The river Yarmuk [Yarmuq, Yarmouk, Hieromayx (gk)] is the northern boundary of Jordan, and abuts the Golan heights, the cliffs visible in the distance in the photograph above. The river forms then the border also between Syria and Jordan, passing close to Da’ara or biblical Edrei. A strong geographical barrier is then formed by the abrupt cliffs and forces movement of travel south into Gilead either into steep defiles or to the west to enter the Jordan valley past Hammat Gedar. To the east, and south of Damascus, the rocky expanses of Trachonitis or Argob force travel to the west towards Da’ara and the wilderness further to the east also achieves the same. The British Glubb, who advised the Jordanian troops described this phenomena making Da’ara or Edrei like the “Thermopolyae of Syria” and saw the lands here as critical to the stability and defence of the country of Jordan, and in fact, broader expanses of the middle east.
The river itself is not mentioned in the bible by name, but the one town Hammath Gedar is mentioned once by Joshua.
What however was signficant here on the banks of the river Yarmuk was a turning point in the fortunes of the middle east. In a time when byzantine christian forces controlled the majority of the land, the rising muslim forces of the (Rashidun) Caliphs [Direct ancestors of Mohammed] would remove any christian control south of Antioch in Syria. Over six days in August 636 what is considered by some as the most decisive military victory in history (1,2) was conducted on the southern banks of the Yarmuk. Emperor Heraclius had initially advanced through Syria, and followed what looked like a general redoubt from Muslim controlled locations as north as Aleppo. The forces were gathered south from Syria to the Yarmuk under the command of Khalid al-Walid, and known as “the sword of Allah” (and his very sword suggested as being on display at the Topkapi palace in Istanbul?) here entrenched to make a stand. The battle location was on the western edge of Wadi-ur-Raqad adjacent to the monument commemorated by an enormous sword blade, illustrated above at Tel al Jumm’a (Arabic: hill of gathering). The wadi is over 600 feet deep and provided a natural barrier critical in the last moments of the battle. The battle was won on the last day by the rapid deployment and rapid change of focus of the cavalry, leading to the inability of the Byzantine forces to react in time, particularly the left flank. The rout at the end of day 6 led to a rapid retreat into the hands of around 500 horsemen secretly placed during the previous night to block their retreat across the safety of the bridge at Ayn al Dhakar, with the result of savage losses on the steep faces of wadi ur-Raqad.
This spectacular victory was the first of a series of battles that would represent the forces arising from the abyss, or “bottomless pit” in Rev 9:11 and a divine judgment on Roman empire.
- Islam at War, George F. Nafziger: “Although Yarmouk is little known today, it is one of the most decisive battles in the human history…Had Heraclius’ forces prevailed, the modern word would be so changed as to be unrecognizable”
- The Arab historian, Al Tabari, stated “There was never a battle as that of Yarmouk“