Mahan: "We know that it is hardship and hunger that have brought you out of your lands. We will give every one of your men ten dinars, clothing and food if you return to your lands, and next year we will send you a similar amount."
Khalid: "Actually, what brought us out of our lands is that we are a people who drink blood, and it has reached us that there is no blood tastier than Roman blood."1
The Syrian theatre of operations was like an arena entered by the contestants from opposite sides. Beyond each entrance stretched a sea which was the home ground of the contestant entering from that side. On the west of Syria and Palestine lay the blue expanse of the Mediterranean which was a 'Roman Lake'. On the east and south stretched the desert in whose wastes the Arab was master. The Romans could move with freedom over the Mediterranean in fleets of ships without interference by the Muslims, while the Muslims could move in the desert on fleets of camels with a similar freedom from interference by the Romans. Neither could the Muslims venture into the sea of water nor the Romans into the sea of sand. Within the total arena both sides could manoeuvre with ease.
Thus, for the purpose of fighting a battle in this arena, the ideal location for each side was its home bank where it could deploy with its back to its sea and withdraw in safety in case of a reverse, while at the same time, if victorious, it could pursue and destroy its opponent before he could escape to his refuge. But this advantage favoured the Muslims more than the Romans, for the former could give up the theatre of operations and withdraw to the edge of the desert without loss of face or wealth or territory. The Romans could not give up the theatre of operations as it was their Empire and had to be defended. And this strategical advantage which the Muslims enjoyed, of being able to fight on their home ground, was very much in the mind of Heraclius when he planned the next and greatest operation of this campaign.
Heraclius had come to the throne in 610 when the affairs of the Eastern Roman Empire were at their lowest ebb and the Empire consisted of little more than the area around Constantinople and parts of Greece and Africa. At first he had had to swallow many bitter pills, but then fortune smiled on him, and over a period of almost two decades he re?established the Empire in all its former greatness. He defeated the barbarians of the north, the Turks of the Caucasus and the highly civilised Persians of the Empire of Chosroes; and he did this not only with hard fighting, but also-and this was more important-by masterly strategy and superb organization. Heraclius was a strategist to the fingertips, and it was only his extraordinary organizational ability which made it possible for the Romans to create and put into the field a vast but closely knit imperial army consisting of more than a dozen nations from the Franks of Western Europe to the Armenians of the Southern Caucasus.
Now Heraclius was again being made to swallow bitter pills, and what made the pills still more bitter was the fact that they had been thrust down his throat by a race which the Romans had detested and scorned and regarded as too backward and too wretched to constitute any kind of military threat to the Empire. All the manoeuvres against the Muslims, though strategically flawless, had ended in defeat. The first concentration of the Roman army at Ajnadein, whence it was to have struck in the rear of the Muslims, was destroyed by Khalid in the first Battle of Ajnadein. Heraclius' attempt to limit Muslim success by a stout defence of Damascus had failed in spite of his best efforts to strengthen the beleaguered garrison. His next offensive manoeuvre, the concentration of a fresh Roman army at Baisan, whence it was again intended to strike in the rear of the Muslims, had also failed, his army being trounced by Shurahbil. Thereafter not only had his attempt to retake Damascus been defeated by Abu Ubaidah and Khalid, but his other defences also crumbled as the Muslims went from victory to victory and took almost all of Palestine and Syria as far north as Emessa.
1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 7 P. 14.