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The Arab conquests 634-660

This map is part of a series of 7 animated maps showing the history of Origins of Islam and the Arabo-Muslim Empire.

 The long wars between the Persians and the Byzantines during the first decades of the 7th century weakened both empires. As a result, Arab tribes began to launch raids across their borders and the success of these first incursions attracted more warriors to join in these military expeditions.

 In 636, the main Byzantine army in Syria was defeated on the Yarmuk River. With little hope of reinforcements arriving quickly, several inland cities – Damascus, Homs and Jerusalem – negotiated their surrender. Caesarea, the province’s capital, was not captured until 641 following a long siege.

 In Iraq, during the mid-630s, the multiplication of arabic raids paved the way for an invasion of the Persian Empire, which was undergoing a period of socio-political disorder. In 636, Muslim troops numbering several tens of thousands of soldiers routed the Persian army in the battle of al-Qadisiyyah on the Euphrates.

 The following year in 637, the capture of Ctesiphon, capital of the Sassanids, led to the collapse of the Persian Empire.

 In the west, Egypt, a rich province in the Byzantine Empire, was poorly prepared to defend its territory. By marching along the Mediterranean coast and crossing the Sinai Peninsula, the Muslim armies invade this province towards the end of 639. 

 In 641, the death of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in Constantinople led to a succession crisis. This situation meant that Byzantine reinforcements could not be sent to Egypt and gave leverage to those in favour of negotiation with the invaders. The treaty concluded by Cyrus, the Melkite Patriarch of Alexandria, placed Egypt under Muslim domination. The province was required by pay tribute to their conquerors and all Byzantine troops were ordered to leave Egypt from the port of Alexandria within 11 months.

 In the space of three decades, the Arabs had conquered an empire that stretched from the Arabian Peninsula, to Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Persia as far as Khorasan, Egypt and Cyrenaica.

 The speed with which this conquest took placewas due to the depletion of both empires, in particular the Persian Empire, as well asto the feeble resistance to the Muslim invaders by the local populations, such as the Jacobite Christians, Nestorians and Copts, who were considered heretics under the Byzantine Empire.

During their conquests, the Arabs settled in existing cities, such as Aleppo, Damascus and Alexandria but also founded camp towns like Kufa, Basra and Fustat to shelter the warriors, their families, and the tribes.

In some regions, however, progress was more difficult. The Arab armies failed to conquer Nubia, while in the Maghreb, there was strong resistance from the Berbers.

In 655, attempts to take Constantinople were unsuccessful. Unlike the Persian Empire, the Byzantine Empire did not collapse.