyself a palace, and people call it The Castle of Sa'd; moreover thou hast reared a gateway betwixt thee and the people. It is not thy castle; rather is it the castle of perdition. What is needful for the treasury, that thou mayest guard and lock; but the gateway which shutteth out the people from thee, that thou shalt break down." Sa'd obeyed the order; but he protested that his object in building the portal had been falsely reported, and 'Omar accepted the excuse.


The Sawad settled with the Fellahin.

The settlement of the land was the next concern. The Sawad, or rich plain of Chaldĉa, having been taken, with some few exceptions, by force of arms, was claimed by the Arab soldiery as prize of war. The judgment and equity of 'Omar is conspicuous in the abatement of this demand. After counsel held with his advisers at Medina, the Caliph ordered that cultivators who had fled during the operations in Al-'Irak as well as those who had kept to their holdings throughout, should be treated as Dhimmis, or protected subjects, and confirmed in possession on moderate tribute. Royal forests and domains, lands of the nobles and of those who had opposed the Muslim arms and the endowments of Fire-temples, were confiscated; but the demand for their division as ordinary prize was denied. Equitable distribution was impossible, and the attempt would have but bred bad blood amongst the people. The necessities also of the great system of canals and of the postal and other services, as first charge upon the revenues, demanded that the public land should be kept intact.

The revenues of the State came from two sources, the forfeited lands of which it had taken possession, and out of which estates were bestowed upon some of the principal Companions, and from the taxes payable by the non-Muslim native cultivators of the soil. These taxes were later on of two kinds, the land or property tax (Kharaj), and the poll tax (jizya). It is usual to say that the latter was payable by non-Muslims only; but at first the two terms are often interchanged, and, in point of fact, both were paid by the non-Muslims. The Muslims did not pay taxes; but merely tithes—a tenth of the produce of their lands. On the contrary, the income of the lands conquered was divide up amongst them in the shape of pensions. As long as the conquests were going on, the spoil was great and the pensioners comparatively few; and this arrangement worked very well. But, when the native cultivators began to come over to Islam in large numbers, difficulties arose.

Crown lands and endowments of Kufa and Basra.

The confiscated lands scattered over the province were administered by Crown agents, and the profits shared between the captors and the State. The prize domains of Al-Kufa, conquered by the armies of Khalid and of Sa'd—were much more extensive than those of Al-Basra. Shortly


after its foundation, the inhabitants of Al-Basra sent representatives to urge that their endowments should be increased, and their income made more adequate to their responsibilities. "Al-Kufa," said their spokesman, "is a well-watered garden which yieldeth in season its harvest of dates, while ours is brackish land. Part bordereth on the desert, and part upon the sea, which laveth it with a briny flood. Compared with Al-Kufa, our poor are many, and our rich are few. Grant us, therefore, of thy bounty." Recognising the justice of the plea, 'Omar made substantial addition to their endowments from the Crown lands of the Chosroes. But, although Al-Kufa was richer, it had heavier obligations to discharge than the sister City. Its government had a wider range; and the charge of garrisons at various points, as Holwan, Mosul, and Kirkisiya, had to be provided from the resources at the command of Sa'd.

Influence of the two cities on the future of Islam.

Al-Kufa and Al-Basra, unique in their own origin, had a singular influence on the destinies of the Caliphate and of Islam at large. The vast majority of the population were of pure Arabian blood. The tribes which, scenting from afar the prey of Chaldĉa and Persia, kept streaming into Chaldĉa from every corner of Arabia, settled chiefly there. At Al-Kufa the races coming from the south of Arabia predominated; at Al-Basra, those coming from the north. Rapidly they grew into two great and luxurious Capitals, with an Arab population each of from 150,000 to 200,000 souls. On the literature, theology, and politics of Islam, the two cities had a greater influence than the whole Muslim world besides. There was abundance of time and opportunity. Service in the field being desultory and intermittent, the intervals were often long and frequent, but too readily spent in listless idleness. Excepting when enlivened by the fruits of some new victory, secluded harms afforded their lords little variety of recreation or amusement. Otherwise the time was whiled away in the converse of social knots; and in these, while they discussed the problems of the day, they loved still more to live in the past, to recall the marvellous story of their Faith, and fight their battles over again. Hence Tradition, and the two great Schools Al-Basra and Al- Kufa. But the debates and gossip of these clubs too often degenerated into tribal rivalry and domestic


scandal. The people grew petulant and factious; and both Cities became hotbeds of turbulence and sedition. The Bedawi element, conscious of its strength, was jealous of Koreish, and impatient at whatever checked its own capricious humour. Thus factions sprang up which, controlled by the strong and wise arm of 'Omar, at length broke loose under weaker Caliphs, rent the unity of Islam, and brought on disastrous days which, but for its marvellous vitality, must have proved fatal to the Faith.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]

Click to View