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The Arab conquests 634-751

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 during the first decades of the 7th century weakened the Persian and Byzantine Empires and the raids by Arab tribes within their borders were becoming endemic.

The initial victories by the Arabs led to the participation of an increasing number of nomadic warriors in these military expeditions.

In 636, during the reign of Caliph Omar, a large Byzantine army was defeated at Yarmouk.

That same year, the Arabs successfully beat the Persian army, despite its combat elephants, at the Battle of al-Qâdisiyyah.

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

After a siege which lasted several months, Egypt’s capital, Alexandria, came under Muslim control in 642.

Over a period of three decades, the Arabs conquered an empire that, in addition to the Arabian peninsula, included Syria, Palestine, the Persian territory as far as Khorassan, Egypt and Cyrenaica.

The speed with which this conquest took place was partly due to the feeble resistance to the Muslim invaders by the local populations, such as the Jacobite Christians, Nestorians and Copts, who were considered heretics by the Byzantine Empire.

During this conquest, the Arabs settled in existing cities such as Aleppo, Damascus and Alexandria. They also founded camp towns (garrison towns) in which to shelter their warriors and tribes: for example, Kûfa, Basra and Fustat.

In some regions, however, progress was more difficult. Several attempts to take Constantinople failed and, in the Maghreb, the Berber population resisted for nearly 70 years.

At the beginning of the 8th century, however, the Maghreb came under the domination of the Muslims and it was in fact a Berber general leading a Berber army who conquered the Iberian peninsula in 711.

On the other side of the Pyrenees, the Muslim armies advanced as far as Aquitaine and the area around Narbonne, but these conquests were held for only a few decades.

Their most famous military defeat took place at the Battle of Tours which is recognized as the end of the Muslim advances in the West.

To the East, from 711 to 712, the Arab armies invaded the Sindh, a province in today’s Pakistan. In 751, victory in the Battle of Talas against the Chinese consolidated the domination of the Arab-Islamic Empire in Central Asia, which allowed it to control a large section of the Silk Road.

Even though this immense empire was Muslim, local populations were allowed to follow their own religion. Nevertheless, some inhabitants preferred to convert to Islam in order to obtain positions in the administration or to avoid paying the jeziyya, the tax on non-Muslims.

The construction of this new empire removed the centuries-old frontier between the Persian and Greco-Roman worlds and encouraged the birth and development of a brilliant and original civilisation. This immense unified space stretching from Spain to India led to a multiplication of commercial and cultural exchanges, as well as the distribution of techniques such as irrigation and paper-making learned from Chinese prisoners captured during the Battle of Talas.