Sunday, May 30, 2021

Conference Special: The Sword of God - Khalid ibn al-Walid (part one)


(slides from my SoAC talk)

My fascination with Khalid started some years ago, with the arrival of some new recruits to my ancients collection. 


(The Phil Barker flats unpacked)

Phil Barker had joined in one of the Tony Bath sessions I had put on using the 'Derryck Guyler' flats*, and, appreciating my interest in the origins of the ancients wargame, offered to add his 1960s flats to the collection (they were, by then, just stacked away in shoe boxes, and he was aware that I would get them onto the wargames table).

In addition to a large number of Tony Bath originals**, the bulk of Phil's donation was, as we see in the picture, an Early Imperial Roman army.

(the Romans, on show in Reading)

But in amongst them were a fair number of what I would consider (what today we would probably identify as) Byzantines, Sassanids and Arabs.

(refurbished - the Arabs and Byzantines)
I would configure the Romans and related figures into a Bath rules wargame - but it was obvious to me that I had a second project here: a Dark Age/Flowering of Islam collection ... maybe another DBA spin off (just as the Guyler flats spawned both the Plataea game and Lords of the Nile, this new addition would give me a classic Bath rules Roman game and a clash between the Byzantines and Arabs.
(Lords of the Nile: a DBA V3 sample game at Vapnartak)
The Lords of the Nile was a game we took to shows as a participation game while V3 was being playtested (I had declined to be a playtester but had told Phil that I would be happy to receive development versions and use them at shows so that people could see how things were going).  
It went very well, so I was looking for a Byzantine-Arab battle that would make a suitable scenario which could replicate the LotN effect for the later period.  Ideally a battle a flat open battlefield from the Rise of Islam featuring Arabs, Byzantines, Sassanids etc. Well, something like Byzantines, Armenians, Persians and Arabs on both sides - that would be Yarmouk, perhaps.
(the DBA V3 Yarmuk game in the hands of Society luminaries Paul Stein, Duncan Head and LVP Matt Bennett)

To understand Yarmuk, you need to know more about Khalid, and that is where my journey began. Yarmuk is conventionally described as a collossal battle fought over 4 or 5 days in which a vastly outnumbered Khalid manages to rescue his army from the brink of deteat - repeatedly - until finally being able to pull off a stunning victory (appearing behind the enemy's lines and swallowing the whole army up).  It is a lot to get your head around.

(cavalry action at Yarmuk from SoaC 16: the Arabs are driven back onto the line of their encampments)

An  analysis, though of Khalid's career and previous battles can make sense of this.  Mobility and use of concealing terrain were signatures of Khalid's generalship, and he would regularly find himself outnumbered.  Using what you might call an army-level version of traditional Arab raiding tactics, he would often attempt to pin the enemy into position without fully engaging ... in order to outmanoeuvre and envelop the enemy - compensating for numerical weaknesses with local advantages.  We see this in the Arab civil wars, and in the wars against Persia.  It should come as no surprise that this is what we see at Yarmuk.

KHALID IBN AL-WALID  خالد بن الوليد بن المغيرة المخزومي

Khalid was born in Mecca of the leading clan of the Quraysh.  He opposed the preaching of the prophet, and had lost many relatives in the struggle.  However, in around 629, Khalid and Amr ibn al-As convert to Islam and join the Prophet.  Khalid took control of the army in Jordan and was rewarded by the Prophet with the title Sayf Allah - the sword of God.

Khalid led the Arab armies for 9 years on all fronts and was undefeated in over 50 battles.  A career warrior, he died in his bed in Medina in 642. 

The following slide shows how his life and times fit within the context of the Middle East:

His major victories were .. 625, Uhud;   629: Mu’tah;   630: Hunayn;  632: Buzakha, Yamama;  633: the battle of the chains, the battle of the river, Aqraba, Ullais, Walaja;   634: Marj Rahit, Bosra, Ajnadayn, Fahi;   636: Yarmuk,  637: Quanasrin.

In the second part, we will look at what we can learn from these battles.

(the battle of Uhud from a later Ottoman manuscript volume)

* the first collection of flats, coutesy of Steve and the Salford friends (Gentlemen Pensioners), which had originally been bought from TV star (and former SoA President) Derryck Guyler.

** i.e. unlicenced copies Tony had made for himself in plaster moulds.

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