This article examines of the battle of Firāḍ, which took place in 634 between the Muslim Arabs and a Byzantine–Persian coalition. A critical analysis of the medieval Arabic sources reveals the following: a) the Byzantines were in command of the allied forces, b) the battle was caused by the fact that the Byzantine forces garrisoning the fortress were an obstacle in Khālid b. al-Walīd and his forces’ route from Iraq into Syria, and c) the Byzantines emerged victorious from the engagement, forcing the Arab general to undertake his famous desert march.
The battle of Firāḍ (also known as the battle of Firaz) is a well-known engagement among scholars of Arabic history, in the course of which, according to Arabic sources, the Arabs, under the leadership of that period's military savant Khālid b. al-Walīd, known as the Sword of Allah (Sayf Allāh) crushed a coalition of their enemies, consisting of Byzantines, Persians and Christian Arabs. However, scholarship on the battle raises a number of questions, to such an extent that even its historicity is debatable. The present article will attempt, after examining the references made in the sources, to offer a new interpretation, which we believe covers many of the extant historical gaps.
The battle was the final act in the early phase of Muslim expansion against the Sassanid Persian Empire, into Iraq in particular, which neighbored Arabia. This Arabian campaign began during the reign of Caliph Abū Bakr, who, as the first caliph, had succeeded in energetically putting down a string of revolts by Arab tribal leaders that had broken out after the death of the Prophet. These tribesmen had attempted to exploit the fact in order to break away from the dominion of Mecca (the Ridda Wars). Having achieved the political dominance of Ummah over the Arabian Peninsula after this success, he decided that the aggressiveness of his warriors would be best turned against the two neighboring empires, Byzantium and Persia. The timing of this decision was truly favorable, as the two great powers of that period had not yet managed to heal the wounds caused by the exhausting, drawn-out conflict between them, which had only ended a few years earlier.