QĀDESIYA, BATTLE OF

an engagement during the mid-630s CE in which Arab Muslim warriors overcame a larger Sasanian army and paved the way for their subsequent conquest of Iran. The battle took place at a small settlement on the frontier of Sasanian Iraq.

 

QĀDESIYA, BATTLE OF, an engagement during the mid-630s CE in which Arab Muslim warriors overcame a larger Sasanian army and paved the way for their subsequent conquest of Iran. The battle took place at a small settlement on the frontier of Sasanian Iraq.  Qādesiya was likely a garrison town in the network of Sasanian fortifications known as the “Wall of the Arabs” (MPers. war ī tāzīgān; see Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr, p. 43) or as “Šāpur’s trench” (Ar. Ḵandaq Sābur; Ṭabari, I, pp. 2229-30; Yāqut, II, p. 476; Balāḏori, p. 298; Morony, pp. 152-53, 182, no. 6;).  The historical sources are unclear regarding both the date of the battle and the sizes of the forces that participated.  Although many scholars have proposed the years 636 or 637, Parvaneh Pourshariati has argued for an earlier chronology, based in part upon numismatic evidence that suggests a severe blow to Sasanian administration in 634 or 635 (Pourshariati, pp. 220-22, 469; for a thorough review of the issue of chronology, see Lewental, pp. 232-47).  Regarding size, it is unlikely that more than twelve thousand Arab Muslims and thirty thousand Iranians fought each other; one can safely assert only that the Persians outnumbered the invaders (Lewental, pp. 248-63; Donner, pp. 205-8).

According to the Islamic sources, shortly after the victory at Yarmuk in Syria, the caliph ʿOmar b. Ḵaṭṭāb (r. 634-644) turned his attentions to Iraq, dispatching a sizeable army under Saʿd b. Abi Waqqāṣ, which swelled with the addition of local irregulars.  The powerful Iranian nobleman and military commander, Rostam b. Farroḵ-Hormozd, was sent at the head of a large army to counter this threat of invasion.  The two forces waited several months at Qādesiya before engaging each other. The traditional account stresses the mission of Muslim envoys, who sought to convert the Persian camp to their new faith, in anecdotes that juxtapose the lavish wealth of the arrogant Iranians with the shabby and unkempt appearance of the pious Muslim soldiers.  The annals provide little specifics on the battle itself, focusing instead on heroic tales of fighters (e.g., ʿAmr b. Maʿdikareb and Abu Meḥjan Ṯaqafi) and tribes (e.g., Bajila and Tamim). After three days of fighting, a dust storm arose, blowing sand into the Persians’ eyes and enabling their opponents to overpower them.  Amidst the gale, a single Arab soldier chanced upon Rostam, whom he promptly attacked and beheaded.  His announcement of the general’s death triggered the total collapse of the Iranian army, leading to the deaths of thousands in a chaotic retreat and the capture of the Sasanian royal standard, the Derafš-e Kāviān.  The Arab Muslim army pursued the fighting remnants of the enemy to the gates of Madāʾen, the capital city, which soon fell to the invaders, allowing the swift occupation of the alluvial land of central Iraq. For a few centuries, Qādesiya served as a small way station on the old highway from Baghdad to the Ḥejāz, but it eventually fell into ruin; its actual location was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in 1912 (Musil, 1913, p. 11; idem, 1927, pp. 107-11, 117, 358).

In Islamic historiography, the account of the Battle of Qādesiya occupies a prominent place; for instance, Ṭabari has devoted 167 pages to this battle. Yet, the bulk of the source material consists of embellishments and topoi that obscure the kernel of historical truth.  Confusion of details — for instance, dead Muslim warriors being resurrected in subsequent battles, or the derafš being seized twice more, at Madāʾen and at Nehāvand — complicates the picture and highlights the role of story-tellers in the narrative’s genesis and development. 

Much of the material on Qādesiya can be found in the Arabic-language annals; some of the earliest extant references are in works by Abu Yusof (d. 182/798) and Yaḥyā b. Āam (fl. ca. 757/758-818), followed by Ebn Ḵayyāṭ ʿOṣfori (d. 240/854; pp. 108-23) and Ebn Aʿṯam Kufi (fl. 2nd-3rd/8th-9th; pp. 195-214).  Subsequent historians, such as Balāḏori (d. 279/892; pp. 255-62), Dinavari (d. 282/895; pp. 125-33), Ṭabari (d. 311/923; I, pp. 2209-377), and Masʿudi (d. 335/946; secs. 1538-57), provided more elaborate accounts. Starting in the 10th century, Persian-language writers, especially Abu ʿAli Balʿami (d. 364/974; pp. 292-302), Ferdowsi (d. 411/1020; ed. Khaleghi-Motlaq, VIII, pp, 410 ff.), and Abu Manṣur Ṯaʿālebi (d. 429/1037), began to contribute.  Later historians writing in Arabic or Persian, such as Yāqut (d. 626/1229; IV, pp. 7-9), Ebn al-Aṯir (d. 630/1233; II, pp. 448 ff.), Abu’l-Fedāʾ (d. 732/1331), Ebn Ḵaldun (d. 808/1046), Mirḵᵛānd, (d. 903/1498; II, pp. 673 ff.) and his grandson Ḵᵛāndamir (d. 943/1536; I, pp. 481-83), base themselves mainly upon prior extant texts. The earliest known mention of the battle appears in the Armenian history of Sebēos (d. ca 661; I, pp. 98-99).  Yet, although other non-Muslim sources (in Armenian, Georgian, Syriac, Greek, and Arabic) comment on Qādesiya, an exhaustive source review concluded that they provide little information, repeating, like the Muslim sources, common themes and topoi, but with a focus on ecclesiastical priorities (Lewental, pp. 264-301).

A number of modern scholars (esp. Noth, Conrad, Morony, Donner, and Pourshariati) have examined Qādesiya within the context of broader studies, and many ideas distilled from the larger body of scholarship can be applied to the battle.  Scholars agree that most details were fabricated by storytellers and traditionists according to a common schema of how they imagined battles should have taken place.  Nevertheless, in a study on Qādesiya, Lewental (pp. 121-231) identified a few unique elements in the narrative: namely, the local geography, the illness and absence of Saʿd and the interconnected tale of Abu Meḥjan, the death of Rostam, and possibly the presence of elephants and the derafš at the battlefield.  Lewental argued (pp. 315-26) that, although subsequent memory has telescoped the conquest of Iran into this one battle, Qādesiya was not conclusive; it was followed by two major engagements at Jalulāʾ and Nehāvand; and, despite decades of external and internal warfare and financial bankruptcy, Iran succeeded in offering stiff and sustained resistance for many years.

In modern times, the memory of Qādesiya underwent substantial manipulation at the hands of Ṣaddām Ḥosayn, who fashioned it into a paradigm of Iraqi-Iranian relations during the Iran-Iraq War (see IRAQ vii) termed Ṣaddām’s Qādesiya (Ar. Qādesiyat-Ṣaddām) in official rhetoric (Lewental, pp. 388-450; idem, forthcoming; Bengio, pp. 172-5; Davis, pp. 176-99).  Although Iraq emphasized the battle as an ethnic clash between Arabs and Persians, the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran responded largely by celebrating Qādesiya as a victory for their ideological ancestors who brought Islam to Iran.  Qādesiya lives on in the rhetoric of radical Islamists, who find inspiration in the victory of the “few against the many” and the success of pious believers against the superpowers of the age (Lewental, pp. 453-62).  Qādesiya nomenclature can be found spread throughout the Middle East and beyond; an expanding database of examples is located online (DGL Notes, http://DGLnotes.com/notes/qadisiyyah3.htm).

See also ARAB ii. Arab Conquest of Iran.

Bibliography:

 

Selected sources.

Abu Yusof Yaʿqub, Ketāb al-ḵarāj, ed. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Ebn Rajab, Beirut, 1979, pp. 29, 31, 41, 142; tr. Edmund Gagnan, as Le livre de l'impôt foncier, Paris, 1921.

Agapios of Hierapolis, “Kitab al-ʿUnvan: Histoire universelle, écrite par Agapius (Mahboub) de Menbidj: Seconde partie (II),” Patrologia Orientalis 8/38, 1912, pp. 469-70.

Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā Balāḏori, Ketāb fotuḥ al-boldān, ed. Michaël J. de Goeje, 2nd ed., 1866; repr., Leiden, 1968, pp. 255-62.

Abu ʿAli Balʿami, Tarjama-ye Tāriḵ-e Ṭabari: qesmat-e marbuṭ ba Irān, ed. Moḥammad-Jawād Maškur, Tehran, 1958, pp. 292-302.

Chronicle of Seʿirt: “Histoire nestorienne (Chronique de Séert): Seconde partie (II),” Patrologia Orientalis 13/65, 1919, p. 307.

Abu Ḥanifa Dinavari, Ketāb aḵbār al-ṭewāl, ed. Vladimir Guirgass, Leiden, 1888, pp. 125-33 ; tr. Maḥmud Mahdawi Dāmḡāni, Tehran, 1987, pp. 150-61.

Ebn Aʿṯam Kufi, Ketāb al-fotuḥ, ed. Moḥammad ʿAbd-al-Moʿid Khān, Maḥāmed ʿAli ʿAbbāsi, and Sayyed ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb Boḵāri, 8 vols., Hyderabad, 1968-75, I, pp. 195-214.

Ebn al-Aṯir, al-Kāmel fi’al-tāʾriḵ, ed. Carl Johan Tornberg, 13 vols, Beirut, 1965-68; vol. 2, pp. 448-489.

Ebn Baṭṭuṭa, Toḥfat al-noẓẓār fi ḡarāʾeb al-amṣār wa ʿajāʾeb al-asfār, ed. and tr. Charles François Defrémery and Beniamino Raffaello Sanguinetti, as The Travels of Ibn Battuta, A.D. 1325-1354, 4th ed., 5 vols., Paris, 1926, I, pp. 413-14; tr. Moḥammad-ʿAli Mowaḥḥed, as Safar-nāma-ye Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, 2 vols., Tehran, 1969; new rev. ed., Tehran, 1991.

Ebn Ḵayyāṭ al-ʿOṣfori, Taʾriḵ Ḵalifa b. Ḵayyāṭ, ed. Sohayl Zakkār, 2 vols., Damascus, 1967-68 I, pp. 108-23.

Eutychios (Ebn al-Beṭriq), Ketāb al-taʾriḵ al-majmuʿ ʿalā al-taḥqiq wa’l-taṣdiq, ed. Louis Chiekho, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 50-51, scr. arabici 6-7, 2 vols., Beirut, 1906-1909

Ferdowsi, Šāh-nāma, ed. Saʿid Nafīsi, 10 vols. in 5, Tehran, 1934-36, IX, pp. 2962-79; ed. Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh and Abu’l-Fażl Ḵaṭibi, New York, 2007, VIII, pp. 410 ff.

Ḵᵛāndamir, Taʾriḵ Ḥabib al-siar, ed. Taʾriḵ ḥabib al-siar, ed. Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, 3rd edition, Tehran, 1983, I, pp. 477-483.

Moṭahhar b. Ṭāher Maqdesi, Ketāb al-badʾ wa’l-taʾriḵ, ed. and tr. Clément Huart, as Le livre de la création et de l’histoire d’Abou-Zéïd Ahmed ben Sahl el-Balkhi, six vols., Paris, 1899-1919, IV, pp. 1170-76; tr. Moḥammad-Reżā Šafiʿi Kadkani, as Āarineš wa tāriḵ, 2 vols, Tehran, 1995, II, pp. 850-54.

Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli Masʿudi, Moruj al-ḏahab wa maʿāden al-jawhar, ed. Charles Adrien Casimir Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille, rev. new ed. by Charles Pellat, 7 vols., Beirut, 1966-79, III, secs. 1538-57; tr. Charles Adrien Casimir Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille as Les Prairies d’or, revised and corrected by Charles Pellat, 3 vols., Paris, 1962-71.

Mirḵᵛānd, Rawżat al-ṣafā, ed. Jamšid Kiānfar, 15 vols., Tehran, 2001, vol. 2, pp. 1778-89.

Alois Musil, “Sitzung der philosophisch-historischen Klasse vom 8. Januar: In Nordostarabien und Südmesopotamien: Vorbericht über die Forschungreise 1912,” Anzeiger der Philosophisch-Historischen Klasse der Wiener Akademie der Wissenschaften 127, January, 1913, pp. 2-19.

Idem, The Middle Euphrates: A Topographical Itinerary, New York, 1927.

Andrew Palmer, ed. and tr., The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles, Liverpool, 1993, pp. 150-55.

Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr: A Middle Persian Text on Late Antique Geography, Epic, and History, tr. Touraj Dayaee, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2002.

Sebēos, Patmutʿiwn i Herakln, tr. Robert W. Thomson, as The Armenian History Attributed to Sebeos, 2 vols., Liverpool, 1999, I, pp. 98-99.

Moḥammad b. Jarir Ṭabari, Taʾriḵ al-rosol wa’l-moluk, ed. Michaël Jan De Goeje et al., 15 vols., Leiden, 1879-1901, repr. Leiden, 1964, I, pp. 2209-377.

Abu Manṣur Ṯaʿālebi, Ḡorar aḵbār moluk al-fors, ed. and tr., H. Zotenberg, as Histoire des rois des Perses, Paris, 1900.

Yaḥyā b. Āam, Ketāb al-ḵarāj, ed. Theodoor W. J. Juynboll, as Le livre de l'impôt foncier de Yahya Ibn Adam, Leiden, 1896, pp. 29-30.

Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, ed. M. T. Houtsma, 2 vols., Leiden, 1883, I, p. 198; II, pp. 157-67.

Yāqut, Moʿjam al-boldān, ed. FerdinandWüstenfeld, 6 vols., Leipzig, 1866-73, repr., Tehran, 1965, IV, passim, esp. pp. 7-9, 42-43.

 

Studies.

Ofra Bengio, Saddam’s Word: Political Discourse in Iraq, New York, 1998.

Lawrence I. Conrad, “The Chain Topos,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 31, 2006, pp. 1-33.

Jahangir Cooverjee Coyajee, “Spāhbad Rustam bin Farrukh-Hormazd,” in Jehangir C. Goyajee, ed., Dinshah Irani Memorial Volume: Papers on Zoroastrian and Iranian Subjects, Mumbai, 1948.

Eric M. Davis, Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq, Berkeley, 2005.

Fred McGraw Donner, The Early Islamic Conquests, Princeton, 1981.

Idem, Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing, Princeton, 1998.

Idem, ed., The Expansion of the Early Islamic State, Aldershot, U.K, and Burlington, 2008.

John Walter Jandora, The March from Medina: A Revisionist Study of the Arab Conquests, Clifton, N.J., 1989.

D. Gershon Lewental, “Qādisiyyah, Then and Now: A Case Study of History and Memory, Religion, and Nationalism in Middle Eastern Discourse,” Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, 2011.

Idem, “‘Saddam’s Qadisiyyah’: Religion and History in the Service of State Ideology in Baʿthi Iraq,” Middle Eastern Studies, 50/6, November 2014 (forthcoming).

Michael G. Morony, “The Effects of the Muslim Conquest on the Persian Population of Iraq,” Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 14, 1976, pp. 41-59.

Idem, “Continuity and Change in the Administrative Geography of Late Sasanian and Early Islamic al-ʿIrāq,” Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 20, 1982, pp. 1-49.

Idem, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest, Princeton, 1984, repr., Piscataway, 2005.

Albrecht Noth, and Lawrence I. Conrad, Quellenkritische Studien zu Themen, Formen und Tendenzen frühislamischer Geschichtsüberlieferun, tr. Michael Bonner, as The Early Arabic Historical Tradition: A Source-critical Study, 2nd ed., Princeton, 1994.

Parvaneh Pourshariati, Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran, London and New York, 2008.

Alfred-Louis de Prémare, “Les élephants de Qādisiyya,” Arabica 45/2, 1998, pp. 261-69.

M. A. Shaʿban, Islamic History, A.D. 600-750 (A.H. 132): A New Interpretation, Cambridge, 1971.

Moshe Sharon, “The Decisive Battles in the Arab Conquest of Syria,” Studia Orientalia 101, 2004, pp. 297-357.

Thomas Sizgorich, Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam, Philadelphia, 2009.

Susan Tyler-Smith, “Coinage in the Name of Yazdgerd III (AD 632-651) and the Arab Conquest of Iran,” Numismatic Chronicle 160, 2000, pp. 135-70.

Laura Veccia Vagleri, “Ḳādisiyya,” in EI² IV, 1978, pp. 384-86.    

Sayyid Muhammad Yūsuf, “The Battle of al-Qādisiyya,” Islamic Culture 19/1, 1945, pp. 1-28.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Zarrinkub, “The Arab Conquest of Iran and Its Aftermath,” in Richard N. Frye, ed., Cambridge History of Iran, IV, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 1-56.

(D. Gershon Lewental)

Originally Published: July 21, 2014

Last Updated: July 21, 2014

Cite this entry:

D. Gershon Lewental, "QĀDESIYA, BATTLE OF," Encyclopædia Iranica Online, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/qadesiya-battle (accessed on 21 July 2014).