Battle of Mu'tah

Battle of Mu'tah (غزوة مؤتة)
Part of the Arab–Byzantine Wars
DateSeptember 629[1]
LocationMu'tah in Kerak Governorate, Jordan
Result Byzantine victory[2]
Muslim Arabs Byzantine Empire,
Commanders and leaders
Zayd ibn Haritha  
Ja'far ibn Abi Talib  
Abdullah ibn Rawahah  
Khalid ibn al-Walid
Shurahbil ibn Amr
3,000[3] 10,000 or less[2]
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown
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The Battle of Mu'tah (Arabic: معركة مؤتة , غزوة مؤتة) was fought in September 629 C.E. (1 Jumada al-awwal 8 A.H.),[1] near the village of Mu'tah, east of the Jordan River and Karak in Karak Governorate, between the forces of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad and the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire.

In Muslim histories, the battle is usually described as the Muslims' attempt to take retribution against a Ghassanid chief for taking the life of an emissary. According to Byzantine sources, the Muslims planned to launch their attack on a feast day. The local Byzantine Vicarius learned of their plans and collected the garrisons of the fortresses. According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the Muslims were routed after three of their leaders were killed.[4][2]


The Byzantines were reoccupying territory following the peace accord between Emperor Heraclius and the Sasanid general Shahrbaraz in July 629.[5] The Byzantine sakellarios Theodore,[6] was placed in command of the army, and while in the area of Balqa, Arab tribes were also employed.[5]

Meanwhile, Muhammad had sent his emissary to the ruler of Bosra.[7] While on his way to Bosra, he was executed in the village of Mu'tah by the orders of a Ghassanid official.[7]

Mobilization of the armies

Muhammad dispatched 3,000 of his troops to Jumada al-awwal in 629, for a quick expedition to attack and punish the tribes.[7] The army was led by Zayd ibn Haritha; the second-in-command was Jafar ibn Abi Talib and the third-in-command was Abdullah ibn Rawahah.

When the Muslim troops arrived at the area to the east of Jordan and learned of the size of the Byzantine army, they wanted to wait and send for reinforcements from Medina. Abdullah ibn Rawahah reminded them about their desire for martyrdom and questioned the move to wait when what they desire was awaiting them, so they continued marching towards the waiting army.

The battle

The Muslims engaged the Byzantines at their camp by the village of Musharif and then withdrew towards Mu'tah. It was here that the two armies fought. Some Muslim sources report that the battle was fought in a valley between two heights, which negated the Byzantines their numerical superiority. During the battle, all three Muslim leaders fell one after the other as they took command of the force: first, Zayd ibn Haritha, then Jafar ibn Abi Talib, then Abdullah ibn Rawahah. After the death of the latter, some of the Muslim soldiers began to rout. Thabit ibn Al-Arqam, seeing the desperate state of the Muslim forces, took up the banner and rallied his comrades thus saving the army from complete destruction. After the battle, the troops asked Thabit ibn Al-Arqam to assume command; however, he declined and asked Khalid ibn al-Walid to take the lead.

Khalid ibn Al-Walid reported that the fighting was so intense that he used nine swords which broke in the battle. Khalid, seeing that the situation was hopeless, prepared to withdraw. He continued to engage the Byzantines in skirmishes, but avoided pitched battle. It is said that Khalid killed at least one identified Arab Christian commander namely Malik.

Muslim losses

The casualties of slain of the Muslim side was interestingly recorded, as the four of them from Muhajireen while eight the rest from Ansar their names as follow:

  1. Zaid bin Haritha
  2. Ja'far ibn Abi Talib
  3. Abdullah bin Rawahah
  4. Masoud bin al-Aswad
  5. Wahab bin Saad
  6. Abbad bin Qais
  7. Amr ibn Saad (not Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas's son)
  8. Harith bin Nu'man
  9. Saraqah bin Amr
  10. Abu Kulaib bin Amr
  11. Jabir ibn 'Amr
  12. Amer bin Saad

Daniel C. Peterson, Professor of Islamic Studies at Brigham Young University, finds the ratio of casualties among the leaders suspiciously high compared to the losses suffered by ordinary soldiers.[8] David Powers, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell, also mentions this curiosity concerning the minuscule casualties recorded by Muslim historians.[9]


It is reported that when the Muslim force arrived at Medina, they were berated for apparently withdrawing and accused of fleeing.[10] Salamah ibn Hisham, brother to Amr ibn Hishām was reported to have prayed at home rather than going to the mosque to avoid having to explain himself. Muhammad ordered them to stop, saying that they would return to fight the Byzantines again.[10] It would not be until the third century A.H. that Muslim historians would state that Muhammad bestowed upon Khalid the title of 'Saifullah' meaning 'The Sword of Allah'.[9]

Today, Muslims who fell at the battle are considered martyrs (shahid). Some have claimed that this battle, far from being a defeat, was a strategic success; the Muslims had challenged the Byzantines and had made their presence felt amongst the Arab Bedouin tribes in the region. A mausoleum was later built at Mu'tah over their grave.[4]

Historiography of the battle

Muslim historiography indicate that 100,000 to 200,000 troops opposed their 3,000 at Mu'tah.[11] Consequently, modern historians refute this stating the figure to be exaggerated.[12][13][4] According to Walter Emil Kaegi, professor of Byzantine history at the University of Chicago, the size of the entire Byzantine army during the 7th century might have totaled 100,000, possibly even half this number.[14]

Muslim accounts of the battle differ over the result.[9] In early Muslim sources, the battle is recorded as a humiliating defeat.[9] While, later Muslim historians would alter early source material, revising the narrative of the battle as a Muslim victory.[9]



Further reading

See also

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