Arab Conquests

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Arab Conquests


the military undertakings of the Arabs, begun by the government of Medina after it had subdued the rebellious tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and established the caliphate. They were completed with the Arab conquest of the Near and Middle East, North Africa, and southwest Europe.

The Arab conquests were carried out under the flag of Islam. Their first phase took place from the 630’s to 650’s under the caliphs abu-Bakr (632–34), Umar (634–44), and Uthman (644–56). In 633 a detachment of government troops under the command of Khalid ibn-al-Walid, together with bedouins from northeast Arabia, took Hira in southern Iraq. In the same year three detachments composed of Arab tribes invaded Syria and Palestine. The weak Byzantine army was beaten by the Arabs in the Wadi al-Arabah and its remnants annihilated at Dathin in February 634. The news of the approach of a Byzantine army, assembled by the Emperor Heraclius at Edessa, induced Khalid’s army to move in March 634 from Hira to the environs of Damascus. After a six months’ siege Damascus surrendered to the Arabs in September 635. However, the approach of the 50,000-man Byzantine army forced the Arabs to leave the captured Syrian towns and to concentrate their forces at the banks of the Yarmuk. Here the Byzantine army was vanquished by the Arabs on August 20, 636. Then the Arabs retook Damascus and the other Syrian towns, and after the capture of Jerusalem in 638 and Caesarea in 640, all Syria and Palestine were under their rule.

After the capture of Hira the Arab forces in Iraq suffered several defeats by the Iranian armies of Sassanids and were forced to quit a large part of the conquered territory. In early summer of 637 the Arabs, having received reinforcements, won a victory over a large Iranian army in the battle of Qadisiya and took Ctesiphon, the capital of Sassanid Iran. In 641 the Arab armies took Mosul, and in 642 they won a decisive victory over the Iranian forces of Yazdijird III at Nihawand. After that, resistance against the Arabs on Iranian territory appeared only in separate districts and places. In 651 the entire area of the Sassanid state up to the river Amu Darya was encompassed in the caliphate. In 640, Arab armies invaded Armenia, whose rulers recognized their dependence on the caliphate in 652; Tiflis, the capital of Eastern Georgia, surrendered to the Arabs by treaty in 654.

At the end of 639 a small Arab detachment under the command of Amr ibn-al-As invaded Egypt. In 640 the Arabs, their number increased to 10,000 by reinforcements, took Al-Farama (Pelusium) and Bilbays (Byblos) and laid siege to Babylon, whose garrison surrendered in April 641. Alexandria was surrendered to the Arabs by treaty in 642, but at the end of 645 a Byzantine landing force, supported by the rebelling inhabitants, expelled the Arabs from the town; in the summer of 645, Arab troops retook the town by storm. In North Africa, Arab cavalry undertook raids into Barqah and Tripolitania at the end of 642 and in 643 and subdued the local Berber tribes. In 648 the Arabs occupied Cyprus.

The military successes of the Arabs, who were by far inferior in armament and military technique to their adversaries, is explained by the political and military weakening of the Byzantine and Sassanid states. This weakening was caused, on the one hand, by their incessant wars with each other (602–29) and, on the other, by the fact that the cruelly oppressed population of Byzantium and the Sassanid Empire did not offer serious resistance to the Arabs; the tribute introduced by the Arabs was apparently less than the previous taxes in some cases.

In the middle of the seventh century the Arab conquests were interrupted by the religious and political conflicts within the caliphate—for example, the struggle for power between Caliph Ali and Muawiyah, which resulted in the ascent of the Umayyads and the revolt of the Kharijites—and by the need for organizing the administration of the gigantic state created in the course of the first phase of the Arab conquests. During the second phase, which began at the end of the seventh century, the Arabs conquered North Africa, having made Kairouan (founded in 670) their base, and reached Tangier and the shores of the Atlantic by 709. In 711 an army of Arabs and Berbers, headed by Tariq, landed on the Iberian Peninsula. They smashed the Visigoths on July 19, 711, at Laguna de la Janda and after a victory at Écija, the Arab armies took Córdoba, Toledo, and other towns. The army of Musa ibn-Nasayr, who came over from North Africa in 712, took Medina Sidonia, Carmona, Seville, and Mérida. By 718 the Iberian Peninsula, with the exception of a small section in the north, passed into the hands of the Arabs. In 720 the Arabs invaded Gaul and took Septimania and Narbonne. Further Arab advance into Europe was stopped by the rout of the Arab army by the Frankish cavalry and infantry of Charles Martel at Poitiers on October 4, 732 and, later, by the capture of Narbonne and Septimania by Pepin the Short in 759. In the East the Arabs reconquered the Iranian province of Makran in 711–713, which had temporarily fallen from the caliphate during the internecine struggles; Sind, a region at the lower Indus; and the city of Multan. From 706 to 712 they took Sogdiana and Khwarizm. During the first quarter of the eighth century, having broken the stubborn resistance of the local peasant levy and having annihilated the feudal ruling class, the Arabs conquered Transcaucasia. In the first half of the ninth century they took Crete, Malta, and Sicily. By the second half of the ninth century Arab conquests virtually came to an end.

The result of the Arab conquests was arabization of several of the conquered countries. Language, religion, and many elements of the material and spiritual civilization of the Arabs exerted great influence on the conquered peoples. The Arabs, in their turn, took over many elements of the civilizations of the conquered peoples. A characteristic Arab civilization developed. Several Arab states were later created on a large part of the conquered territories.

In Central Asia, Iran, Transcaucasia, and the Iberian Peninsula Arab rule was abolished as a result of the struggle for liberation of those peoples.


Mednikov, N. A. Palestina ot zavoevaniia ee arabamido krestovykh pokhodov, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1903.
Beliaev, E. A. Araby, islam i arabskii khalifat ν rannee srednevekov’e, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1966.
Buniiatov, E. Azerbaidzhan ν VII-IX vv. Baku, 1965.
Istoriia stran Azii i Afriki ν srednie veka. Moscow, 1968. Pages 97–123.
Wellhausen, J. Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz. Berlin, 1902.
Hitti, P. K. History of the Arabs, 8th ed. New York, 1964.
Kharbutli, Ali Husni al-. Al-Arab fi Urubba (Arabs in Europe). [Cairo,] 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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